Choosing Affiliate Software

affiliatemarketingxr8If affiliate marketing is an important part of your acquisition strategy, then you might want to consider bringing your affiliate program in-house. Doing so offers you more control of your affiliate database and tracking, and there are increased efficiencies because you’re not outsourcing a major part of your marketing strategy.

Of course, if you’re going to bring an affiliate program in-house, you better make sure that the software you choose to power it is up to par. Otherwise, your base of affiliates is unlikely to switch over from promoting your network-based program to your in-house one.

When evaluating a potential affiliate marketing platform (as well as any 3rd party network program), there are four sets of features to consider:

  1. Commission Management Tools
  2. CRM Tools
  3. Tracking Reports
  4. Marketing Tools

By either allowing you optimize your program performance and campaigns, or supporting your affiliates and making your program more appealing to them, each of these sets of tools are essential to the success of an affiliate program.

Commission Management Tools

trackingSupporting flexible commissions helps you maximize the return on various promotions by tailoring incentives according to the needs of a product, promotion, and/or target affiliate demographic. There are three essential features that an affiliate platform should provide if it’s going to help you effectively manage custom commission structures: (1) support for different ad-models, (2) commission groups, and (3) automated commission management.

Implementing Custom Commissions: your software should support CPM, CPC, tiered CPA, and hybrid commission tracking; this will help optimize your program for the long-term by attracting a blend of affiliates that can quickly generate results, as well as affiliates who prefer to build a steady revenue stream over time. Working with a wider-base of affiliates gives you more control over your program, and insulates you from sudden changes in the market.

Commission Groups: your software should make it possible to pre-approve affiliates for certain commission structures by assigning them to groups; affiliates only see the different commissions available to the groups their assigned to.

Automated Commissions Management: such a feature ensures that when a custom commission structures is set up for special promotions, (1) it expires alongside the promotion, (2) the relevant affiliates are automatically notified of the expiration, and (3) a new, replacement commission is automatically applied to all affiliates on that promotion.

Affiliate CRM Tools

rss_bloggerAffiliate software should also include sufficient CRM tools to help you retain affiliates, keep them active, and better publicize promotions and other program developments. So your affiliate software should possess CRM features that facilitate both internal and external communication.

Internal Message Bank: an internal inbox, it should be featured on the affiliate dashboard, communicating with affiliates the moment they log in.

Email Lists Generation: makes it possible to segment affiliates according to performance (inactive, super-affiliate, etc.), generate a targeted list of those affiliates, and then reach out to that targeted demographic with specialized communications.

HTML Mailer: makes it possible to build, preview, and deploy marketing emails through your affiliate software interface so that you don’t have to also use email marketing software if you don’t want to.

Email Alerts: notifies affiliates via email whenever transactions occur, internal message are received, or a new promotion is available; this is essential to keeping affiliate engaged and active.

Affiliate Tracking Reports

commissionThere are four kinds of affiliate reporting that are necessary to optimize an affiliate program: traffic, earnings, creatives, and period comparisons. These reports provide invaluable metrics on the ROI of the program and other marketing efforts, and should be available in a variety of formats.

Traffic Report: helps you identify your strengths in the acquisition process by providing insight into the full acquisition cycle; it compares conversion success at the click, registration, and conversion level based on both creatives and landing pages.

Earning Report: provides intelligence on your top earning affiliates and which promotions and commission structures deliver the greatest return; this helps you determine how individual and groups of affiliates are performing, what’s working for them, and what can be done to maximize their performance.

Marketing Creative Reports: offers insight into which creatives deliver the best return; this intelligence can be used to both maximize the program performance and, because of the performance-based model of affiliate marketing, helps you test creatives before deploying them across other acquisition channels (such as CPM networks).

Period Comparison: helps you identify what caused a change in program performance by providing an overview of changes in your affiliate program performance over time; this report is particularly useful for conducting quarterly or seasonal analysis of program performance.

Exporting Reports: your reports should also be adaptable to your pre-existing business needs; your affiliate software should make all reports available to be exported in Excel, CSV, and TXT formats, as well as through an API so that they can be integrated directly into other CRM platforms that you might be using.

Affiliate Marketing Tools

Your affiliate software should also support the needs of affiliates. Essentially, it should help you help them focus more on doing what they do best: driving sales. Have your software feature a variety of tools to help affiliates save time on administrative and technical tasks, and allow them to focus on generating referrals.

Geo-Targeting: uses a user’s IP addresses to allow affiliates to target users with offers and banners that are relevant to their location and language; the affiliate simply drops some banner code on their page, and your software determines the user’s location, then shows them a banner that’s pertinent to them.

Affiliate Custom Tracking: helps affiliates segment and track different campaigns by letting them add additional variables to their affiliate tracking URLs; particularly useful for PPC affiliates, it lets them determine how well each keywords/campaigns converts in a referral.

Banner Rotator: your software should also support javascript that automatically rotates banners so affiliates can always show their users fresh content.

Banner Groups: your affiliates should be able to create banner groups to be rotated on different campaigns; this same functionality also allows program managers to create banner groups for different segments of affiliates.

Banner Uploader: program managers can upload new banners directly through the admin interface, and then assign them to specific groups or campaigns.

Third Party Banner Support: your software should also support banners codes and javascript from third party platforms so that both affiliates and program managers can consolidate all their tracking and conversion reports under a single interface.

Deep Linking Tool: allows your affiliates to choose the landing URL/pages of their affiliate links; this supports them in their own marketing methods and helps them provide calls-to-action that resonate and convert with their own user-base.

Widget Support: lets you offer affiliates widgets that show users fresh, dynamic advertising that they can interact with; increases both user-engagement and conversions.

Bringing it Home

Migrating an affiliate program in-house offers you efficiencies and profitability. But if you’re going to be able to bring your affiliates in-house as well, you need to ensure that the technology powering the in-house program features the right commission, tracking, CRM, and marketing tools.

That being said, just because your software alone can break your in-house program, it takes a lot more than your just software to make it. At the end of the day, affiliates like networks because they allow them to manage multiple programs through one account and interface.

So if you’re going to lure them into setting up another account and login, you’re going to have to give them a damn good reason. You can do that partly by passing on some of your increased efficiencies to them in the form of better commissions – offer them a few extra percentage points if they come in-house.

The other half of the equation, of course, is relationships. You’re going to need a strong relationship with your base of affiliates if they’re going to listen when you bring your program in-house. So while you’re building your internal program, focus on getting to know your affiliate-base and building strong relationships with them. That way, when your internal program does go live, you’ll be in a much better position to get their attention and explain to them what’s in it for them if they make the switch.

About CT Moore

A former Staff Editor here at Revenews.com, CT Moore is a recovering agency hack with over a decade experience leveraging search, social media, and content marketing to help brands meet their business goals online. He currently provides digital strategy consulting to start-ups, SMBs, enterprise level companies through his consultancy Socialed Inc.. CT is also an accomplished blogger and speaker who educates groups and companies on how they can better leverage different online channels.

18 Responses to Choosing Affiliate Software

  1. John Lewis says:

    great article, although the most pain in the butt part of this is having to send the payments out each week, do you know of any services that can do this for you?

  2. CT Moore says:

    I guess payment solutions should've been another section, and I feel silly for having omitted it. Generally, your software should also support a variety of payment formats (wire, paypal, etc). Off the top of my head, I don't know of any third party services, but Geno Prussakov has a list of some here: http://www.amnavigator.com/blog/2009/04/23/outsou

  3. John Lewis says:

    gotcha, ill check those out, thanks CT

  4. for affiliate payouts, check out http://webmasterchecks.com, we use them for the payouts along with http://idevaffiliate.com

    and amnavigator is a great blog 😉

  5. CT, I asked for a resource like this on Webmaster World a while back and got nowhere. This is an awesome article – so thanks a lot! I've bookmarked it and will link next time I've got a few aff links to share…

  6. Mike Law says:

    Is there any affiliate marketing software which you personally recommend? I have used iDevAffiliate which is very good entry level affiliate software however doesn't support direct linking and has limited design customization. I am currently using Post Affiliate Pro 4 which is a nightmare to manage, clunky, buggy and support is extremely slow.

    The only other two I know of are Myap9 which seems pretty good but development seems slow. DirectTrack is another however it is more for creating an affiliate network rather than running your own affiliate programme and is very expensive. It also doesn't have the most positive reviews.

    This lead me to OpenX however this is more for ad serving and would probably involve considerable development to turn it into a fully functional affiliate programme.

    So at the moment our only solution is to develop our own solution however our developers are working on other projects and I need a solution ASAP for two of our clients as PAP is doing my head in!

  7. CT Moore says:

    @Mike, I've heard other people make the same remarks about the platforms you just mentioned. So far, I've heard good things about http://www.HasOffers.com, but I haven't used their software myself, but maybe that can offer you features/functionality that you're lacking.

    But to go back what you were saying, many of the solutions available do now measure up to expectations (which is why I wrote this post). You might want to check out http://www.affiliate-software-review.com/ I've found it very useful in terms of gaging how software can meet different needs.

  8. […] CT Moore, over at the Revenews blog just did a really comprehensive post covering everything you need to evaluate to be certain you cover all your bases when selecting an in-house tracking solution. Choosing Affiliate Software […]

  9. This is an interesting information regarding affiliate software. That sounds good to use. I’ll check it out.

  10. Good post. We were looking at getting Post Affiliate Pro and it seemed to have the most positive feedback but this last comment by Mike Law has me thinking otherwise. Anyone else have any experience with PAP? or any other suggest affiliate software?

  11. CT Moore says:

    @Ryan, I have no direct experience with PAP, but most recently, I've been hearing more and more of what Mike has been saying.

  12. Wow Moore!

    It's such a comprehensive post! I liked it a lot. The part I liked the best is that you have reflected on all the variables as well as affiliate marketer would need to handle it. However, don't you think that it would be really time consuming? Do you think that it can save some customers & money in long run?

  13. Evan says:

    I'm using hasoffers.com with a clients site and I'm really happy with it…

  14. […] Of course, there’s a lot more nuance to each set of these feature. For more details on what you should expect from each of them, there is a more in-depth explanation account of how to choose your affiliate software available here. […]

  15. Great resource article CT, looking into Hasoffers and it looks promising 🙂

    • CT Moore says:

      I haven't used hasoffers, but I've heard good things about it.

      Apparently, if you buy the server from them ($7500 I think), hack the affiliate URLs to use a # instead of a ?, and run it on the same domain, you can even get some SEO juice out of the deal.

      But I've never tried it, so I don't know for sure.

  16. greg hostern says:

    I have been looking for a new affiliate tracking software and after looking thru your article and software, I think I found what I was looking for. Thank you so much for sharing.

  17. Mike Rivers says:

    I have tried a few solutions and I found the best to be Omnistar Affiliate software http://www.osiaffiliate.com because it was easy to setup.  One think to consider is support and also that you are going to be reasonable for paying your affiliate users.  If you use a network, you do not have to worry about this, but you use an in house software you have to worry about this.  I do not like that aspect, but I like the aspect of not paying so much for a network