How To: Recruiting Successful Content Affiliates Using Incentives

Horse and Carrot

The AvantLink “How To” series is an ongoing series featuring best practices and strategies for affiliates and merchants with actionable, practical information to improve your affiliate marketing efforts. Nick Bullard is the author of this article on recruiting successful content sites using incentives.

Recruiting new and activating existing affiliates is one of the most difficult, yet most rewarding, aspects of any affiliate program manager’s job.  Generally, more creativity is required to recruit a top performing affiliate than simply putting a merchant’s program in front of the affiliate and offering a sales pitch. First, it is imperative to take the time to review the affiliate’s site and find a few ways that make the affiliate a great fit for the merchant’s program.  Second, it is always a good practice to begin a recruiting email complimenting the affiliate on something that you like about their site.  This introduction provides a great segue into why you believe there is a valuable match between their site and your merchant’s site and can offer them insight into what their main question will likely be: “What’s in it for me?”

What is in it for them?

This is a great question to ask yourself each time you prepare a recruiting email. Recently, I implemented gear review incentives for a few of the merchant accounts I manage.  The incentives reward affiliates with a small cash bonus for posting a gear review of any product the merchant carries on their site (and include affiliate links to the product).  The concept is simple.  If an affiliate is already writing gear reviews on their site, why not provide extra incentive to join our affiliate program and post a review for us?  Affiliates that take advantage of this opportunity offer a few instant benefits to the merchant.  First, and most importantly, a relationship is developed between the affiliate and the affiliate manager which can be leveraged for future efforts.  Second, by posting the gear review, the affiliate becomes “active”, unlike affiliates who will often join a program but never get around to posting a link for the merchant, and thus remaining “inactive”.  Finally, by offering the affiliate an added incentive (in this case a cash bonus), the affiliate is that much more likely to feel a sense of loyalty to the merchant, which can lead to increased brand exposure throughout the affiliate’s website.

Incentives lead to results

The gear review incentives have led to real results, with one of my merchant’s programs generating 28 gear reviews in a span of just over four months, half of which came from new, recruited affiliates!  Keep in mind that unless the affiliate site has a large following or high traffic volume, the sales that will likely be generated from a gear review come over time as the review page gains authority and begins to rank in search engines.  However, while sales have not yet reached the total payout amount for the bonuses, the relationship building that has resulted from this incentive has been invaluable, as has the branding opportunities for the merchants.  Personally, I think the idea behind any incentive should always be to get your affiliates excited about your merchant’s brand – an increase in sales is simply the byproduct.

Making the carrot bigger

While this type of cash incentive program has proven successful when recruiting and activating content sites with low to medium traffic volumes, I quickly learned that small cash payouts were not typically a big enough “carrot” to entice high traffic content sites.  So, the next step was to offer a cross-promotion incentive to select high traffic volume affiliates, which not only offered the cash payout but also the added benefit of mention on the merchant’s social channels (Facebook, twitter, etc.).  The goal of this concept was to incentivize the affiliate with a potential boost to their inbound marketing with backlink opportunities, which in turn creates a win, win situation.  The affiliate gains added exposure from a reputable brand with a large social following (likely leading to more backlinks and commissions over time), while the merchant helps to promote and strengthen the page that contains a review for their site (increasing their brand exposure). This program is still in the early stages, but I have already gained participation from a few higher traffic volume affiliates who had previously turned down the original incentive, indicating enough value was added to make it worth their while.

When it comes to recruiting and activating affiliates, incentives can be a great way to develop partnerships.  Creating an environment in which the affiliate and merchant work together offers the greatest likelihood of success as both parties stand to gain something, answering the inevitable question, “what’s in it for me?”