Why Your Affiliate Program Can’t Run on Auto-Pilot

Imagine you just opened a small bakery but you aren’t getting many customers. You realize a good way to get more business would be to tell your friends to spread the word about your bakery and you’ll give them a share of your sales from the customers they bring in. At first you’re really picky about which friends are referring you customers because you want to make sure the customers are high quality. But soon, you are so consumed with your business you don’t have time to monitor who is sending customers your way and who you are sharing your profits with. You start seeing some shady figures visiting your shop and you’ve even had some people pay with counterfeit bills. Referral setups like this can spiral out of control quickly if they aren’t being constantly monitored. This is the same case with online affiliate program.

The mindset that affiliate programs run on their own without dedicated account managers is a common misconception we have come across when talking to potential clients. Many assume that having their program hosted on an affiliate network will provide all the program management they need. However, the job of the affiliate network is to provide the merchant with tracking, reporting, and payment solutions with the rest of the responsibilities falling on the affiliate program management team.

There are many reasons that having a dedicated account management team is not only important, but also absolutely vital to the success of your affiliate program. Here are a few of them:

  • Manual approvals: While the filters many of the affiliate networks have available to approve/decline publishers are useful in certain cases, they could cause you to either decline a high quality partner from your program or allow a fraudulent publisher in. For example, if you have your filters set to auto-decline publishers outside the US for shipping reasons, you could be missing out on a great partnership with a highly trafficked blogged based in a foreign country who has an audience of all US visitors. On the other hand, if your filters only allow publishers above a certain earnings level, a publisher could have earned a lot from the network through PPC bidding without permission or other fraudulent activities. It is important to have someone who looks through each application to see if the website has relevant content, has an audience that aligns with the brand, has a high following, and doesn’t have any inappropriate material.
  • Daily metrics check: Our account management teams check metrics for each of our clients first thing in the morning. This is incredibly important for several reasons. First, a site upgrade that we weren’t informed about could cause the pixel to stop working properly. If we check the metrics and the numbers and sales have completely dropped off, we can look into it further to see if there is a tracking problem. If there is an unusually large spike in performance we can also look into that to see if it was caused by an affiliate exhibiting fraudulent behavior. This daily check also allows us to see how performance is trending for the month so we can make adjustments as needed.
  • Fraud and brand protection: Some websites will refer fraudulent sales hoping merchants won’t notice and therefore pay them commissions they didn’t really earn. When managing affiliate programs, we make sure we know how all the top earning affiliates are generating that revenue to make sure they are adhering to each clients’ terms and conditions. We also regularly check affiliates’ sites to make sure they aren’t promoting invalid offers or using messaging that doesn’t align with the client’s brand standards.
  • Affiliate inquiries: We are constantly getting emails from affiliates asking questions about our client’s affiliate programs, requesting specific links/banners, wanting to collaborate on new projects, etc. If no one was dedicated to affiliate communication these affiliate emails would go unanswered and they would most likely choose to promote a different company.
  • Recruitment: If the only source of recruitment is relying on new affiliates to join your program, you could be missing out on some great and profitable partnerships. It is important to be constantly looking for and reaching out to new affiliates to join the program. There is a lot of competition for which merchants affiliates will promote and you want to make sure they know about your brand. When you program is on autopilot you don’t have anyone contacting new potential partners to grow the affiliate base.
  • Newsletters: Affiliates need regular communication to keep the brand top of mind and also so they are informed about specific promotions and new products the brand has. If there is no one managing the program and keeping affiliates up to date, they won’t have new content to add to their sites and may choose to promote a competitor who is running compelling promotions.

We are often asked, why does this really matter? The answer really comes down to one thing, performance. Our team currently manages a program that started out on autopilot. After taking over active management, the program grew by 57% in revenue and 89% in traffic in just the first month. These result came after we identified affiliates that were unintentionally removed due to a lapse in program terms and got them back into the program.

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