An influencer recommends a new skincare product on his Instagram feed. A tech magazine publishes a sponsored post about an upcoming graphics card. A well-known blogger reviews a new smart home gadget they received for free.
These are all examples of affiliate marketing, which in the age of social media, is potentially one of the most powerful tactics in your arsenal. Not only can it generate a great deal of awareness about your business, but it can also improve brand loyalty and lead to a direct upturn in conversions. Mind you, this is all provided you can leverage it effectively.
Many brands can't. The problem, in my experience, is that they attempt to dive into affiliate marketing without fully understanding what it involves. To use an old idiom, they put the cart before the horse.
Here's a bit of foundational knowledge to help you avoid making the same mistake.
Know the Pillars of Affiliate Marketing
As with all modern marketing, the core of affiliate marketing is authenticity. Whether you're working with an influencer or paying for placement on a website, it's imperative that people are aware they aren't looking at completely organic content. Every blog, publisher, and influencer worth their salt will generally make it clear when a post is sponsored and will create their own content rather than simply regurgitating your talking points.
This is more than just a matter of trust. Government bodies such as the Federal Trade Commission all but require honesty and openness in advertising. This guidebook from Ad Standards, a nonprofit founded to promote integrity in Canadian advertising, provides an excellent starting point for multiple platforms.
Authenticity aside, affiliate marketing is about relationships. You cannot simply cold-call every influencer that catches your attention. Instead, as noted by Forbes, you must treat influences as collaborators and partners.
Show that you care about building rapport with them rather than simply promoting your products and services, and be as open and straightforward as possible.
Last but certainly not least, know your audience. Know who they are, what they're interested in, and how best to reach out to them. This will help you determine who will make the best affiliates.
Be Aware of the Different Affiliate Marketing Channels
Although social networks like Instagram and YouTube are the most common avenues for affiliate marketing, they're far from the only options at your disposal. There are multiple routes you can mount a successful affiliate marketing campaign. These include:
- Content marketing. Examples include a blog post published by a well-known thought leader in your industry or a sponsored piece on a large media site. This may be accomplished by hiring an advertising agency for larger publications or, in the case of independent bloggers, building a relationship just as you would on social media.
- Email. It may seem somewhat data, but email remains incredibly effective from a marketing standpoint. There's a good chance that there are several affiliate marketing agencies in your industry, each with its own mailing list. Do a bit of research and figure out which has an audience that best matches your brand.
- Microsites. Although small, focused, and targeted websites were at one point an effective affiliate marketing tactic, I'd advise against leveraging them in the modern-day. Instead of relying on a network of microsites, it's far better to optimize your primary website for performance and ease of navigation.
Make Sure You Choose the Right Affiliates
As I've already mentioned, affiliate marketing is primarily relationship-based. And as you might expect, you cannot effectively build a relationship with an influencer or blogger who has no skin in the game where your industry is concerned. A fashion brand, for instance, isn't likely to generate much interest amongst a tech-focused audience, while a business whose primary demographic consists of automotive enthusiasts probably won't have much luck targeting a health blogger.
Basically, find your niche, and remain there as much as possible. Know your audience, and know where there's overlap between them and the audience of a potential affiliate. Otherwise, you cannot effectively direct your efforts.
Use The Proper Tools
As with any field, success in the realm of affiliate marketing is tied closely to the software and platforms you use. While it's certainly possible to tackle every stage of affiliate marketing on your own, it's not something I'd recommend. Instead, you should endeavor to add the following to your toolkit:
- An affiliate tracking platform. This will allow you to not only track the overall success of your affiliate strategy but can also provide you with valuable insights into what's working (and what isn't) through analytics. To begin with, I'd recommend looking into Everflow or Post Affiliate Pro. Tapfiliate is another excellent choice.
- Web analytics. The good news here is that a website analytics tool isn't hard to come by. You already have one at your disposal in the Google Search Console. This provides you with all the information you could possibly want to know about your site's performance. In addition, it equips you with powerful content optimization and keyword research.
- Mailing list management. If you're focusing your efforts on email, you need a way to manage both your mailing lists and your email marketing campaigns. Mailchimp is a great choice for smaller businesses, while Hubspot is great in that it provides you with a full customer relationship management (CRM) system that covers everything from marketing to sales to content creation.
- A search engine optimization (SEO) tool. You certainly could rely entirely on Google for keyword and topic research. I'd recommend a little variety, though. Moz is one of the best SEO solutions on the web, while sites like Alsoasked can help you figure out what people want to know about a particular topic (which can then be leveraged in your marketing efforts).
- Social media management. Social media can be incredibly valuable to your affiliate marketing efforts, provided you're willing to put in the necessary legwork to develop a working social marketing strategy. Part of that involves choosing the right software. I'd personally recommend either Sendible or Hootsuite.
With the right knowledge, affiliate marketing can do incredible things for your business. Understand your niche, know your audience, and focus on authenticity and integrity. With these guidelines at heart, you should do just fine.
About the Author
Terry Cane is the COO at SEOHost.net, a reliable and supportive SEO hosting partner. You can follow/tweet her @SEOhostnet.
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