Affiliate programs – Acquisition

On 12 Jul., 2010

As we have already learned, the world of affiliates is an especially complex one. Unlike other marketing methods it demands a complex relationship that requires experience and specialization.

Affiliate programs – Acquisition

As we have already learned, the world of affiliates is an especially complex one. Unlike other marketing methods it demands a complex relationship that requires experience and specialization. By now we understand who our partners are and how they work.  We also covered the technical tools that enable the establishment of our affiliate program.  All that remains is the marketing image – and this is really the main element in the entire program.  Here is where every programs can rise or fall.  You don’t have anything to fear from it, but you certainly need to be ready for it.

The world of partners can be divided into two parts:

1. Acquisition – Getting new partners
2. Retention – Maintaining current partners

Acquisition of new partners
There are two primary ways for getting a new partner:

1. We can go looking for them

2. He can come looking for us

In principle, anyone can become a partner/affiliate – they could be from a small local online shopping site, a portal or content site, or even just some crazy’s website without the slightest connection to our world.  Since the Internet provides such a broad pipeline of content, some sites share common ground with what we (as a commercial company) offer. For example, if we are a company that markets children’s games it’s likely that we will seek out websites with content related to children, i.e., social networks for kids, games sites, etc.  All of these could be potential partners who can promote our products.  In this specific case, we also share the same audience, so any cooperation would also bring buyers to our door.

But before we can try and understand who the partner/affiliate is, what he/she knows, and whether he/she can be an effective partner, we must first learn how to find them. There are very many different ways of finding partners/affiliates, and some of the methods can be “Sisyphean” in their difficulty.  It’s very important to understand that each partner channel is a channel that – “matures” slowly.  It is a fairly slow process of courtship , a process that demands great patience, much like any other relationship.

So how do find them?

The sad truth is that there is no easy way to find partners/affiliates.  Although one method, called “crawling” is relatively simple by design.  We need to “crawl” through countless search results until we reach the very last page in the Internet.  Is this: a Sisyphean process?  Yes; Time consuming? Yes; Discouraging? Most definitely. But what can you do? In many companies there are entire departments dedicated to this task.  So how can we do it?

1. Large search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN) – Try to enter a word contextually related to our world. For example: if we sell products for children, search for the word “children’s products”.  We will probably have thousands of search results (depending on which search engine is used) related to our field.  It’s likely that the owners of these sites are good potential partners.  All that is left to do is contact them and make an offer for them to promote us, the keyword research is infinite, many different keywords can generate many potential leads.

2. Smaller search engines (Ask, Enhance, abcsearch etc.) – Smaller search engines will bring somewhat less relevant results and maybe low volumes , but it is still an important channel to explore.  An important fact about these search engines and larger search engines is that the first page results are usually large sites who receive proportionally more traffic than the 2nd or 3rd page results, therefore they are better potential partners who have a greater flow of traffic,it doesn’t nessesarly mean don’t search on the 2′nd and third page , sometimes you will find relevant sites that aren’t positioned very good for one keyword but could take up higher positions with different keywords.

3. Local search engines - Many of us market to a wide variety of audiences and sometimes the product we sell is only sold in a particular region or country.  Local search engines can yield potential partners in this specific market.

4. Meta search engines – These are search engines that deliver aggregate results from several search engines together, such as Metacrawler, Dogpile, and more.

5. Paid search engines – Good examples are Hoovers, B & D and many others.

6. Open Directory Portals- These are major nodes of information and traffic where you can find potential partners in a simple and focused environment since they are arranged in categories by fields of interest.

7. Forums, groups and blogs – There are many social environments on the web in which we can find partners. Professional forums or groups with a common interest are a great source.

8. Social networks – These mediums contain many different audiences, even potential partners.  Not to be overlooked.

9. Offline events (exhibitions, lectures) – One of the most important methods to find partners involves stepping away from the computer.  Schmoozing and networking offline are my preferred methods since you can look your potential partner in the eyes and can engage in a focused dialogue.

There are probably even more ways for you to find partners but I think the you get the idea…

Now that we’ve found a partner, what do we do?

Those who have already read my first post will know that there are several things I recommend:

1: Always be curious! Always carefully evaluate a designated site. Read the “About Us”. Who is this partner? What’s he selling? Check the quality of the content, the quality and design of the site (it indicates a degree of seriousness and the nature of the partner). Find out where does the site link to? (Potentially other partners…) Who are his clients? A careful review of the partner’s products and experience will constitute a strong basis for our dialog.  Try out the software they offer, read the content they write and try to find things that can help you in dialog, and later, negotiations.

2: Look for emotional material – Are these partners people who talk about themselves? Their mission? What drives them? Some site owners will even say what films they like, which can be a good ice-breaker. (I had a partner who wrote that he loved the movie “The Color of Money” with Tom Cruise. I remember talking with him about the film before even before talking in general about the deal.)

3: Try to understand the partner’s business model. Does he earns his living advertising?  Is it through Google AdSense?  Does he sell a product?  It will help us greatly in the later negotiations.

4: Learn the traffic sources. How do people find the site?  Where it is placed on the major search engines?  What’s his top ranking? (Google Page Rank, or any other ranking mechanism…there are many).  Is the site marketed in other places and in other ways?

5: Look for the hot spot. Where do you want him to put your banner/link? Where is there an area where you can place your own written content about our company? (On his site of course.) When we get down to it, he may offer placement where you do not want to be – always try to grab the best place with the ideal exposure that will bring us focused traffic.

6: Try to understand his needs. What are his needs? The needs of his clients/site visitors (yes … yes, he has customers as well) – empathy and solidarity help.

7: Think outside the box - Most publishers advertise for many companies, sometimes even our competitors – sometimes they may have a banner right next to ours.  It’s very important to be creative, to think how we’re going to get more exposure over our competitors on this site.  We need to generate a unique bid that will motivate your partner to give us better placement than the competitor, grab exclusives when you can.  Do not limit yourself to marketing boring banners and links as there are so many other things to do!

A full understanding of who we are working with will enable us to make a meaningful proposal.  I personally always use the phone but I also use mail occasionally.  (You can usually find the contact information through a simple whois lookup). Sometimes you get an immediate answer, sometimes it takes a few days, and sometimes you hear back nothing at all.  It is important to understand that these people receive dozens or even hundreds of applications and we need to know how to stand out from the crowd. (Whether it is a catchy subject line in an email or a “pitch by phone”.) An example of a boring mail would be “Hi, I would like to explore the advertising possibilities that you have to offer”.  It’s important to try and develop dialogue, to present yourself personally, give a brief explanation of your company and the product (not in-corporate talk).  The opening dialogue is not always the same, but the principles are.  I see many companies today trying to grab publishers by jumping straight into the bidding-commercial dialogue. Don’t ever do this! You need to stand out.  Be different!

Where was I…?  Ok,  so we just received a reply.  We can now start the “Courtship” stage.  Sometimes it takes a few conversations in order to reach the final goal (the signing of the deal). Do not despair! Keep trying and trying and trying. (As long as you don’t spam them of course.)  Focus on everything you have researched in order to make the deal while reacting accordingly to the different types of characters you may face (as I covered in the first post).  If you’ve followed-up on various emails, try to locate their “soft spot” in order to ask questions that will elicit a response –  now you are negotiating intelligently!

The negotiation process is an  world in and of itself, therefore I won’t go into too much detail here. Assuming that we succeeded and we signed an agreement of one form or another, whether it be for a banner, quality content, or an package including the use of his newsletter mailing list, here is the point at which the relationship really begins!

Of course at first, there is the preoccupation with the technical/bureaucratic details… We open an account in the company’s affiliate system (I have discussed the subject of affiliate software on my last post), we summarize the terms of the transaction by email (so that there will be no misunderstandings in the future), we send him the advertising/marketing materials that we want to promote, we offer him/her help, we add our personal statements exchange personal email address and even msn or Skype names! (
Hint – being available and personal this is very important!)

Next, we get to the “follow up”.  Has he uploaded our banner?  Did he place it in the right place, where we asked? Does it link to our site like it should? (G-d forbid, we should ever be losing traffic!)  Next we need to try out trial periods in which the product placement and advertising changes – we should never stop trying to “squeeze the lemon” for all it is worth.  We look at different locations on our partner’s site, we compare results.  Perhaps even advertising – if his homepage brings fewer customers than a different page on his site, maybe we can post there.  This is always an ongoing dialogue and it is of endless importance to understand how it works

Like any good relationship, there should also be investment and development.  Don’t be afraid to initiate change and always know when to compromise.  These are our partners, they wear marketing hats like we do.  Some spend heavily to promote their site with no connection to us at all, and yet we both benefit.  As they bring more traffic to their site, we get more traffic as well.  Always offer your help!

It seems I went a little crazy with this post yet I still have so many things to say.   Affiliate Marketing is an important component of our marketing mix.  It is broad, full and there are many different methodologies with which to manage such a plan.

I will tackle the world of partner/affiliate retention in my next post, but before I go, I want to share with you something a wise man told me that I follow religiously:

Speak with them even when you do not need them
So when you’ll need them they will listen to you …

Next post we’ll try to understand how to cherish this relationship ….