How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing (with Help of an Agency)
What Is an Affiliate Marketing Agency?
Amid a crowded online marketplace, businesses are always looking for new ways to grab consumers’ attention — on repeat. Success today might not last next week or next month. Or even after 6 p.m. tonight. Keeping up can be a major challenge. That’s why many brands and businesses are leveraging an affiliate marketing agency — giant firms that have the vast resources needed to keep pace with a dynamic, online landscape.
Affiliate marketing agencies are a powerful asset for new brands — and established brands like Netflix, Target, or Amazon — looking for as many ways as possible to reach customers, be part of social trends, everyday conversation, and just have a broader digital footprint.
But what exactly is an affiliate marketing agency, and how can partnering with one help your company? Let’s dive in for a closer look.
- An affiliate marketing agency serves as an intermediary between a brand or business and an affiliate marketer (i.e., blogger, vlogger, influencer, or creator), connecting your brand to its audience.
- An affiliate marketing agency can align your brand or business with the right affiliate marketers and offer expertise including coordinating marketing assets, talking points, and managing performance tracking (leads, sales, revenue).
- When you select an affiliate agency, it’s critical to evaluate their affiliate contacts, reputation, proven successes, experience in your industry, and backend analytics capabilities. The need for good analytics cannot be understated, yet it is often overlooked when evaluating affiliate agency partners.
Understanding affiliate marketing agencies
An affiliate marketing agency — also referred to as just an affiliate agency — is an outside agency that helps brands and businesses reach more customers through working with bloggers, vloggers, influencers, creators, and affiliate networks and programs.
An affiliate marketing agency offers a range of services, including:
- Finding the right social media influencers, content creators, bloggers, vloggers, and publishers, and negotiating attractive contracts and rates.
- Creating and curating social media content, creatives, and marketing collateral.
- Launching and managing campaigns, including backend optimizations and performance measurement.
- Providing ongoing consultation and expertise for your affiliate marketing initiatives.
- Competitor intelligence, continually monitoring the web for top-performing content and new trends in your industry and affiliate marketing in general.
- Serving as a bridge between businesses and affiliate marketers. Affiliate agency services may be sought by the business that needs affiliate publishers or by the affiliate marketer looking to monetize their followers or member base.
The affiliate marketing agency drives success but in a behind-the-scenes role. In affiliate marketing, the three key players are:
- Product or service (or the creator of the product or service)
- Affiliate marketer (has an audience of followers to whom they can promote the product or service)
- Customer (part of the affiliate marketer’s following who will buy the product or service)
Role of affiliate marketing agencies
Affiliate marketing agencies have a critical role in overseeing and ensuring the efficiency of your efforts. They provide the technology to measure traffic, track links (assigning click IDs and user IDs), and monitor site visits, sales, and other consumer behaviors. They can share invaluable information about how consumers respond to messaging or talking points, and let you know the most successful sequencing methods to drive sales (i.e., banner ads followed by an email send, or a live stream, and then a story reel).
Beyond these tactics, agencies leverage their existing networks and experience, conducting in-depth research to identify new influencers and publishers (who might be) interested in promoting your brand.
How hands-on an affiliate marketing agency may be is impacted by a number of factors:
- Size of the company
- Company’s business model
- Size or presence of any existing in-house affiliate marketing team
However involved in their role, the main goal remains the same: connecting businesses with the right affiliate marketing partners so your business can increase its leads and revenue.
Benefits of partnering with an affiliate agency
Partnering with an affiliate agency brings a number of benefits and competitive advantages.
Expertise and experience
Affiliate marketing agencies have valuable expertise and experience, offering their clients a competitive leg up. Agencies with a long-standing record of success in your industry can help establish the most favorable program terms with the best influencers or networks. It’s not always about the most viral reels or largest reach.
Moreover, agencies can create a custom affiliate marketing strategy built to meet your specific business needs, whether you’re a global enterprise or a small startup that needs local business solutions.
Network connections and relationships
A significant benefit of working with an agency is their deep Rolodex of contacts. These agencies have spent years, or even decades, cultivating relationships with the right people. Affiliate marketing works by leveraging relationships, and having a well-connected champion in your corner is critical.
This is especially helpful for businesses who want to move into influencer marketing, or for affiliate marketers (publishers) who want to work with blue-chip brands like Kate Spade, lululemon, or Nike.
Partnering with a top affiliate marketing agency can help both parties — businesses and bloggers or influencers — up their affiliate marketing game and reach gatekeepers who would otherwise be untouchable.
Direct management of affiliate marketing campaigns and related marketing efforts
Affiliate agencies help with the initial setup and management of your affiliate programs and campaigns, but afterward, they play a continual, crucial role in optimizing campaigns, performance tracking, and affiliate sales.
The best affiliate marketing agencies provide a wealth of other hands-on services, including:
- Amazon store pages and listings
- Paid search
- Paid social
- Organic social media account management
- Content creation and curation, including blog posts, and other written content
- Print ads
- Banner ads
- Landing page optimization
- New audience targeting
- A/B testing
- Data insights, including ROAS (Return on Ad Spend), LTV (Lifetime Value) modeling, heat mapping, and dashboards and data visualizations
In sum, there are four core benefits of partnering with an affiliate agency.
- Leveraging specialized skills (i.e. some affiliate agencies have extensive experience driving leads for fintech apps, business software, or highly technical solutions)
- Gain access to premium influencers or high-end brands. This can mean easier expansion into new market segments, including new demographics, new regions, or new countries
- Managing all aspects of your affiliate marketing campaign, including technical and data aspects, as well as other content marketing and brand marketing efforts. One agency could potentially handle all of your affiliate outreach, social media management, and content writing.
Choosing the right affiliate marketing agency for your business
To choose the right affiliate marketing agency for your organization, you must understand your specific needs, compare the services of different agencies, and then assess their success record and general reputation. This will ensure that you choose an agency with the appropriate expertise to support the full lifecycle of your affiliate program along with any other business goals and objectives.
What are your business needs?
What do you hope to achieve from your affiliate marketing program? What are you willing or able to do in-house, and where do you need outside guidance?
What are your expectations?
Everyone wants more leads and more sales — as many as possible. But more specific goals will better position you for success. Some measurable expectations might be:
- Increase top-line sales by 15% by the end of the year as measured by your weekly run rate.
- Drive 200 incremental sales calls or sales demo requests per month within three months from launch date.
- Average 3,000 app installs per day within 120 days of launch date.
Based on results, you may need to recalibrate your goals. For example, you may decide that you don’t want to target 3,000 app installs per day because these users are not opening the app. In this case, you might adjust your goal to drive 1,500 app logins or registrations per day. And, you would need the agency to adjust the affiliate message to target this new goal.
Does your product or service align with the agency’s experience?
There are a lot of shiny, polished agencies in the affiliate marketing space, but where does their experience lie?
If you’re a B2B business that sells VPN and security software to other businesses, then an agency that works with popular influencers who create viral reels for consumer product goods (CPGs) is not going to be a good fit.
In this instance, you may prefer an agency with related industry experience and B2B influencer contacts. B2B influencers and affiliate networks definitely do exist and you can see them on networks like LinkedIn.
What services will the agency provide after the initial program setup?
Most any agency will onboard your business and set up the initial program — finding affiliate publishers (i.e., creators, bloggers, and large publishing networks) to promote your brand, but you may want an agency that can offer more holistic support.
- Initial consultation and ongoing advice.
- Strategy development and tweaking.
- Campaign setup, execution, and optimization, including affiliate tracking software to measure referrals, revenue, and conversions.
- Related affiliate marketing services as needed, including other online marketing, brand marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) services.
What’s the agency’s track record and reputation?
How long has the agency worked in affiliate management? Do they have a proven track record in the affiliate space, or are they more of a brand awareness advertising firm?
Have they won relevant awards, like recognition in mThink, the online advertising Blue Book for marketing services? Vibrant Performance, for example, has been recognized as the #1 agency for Pay Per Call marketing and has deep expertise in Pay Per Performance marketing and the affiliate management space.
Beyond glossy brochures and case studies, ask agencies what metrics can they share with you directly about conversion rates, ROAS, traffic lifts, and running a successful campaign. Vibrant Performance can point to 80% CPA reduction costs for acquiring qualified leads for insurance companies and other similarly challenging verticals.
How hands-on is the agency?
A top affiliate agency isn’t necessarily super hands-on. Some businesses want an agency that’s very involved, with a dedicated team of account managers to manage all aspects of their campaigns.
Other brands and businesses may want a more self-service solution. They have the in-house ability to manage an affiliate campaign but want to go the agency affiliate route for other benefits like additional marketing tools and access to the agency’s connections.
Who are the agency’s affiliate partners?
A huge benefit of working with an agency is the ability to leverage their sought-after relationships. They may know the top affiliate partners across all major social media platforms, ranging from TikTok to LinkedIn.
What is their partner recruitment process? What are the guidelines? Common guidelines, for example, might be for the affiliate partner to have 10,000 minimum followers (or unique site visits) or for a majority of the traffic to be based in the U.S.
What sort of affiliate partnerships do they have?
Potential agency partners could include:
- Content affiliates: These are blogs, review sites, or general websites that promote products or services through articles, reviews, or other forms of text or video content. Many of these sites are extremely authoritative (i.e., Women’s Day, Cnet, or Refinery29) and they generate very high-quality leads.
- Social media influencers: These are individuals with large followings on social platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, or LinkedIn. They can help you reach a large, relevant, and highly engaged audience.
- Email marketers: This refers to companies that specialize in email campaigns to promote your product or services to their existing customers or subscribers.
- PPC affiliates: Many blogs or websites promote products or services through PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. This can help you reach potential customers at a cost-effective price.
- Coupon websites: Popular coupon websites like Slickdeals or Retailmenot can feature your product or service on relevant pages. It can be an excellent way to generate sales. Your offering is being shown to purchase-ready customers who are looking for a coupon code or deal.
- Cashback websites: These are websites that offer cashback rewards for a variety of purchases at different merchants. This can incentivize customers to make a purchase, increasing your volume of sales orders and total sales revenue. For many would-be customers who are on the fence, a cashback reward can be a powerful motivator. Beyond shopping portals, cashback sites like Kashkick will pay you cash back for trying featured services or apps.
How to Get Started with an Affiliate Marketing Agency
After you’ve selected the right affiliate agency for your business, a campaign to bring in leads and sales will consist of three main stages:
- Initial consultation and strategy development
- Program set-up and management
- Continual optimization to improve performance, which relies on ongoing data analysis and sharing KPI (key performance indicator) results.
1. Initial Consultation and Strategy Development
During this phase, your agency will perform an in-depth analysis of your company’s products or services and business goals, assess your current marketing plan, formulate an initial strategy to meet your objectives, and level-set expectations for deliverables and future communications. You’ll also outline specific metrics for success
2. Affiliate Program Setup and Management
At this phase, the agency will work with you to set up and manage your affiliate program. This includes determining payouts, like cost per conversion (a completion of the desired action) or commission rates, agreeing to affiliates and affiliate networks, and identifying specific partners to recruit.
At this time, an insertion order (IO) may be signed.
Your agency partner will implement tracking through special software. This will enable you and the agency to track and monitor all performance metrics, including clicks, pageviews, add-to-carts, email signups, calls, app installs, sales, and any other data that you want to track.
To maximize performance, it’s crucial to get the initial tracking setup right. From this information, the agency can identify areas for improvement. They may, for example, notice that there’s a drop-off (people leaving your website) when a certain form is too long or a page is too slow to load. They can also assist with A/B testing of different sign-up messaging, copy taglines, or landing pages.
Commonly, an agency is paid based on the figures (sales or signups) captured through their tracking software.
3. Campaign Execution and Optimization
In this final stage, the agency will create, manage, and optimize your campaigns. They will monitor performance and make continual optimizations (improvements) to drive the best results possible.
Optimization efforts can include new ways to define or target your audience, choosing other products to promote, adjusting messaging, increasing or decreasing rates with certain affiliate networks, identifying new traffic sources, and if necessary redefining your campaign objectives. For example, you may start a campaign with the goal of getting more free trial subscribers and then decide to focus instead on just getting more email leads through newsletter signups.
An agency can negotiate the best rates and maximize your return on ad spend (ROAS).
Top Affiliate Marketing Agencies in 2023
There are well over 11,000 affiliate marketing agencies and programs in the United States. Some of the most prominent and successful agencies in the affiliate space include:
- Vibrant Performance
- OAK Digital
- Acceleration Partners
- Blue Cherry Group
- Gen3 Marketing
Partnering with one of these premier agencies can help your business achieve its growth goals tied to affiliate marketing.
An affiliate marketing agency is one powerful way to grow your business’ reach, fueling greater awareness and demand for your products and services.
Partnering with the right agency can help demystify the affiliate marketing process and make it a viable way to grow traffic, leads, and sales.
But agency partnership isn’t the right fit for everyone. Some may find affiliate marketing easy enough to do in-house, have a limited budget, or have their own affiliate network or publisher with whom they prefer to work directly.
Assessing your growth goals and speaking with an affiliate marketing agency for a free evaluation is one easy — and free — way to find out what a program tailored to your needs could look like. You can take their blueprints and run, or work with them for hands-on management and guidance.
Want to learn more about working with an affiliate agency?