Used effectively, affiliate marketing can contribute up to 30% of the online revenue for a brand. Also known as performance marketing, the affiliate channel harnesses the power of a network of publishers promoting on the brand’s behalf, both extending and optimising a brand’s reach.

Unfortunately, affiliate marketing has sometimes been perceived as the poor relation behind some of its sexier industry siblings – social media, creative and advertising. With the rapid march of eCommerce however and the resultant need for a dynamic online approach,  the performance marketing channel is growing and is increasingly becoming a key part of brands’ multi-channel online marketing strategies.

It’s important of course to get the basics right. There are rules of engagement for affiliates, optimal means of incentivising the sale and the need for policies to protect brands when in the hands of third party marketers. The good news is, with the right structure in place, affiliate marketing is a highly rewarding approach for the brand and its online performance. Here are our top five tips for embarking on an effective performance marketing program:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate

Communication is key if an affiliate program is to perform effectively at securing those all-important incremental sales. Merchant, affiliate and network need to form a magic triangle of communication where information and expertise can be exchanged and shared, and ideas generated. To assume that affiliates will know your brand and products inside out should not be left to chance, and detail is paramount. Advising on which products are best sellers will help affiliates to promote your range more effectively, and drive higher conversion. Keep affiliates posted on what’s hot and keep them motivated to actively promote on your behalf.

You should also identify important affiliates. For strategic partners that offer advantages of volume, conversion or reach, offer exclusives or a different commission structure in order to incentivise them further. High quality affiliates should be valued and working in collaboration can generate robust results – if you can show there’s more in it for them, there will also be more in it for your brand!

2. Transparency

Affiliate marketing is all about performance and offers the advantage of tracking from click to sale so that the affiliate can be recognised as the source of the sale and reimbursed accordingly. Performance marketing is inherently measurable, so you must keep a close eye on where conversions have taken place, but also be transparent around cancellations and ensure de-duping is scrupulously applied.

Clarity and consistency around your payment processes will also keep affiliates happy and in turn, more likely to promote your program again and again. Delayed payments are a major turn-off for affiliates and can damage positive relationships.

The administration of approving transactions on time is critical. Affiliates work hard to promote the brand, and you should ensure they are credited on time.

3. Tools of the trade

With great products and active lines of communication in place, it is important that the quality and availability of affiliate resources doesn’t let your brand down. Ensure banners are up-to-date and customised to reflect seasonal changes, offering accurate product info and pricing for instance. Christmas is approaching, and most big affiliates have already commenced their Christmas promotions – they can’t do this without the necessary resources in place.

The quality of the product feed you provide to affiliates is also very important in enabling performance. The feed should include all the products on site and their attributes. It should be well structured, correctly formatted, consistently labelled and updated frequently. Using all the fields an eCommerce platform utilises (categories, colours, sizes, price and images), you should ensure there are no spelling mistakes, broken links, or truncated fields. Remember, feed requirements will vary according to your vertical and your network will be able to provide detailed advice on how to optimise your feed accordingly. Make life for the affiliate as easy and simple as possible, and they will be more likely to promote your program.

4. Keep it fresh

Don’t underestimate the power of creative engagement and innovation through the affiliate channel. Jumping on current market trends, hosting affiliate events and brand immersions, developing tailored campaigns, offers, discounts and competitions with high performing affiliates will all help make your program perform even more effectively.  The other straightforward thing to ensure is that affiliates are kept up to date on any changes to the brand website.

5. Onwards and upwards

Reviewing activity regularly will enable you to understand what is working well. By incorporating this insight into future campaigns, brands will be able to prioritise their key affiliates and create offers that optimise conversion in a smooth and efficient process.

Brand-side digital marketers need to continuously tinker with their affiliate program to ensure it continues to improve in performance and drive incremental sales. By communicating effectively, exercising transparency, utilising content imaginatively, adding creativity and constantly reviewing activity, an affiliate program will grow revenue consistently and cumulatively for the brand.

Derek Grant

Derek Grant


Derek Grant is Sales Director for Webgains UK.