Around for years, but the often-neglected - in terms of profile - world of affiliate marketing remains one of the fastest growing and efficient areas in online advertising, especially in travel.
It doesn't have the buzz (hype?) of social media or the impact of a well plotted viral campaign, but it delivers a steady stream of results for affiliates and merchants alike.
But here are ten things you should know, even if you use affiliate marketing regularly.
1. Good relationships
The travel sector is so competitive, with countless numbers of resellers vying for the same highly considered purchases - so branding is key. Consumers need to trust the brand and clearly understand the advantages of booking with that company over another. This is where affiliates can work wonders. Strong relationships with key affiliates can add even more legitimacy to a travel company, speed up word-of-mouth and greatly increase reach. Making noise in the right places through affiliates can strengthen your long term positioning in a cost effective way.
2. Keeping everyone happy
A lot of areas within the travel sector see low conversion but high booking values, leaving affiliate partners relying on fewer but larger commission payments. Because of this, it’s important to keep on top of processing these commissions. Affiliates will really appreciate timely payment and transparency on how you check and approve commissions – also allowing them to reinvest in promoting you.
3. Timing is everything
Customers often know they want to book a holiday, flight or hotel a long time before they actually want to travel. There is a wide window to catch their attention and make them think that now is the time to go for it. Promotions with affiliates which incentivise traffic can help tip them into buying when you want them to. Using increased commission and discounts that are passed to the consumer tactically can help reinforce or counteract seasonality depending on your brand’s business aims.
4. Get connected
Price comparison affiliates in travel tend to be specialists who really know their technology and their sector. Get to know them well and offer them the tools they need to feature you prominently. Offering direct access to your product feed can eliminate issues with rapid price changes and allow the best meta-search affiliates to include the details that matter.
5. Smart search optimisation
Check search engine results for generic phrases relating to your market or offering and contact sites listed on the first page to work on your programme. For example, if you offer weekend breaks in country cottages and "country cottages weekend breaks" on Google reveals high levels of traffic, you should clearly target high quality potential affiliates specific to that niche or particular product you offer. Your affiliate network may already work with these affiliates or be able to help recruit them to your programme.
6. Competitions and giveaways
Many affiliate incentives that are run in other sectors with the aim of boosting sales are ignored because the affiliate considers the prize on offer to be relatively unattractive. Cash prizes of a couple of hundred pounds, or free iPads, are ubiquitous as incentive prizes, and for larger affiliates capable of driving enough volume to win such incentives they do not greatly encourage them to go above and beyond what they are doing already. Offering a holiday as a prize however is far more attractive, and as it is something merchants in other sectors cannot easily provide will help give you the edge when negotiating features or coverage on larger sites.
7. User experience
Travel has one of the highest amounts of consumer research carried out before purchasing - so affiliates therefore need to incorporate as much information as possible in order to keep the consumer on their site. Affiliates need to become more like online travel agents and not merely brochure websites. This means they should utilize technology in order to provide the consumer with as much information as possible using product datafeeds, APIs, search creative and widgets.
8. Consider hyperlocal
Ensure that your recruitment efforts are not only focused on a national and/or international basis but also on a regional level. When looking for the best sites to get your brand featured on, look at all levels of destination specific sites. Highly targeted traffic can be sourced from regional content sites. It is therefore vital to provide information to your affiliates on a local level, including the top hot spots, packages, flights, hotels etc. to provide the customer with all the information they need to complete their purchase.
9. Flexibile with commissions
Despite the high booking values, margins can be very low in travel, which means getting smart with commission structures and resources. Some travel merchants simply cannot afford to offer high CPAs with no room for maneuver in order to be highly competitive. Try to be competitive on an adhoc basis by utilising incentivised traffic during slow periods. If you are unable to operate in this manner, you need to use your conversion rate to your advantage to make your programme attractive as well as making vital linking methods available to affiliates.
10. Discount, discount, discount!
Discount codes can make a big difference to a high value considered purchase and they can be a powerful way to boost sales with price savvy customers at key times. A promotional discount, however, isn’t likely to convince customers to book for a different destination etc., so it’s important to keep codes as generic as possible. Don’t just think of codes in terms of the call to action they offer customers - they are also fantastic content that gives affiliates a reason to shout about your brand or they can secure important placements in campaigns that will have an effect beyond the limits of the code. Look to offer exclusive codes in order to gain maximum exposure for your brand and to minimise your costs.
NB: This article is written by the travel team at Affiliate Window, a UK-based digital marketing company specalising in retail and travel.