Global e-commerce revenue is expected to reach $2.84 trillion by the end of 2018 and is expected to hit $4.89 trillion in 2021. With more people gaining access to the internet via smartphones, and mobile screen sizes increasingly lending to pleasurable online browsing, this growth isn’t surprising. While it’s a safe bet that money will continue to funnel into the global online retail market, e-commerce competition should only get stiffer.
The digital commerce environment requires brands to excel in so many business areas. If stores can’t offer convenient customer experiences through a memorable brand, they’re wasting time and money. But even before users can experience the ease and pleasure of shopping at your store, they have to find you. Many marketing avenues exist, but few carry the potential of affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is a $5-billion-and-growing industry. It accounts for 15 percent of all digital marketing revenue. This popularity is fueled by objectively enticing advantages like a low-cost, hands-off approach, expanded marketing reach and evergreen sales-generation.
So how do you get started in affiliate marketing? You need to find affiliates to promote your e-commerce products. Let’s discuss a handful of ways you can do so below.
Use Your Own Site
If you’re serious about establishing affiliate marketing as a reliable acquisition channel, you need to advertise it far and wide like you would your own product or service. Craft a succinct, enticing landing page that communicates the high-level structure of your affiliate program with a form to contact you for more information.
You can list this affiliate landing page in the top-level navigation of your homepage, such as a ‘Partners’ tab. But to maximize your engagement, you’ll want to create two landing page variations: a lead generation page like described above, and a “pre-lander” page, which essentially warms the visitor to the offer through a clear call-to-action but doesn’t request any contact information.
The idea is that if a user continues through the pre-lander page, they’ll be more likely to convert on the actual lead generation page. Of course, these are just the bare minimums to generating affiliate leads; from page speed to content delivery network (CDN) hosting and other details, your optimization options run long.
Leverage Existing Email List
Of all the marketing assets an e-commerce company could have at its disposal, a substantial email list of engaged subscribers is gold. Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing channels for online companies because the medium is a direct conduit to customers; you don’t have to depend on them seeing your ad or returning to your store. These users have willingly given you their email address and expect to hear from you. If you’re trying to start an affiliate network, it’d be foolish (and unfriendly) to deprive your loyalists and fans of your affiliate opportunity.
Of course, this assumes you already have an established email list. If you don’t, you’ll want to delay any affiliate promotion emails until you gain more subscribers and develop a cadence of regular email content. However, be advised that an email cadence involves more than blasting promotional emails. Your email marketing strategy should offer value beyond the products you sell if you want engagement at any rate, but especially so to avoid losing subscribers when you start sending affiliate email messaging.
Scour Niche Forums, Blogs & Social Accounts
Simple methods often exceed specific, complicated approaches. As such, there’s no more effective way to build a personalized, curated affiliate program for your e-commerce store than by researching related sub-niches. Look for blogs, forums (Reddit is a great place to start) and social accounts that align with your niche. Take notes on them, such as how often they post content and the types of categories they cover, as well as if they openly advertise affiliate services.
When you’ve identified relevant online properties, collect the contact information and a few bullet points about details you can use in your personalized pitch to the site owner. Sending one mass message to all the contacts may be tempting. However, this will undoubtedly result in a lower response rate, especially from the more devoted affiliate partners in specific niches (i.e., the ones you really want as partners).
Like it or not, you’ll never command a customer’s attention quite like when they’re brand new. First impressions mean too much in the e-commerce landscape. Myriad competitors, similar product offerings and only so many business areas to customize leave price, branding and customer experience as the main differentiators. How else could a small store that sells audio-video electronics on Shopify compete with larger companies that offer similar products at likely lower prices? To get dedicated affiliates that actively promote and preach your products, you can’t be just any ole brand that sells a product or service.
Aside from developing a compelling brand, proactivity can bring you home-grown affiliate partners. How? Schedule automated emails that send to new customers a few days after their order is slated to arrive. This way they’ll have a chance to try your product and have the experience fresh in their minds when your feedback email lands in their inboxes.
Keep this email short, asking for a product rating and/or review. Like sending one mass email to blogs, you may also find it tempting to include a quick line promoting your affiliate in your customer feedback email. This is a mistake, and could even detract from netting the product review, which is what you want to accomplish first.
Instead, pre-qualify leads by only sending affiliate emails to customers that give you a positive rating and/or review. Since they’ve taken time out of their day to review your or your product positively, they’re clearly more engaged than the average customer.
Join an Affiliate Network
Want to get started in affiliate marketing immediately without leveraging your existing customers or using company bandwidth? Affiliate networks are a popular option for brands, as well as the publisher’s promoting the products. According to Inc.com, 20 percent of publisher’s annual revenue is generated through affiliate marketing while 40 percent of U.S. retailers say affiliate programs are their leading acquisition channel.
For their conveniences in terms of setting up and managing, affiliate networks also carry the downsides of low margins, loyalty concerns, and provide less control over how a brand is portrayed. It’s also sometimes difficult to agree with affiliate networks on uniform success metrics.
Yet, many brands still choose to join affiliate networks. Why? It’s hard to find acquisition strategies that don’t require a lot of time (e.g., SEO) or money (e.g., SEM). Affiliate marketing just happens to check both boxes. If joining an affiliate network sounds attractive, here’s a great guide that lists the top networks to join and criteria to keep in mind.
The potential of affiliate advertising is too powerful to ignore. E-commerce brands debating whether they should get involved should skip that debate and progress to crafting an affiliate marketing plan that can drive more traffic, engagement, sales, and hopefully lifetime customers.