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Enjoy the Long Course Weekend in Mallorca for the first time. A Whole Sport weekend with 3 disciplines (swimming, cycling and running) in 3 days from €30/night with Hotels Viva, Spain.

-Offer valid for stays from 3rd to 5th November 2017.

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Long-term success from the long tail

When it comes to affiliate marketing, the saying, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, couldn’t ring more true and relying on a just a handful of the largest publishers isn’t always the best approach to take. The biggest affiliates have huge volumes of traffic and can generate considerable sales for advertisers, but if the relationship with a key publisher breaks down for whatever reason, any over-reliance on that one revenue driver can expose the business.

In 2004 Chris Anderson coined the phrase ‘long tail’ to describe a “shift away from a focus on a relatively small number of ‘hits’ at the head of the demand curve…toward a huge number of niches in the tail”. This often neglected segment of publishers not only ensures you are spreading your bets, but collectively, the publications that make up the long tail can drive significant volumes of quality leads.

It’s important to note that the long tail can consist of any type of site – it could be a cashback, voucher or price comparison site, but is most likely to be a content site run by small team, or even one person; a blogger. Bloggers have risen to prominence in recent years due to the proliferation of publishing tools. These days anyone and everyone can buy a URL and set up a simple site on open-source content management platforms like WordPress. This means consumers are no longer limited to their favourite newspaper or magazine when it comes to content; instead they are able to choose from a whole host of online content sites tailored to their particular interests. . Many have huge influence amongst loyal followers in niche areas making these publishers powerful mediums through which brands can drive interest in their products.

The number of sales each long tail publisher influences may not be huge, but it’s a case of many hands making light work, and the combination of a large number of sites each making a small number of sales has the potential to make the long tail collectively an indispensable part of any affiliate programme.

Not only this, but there is an argument to say that those leads that are driven by content sites, are more likely to become engaged in the brand they are buying from, and in turn have a greater lifetime value.. In affilinet’s Trust Index launched earlier this year, bloggers came just below friends and family in a survey of whose opinion consumers trusted the most. By affiliating with trusted publishers, brands are perfectly placed not only to drive sales but to garner the trust and in turn a long term relationship with potential customers.

There are obvious benefits to the long tail but managing and recruiting hundreds of sites that may only make one or two sales a month each, is not a luxury many can afford. The best way a brand can take advantage of the long tail is by working with an affiliate network that has curated and maintained an extensive list of publishers and can streamline the process. The best networks will not only be constantly recruiting new publishers, but maintaining relationships with current ones to ensure a relevant database that allows brands to target the niches that will yield the best results.

Once the long tail publishers are on board ensure it stays that way; don’t take them for granted. Make sure they feel appreciated and are recognised and think beyond simply paying them – engage with publishers in the same way they enable you to engage with your customers.

A good programme doesn’t just focus on one type of publisher, it has a healthy mix of short, mid and long tail publishers, able to deliver both short term wins and build ongoing relationships with loyal customers. If brands want to generate leads that translate into long-term sales and loyal customers, it is essential they make the most of what the long tail has to offer.

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Does the affiliate ‘Long Tail’ actually exist?

For year’s affiliate networks and agencies have talked about the vast number of affiliates they have on their network, particularly in the ‘long tail’ or ‘content’ area. However, the 2014 IAB OPM study conducted by PwC found that there are only 12,000 active affiliates in the UK and only 12% of these are content based. Everyone talks about their long tail strategy- but does it actually exist? Advertisers are constantly seeking a more diverse affiliate base with greater reach beyond the top 20 affiliates. So where is this long tail and how do we go about making it work in the affiliate channel, or are it too late?

In order to make the long tail work there are a few areas that need to be addressed:

Tools and Services

As an industry we have fallen behind in terms of targeting technology through the affiliate channel. The days of blanket advertising, offers and emails is way behind us and not only advertisers but customers are demanding well targeted, effective and useful marketing communications. We need to ensure that affiliates have the tools to do this – simply offering a static banner creative and a text link is not enough. Affiliates need the tools and technology to effectively monetise their content, away from pure banner and text link advertising into video, creative and written content. They need a way to identify the right advertising to give to the customer at the right time, advertisers want to generate quality traffic that will generate sales and affiliates are in a good position to do that.

Communicating effectively

Affiliates need to be treated as customers- meaning you need a good CRM strategy, particularly when it comes to communication. Make your communications interesting, relevant and useful to the affiliate and then they will be read. In order to do this you need to profile and segment your customers effectively then build a communications strategy – i.e. don’t send a £10 off beauty voucher code to the affiliate that you know only sells garden sheds. Easy-but this needs strategy, time and automation.

Managing Affiliates

In order to manage the long tail affiliates you need to be able to manage hundreds, if not thousands of affiliates at scale, 1-2-1 relationships are simply not feasible. A good platform, automation and a great communication and CRM strategy are a must! In addition, it is key that you create a level playing field, ensuring the long tail are given the same or similar opportunities as the top affiliates you work with. This means dedicated resource to the long tail and ensuring objectives and targets are made and agreed around the long tail. It also means having a passionate publisher team who have the desire to develop and grow the smaller affiliates, allowing them to feel like an integral part of an advertisers programme.

Exploring new payment models

If we continue to only work on a CPA, last click model then we have no chance of developing the long tail of affiliates. CPA is, and should still be a core metric of the affiliate channel but it needs to be supported by other payment models that recognise the value of traffic and customers, not just last click wins. This could be CPM, CPC, hybrids, tenancy… but this has to become part of the channel and insight and data need to be developed to support a case for differing payment models.

A diverse range of long tail affiliates

Having a handful of bloggers or Lisa Eldridge type bloggers is not a long tail strategy. Bloggers are key to content development and there is a huge opportunity out there particularly in the retail, travel and sports sectors, but this is only a small part of the long tail strategy. Long tail affiliates come in all shapes and sizes from smaller reward sites, to price comparison, niche interest areas, hobbies and bloggers. The key to a successful long tail strategy is diversity. Customers have a diverse set of interests, viewing multiple sites across the web. Having sophisticated, targeted methods that affiliates can use allows advertisers to gain reach across thousands of affiliate websites where their customers are visiting and hopefully displaying an intent to purchase. The affiliate channel is still unique in its reach and diversity but we need to show advertisers a way to harness that.

A lot of work is still to be done and not just by individual networks and agencies on a small scale but by the industry as a whole -on a large scale. We need to reengage with those affiliates that are disengaged and attract new affiliates into the channel. Not an easy task by any means, but a challenge that we should all look to take on in order for the industry to grow, strive and compete with the rest and best.


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