How to grow an in-house affiliate program

One of the most commonly asked questions in affiliate marketing is how to grow a mature program? There are plenty of ways to grow a network program, but what about in-house programs? Running an in-house affiliate program can yield significant cost savings and create closer relationships with your affiliates, but also presents unique challenges when it comes to growing a mature program. Regardless of the size of your in-house affiliate program, there are several strategies to explore when looking for growth opportunities.

In-bound Affiliate Recruitment

One of the key benefits to running your affiliate program on an established affiliate network like Affiliate Window, Commission Junction or Linkshare is access to inbound affiliate recruitment tools. Network programs can rely on a steady stream of inbound affiliate applications to grow the program.

In-house programs don’t have the luxury of being listed in a network marketplace, so you will have to work harder to gain visibility for your program. That said, there are several things an in-house program manager can do to increase inbound applications. The first step to kick-starting your in-bound recruitment is to create an affiliates landing page and a clearly visible link titled “affiliates” on your company homepage. While this may seem simplistic, many in-house programs do not have a clearly visible link on their company’s homepage advertising the affiliate program. Having a clearly labeled link and landing page makes it easy for potential affiliates to find information about your program.

For companies that already have an affiliates link and landing page, the next step is to review the information on that page and make sure that is relevant and speaks to potential affiliates. The affiliate landing page should clearly feature relevant program information such as commission rate, cookie duration, and the criteria for earning a commission. You should also consider including basic information about your program such as the frequency and method that your affiliates are a paid. It is important to remember that you are fulfilling the functions normally handled by an established affiliate network, so your affiliates will need to be reassured that they will receive the same basic services they get from a network run program.

Avoid filling your affiliate landing page with consumer facing marketing language. Your affiliates are an independent sales force promoting your products to the end-consumer, not the end-consumer themselves. You want to sell them on the benefits of your program, not your product.

Finally, it’s important to evaluate the promotional strategy for your affiliate program. Try promoting the program through your company’s traditional and social media outlets. If the resources are available, have the site content refined to make sure it’s SEO friendly.

Out-bound Affiliate Recruitment

The next step to growing a mature in-house program is to evaluate the outbound recruitment efforts. Another advantage to running a program in an established network such is that you can also actively search the network marketplace for new affiliates. An in-house program will not have access to this type of resource, but this does not mean you cannot engage in outbound recruitment.

The first thing to do when searching for new affiliates is to try to find out which affiliates your competitors are working with. It is impossible to identify all of your competitor’s affiliates, but a quick survey of the top affiliates in the coupon & deal, loyalty, and content space should give you an idea of who your competitors are working with. Reach out to these affiliates directly and try to sell them on the benefits of your program. However, be prepared for a bit of rejection if your program does not have a widely used tracking platform. Integrating new tracking is a unique challenge for affiliates and they may not the resources to do so.

The next step to growing your program requires a bit of internal detective work. Find out if your company has a list of current and former channel partners. This list could include referral partners, value added resellers (VARs), or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Depending on the relationship, you may be able to integrate these partners into your affiliate program. For example, as many companies have moved towards selling their products direct to the consumer online, they are left a network of VARs who no longer sell their product, but are still subject matter experts and have valuable direct relationships with end-consumer. Turning these VARs into affiliates is win-win scenario. You leverage their expertise and customer relationships to sell your products, while they continue to earn revenue for referring your products.

Another option for growing your program is to hire an affiliate management agency. A good affiliate management agency can leverage longstanding industry connections to bring new affiliate opportunities to your program. Even if you don’t need the agency to manage the day-to-day operations of your program, their expertise with recruitment and optimization can breathe new life into a mature program.

Finally, you can supplement your existing in-house program by opening a program on an established affiliate network. Starting a program on a network does not mean that you need to close your existing in-house program. Opening a program in one of the major affiliate networks you will have access to previously inaccessible marketplaces. It is important to note that simply opening a network program will not always result in a sudden influx of new affiliates. Even with access to the network marketplace, you will still need to proactively reach out to prospective affiliates. Finally, be aware that most network contracts prohibit migrating affiliates you recruit through their network to your in-house program.