Seems like the three of us have been on a roll speaking at Affiliate Summit! Not sure what number this one is but on January 28, 2020, I again had the privilege of joining Jeannine Crooks of Awin and John LoBrutto of Yes2Affiliate for a 50-minute panel at Affiliate Summit West (ASE20) in Las Vegas. There we presented “Knock It Out of the Park: 11 Pro Tips to Improve Your Game.” While using a sports analogy throughout our presentation, the game we talked about was successful affiliate marketing. As has been the case for most of our talks in the past, this panel was designed to be introductory level and affiliate/publisher-focused.
With my fellow panelists permission I’m sharing our presentation slides below. We used common sports phrases to cover the following 11 affiliate marketing “pro tips”:
- Get the ball rolling: Start with the right program source
- Next man up: Improve your traffic & ROI
- Hit a home run: Recruit the right partners
- Game of inches: Deploy effective site optimization
- Par for the course: Enhance your toolset (use best practices)
- Full court press: Maximize your conversions
- The ball is in their court: Negotiate commission
- Monday morning quarterback: Use vital metrics
- Don’t drop the ball: Communicate and participate
- Hail Mary: Take some chances
- Slam dunk: Enjoy profitable campaigns
Please note that additional references and details have been included below the embedded presentation. Also, for the sake of simplicity, within this presentation we often referred to affiliate advertisers as merchants and affiliate publishers as simply affiliates.
External resources referenced on our slides
Disclosure: some links below are affiliate or referral links.
Slide 14 (Tip #5) – Tools & Best Practices
Two technology topics are covered: one directly related to affiliate marketing and another for WordPress, the most popular content management system (CMS) used for websites in the world. Please note that all WordPress references are for the free, open source version at WordPress.org (and not the system through WordPress.com).
- Please visit my Marketing Calendar example.
- Coupon code tracking at the affiliate network level can be very useful, especially when you cannot use affiliate links (examples to consider using this technology for include some social media platforms, print media, and word of mouth venues like podcasts, videos, and personal referrals). This technology is not available through all affiliate networks or affiliate programs.
- See the paragraphs below for more details on the premium tools recommended on Slide 14:
FMTC aggregates data from more than 20 affiliate networks and includes about 200K affiliate links and an extensive database of coupon codes. Please see my personal FMTC review. FMTC also offers a Merchant Hub with thousands of affiliate programs you can join and an extensive OPM Directory that can help you find affiliate managers to contact.
Datafeedr aggregates product databases or catalogs from thousands of merchants and makes them available via their API. Quick tip: you can use the free and open source Woo Commerce plugin for WordPress to integrate this product catalog content into WordPress to present these products and/or create innovative product comparisons (and more) sourced from multiple merchants across different affiliate networks. Over 450 million products are available through this paid service.
Maintaining accurate affiliate links is almost impossible to do on a large scale without relying on automation. Services like Skimlinks and Sovrn //Commerce (formerly VigLink) can help greatly. They do this for you by automatically converting direct links into affiliate links. That means you can earn from thousands of affiliate programs without having to join each one individually. And, impressively, your payout is sometimes greater than “going direct” even after they keep approximately 25% of the commission earned. This higher payout potential is due, in part, to their negotiated rates and the commonly used tiered commission structures they can collectively climb through based on sales by hundreds or even thousands of active publishers.
Affluent Analytics lets you track transactions across multiple affiliate networks and aggregate reporting and analytics in a standard manner.
Government requirements: The FTC requires affiliates to disclose their use of affiliate links (more details here: FTC disclosure). Be sure to do this!
Finally, enabling site-wide SSL encryption should now be considered a basic security feature. Tip: Find and use a web host that supports Let’s Encrypt so you can do this easily and for free.
One of the best things about WordPress is the extensive ecosystem of plugins (and themes) that extend and expand the things you can do with WordPress. That’s also a potential weakness when these plugins are written poorly, not updated, or deployed without considering the “resource hit” they extract on performance of your website. It’s recommended to only use plugins that receive regular support and updates (at least within a year) and have a significant base of active users.
Similar to plugins, selecting a speedy theme that is well maintained and not filled with “bloated code” or unneeded features is essential. The Astra theme fits this model very nicely and includes free and premium versions. Astra also works very nicely with the Gutenberg Editor of WordPress and adds some additional formatting blocks that you can use with their Ultimate Addons for Gutenberg.
I highly recommend using something like the Pretty Links (or ThirstyAffiliates) plugin to manage affiliate links. Not only does it produce a “clean-looking” URL but this URL can be branded to your site as it redirects to the affiliate link you choose. Furthermore, these links can be quickly updated within your WordPress database via the Pretty Links’ dashboard if your merchant changes affiliate networks or needs to update their links. Also, PrettyLinks provides some useful analytics on clicks and usage. Pretty Links is available in a free basic version with a premium option that has more features. (If not using WordPress, consider using Switchy.io or RocketLink.io to do essentially the same thing.)
Be sure to only use WordPress-optimized web hosting. Many budget hosting options exist that can run WordPress; however, few budget web hosts do this well. Instead, I highly recommend opting for a premium WordPress-optimized host. Some I’ve personally used and can easily recommend include SiteGround, WPengine, LiquidWeb, and Kinsta. When looking for WordPress hosting, it is essential that you have a solid option for staging environments and site backups at a minimum.
Finally, if you use a page builder (such as Beaver Builder, Elementor, or Divi, for example) or the default Gutenberg Editor that comes with WordPress, be sure to take advantage of global saved blocks. They are great ways to create a call to action and other features that you want to build once, save and then use in multiple places. If the content in one of these blocks needs to change you can edit once in the saved block and it is automatically updated in all uses of that block.
Slide 23 (Tip 8): Vital Metrics
Aside from giving your valuable site data freely to Google, there are some valid technical reasons to not fully trust website analytics, especially “free” ones like Google Analytics. That being said, however, though very reliable, server logs can be difficult to read and process. Similarly, many feel Google Analytics is overly complicated and easily to “get lost in the weeds.”
Thankfully there are some affordable alternatives to Google Analytics you may want to consider. I have used and can recommend Clicky and Visitor Analytics. With them you’re paying for a service but not giving your traffic and customer data away. I also find the reporting in both of these providers very actionable and much easier to read and understand than Google Analytics.
Regarding page load speed, try GTmetrix. The free version is sufficient for most tasks and shares a wealth of data and insights that you can use to speed up your site and optimize performance.
Affiliate marketing is exciting and ever-changing. You’re in it for the long game so focus on “continual learning. Be sure to get involved within the affiliate industry. Take advantage of the quality affiliate resources available. I recommend joining the Performance Marketing Association and attending affiliate networking events when possible.
Affiliate marketing is about relationships. Technology can help (but it doesn’t replace relationships and trust).
As referenced in Slide 6, don’t depend on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. to keep and distribute your content. Once you post something with them then that data no longer really belongs to you and is essentially outside your control. Those platforms should be considered “rented” space at best so work to develop your own customer base and marketing and distribution channels. (Consider using Vimeo or VooPlayer to host your own videos instead of depending on an ad-supported YouTube account that can be shut down at any time.)
You can do affiliate marketing! You can be successful. You can knock your affiliate game out of the park!