It's important for advertisers to think about the long tail within their affiliate marketing strategy, and possibly even more so in 2012 as publisher models have changed dramatically. 

What was once considered an industry of people 'setting up shop' on their kitchen table is now a multi-million pound market as we have seen the growth of affiliate corporations which are set to continue to dominate the market.  

While is big money to be made by affiliates due to the rise of voucher code sites and cash back sites as well as the more traditional content-led sites, there is still an abundance of smaller affiliates with a niche audience that brands can tap into.

Here are some tips on making the most of these long tail sites...

 These smaller, but often more rewarding, sites are commonly known as the long tail and there's a certain skill to tapping into this niche group. 

Whereby an advertiser’s top performing affiliate may be well established, investing in the long tail to build a relationship with key influential sites for a specific audience demographic could have a substantial boost to any affiliate programme. 

You may not reap rewards immediately, but investing in the long tail could be vital for a successful long-term affiliate programme.

So how do you do 'mine' the long tail? 

Many advertisers look at separating their affiliate outreach to top performing affiliates and the long tail, working with two networks to target these two groups. 

However, this could be a detrimental method as to be successful in the long tail needs substantial investment of both time and finances. It’s always worth re-investing some of the big win successes you have with top performing affiliates to then focus on the long tail. 

It’s a big mistake to separate the two, you should make your budget work for you and dividing it up is easier but not necessarily the best option. 

It’s key to remember that the long tail will never deliver immediate returns, it’s an investment. 

A publisher that’s currently delivering one conversion a month will not suddenly jump to be in your top five publishers pushing hundreds of sales, or at least it’s highly unlikely. 

However, what is a possibility is that 50 publishers in the long tail move from delivering one sale to four sales a month. That’s a 400% rise in sales and an extra 150 sales a month.

These are realistic figures and something advertisers should be aspiring to achieve. What’s difficult is making this a cost efficient proposition.

Identify the publishers who have the capacity to deliver

The first thing is to identify the publishers who have the capacity to deliver, those who want to push your products and can deliver for you. 

The best way of doing this is to incentivise, it doesn’t have to be a dramatic investment, but it’s a perfect way of dividing up the thousands of publishers in the long tail to see who has the capacity to deliver. 

Rather than incentivising everyone, you can simply incentivise the top 5% of your long tail with quadruple commission if they deliver, that way you’re rewarding only those who are providing results by simply slimming your margins. 

This is a great way of showing you exactly who delivers within your affiliate programme and who you need to start building a relationship with. 

Look for responsive affiliates

The next thing to think about is communication. You want affiliates who are responsive and can offer feedback, not an affiliate who is simply going to deliver for high returns but not put the extra work into providing regular clicks. 

However, building relationships takes time and effort. If you want to build rewards from the long tail this is where you need to invest. 

It’s always better to use some of the successes from quick win big publishers to reinvest into an affiliate programme to allow the capacity to establish and nurture long tail relationships. These will eventually deliver the rewards you want.

Establishing long tail relationships

There are several ways to start these relationships:

Meet people face to face

Trade shows, expos and hosting webinars are great ways to ensure you have plenty of avenues of communication. 

Communication is key to any relationship and will build the foundation to any affiliate programme, though it needs to be a two way discussion. 

Listening to feedback 

Feedback is integral to building and shaping an affiliate programme. Publishers will offer insight that isn’t obvious to an outsider.

This is particularly true in the long tail as many of the sites targeted are small and niche, the individual publishers will know what works for their audience, and it’s always worth listening. 

This may seem like obvious advice, but the basics are often the most difficult to master. 

Small investment into the affiliate channel can provide substantial rewards, and relationships are at the heart of success for any affiliate programme, particularly when you want to mine the long tail.

Florian Gramshammer

Published 11 January, 2012 by Florian Gramshammer

Florian Gramshammer is Country Manager at Commission Junction UK /Valueclick and a contributor to Econsultancy.

4 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (4)


Oil and Gas Auctions

All of the data in the world cannot help you if you don't have the relationships with your affiliates. Loved your post. Communication and meeting face to face are what is lacking not only in the industry, but in everything we do nowadays.

over 6 years ago


Simon Swan, Online Marketing at Met Office

Segmentation of your affiliate base is a key requirement to ensure you're maximising your long tail. When working for my previous company, we were very keen on this by segmenting affiliates by sales/revenue generated on a monthly basis.

From here we could then identify potential opportunities of affiliates who could/should be generating a better conversion on the program.

To do this communicating and building a relationship was key:

*We formed a number of email templates composed on different scenarios

*Incentive offers - around products and promotions

*Getting out of the office and going to meet your affiliates face to face and understanding their needs and requirements.

*Competitor analysis - always looking to differentiate our affiliate program from a competitor in the same sector - what could we offer through our affiliate program as a USP that not only retained our affiliates but also incentivised affiliates to join our program

We also ran monthly competitions that appealed to our whole affiliate program

over 6 years ago


Craig Patterson

Sometimes meeting the long tail face to face can be difficult. An excellent way of managing this is to hold annual or bi-annual affiliate days for your brand.

This gives you an opportunity to get across your brand message and future plans for the brand without distraction while being able to meet and greet the affiliates afterwards.

over 6 years ago


Zack Lim

Most merchant are not willing to invest in the time and money to 'mine' the long tail. There are many affiliate programs that will just provide various affiliate tools for the affiliate and the rest is up to the affiliate.

It is definitely a good idea to have a annual or biannual event when the merchant/company will be meeting face to face with the affiliates. This will brings in the 'Human' factor to the business and it is simply not just an 'online business' as there are real people involved in the business.

If they can help like 10% of their affiliates to increase their sales from 1 to 4, the total profits will be 4 times more. It is definitely worth it to commit the time to build good relationship with the affiliates.

over 6 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.