Affiliate Marketing 101: The Non-Spammy Way

Josh Zhang
December 21, 2023

There are so many acquisition channels, so finding the right marketing mix is important.

When you think about your marketing stack, a majority of your customers likely come through paid media. If so, you can try to see a directly attributable purchase funnel, whether that's Facebook, Google, Pinterest, or another network.

If you're selling a set of cookware, those CPAs might become a few hundred dollars for prospecting campaigns. That's when affiliates can really help you out. (I'm going to continue using the cookware brand as an example just to keep things simple.)

For example, if your AOV is $350, your CPA is $200 on FB, $100 on Google (blended for brand & non-brand), you will likely want to figure out a way to lower your overall CPA. That's where a niche, nontraditional merchant promotion channel like affiliate marketing can help you out.

You might be thinking about spam email lists, spammy product reviews, coupon sites, or extensions like RetailMeNot or Honey when I say "affiliate marketing." That's not the case at all. In fact, I can't stress enough how much of a scam Honey is for a retailer. If you have not black-listed Honey from your affiliate marketing program or set a separate affiliate commission at 1%, I suggest you do that now.

When I talk about affiliate marketing, I am referring to influencers, creators, and ambassadors with large audiences, publishers with wide reach, and listicles that rank for SEO. Obviously, coupon sites and affiliate network email lists with buyers can be useful, but that's not what I want to focus on. There's enough information on how to get those up and running.

With that being said, let's dive in and figure out how you can use affiliate marketing to get a major payout for your business.

Influencers, creators, and ambassadors

There are two main ways to build an affiliate program around creators or influencers:

  1. Build an ambassador program (which is my recommendation)
  2. Find bloggers, influencers, creators with an audience who will post your product, oftentimes with a flat fee and a % of sales generated

The ambassador option is a long-term play. If you release a new pot or pan, a new product line, a new color, or even a new payment method like ShopPay, your ambassadors become an army of marketers for your brand. In exchange, they likely receive a set of pots & pans themselves and 10-20% of the sales they generate. If your AOV is $350, that might be anywhere between $35-70 PER sale they generate, and that $35-70 could be considered your CPA. This is major passive income for them and an effective way to drive sales for you.

The other option is finding influencers for a one-off in hopes that their audience converts well when they post, write or email them. In these cases, you will often have to pay a flat fee, which can range from $250 to $5k (in most cases), and then a percent of the revenue generated on top. Then, you'd give the influencer affiliate links that they can use to promote in their blogs, social media feeds (likely Instagram), and more.  If you have trouble finding these influencers yourself, you can find platforms like RewardStyle, which work with high-end brands to promote affiliate products through their network of creators.

Publishers with a wide reach

Most publishers will charge a flat fee and a percent of the revenue much like influencers. It doesn't matter if they are BuzzFeed, Refinery29, TheSkimm, or even lesser-known publishers like Babe or Digg, many will require some kind of flat fee and revenue percentage in order to justify the social proof that comes along with their article or blog post.

For example, if you want a featured article on Refinery29, you could expect to pay somewhere near $50k for an article (pre-COVID rates), and then 10% of revenue generated. In most cases, it's better to either find a few publishers who knock it out of the park for you (like TheSkimm) and then focus on listicles for your other affiliate-publisher marketing. This can increase your awareness and chance of being found by customers on the internet performing Google searches using relevant keywords applicable to your brand.

Listicles for SEO from publishers

If you've ever searched for "The Best Cookware Set" and found yourself scrolling a list of the top 10 cookware sets reviewed by a website, those are what we're talking about.

Those are listicles generated by publishers and updated very often to try to win the SEO-driven click. Why? For the publisher, it means traffic and (maybe) 10% of what you spend. For you, it means finding a good cookware set. For example, if you buy the $350 cookware set from an SEO click, they've just made $35 for not doing anything except hosting the article.

The listicles also have great benefits for the brand. They bring incredible brand awareness to a new company, as well as social proof from the publisher. If you're near the top of the listicle, you're most likely to win most of the sales off that page, so aim for that.

These listicles are packed with text links, banners, embedded YouTube videos, and more. However, they are always optimized with the proper keyword research conducted prior to writing so the article can focus on a single topic. You also generate SEO backlinks from high domain-authority websites back to your domain.

Lastly, especially with higher AOV products, seeing social proof multiple times helps a potential customer really trust your brand. While many brand PR teams aim for founder features, brand stories, or featured product articles, listicles and roundups have the ability to drive a  good amount of revenue.

One of our fashion clients this past year drove about 40% of their traffic from affiliates, but it was through round-ups on sites like ELLE, VOGUE, and other similar ones. In addition, their Google-branded search and non-brand search numbers were on fire, bringing more visitors from the search engines to their sites. Why? Vogue did the work for them to create top-of-funnel awareness. It all works hand-in-hand.

Non-spammy affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing isn't complicated. Most DTC brands are just concentrating on the wrong things causing their results to suffer.

By working with influencers/creators/ambassadors, enlisting publishers with wide reach, and producing listicles, you'll activate your affiliate marketing channels to become one of your most effective sources of customer acquisition for your brand.