Ecommerce marketing involves testing, tweaking, and making sure your message entices customers to act, all while being ROI-positive.
Starting an ecommerce business isn’t easy, and one relatively untapped digital marketing channel at your disposal is affiliate marketing. Whether you’re just dipping your toe into the affiliate marketing stream or you’re ready to take the full plunge and live up to your ecommerce revenue potential, this guide is for you.
- Forty percent of marketing professionals say affiliate marketing is their most desired digital skill.
- By 2020, it’s predicted that affiliate market will grow into a $6.8 billion industry.
- Eighty-one percent of brands use affiliate marketing programs.
This affiliate marketing for ecommerce guide will introduce you to:
- The benefits of affiliate marketing.
- How to find influencers.
- The best affiliate marketing programs.
- Why affiliate marketing works.
- How to increase your revenue stream from affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is the practice of using other brands, businesses, or bloggers to promote your products on their sites. These affiliates get paid a commission when a visitor they send to an online retailer makes a purchase.
Benefits of affiliate marketing
An ecommerce affiliate program gives you scale and distribution.
With affiliate marketing, you increase your reach faster and more consistently, and distribute your message to the widest possible audience on the Internet. Plus, your ecommerce business only pays affiliates after the sale takes place.
When you partner your ecommerce platform with influential affiliates, they promote your products on their own sites and social media channels, leveraging their huge audiences to your advantage. In addition to increased exposure and brand awareness, the benefits of affiliate marketing include:
Affiliate-related spending accounts for 16 percent of all online orders. Research shows consumers will spend more cash when following an affiliate’s recommendation for a purchase compared to buying an item of their own choosing. Statistics from CJ Affiliate’s (formerly Commission Junction) Affiliate Customer Insights reveal affiliate marketing customers spend more than the average buyer:
- Average online order is 31 percent higher with affiliate marketing customers.
- The AOV is 21 percent more with affiliate marketing buyers.
- Affiliate marketing customers offer a 58 percent higher average customer revenue.
Advanced social proof
Social proof is the psychological and social phenomenon that people will follow the actions of others if they believe the crowd is making the right choice. For example, if someone is looking for a new laptop, they may begin with online reviews from Amazon users, look up reputable laptop review sites, and draw their conclusions from the experiences of others.
It’s simple: the more positive experiences the buyer reads, the more inclined they are to make a purchase. By adding your products to review and lifestyle affiliate sites, you‘ll be found organically for terms that they rank for, compete better with giants like Amazon, and will get more recommendations and exposure relatively quickly. Social proof is powerful:
- Sixty percent of consumers have been influenced by a blog review or social media post.
- 99.9 percent of shoppers read online reviews before making a purchase.
- Seventy percent of millennial consumers are influenced by the recommendations of their peers in buying decisions.
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Sixty-nine percent of online shoppers want more product reviews from ecommerce sites. When affiliates and influencers recommend your brand, it enhances your credibility almost instantly. After they promote you, make sure to share that information with your customers. Use images, icons, or text to publicize where your brand has been used and reviewed across the web.
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Create brand ambassadors
Marketing can tell people about your brand. The real value comes when people begin telling others about your brand organically because they love your products so much. Your affiliates can quickly become your brand ambassadors.
When trustworthy influencers blog, post photos, or feature your products in videos, they’re approving your brand, and 82 percent of consumers say they’re highly likely to follow a recommendation made by an influencer.
Generate user content
When people love your brand, they want everyone else to know about it—especially on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Product photos, videos, and product reviews can all generate revenue for your ecommerce business organically.
- Twice the amount of sales are generated through word-of-mouth compared to paid ads.
- Nearly three-fourths of all consumers depend on social media for information about a product.
- Eighty-four percent of consumers say they’ll go with peer recommendations above all other advertising methods.
Encourage user generated content on your site. When your fans and followers snap photos, leave awesome reviews, or post videos about your products, feature that content everywhere and use it as marketing power.
Best affiliate marketing programs
Now that you understand why affiliate marketing programs are so powerful for online retailers, let’s delve into how to choose a strong affiliate. Not all affiliates are created equal (or at least not their influence), so choosing one takes research on your part. You need an ecommerce affiliate program that considers your niche, content, and products and then pairs you with a merchant best suited for your products. But in order to have access to the top merchants, the program must be top-notch, like the ones on our list below.
- CJ by Conversant (formerly Commission Junction) offers real-time monitoring concentrated on high-quality websites and includes deep link automation.
- Impact Radius identifies as a SaaS (Software as a Service) resource and prides itself on transparency. This program has a unique concentration on campaign building, marketing attribution, and real-time, advanced reporting.
- ShareASale offers a power rank system to keep track of which vendors are the most popular. Customize your portfolio of advertisers in its Opportunity Marketplace and get access to the info hub that alerts you to product launches, special offers, and other news.
- Amazon Associates is a highly recognizable brand with customer loyalty. You can receive direct deposit payments into your bank account. Even if the customer doesn’t buy the product you promoted, you still get credit if they make another purchase.
- Rakuten Marketing offers excellent deep linking tools. Training tools are available on demand. The easy-to-use dashboard is great for beginners.
Within these platforms, you can find new affiliates to begin working with you and send them custom offers. However, working with reputable affiliate marketing programs isn’t the only way to reach strong affiliates. You can study your niche and reach out to individual influencers on your own.
Find websites and successful bloggers whose audience falls in line with your target market and invite them to become an affiliate. Use platforms like Linkdex or Buzzsumo to get an idea of which influencers are generating the best content in your niche. Another easy way to find influencers may be with a quick Google search. Type in a description of your target audience and scroll through the results to find online businesses or bloggers you can contact.
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Now that you have a list of affiliates you want to work with, you’ll reach out to them individually (primarily through email). To get a response, you first have to provide value. Tell the influencer you love their site, see what you can do to help them, offer free products, ultimately, make a real connection.
How to find success with affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is not a “set it and forget it” marketing channel. Once you’re connected with the right affiliate marketing program and influencers, you must cultivate those relationships. You want to ensure your affiliates are representing your brand in a desired way and their promotional methods are effective.
Support your affiliates and communicate on a regular basis. Go beyond the commission and engage them with new creatives, trial products, and other incentives. They need to understand your brand, your latest products, and how to promote you effectively. PayLoadz reports the factors that matter most to affiliates are:
- Commission (19 percent).
- A merchant’s reputation (13 percent).
- Product relevance to the affiliate’s website (11 percent).
Building real relationships and being top of mind is one of the strongest ways to enhance affiliate relationships and increase ecommerce marketing revenue.
Offer a menu of creatives
In your affiliate marketing network, you’ll provide affiliates with text ads, banner ads, and content they need to promote you successfully. Most of your affiliate traffic will come from contextual text links in the body of the content an affiliate writes about your site. In your affiliate network, you get to choose which landing pages these text links go to, whether they be category pages, product pages, or simply the home page.
For banners, if some affiliates use 728-pixel-by-90-pixel leaderboards but all you offer is 300-pixel-by-250-pixel medium rectangles, you run the risk of missing out on revenue because you didn’t offer enough options. Create banner ads in multiple sizes and designs so the affiliates can choose what best fits their needs. If you’re running a promotion or sale, promo-specific banners with start and end dates give your affiliates a more customized, enticing options to advertise your site.
Offer a competitive commission
Your affiliate partners will either receive a flat fee or percentage of each sale. Take a look at what your competition is doing and make sure your commission rates are competitive. The average affiliate percentage is somewhere between 5 and 30 percent, and it varies widely by vertical. Use your affiliate network to understand what is most competitive in your niche and what you can afford after you factor in your gross sales and cost of good sold (COGS). If you’re just starting an online business, you may want to offer a higher commission so that your brand is more attractive to potential affiliates. And you don’t have to stick to one commission rate. You can have multiple commission rates with different partners depending on how well they promote you and your current relationship.
Offer affiliate guidelines
Affiliates may mistakenly promote your brand or product in a way you don’t like if they aren’t given affiliate guidelines. Make your affiliates aware of your brand mission, voice, and tone. You should also give specific instructions on how your branding and company logo should be displayed. Consider asking to see the creative before it’s published. You can provide a welcome email to your affiliates with a background on your program, your most successful products, and ideas on how to promote you. You can also incorporate online monitoring tools to keep an eye on affiliate content.
- Mention: Scrapes social media, blogs, and news sites for brand mentions.
- Google Alert: When a blog, article, or webpage matches your preset keyword search, you’ll receive an automated email.
Concentrate on high AOV products
To increase your revenue (and affiliate Earnings Per Click), focus on high AOV products. It doesn’t make sense for affiliates to promote a low value product. A 10% commission on $200 is a lot more enticing that a 10% commission on $5. Tell your affiliates which of your high value products to advertise and incorporate these other tips to boost your ecommerce sales.
- Free shipping threshold (free shipping on orders over $50): Ninety percent of online shoppers say free shipping is the number one incentive to get them to make a purchase. This should be run year-round.
- Offer first-time buyer discount: Grab an email and a new customer simultaneously when you offer a 10-20 percent discount when visitors sign up for your newsletter.
- Buy more save more discount: A scaled discount scale encourages shoppers to spend more. For example, get 20% off when you spend $50, or 30% off when you spend $100
Optimize your site for mobile
Shopping from mobile devices is no longer just a trend, it’s a daily occurrence. Without a responsive, effective mobile site, your customers will quickly move on to the competition and purchase elsewhere. OuterBox reveals why mobile should be a top priority.
- Ten percent of retail revenue derives from ecommerce sales.
- Eighty percent of consumers have used a mobile phone while shopping in a store to find different store locations, compare prices, or read reviews on a product.
- Over the past six months, 62 percent of smartphone users have made a purchase on their mobile device.
- One-third of all ecommerce purchases during the 2015 holiday season were made on a smartphone.
Use coupon and loyalty sites
Ecommerce shoppers utilize loyalty sites thanks to coupons and cashback incentives. Sites like Ebates and RetailMeNot are an easy way for shoppers to get discounts on items they plan to purchase anyway. By enrolling your ecommerce site into these platforms, you benefit from their loyal customer base and huge amounts of traffic.
Monitor your affiliate marketing program
In most ecommerce affiliate programs, less than 10 percent of affiliates drive 90 percent of conversions. When you partner with affiliates to market your brand, you learn more about your audience. Through evaluating your affiliates with affiliate tracking software, you gain insight into where your audience hangs out online and which affiliates have the largest impact. Having affiliates and having effective affiliates are two entirely different things, so you’ll want to monitor your traffic and conversion rates to determine if and when a shift is needed.
Be aware of where your affiliates are placing your links and where your sources of traffic are coming from. Most affiliate tracking software includes data such as impressions, clicks, sales, and revenue, so you can view the individual performance of each affiliate. Look for early warning signs like:
- Conversion rates are too low: Your ads are placed among many others, creates ad blindness. Alternatively, your affiliate could be in the wrong niche and your message isn’t resonating with their audience.
- Conversion rates are too high: Check to see if your affiliate partner is artificially increasing conversion rates to make a higher commission.
By monitoring your program, you can increase the number of productive affiliates, boost revenue with high converting landing pages, and understand which types of websites are resonating with your audience.
How to find and recruit affiliates for your ecommerce site
Okay, so you’ve signed up for an affiliate network, created some offers, and are ready to drive sales on your ecommerce platform. How do you find the best affiliates to work with? Just because you’re on a network doesn’t mean that affiliates will want to promote you. Finding and recruiting affiliates that drive substantial revenue may be hard to find. Here are some ways to find and recruit the best affiliates into your program.
Recruit affiliates from your affiliate network
The quickest way to get affiliates to promote you is by finding them in your affiliate network. When you sign up for a network as an advertiser, your business information will enter the marketplace so that potential affiliates can find you. This marketplace includes your company info, public commission rates, average earnings per click, and contact information. From your listing, affiliates sign up to work with you directly and enter your application queue for approval.
Similarly, when new affiliates join a network, their business information enters the marketplace. This includes how long they’ve been in the network, a star rating based on historical performance, country of origin, promotional methods, and contact information. As an ecommerce site, you search for affiliates by vertical and filter down to find the best matches for your online business. Once you find potential affiliate partners, you send them your public commission offer, or create an entirely new offer just for them. Sometimes an affiliate will answer your offer right away, others take longer to respond, and some may not respond at all. It can be a challenge. While this form of recruiting affiliates is quick and easy, it’s difficult to bring in larger players, which is why you should perform email outreach to find the best partners.
Be strategic with email outreach
If affiliates don’t answer your offers in the affiliate network, it’s time to put your sales hat on and perform some email outreach. There are a lot of different cold email template strategies to use, but the five easy steps to a good cold email are: creating a list of targeted affiliates, finding the right contact information, making the emails personal, providing value, and following-up.
The first step is creating a list of potential affiliates in a simple Excel file or Google Sheet. The top columns should include the website’s URL, contact email address, date of contact, and any notes you have on the opportunity. Keep your spreadsheet simple. To hunt for the correct contact email address, leverage the information in your affiliate network, use an online tool like Email Hunter, or even find their contact information on LinkedIn.
Once you have the correct email address and are ready to reach out, create your email template. Since you’ve probably never worked with this person before, keep the email brief. Provide value by offering a personalized commission rate or a sample of products. Always remember to compliment their website as well. And if they don’t answer you right away, set a reminder to follow-up.
To scale your outreach efforts, Mediarails is a great affiliate automation tool. It allows you to filter websites by monthly site visitors, social followers, and other metrics to create a list of potential website partners. With this list, you develop an automated recruiting email series based on the website’s vertical. For example, your outbound messaging to a blogger may be different than your messaging to a coupon site.
Once you place a website into your automated email workflow, the potential affiliate will receive recruiting emails at a pace you determine. The great thing about Mediarails is that once a contact chooses to reply (it could be email #1 or email #5), their response goes right into your inbox.
Create a page on your site with all the information potential affiliates need
Here’s an example of an affiliate page from Yeti that provides every detail affiliates need to know before signing up for their program. Within your ecommerce platform, you can create a page like this and even link to it in the footer of your site for more visibility. This quickly increases the number of inbound affiliate applications and allows affiliates to find you naturally.
Affiliate marketing is a cost-effective and scalable way to generate more revenue for your ecommerce business. You’ll be able to leverage the expertise and web traffic of other websites and only pay affiliates after the sale has occurred. First, develop an ecommerce affiliate program strategy based on your business goals. Then reach out to other websites and build real relationships. You’ll take part in a mutually beneficial marketing tactic and increase your ecommerce revenue in a predictable and scalable way.