There are numerous ways for businesses to generate online traffic and drives sales: SEO, pay-per-click campaigns, email marketing. But while you’re optimizing your website and AB testing your latest ad campaign, don’t overlook the enormous potential of affiliate marketing. A well-executed affiliate marketing campaign can skyrocket your sales as you recruit ambitious go-getters to market on your behalf. The trick is understanding how to recruit affiliates for your business and building your freelance marketing team accordingly.
Why Businesses Should Recruit Affiliates
Affiliate marketing remains popular. Consider the following statistics:
- More than 80% of brands have used affiliate marketing to promote their products [source]
- 16% of all online orders are generated via affiliate marketing [source]
- Affiliate spending is anticipated to reach $6.8 billion by 2020 [source]
Affiliate marketing works for businesses because it outsources much of the advertising effort to eager publishers. They do the heavy lifting, and you generate sales. And unlike with PPC, you only pay for the sales you make. It’s a win-win.
Is Affiliate Marketing Right for Your Business?
Before we go any further, we should highlight that affiliate marketing—while valuable for certain products—isn’t right for every business. If your product meets any of the following criteria, it might not be a good fit for affiliate marketing:
- Products with a low profit margin: If you’re only making $5 profit per sale, it’s probably worth neither your time nor the affiliate’s time to split the difference. At that point, you need to hold on to every dollar you earn, and your affiliates likewise won’t want to invest the time marketing a product that yields very little return for them. Keep in mind that average affiliate commissions range from 3% to 15% but can be as high as 50% or more when warranted. Use your profit margin to determine how much of a commission rate you can afford. Then ask yourself if that rate would be worth your affiliates’ time.
- Secondhand or limited-edition products: In some cases, refurbished or reconditioned products may lend themselves to affiliate marketing, but in general, affiliates are looking for new, packaged products or digital offerings that they can review and promote with confidence. The problem with secondhand products—even high-quality secondhand products—is that they’re typically available for a short time. This also goes for limited editions. Affiliates don’t want to spend their time writing content and optimizing a page for something that probably won’t be available in three months’ time. Your product needs to have staying power.
- Large or varied product lines: If you’re offering a large product line, like 70 pairs of shoes, you might have a more difficult time with affiliate marketing. Research shows that the average affiliate focuses on 1 to 10 products, and the most successful programs are those in which the brand has a signature product—or a small selection of signature products. The company that sells one dynamite piece of software does better than the company that sells a varied selection of related products. Give your affiliate partners something to focus on.
By contrast, the following types of products tend to do well in affiliate marketing programs:
- Software and web solutions: Cloud hosting, apps, website platforms, games, etc…
- Instructional guides and programs: Books, ebooks, CD courses, online courses, etc…
- Nutritional supplements: Fitness supplements, CBD, shakes, herbs, etc…
- Health and beauty products: Cosmetics, lotions, moisturizers, etc…
- Sports and fitness equipment: Exercise equipment, sporting goods, etc…
- Fashion products: Unique apparel and accessories
- Unique inventions: Anything that adds value to people’s lives and isn’t already saturating the market
- Modern gadgets: Drones, home automation, smartwatches, 3D printers, etc…
How to Start a Successful Affiliate Program
Starting an affiliate program is easy, and any business can do it. You just need to set up your network, promote the program on your website, and create useful materials that affiliate partners can use in their marketing. From there, all you have to do is start recruiting affiliates.
Set Up Your Affiliate Program
You can set up your own affiliate network in house, or you can use an established affiliate network. To set up your own network, you’ll need to provide each partner with a unique affiliate URL and then track the sales generated by each URL. Pay each affiliate at regular intervals according to the sales they generate.
If, like most businesses, you’d prefer to use an established network that already has the tracking and payments set up, there are many options to choose from. Select a network that offers detailed analytics, low fees (to protect your profit margin), a large marketplace, and an easy-to-use interface for affiliates.
Top networks include:
- ShareASale: In business for over 15 years, ShareASale has over 4,000 merchant programs. There’s a $550 one-time setup fee and a $100 minimum deposit to cover affiliate payments.
- ClickBank: ClickBank has reached over 200 million customers in its 20-year history. Each product you submit is subject to a $49.95 approval fee. Then ClickBank charges $1 plus 7.5% per sale.
- JVZoo: With over 9.5 million products sold, this industry leader emphasizes digital and online products. Their fees are straightforward. They charge a 5% commission on all completed sales.
- CJ Affiliate: With $15 billion in annual sales, CJ Affiliate is the largest affiliate marketplace. It’s best for large businesses, as they offer enterprise pricing that’s customized for each client.
When setting up your program, your key decision is how much commission to give to your affiliates. This is known as the referral fee. Choose a percentage that’s attractive to potential partners without eating up your profit margin.
Create Your Affiliate Page
You’ve already taken the all-important first step, but don’t just rely on your affiliate network to advertise the commissions you’re offering. Before you start recruiting affiliates, you need to have a well-optimized affiliate page on your website. This will help you to get the word out to existing customers and also add a sense of legitimacy to your program.
- Create an affiliate landing page on your website. The link to this page should be clearly visible from your website’s main navigation.
- Use your landing page to showcase the benefits to publishers. Outline the terms and commission structure, and promote some of the product benefits to get publishers excited.
- Optimize the page for search engines. One in five affiliate marketers uses search engines to find affiliate marketing opportunities, so make sure to optimize your page for your niche keywords plus “affiliate.”
- Include a sign-up button. This may link back to your chosen affiliate network or to a custom sign-up page on your website, depending on how you decide to manage your program.
Offer Creative Materials to Affiliate Partners
Create brochures, high-quality images, testimonial lists, and other documentation to showcase your product in the best light possible. Provide these materials to each new partner who signs up. Don’t let them guess what the defining benefits are. Paint them a picture, and let the product sell itself.
The more you offer to affiliates, the easier their job will be, the better your promotions will be, and the more successful the campaign will be for the brand and publisher alike.
How to Recruit Affiliates
You have your affiliate program in place, your terms established, and your website optimized. Now comes the hard part: recruiting affiliates.
Choose a Niche
If you want to find the right affiliates, you need a clearly defined niche. It’s tempting to try and cast a wide net, reaching as many people as possible. Unfortunately, it’s also a recipe for failure.
Do the market research. Know your audience. Categorize and optimize your affiliate program accordingly. If you have multiple niches, market them separately from one another.
Being niche-focused may mean using a niche-specific affiliate network (like ShopStyle Collective for fashion), but it always means recruiting affiliates within your niche.
Use Your Affiliate Network for Affiliate Recruitment
Your affiliate network probably already has tools available for recruiting new affiliates. For example, ClickBank offers tools that allow brands to remarket to people who have purchased products and offers a marketplace where brands can appeal directly to the community.
Browse the available options in your own affiliate network, and see how you can leverage the available tools.
Reach out to Publishers in Your Niche
One of the best recruiting methods is to approach the affiliates directly. Look for publishers who already provide affiliate advertising for products like yours. You can research them online by searching your top keywords or competitor products along with the modifier “review.” For example, if you sell an ecommerce platform similar to BigCommerce, you can search “BigCommerce review” and see a list of articles from related affiliates.
Compile a list of relevant publishers, and reach out to them. Pitch them on the “win-win” benefits, and offer them the opportunity for affiliate commission.
Advertise in Affiliate Directories
Affiliate directories allow you to pitch your product to people who are seeking affiliate opportunities. Millions of publishers use these directories, so they can be a valuable resource. Think of them like Craigslist for affiliate marketers.
Popular directories include:
- Affiliate Seeking
- Top Affiliate
- Awin Advertising Directory
- Green Affiliate Programs
When listing your opportunity in the directory:
- Be as detailed as possible
- Make sure to categorize your offer correctly
- Focus on the benefits for affiliates.
Run Pay-Per-Click Campaigns
Use Google, Facebook, and other advertising channels to reach affiliates. You can target keywords like “[niche] + affiliate” and find people who are seeking your type of program. In your ad headline and description, use your affiliate keywords and succinctly highlight the commission benefits while introducing your product.
Try running multiple ads concurrently. Use different phrasing, different demographic preferences, and different advertising platforms. See which ads yield the best results, and adjust your focus accordingly.
Advertise to Your Buyers
Satisfied customers can make excellent affiliates. As part of the checkout process, you can advertise your affiliate program to buyers. Pitch the benefits, and point out that satisfied buyers may be able to earn back everything they’ve paid for the product—and then some.
Provide buyers with a link to your affiliate landing page. You can also use a follow-up email to advertise this opportunity. If you’re running an affiliate PPC campaign, use remarketing to advertise to buyers after they’ve left your website.
Offer Products to Influencers in Exchange for Promotion
This is separate from your standard affiliate program, but if the influencer has a wide enough reach, the results can be massive. Just offer a free product in exchange for a quick promotion, and gain instant access to thousands of potential buyers.
Keep Marketing to New Affiliates
Many businesses make the mistake of running one or two aggressive affiliate campaigns and then putting the program on autopilot. Over time, this will result in having few to no active affiliates. Because almost half of affiliates make less than $20,000 per year, there’s a lot of turnover and abandonment.
By constantly recruiting new affiliates, you can multiply your marketing reach on a continuous basis and watch sales grow exponentially over time. As part of this effort, you can also set up a second-tier affiliate program whereby you offer compensation to your existing affiliates (usually a one-time fee) for recruiting new partners.
How to Attract Affiliates to Your Business
Even if all of your marketing efforts are in order, you’re not going to attract worthwhile affiliates simply by making yourself known. You need to show them that your product is worthy of their time.
- Have a product that’s worth promoting. If you’re throwing together a half-edited ebook just to cash in on affiliate money, publishers will see right through it. Provide a product that’s fully fleshed out and offers genuine value to the public. Then demonstrate that value to your potential partners.
- Have a solid, professional website. The first thing publishers are going to check is whether or not you’re the real deal. That means you need a professional website, high-quality images, and a flawless user experience. Investments like a professional web design theme, intuitive shopping cart features, and secure payment processing will make your business attractive to publishers and buyers alike.
- Don’t spam your potential partners. When pitching your affiliate program, be honest and realistic about the benefits, be polite and respectful in your correspondence, and don’t overpromise.
- Offer a fair commission to ensure that the effort is worth people’s time. A 5% commission may be enticing on a $300 consumer electronic, but it won’t attract many partners for a $20 piece of software. Consider how much you can reasonably offer without alienating potential partners.
How to Keep the Affiliate Partners You Have
Retention is important for ensuring that the revenue continues to pour in with minimal effort on your part. To keep your affiliates:
- Be up front about the payment structure, and make sure to always pay on time.
- Consider additional perks like occasional bonuses, raffles, and other benefits that affiliates can look forward to.
- Make sure you’re attracting relevant affiliates in the first place. This is why it’s so important to focus on a niche and advertise using the right channels and categories.
- Do your research before pitching affiliates: How successful are they? How long have they been in business? How strong is their content? Look for the serious players.
- Take care of your affiliate partners. Welcome them to the team, provide updates on new developments, stay in touch, and provide excellent customer service.
Start Recruiting Today
As long as you have a quality product, a generous commission rate, and a consistent commitment to affiliate marketing, you should have no trouble finding and maintaining quality partners. When it comes to affiliate recruitment, just remember the following:
- Find and define your niche; this will help you to find the best affiliates who will do the most justice to your product marketing efforts.
- It’s better to focus on quality of recruits than quantity; if you’re looking for partners, consider their track record with affiliate marketing.
- Use every channel available to you: affiliate directories, PPC marketing, search engines, competitor analysis tools, and even your existing customer base.
- Never stop recruiting. Affiliates will drop off over time, but your efforts should remain consistent.
Give it a shot. With dependable affiliate partners on your side, you’ll find that the marketing largely takes care of itself.