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Optimising the Long Tail- Is it worth it?
By Nick Cristal
It has been widely known in the affiliate world for some time that the majority of affiliate sales and yearly incremental growth comes from the top publishers on any affiliate program. The number of top publishers can range from 2 to 15 affiliates depending on the vertical leaving the other several hundred affiliates to make up the rest of the sales.
The million dollar question in affiliate marketing has always been; “how do we reduce dependency from these top affiliates within an affiliate program while still increasing the affiliate channel as a whole?” Increasingly merchants are placing more resource under these top affiliates as they continue to prove that incentivized promotions are so consistently successful to incremental growth and as a result the long tail affiliates are quite often lost and forgotten.
Granted I’m aware that account managers occasionally look past optimising a long tail affiliate in order to optimise with a top affiliate but this isn’t to say they shouldn’t be touched upon at all. Although they’ll only be representing 5%-15% of the overall sales within a program, as yearly growth occurs with top affiliates we need to ensure that these long tail affiliates maintain the same level of growth.
Below I’ve listed three key areas in which we go about implementing and managing a successful long tail strategy:
Firstly and most importantly we need to recruit affiliates in order to grow the long tail; generally speaking network recruitment methods depend on their in house/3rd party tools. Below I’ve listed a couple of different method which networks can use:
3rd Party Tools:
Tools such as Coremetrics are extremely useful for picking out particular key words that may be high on an agenda of the advertiser’s PPC & SEO campaigns. We can use these tools to pick out potential affiliates who feature highly within these words/terms.
Some networks are divided into teams who manage an account from A-Z concentrating on all affiliates and merchants within the same team. Other networks will split out the work slightly between recruiting new publishers and a team who deals more with the advertiser. This method is particularly useful when deciphering long tail affiliates. The experience and knowledge of not only recruiting but building up the relationship with publishers is key for the initial impact of any new publisher advertising a brand.
The stand out Network for reaching bloggers has to be GAN(Google Affiliate Network), one of their unique propositions is to tap into a vast number of bloggers who sign up to join the Google Adsense programme. This is an avenue which Google have a vast reach in and have the potential mass ability to tap into a market which other networks may not be able to recruit as easily.
There are several ways in which we can incentivize the long tail from an overall perspective, below are a few methods in which altering the CPA’s tend to generate more out of an affiliate program:
Incentivizing new affiliates:
Once recruited on to a program we can then hit new affiliates with a higher than normal CPA in order to negotiate some unique content, higher listings within their pages or inclusions into a long tail affiliates communications to their readers & followers. There is no better way of starting a relationship with the long tail than gifting them for joining the program.
This is more of a seasonal approach to reactivate affiliates through timely competitions either to win a one off bonus amount or a prize for increasing their average order value or overall revenue. When I first started in affiliates we gave away a brand new PS3 to one affiliate who had performed well in the previous month and they returned this gesture by consistently driving volume throughout the year. It’s times like these that I wish I was a successful long tail affiliate…..
This is an ongoing approach which I’ve witnessed become more out of fashion in recent years as programs tend to concentrate on top affiliates. Networks have the capability to automatically create rules that offer a higher CPA’s for a retrospective level of performance per affiliate, so from an administrative perspective there shouldn’t be any reason why this shouldn’t be implemented on more programs on an ongoing basis.
Traditionally we would use the A4U (http://www.affiliates4u.com/) but from my experience this is useful for communicating site wide offers and incentives but for a more bespoke optimisation the best way is to pick out your best quality affiliates and speak with them on a one to one basis or even setting up meetings to see how we can adapt and change copy in order to generate more sales and increase conversion rates.
The Key thing about picking out your key long tail affiliates is down to the feedback of the advertiser, providing feedback on the quality from an affiliate by affiliate basis is essential for bespoke long tail optimisations.
These three methods should certainly help create incremental growth for long tail affiliates. The other key thing to remember is to be as equally responsive to all affiliates whether top tier or long tail; all are just as important as each other and I’m sure the last thing any affiliates wants to feel is ignored.
Lastly, you may be thinking “Well why should we bother putting so much effort in to engage with such a vast number of affiliates; the majority of which won’t be responsive/produce any sales over a lengthy period of time?” The simple answer to that would be; if the recruitment, management and incentivization of affiliates have been implemented correctly then the quality of each sale produced from the long tail will be significant. Not only from an individual level but it will also boost the quality of customer coming through affiliates from an overall channel perspective, which in turn is advantageous when looking at the quality from a holistic point of view compared to other channels.
For further reading I found this great Article from Gary Bicker from Affilinet who stresses the importance of long term planning, activation and reactivation which is an integral part of any long tail strategy: http://www.themarketinglounge.org/affiliate-marketing/unlocking-potential-long-tail-affiliates