How to Set Up a Successful Affiliate Marketing Partnership: An Expert View

Geno Prussakov is an award-winning affiliate marketing professional, CEO & Founder of AM Navigator, and a guest of our recent #SEMrushchat. We asked him to give us expanded answers on how to find a valuable affiliate partner. Here are the main criteria of successful collaboration and the biggest mistakes to avoid.

What are the three parameters one should look at first when searching for an affiliate partner?

Quality and Targetedness of Referred Traffic

One would assume that, by its very definition, affiliate marketing is about these two elements as affiliates get compensated on a performance basis and should have no interest in sending low quality or untargeted traffic. The reality, however, is such that we do see low-quality affiliates out there. So, advertisers should look for those affiliate partners whose audiences they really want to touch through them – in a targeted and value-added way.

Marketing Complementarity

Ask yourself if the affiliate’s marketing efforts will complement your own, helping you amplify your marketing message, lubricating the path to conversion. Be it a unique mobile app that they have, or a consumer advice website, or skills to market you in ways that you yourself cannot look for the element of complementarity. If missing altogether, move on. If elements of potential marketing cannibalization are found, stay away. Look for valuable affiliate partners!

Incrementality of Referred Business

Whether it is an affiliate who can refer new-to-file customers or one who can effectively re-engage those customers who are no longer actively spending their money with you, look for affiliates who have the capability of driving incremental business. You do want to compensate affiliates on return customers, but it’s important to also reward them for incremental business.

Preview: How to Evaluate a Prospective Partner

Looking for a reliable way to evaluate a potential affiliate, co-marketing or business partner? Fill in the ultimate SEMrush cheat sheet to choose the most promising candidate! Evaluate the main metrics to figure out your future partner’s potential and make the optimal decision.

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What are the best ways for a startup to find their first valuable affiliate partner?

Startups are typically bootstrapped. Therefore, they should first consider the lower-cost ways of recruiting affiliates. Here are a few ideas:

  • Contact your happy clients. Who could be a better advocate than a satisfied customer?

  • Identify potential prospects within an affiliate network if your affiliate program is run on one. Search for them by type, niche, keywords, etc.

  • Look into giving your affiliate program additional visibility through paid search. You’ll be surprised how affordable it can be.

  • Submit your program’s information to affiliate program directories. We know that one in five affiliates uses them when searching for new affiliate programs to join.

  • Target attendees of affiliate conferences as well as your niche-specific conventions and meetups.

  • Identify your competitors’ affiliates or those who make your direct competition successful through affiliate marketing relationships. This method will require website traffic analytics tools, which means additional investment, but it has high chances of paying off.

What are the biggest mistakes people make when choosing affiliate partners? How can they overcome them?

  1. Auto-approving affiliates. An open door is never a good idea. To ensure that you’re partnering with those you do want to partner with, I recommend that you vet every affiliate application manually.

  2. Being misled by affiliate network size. What is more important is the number of strong affiliates in your niche that are active in the network.

  3. Focusing on quantity of onboarded affiliates. The number of recruited affiliates is irrelevant. It is the activated affiliates that are important.

  4. Failing to police compliance. Having rules and policies in place is important, but it doesn’t guarantee compliance with them. Having these gives you a solid foundation to police and enforce affiliate compliance, but it is important to devote the effort to doing it.

  5. Failing to diversify. Putting all your eggs in one basket has never been a good strategy. Do not rely on any one type of affiliate (be it coupon aggregators, ranking sites, incentive affiliates, or anyone else). Make sure to build a diversified affiliate base to effectively influence your customer throughout their journey through the sales funnel.

What are the best ways to estimate the number of leads/ROI that you can get from an affiliate?

This is a really tough question. The reason for this being that there are always too many contingencies and variables to make feasible predictions. And not only on the affiliate side but also on the brand side (price competitiveness, user-friendliness, CRO aspects, etc.).

Of course, you could estimate the number of conversions based on the affiliate’s traffic volume, assuming a click-through rate, and then tying in a suitable conversion rate assumption (basing the latter on what’s realistic for this particular type of affiliate). I would advise any affiliate manager not to share the results of such arithmetic with the affiliate, though. You do not want to set their expectations at a level they will never be able to reach.

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