Affiliate marketing offers a diverse publisher mix

When it comes to leveraging to grow your business, there are many things you need to consider in order to build an effective program. One of the most important ones is defining your publisher mix.

Each type or “vertical” has the potential to deploy a different marketing tactic and reach a diverse audience. This aspect of the channel provides a unique advantage since you can potentially drive different consumer behaviors and engage with your customers at different stages in the conversion funnel. Depending on your business and marketing goals you will be able to deploy a different strategy and optimize upon it.

The flexibility that the affiliate channel offers, along with the transparency and moderate financial risk given its payout model, make this channel a very good option when thinking about growing your business, acquiring more customers, and engaging your client base.

There are different publisher verticals, which I grouped within the six traditional stages of the conversion funnel:

  • Awareness (bloggers, influencers, social media, etc.)
  • Interest (mass media, search, , TM+, etc.)
  • Consideration (review, comparison, aggregators or sub-affiliate, etc.)
  • Intent (loyalty & reward, toolbar, browser extensions, etc.)
  • Conversion (coupon & cashback, deal sites, etc.)
  • Retention (technology partners, retargeting, funnel optimization)
  • Other publishers (employee perks, )

The publishers listed in each funnel stage are not meant to be a comprehensive list of affiliates, but more so an illustration of the different options available for you to work with.

Conversion funnel view and publisher examples in each funnel stage.

Awareness

At the top of the funnel, we find those publishers that help increase brand awareness, activate customer engagement, and generate leads. These include but are not limited to bloggers, influencers, and social media publishers.

Examples of influencer and social media affiliates.

A few qualities of this vertical are listed below:

  • Large audience: influencer networks provide instant access to thousands of influencers from different niches.
  • Measure influencer value: running influencer activity via an influencer/blogger network allows to track & measure KPIs on campaigns.
  • Impact purchase decisions: influencer evoke positive emotions and encourage to buy, sharing opinions and experiences.
  • Offers multiple channels to engage: influencers and bloggers often use multiple platforms to grow brand awareness and engagement (TikTok, Instagram, YouTube).
  • Adoption continues to grow: close to 75% of marketers tap influencers for campaigns (eMarketer).

Interest

Moving down the , we find those publishers influencing purchase intent. These include mass media sites, search and SEO publishers and TM+ affiliates (the latter being affiliates you allow to bid on your branded or non-branded terms in order to generate high quality and high intent traffic, whose performance is rewarded via affiliate commissions).

These types of affiliates provide a massive reach and traffic quality, making them a very viable option to assist in pushing customers down the funnel. It is important to keep in mind that a flat fee is usually requested to start a campaign with some of these (e.g.: Mass Media). These publishers will typically look for high conversion rate merchants and purchase flows with low friction and fewer clicks to convert (since they are selling their existing “online real estate” and have EPC/ROI top of mind). Also, keep in mind that their editorial team has full control over what is published.

A few considerations when working with these verticals:

  • High traffic volume: large following and loyal readers, better leveraging high traffic than other types.
  • Boosted brand equity: editorial suggestions lead to boosted brand equity with 31% increase in AOV in 2022.
  • Targeted reach: content partners often specialize in certain topics allowing you to target niche consumers. Media houses will own multiple niche content properties across different sectors.
  • Leverage exclusive codes: partners open to work with brands that offer exclusive codes to share with their audience.
  • Flexible commission options: brands with budget restrictions can leverage hybrid payouts, with lower flat fees and increased CPA.
  • Cost efficiency: cost-effective alternative to in-house SEM effort by using a CPA model.
  • Enhanced search visibility: cover additional keywords and search engines that you might not be hitting. TM+ rights required.

Consideration

One step below, we find those publishers assisting with purchase consideration. These include review and comparison sites, listicles and sub-affiliate or “aggregators” (which provides both reach and speed to launch promotions quickly).

Examples of review & comparison sites, and aggregators or sub-affiliates.

One thing to keep in mind when working with these publishers is that many review sites specialize in specific products or categories (although they typically have a variety of sites covering different categories). Also, datafeeds are sometimes required to work with review sites, for them to be able to provide as much information as possible when posting a review.

Below are some key points to mention about these verticals:

  • Increased order value: comparison and review sites typically increase order value.
  • Product discovery: great at providing mid/top of funnel value in early product and brand discovery stage.
  • Customer trust: the more positive reviews and testimonials a product has, the more likely prospective customers are to consider and purchase. This is especially true for big ticket items and high AOV.

Intent

As we move down the funnel, we get closer to the conversion point. Here, we start talking about publishers that help drive a purchase intent and facilitate a customer decision. In this stage, we typically work with loyalty & reward publishers and toolbar or browser extension affiliates.

Examples of loyalty & reward publishers and toolbar or browser extension affiliates.

Browser extension and toolbar affiliates are a great tool to assist deal-savvy customers in finding the best deal to complete an order or revisit an abandoned session. It is key to use smart attribution (E.g., ShareASale.com conversion lines or CJ situational commissioning) to avoid sales cannibalization, drive incrementality and reward all affiliates present in the clickstream according to the merchant preferences.

A few key points listed below:

  • Reduced cart abandonment: customers cite that receiving a coupon is the most likely motivator to complete the purchase.
  • Deal appetite: with post covid high inflation, more customers look for a deal when they shop.
  • Other ways to engage: browser extensions offer ways to engage other than coupons like newsletters, price drop alerts, TM+ campaigns and more.

Conversion

This is arguably the easiest stage to measure value and performance, yet a very nuanced and complex step in many cases. Here we typically leverage coupon, cashback, and deal sites to push the conversion through the finish line.

Examples or coupon, cashback and deal site publishers.

Cashback sites usually drive repeat purchases due to their reward model whereas coupon sites are more likely to drive new customers at a lower AOVs. Partnering with these sites allows brands to control the messaging and experience for their users, as opposed to having an unmanaged store page live with incorrect messaging.

Below are a few key characteristics on these publishers:

  • Higher conversion rate: reward model push customers to purchase, leading to higher CVR.
  • Special event opportunities: brands can participate in year-round events often with special offers like double cash back.
  • Large loyal audiences: Awin Global reports that its deal site category has an average of 8 MUVs with a standard visit duration of 5 min.
  • Influence purchase decision: coupon affiliates have an 8% higher CVR than the average affiliate base (Awin Report 2022).
  • Seasonality: customers follow coupon affiliates’ promotional calendars for seasonal sales, content, and unique ways to engage (apps).
  • Large user databases: member bases of millions of active and loyal users that can be hyper targeted via newsletters, gift guides, social media, blog posts, etc.

Retention

Passing the conversion event, it is time to think about customer retention. With the latest appearance of several technology publishers and funnel optimization solutions that work under a performance payout model (instead of a traditional license fee) the affiliate channel can also assist with these tactics.

Examples of technology partners and funnel optimization solutions.

These are typically technology-driven solutions that can be embedded into a brand’s ecosystem via a strategic affiliate partnership, to assist in conversions, optimize traffic into revenue, enhance the customer experience and add value throughout the customer lifecycle.

A few solutions that these tools can provide include:

  • Improve ecommerce metrics: increase traffic, CVR, AOV. Decrease cart abandonment. Allow targeting and website personalization.
  • Automated product bundling: technology that automates product bundling and cross-selling through machine learning.
  • Automated product recommendations: AI that offers recommended products to users based on customer preferences.
  • Display prospecting and retargeting: banners and ads placed on content websites. This technology allows brands to target interested customers and bring them back to the site.

Other publishers

As you can see by now, the amount of publisher verticals is vast and varied. Another two categories that I haven’t included in the funnel view are employee perks marketplaces (like BenefitHubAbenity or PerksSpot) and Buy Now Pay Later apps (BNPL like KlarnaAffirm or Zip Co). Both can drive significant volume, increase awareness, and push conversions very effectively. BNPL publishers typically provide a large audience with high intent purchase; employee perks marketplaces are great for brands looking to play in the B2B space and increase traction. A few considerations to keep in mind for these marketplaces:

  • Request semi-exclusive or exclusive discounts
  • Onboarding usually takes longer (avg. 2–3 weeks)
  • Typically request specific assets and imagery
  • No required CPA/minimum payout and usually no onboarding fees
  • Cover a variety of categories

Conclusion

Historically, the affiliate channel was seen as a “coupon heavy channel”, with many people believing the channel only offered coupon sites to partner with. Although this perception has evolved throughout the years, there is still a negative connotation present in some cases. As this article tries to demonstrate, there is so much more on the channel than coupon sites (and even these publishers bring great value in pushing conversions down the funnel). Every month, new publishers emerge bringing in additional value and offering diverse solutions that were not available before. The channel has evolved from a pure customer acquisition framework to a broader acquisition-engagement-retention tool that can complement the full marketing mix for any given brand, if deployed correctly.

Santiago Saenz Rozas

Affiliate Marketing expert, with 8+ years of experience in the industry. Originally from Argentina, I hold an MBA from Duke University.

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