Don’t Strike Out with Your Affiliate Program by Ignoring Publisher Development

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Why publisher development is essential for affiliate success

Can you imagine a baseball team that didn’t regularly recruit new players? The owners just continue playing their top performers game after game, year after year, counting on them to win big and draw fans even though the players can no longer endure stealing bases or sliding into home.

That would be pretty ridiculous, right?

Confounding as it is, this mentality is common among many affiliate marketing programs with regard to their publishers, also referred to as affiliates.

Publishers, like baseball players, draw the crowds. They promote merchants (advertisers) on their blogs and websites. They add merchants’ affiliate links to their sites and encourage their readers to buy their products and services. And when more publishers do that, more revenue is generated for merchants’ affiliate programs.

This is why it would seem logical for merchants to consistently recruit new publishers. Ironically, what often tends to happen is that merchants will get comfortable with their top ten or so publishers who are regularly generating the majority of affiliate revenue, winning games, if you will.

So the merchant sits back, relaxes, and doesn’t bother recruiting new publishers – until one of their top ten publishers changes their business model and decides to no longer do affiliate. Or the state tax nexus becomes an issue, making it impossible for the merchant to work with some of their top publishers. Or things just change.

Then, they start to panic because there are no new publishers to replace that lost revenue.

If a merchant isn’t all that interested in growing their revenue, this isn’t a big issue. But it’s a huge problem for those who do have the goal of increasing sales.

Therefore, to have a successful affiliate program in the long-term, it is vital to consistently prospect, evaluate, and recruit new publishers. The fact is, publisher development is the primary way to grow revenue year over year.

So why don’t more merchants and agencies do it?

Because effective publisher development takes a considerable amount of time, energy, and resources. Here’s what it entails:

  • Prospecting – To say that there are a lot of publishers out there is an understatement. There are millions, and the reality is that many of them aren’t a good fit for most merchants. This is why it is critical to have at least one person totally dedicated to publisher development who has an in-depth understanding of the affiliate industry. This person should have the know-how to find prospective publishers and determine who would be a good fit for the merchant and who would not.
  • Evaluating – Once a potential publisher has been identified, it’s important to learn about their publishing efforts – what they do, what opportunities they offer, and if they will have the capacity to generate sales. It involves looking at multiple factors, including their newsletter subscriber size, their blog reach, number of social media followers, web traffic volume, etc. It’s also essential to talk to publishers to hear from them about what they do to promote their merchants. Gaining this deep understanding of the publisher’s efforts requires extensive research as well as phone calls and e-mails with the publishers. Needless to say, it is a time-consuming and labor-intensive process – albeit, a very necessary one.
  • Recruiting and Cross-Recruiting – Publishers tend to want access to as many opportunities as possible. This is partly why in-depth publisher development is rarely done by merchants who manage their affiliate programs in-house. With only one program to promote, the merchant doesn’t have the ability to recruit publishers for multiple opportunities – only their own. In addition, the time, work, resources, and effort involved in recruiting is too labor-intensive for one or two program managers to handle and their yield would be too low to make it worthwhile. The difficulty is, it’s imperative for merchants to recruit new publishers if they want to grow their programs.
  • Technology – Effective publisher development also requires many different (and often expensive) tools. For instance, advanced customer relationship management (CRM) tools are essential to evaluating new opportunities, cultivating relationships with publishers, and growing individual publisher performance. There are necessary tools for evaluating a publisher’s website traffic and looking at which merchants publishers are promoting and through which networks. Most publisher development tools are simply too expensive for an individual merchant with one program. It makes little sense for them to procure them because the return isn’t there.

Rarely (if ever) does a merchant not want their affiliate program revenue to increase. And if revenue growth is the goal, the affiliate base must grow. The only way to ensure that the publishers in your program are quality and will actually generate revenue is to prospect, evaluate, and recruit them using a variety of strategies, technology, and resources.

If you primarily rely on your top ten affiliates for revenue generation, your program is exposed to severe risk if they ever leave. Therefore, to win in the affiliate marketing big leagues, it’s vital to work with a publisher development manager (or an agency with a seasoned publisher development team) to ensure that your program consists of a diversified, well-balanced affiliate base and that your affiliate program manager is consistently bringing new publishers into your program.

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