Let’s face it, there are a lot of affiliate networks in the market these days. The network’s selection of merchants will of course always play a big part, and affiliates naturally gravitate to the networks with brands appropriate for their sector and promotional type.
But let’s take merchant selection out of the equation and get a better understanding of how affiliates judge networks based on their merits. What factors are important, how have these changed recently and what does this say about the industry as a whole?
Here and Now
The Econsultancy census gauges affiliates’ opinions on this subject regularly. Based on the 2011 census the most frequently determining factor was tracking reliability, with 55% of respondents citing it in their top three criteria for assessing networks.
Significantly, more people cited this than a wide range of merchants as an important factor: 40%. Rounding off the top five factors in 2011 were:
Other factors included user interface, reporting suite, financial incentives and technical expertise. Clearly this is a bit of a mixed bag, but what does it actually mean?
The importance of tracking reliability and payment terms/frequency suggest affiliates are pre-occupied with security. The combination of these two factors suggests a key concern for affiliates is the guarantee that they will be rewarded for their efforts. It’s hardly surprising given the time and money affiliates put into their activity that peace of mind that they will see some return, is a key factor when considering which networks to work with.
Networks’ services besides tracking and payment are also key factors for affiliates. Features such as linking technologies, reporting suites and customer service affect how affiliates interact with networks and determine the opportunities and insight networks can provide, as such they will remain key aspects in determining a network’s worth.
In other words – it may not make the most exciting pudding, but don’t ignore the bread and butter!
A Changing Landscape?
But how has the importance of these factors changed over time? When comparing the findings of the 2011 census with the 2009 census, some interesting trends appear.
The big differences across the two surveys are: higher weighting of tracking reliability, payment terms, lower weighting of service-themed factors and, most significantly, financial incentives.
Since 2009 tracking has actually overtaken choice of merchants as the number one factor for affiliates, with payment terms moving from fifth to third in terms of overall ranking. Due to the increasing importance of these factors, service themed criteria have slipped down; financial incentives however has dropped from third to ninth.
Do these shifts in affiliates’ priorities reflect the current economic climate? It could be argued that these changes stem from a greater need for assurance, for guarantees that commission earned will be paid, which may not have been as pertinent a few years ago. The declining importance of financial incentives, streams of revenue outside of normal commissions, is a further indication of affiliates prioritising the security of their earnings.
If this is where affiliates’ priorities lie in 2011, where will we be when the next census comes out? Will external pressures, such as the stuttering economic recovery, drive further changes? Or will internal industry changes lead to a shift in affiliate’s requirements? With networks recently positioning themselves on par with agencies in terms of the service they provide clients, will this have any impact on affiliates? Only time will tell!
Tom Donnan is a Team Leader in the Key Accounts department at leading global affiliate network, Affiliate Window. Tom works directly with some of the network’s largest clients while also providing strategic insight into the other programmes in his team.