I had an epiphany about life that led me to the secret growth hack that grew our affiliate marketing program 9X year over year.
For those who don’t know, building an affiliate marketing program means building partnerships with bloggers and influencers in your space that have an online audience and paying them per lead they send to your site. Usually you both sign an agreement at a set cost per conversion on your site. The partnership is mutually beneficial in that they benefit by monetizing traffic to their site, and you benefit by having an influencer vouch for your product and send qualified traffic to your site.
Bloggers who have a loyal following, have readers who return to their site time and time again. These readers have established trust with the blog and content they find there. Therefore, when a blogger writes about your company and can recommend it to their readers in a truly genuine way, that blogger is sending a “warm lead” to your site. This is someone who’s already been primed, pre-qualified by learning a bit about your site and is interested enough to click through to learn more.
An affiliate marketing lead is comparable in quality to the type of lead you’d get from a referral program- when a current customer refers a friend. To give you an idea of how strong affiliate leads are, here’s a snapshot of my Google Analytics page showing that affiliate leads signup at a conversion rate that is more than 4.4X the average site visitor.
When I joined RealtyShares in 2015 as the second marketing hire and 20th employee at the company, among the many things on my plate, I was tasked with building an affiliate program from the ground up.
The first thing I did was research and create a list of all the FinTech/investing bloggers in our space and reach out to them via email to invite them to join our affiliate program…
I sent out 50 emails and got 12 responses. All of which did not think the partnership would be a fit or were not interested at this time. That effort produced zero affiliate partnerships. It wasn’t until I was working on a side project of mine, when I unlocked the secret to building affiliate relationships.
www.topfivecityguide.com used to be a blog where I aggregated survey responses from hundreds of New Yorkers and San Franciscans about their absolute favorite restaurants in various categories. Each week I’d post a new blog post based off the data I collected “Top Five Brunch Spots in NYC”, “Top Five Burgers in NYC”, “Top Five Coffee Spots in NYC”.
Each time I wrote something I also posted about it on Facebook and Twitter, tagging every restaurant or company that was mentioned in the blog post. To my surprise, these renowned restaurants and food brands were extremely flattered by the mention and over 50% of them “liked”, “re-posted” and “shared” my tweets…
It was at this point that I came to a realization about life that helped to drive my growth marketing career forward.
I took this concept and ran with it at RealtyShares. I put together content around the “Top 60 Real Estate Investing Blogs”, “Top 76 Alternative Investing Blogs”, “Top 75 Real Estate Blogs”, “Top 14 Personal Finance Blogs” and many many more. As many categories as I could possibly think of that related to FinTech or the Real Estate industry. All together we ended up mentioning over 373 different blogs, podcasts, books and influencers within these “Top” lists that we posted to the RealtyShares blog.
Next, I reached out to every single person that was mentioned in one of our blog posts, taking a slightly different approach then the first time I reached out via email- I didn’t mention our affiliate program at all.
Here’s the response I got this time around…
By first giving recognition to the blogger for their fantastic content, I was able to “warm up” the relationship, and therefore Joe and the rest of the bloggers I spoke to were far more open to learning about our affiliate program.
Not to mention all the shares and backlinks we gained when these 373 influencers shared our post with their followers.
Out of the 373 influencers we emailed, 66 of them ended up signing up for our affiliate program. That’s an 18% conversion rate!
By utilizing this strategy alone, I was able to grow our affiliate program 9X year over year.
Not only did affiliate traffic grow exponentially- but the quality of the leads proved to be among the strongest relative to other channels like SEM, Native and Paid Social. Meaning that signups that came from our affiliate program, became investors at a higher rate and invested more dollars on our platform than signups from other channels.
If you’re looking for a tool to manage & track your affiliate marketing partners and the commissions that they’re each earning, I use Ambassador, which is referral marketing software and it’s awesome. The Ambassador platform makes it easy for affiliates to sign up, access their unique tracking link and monitor their clicks, conversions and commission. You can even pay your affiliates through the platform.
How did I find out about Ambassador? Well, first I used them to build out our referral program at RealtyShares which scaled 10X within 45 days of implementing Ambassador. Enough said. I implemented it on the affiliate marketing side as soon as I saw those results.
However, if you find Ambassador is out of your price range- look into Omnistar. Omnistar’s tool will also let you track an affiliate program quickly and easily and it’s a fraction of the cost. Omnistar costs ~$40/month rather than $1,000/month like Ambassador. This is the first platform we used to get the referral program off the ground and it worked wonders, however there were a couple of feature limitations that led us to to our ultimate switch to Ambassador.
Once someone agrees to be an affiliate partner, you'll want to send them a link to sign up for your affiliate program. This link should take them to a sign up page that explains how your affiliate program works.
For example, "When you sign up as an affiliate, you'll get a unique link that you can use any time you refer to our company. When someone clicks on your link and signs up or makes a purchase, we'll pay you $X in commission."
Every affiliate marketing partner should have their own unique tracking link. That way, whenever they write about your product, they'll be able to link to your site and get credit for every click or every sale.
If you use a tracking platform like Ambassador, your affiliates will be able to log in and monitor their performance in terms of clicks, conversions and the commissions that they're earning.
It's one thing to convince someone to sign up as an affiliate.
You: "Hey, do you want to make money for writing about my product on your blog?"
Them: "Uh, yeah."
It's another thing to convince them to actually sit down, and take the time to create content that will drive affiliate conversions.Your product is likely not the only product that they've signed up to promote.
You: "Hey, so I noticed you signed up to be an affiliate, but I'm not seeing any traffic from your site yet..."
Them: "Oh yeah, I've been meaning to, but I just haven't had the time to get around to writing new content"
So, how do you actually encourage your new affiliates to take the time to write about your product? How can you get your new partners to prioritize producing your content and promoting your content ahead of their other partnerships?
Say it's a month or two later and you're still not seeing them send traffic to your site, how do you motivate them to get started?
I'll tell you how- you pay them!
Check it out...
You: "Hey, so you know how I told you earlier that I'd pay you $40 per conversion? Well, if you send over your first few conversions before the end of the month, you can lock in a special rate $60 per conversion for good."
Them: "Oh shit, sweet deal. I'm going to get on writing your content ASAP!"
Before going ahead and offering more money per conversion, you'll have to make sure that the numbers back out for your company. Make sure you're thinking about your return on investment (ROI) when offering a special deal. You'll want to make sure that you're still getting value from these conversions.
That might mean that you start newer affiliates at a lower pricing tier and promote them to higher priced tiers once you determine that they send you high quality traffic.
It's totally okay to have pay different affiliates different base commissions per conversion.
Sucky Affiliate: "Hey, can you bump up my base commission rate?"
You: "Uh, no. None of the leads you are sending me are actually converting. They're low quality and I can hardly afford to pay you what I'm paying you. In fact, I'm considering terminating our partnership if I don't see an improvement in lead quality before the end of the month.
Awesome Affiliate: "Hey, can you bump up my base commission rate?"
You: "Yes- the leads you are sending me are awesome and spending a lot of money our product. I can bump up your commission rate by $X."
Usually anywhere from $5-$20 extra is very much appreciated!
Once you've gotten your affiliate partners to "activate" or make their first few referrals that convert on your site, you'll want to continue to stay top of mind so that they're constantly motivated to continue pumping out content with your company's name on it.
There are a few ways you can do this.
People love to be recognized.
If you carefully track your affiliate marketing traffic, you’ll soon discover something! It can be an incredibly valuable source of leads.
At RealtyShares, affiliate traffic has become a huge part of our funnel. This traffic converts to sign-ups at a massive rate compared to other traffic sources.
Affiliate traffic is too valuable to ignore!
The great thing about an affiliate program is that it’s relatively inexpensive. Rather than paying per click or per impression like you do on Google Adwords or Facebook, you only pay for actual signups on your site. No money wasted!
If you’re looking for high quality traffic growth, an Affiliate program is a great place to start.
Have you built an Affiliate Marketing Program? What’s your experience? Do you use a different tool? Tell me about it by shooting an email to firstname.lastname@example.org - promise I’ll respond 🙂
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