I’ve been watching very closely the trends in eCommerce and affiliate marketing and have put together my predictions for what we’ll see in 2012 and beyond.
1. Affiliate Marketing 3.0 is Born
As 2011 came to a close, we saw a record in the number of cross-platform and cross-channel sales that defined eCommerce last year. Online coupons redeemed in stores, offline promotions redeemed online, and the use of social and mobile commerce to drive incremental sales was stronger than ever. The marriage of offline and online sales mixed with social and mobile commerce is an incredible step toward the eCommerce industry hitting almost $300 billion in sales by 2015.
As both merchants and affiliates become savvier and grow their marketing reach to multiple platforms and sales channels both online and offline, performance-based marketing efforts will also evolve throughout 2012. This means affiliates will become more creative in their attempt to reach targeted customers and monetize their efforts. Merchants will need to be prepared to track and reward affiliates for the extra value they bring through their expanded reach and creativity this year.
2. Mobile Monetization Gets Smarter
Affiliate marketers are finding new ways of monetizing mobile platforms. This isnâ€™t limited to just iPhones, iPads or Androids, but also Kindles, mobile eBook downloads, and more. According to Website Magazine, HTML5 will be adopted widely, allowing affiliates to embed tracking codes for placement on mobile apps, eBooks, online newspapers and more. Affiliates are starting to use more advanced pay-per-click (PPC) strategies in mobile, not only producing better targeted ads, but also scamming the system through this vertical. Merchants must make note, when checking for trademark bidding and other click fraud, of the need to check mobile activity, too.
Finally, one must consider the opportunity increasing earnings through channels as simple as text messaging, like offering an exclusive coupon code or pay-per-call number. If a consumer is more likely to have their mobile device on them then their wallet, an exclusive affiliate offer via text message is almost guaranteed to reach them over other means.
3. Conversion Optimization
As companies begin to invest more in conversion optimization and AB testing, onsite performance will continue to improve. More importantly, affiliates will begin to invest more in their own conversion optimization and AB testing before sending potential buyers to a merchant site, ensuring that the best creative and navigation path is used to accomplish the desired result.
By combining both the affiliate’s conversion optimization efforts in AB-tested creative (e.g., landing pages, content, and calls to action) with the merchant’s efforts to convert the final sale, consumers are more likely to complete the desired action at a lower overall cost. Mutual conversion optimization this year will lead to higher profits for both affiliates and merchants alike.
4. New Tools
Every year the affiliate marketing industry sees Â new tools enter the space and gain wider adoption; 2012 will be no exception. This year’s focus will be on improving automation. Solutions like Skimlinks, which offers bloggers the ability to effortlessly monetize their text links, and Shareist, which allows affiliates to quickly and easily create their own content curation sites, are two examples of new tools created to better automate the affiliate marketing process.
This year will bring more great tools for both affiliates and merchants to better manage their time, websites, market reach, transparencies, automation, and monetization in order to be more efficient, productive, and profitable.
5. Inflation of Affiliate Networks
I recently came back from Affiliate Summit West 2012. Although the event was exceptional as usual, one thing that bothered me was the overabundance of new affiliate networks launching in the space. Some (I’m not saying all) of these networks seem to have been launched by inexperienced people who saw an opportunity to make short-term profit. These networks do not look to provide any additional value to affiliates, their merchants, or the industry. They do not care about the quality of offers available to affiliates or whether their merchants stay long term as long as they pay the set-up fees.
The influx of CPA affiliate networks creates an overwhelming amount of confusion for new merchants and affiliates trying to break into the industry. We do not need more networks. We do need better support, better tracking, more effective automation, stronger creative, stronger fraud monitoring, and cross-platform technological advancements, such as whatÂ Impact RadiusÂ offers, to simply support the existing affiliate networks we already have.
Unfortunately I see 2012 bringing more of these pop-up networks. However, with proper awareness and research on the part of both the affiliate and the merchant, hopefully the over saturation of CPA networks will not hurt the industry as a whole, though it still may be too soon to tell.
6. Better Fraud Monitoring
With the advancement of technology and more savvy affiliates comes better opportunities to scam merchants in various ways. Fortunately, those same technological advancements are also making it harder for affiliates to cheat the system. Better tracking and fraud monitoring tools are being created, and this year more merchants will be cracking down on fraudulent activity.
Additionally, more merchants will better educate themselves about possible issues that could negatively affect their programs such as cookie stuffing, toolbar usage, adware and spyware issues, and affiliate cannibalism. BrandVerity, a solution for monitoring pay-per-click fraud, for example, continues to educate the industry about fraudulent activity and the progression of tactics used to cheat the system.
This year more merchants will wake up to the issues surrounding affiliate fraud and start to take better measures to correct and prevent affiliate fraud in their own programs, ensuring money is staying where itâ€™s supposed to and appropriate affiliates are being rewarded.
7. Offline Affiliate Marketing
When people think of affiliate marketing, most people think of just another online marketing channel. However, offline affiliate marketers are becoming more active in the space, driving incremental sales from channels such as TV ads, radio, print, direct mail, phone and more. An affiliate can be as creative offline as they can online with the only requirement being the ability to track the conversion of the sale back to the appropriate affiliate.
RingRevenue offers one example of a company taking a lead in progressive pay-per-call tracking. Now more affiliates are able to test various means of driving phone sales to a merchant, whether they list their exclusive phone tracking numbers in books, billboards, or even on the side of their car.
Offline performance based marketing will continue to grow in 2012, and I’m excited to see the creative ways affiliates will drive targeted traffic to online merchants in order to get the sale.
8. Non-Google PPC
When merchants write their terms of service (TOS) for their affiliate program they often only think of Google. This is a mistake and one that will be corrected by many in 2012. The expansion of PPC tactics to micro-niche search engines and international search engines is not new. However, merchants must consider mobile paid search, social network bidding, and other platforms that support pay-per-click advertising. I believe this is something that will continue to grow throughout 2012 and merchants will become more aware of these advancements and adjust their TOS accordingly.
9. International Markets
Something incredibly exciting about the affiliate marketing space this year is the expansion of marketplaces by both affiliates and merchants into international markets. U.S.-based companies are looking to expand their offerings into other countries such as Canada, Australia, and throughout Europe. With that expansion comes the ability for affiliates in those countries (or targeting those countries) to play with new offers and potential buyers.
SurfMyAds, for example, re-launched their Coupons.ca website last year targeting only Canadian customers. This website has already picked up speed with U.S.-based merchants shipping to Canada and offering exclusive offers for Canadian buyers. This doesnâ€™t even include the number of Canadian-based merchants and affiliates also getting into the space.
There is an incredible opportunity for both affiliates and merchants looking to expand into new markets, and I believe we are only in our infancy of cross-border affiliate and consumer targeting. This year will show the greatest advances to date in international affiliate marketing.
10. Better Education
There are a lot of â€œfirstsâ€ in the world ofÂ education and training in the affiliate marketing industry this year. March 2012 will bring us the world’s first conference dedicated solely to the education and advancement of affiliate marketing managers at Affiliate Management Days. We will see the first ever Affiliate Summit Central take place in Austin, Texas, in May. Next month we will see the first ever Affiliate Marketing for Merchants workshop at the Online Marketing Summit in San Diego. Most recently we saw the launch of Affiliate Management Trainers that offers personalized affiliate management training for Internet Retailers around the world.
All these things together will help raise the bar in delivering stronger industry best practices, accountability, strategy, and business ethics in the affiliate marketing space. The opportunities for those interested in learning more are there and it’s just a matter of taking the next steps to better educate oneself in order to be an improved player in the space. In the words of Eric Thomas, keynote at Affiliate Summit West 2012, “Information is the key to success.”
About Sarah V. Bundy
Sarah is an Internet Marketing Specialist with over 12 years of sales and marketing experience. She has been a top performer for more than a dozen multimillion dollar corporations in her lifetime, won multiple awards for sales and service throughout her career. As the CEO of All Inclusive Marketing Inc. Sarah now leads a team of highly skilled internet marketing specialists. As an affiliate advocate and founder of the AIM Group, Sarah believes in ethical pricing, integrity in business and that energy and persistence conquer all things.