As affiliate marketing takes off into its second decade it’s time for the focus to be on quality rather than quantity.
Time and again one sees networks promoting how much revenue they are generating or how many publishers they have on board. And they do this because they think it will impress advertisers, publishers, investors and even their competitors. But claims such as these are really a distraction from what’s important: quality traffic, trustworthy relationships and sustainable business.
This is an age-old debate, but I know I’d rather have 100 publishers in MonetizeIt that I trust to deliver quality leads and protect my brand advertisers rather than 50,000 publishers I cannot control. There seem to be countless numbers of these third tier fly-by-night networks and they thrive off “make money in a hurry” campaigns that accept and encourage high volume/low quality traffic. The only problem is that the associated techniques often result in damage to long-term business relationships (see Craigslist phishing, content locking scams, credit card fraud, etc.)
So what does all this mean for advertisers and publishers? It’s very simple. They need to do their homework by asking questions about any network with which they are thinking of partnering. It’s just like any other business deal. Bear in mind that as a marketer in this situation you are not just partnering with the network manager, you are also impacted by the actions of all the other publishers and advertisers in the network.
As an advertiser, you should ask about media mix and landing page testing, compliance, reporting and knowledge of your vertical and KPIs. It’s also a good idea to ask for evidence of demonstrable results and the quality of their service via case studies and references. This is the only way to reliably identify a long-term partner that can provide all of your online marketing needs.
Quality networks such as my own, MediaWhiz, are organized so as to be able to service any type of advertiser, with internal traffic sources such as email, display, social, SEO/SEM, and co-registration, as well as having dedicated teams devoted to client services, creative development and technology. This kind of organization allows networks to provide help with ongoing campaign optimization and to act as strategic thought partners to help achieve ROI goals.
Naturally, in addition to these attributes, the network also needs to be able to bring a diverse publisher base to the table, with which they can in turn share campaign metrics and offer guidance from the affiliate management team. And then all of that collaboration provides information that allows improved site design, optimized for different types of traffic and maximizing customer engagement. This is another huge value-add to the advertiser.
As a publisher, you need to think about the factors that help you to maximize efficiency and margins. Areas such as testing, reporting, compliance, and company longevity are key, as are brand/unique offerings, staff size, company finances, knowledge of your media channel, and also the size and quality of the advertiser and publisher base. It can be useful to look at how many active publishers and affiliate managers the network claims, and to calculate the staff to partner ratio. If customer service means anything the ration should probably be less than 1 in 50, as I know I can barely get through 10 tasks a day, let alone 50. A network should promote how many service people they have – affiliate managers, sales executives, operations, client services, creative, and technology – rather than their revenues or size of publisher base. Additionally, these service people should have an in-depth knowledge of your business and media channel otherwise your interests will be a distant second priority to their personal revenue goals.
Relationships And Trust
The inevitable conclusion of all this is that relationships and trust go a long way in online marketing, just as they do in any other type of business. But, although that provides the foundation, it is still the case that business intelligence, customer service, solid financials and reduction of risk should be at the forefront of your decision making process. As for network executives, a question: is your network built to handle all of the challenges that lie ahead? Perhaps, as Q1 is almost over, it is time for you to reassess. For as Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben Parker might say, with great scale comes great responsibility.
Peter S. Klein is general manager of the MonetizeIt Affiliate Network, a division of MediaWhiz, a leading online performance marketing agency.