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How to Cultivate a Great Affiliate Program

Published: July 31, 2014

Author: Molly Shotwell

Affiliate marketing spend is expected to eclipse $4.4 billion by 2016, with a compound annual growth rate over 16% since 2011, according to a report published by Forrester Consulting. With affiliate programs becoming a bigger element within digital marketing strategies, it’s important to identify the basics of a strong affiliate program beyond offering the highest payout.


Establishing a regular program newsletter is one of the best ways to communicate with your affiliates. Some of you might be thinking, but everyone just deletes those and my efforts will be wasted! As you can see from the graphic below taken from the 2014 Affiliate Summit AffStat report, email remains the preferred method of communication for affiliate marketers. affiliate Here are some tips to help you stay out of the recycling bin:

1. Reward your readers. My newsletters announce all the newest promotions, usually on the day they launch so my readers have the first shot at updating their sites. Everyone is on the lookout for fresh, engaging content, and I want them to know where to look first!

2. Make their lives easier. When providing a new offer banner or text link, make sure to include the tracking link specific to the affiliate opening the email. This takes a little bit of HTML knowledge, but it goes a long way. The easier we make it (i.e. the less work the affiliate has to do), the more likely they will implement the changes and start driving the conversions we want!

3. Encourage feedback. I love it when my affiliates write back and ask questions or give suggestions; it tells me they are interested in being active within our program! This is a great way to develop partnerships with specific affiliates, which can come in handy later for testing or polling new ideas before rolling them out.

4. Be consistent. Whether you want to communicate bi-weekly or monthly, don’t deviate from your schedule.


download Chances are, the majority of your sales and traffic are driven by a handful, or small percentage of your total affiliate base. It is especially important to get in contact and create a good rapport with these top performers to get a better understanding of what your partners need in order to succeed. After all, our own success is tied in closely with theirs!

1. Be generous. Make sure to reward your top performers with personalized payout amounts and incentives. Affiliates capable of driving large amounts of traffic are precious and rare; don’t give them an economic reason to focus on promoting a competitor!

2. Cultivate a relationship. More and more affiliate programs are focusing on working with a few top affiliates rather than expending resources to work with many small players – this makes each big affiliate that much more valuable as your competitors try to lure them away. Cultivating a long and mutually beneficial relationship can help keep the competition at bay.

3. Provide resources. Affiliates know the tendencies of their own user base better than we do, so it’s important to provide what they think will work best for their audience. In some cases, it can be as easy as fresh creative or working together to create a unique offer; give your affiliates the tools to succeed!

4. Test, test, test! Test conversion traffic if your ad is ranking #1 vs #2. Test your banner ad on different landing pages. Test ads with differing creative or ad copy. Analyze the results and create a payout proposal that benefits both parties!

AUDIT BACKEND DATA quality-blocks1

1. Track order data. Match up sales data with orders to quickly weed out fraudulent affiliates – those that are driving a high percentage of low-quality traffic, or much lower AOV customers. Use the data available to adjust payouts and to eliminate poor performers!

2. Establish a payout timeframe that works for your sales cycle. Make sure that you have enough time to verify the quality of orders before automatically paying out your affiliates. You don’t want to pay out large sums of money to an affiliate only to find out in a few weeks every one of their orders have been canceled before you are able to realize any value!

3. Quickly resolve conflicts. With a strong auditing process in place, it should be easy to quickly verify affiliate commission payouts and sales that will inevitably pop up. “The customer experience is the next competitive battleground” – and our affiliates are our customers!

Take the time and ensure your affiliate program is maximizing relationships with your current partners. We will go over tips to expanding your program in the next blog post!

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