Categorize and Customize Your Support
Most affiliate programs see their affiliates as one big undifferentiated group of web sites, but that's not true. Each web site is different and will have a different approach to promoting your offers. One general banner or text link won't work for every affiliate. Creating a separate marketing and merchandising program for each affiliate obviously isn't possible. But if you look at your network hard enough and analyze the different sites that it contains, you may be able to find similarities among them from which you can create different affiliate groupings and offer different linking methods.
First, have someone on your affiliate management staff do nothing but visit your affiliate sites with two objectives in mind:
Have him create a set of criteria to use to group your affiliates into a few site categories.
Once these groupings are determined, decide the best strategies to help affiliates achieve their sales goals for your program.
Once these strategies have been determined for an affiliate site, you might give your team a bonus for every site that improves sales by applying a group strategy. What could these different marketing strategies look like? Besides banner and text links, there are other ways for individual affiliates to promote your offers. Some might work for all your affiliate groupings, whereas only one or two will work with others.
If an affiliate needs content for her site, newsletter, or e-zine, write articles about your product or service subject area. These should be informative and entertaining for the reader and provide links to your products or service, a survey or contest, or a link back to your site to capture a sales lead or make a sale.
Supply different sizes of ad copy—with links—for those affiliates that want to advertise in e-zines or have a newsletter of their own they send out to their site subscribers. Be sure to include a few witty lines of copy with links that they can place in the email signature line to help generate click-throughs from the recipients.
Some affiliates might want to have more than a simple banner link, text link, or button on their web pages. Some might want to place images of your products that link directly to those products on your site for purchase. In this way, they could select images of products specific to the content of their site. By communicating with your affiliates, you might find other marketing strategies that they could use that fit within the way they market their site. Review each affiliate group and match them up with your linking and marketing methods. And most important of all, encourage them to know your product or service.
Encourage Affiliates to Know Your Product
Just because affiliates choose to join your program and sell your product or service, that doesn't mean they know a whole lot about what you sell. You need to take the time to teach them the basics of your merchandise. That includes knowing the demographic mix of their sites—who comes to their sites and why—and then targeting that mix with your offers. But suppose you have affiliates that seem to join programs that have no relationship to the content of their sites, or join every new one that comes down the information highway? What to do with them?
The easy way is to just drop them from your program. But how do you know that some of those affiliates might not turn out to be some of your best? If you're willing to make an extra effort with your program, you may very well mold some of those into the 5% of affiliates that provide 95% percent of your program revenue. All they may need is a little guidance on how to position your offer within the context of their sites. It may only take some effective target marketing to help them position their sites to visitors better—along with better placement of your offer on their sites. Taking time to work with sites that respond to your offers of assistance may turn these sites into your better performers.
The quickest and most important way to teach affiliates about the value of your offer and how to merchandise it is to have them use your product or service. If you're selling a single product or an individual service, have them purchase it and use it—better yet, give it to them if you can—with the expectation that they will do the following:
Have them use the product and see it as their own. By getting a hands-on experience with your offering they can better understand what it is and how it works, so they can better position it within the context of their web sites.
Expect them to give your product or service their personal recommendation to the visitors of their sites. After all, if they've used your product or service—and you assume they're satisfied with it—their trust and credibility with their visitors will transfer to your offering, making an easier sale.
By putting their stamp of approval on your offer, your and their sales will increase. Their personal recommendation should include some important details, such as what they like about your product or service, what it will do for their site visitors, and why they should buy it. Getting their visitors to part with their hard-earned money is a lot easier if the affiliates personally have used your product or service and can recommend it.
Provide an Affiliate Support Site
The Net is an almost infinite storehouse of information. So why not provide links to this information for your affiliates to use to improve their site design and content, help position and market their sites, build a newsletter mailing list, and position their sites in search engine results? Using the resources of the Net is a great way to offer marketing and promotional help to your affiliates. This is especially important if you have limited time and resources.
Provide Access to Internet Resources
Create a place on your web site for your affiliates that provides a list of Net resources to help them make their sites (and selling your program) a success. The very first thing you need to have on your affiliate support pages is an extensive FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) list. Because affiliate programs generate so much interest and countless questions, it's important to create and continually update your FAQ section.
Take some time to think through all the common questions that your affiliates have asked or may ask. Post those questions with your answers on your affiliate support pages. This will save you countless time answering the same questions via email and phone calls.
Provide Information About Free Advertising
On your affiliate support pages, be sure to list sites where affiliates can get free advertising, create free polls, add free discussion boards and chats, offer free email, obtain free content, and join programs that will help them become better marketers. You can provide links to sites offering free search engine submission services, banner exchanges, email list builders, and many other free services on the Net. For more affiliate support resources, visit http://www.affiliatemanager.net/support.htm.
Learning how to submit your web site and get good placement in the search engines is important for your affiliate sites in generating traffic—traffic you need to see your offers. Keywords Wizard is a free search engine keyword tool that lets web sites analyze the best keywords to use when listing their sites in the search engines. Affiliate Toolkit is a free meta-page creation tool, whereas search engine optimization services and tools can be found at Top Web Promo.
A good source for free advertising is reciprocal linking or trading links with other sites. You can link to a good list of such web sites at Adbility. In fact, Adbility is one of many web sites that provide marketing sources and site tools—many of them free—to affiliate sites to help boost traffic and promote their sites. Another such site is CashPile, which provides both you and your affiliates with free marketing tips, tools, and original content.
Another helpful resource for your affiliate support pages is to list a handful of good email newsletters that let your affiliates place an ad for $15 to $40. Point them to E-zineZ, BestEzines.com, and LifeStyles Publishing. Then write several ads your affiliates can use. Put them on your web site and have them available via auto-responder.
Online resources like these will help your affiliates improve their sites and their marketing knowledge, at the same time showing your affiliates that you really see them as business partners. It sends the message loud and clear that your success depends on their success. Better yet, why not make a little money joining their affiliate programs while helping your affiliates?