This article was originally published in Multichannel Merchant.
Silos have always been a problem in the digital marketing world, limiting the ability of marketers to understand the full scope of the customer’s journey. This is why now more than ever before companies are investing in omnichannel to gain greater insight into how marketing channels intersect and contribute to overall performance.
Often excluded, however, is affiliate marketing. It’s one of the few online channels that’s still seen as something apart, with management often farmed out to completely opaque third party agencies or low-level in-house employees.
The truth is that affiliate programs are intimately connected to the rest of your digital marketing efforts. In fact, maintaining a healthy affiliate program might actually improve your SEO and your PPC ROI. Here’s how:
SEO: Content, Content, Content
It’s no secret that these days search engine success is all about content. The Google rankings now privilege useful, engaging content and brands that pump out lots of it have a much better chance of being discovered through search engines.
The problem is, this can be a daunting task for many in-house teams. Content creation is time-consuming and good writers hard to come by. This is where affiliate marketing can help.
A quality affiliate program is mostly centered around high-quality content sites and bloggers. Most of them are skilled writers already knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your industry. An affiliate program will get them writing about your brand, products, and promotions. Adept affiliate managers will feed them relevant content and ideas aligned with your larger marketing goals as well as brand guidelines to make sure what they’re writing is brand-supportive.
To be clear, affiliate marketing won’t improve the SEO of your site per se; all affiliate links back to your site should be no follow. But it will exponentially increase the amount of content your brand is creating, expanding your organic reach to include all of these affiliate sites. Searchers can now find content about you on affiliate sites for keywords that your own site might not rank as well for. And because this content is all relevant and accurate, it helps drive visitors through to a conversion on your own site.
PPC: Improved ROI
Not only does a healthy affiliate program improve your SEO, but also the ROI of your PPC campaigns. This has to do with the way affiliate sites bid on branded keywords.
Branded search campaigns should be an easy win for every site. The competition is generally very low and people searching for branded terms already have a familiarity with the brand and likely an intent to buy.
It’s for this reason that many of the larger affiliate sites bid on branded terms to try to capture some of that traffic. After people click on their ad and visit their site, they send them back to the merchant’s site, often through coupons and offers that don’t exist. The merchant then has to pay out commissions to these affiliates for customers that were already trying to find the merchant’s site.
But in reality, the merchant is paying twice for these conversions. Not only are they paying out unnecessary affiliate commissions, but they are also paying in the form of increased bids for their branded keywords. They have to pay more just to maintain the top spot on keywords that include their own trademarked terms, or else sacrifice that traffic to the affiliate sites. Needless to say, this can have a huge negative impact on the ROI of a campaign that should be extremely profitable.
For companies that use last-in attribution, this sort of action can have the further effect of distorting the performance of the PPC and affiliate channels. Affiliate will receive full credit for a conversion it really didn’t do anything to earn and the PPC will be undervalued, as it would otherwise have gotten that conversion.
A well-managed affiliate program will set out terms and conditions about how affiliates can use the brand’s trademarked names and phrases. Merchants that don’t want affiliates bidding on these terms can prevent it through their affiliate programs. Active program management will monitor affiliates on a daily basis and prevent any violation of the terms and conditions.
These are only two of the benefits merchants miss out on if they skimp on quality affiliate management or fail to integrate their affiliate marketing strategy with other channels. In a world with so many different channels and so many different touchpoints before conversion, merchants can’t afford for their affiliate programs to live in a vacuum.