5 Steps for Balancing SEM and Affiliate Programs

May 28, 2014
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Darrin Weyers
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Working closely with a small group of search affiliates can be an effective way for an advertiser to drive incremental growth, while keeping the cost of clicks down. To make this work, follow these 5 steps to success.

  1. Understand cross-channel goals.  Optimized affiliate programs work in tandem with other marketing channels. Your affiliate program should know your paid search (SEM) goals and work in alignment with them. Not surprisingly, many affiliates use the same marketing tools as merchants, including paid search. To effectively work with this group of affiliates it is important to make sure there are no conflicts with your own internal marketing campaigns.
  2. Write strong and clear affiliate policies. The first step for an affiliate program is to set clearly defined policies around the use of trademark bidding: Is it allowed or not? Which terms are off-limits? Which terms are open, and under what circumstances? Well-written, concise program policies function as an affiliate guide to promoting your product without directly competing in paid search. Most importantly, strong policies will help you monitor affiliate compliance.
  3. Ensure affiliate compliance. Monitoring affiliate compliance with policies requires vigilance. Wherever affiliates’ ads are overlapping or otherwise in conflict with your own ad campaigns, you’ll see cost increases outpacing any increases in sales. Luckily, ad-monitoring tools like BrandVerity and Search Monitor can help. Use one of these services to track affiliate ad compliance and prevent these overlaps and conflicts.
  4. Partner with select search affiliates. Identify a small number of affiliate partners that can complement, not compete, with your paid search efforts. One strategy is to limit competition (and therefore cost) in the SERPs by partnering with chosen affiliates to allow them to bid on certain Trademark + terms at agreed-upon bid levels. Allowing affiliate partners to assume the CPC for TM+ at agreed-upon rates will help control your marketing costs and reduce the presence of competitors in the SEM space.
  5. Test, Monitor, Tweak. Set up 30- to 60-day trial periods with affiliates to allow their campaigns to grow. Establish the policy that they can never outbid your own campaigns. Test and monitor the coordination across campaigns. Tweak as necessary and drive incremental growth while keeping a cap on competition. 

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