So you have started an affiliate program, and now one of the industry’s most frequently asked questions is your main concern. The question comes in many forms (Where do I find affiliates? What websites do affiliates hang around? Are there any good conferences at which I may recruit affiliates? Are there any tools to automatize affiliate recruitment?), but the essence is this: How can a merchant effectively recruit affiliates to promote his/her product/service?
The key is in a thorough and well-organized strategy. All tools and techniques that one can employ to serve the purpose of affiliate recruitment can be divided into six groups. Each group’s name on my list starts with the letter “S”, just as the number “six” does. I hope this will make it easy for you to remember them all.
Software applications can help you find prospective affiliates that either (a) already work with competing affiliate programs, or (b) run websites that target the traffic you’re after.
I have personally used Arelis, and have heard of other affiliate managers successfully working with LinkCapture on the same objective. Both of these applications can be great when used wisely. Improper use of these applications can also ruin your affiliate recruitment campaign. That is if you end up spamming those who should be treated as potential business partners.
Once you have obtained the contact information of the prospective affiliates, do not rush to send out the same e-mail to thousands of them. Unsolicited e-mail is still called spam. First of all, do a careful pre-screening of all webmasters the software finds for you. Make sure you do not contact those that you do not want to contact. Secondly, take your time to personalize your e-mails, or even try to approach them via snail mail. Innovation pays off. Finally, remember to follow up by sending a reminder e-mail (or postcard) a week after the first one.
In addition to link exchange and website promotion software, and if your budget allows it, you may also want to have a look into an application called Syntryx. It claims to contain over 1.6 million of affiliate contacts in it, and I have heard of other outsourced program managers using it quite successfully.
2) Social Media
In addition to software, you should also dive into the social media of affiliate marketing. There are numerous blogs and forums, Facebook and Linkedin groups, and other online communities where affiliates “hang out.” Join all of the ones you find of interest and relevance, but again, do not spam any of them! If youâ€™re on a forum, play by forumâ€™s rules. Do not start off by blatantly promoting your affiliate program. Most forums will ban you. Similarly, your comments can be banned and removed from blogs and social network groups. The secret of successful social media usage is simple: you cannot take more than you yourself have contributed in the first place. If and when you are of genuine help to the community, blog or forum, you will be warmly accepted.
Another tool worth mentioning is Twitter. It can also be excellent for affiliate recruitment.
3) Search Engines
While you certainly want to automatize as much of the affiliate recruitment process as possible, do not forget about the good ole search engine ranking analysis. If you run across websites that rank high for relevant keywords, do approach them. You will often see that many of them monetize their traffic by using AdSense units. This tells you that they are familiar with at least one of the affiliate marketing payment models. And even though the CPC (cost-per-click) model is one of the less frequently used ones now, it is always a good sign to see a website already being monetized. It will make it easier for you to explain your CPL (cost-per-lead) or CPS (cost-per-sale) models (whichever your affiliate program is based on) to them.
4) Second-Tier Affiliates
While I normally do not recommend having a second tier commission, and pay as much as possible on the first tier, it makes sense paying a bounty on new affiliate referrals. In fact, some “affiliates” are making this their main business. I am talking about affiliate program directories. These directories are the references that affiliates go to when searching for affiliate programs, and they are normally very well positioned in search engines. Most of them do not charge you anything for listing an affiliate program, but, on obvious reasons, they generally prefer listing affiliate programs that pay a bounty on every new affiliate sign-up. There are also quite a few mainstream affiliates that are interested in similar relationships with merchants.
5) Summits and Symposiums
Any type of conference or convention attended by affiliates is a great place to recruit. Affiliate Summit is a must; and when you go, make sure you get at least a table at the Meet Market that is held on the first day of the Summit. In the USA the Affiliate Summit is being held bi-annually: in Las Vegas during the winter, and on the East Coast during the summer. Besides the Affiliate Summit, I have personally found the following conferences to be good for making connections with affiliates: ad:tech, PubCon, Search Marketing Expo (SMX), Internet Marketing Conference, eMetrics Summit, and Search Engine Strategies (SES).
6) Symbiotic Recruitment
Webster’s Dictionary defines “symbiosis” as a “cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups).” What I am referring to is promoting your affiliate program on cross-program basis. You can form short- or long-term cross-program recruitment relationships with affiliate programs run by merchants that sell related (but not competing) products or services. You announce their affiliate program to your pool of affiliates, while they do the same for you in the circular sent out to their affiliates. If you go with cross-program promotions, remember to respect your affiliates’ privacy, and not abuse their trust. When they agree to receive your affiliate newsletter, they agree to receive the information that will help them succeed with your program, and may consider your aggressive pushing of some other affiliate program a spam. So, if you do a cross-program promo with another affiliate program, make sure to handle it gently.
In addition to the above six, most affiliate networks offer their merchants an array of internal affiliate recruitment options. These can be utilized right from within your merchant interface, but often cost you additional money. Also, make sure you continuously work on building your own list of current and prospective affiliates both by hosting a “subscribe to affiliate newsletter” form on your website, and by asking those that arenâ€™t yet ready to work with you if they would like to stay updated on the life of your affiliate program.
I hope you find the above information of practical use. If you have any questions, by all means, just post them as comments below, and I would be happy to entertain every one of them.
Geno is the founder and CEO of AM Navigator, an outsourced affiliate program management company, and he was voted the â€œBest OPM of the Yearâ€ for two years in a row (2006 and 2007) by the largest online affiliate marketing community, ABestWeb.com. Follow him on Twitter.