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Think BR: Is it worth optimising the long tail?

What are the key areas to focus on when implementing and managing a long tail affiliate marketing strategy, asks Nick Cristal, affiliate planner, iProspect.

Nick Cristal, affiliate planner, iProspect

Nick Cristal, affiliate planner, iProspect

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It has been widely known in the affiliate world for some time that the majority of affiliate sales and yearly incremental growth come 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 the top affiliates within a programme while still increasing the channel as a whole?

Merchants are increasingly placing more resource under these top affiliates as they continue to prove that incentivised 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 a number of key areas in which we go about implementing and managing a successful long tail strategy:

1. Recruitment

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 methods 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.
  • Publisher managers: 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 which 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.
  • Blog networks: 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 in which Google has a vast reach and has the potential mass ability to tap into a market which other networks may not be able to recruit as easily.

2. Incentivising:

There are several ways in which we can incentivise 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:

  • Incentivising 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 inclusion into long tail affiliate communications with their readers and followers. There is no better way of starting a relationship with the long tail than gifting them for joining the program.
  • Competitions: 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...
  • Tiering: This is an ongoing approach which has gone slightly out of a 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.

3. Engaging

Traditionally we would use the A4U - from my experience this is useful for communicating site-wide offers and incentives but for a more bespoke optimisation the best method is to pick out your best quality affiliates and speak to them on a one to one basis or even set up meetings to see how you 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 on an affiliate by affiliate basis is essential for bespoke long tail optimisations.

Nick Cristal, affiliate planner, iProspect

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