Creating your product line and setting up your eCommerce store is hard work. Like, really hard work. We even have an article series devoted to launching your store that goes through the important steps to take. Not only will you have to launch your site, but you’ll need to choose the right eCommerce platform or membership plugin for your business to get up and running.
However, all of that work is worthless if you can’t promote your product and bring your audience to you store to purchase. It’s tough to launch your eCommerce business, but marketing and customer acquisition are actually where the real battle begins.
While there are several marketing strategies you can pursue when promoting your store and brand, using affiliate marketing can be one of the easiest and most effective methods to pursue. We’ve already written about why you should create an affiliate program and how to use an affiliate program to promote your store. Below we’ll give you some things to consider when launching your affiliate program and some setup tips for running a smooth, efficient affiliate network.
Before we go into tips on creating and managing your affiliate program, you should first determine what kind of affiliate network you’d like to create. Do you want to run and manage your own program, which gives you the most control on setup, or do you want to create a program through an existing network, which gets you access to existing affiliates? There will be tradeoffs to each approach, so it depends on how you want to promote your store and program.
If you’d like to work with an existing network of affiliates, a program like ShareASale may be a good fit. ShareASale is one of the most popular affiliate networks, and you can integrate your website with ShareASale to take advantage of all of the affiliates that already promote other products in the network. This way, you won’t spend time recruiting and managing affiliates. You also won’t have to worry about updates or maintaining the software.
You can read a bit more about the pros and cons of using ShareASale from WPBeginner, but some of the cons are that it will be expensive to set up (at least $550), and that you’re bound by the program’s capabilities (no extensions / add-ons here).
You’ll also need to integrate with your site. There are plugins available to do this with WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads, but you’ll have to build a custom integration otherwise (though here’s a tutorial for doing so with Shopp).
If you’d like to recruit and manage affiliates yourself, or extend the capabilities of your affiliate program, then AffiliateWP is my top choice (here’s a review). Rather than create an affiliate network on an existing platform, you’ll be creating one directly from your own site. This is also far less expensive, as pricing ranges from $49 to $199 for a yearly purchase. However, you’ll have to keep up with plugin updates and maintain your network on your own.
While this requires a time commitment to setup and manage your affiliate network, you also have more control in how it’s created and how you use affiliate marketing. You can extend AffiliateWP easily via add-ons and custom code, and there are pre-built integrations for WordPress membership and eCommerce platforms.
For example, version 1.3 of the plugin was just released, and it adds full Gravity Forms support – this was only minimally supported in previous versions and required setup in the form itself. With this addition, AffiliateWP can be used with 11 different WordPress eCommerce and membership solutions in just a few clicks, and can also be used with Ninja Forms with a tiny bit of setup.
Both ShareASale and AffiliateWP will allow you to review affiliate applications. While it may sound like a great idea to get as many affiliates to promote your product as possible, this may lead to spam or low-quality signups. Here’s a great story about creating an affiliate network from the folks at Conductor Plugin and the perils of spam marketers. Ensure that the affiliates that sign up for your network will promote your brand in a way that’s acceptable to you.
You can review how affiliates will promote your store with each of these affiliate platforms, and approve or reject new affiliate applications. You can also revoke commissions for products that are returned or invalid sales to protect against paying out commissions for invalid sales.
You’ll also need an affiliate policy that provides a list of “do’s & don’ts” for your affiliates. These guidelines from StudioPress may be helpful for inspiration, and here are some questions you should answer for affiliates:
- Can I use your trademark in my domain name?
I’d recommend that you disallow this practice, or at least require approval for doing so. Affiliates should include a disclaimer that they’re not associated with your brand.
- What kind of sites can promote your store?
You may not want certain types of sites promoting your shop, such as those that are sexually explicit or those that contain libelous or defamatory materials.
- Can I buy advertisements for search phrases that use your trademark?
I’d recommend disallowing this. For example, if SellwithWP had an affiliate program, I could state that affiliates cannot bid on the search term “SellwithWP”, “sell with wp”, or similar.
- Can I offer coupon codes for your products?
This depends on your personal preference.
- What can I use to promote your product?
Give affiliates a list of approved methods, or a list of banned promotion methods. For example, you may want to allow affiliates to use blog posts, advertisements on their own site, social media promotion, email and newsletter campaigns, or other forms of marketing. Conversely, you may just want to ban certain forms of marketing, such as PPC campaigns.
- Can I use my own banners and images, or should I use your assets?
I’d recommend that you approve any images used in marketing your products if affiliates don’t want to use your banners rather than allowing anything they want.
- What violates your affiliate policy?
Be clear in practices that you don’t accept, such as making purchases via your own affiliate link.
- When will I be paid?
Clarify any minimum payout amounts, such as, “$50 needed for payout”, as well as when payouts are expected. You may want to hold payments for a minimum of 30 days to account for returns or invalid purchases.
For example, Amazon has a highly successful affiliate program, and they prohibit PPC campaigns that bid on their trademarks or misspellings of those trademarks.
Along the same vein as your affiliate policy, you should also have brand assets available for affiliates to use to promote your products. This will make promotion easy on your affiliates, as they have images and text links pre-made, and you can control how your brand is represented. For example, Gravity Forms provides banners and images for affiliates to use.
You can also allow affiliates to use their own assets upon approval. This way, you know exactly how your store is being represented in advertisements or other images. You can provide a style guide of brand colors and logos to use so that affiliates are able to ensure consistency with your brand image.
Affiliate marketers are essentially a commission-only sales force. While this mitigates your risk since you only pay for real sales and not leads, it also means that they have to have a compelling reason to help sell your product or drive traffic to your store. As a result, extremely low commission rates may not attract marketers to your store.
Shopify has some great advice here: affiliates are bringing new customers, not just sales, so look at paying out affiliate commissions in terms of your overall customer value rather than the profits it eats into on a single sale. This post from ProBlogger also points out some considerations while setting referral rates.
You can always experiment with rate, but it should depend on your profit margin per-product and customer LTV. You also may want to consider whether or not you would have had these sales otherwise, and how much that new customer will be worth over time to determine the appropriate rate or amount for commissions.
Once you’ve got affiliates in your network, you can incentivize sales of your products and leads to your store. There are several tactics you can take to encourage affiliates to send quality traffic your way, and ways to reward them for great performance.
Coupon tracking can be used to provide a coupon that affiliates can use for their audience. AffiliateWP has had coupon tracking for WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, and Restrict Content Pro. They’ve also just added coupon tracking for Exchange. This means that you can assign a coupon to an affiliate so that affiliate will get a commission each time it’s used, regardless of where the referral came from.
You can also make coupons exclusive to affiliates with ShareASale so that they get a referral for discounts used in the same way.
Adjusting rates for high performers can also be done with both platforms. You can set a specific rate for an affiliate that’s higher than the default referral rate to encourage sales from that affiliate, or to reward them for sending high-quality leads.
This can also work as a prize – let’s say that you reward the affiliate with the highest conversion rate each month (provided they have 3 or more sales). You can set a higher rate for the next month as a bonus and keep your affiliates in the loop about who has won.
Want to drive traffic towards a particular product? You can increase the per-product referral rate, though this is far easier to do with AffiliateWP than ShareASale. However, this only works with WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads currently while using AffiliateWP. You can also use this to disable referrals for a particular product if needed, but be sure to make your affiliates aware of this policy.
You can set tiered rates with either platform, but you must have an AffiliateWP developer license to use add-ons like tiered rates, recurring referrals, or lifetime commissions (coming soon) (UPDATE: this add-on is now available. This means that you can pay out higher percentages or amounts for affiliates based on the number of sales they make each month. This incentivizes them to hit sales targets in order to earn a higher payout.
AffiliateWP and ShareASale can both do recurring referrals (AffiliateWP is currently expanding which integrations support this add-on) so that affiliates can be rewarded monthly while a customer is subscribed to your plan, site, or membership.
Affiliate marketing can be an excellent way to drive sales to your eCommerce store, or to reward loyal customers and fans for sending new customers to your product. While there are some tips and insights you should bear in mind when creating an affiliate program to ensure its success, it’s fairly easy to expand your sales team with commission-only affiliate marketers.
AffiliateWP and ShareASale both provide excellent solutions for shops looking to use affiliate marketing networks to promote themselves. While there are tradeoffs to using each platform, you’ll be able to create an affiliate network that fits your shop and sales needs.