How to identify the best publishers to help you achieve your business goals

Marketers collaborating

Building enduring relationships with the right publishers is fundamental to running a successful affiliate program. To determine who the “right” publishers are, you need to (a) understand your business objectives; and (b) have the data that allows you to understand which publishers are likely to help you achieve those objectives.

Here, I’m going to walk you through the process of identifying the right publishers for your brand, using examples based on our company data to demonstrate that the right affiliate partnerships — in combination with your other marketing activities — can help you achieve your business goals, whatever they may be.

1. Identify KPIs for your business objectives

Affiliate marketing is often associated with driving immediate sales. However, the truth is, you can configure your affiliate marketing activity in different ways based on what you’re trying to achieve.

It sounds simple, but understanding what you’re trying to achieve first, rather than thinking “we need to run an affiliate program,” is essential to identifying effective publisher partnerships. It’s Marketing 101: Start with your objectives, identify corresponding goals, and then pinpoint specific associated KPIs to help you understand how to meet those objectives.

For example, one of the goals associated with brand awareness is reaching new audiences. The associated KPI would be increasing the number of new users visiting your website. Beyond that, your objective might be to make sure you are reaching the right audience — i.e., finding people who are actually interested in your brand and products. So the goal would be to increase engagement, and the KPI might be to increase average page views per user.

Further down the funnel, your goals are likely to be around increasing sales and revenue; an associated KPI would be an increased conversion rate.

Once you’ve identified your KPIs, you can start to think about how affiliate marketing will fit into the mix. How do you know which publishers are the right ones to impact these KPIs?

2. Use data to identify the right potential affiliate partners

There are three things to remember when using data to help you identify potential successful partnerships:

Make sure you have full multichannel data across the entire user journey to allow you to measure your KPIs at all levels of the funnel.
Segment that data by new and existing customers, so you can accurately measure the performance of your acquisition and retention strategies.
Ensure your data is granular enough to identify each interaction down to a publisher level.

With these three things in place, you’ll be in a position to identify the specific partnerships that are likely to have — or are already having — the best impact.

For example, our data shows that three of the top 10 US affiliate publishers for driving new users are content/influencer publishers, with each bringing in at least 80 percent new users. This suggests that businesses looking to increase brand awareness through attracting new users can confidently trial new partnerships with relevant content publishers.

For businesses looking to find people likely to be highly engaged with their products or services, our data shows that seven of the top 10 affiliate publishers for driving high average page views — an indication of high engagement — are loyalty publishers. So, investigating loyalty or rebate partnerships is probably not a bad place to start.

For businesses looking to increase sales and revenue by attracting those customers most likely to buy, we’ve found that six out of the top 10 publishers for attracting visitors with a high conversion rate are loyalty/rebates publishers. That said, coupon publishers also feature in the top 10, so, depending on your brand, they may also provide fruitful partnerships.

Digging deeper into the data, we’re able to see nuances per vertical. For example, looking at the apparel and accessories industry specifically, fewer content publishers appear in the top 10 publishers for driving new user visits.

However, two shopping publishers make an appearance instead, driving a new user percentage of around 72 percent. If you’re a clothing retailer looking to attract new customers, this data demonstrates that such shopping publishers could be suitable partners to investigate

3. Test, collect your own data, and refine

The data we’ve looked at so far is aggregated across a number of US clients and a range of industries. Aggregated averages are a great place to start, and data relevant to a particular industry is even better, but every brand is different.

The point is that not all affiliate publishers will be suitable for your goals, your industry or your brand. It sounds simple, but it’s important to take these aggregated insights to help you identify suitable partnerships to test, and then test your own campaigns and measure them — both on an immediate performance basis and on a longer-term basis.

Looking at immediate performance will help you understand which partnerships give you quick wins; analyzing performance farther down the line — for example, by looking at the repeat purchase behavior and lifetime value of the customers brought in by that initial affiliate partnership — gives you an understanding of longer-term value.

With both of these viewpoints on your data, you’ll then have a stronger idea of which partnerships work best for you and your goals. Based on this specific understanding, you will be able to evolve your affiliate strategy and increase its effectiveness.

4. Remember the multichannel context

So, at this point in the process, you’ve identified potential affiliate partners to help you achieve your business goals. Using other marketing channels to the same end will increase the impact. As such, it’s essential to measure performance in a way that allows you to see the impact your marketing channels have on each other.

For example, say you’ve identified that you’re working with a publisher partner that is particularly effective at bringing in users with a high conversion rate. As I mentioned in one of my previous Marketing Land articles, for one of our US apparel clients, the affiliate channel saw around a 25 percent increase in conversion rate when display was involved in the consumer journey, demonstrating that these two channels work well together.

Identifying the channels that have the biggest influence on each other allows you to test the positive impact of running a campaign across those multiple channels.

By having a solid grasp on what you’re trying to achieve, and access to data that allows you to make confident decisions about which publishers might help you reach those goals in the context of your other marketing activity, your affiliate marketing is more likely to succeed — as are your marketing campaigns as a whole.