According to a report by BI Intelligence, 15% of all digital marketing revenue comes from affiliate marketing, and that number is climbing as more brands wade into these water. But how can your company make the most out of your efforts? What pitfalls should you avoid? We’re here to help. Here are 15 best practices to follow for affiliate marketing.

1. Start with a plan

Launching into any marketing campaign without a solid plan in place is a recipe to flush money down the toilet. Too many businesses just sign up for an affiliate network with very little planning, and it always leads to low conversions and even lower ROI.

Ask yourself a few questions: what does your ideal affiliate look like? Who are the people you’re targeting? Where do your potential customers spend their time online? What is your competition doing in your niche? What can you offer the affiliates you want to work with?

Do your due diligence before starting, and your ounce of prevention will be worth while as you start up your affiliate program.

2. Have a compelling offer and commission rate

Your program isn’t going to get off the ground if you’re offering a 5% commission when your vertical’s average is 8%. Make sure you’ve done your homework in two ways: 1) what the industry averages are, and 2) what you can afford to spend. After all, if your margins are razor-thin already, you might have to tweak your business model even before starting your affiliate program.

But maybe your brand is fun enough that your affiliate reps would be happy with free products. It could be cheaper for your business to kick-back an item instead of a commission, as long as the community is compelled by what they get. Test out a bundle offer and see if that works for your network.

3. Convert customers to affiliates

Loyal customers and fans of your brand are the first groups to turn to when building your affiliate network of representatives. For some companies, they never need to go seeking anyone else since they have a large pool of customers to draw from.

The absolute best way to convert customers to affiliates is to provide excellent service at every step in your relationship with them. From browsing, to the purchase, to refunds, to customer support; the more 5-star experiences you can give to your customers, the easier it will be to ask them to start referring your brand, especially when you add the incentive of a commission. Here are more ideas on how to convert your customers.

4. Get affiliates to find you

While eventually you will seek out great affiliates one by one (see the micro-influencer section below), it can be more efficient when you’re first starting your program to build out a funnel that draws in new affiliates that you can passively let run. It’s like dragging net as opposed to spearfishing; you’ll get a lot more with less effort.

Make sure you have a compelling affiliate sign-up landing page that’s SEO friendly and optimized around the keywords you want to show up for on Google. Be sure to link this to your homepage, your footer, your newsletter, and anywhere else that will be put in front of potential reps. Finally, make sure the sign-up process itself is automated which will increase your bandwidth as your build up your network.

5. Be data driven

You’d be surprised at how many businesses run their affiliate programs without really looking into the metrics to gauge performance. The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you can employ tracked links and coupon codes to measure just about every part of the process. Keep an eye on your KPIs and adjust your program at least once a month.

For example, your metrics can show you if there is room to offer a higher commission during certain periods of the year. If your ROI numbers show that you can boost commissions by 2X during the summer months, that change could motivate your reps to do massive numbers that you otherwise would have missed by ignoring the data.

6. Change up your commissions

Speaking of which, changing up your commissions from time to time is important to keep your affiliates engaged and effective. If percentages haven’t budged in years, even your best reps can get complacent. Or worse, your competitors could have caught up and surpassed your offer.

At the very least, try surge commissions for short periods of time (2–4 weeks) that can shake up an otherwise slow sales month. Or build in sales streak bonuses where X amount of sales in a time period unlocks either a bonus gift or a bonus bump in commission rate. You can even A/B test different commission rates and see which get the best results. These sort of varied incentives are invaluable to energize affiliates.

7. Pay on time

Nothing kills a relationship with an affiliate faster than late paychecks. There isn’t much to say here other than don’t be late! If possible, automate payments or at the very least set calendar reminders to make sure you send out checks on time. Sounds like a no-brainer? We see this happen with our merchants all the time.

8. Work with the influencers in your niche

We’re big fans of the micro-influencer and reaching out to work with them can be a huge boost to your sales. Sure, if you’ve got bottomless pockets then go for the giant social influencers of the world, but if you’re like most businesses, working with smaller, passionate influencers with followings of 2,000 to 10,000 people is a great place to start.

Not only can they bring in conversions, but they can lend credibility to your brand with their endorsement. Once your business has a solid affiliate marketing program in place with a growing network of reps, start reaching out to these micro-influencers with enticing offers and commissions. They can be well worth the additional expense (but pay attention to your metrics!).

9. Nurture your affiliates

Your relationship with your affiliates shouldn’t start and end with just signing them up and paying them out. It should be a partnership, and a great way to work together is to collaborate on content.

Remember, your affiliates rely on your images, ideas, and blurbs to craft their own blog posts and videos. Make sure you provide them with great content that they can reuse and remix for their social media. User-generated content is key to successful affiliate programs, so invest time into providing your reps with what they need.

10. Start an affiliate newsletter

An exclusive newsletter to your reps is an effective way to communicate new products & services, upcoming events & deals, and highlight their success stories. While you can also maintain an online community (ie. a Facebook group for your reps), nothing beats the monthly newsletter at propagating information.

Don’t believe us? Check this post out on DreamGrow that outlines why newsletters consistently beat out social media when it comes to reach. For example, Facebook’s reach is dropping like a rock:

Newsletters, especially coming from the company that’s paying the affiliates money, will be read. Fill it with tips, ideas, content they can use, affiliate success stories, and exclusive offers. It will become a powerful tool for communication and motivation for your reps.

11. Hold “office hours”

In addition to the affiliate newsletter, it’s important to make yourself available to your reps on a regular and scheduled basis. It not only allow them access to get their questions and concerns heard, but will keep you motivated to be an active participant in your affiliate program by having a set date and time to focus on it.

It depends on how many affiliate you work with, but holding “office hours” every other week is a good place to start. Say, every other Thursday at noon for an hour, reps can contact you and know that you’ll be there to help them with affiliate matters. It’s a great way to improve communication between you and your partners, keeping the relationship healthy and moving forward.

12. Optimize for mobile

Especially if you’re working with a younger generation of reps, you want to make sure that each step in your business is mobile-friendly. After all, your reps may mostly exist as Instagram profiles that draw in other Instagram users.

Is your site mobile-optimized? How about your affiliate sign-up page? Do you have the right image sizes to be reposted to mobile social media sites? Can shoppers make mobile purchases at all? The more mobile your entire business is (and these days, 40% of online transactions are done via mobile), the easier it will be for your affiliate marketing to work with today’s consumers.

13. Be wary of fraud

While affiliate marketing is inherently protected against most types of fraudulent transactions (after all, you only pay commission on a sale), that doesn’t mean there aren’t shady reps who try to game the system to make a quick buck. From trademark bidding to sending out spam emails to credit card scams, there are certainly ways fraud can hit your program.

Knowing the warning signs and being vigilant about shady tactics can save you time, money, and a lot of headaches. Monitoring your metrics for oddities is a great way to be proactive about catching fraudulent activity. Does one rep have a higher than normal amount of sales-to-refunds? That could be a red flag. Check out other ways to avoid fraud in this blog post.

14. Have clear terms & conditions

On the topic of fraud, sometimes trouble can come from your affiliate partners simply not knowing what they can or cannot do. That’s why having very clear terms & conditions is important to a) laying out the ground rules, and b) protecting yourself if a rep goes rogue.

On the affiliate sign-up page, write in plain English (or your language of choice) what each affiliate is agreeing to when he or she sign on to become your brand representative. Make it readable and understandable so you can always point to your T&Cs in the future if/when a rep oversteps their bounds. Don’t hesitate to include an FAQ section here as well to expand on any particular topic.

15. Make it fun!

From the companies we’ve worked with, some of the most successful affiliate marketing programs are the ones where the partner reps feel like they’re in on some secret, exclusive club. From special offers, to bonus packages, to branded gear as gifts; the more fun and exciting it is to be working as a rep for a company, the more they want to get out there and spread the word.

As you grow your affiliate program, how can you impart that sort of fun? Can you host meetups in certain cities? How about sending out branded gear? Even low-cost stickers can get reps jazzed up about your brand. For ideas, check out some of our Client Spotlights on our Refersion Blog.