March 27, 2014, 4:03 PM

The five most effective affiliate marketing techniques for retailers

For starters, find affiliates likely to attract consumers interested in your products, says Kim Giroux of marketing firm Zog Digital. And they don’t have to be online. Radio personalities, for example, can offer promo codes that drive shoppers to retail web sites.

Few marketing options available to retailers are as effective at converting sales as strategic affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing allows retailers to recruit tens of thousands of people to push consumers toward their web site for a fee based on converted sales.

Word-of-mouth referrals, like those that come from third-party affiliate web sites, have a higher conversion rate than a brand’s own advertising, because consumers don’t see a third party as having the same bias as a retailer. A study conducted by Forrester Research, Inc. found that few consumers think that coupons and other offers being promoted on other web sites degrade a web site’s brand. Econsultancy says 30% of affiliates are now sending at least 20,000 visitors a month to merchants’ websites.

1. Screen Affiliate Networks

A study done by Rakuten found that 74% of online buyers research two to three non-retailer web sites before completing a purchase decision. So, it is important for retailers to place product information and promotions with multiple strategic affiliate websites.

The most important part of any retailer’s affiliate marketing strategy is to find the best partners. Because there are thousands of potential partners with varying degrees of effectiveness, price and visibility, choosing the right one takes research. Retailers should target affiliates that have the most views for their specific product, ones that are willing to put in the most work to promote that product, and ones that are cost effective in the long run.

Retailers should screen affiliate partners by looking at various factors to determine the partner’s credibility and likelihood for success. The history of a web site and quality of site content can help quickly identify if the affiliate partner is a good match for the program.

2. Cultivate Relationships

A single affiliate with a nurtured relationship has the ability to drive more sales for retailers than a larger number of partners. Retailers can incentivize affiliate web sites through the use of customized payment agreements which are usually in the form of a standard dollar amount per conversion or a percentage of the purchase. Retailers can also offer to extend cookie lengths for affiliates, allowing weeks between a clicked link and a sales to be counted as a conversion for the affiliate. In return, affiliates have the ability to give brands more prominence on the site, which creates visibility and potentially more new customers.

3. Coupons and Free Shipping

43% of online shoppers admit that promotional offers found online help them decide to make a purchase according to Rakuten. A Forrester Research, Inc. study found that 48% of shoppers say that promotional offers they find on affiliate sites are more valuable to them compared to promotions they get directly from retailers.

Coupons and free shipping are popular with consumers for the obvious reasons, and no consumer wants to feel like he or she is paying more than they have to for a product. According to Business Insider, there are more than a million people searching for online coupons every day. On one of the biggest affiliate sites, retailmenot.com, there is an entire section dedicated to free shipping coupons because they are so popular.

Retailers looking to effectively use coupons and free shipping deals through affiliate marketing should remember that the content of ads is almost as important as the promotion itself. Retailers should make sure to keep the content of the ads fresh, which means keeping the graphics updated as branding changes, continually offering new or different promotions to attract consumers who look for different types of deals, and continually adjusting wording based what is converting.

Retailers should also help reinforce the promotion found on the affiliate site with content on their own web site. Pre-populating a promo code in the shopping cart for users referred from affiliate partners, or having dynamic promo codes appear on the site for affiliate partner referral traffic can help ensure a good user experience and higher sales.

4. Product reviews

A survey from Dimensional Research shows that a massive 90% of consumers say that positive online reviews influence their buying decisions. Consumers trust reviews from third parties as much as much as 12 times more than what retailers have on their own website according to a survey done by the online video review site EXPO.

Retailers that want to use product reviews as part of their affiliate marketing strategy should encourage user feedback and reviews through the desired channels and sites. Retailers should avoid paying for positive reviews because it goes against many affiliate network policies, and can create a feeling of deception from customers.

5. Offline Affiliates

Many syndicated radio hosts, postmasters and other celebrities with websites are already being used as part of affiliate networks. For instance, Dan Patrick, who is nationally syndicated on the radio and whose program is broadcasted live on TV, has special promo codes for some of his advertisers. He pushes his promo codes for companies like ProFlowers, and in return, he gets a portion of the purchase.

Offline affiliate marketing also has the benefit of having the message come from a third party, which is proven to carry more weight than a message from a retailer. In addition to using promo codes in on-air advertising, retailers can have popular celebrities or others add links to their web sites, which acts like any other affiliate link. Whomever the retailer chooses to spread their message can just ask his or her followers to go to the retailer's website using the link. One example of this is Adam Carolla, a popular comedian, who pushes his listeners to Amazon and other businesses though his web site.

Conclusion

Retailers who use affiliate marketing should use metrics to stay on top of results, specifically cost-per-conversion and the total amount of sales. If one affiliate web site is driving traffic at a higher rate than others, retailers should analyze the offer placement on the site and its surrounding content and prominence. An effort should then be made to gain this type of placement with other affiliate partners. Web sites that don’t drive traffic or sales should be reevaluated on a regular basis as well to ensure the program continues to succeed.

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