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3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Agency-Brand Relationship

Maybe you've just hired an agency to launch your affiliate program. Maybe you've just made the transition from in-house to outsourced agency. In either case, the burning question at the forefront of your mind is, how do I make sure my affiliate program succeeds in the hands of this new agency? Here are a few things to keep in mind.

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

So many marketing managers and business owners make the mistake of thinking that the only involvement they need to have with their affiliate program, since they've hired an outsourced program manager, is to review the monthly reports and pay their bills on time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Without a steady stream of communication, how can your program manager be sure they are up to date on your latest promotions, new product launches or new initiatives?

We recommend setting up, at the very least, a bi-weekly call with your account manager to go over the latest updates in your business  and hear the latest opportunities your account manager has for you. If a call is too much of a time commitment, make sure to answer your program manager's emails promptly, and respond to new opportunities in a timely fashion.

Hold Them Accountable.

Sales can fluctuate week to week, and depending on your strategy, a variety of factors will come into play when it comes to measuring sales. But the one thing that should not fluctuate is the amount of effort put into your program. Make sure your agency is consistently bringing you new opportunities, recruiting new publishers, optimizing relationships and securing additional exposure for your brand

Don't Micromanage.

It can be very tempting to set up an email address for your account managers where you're cc'ed on every email they receive, but don't jump in and try to manage the program yourself when you've hired someone to do that for you. If you're holding your account managers accountable, and you're in steady communication with them, you should trust that they are doing their job. And that email you saw come through ten minutes ago? That will be handled.

 

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Reddit to Start Using Affiliate Links

In a blog post yesterday afternoon, Reddit announced that they would be testing out a partnership with Viglink, a competitor of Skimlinks, to automatically include affiliate tracking on Reddit links to merchant websites, excluding Amazon. The test will be conducted by user, and Reddit says only a small percentage of users will experience the change during the test phase. Redditors can also opt out, if they have any objections.

The change won’t affect existing affiliate links, so redditors who have already been using Reddit to post affiliate links won’t have their commission stolen from them, but this will affect all ‘unclaimed’ links. Merchants should expect to see in a bit of an uptick in Viglink clicks when this rolls out, and if you were previously receiving free referrals from Reddit, that’s about to come to a change.

One has to wonder what’s next for Reddit. Once links are affiliatized, might there be opportunities to pay for additional exposure via affiliates? Will Reddit turn into the Pinterest-that-might-have-been? Time will tell…

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Pinterest's Complicated History with Affiliate Links

Pinterest recently announced that it will allow users to start using affiliate links on pins. This is great news for the affiliate industry, especially as Pinterest has had an on-again off-again relationship with affiliate marketing until now.

Back in 2012, Pinterest took the affiliate world by storm, monetizing the site using Skimlinks, an affiliate tool that allows publishers to turn direct links into affiliate links on the fly. Every pinned item that linked back to a product on a merchant’s website was injected with affiliate links, earning Pinterest a commission every time someone clicked through and made a purchase. This proved quite a lucrative proposition for both Pinterest and Skimlinks, but when the public got wind of this, via a post on LL Social, they were none too pleased. Because Pinterest had never disclosed that they were using affiliate links, the partnership seemed seeped in subterfuge, lending a rather nefarious air to the whole situation.  Merchants who had been building up a presence on Pinterest, thinking it a free addition to their social media efforts, suddenly found out that they had been paying Pinterest, via Skimlinks, an affiliate commission on every sale referred.

The backlash from the exposé caused Pinterest to quickly realize that they had gone about this all wrong, and they soon ended their ‘test’ with Skimlinks.  Individual affiliates were still able to include their own affiliate links in their posts, earning a commission for themselves when their links were clicked on and the items featured were purchased. However, in 2015, Pinterest began stripping affiliate links, citing spam concerns and a desire to preserve the user experience. The announcement came as Pinterest began experimenting with promoted pins and buy buttons, and some speculated that the move seemed calculated to remove all barriers to Pinterest’s own monetization.

As of May 12, 2016, though, affiliates can rejoice, as affiliate links are once again allowed on Pinterest. The company announced this on their blog, and the full announcement can be read here. The blog post claims that the change comes as Pinterest’s spam detection policy becomes stronger and better equipped to deal with spammer abuse. This is great news for the industry, making it possible for affiliates to send traffic directly from Pinterest to a merchant's website, while ensuring that the tracking, and therefore their commission, remains intact.

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Fashion Blogs and Affiliate Links: The Perfect Fit

If you run a fashion blog, odds are you rely primarily on Google Adsense and sponsored posts to bring in revenue. You may not even be familiar with the term ‘affiliate’ and if you are, you might have thought it’s not for you. But there are some really compelling reasons your fashion blog needs to start hosting affiliate links.

First off, what is an affiliate?

Quite simply, an affiliate promotes a brand or product in exchange for commission each time a sale is made. Affiliates use tracking links provided by the merchant or affiliate network so that each click and sale is tracked, allowing the affiliate to be paid the appropriate commission on each order referred.

Why should you become an affiliate?

If your posts include outfits or style guides, you probably want to help your readers find the items featured, or items that are similar. Linking directly to the products helps your readers out, but it doesn’t put any money in your pocket. By joining the affiliate programs of the brands you like to promote, you can use affiliate links and earn a commission if any of the products you list are purchased by your readers.

You may be thinking, 'but I charge a fee to post about a specific product, why would I switch to using affiliate links?' The answer is, you don’t have to switch. Many brands are happy to pay for a dedicated post, and allow you to use affiliate links, in the hopes that at some point, even if you’re not doing a dedicated post, you’ll include a link to their store.

There are also many other posts you write that may not be sponsored. By using affiliate links, you can fill the lulls between sponsored posts and still earn money by using affiliate links to link to the products you mention.

And here’s the kicker. The best thing about affiliate links is that they let you earn money long after the income from a sponsored post is gone. With a sponsored post, you get a set fee up front and that’s it. With affiliate links, if a reader finds an old post of yours, months later, and clicks on a link to make a purchase, you’ll still get a commission, no matter how long it’s been since you posted. It doesn’t even have to be the exact item you posted. You’ll earn commission on anything your reader buys, throughout the entire site.

Affiliate links for bloggers is a no-brainer. Every time you post a link directly to a merchant’s website without using affiliate links, you’re forfeiting well-deserved income. You work hard on each and every post you create, and you deserve to be compensated for every sale you refer.

 

Do you use affiliate links? Let us know your experience with affiliate links in the comments below.

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3 Reasons to Allow Affiliates to Bid on Your Trademark

Any good affiliate program manager will tell you that allowing affiliates to bid on your trademark is not a smart move. You spend good money to show up for your branded term; you don’t want to compete with your own affiliates for that traffic. Allowing affiliates to bid on your trademark is a bad idea. Except when it’s not…

There are a few reasons you might want to allow affiliates to bid on your trademarked term.

1.       Your competitors are.

If you google your search term, either alone or in conjunction with other terms, and you see your competitors’ ads showing up in that space, you should do everything you can to push them out. Allowing your affiliates to bid on your term will ensure that the traffic from those search results go to YOUR site. Even if it requires you to pay commission, it’s preferable to having the traffic go to your competitor. Might it raise your costs a bit? Maybe? But again, it’s probably better than losing the traffic altogether. Setting bidcaps with your affiliates can help ensure they don’t outbid you, minimizing the impact to your search budget.

 

2.       You’re not converting on TM+ terms

If you’re running campaigns on brand + terms like ‘coupons,’ ‘promo codes’, etc., and experiencing a low conversion rate, you may be better off letting affiliates capture that traffic for you. Consumers tend to trust well-known coupon sites over the brand itself when they’re searching for offers. Consumers sometimes feel like the discounts they’re getting on coupon sites are somehow better than any discount the brand would provide on its own. (This is especially true if you’re linking to your homepage. If you’re bidding on TM+ coupon terms, you should at the very least be linking to a page on your site providing a list of the coupon offers currently running.) 

3.       Your website name is too generic

If your website name is something generic, like ‘art supplies’ or ‘book store,’ you probably can’t claim that your name is trademarked. In this case, like in scenario 1, you’re better off letting affiliates bid on brand + coupon terms, since there are likely to be numerous other businesses competing for those terms. Allowing affiliates to bid ensures that more of that traffic ultimately comes back to you.

 

If you do elect to allow affiliates to bid on your TM term, be sure to limit it to 2-3 high quality affiliates who specialize in paid search. Some of these affiliates have leak-proof landing pages, where only your offers will be displayed, with no other links to distract users and lead them away from your offers. Partnering with an expert in the field will minimize potential issues and ensure that you can feel comfortable that your brand is being well represented.

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4 Universal Checkout Partners to Boost Your Brand's Reach

Retail sales have evolved in the past 20 years. Once, customers shopped in stores; later, they shopped on merchant’s websites. Now, a new trend has customers shopping on sites that are not even stores at all. Universal checkout technology allows consumers to browse and shop in one online location, add products their cart from multiple merchants and check out in one seamless process.

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The advantages of universal shopping carts are numerous - for merchants, publishers and consumers. Consumers enjoy the convenience of a single checkout process, no matter how many different retailer’s products their order contains. Publishers keep that qualified traffic on their site, instead of losing users as they click out to make purchases. And lastly, merchants gain exposure to new audiences as content and influencer marketing are taken to an entirely new level.

The universal shopping cart is a small but steadily growing trend. If your brand is not currently working with any, here are the top four to start with.

Shoppable

One of the first universal shopping carts to hit the market, back in 2011, was 72Lux, a platform that partnered with publishers to allow customers to shop products showcased within the website’s editorial content and checkout without leaving the publisher’s site. Integration, however, was either manual, requiring someone on 72Lux’s end to place the order on each retailer’s site as the orders came through (unsustainable at a large scale) or required use of an API.

They’ve since re-launched as Shoppable, a more seamless experience, catering to both shoppers and publishers. Consumers can make use of Shoppable’s Google Chrome extension to add products to a universal cart from any website they visit, while publishers can utilize Shoppable’s universal cart to allow their visitors to purchase products from multiple brands featured, with one checkout process.

Heather Marie, Founder and CEO of Shoppable, explains the opportunity presented by universal shopping carts.

As publishers focus on distributed content, they should also focus on distributed commerce. The retail environment is no longer binary; there’s now a third environment that needs attention: the consumer’s own world. Every time a merchant, retailer or brand is mentioned online—whether in editorial, social media or advertising—there’s an opportunity for seamless conversion, transaction and revenue. The solution to this opportunity is using a universal shopping cart layer on your website that allows consumers to buy at the point of inspiration. It’s a landscape that’s ripe for development, yet few have gotten it right.”

Shoppable is a company that is pioneering this space with B2B solutions that provide customized layers to make publishers' content shoppable, as well as offer a consumer product, the Google Chrome extension "Shoppable, The Universal Shopping Cart."  

 

Two Tap

Two Tap allows publishers to tap into the potential of universal shopping carts by selling products from multiple merchants directly from the publisher’s site. Two Tap helps address concerns by publisher that external links to products carry customers away from their site. Allowing customers to check out without leaving the publisher’s site keeps those customers (and further ad dollars) on site.

Partnering with Two Tap gives you access to a detailed database, from which you can approve or search for new partner apps, and view how many carts (and sales and revenue) have been created with your products via those apps.

 

Lyst

Lyst is a social shopping site that lets you purchase items from multiple brands via one shopping cart and checkout process. Chondita Dayton, US SVP and Global Manager of Lyst explains,

Digital shopping is developing faster than most people realize, it’s become the norm overnight and there are a plethora of trends in this space - from the conversion of social media and messenger apps into shoppable platforms to the incredible increase in mobile use. Enabling customers to check out from multiple retailers in a single, unified transaction will become even more important to support agile shoppers and their needs.
 Fashion is an anomaly in the marketplace, so far there isn’t a dominate retailer because customers are discerning and want a variety of different pieces from a vast array of brands to fulfill their needs. We hope the universal shopping cart will empower Lyst users with a seamless transaction within a world of options, giving them the custom experience they desire."

Lyst is a stand-alone website - a single dedicated platform as opposed to a technology for hire. Their focus is on creating a beautiful, feature-rich shopping experience that draws the customer back again and again.

 

Spring

Spring is a ‘curated commerce platform designed to make mobile shopping easy and fun for people, and highly effective for brands.’ Like Lyst, they are a stand-alone website, rather than a service, but their focus is on mobile. Their website and app are beautiful page after page of high quality images, shoppable from within the website or app. They work only directly with brands, not resellers, which makes them a great resource for brands who sometimes find it challenging to attract direct sales. They also offer customers free shipping and returns, for a more seamless shopping experience, although that means that to work with them, brands need to be able to support that.

 

The advent of the universal shopping cart has and will continue to transform the way customers shop online, allowing customers full freedom and flexibility to browse and shop with multiple merchants and check out in one seamless process. Whether you incorporate it into your influencer marketing strategy, via providers like Two Tap or Shoppable, or partner directly with sites and apps who aggregate products, like Lyst and ShopSpring, universal checkout will expand your brand’s reach, helping to drive new customers, sales and revenue.

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Agency vs. In-house: Choosing the Right Affiliate Program Manager

Before you get started with an affiliate marketing program, you need to decide who is going to manage your program for you. The success of any affiliate program is heavily dependent on the person who is managing it.  Many businesses make the mistake of setting up an affiliate program and assuming it can run on auto-pilot, only to learn the hard way that an affiliate program will only be successful when properly managed. There are two routes to consider when choosing an affiliate program manager. Do you want to hire someone to manage your program in-house, or hire an outside agency?

 

In-house vs Agency Pros and Cons to Consider

 

Experience

In-house:

Experienced in-house managers are hard to come by. Most of the time, companies end up hiring someone with very little experience, who is tasked with myriad other job functions in addition to their affiliate marketing responsibilities. They’ll need to be trained and many in-house affiliate managers admit that they learn entirely on the job.

Agency:

The right affiliate marketing agency has years of experience managing affiliate programs. Their account managers are experienced, allowing them to fully train their support staff. When you hire an agency, they’re ready to hit the ground running and start managing all aspects of your program.

 

Time and Resources

In-house:

Unless your in-house manager is focused solely on your affiliate program (which can be cost-prohibitive for some companies), they might not be able to dedicate the proper time and resources, when factoring in their other responsibilities. In addition, for a large affiliate program, even one person fully dedicated to the program might not be enough.

Agency:

Agencies generally have a team of people working on your account. While they are likely not working exclusively on your program, they have a process in place and multiple team members to fulfill all the necessary functions of an affiliate program.

 

Industry Understanding

In-house:

An in-house manager is likely to have a better understanding of your individual business, as they work in your offices. Additionally, you can train and mold your in-house manager to meet the specific needs of your business. An in-house manager can also ensure a more seamless communication and can be easier to control in terms of cross-channel strategy alignment.

Agency:

You’ll need to provide your agency with a thorough understanding of your business and individual needs. You’ll have to be sure to keep your agency in the loop when it comes to your other marketing channels, to ensure a consistent brand voice. A good agency will work with you to set up a process for regular communication.

 

Cost

In-house:

Hiring an in-house manager means adding another salary, benefits and all the other costs associated with a new hire. Additionally, if the program requires additional support, those salaries will have to be factored in as well.

Agency:

For a program requiring a full time account manager or more, agencies are usually the most cost-effective. Agencies generally work on a retainer plus a performance incentive. You’ll often find that the level of experience and number of hours dedicated to your program far exceeds what you could expect for the same cost when hiring in-house.

 

Whether you choose an in-house manager or an agency, the most important thing is to look for someone with great people skills, who can build the relationships you need, and someone with excellent analytical skills, who can analyze the results of their efforts and course-correct as necessary. But most importantly, choose someone you can get along with. Because without excellent communication between you and your affiliate program manager, your program manager won’t have the information and tools they need to drive your program forward. 

 

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Affiliate Marketing for Beginners

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Affiliate Marketing for Beginners

When it comes to marketing your business, there are any number of ways you can pay for traffic. You can bid on search engine keywords, you can pay to have your products listed on comparison search engines, or you can purchase banner impressions on various sites across the web. But each of those marketing channels comes with an inherent risk. What if I pay for all these clicks or impressions, but I don’t make any sales?

That’s where affiliate marketing comes in. When you establish an affiliate program, you’re telling your affiliates (third party sites who will advertise on your behalf) that you will pay them a pre-determined commission for each sale that they send your way. This can be a set dollar amount or a percentage of sale, but either way, you are only paying when the sale occurs. In effect, you’re setting the expected ROI ahead of time, with the assurance that you will, indeed, be seeing that ROI.   

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