If you’re launching or already running an affiliate program, one of your priorities should be to perform a competitive analysis, covering also competing affiliate programs and the activity of the merchants behind them. And I don’t mean just having a general idea of their name, products or services, and position on the market. I mean knowing their every step, their every campaign, their every policy, and their every strategy. Yes, it will take some time, effort, and resources to gather all the data and process it but it will be worth it. In what follows, we’re excited to bring you the complete blueprint for affiliate competitive analysis.
Benefits of Analyzing Competing Affiliate Programs
Following your competitors’ activity can help you in numerous ways that go far beyond the affiliate program.
As you engage in gathering competitive data, always remember that the real purpose of this exercise is not to just gather the required data, but to learn (from it) and act (upon your learnings).
Since our focus is on affiliate marketing, you can count on the following benefits:
- Confirmation that affiliate marketing works for your business model. We know that, done right, affiliate marketing works for almost any business model. This is especially true for these 15 niches. Merchants can benefit from it in at least these 10 ways. You can confirm that by simply searching online for phrases like: [competitor brand] + affiliate program, [competitor brand] + partnerships, etc. In times when more than 81% of merchants and 84% of publishers leverage the power of affiliate marketing, you really shouldn’t have doubts.
- Informed choice of the affiliate program tracking solution. The decision of whether to run your affiliate program in-house or on an affiliate network should take into account your competitors. If most of them, especially the most successful ones, run their programs on the same affiliate network, it means that the publishers they work with are there too. It doesn’t make sense to start your affiliate program in-house or on another network and require publishers to take additional registration efforts. By joining that network yourself, you’ll have more opportunities to reach out to them and higher chances to convince them to accept.
- Inspiration for your affiliate program terms and presentation. Just as you compete with other brands for buyers, you compete with other merchants for affiliates. It is important to come up with a unique, attractive offer. You also need to clearly regulate affiliates’ use and promotion of your brand. You can learn a lot about that from your competitors.
- Inspiration for your future strategies and new opportunities. Some of your competitors do better than others. By monitoring and comparing competing affiliate programs (affiliate commission rates, creatives, deals, and promos, etc.) and their evolution (e.g. network ranking evolution, brand reputation, conversion, EPC, etc.), you can figure out what works and what doesn’t. You can apply or at least test the most promising solutions in your own program.
- Identify and recruit competitors’ affiliates and other similar publishers. Just as you target the same buyers, you can also target the same affiliates. You just have to find out who those are and reach out to them with a similar or better offer. There are numerous ways to do that, some easier than others. We’ll review the most effective of them in the following lines.
How to Gather the Competitive Intelligence
We’ve already established how studying competing affiliate programs can benefit you. Now let’s look at ways to do it. You surely have a lot going on and would like to gather as much data as possible with as little effort as possible.
- Joining competitors’ affiliate programs – You will need an affiliate account for that, but the effort of creating it will be worth it. Besides being able to join and analyze various affiliate programs, receive their newsletters, and have access to their statistics and deals, you will also get to see your program through affiliates’ eyes.
- Befriending and following competitors on social media – It goes without saying that you should use a private, individual account and not your corporate one. Follow their activity to see how they promote themselves and what strategies they use to grow their brand and their affiliate program. Subscribe to their newsletters, RSS feeds, and follow their forums activity.
- Playing the customer – You want to sell more, and knowing how your competitors’ do it can help. Pretend to be a potential buyer and see what they do to convince you. It could be anything from last-minute deals and discounts to remarketing, abandoned cart recovery campaigns, and more, sometimes through in-house efforts, other times through affiliates.
- Setting up automatic monitoring – Tools like Google Alerts can help you find out what is being published and by whom about both you and your competitors’ brands and affiliate programs. With SEMRush, you can track everything from keywords usage to competing websites and backlinks.
- Employing traffic measuring tools – Similar Web’s browser extension is a free and easy to use solution to measure traffic, visitor dynamics, and social media engagement with a single click. For more in-depth analyses, the Alexa tools stack is impressive.
These five solutions alone can provide you with an incredible amount of information. What should you be looking at and how should you use it? We’ll cover that in the following lines.
Data to Monitor in Competing Affiliate Programs
1. Tracking Solution
On which network do most of your competitors run their programs? Do they use in-house tracking software, and, if they do, which provider did they choose? It may be a good idea to follow their lead or at least consider the options they chose when making your decision.
2. Program Name
Obviously, your affiliate program’s name should be based on your brand name but that may not be representative enough for your line of business. You need a name that will tell publishers what you sell and what they’d be promoting. Looking at how your competitors do it can help you come up with it.
3. Program Description
We’ve covered the basics of writing a good affiliate program description here, but turning theory into practice is not always easy. Reading your competitors’ descriptions can help you come up with one even better than theirs.
4. Commission Structure
As explained in our previous post on how to calculate affiliate commission rates, it is very important that you look at the commission structure of competitor affiliate programs. You need to stay competitive without breaking the bank. To do that, take into account performance bonuses and tiered commission increases as well, not just the standards.
5. Average Commission
Sometimes, the commission percentages that your competitors list on their affiliate program page are not accurate. They could be their minimum rate or their maximum one. What you want to know is how much they are actually paying, and looking at their average commission rate will help.
6. Program Rules and Policies
We’ve already covered the importance of having a sound affiliate program agreement in place, what rules and policies the agreement should include, and that merchants need to police affiliates to avoid parasitism and other activities that do not add value.
You can learn a lot about these by looking at what your competitors are doing. What does their PPC policy say about direct linking and bidding on TM and TM+? Do they work with coupon affiliates, prohibit deceitful advertising or promoting codes unavailable through the affiliate program? Maybe you should too. Whatever you decide, make sure to have clear rules in place and enforce them.
7. Competing Affiliate Program Creatives
Your affiliates will need creatives like text links, banners, coupons, discount codes, maybe even videos, apps, and widgets to promote you. Personalized creatives and co-branded landing pages can be very important for affiliates as well. You can learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t from analyzing your competitors’ creative arsenal. It can also serve you as a source of inspiration. Your designer may have an easier time delivering what you need and improving banner conversion if you provide some examples.
8. Affiliate Offerings
Depending on your line of business, you may want to offer your affiliates free samples to review in photos or videos, in-depth presentations of your products or services, lists of keywords to use or avoid, audience details, and more. Looking at what competitor affiliate programs are offering can represent a great starting point for structuring your own offer. Geno’s recommendations on equipping affiliates may come in handy as well.
9. Product Prices
Yes, this information does not necessarily pertain to competing affiliate programs but it could be useful. If your competitors’ products are higher priced than yours, you could leverage the price difference to your advantage. If yours are higher-priced, perhaps you should be looking at offering buyers 0 APR payment options, or find additional ways to justify the price difference.
10. Average Order Value
Besides product prices, another detail you want to be looking at is the average order value. When you notice average order values higher than the average product price, study that competitors’ activity carefully. It means that they or their affiliates are doing a great job at convincing buyers to buy several products at the same time. That’s something you want to learn and apply as well.
11. Conversion Rate
How successful are you at converting website visitors into buyers? Consider looking at your more successful competitors and learning from them. When having to choose which merchants to promote, affiliates will settle for the ones with the highest conversion rates, as they know that, with those, the traffic they can send has better chances of turning into sales.
When you notice high conversion rates, don’t hesitate to dig deeper. Go to your competitor’s website, add products to your shopping cart to receive their abandoned cart email, and see what they do to bring customers back. Look at their popups and overlays, at how they advertise any ongoing promotions. If you don’t have such solutions implemented on your website, you should test them. If you don’t have the resources to do it yourself, you can find a conversion optimization affiliate to do it for you!
Tightly connected to commissions and conversion rate, EPC (earnings per click – measured usually per 100 clicks) is the metric most publishers look at when choosing which affiliate programs to promote. The higher your EPC rate is, the more attractive your program will be to affiliates. Checking the EPC rates of competing affiliate programs will help you identify the ones that perform best and learn from them.
13. Cookie Life
As you already know, cookie life, also known as tracking period, measures the time period you give affiliates to convert clicks into purchases. Statistics show that most purchases occur immediately after the first clicks. The journey from click to purchase can be longer for higher-priced products but that’s not the point of our discussion.
Generally, you want to set a tracking period similar to or longer than your competitors. You won’t be able to do that if you don’t know what they’re offering. Also, most of the time, a cookie life extension will make your affiliate program more attractive to affiliates without actually costing you anything.
14. Offers to Buyers
What products or services do your competitors offer that you don’t? Perhaps you could expand your own inventory and, thus, reach out to a wider audience or increase each customer’s lifetime value. Moreover, knowing that 60% of shoppers look for coupons and discounts online before making a purchase, most merchants started offering them.
If you want to stay competitive, you should at least keep up, and knowing what your competitors are offering is a great way to do that. Besides checking the deals and promos in competing affiliate programs, also check competitor websites and read their newsletters. Look at the discount amount vs. price, promo duration, ways to benefit from the promo (coupon code, automatically at checkout, code by email, etc.), dedicated creatives, etc.
Believe it or not, nowadays technology allows you to identify affiliates in competing programs. For example, SEMRush helps you identify the websites linking to your competitors’. Sure, not all of them will be affiliate websites but you can export the list, identify the ones that are, and reach out to them and invite them to promote you as well. Other tools, like Publisher Discovery, help you identify affiliates in competing affiliate programs. The information will not always be accurate or complete but it could be worth gold in the right hands.
Tips on Using Competitive Intelligence Data
Now you know what to look at in competing affiliate programs. Here are a few more tips to help you use that information to your advantage:
- Track several competitors, the more the merrier. Even if only one seems to represent a threat to your business, others surely target the same audience. Monitoring their affiliate programs as well will provide you a wider perspective and help you steer your own program in the right direction.
- Monitor your competitors’ activity at all times, not just when launching your affiliate program. They will adjust their strategies regularly, and it is important that you adjust yours as well. Review changes at least once a month if you cannot do it weekly.
- Learn from your competitors’ mistakes. Not everything they do is right, and exploiting their mistakes could be a great way to take the lead. For example, some may announce promotions too late or only send newsletters every couple of months. You can and should do better than that.
- Don’t take everything you see or read for granted. Some facts or numbers reflect a partial reality that you want to put in a bigger context. Geno did a great job explaining how affiliate program statistics could be misleading you here.
- Don’t sleep on your success! Just because you’ve managed to learn from your competitors on a couple of occasions and turn things in your favor it doesn’t mean they’ll give up and wait to see all their customers turn to you. You should constantly look for ways to improve your offer to both buyers and affiliates, to gather even more information, and use it more efficiently.
Finally, and more importantly, don’t hesitate to ask for help! Monitoring competing affiliate programs, processing the information, and using it could take a lot of time and resources, especially if you have limited or no experience in affiliate program management and a business to manage. You don’t have to do it alone. At AM Navigator, we’ve helped hundreds of merchants overcome their competitors. Let us help you too by getting in touch and scheduling a free exploratory call!