Defining Affiliate Marketing For 2015

Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is still grow­ing and 2015 will be an inter­est­ing year. What’s been going on in the sec­tor and what may hap­pen next year?

Andrew Girdwood By Andrew Girdwood from Cello Signal. Join the discussion » 0 comments

Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing can be a pow­er­ful way to reach new con­sumers. When deployed cor­rect­ly, affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing allows brands to reach audi­ences, through their affil­i­ates, that they would­n’t be able to reach through any oth­er form of mar­ket­ing. Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is about har­ness­ing the pow­er of pub­lish­ing part­ners. Here’s a look at what has been going on in the sec­tor and what may hap­pen in the year ahead.

I just don’t under­stand what affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is!” is a com­plaint I still hear from peo­ple with­in the dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing indus­try. This is a dig­i­tal craft that, it seems, you either intu­itive­ly get or will always strug­gle with.

The evolv­ing land­scape in 2015 will not make it any eas­i­er for peo­ple to get their head around affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing, but it will make it more impor­tant for them to do so.

Some of the world’s most pop­u­lar sites are affil­i­ates or offer affil­i­ate plat­forms them­selves; Ama­zon and eBay, for exam­ple.

Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is essen­tial­ly a “cost per suc­cess” chan­nel in which brands share a por­tion of the prof­it of a suc­cess with a pub­lish­er or part­ner. For exam­ple, when an eBay affil­i­ate cre­ates busi­ness for eBay they are paid a com­mis­sion based on the val­ue the auc­tion site attach­es to that busi­ness.

Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing should be an attrac­tive propo­si­tion to brands as the under­ly­ing promise has safe­ty baked in. If the chan­nel does­n’t dri­ve any val­ue, then the brands don’t pay any mon­ey. Except, it isn’t that sim­ple.

International Differences In Affiliate Marketing

One of the defin­ing issues of affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing in 2015 is that the world will con­tin­ue to be a frag­ment­ed space. That’s dif­fer­ent from many oth­er dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing dis­ci­plines where we can see dom­i­nant play­ers and plat­forms (Google, Face­book, et al.) con­tin­ue to do well.

I tend to view the affil­i­ate globe in four zones:

  • Unit­ed States and Cana­da
  • Unit­ed King­dom
  • Europe
  • Rest of World

This is a sim­plis­tic view, but effec­tive as a start­ing point.

United States And Canada

The sec­tor is still large­ly known as “affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing” in the U.S. and Cana­da. There are many dif­fer­ent affil­i­ate net­works and most are able to reach the entire domes­tic audi­ence for any nation­al brands.

Pay­ing fees in addi­tion to com­mis­sion to affil­i­ates is far more com­mon here than any­where else in the world. Want a large affil­i­ate to find space on their site for a men­tion of your brand? Don’t be sur­prised if the affil­i­ate asks for a one-off cost to cov­er the change or rent out the space on their site in addi­tion to the ongo­ing reward of a CPA deal.

The Amer­i­can mar­kets aren’t the most reg­u­lat­ed in the affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing space. This will be a dis­cus­sion point in 2015.

Tool­bars, par­a­site­ware, and oth­er prob­lem­at­ic soft­ware can be an issue. Com­pared to the UK, rules around coupons are scant – it’s easy to find exam­ples of dodgy domain­ing, SEO, or even PPC tac­tics.

The Unit­ed States and Cana­da will both be an attrac­tive mar­ket for affil­i­ates and brands in 2015, as it always has been, but it isn’t a straight­for­ward one.

United Kingdom

The term “per­for­mance mar­ket­ing” as a syn­onym for affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is increas­ing­ly com­mon in the UK. Some of the biggest tech­nol­o­gy providers and con­fer­ences have rebrand­ed away from “affil­i­ates” and to “per­for­mance”. This reflects the broad­en­ing juris­dic­tion of the chan­nel but clash­es with oth­er equal­ly com­mon uses of the phrase “per­for­mance mar­ket­ing”. SEO and PPC are also called per­for­mance mar­ket­ing, for exam­ple.

The UK is a huge­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Net­works, agen­cies, and even affil­i­ates in this space offer up some of the most advanced tech­nol­o­gy and solu­tions in the indus­try.

Reg­u­la­tion, indus­try agreed best prac­tice, and code of con­ducts, are tighter and more clear­ly defined here than in any the oth­er four zones. We saw back­lash and com­plaints in 2014 when big play­ers made moves that the oth­er big play­ers thought were too aggres­sive or con­flict­ed with these indus­try approved guide­lines. In this fierce­ly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket, with inno­va­tion front and cen­ter of many efforts, we’re like­ly to see sim­i­lar clash­es in 2015.

A trend in the UK space for 2015 will be efforts to work more effec­tive­ly with the “long-tail affil­i­ates.” These are blog­gers and oth­er small sites that may be active in affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing from time to time rather than small busi­ness­es mon­e­tiz­ing through affil­i­ate deals. Each “long tail” affil­i­ate is rarely sig­nif­i­cant; 2015 will attempt to change that.


Europe isn’t one coun­try. The land­scape here is frag­ment­ed and com­plex; coun­tries have dif­fer­ent laws, agen­cies have dif­fer­ent capa­bil­i­ties, and net­works have dif­fer­ent reach. Even with­in Europe there are dif­fer­ent cur­ren­cies, dif­fer­ent tax­es, vary­ing inter­net use and shop­ping habits.

One of the few com­mon threads in the affil­i­ate indus­try across Europe is the lack trans­paren­cy com­pared to the UK or U.S. The myr­i­ad of net­works tend to do more of the heavy lift­ing, per­haps due to few­er able agen­cies, and as a result net­works tend to be less will­ing to share data.

The fur­ther East your affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing activ­i­ties reach in Europe the more like the “Wild West” it becomes. Poor qual­i­ty or arti­fi­cial traf­fic is still a prob­lem to watch for.

Rest Of World

Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is a grow­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty across the rest of the world. Affil­i­ate net­works and agen­cies are expand­ing their pres­ence and brands are look­ing to grow.

The day to day man­age­ment of affil­i­ates and the impor­tance of main­tain­ing the rela­tion­ship with key pub­lish­ers is both the chal­lenge and a big part of suc­cess in a wide­ly inter­na­tion­al cam­paign.

The lan­guage chal­lenge won’t go away in 2015. In addi­tion to local­iz­ing offers and con­tent, brands will face issue with over­lap­ping lan­guages. Eng­lish, for exam­ple, is spo­ken as a first lan­guage across the world and as a sec­ond lan­guage in many coun­tries. Deals shared in Eng­lish are deals that the inter­na­tion­al audi­ence could use regard­less of whether that was the intent.

Changing Technology Landscape

Affil­i­ate net­works have for a long time pro­vid­ed bun­dled account man­age­ment and tech­nol­o­gy (the affil­i­ate track­ing and pay­ment solu­tions). That tech­nol­o­gy is begin­ning to detach as ded­i­cat­ed, often cheap­er or more agile, soft­ware-as-a-ser­vice solu­tions grow and take mar­ket share.

At the same time some tra­di­tion­al affil­i­ate net­works are rebrand­ing as “per­for­mance agen­cies” or per­for­mance solu­tions that offer more ser­vices than a his­toric CPA from mer­chant to pub­lish­er deal.

Affil­i­ate net­works, thanks in part to tags on sites, have a lot of data. Remar­ket­ing solu­tions are one of the new areas that affil­i­ate tech­nolo­gies are expand­ing into.

Also of note in the tech­nol­o­gy land­scape is the rise of “affil­i­ate aggre­ga­tors.” Com­pa­nies like VigLink and Skim­links pro­vide pub­lish­ers with auto­mat­ed solu­tions that auto­mat­i­cal­ly enroll sites into many thou­sands of affil­i­ate pro­grams at once.

These aggre­gra­tors remove the need for affil­i­ates to work with indi­vid­ual net­works unless those net­works are offer­ing some­thing more than a CPA deal. We are also begin­ning to see some brands work direct­ly with this sort of plat­form and this will be a hot top­ic to watch in 2015.

Native Advertising As Affiliate Marketing

There is a strong over­lap between native adver­tis­ing and affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing. You could argue that affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is native adver­tis­ing.

If native adver­tis­ing is defined as mak­ing con­tent that com­ple­ments a read­er or user expe­ri­ence of a site, and which earns mon­ey for the pub­lish­er due to a com­mer­cial deal, then that descrip­tion cer­tain­ly seems to include a large amount of pos­si­ble affil­i­ate activ­i­ty.

One of the ques­tions around native adver­tis­ing is whether it can scale. Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing, or at least rev­enue shares tracked back to these con­tent projects, could cer­tain­ly be the answer to that.

Ten­an­cy deals in which affil­i­ate pub­lish­ers are paid an upfront fee by brands to secure a pres­ence on the site are anoth­er exam­ple of the native adver­tis­ing over­lap. It is like­ly in 2015 we’ll see more dis­cus­sion around this.

As to the issue of defin­ing affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing in 2015 – is an ten­an­cy ban­ner place­ment or email men­tion, arranged through an affil­i­ate con­nec­tion, but with­out a CPA ele­ment still con­sid­ered affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing?

The Video Boom Of 2015

Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing will include plen­ty of video in 2015. The sec­tor is boom­ing as the Inter­net audi­ence demands more and more video con­tent and as brands and pub­lish­ers exper­i­ment with ways to turn that demand into mon­ey.

Video plat­forms like Coull pro­vide an affil­i­ate lay­er on top of com­mer­cial or pub­lic video con­tent at zero risk to pub­lish­ers. How­ev­er, Coull’s moved away from the self-serve mod­el suit­able for pub­lish­ers of all sizes and now only oper­ates in the mil­lion-plus impres­sion lev­el. Is the cost to serve ads still too high? Providers like Kiosked still seem will­ing to work with pub­lish­ers of all sizes but have video as only part of a wider range.

Mean­while, Amazon’s acqui­si­tion of Twitch is inter­est­ing. Ama­zon is one of the biggest affil­i­ate providers out there; using its own in-house plat­form, so what plans for Twitch could they have?

The Core Of Affiliate Marketing In 2015

Affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing in 2015 will be more com­plex than in 2014 as the sec­tor con­tin­ues to grow and devel­op.

At the core affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing is about pay­ing a dis­trib­uted group of part­ners based on the hard facts of per­for­mance. How we mea­sure that per­for­mance may change and evolve in 2015 but affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing will remain true to the orig­i­nal mis­sion of reward­ing suc­cess.

How do you expect affil­i­ate mar­ket­ing to evolve in 2015? Share your pre­dic­tions in the com­ments.

Andrew Girdwood

Written by Andrew Girdwood

Head of Media Technology, Cello Signal

A blogger and a self-confessed digital marketing geek, Andrew dedicates his time to understanding What's Next in digital marketing and sharing that knowledge with clients and colleagues. With a strong digital media background, acquired after a decade at the forefront of the industry. Andrew's knowledge and interest ranges from search and display to affiliates, social media, ad exchanges and demand-side platforms.

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