Best-kept secrets of affiliate marketing success

Forrester recently predicted that affiliate marketing will grow from a $1.9 billion dollar industry in 2009 to $4 billion by 2014. With advertisers pumping more money toward affiliates to extend their offers to new and niche audiences, the industry is seeing a proportional increase in the number of people entering the affiliate business with the hopes of taking their piece of the revenue pie.

The 2009 AffiliateBenchmarks survey provides an in-depth analysis of the affiliate marketing space as the largest survey of its kind to-date, with more than 3,500 affiliates responding to the survey after the promotion of the survey by Google Affiliate Network, ShareASale, Commission Junction, LinkShare, MediaTrust, Performance Marketing Alliance, Zanox, and Pepperjam Network. According to the survey, nearly half of all 3,500 respondents joined the industry in the past two years and mostly on a part-time or hobby basis.

What many of these newcomers might quickly be learning is that affiliate marketing is not as simple as signing up for an affiliate program and waiting for the money to roll in. As evidenced by the survey results, affiliates who are the most successful in generating revenue are employing advanced strategies and tactics that are resulting in better advertising and payouts for everyone involved, including the consumers. These emerging best practices in affiliate marketing could be just the edge new affiliates need to quickly become competitive in this rapidly growing industry. The best practices primarily involve two strategic areas -- making an investment and making a connection.

Making an investment
A key finding of the survey is the consistent realization of positive revenue returns on any investment affiliates make in their marketing efforts. For example, while only 36 percent of all survey respondents are purchasing PPC traffic to promote their websites, that number jumps to 60 percent when looking at only those affiliates earning more than $100,000 a year in revenue. Similarly, as 45.5 percent of all affiliates do not leverage video ads, 61.5 percent of those who do leverage video ads agree that they perform "excellent" or "well." Additionally, 61 percent of respondents optimized their websites to efficiently drive traffic to their sites via high organic search rankings.

To little or no surprise, the survey also indicates the investment of time and resources can be equally valuable, especially as many new affiliates find that limited available funding eliminates monetary investments as an option in developing their business. In terms of driving traffic to the affiliates' sites, the respondents indicated a strong favoritism to a time investment over a monetary one as well as the use of social media and search engine optimization. To this end, 64.2 percent of survey respondents are utilizing SEO while nearly half (46.6 percent) are utilizing social media to drive traffic.

When looking at various experience and income segments, the ideal combinations of these promotional strategies, along with display and PPC campaigns, become relatively clear. The respondents further elaborated on this claim by indicating a clear correlation between the value the affiliate places on the relationship with affiliate managers and the income of the publisher.

Making a connection
As the affiliate marketing industry continues to host newcomers to the industry, there is no need for them, or other affiliates looking to improve their strategies, to try to figure this all out individually. According to the survey results, affiliate networks are playing a large role in helping affiliates learn about and evaluate new opportunities and programs. It's also important to build a relationship and have an open dialogue with affiliate managers. Further to the point above regarding the value of the relationship, more than 60 percent of survey respondents join, promote, and quit programs all based on their relationship with affiliate managers.

The latest information, tips, techniques, and best practices can be found at affiliate industry events, such as Affiliate Summit, Commission Junction University, and Affiliate Convention. The survey shows an extremely strong correlation between attending conferences and generating high income from affiliate marketing. While a significant majority of affiliates (77 percent) do not attend conferences, that number drops to 45 percent when only looking at respondents earning more than $100,000, indicating a large margin of education between the two groups.

Additionally, tips and supplementary information can also be found on blogs. However, as indicated by the survey, 38.5 percent of responding affiliate marketers are not reading blogs to improve their performance. By tapping into the strengths and learnings of the affiliate marketing industry as a whole via blog postings and participation at industry events, affiliates can realistically expect to increase their revenue.

In conclusion, the 2009 AffiliateBenchmarks survey provides the unique opportunity for the affiliate marketing industry and those interested in the community to get a bird's eye view of the associated best practices. While the above focuses on the findings that I feel speak to the general trends of the industry, there are more specific findings in the complete survey.

Peter Figueredo is the CEO of affiliate management and search marketing agency NETexponent.

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