When starting an affiliate or partner program, one of the first challenges to tackle is identifying what types of affiliate partners to go after. With recruitment being the most time-consuming part of running an affiliate program, it’s better to plan your targeting carefully.
Your niche and products obviously have a strong impact on affiliate recruitment. So, a good starting point is to look at your customer base and audience. Evaluate which segments have the potential to make good partners. When expanding the partner network from customers to anyone open to earning from referrals, you’ll come across different types of affiliate partners.
In this article, we’ll define those affiliate types and explain their characteristics. As a general overview, this is not an exhaustive description of all possible types of affiliate partners. But based on our experience of running the Supermetrics affiliate program, the majority of affiliates who bring sales tend to fall into these categories.
Many of them also cross over into more than one type. For example, an agency partner can also drive affiliate sales on social media or through a blog.
Navigate this post:
- Agency partners
- Content affiliates
- Social media influencers
- Email marketers
- PPC affiliates
- Coupon websites
- Cashback websites
In a B2B affiliate program, you’re looking for partners with the ability to attract business buyers. This doesn’t necessarily mean excluding affiliates who promote B2C products. But your potential partners should at least be aware of the longer sales cycles in B2B.
For a SaaS company like Supermetrics, agency partners have perhaps the highest potential for driving third-party sales. Not only are they established professionals who know their craft but they also have their own client networks to leverage.
A typical agency partner in the digital marketing space is a marketing agency that provides, for example, SEO and PPC services to their clients and recommends your product to them directly. In most cases, they promote your offers through word of mouth, direct message, and email.
Many agency partners are your own customers who really know what they’re promoting. And if they use your product, becoming affiliate partners means that they will have a vested interest in remaining loyal to your company. As your product users, these agency partners can easily showcase the value of your tool to their clients. Thanks to their client networks, they also don’t need a large following on social media or high traffic on their website to generate conversions.
How to find
The primary source for recruiting agency partners is your own customer base. And if you’re dealing with a large base, you may filter them based on how satisfied they’re with your product. Use a net promoter score (NPS) survey to segment your most satisfied customers. Those who are willing to recommend your products to others. Then, offer them to join your affiliate program.
Other options to reach agency partners from your customer base is to send email campaigns that promote your partner program. Or ask your sales and support team to mention it during their calls with customers. And once you’ve exhausted your own customer base, expand your affiliate outreach to other similar agencies who could be interested in a partnership.
Bloggers, podcast hosts, and YouTubers all belong to this type of affiliate partners. It’s probably the first category that comes to mind when you think of affiliate marketers. Someone with their own website or blog, for example, writing tutorials, reviews, and product comparisons. Given the time-consuming nature of producing quality content, these affiliates often dedicate more of their time and effort to promoting products in their niche and growing their audience.
Successful content affiliates know how to leverage keywords with a high purchase intent and how to cater to the needs of their audience. It’s the interests of their audience that determines what products they should be promoting. So, they will always place their audience first.
Aside from the sales and leads, content affiliates also provide you with authentic and engaging UGC that gives you valuable social proof. The power of UGC relies on authentic insights from people who’ve earned the trust of their audience. Their content that covers tutorials, how-to guides, product reviews and comparisons, should have the potential to transform into lead generation magnets that bring both trials and conversions.
How to find
Top content marketers can afford to be picky with their affiliate partnerships. Your ability to attract them depends on multiple factors. And your commission rate is only one of them. Other factors include market demand and stage of growth, product price, their own audience, and additional incentives such as promo codes and performance-based rewards.
Your best bet is to identify the right keywords in your niche and search for the top content authors on those topics. Some tools that you may consider using for this purpose include SEO tools such as SEMrush and Ahrefs or market research tools such as SparkToro.
On SEMrush and Ahrefs, you can do research on your targeted keywords to identify the top ranking pages and authors on those topics. You can use metrics such as search traffic and referring domains in your evaluation.
Ahrefs also offers a list of the top authors on any given topic with their key metrics included.
On SparkToro, you can insert your keyword and get a list of social accounts, websites, podcasts, and YouTubers who discuss and have authority in any specific topic.
Social media influencers
A subcategory of content affiliates, social media influencers have established a loyal following on social media. Their personal brand has sway over an audience in one or more niches.
Check our previous post on influencer affiliate marketing that goes into detail about this topic.
In short, social media influencers are effective not only for driving conversions but also for spreading the word about your products to their followers. The latter is an indirect benefit and contributes to your brand awareness efforts. But the number of followers can sometimes be misleading, so it’s better to look at how much engagement their posts generate on average.
Key opinion leaders, KOLs, can also be grouped into this category. Even if the term is used to refer to any influential expert in their field who isn’t necessarily promoting anything. KOLs are of special interest to SaaS affiliate programs where knowing your craft is more important than any following on social media. It’s actual sales after all that determine the success of your program.
The actual benefit of enlisting social media influencers to your affiliate program depends on product-influencer fit. The influencer’s voice needs to match your product. All of the followers and engagement are not worth much, unless the influencer’s audience is truly interested in your product. But when you manage to get the right social media influencers on board, you benefit not only from the affiliate sales they bring. They also have a wide reach and loyal followers and they create social proof and engaging content their platforms.
How to find
If your primary goal is to increase sales, you should target influencers who are willing to get paid for conversions. It’s impossible to measure the monetary value of brand awareness, unless the leads that influencers bring in end up converting.
Getting an influencer to sign up to your program calls for a personal touch. Try to first turn them into fans of your product, for example by offering them free licences or trials. In B2B, most influencers are on Twitter and LinkedIn. So, use those platforms to send direct messages to them if you cannot find an email. On Twitter, you can also engage with them and build trust before reaching out. And no matter the outreach channel, remember to personalize your messages.
Both agency partners and content affiliates often collect email lists that they use for multiple purposes, including affiliate marketing. Email affiliates are rarely a group of their own, in the sense that they tend to take advantage of other marketing channels, too. But given the specific nature of using an email list for affiliate promotion, it can be differentiated from the other types of affiliate partners.
Similar to other affiliate marketing channels, email affiliate marketing is about reaping the benefits. But none of it comes for free. Email affiliates whose subscriber list consists of their own customer base surely want to make the most of it by promoting only the most relevant affiliate offers. Instead of selling directly, affiliates should favor the indirect approach of creating value by sharing their industry research and other useful resources. Or by engaging their subscribers with polls, surveys, and contests, for example.
The disadvantage of email affiliates is that you cannot monitor how they promote your products.
With the right targeting, email affiliate marketing is an effective way to drive conversions. For your affiliate program, the main benefit is that you get access to a targeted audience. Affiliates also don’t have to rely on Google traffic and keep track of the algorithm updates to remain at the top of the keyword rankings. And unlike using paid ads, they don’t need to invest their money to get clicks and conversions.
All they need to do is match their email list subscribers with a relevant offer and preferably have some incentive for them. This incentive could be a discount code, which is easy to share through an email newsletter without damaging the merchant’s organic traffic or violating their terms. Or it could be a bundle deal together with their own product, for example.
How to find
There’s no specific method to target email affiliate marketers. You could target agencies who have their own customer base but you cannot really know if a potential affiliate partner has an email list or not. Another way would be to check the backlinks of an email marketing software that has a partner program, e.g. GetResponse or MailChimp, and reach out to their affiliates. But even then, you have no guarantee that those partners actually leverage any email lists.
PPC affiliates refer to affiliate marketers who use paid ads to promote affiliate offers to their audience. They invest their own money up front to create ad campaigns for the affiliate products. Like most affiliates, they’re usually paid for conversions only.
Not all affiliate programs allow their partners to use paid ads. The main concern is about having no control over how these types of affiliate partners promote your products. Your become exposed to the risk of having affiliates who violate your program’s terms and conditions by using your branded keywords or link directly to your website.
This doesn’t mean that successful PPC affiliate marketing doesn’t exist. But it always requires an organic foundation first. An affiliate landing page that provides additional value, for example in the form of guides, tutorials, reviews, comparisons, and other useful resources.
As an affiliate manager, you should have a section in your affiliate terms about the limits of using PPC and a requirement for all types of affiliate partners to get your approval before creating any ad campaigns.
While you’re likely to run your own ad campaigns for your brand, PPC affiliates can sometimes help you cover less popular platforms and locations that you’ve excluded from your campaigns. This expands your brand’s reach and you also end up saving on your ad spend since your affiliates are in fact investing their own money to promote your products.
How to find
While there are ways to make PPC affiliate marketing work, it has some serious limitations. The main challenge relates to low profitability for the affiliate who only earns a commission of the purchase price. This is why PPC affiliate marketing has become a somewhat rare type of affiliate marketing that doesn’t attract many partners. Your best bet is to reach out to people with effective affiliate landing pages who could actually make a profit from running ads to their site.
The last two types of affiliate partners are absent from our Supermetrics affiliate base. But they’re included in this list because of their popularity and significance in the affiliate marketing industry.
Partnering with coupon websites is more relevant to B2C companies who are in the quantity business, for example those past their market saturation. Obviously, every potential customer with a high purchase intent is interested in discounts. It’s an easy way to attract more sales, for both the merchant and the affiliate. But it does lead to thinner margins. And most companies want to avoid having partners damaging their organic traffic and direct sales with coupons.
As an affiliate manager, you want to make sure that you don’t have affiliates generating traffic by using keywords that involve your brand name and “coupon,” “discount,” or “promo code.” You should focus on attracting partners who build effective landing pages that convert on their own.
Tip: If you decide to offer coupon codes to promising affiliates, always inform your partners about the limitations. For example, prohibit them from sharing the coupon code anywhere online.
A cashback website rewards its members by paying them a certain percentage of their own affiliate commission after the member makes a purchase using the cashback site’s affiliate link.
So, cashback is a revenue sharing model where the affiliate website ends up getting less money from each commission by giving a share of it back to the buyer. But cashback affiliates make up for their lower profit by focusing on quantity.
Similar to coupon websites, cashback sites have no additional value to provide. Except the reduced price for consumers after they claim their cashback. And that’s why they’re not popular in B2B where the number of potential buyers is lower and generating sales requires more effort. Allowing cashback affiliates would also hurt your organic traffic and brand image, which would likely take its toll on your profitability in the long term.
We published this graph about the most common affiliate activities in the UK in our affiliate marketing statistics article. The data is from IAB UK who collected it together with PwC.
Based on this data, cashback websites are not insignificant, to say the least. However, this graph doesn’t specify the share of B2C and B2B products involved. But we can safely assume that it was mostly B2C. Given that an overwhelming majority of affiliates promote B2C offers.
Cashback can work as a market expansion and competitive strategy in niches where there’s little product differentiation and the market is saturated. There are many examples of well-known B2C brands, for example in electronics, who collaborate with cashback websites.
Here, we introduced the most common types of affiliate partners that you’ll likely run into when managing an affiliate partner program. The first five types are ideal for expanding sales and accelerating growth for B2B, especially in the digital marketing niche.
Being aware of these different affiliate profiles will hopefully help you analyze your own base of existing and potential partners and compile an optimal strategy for growing your program. Find out which types of affiliate partners drive most of your affiliate sales and focus your recruiting efforts on them.
Learn more about managing an in-house affiliate program by checking our extensive guide to starting an affiliate program.
About Johannes Rastas
An Affiliate Marketing Manager at Supermetrics, Johannes has worked in communications and marketing in Kyiv and Helsinki. Passionate about marketing, data, and content, he’s actively looking for new affiliates to join the Supermetrics affiliate program. Feel free to contact him on LinkedIn.