Affiliate recruitment is probably the most important task of every affiliate program manager. After all, if there are no affiliates in the program, there is no point having the affiliate program itself. Affiliates are your main sales force, and the more quality affiliates you partner with, the more successful affiliate program you will have.
There are numerous tools and techniques that you can use, but in this article I’d like us to focus on seven ways that I have seen to yield best result. To make things easier to remember, I have made each way’s name start with the letter S (just like “Seven”, the total of all points, does).
Software applications can help you find prospective affiliates that either already work with competing affiliate programs or run websites that target the traffic you’re after. Applications traditionally used for SEO link-building can be utilized for this purpose. Some of the more robust tools are Internet Business Promoter, SEO Quake, Raven SEO Tools, Citation Labs, and BuzzStream. They can be great when used wisely. They help you quickly search the Internet, pulling websites that may be good affiliate partners (either because they are working in the niche you’re working in or because they link/write about your competitors or maybe even already working as affiliates of your competitors), together with information on their website and their contact information. Improper use of such applications can also ruin your affiliate recruitment campaign. That is if you end up spamming those who should be treated as potential business partners.
2. Social Media
In addition to software, you should also dive into the social media of affiliate marketing. There are numerous blogs and forums, Facebook and Linkedin groups, and other online communities where affiliates “hang out.” Additionally, I recommend that every merchant runs their own affiliate program support blog.
Don’t forget about Twitter. It can also be excellent for affiliate recruitment. Merchants on both sides of the Atlantic (Amazon, Target, eBay, Argos, etc) are actively maintaining affiliates-oriented Twitter accounts, both for program support and recruitment.
There are two rules to remember while marketing your affiliate program through social media: (i) Thou shalt not spam, and (ii) Thou shalt not take more than thee have given. The first rule is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re on a forum, play by forum’s rules. Do not start off by blatantly promoting your affiliate program. Most forums, blogs and social network groups will ban you in return. The second rule is also the secret of successful social-media usage; you cannot take more than you have contributed in the first place. If and when you are of genuine help to the community, blog, or forum, you will be warmly accepted and collaborated with.
3. Search Engines
Although you certainly want to automate as much of the affiliate recruitment process as possible, do not forget about the good ol’ search engine ranking analysis. If you run across websites that rank high for relevant keywords, approach them. Coupon and rebates affiliates, for example, may be easily discovered by such keywords as coupon, coupons, rebates, cashback, and so on. Data feed affiliates may be found by typing in the name of any other merchant that also has an affiliate program, and so on.
4. Second-Tier Affiliates
Although I normally do not recommend having a second-tier commission and recommend paying as much as possible on the first tier, it makes sense to pay a bounty on new affiliate referrals. In fact, some “affiliates” are making this their main business. I am talking about affiliate program directories. These directories are the references that affiliates go to when searching for affiliate programs, and they are normally very well positioned in search engines. Most of them do not charge you anything for listing an affiliate program, but, for obvious reasons, they generally prefer listing affiliate programs that pay a bounty on every new affiliate sign-up. There are also quite a few mainstream affiliates that are interested in similar relationships with merchants.
5. Summits & Symposiums
Any type of conference or convention attended by affiliates is a great place to recruit. Affiliate Summit is a must; and when you go, make sure you get at least a table at the Meet Market that is held on the first day of the conference.
Many affiliate networks (LinkShare, Commission Junction, Google Affiliate Network, ShareASale, and AvantLink) have their own affiliate conferences. If your affiliate network has one, this is another great place to make contact with affiliates.
Besides the Affiliate Summit, for connections with affiliates consider: ad:tech, PubCon, Search Marketing Expo (SMX), Internet Marketing Conference, eMetrics Summit, and Search Engine Strategies (SES) in the US; and a4uExpo in Europe.
6. Symbiotic Methods
Webster’s Dictionary defines symbiosis as a “cooperative relationship (as between two persons or groups).” What I am referring to is promoting your affiliate program on a cross-program basis. You can form short- or long-term cross-program recruitment relationships with affiliate programs run by merchants that sell related products or services. You announce their affiliate program to your pool of affiliates, while they do the same for you in the circular sent out to their affiliates. If you go with cross-program promotions, remember to respect your affiliates’ privacy and not abuse their trust. When they agree to receive your affiliate newsletter, they agree to receive the information that will help them succeed with your program and may consider your aggressive pushing of some other affiliate program a spam. So, if you do a cross-program promo with another affiliate program, make sure to handle it gently. Additionally, prior to entering such partnerships, do check your affiliate network’s terms and conditions to ensure you’re not violating any of those.
7. Structure-Based Recruitment
Many affiliate networks also offer their merchants an array of internal affiliate recruitment options. Some of them are actually free if you have something truly interesting to offer to your affiliates. In the past, for example, I’ve had buy.at affiliate network in the UK agree to include unusual promotional offers in the weekly network newsletter that goes out to all affiliates in the network. ShareASale in the United States has included seasonal promos of some of my merchants in their newsletters too. Talk to the network reps to find out more about the recruitment opportunities that they may offer you.
Of course, many affiliate networks also have an array of paid recruitment. Normally, these can be utilized right from within your merchant interface and are quite self-explanatory.
Finally, whichever method(s) of affiliate recruitment you’re utilizing, make sure you continuously work on building your own affiliate list by cataloging contact information of affiliates (both current and prospective ones) and hosting a “subscribe to affiliate newsletter” form on your website. Even if an affiliate isn’t ready to work with you just yet, they may be open to staying updated on the life of your affiliate program. So, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
Best of luck building your affiliate armies!