The traditional route into affiliate marketing was always via the creation of a blog, gaining experience in growing and converting an audience, and then perhaps learning how to buy traffic. Does that approach still work?
I believe it still works as long as you find a fairly new niche and grow together with it. But if you want to approach an already existing and possibly saturated niche, you really have to do your homework before and use any customer incentive that you can get from the vendor: an attractive bundle, a special deal, a discount, etc. This doesn’t mean that the steps above would not be needed, but maybe you’d want to speed things up by buying quality traffic from an earlier point or offering more to your community than just a blog review.

What is lead scrubbing? Why is it necessary?
Lead scrubbing applies to affiliate programs where affiliates are paid for the leads they send to an advertiser. The scrubbing is sometimes done by advertisers and is basically doing real-time qualification (validation) of those leads. The real-time (or almost real-time) aspect of it is important, since affiliates can calibrate the traffic they send to the advertiser.

Most affiliates evidently do not agree with this and it’s mostly due to the fact that rejecting leads can be a very subjective process; that’s why it’s very important for the advertiser to clearly state the leads profile they’re looking for in the affiliate program T&Cs. Moreover, the double opt-in (e.g. email and phone number) is a very popular technique these days as the advertiser is interested in quality leads, and the focus on conversion optimization has grown. Today, data can be segmented more accurately and used for the optimization of the program.

What’s the easiest point of entry for a small merchant wanting to test the affiliate marketing channel? How much does the merchant have to put at risk?
They don’t have to put anything at risk if they’re working on a CPS revenue share model. The amount they should pay affiliates should definitely be competitive with what the competitors offer – this is if they want to have relevant results. In the software vertical, for example, I’ve seen affiliate programs that took off in two months (big brand) but also some that needed up to 6 months to generate important sales through the affiliate program.

To answer your question: the easiest point of entry would be through an affiliate network (niche network preferably) as this way they will have the platform capabilities, access to an established community of affiliates, and good exposure to target the right affiliates for their program. I would start a new program by targeting the territories where my product or service is selling good (to drive incremental sales), and only then extend to other markets or emerging markets.

We have seen a number of networks introduce new platform features or interfaces recently. Is technology investment by networks increasing? If so, why?
As I was saying in a recent interview, in today’s context where there are countless networks on the market, the main goal is to find that unique selling proposition for yours and get the customer. And yes, I believe that technology investment by networks is increasing. First of all – you cannot stay competitive as a network if you’re not at least meeting the industry standards at any given time plus something extra to differentiate you. Then there’s also the matter of the 3rd party tracking platforms, like Cake and Tune, which are focused on investing in technology so that advertisers can run their affiliate programs better.

Cristian Miculi is a seasoned professional in the digital landscape since 2005. He has been in charge with the Avangate Affiliate Network since 2008, coordinating its development and growing it many fold both in terms of affiliates joining the network as well as the software & SaaS product catalog. With hands-on experience in affiliate program management, Cristian is currently focused on developing alliances with technology and digital agency partners in order to maximize the customer lifetime value that the Avangate clients see.