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Synopsis — Successful management of an affiliate program takes a lot of skill and effort, but it’s also important to be efficient and effective. In his article, “The Successful Affiliate Program Manager’s Toolbox,” Geno Prussakov discusses this challenge. Breaking down the affiliate program manager’s areas of responsibility into five major classifications, Geno then provides examples of some of the best tools available to help. He includes tips for getting the most out of the tools he highlights, and additional best practices. His five areas of managerial responsibility include: (1) Recruitment; (2) Activation; (3) Policing; (4) Communication; and (5) Optimization.
The complete article follows:
The Successful Affiliate Program Manager’s Toolbox
Beyond everything else, successful affiliate program management implies efficiency. Being efficient essentially means achieving effectiveness without wasting time or effort.
Managing an affiliate program can be a hectic and time-consuming job unless you automate what can be automated and actively employ existing tools that can boost productivity. But before we get to the toolbox, let’s start with the main components of affiliate program management. An affiliate program manager’s responsibilities can be divided into five major areas:
1. Recruitment of new affiliates
2. Activation of passive affiliates
3. Policing inappropriate methods and techniques
4. Maintenance of healthy communication channel
5. Ongoing program optimization
While a personal touch is an absolute must in every one of the above areas, affiliate managers must know the tools that can help them organize their routines in the most efficient way, maximizing productivity, and leaving more time for tasks that cannot be automated.
A number of software applications can help find prospective affiliates for existing programs. The main objective is to search for webmasters that already work with competing affiliate programs or run websites targeting the traffic you’re after.
For this task, I use IBP’s Arelis Link Manager, but have heard of other affiliate program managers successfully working with LinkCapture as well as some solutions traditionally used for link building. Such applications can help you quickly search the Internet, pulling websites that may be good affiliate partners, together with information about the site and their contact information. In addition to finding webmasters working in the same niche as you or already promoting your competitors through affiliate programs, such tools can also find those who write about your competitors, or mention them in any context.
However, keep in mind that the improper use of such applications can ruin your affiliate recruitment campaign if you wind up spamming those you should treat as potential business partners. Remember to personalize every piece of outgoing recruitment correspondence, and ensure that you truly are staying targeted and not simply mass-mailing blanket emails.
To help accomplish this, upon obtaining the contact information of the prospective affiliates, do a careful pre-screening of all webmasters the software finds for you. Make sure you do not accidentally contact those whom you do not want to contact. Second, take the time to personalize your emails or even consider approaching them via snail mail. Innovation pays off. Finally, remember to have a working unsubscribe mechanism in place.
In addition to link exchange and website promotion software, if your budget allows it, you may want to look at an application called Syntryx. It’s a robust platform claiming to spider close to two million affiliate contacts, and I have heard of outsourced program managers using it quite successfully.
Regardless of the heavy emphasis that many merchants put on affiliate recruitment, it is only half of the job. Sooner or later, every merchant understands that the actual number of recruited affiliates is largely irrelevant, since only active (or productive) affiliates make a difference. Various ways exist to define affiliate productiveness (impressions, clicks, sales/leads, etc.), but regardless of the result you are trying to reach, you must make affiliate activation one of your main goals.
To achieve this, regularly analyze your affiliate activity, segmenting affiliates by level of activation. Then send out segment/group-specific emails, motivating affiliates to put links up, start referring sales/leads, etc. If the affiliate platform upon which you’re running your program doesn’t allow for easy segmentation/categorization of affiliates, Excel can be your new best friend for this.
Monitoring affiliate compliance with your terms and conditions (TOS) — which I do hope your affiliate program has! — can be a near-impossible task unless you employ tools to help you cut through geotargeting, dayparting, cloaked links, and other tricks rogue affiliates love to use.
Depending on what type of compliance you’re trying to police, tools will differ. As an example, let’s focus on tools to help affiliate program managers police and enforce affiliate compliance with trademark rules. Depending on whether you want to monitor paid search, domaining, or content production, you’ll have a choice of different tools to use.
a. Monitoring Paid Search
iTrademarkBidding — This is a free, open-source solution for monitoring trademark bidding on Google, Yahoo, and Bing, using proxies set up in the majority of the states in the US. Results are recorded every hour, letting you see who has been bidding on your keywords.
BrandVerity PoachMark — Developed by Andy Skalet and David Naffziger, graduates of University of Colorado at Boulder and MIT respectively, PoachMark was built exclusively to meet the paid search compliance need. This excellent piece of software counters the techniques used by more sophisticated black hat affiliates (such as referrer laundering, geotargeting, dayparting, and id obfuscation). BrandVerity also manages and maintains two important databases of rogue affiliates — PoachMark Pool and The Affiliate Watchlist.
The Search Monitor — The Search Monitor focuses “real-time competitive intelligence to monitor brand and trademark use, affiliate marketers for compliance, and competition on paid search, mobile search, organic search, local, social media, and shopping engines worldwide in every language.” It can be effective in checking affiliate marketers for compliance with affiliate program Terms and Conditions, not only with restrictions pertaining to keyword bidding. This tool also allows you to police direct linking ad copy rules and keyword rank. Reporting options include a choice of viewing online or receiving email reports.
AdGooroo Trademark Insight — Similar to other tools, Trademark Insight provides 24/7 automated brand monitoring by identifying advertisers bidding on or using your brand terms in their ad copy. Each license enables merchants to monitor up to 200 variations of a single trademark on 8 search engines in 46 countries. Options also exist to view copy and average position of competing ads and identify the ad servers and individual affiliates.
b. Monitoring Domain Names
If you prohibit affiliate use of your registered trademarks in their domain names, you need to police this. CitizenHawk is recommended, as their unique technology “identifies instances of cybersquatting that infringe on a company’s trademark, sends notices of fraudulent activity to domain owners, interrupts the flow of money being paid to cybersquatters and automates legal action to get fraudulent sites stopped for good.”
c. Monitoring Content
Regardless of the type of content you want to monitor, a number of great (and, better yet, free!) tools exist. Here are just a few to consider:
- Google Alerts
- Social Media Firehose (by Yahoo!)
Needless to say, it is vital to maintain a healthy communication channel between you (the affiliate program manager) and your affiliates. Your main tools will be your email client, your affiliate program blog, and possibly also your Twitter account and Facebook fan page. The phone is always secondary — or even third after snail mail.
Finally, when talking about affiliate program optimization — which naturally includes most of the above four areas — we are basically looking at identifying and implementing opportunities to enhance the affiliate program. One of the most frequently overlooked methods of optimizing affiliate programs is by gathering competitive intelligence information and using it for the benefit of your program.
From all the definitions of “competitive intelligence” that I have seen, I personally like Chris West’s best of all. He eloquently defined it as “the process by which companies inform themselves about every aspect of their rivals’ activities and performance” (Competitive Intelligence, p. 12). There are three main methods that, I believe, affiliate managers should use:
a. Employ competitive intelligence tools like Compete, Quantcast, and Hitwise.
b. Join other affiliate programs (competing or closely related to yours), and monitor the methods and tactics they are using, ensuring your affiliate program stays competitive.
c. Subscribe to blog RSS feeds and monitor Twitter accounts and Facebook pages that other affiliate programs (or merchants) maintain.
Of course, the above-mentioned tools and strategies are just the tip of the iceberg, but should provide both food for thought as well as practical ideas. The key is in staying creative and thinking of ways in which traditional (be they link building, competitive intelligence, social media monitoring, or any other), existing tools may be used for affiliate program management-related tasks and objectives.