Over the past decade affiliate marketing has evolved into a complex ecosystem of intertwining online marketing channels. The success of an affiliate program is now more than ever dependent on a thorough understanding of all constituents indivually, as well as how they all interact with each other and with the merchants own marketing effots.

Today’s Q&A post is based on a conversation with Robert Glazer, an award-winning affiliate manager, Founder and Managing Director at Acceleration Partners, a digital marketing agency.

What are the major challenges with which you see affiliate managers struggle?

Not enough resources. Retailers have high expectations for their affiliate program revenue, yet the resources applied to the program don’t come anywhere close to a full-time employee. This is true for in-house management, network managers and third party OPMs. Most programs are just not getting enough of a dedicated focus, and as a result, only go after the low hanging fruit.

Additionally, the main metric that most managers are asked to pay attention to — “program revenue” — is very misleading. It encourages affiliate managers to bring in any and all revenue, even if it’s eroding margin from another marketing program. Examples include many coupon and incentive sites who are not driving new traffic or sales.

What do you view as the main affiliate program growth opportunities?

Affiliate program managers need to get creative — and aggressive — about finding and investing in high value affiliates. Put time into innovative shopping sites such as Polyvore and Pinterest, work with affiliates who have partnered with key content sites (i.e. Skimlinks, VigLink) and leverage the large social media footprint of top blog sites. Each of these channels allows managers to focus on a few high level relationships that have a lot of leverage. 

Why would a merchant consider outsourcing their affiliate program management?

Affiliate marketing is a very complicated industry and unfortunately many people who are working on and managing programs know much less about the industry than their affiliates. It’s rare to see a merchant with a dedicated in house team that has previous experience in the industry and far too many affiliate program managers are learning on the fly. Successful and effective affiliate management requires a diverse set of skills and tools that is better delivered by a cross-functional team. If a company can’t dedicate enough time to the program to properly manage fraud and cultivate quality affiliates, they should strongly consider outsourcing.

Give us 5 tips that affiliate managers (and/or merchants) could implement right away — to improve the ROI of their affiliate programs.

  1. Assume that anything too good to be true is;
  2. Look closely at referring URLs, especially when there has been a big spike in traffic or sales;
  3. Manage your affiliates as a sales team: empower them to success with great creatives and promotions, and offer incentives for performance;
  4. Examine conversion rate and new customer creation levels for each affiliate to determine quality;
  5. Pay low value affiliates less.