The landscape of affiliate marketing is rapidly changing. From the rise of influencers to changes in how people consume content, and on to an increasing emphasis on reporting, the evolution is accelerating and rapidly impacting the space.

In such a fast-changing environment there is no better way to get a feel for the new terrain than by talking to those on the ground living and breathing it every day: affiliate managers. With that in mind, I put together a round table of some of the key members of the Aragon Advertising team—Brian Schwartz, our network distribution manager, Josh Kopac and Anabelle Close, two of our senior affiliate managers, affiliate manager Alec Stearn and Arun Rajendran, who spearheaded Aragon’s entrance into the Pay Per Call space—to get a sense of industry trends, their thoughts on how to be successful affiliate managers, and what comes next.

Sarah Callahan: What do you think are the areas of greatest opportunity for affiliates right now?

Annabelle Close: There is a big trend towards stricter standards and so now is a good time for any affiliates still using blackhat techniques to start to migrate towards whitehat, as the largest platforms on the internet have enforced incredibly tight controls on advertising practices. There will inevitably always be some people that continue in the rat race of blackhat, but it is becoming more difficult by the week to farm accounts, nurture them, and successfully cloak your ads long enough to make a decent ROI.

In line with the ethos of running high quality, compliant campaigns, I believe content marketing is going to produce the most sustainable affiliate marketing campaigns moving forward. While it can take a lot of time, effort, and money to build a content brand and increase your ranking, there is nothing else that competes with clean, quality content monetized with high-quality apps and services.

Lastly, I think affiliate marketers who have spent years fine-tuning their methods on Facebook and Google have a talent set tailor-made for Pay Per Call. It also is just as profitable, if not more so, than the CPA campaigns they’ve been running for the last decade. Finding information about running Pay Per Call can be difficult since so few affiliates are in this niche, but that is what networks like Aragon are here for.

SC: Explain Pay Per Call. Why is it such a big opportunity?

Arun Rajendran: Way back in 2010, I was placing ads for a moving company based in California. In the beginning, I tried SEO initiatives like link building and paid search ads to drive customers to their website to fill out the lead form or to call the phone number on the site to get a quote. Later that year, Google rolled out a feature called “call only ads” for mobile devices. Since it was relatively new at the time and less competitive, I had success in driving a high volume of leads at a low cost.

That’s when I thought, why not try reaching out to other service-based businesses to scale their lead acquisitions this way? And that’s how I discovered the vast revenue opportunity behind the Pay Per Call business model.

When I joined Aragon Advertising, there were only a few affiliate networks in the Pay Per Call space, but we started building our own Pay Per Call marketplace from scratch. It’s been hugely successful.

SH: What makes a great affiliate manager in today’s landscape?

AC: Managing affiliates is similar to any other job that involves relationship management and sales. There is a lot of push and pull, a lot of standing firm in your network’s policies and defending your publishers when they need adjustments made for them. Everything is a negotiation.

In an industry that can lack transparency between merchant processors, advertisers, networks, and affiliates, what makes a great affiliate manager is someone that can build trust where it doesn’t exist. I need my advertisers to trust that I am looking out for their businesses, and not putting their offers in the hands of someone who is going to send them low-quality, fraudulent traffic. I also need my publishers to trust that they will be paid for spending time and money marketing these offers. I spend a lot of time educating myself on both sides of the business, while acting as a consultant.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that there are real people behind all of my emails and calls, and the more I focus on getting to know them and how they run their businesses, the stronger the relationships become, and the more they’ll begin to hand over what I need to make everyone more successful.

SH: Where do you see the industry going?

Josh Kopac: In my opinion, the industry is moving in the direction of properly utilizing influence online, while also providing value. Whether your platform is a blog, Instagram profile, a podcast, or something else entirely, a direct shout out is going to go a long way. With the speed that media and information travels these days, a picture, description, or even personal testimonial from an influencer can literally move markets.

I also think voice-based computing is a very interesting and premature market. Affiliates who are on top of this early will figure out how to make money on platforms like the Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. I think it will be a big area for Pay Per Call marketing in the future. I wouldn’t even be surprised if these devices are given out for free in the future due to the ability for companies such as Google and Amazon to use advertising to monetize at a higher LTV.

SH: What is your favorite vertical to introduce to your affiliates?

JK: Hands down FinTech. I feel best about helping consumers be more efficient when it comes to their finances. It’s nice when you get to work with brands that you firmly believe in, too. Some of Aragon’s advertisers in this space, Digit and Chime, for instance, I’ve even used myself.

SH: If you wanted to find a solid affiliate for your network, how would you go about it?

JK: Build a reputation. Be trustworthy. Pay on time. Honor your word. There was a great quote on my bottled drink the other day, “Good things will come to those who hustle.” Affiliates will find you after the structure is built successfully.

SH: What things do you see your best affiliates doing that other affiliates don’t do?

Brian Schwartz: Some of the more successful affiliates I’ve seen use tracking software platforms such as Voluum, FunnelFlux, Ringba, or CallRail to help track and optimize their ad campaigns. No matter what an affiliate’s experience level is, it’s worth the expense of integrating your own tracking platform. Tracking allows affiliates to increase their ROI by lining up the best converting offers with the best-fitting traffic, enabling them to scale and automate.

Aragon, for instance, utilizes Invoca to track our Pay Per Call campaigns, and they have a feature called Ring Pools which can sync with Google Adwords campaigns. With this tool, our Pay Per Call publishers promoting campaigns on AdWords can optimize on the granular keyword level and scale traffic much more efficiently.

SH: Which verticals are driving the most traffic?

BS:We see consistent business from Debt Consolidation, Auto Insurance, Health Insurance, Medicare, Credit Repair, and Addiction Recovery. We’re coming up on Q4 which is the busiest time of year for health insurance and Medicare marketing. Right now is the best time to start getting comfortable with these verticals, so you’re ready to take advantage of the immense volume available from people who are waiting for the Open Enrollment Period [OEP] or Annual Election Period [AEP] to switch their plans.

SH: What have been the biggest affiliate trends from the last year?

Alec Stearn: An interesting and highly profitable affiliate trend I’m seeing this year is the emerging interest in IVR (cold) transfers via lead gen capture. Affiliates are buying cheaper co-reg traffic and filtering them through a low-cost drips funnel, and the combination here has ensured only the most qualified leads make it through the funnel and end up speaking to an agent.

About the Author

Sarah Callahan is Aragon Advertising’s Marketing Coordinator. Established in 2012, Aragon Advertising is a performance marketing agency operating its own affiliate network with an emphasis on lead generation, pay per call, and content marketing.