In part one we looked at how and why the engagement of an affiliate programme’s ‘Long Tail’ is pertinent to advertisers today.

This second part will look at specific techniques and ‘quick wins’ which have proven successful for other advertisers.

Long Tail optimisation 

Much about Long Tail optimisation is based on assumptions. One of the most widely-held is that it is just not possible because of the small sales volumes.

But this would be to hold the Long Tail to the same volume standards as the top performers, which is clearly unrealistic.

Long Tail engagement is a lot like SEO. One of the characteristics of the Long Tail is its lack of short-term influence. These affiliates are slower burners and therefore require longer-term commitment.

While the performance of top affiliates will be characterised by peaks and troughs (marking the point where their newsletters are sent, for instance) the Long Tail will not show as pronounced a trend.

How then can advertisers devise a strategy to engage the Long Tail?

They might start by questioning what kind of Long Tail they want. An advertiser may consider some existing affiliates unsuitable and therefore want to effectively recruit a Long Tail of better quality partners.

Most brands will find that recruitment is not an issue but relevance is. To find the best, some advertisers use their PR teams, who monitor what is said about their brand online while others ask potential resellers to start as affiliates.

Similarly, advertisers whose market is seasonal may recruit for peak periods rather than expecting Long Tail affiliates to be active all year round.

More generally with affiliate recruitment, it is worth remembering that the Long Tail of an affiliate programme will be the Long Tail of Google.

The amount of traffic a site generates is susceptible to its rankings on Google, so advertisers can start their recruitment efforts by looking at what sites rank for their product terms.

Secondly, many advertisers I have spoken to agree that re-categorising or segmenting the Long Tail is critical to the success of any engagement strategy.

Different advertisers do this in different ways.

One breaks the Long Tail into mid and lower tier affiliates, another separates them according to whether they are on or off brand in how they are represented. A third is more granular, considering whether an affiliate performs above or below the programme average for key metrics like new customers, churn and AOVs. 

Each of these are indicators of quality beyond simple volume of sales.

If sales volume provides a poor comparison to the top performers, how could an advertiser measure the success of the Long Tail?

Their aspirations need to be realistic:

  • One advertiser wanted Long Tail affiliates to reach an average of half the programme’s conversion rates.
  • Another focused not on sales but CTRs and the relevance of the placement they received onsite against their competitors.
  • A third looked at month-on-month sales growth from the Long Tail, rather than the proportion of overall sales it accounted for. Time is a more neutral benchmark than the proportion of sales.

    Top performers are more campaign-responsive and so produce more pronounced peaks, obscuring Long Tail performance if looked at from the perspective of the total sales they contribute.

So a key success factor with Long Tail engagement is to treat the Long Tail differently to the top performers. But what quick wins do they respond best to?

  • When asked in the 2011 Econsultancy Census why they did not promote programmes they had joined, affiliates’ most common answer was poor quality linking methods.

    Copy and creative is a particular need of Long Tail sites, so flexibility on this – perhaps with co-branded banners or landing pages– is greatly appreciated.

  • Sending content-based sites products to review (and not asking for them back!) encourages them to write about this, whilst at the same time giving them a stake in promoting the brand.
  • Prizes need not cost much, and gift vouchers on an advertiser’s products further solidify a personal connection. One advertiser runs a ‘Publisher of the Month’ award offering a £50 voucher to the best submission of a URL showing how they are promoted.
  • Cash incentives are sometimes ineffective, but one advertiser offers a £10 cash bonus on an affiliate’s first sale. All newly-joined or inactive affiliates receive an email offering £10 against their ‘next’ (rather than ‘first’) sale, signed by the Affiliate Manager to give a personal touch.
  • Customer-facing incentives combat the problem of good quality traffic not converting. One advertiser targets affiliates with high CTRs but low conversions with an exclusive code directing to a co-branded landing page. Conversely, it is better to avoid offering commission increases to Long Tail affiliates. These tend only to work for those more experienced in producing sales; those not presently producing volume are unlikely to be motivated by one.
  • The final quick win is to add a recruitment page to the site to explain how the relationship works for good-quality sites looking for ways to monetise their traffic, and direct to the network where they can apply to join.

More ideas on the topic of Long Tail engagement can be found in my presentation at last year’s a4u Expo here.