Will Our Conversion Rate Ruin Your Affiliate Program?

Emails from merchants often spark various reactions, but one last week left me more than a little bit baffled. Now we’re pretty much open when it comes to some of the affiliate marketing we do! Whilst every man and his dog are screaming finesse and niche, we’re pretty much in the “using a steam roller for your pastry” department for some aspects of AM. It’s not pretty but it can be effective.

It is targeted traffic – to a point! Our users want to win stuff, a retailer is giving stuff away, we send them traffic. If we can use an affiliate link at the same all the better. The downside is that we don’t get paid for doing that, but the chance of no commission is better than no chance for no commission and we just have to hope that the retailer is doing a grand job promoting products, offers, discounts etc at their end.

What this means, for retailers, is we end up (occasionally) sending high traffic with low conversions. They end up with people visiting their site, competition entrants, brand awareness, low conversion rate and occasionally an affiliate manager who thinks we’re up to no good.

And it’s the latter which has had me baffled over the last few days.

They said that “having such a high click through rate and low conversion rate isn’t great for the overall program”. I’m still trying to figure out how our CR has any bearing on the program at all. OK in stats it may skew things, but under “lines of best fit” we’d be an anomaly. We’re also an anomaly that can be accounted for!

Now it’s appreciated that some retailers look on people who want to win things disdainfully, but they do (well some do) buy online and they are very web savvy. They’re the kind of people who will search for and use discounts, look for cashback (grrrr) and do all those wonderful money saving type things. Our problem is that they tend not to buy right at the time we send them to find competitions to enter.

So how can you help improve our conversion rate?

Well firstly you could pay us for leads to your competitions. Now this will probably never ever happen, but if it did our CR would look a lot healthier, as would our commission levels on networks. Hooray!

Secondly, know your website. What we’re finding is that quite often the AM isn’t actually aware what is happening across the entire site that they’re managing. They may know that skirts are down and trousers are up but not if a prize draw has ever appeared. If they did then they’d probably realise why there’s a sudden spike of traffic from duckland.

Thirdly, make sure your competition mechanic is better!

Take Buyagift as an example. For Valentine’s Day you could win a trip on The Orient Express… cool! You enter and all you see is “Why not check out our great range of Valentine’s Day gifts”. It’s better than nothing, but it screams out for “you’ve got a discount code” or “today’s offer, buy now or miss out”.

There’s just nowt eye catching there for anyone! An improvement in these kind of areas may not have any influence on our CR, but for other entrants/visitors it may help more than just a “click here” link.

Finally, please don’t kick us off your program because we have a low conversion rate as it really doesn’t ruin your program (or at least we hope it doesn’t). We do promote retailers in more targeted shopping related ways including price comparison, content, blogging, vouchers etc and are constantly working on new ways to improve our conversions.

3 Comments Will Our Conversion Rate Ruin Your Affiliate Program?

  1. Richard January 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I agree you should appear as a statistical anomaly in publisher’s stats but I bet the various affiliate networks do nothing other than take a simple average, probably as sum of conversions/sales value over sum of traffic. If this is so then as an outlier with high traffic but low conversion rate you would not only bring their statistics down, you would have a disproportionate effect because of that high traffic.

    For example, a merchant with 5 publishers each of whom bring 100 visitors for 10 conversions each would have an average of 50/500 = 10% conversion. Add in one extra merchant with 1 conversion for 500 visitors and they now have 51/1000 = 5% conversion and as far as they are concerned that’s your fault!

    The problem, of course, is not that you’re sending them this traffic, its that in the presence of data which does not follow a nice distribution (such as this situation), simple averages are a completely unsuitable, if not misleading metric.

    We seem to be living in an age of unsuitable metrics (SATS, NHS targets etc) and I have no doubt that our grandchildren will read about these decades as a time when major organisations were happy to compromise their performance in pursuit of ranking highly on some unsuitably constructed league table.

  2. HelenMarie January 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Interesting point Jason. Being on the dark side (?) I can see why this could be an issue for the Client. Clients that are focused on efficiency and acquisition will scrutinise their conversion rate, and lets face it that is most clients in this sector. Affiliate as a channel will generally always have a much lower conversion rate than other channels due to the variety of ways that affiliate promote clients. We have one affiliate on our network that has a football streaming site, everytime a big game is on he completely kills our conversion rate and throws all of our stats out! A pain, yes, but we wouldn’t get rid of them as they are valuable as an acquisition strategy. I do think however it is the responsibility of the Client to give affiliates the tools to improve conversion and better understanding of how to convert customers, I rarely see this done very well. One for us all to work on …

  3. hero January 31, 2010 at 10:46 am

    This is very frequent with merchants that have employed enthousiastic but inexperienced and untrained staff to run their affiliate program. On top of that, they usually are on a self managed solution with their network – or they have an inexperienced network AM too, whose advice leaves a lot to be desired.

    If this specific AM also has the popular KPI of active affiliates vs total affiliates (active being one that generates sales), then you’re pretty much screwed, you’ll be kicked out of the program in a short while.

    One way of improving an affiliate program is to improve its stats. And one way of improving its stats is by kicking out the affiliates whose stats you don’t like. The other way is of course to help the affiliate improve their stats. Guess which one’s harder to do.

    There’s plenty of retail programs which offer the normal CPA and a hiddden CPL for selected affiliates. There’s also retail programs that actually do manage to convert their leads into sales, and for the original affiliate.

    There is a popular misconception that a program’s visible stats (those published by the network) for conversion & EPC will make or break the program. Affiliates who know what they are doing don’t pay much attention to these 2 things – they are a)average on the overall performance b)some times adjusted to remove non performing affiliates c)relay no info on how these are achieved (ppc, vouchers, cashback etc). Is any affiliate seriously expecting to get the same figures (if they’re high) or decides not to join a merchant because the figures are too low? Nop.
    The important visible figures are approval rate (or reversal rate), click to sale time, and how fast commissions are released. Anything else should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

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