Creating Synergy Between Search and Affiliate Agencies

Search and Affiliate SynergyWhen an online retailer has two agencies managing different part of its online marketing efforts there can be challenges – especially when it comes to search and the affiliate channel.

There are some who wrongly think inevitable conflict between these two channels will occur. But managed correctly, and with good communication, both channels can yield maximum results. It can be a synergistic relationship that benefits all parties.

The goal is to have an open, seamless working relationship that benefits the shared client in every possible way. Achieving that synergy through good communication and clear parameters can yield maximum results through the affiliate channel with no conflict to ongoing search campaigns.

“There shouldn’t be any turf wars. In the best interest of the client and the customer experience, it’s paramount that all sides come together and work together,” says Marty Marion, Director of Digital Marketing at Affiliate Management.

Search and affiliate synergy

Here are some strategies for online retailers to make these often complicated interactions function well.

Set Clear Terms and Conditions

It’s imperative that the internet retailer spell out exactly what is and isn’t allowed on the part of all parties. To make search and affiliate work as complementary channels that means having affiliate adhere to conditions that are not in violation of search terms.

  • Direct Linking and Display URL Rules – It’s a best practice not to allow affiliates to direct link to your site or use your top level domain as the Display URL. All partners must have separate URLs as search engines will treat all of these ads as coming from the same place and only one will be able to show
  • Be sure to include Ad Copy Restrictions – This  goes back to maintaining your brand equity and consumer trust. Define the promotions clearly and any restrictions you would like in place. For example, you may not want your brand advertised as up to 70 percent off. If you are concerned with the message, you can even give your select partners pre-approved ad copy
  • Ranking Restrictions – As the brand holder you want to maintain top position on your branded searches and don’t want affiliates to rank higher than you. A bid cap on shared terms is a must. The advantage is that all parties win without increasing cost per clicks.
  • Keyword Allowances and Restrictions – Only allow selected partners to bid on your branded terms, restricting all other affiliates on any brand bidding. There are a few different strategies  – one is to allow them to bid on a set of brand plus (Trademark Plus) terms like: your brand +coupon, +promo code, +discount; another is to allow them to bid on any brand + term; things like your brand +shirts. It’s typically recommended not allowing them to bid on your core branded exact match terms. Always request that they negative match restricted terms from their account so they will not show ads on these keywords
  • Landing Pages and Competitors – Landing pages on affiliate sites for these select partners’ ads should be specific to your brand and link directly to your site. Restrict that they only have your approved products or coupons on these pages and refrain from displaying competitors’ products or coupons in the same space.

Monitor on All Fronts

Both the search agency and the firm managing the affiliate program must monitor all activities on a constant basis. Using internal tools as well as third-party tools will ensure visibility into the programs. And make sure all parties are in strict compliance with term and conditions. The retailer can also share reports if they decide that’s best for their business goals.

Understand Possible Pitfalls

The most common complaint is that affiliates bidding on search terms can drive up click costs by outbidding (and ultimately outranking) the brand. But it can get complicated for some brands.

The emergence of marketplaces (such as Amazon, eBay, and the myriad of comparison shopping engines (CSE’s) also muddy the waters for the relationships between search and affiliate channels. That’s because most of these entities also have their own affiliates. This can create confusion about which affiliates are allowed to do what.

For example: A brand may restrict affiliates from bidding on its trademark. However, that brand may allow other retailers to bid on its trademark. Let’s say a company makes electronics. They might not want their affiliates bidding on their trademark. However, they may allow big box retailers that sell their product to bid on the trademark.

But here’s where this gets complex. Those large retailers also likely have affiliates. And those affiliates may push out an offer that includes trademark bidding. In that case, affiliates would not be in violation of terms. If that affiliate is flagged, it’s crucial that both agencies are aware of these terms and communicate about next steps.

Often digging deeper into the specific scenario is required on both the search and affiliate fronts. This is done to ensure there is a violation or to fully explain why the terms and conditions have not been breached.

Have a Communication Plan

The etailer should work with both agencies to create a plan for communication. They should designate a an individual within their organization to manage the relationships with the agencies. This point person will be aware of everything happening on all fronts. They will also be the go-to person for questions, helping to resolve problems and communicating changes. There should also be a documented process in place for resolving problems, making changes and communicating to all parties. Regularly scheduled update meetings or briefings can also be set up to help keep things running smoothly.

“When internal teams and cross agency all integrate and work together, achieving the end goal is much easier.” Marion says.