10 lessons learned from growing a niche affiliate network

We recently got together with the management team at Avangate to talk about their journey from scrappy startup to market leadership. Over the last 10 years Avangate’s affiliate network has developed into the top digital download network in the world. We wanted to understand how the affiliate marketing landscape has changed in that time from the perspective of a niche network.

  1. May 2007: Launched content marketing strategy
    After startup in 2006, Avangate decided early to make content the center of their marketing efforts. This article was their first educational resource for affiliate marketers.
    As pioneers in the industry, we take our leadership role seriously, and we care about helping people do affiliate marketing right. Throughout the years, we’ve developed a consistent content marketing flow, rolling out hundreds of content pieces related to affiliates, from blog posts to webinars, case studies and even eBooks. Our clients, affiliates, and partners have all played an important role in this work, helping educate the market by sharing their best practices for affiliate marketing and expectations are for an affiliate network.

Takeaway: Content marketing works. It is a great way to convert prospects, educate affiliates within a specific niche and raise brand awareness.

  1. April 2008: Processed $1,000,000
    This marked the first month that $1 million worth of transactions passed through the Avangate Affiliate Network. From this point on, the network began to grow exponentially.

Takeaway: The first million is the hardest. But it tells you that you are doing something right.

  1. June 2008: First affiliate interview
    Avangate made a decision to focus on affiliate stories as a way of showing their commitment to relationships. Their first interview: Nico Westerdale from BitsDuJour, who is still one of their top long-term partners. One of the most interesting and successful campaigns they ran together, back in December 2010, was a massive software bundle with 10 apps.

Takeaway: Affiliates are people too, and they like to have fun. Face-to-face interaction with affiliates helps create a more productive relationship and inspire other publishers.

  1. December 2008: Approved the 1,000th affiliate
    Uninterrupted network growth meant the 1,000th affiliate was recruited into the network less than two years after startup. Just six years later, Avangate hit the 50,000 milestone.

Takeaway: Advertiser information pages for affiliates are the best source of new, qualified affiliates. Even though not all of these affiliates will actively sell at the same time, it’s easier to activate an affiliate than to recruit one.

  1. July 2009: First interview with an affiliate marketing INFLUENCER
    Geno Prussakov has been one of the leading outsourced program managers for many years. He has been a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel since we launched the Blue Book and he was interviewed by Avangate back in 2009. Since that first interview, Geno has remained very close to Avangate. They have produced a lot of content pieces together, presented at events, worked together on mutual clients and, most importantly, had a ton of fun together. Avangate has worked with a number of other great industry influencers over the years, including Missy Ward and Shawn Collins from the Affiliate Summit, as well as Zac Johnson.

Takeaway: Influencers are a great source of feedback, guidance and support in educating the market, especially if your solution is innovative and addresses a specific niche.

  1. October 2009: First major ADVERTISER
    Avangate’s first major advertiser was Bitdefender, for whom they were generating over 1,000 orders per month via affiliates. They gave the Avangate Affiliate Network exclusivity at that time, the first of many advertisers to do so. Avangate has now grown to having hundreds of offers in their affiliate network catalog.

Takeaway: Avangate’s strategy was always to pitch the best-selling products to affiliates according to their traffic levels in order to help them grow faster. Sometimes, they would offer alternative titles to larger affiliates who preferred to avoid competition in the most saturated niches. They also helped advertisers to monitor competitor offers in order to find high-performing publishers.

  1. May 2010: Avangate’s first affiliate EVENT
    The A4U Expo Europe in Munich was Avangate’s first trade show. Since then they have made a point of being a constant presence at the PMI Expo and Affiliate Summit conferences. Their first presentation to affiliates was in 2011 at Affiliate Summit East, where they also began their well-known series of software networking dinners at affiliate events (thumbs up if you liked Del Frisco’s in NYC!).

Takeaway: Dedicated networking events are the way to go at industry conferences. Don’t rely on the ”official” parties, where there’s a lot of noise and you can’t talk business. Run your own events, where you’ll get the chance to gather qualified people from your industry and drive conversations on your own terms.

  1. March 2011: Avangate’s first affiliate CONTEST
    The Avangate Affiliate Network’s Five-Year Anniversary contest was a huge success for them and paved the way for one or two big contests per year ever since. In 2015, they gave away a Zero Bike, and in April 2016 they closed their Heroes of Digital Marketing contest. Currently they are running a Winter Contest Avangate Gold Partner of The Year 2017.

Takeaway: Avangate’s suggestion: when you want to run a contest, find ways to give chances to win to everyone who joins the contest rather than just those that drive high volumes.

  1. August 2011: Avangate Managed Affiliate Services (MAS) launched
    MAS is a line of dedicated services designed to help software advertisers develop and grow their affiliate program. Initially, the program management was carried out in-house using Avangate resources. In 2013, as a result of soaring demand, Avangate outsourced the program to external partners (first iAffiliate Management, then later Schaaf-PartnerCentric). These initiatives continue to grow.

Takeaway: Avangate were careful to set the correct expectations from the beginning with both clients and partners. MAS is a paid service and Avangate kept it in-house at first so they gained a good understanding of what was needed to deliver to expectations. Only then did they feel ready to outsource the offering.

  1. January 2015: Avangate is RANKED #1
    Avangate entered the Blue Book rankings with a bang and rose quickly. In the 2015 ranking they were ranked for the first time as the #1 affiliate network in the digital goods space (#4 overall), a position they maintained into this year. This ranking came after three years of a growing affiliate presence and a nomination in the AffStat survey.

Takeaway: Recognition can increase conversions for both advertiser and affiliate prospects.

What’s next for Avangate?

During 2016 and going forward, our main goal is to continue growing the Avangate Affiliate Network into the #1 worldwide quality software & digital goods network. This growth will be closely tied to the evolution of the complete e-commerce solution that we offer.

The Avangate Affiliates Network is the #1 CPS Network for Digital Goods and #4 CPS Network Worldwide as rated in mThink’s 2015 and 2016 Blue Book surveys. With over 22,000 products in its catalogue and having award-winning vendors as partners, our network has a proven track record of top-quality services and a dedicated team that has managed to bring the 10 years’ network to the peak of the affiliate marketing world.