Super Affiliates

By , October 4, 2010

I’m often asked how merchants can find and recruit “super affiliates” to participate in their affiliate programs. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple, because there’s really no such thing as a “super affiliate.”

Many affiliate networks and affiliate managers rave about their “super affiliates,” who are generally defined as the “best-performing affiliates.” Some affiliate networks’ sales reps will assure merchants that if they sign up with that affiliate network, they’ll immediately have access to a group of “super affiliates” who can quickly and easily drive sales.

Unfortunately, many “super affiliates” are actually poachers and leeches who don’t drive new business to merchants, but instead find ways to “capture” credit for transactions they didn’t influence at all. Included among these are “toolbar” affiliates whose software intercepts traffic which the toolbar-owner never influenced, and inserts an affiliate tracking code.

Many other “super affiliates” specialize in “re-capturing” customers whom the merchant either encouraged or allowed to exit the merchant’s web site before a transaction was completed. These include some coupon sites and PPC trademark bidders.  These affiliates “add value” by helping the merchant to recapture a customer who might otherwise be lost, but often at the cost of proper attribution to earlier influencers (including other affiliates and PPC advertising).  Merchants in this situation should focus on specific strategies to avoid “pushing away” customers (for example, by removing a “coupon prompt”), and on other strategies to recapture customers.

In some cases, “super affiliates” earn commissions even as their efforts actually reduce the merchants’ sales. Several years ago, I worked with a merchant who couldn’t understand why his sales had dropped shortly after he added an affiliate program. I discovered that his largest “affiliate” was a “fake coupon web site,” which aggressively solicited consumers with offers of coupons that weren’t valid. When consumers clicked on the affiliates’ links, they were redirected to the merchant web site with a promised discount that the merchant never authorized and wouldn’t honor. Most of these consumers angrily abandoned the merchant’s site, but a small group completed purchases for which the affiliate was paid — thus, the affiliate was being “rewarded” for driving away the merchant’s customers.

In my view, a web publisher who uses trickery and deceit to capture affiliate commissions is not a “super affiliate,”no matter how much the publisher is paid.

I also have strong views about “incentive and loyalty” affiliates, which promise rebates or payments to consumers (or to their schools or charities) if the consumers utilize the affiliate’s links.  In my experience, few of these affiliates add value, and most companies that work with these affiliates will lose far more traffic and sales due to the withdrawal of other types of affiliates whose “affiliate cookies” are overwritten by the incentive or loyalty affiliate.

While I don’t like to use the term “super affiliate” to describe any web publisher, I certainly recognize that there are hundreds of web publishers who can and do drive significant new traffic and sales to multiple merchants, and of course there are many thousands of web publishers who drive significant traffic to a single merchant.

Instead of looking for “super affiliates” (or “magic bullets”), a merchant’s affiliate manager should focus on identifying the types of web sites that are most likely to attract “the right visitors” who can be enticed to click to the merchant’s web site and complete a purchase. These will probably include some web publishers who are considered “super affiliates” by other merchants. However, in my experience, the most successful merchants find that most of their “top 10” affiliates are not considered “super affiliates” by most other merchants, because these publishers deliver a unique audience or segment that is most optimal to drive traffic to just one or a small group of merchants.

With careful effort, any merchant can develop a unique pool of “super affiliates” who effectively promote the merchant and its products, driving new visitors and new sales.  Without careful effort, many other merchants attract a worthless pool of “super affiliates” who poach credit for transactions without adding any value, reducing the merchants’ profits.

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One Response to “Super Affiliates”

  1. Shannon Macri- Meriden,Ct says:

    That was a great post! If the average affiliate marketer only knew what goes on in this industry they’d think twice before even trying it out. It’s sad to see how many scam artists are out there. I used to sell via mail order and I wish I could go back to those days but the interent has taken over BIG time. I’m still so new to Affiliate Marketing. Blogs like yours help with the learning curve.

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