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Top Affiliate Marketing Trends to Know in 2018

  • 3 July 2017
  • Dane Cobain
  1. Affiliate marketing is a popular choice for marketers and content creators alike, and part of the reason for its success is that it can establish a middle ground that suits both parties. Members of the affiliate program receive a little extra revenue and the company behind it benefits from the additional exposure.

The affiliate marketing industry is expected to grow to $6.8 billion over the next five years, which is unsurprising when you consider how many people are creating content – and how hard it can be to monetize that content and to make some revenue.

Meanwhile, marketers are continuing to push affiliate programmes thanks to their relatively high performance. After all, although it can be hard to get a new affiliate scheme off the ground, it takes very little effort on the company’s behalf once it’s up and running.

Affiliate programs typically have a larger ROI than other marketing channels, in part because shoppers see the affiliates themselves as a trustworthy source of information. This boosts conversion rates and helps to explain why 15% of the digital media industry’s revenue comes from affiliate marketing.

Here are five of the trends that are dominating the affiliate marketing industry in 2018 and beyond.

Trend #1: Better Reporting

Many existing affiliate programmes are fairly simple, and they don’t provide a huge amount of data for either users or for marketers. Even Amazon’s referral programme, which is one of the largest on the market with millions of active affiliates, could use a little work.

In the early days of affiliate marketing, the technology wasn’t able to provide the kind of in-depth analytical and reporting tools that marketers are now used to. But in 2017, there’s no excuse – and people are starting to demand better tools that deliver real-time data and help to make forecasts for future performance.

This shift towards a data-led, analytical approach is likely to take time, but the demand is clearly there from both affiliates and marketers, and the market is crying out for new tools to bridge the gap between reality and expectation.

Trend #2: Affiliate Marketing Goes Niche

Many newbie affiliate marketers try to connect with every single website, blog and influencer that they can find with the idea that more affiliates equals more revenue. And to a certain extent, they’re right.

But focusing purely on volume is a rookie mistake, and the industry is undergoing a shift in which marketers are starting to realise that a small number of credible, high authority affiliates are often more effective than thousands of minor sites with little-to-no authority and traffic.

Instead, the current trend is for marketers to target specific niches and to establish their dominance before moving on to the next niche and repeating it. For example, an online movie rental service could focus on the top horror reviewers instead of reaching out to every movie site on the web. Once they’ve established their dominance over the horror niche, they can move on to action/adventure blogs or romantic comedy sites.

Because of the additional relevance – and the lack of competition – of these niche sites, clicks and conversion rates tend to skyrocket. In turn, this makes the entire programme more profitable and helps marketers to generate a solid ROI. It’s a no-brainer.

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Trend #3: Cross-Device Tracking

Consumers are no longer browsing the web on a single device, and yet affiliate marketing technology still acts as though they are. Now, the route to purchase is complex and multi-faceted, and it’s not unusual for someone to check out a product through an affiliate link and to return to make a purchase on a different device at a later date.

That’s why more and more affiliate programmes are focussing on cross-device tracking. After all, when an affiliate does 90% of the work and is denied the attribution for the final sale, it’s both off-putting and unprofitable – and it can lead to misleading metrics on the marketer’s side.

Cross-device tracking also allows companies to use remarketing technology to serve up ads to people who’ve clicked an affiliate link but have failed to make a purchase. This potent combination of the social proof that the affiliates offer and the high-performance of remarketing ads is set to push the affiliate marketing industry into overdrive.

Trend #4: Affiliate Marketing for SEO

Affiliate marketing has always been a useful tool for search engine optimisation, but it’s turning into a more mainstream approach as marketers start to realise its real value. The inbound links from affiliates bring in referral traffic whilst simultaneously boosting your website’s authority in the eyes of search engines.

Better still, if you’re working with influential sites in a particular niche, the quality of the links will be much higher – and so will their relevance to your overall offering. Meanwhile, other key metrics – such as conversion rates and time on site – are likely to improve thanks to the trust that visitors have on the sites that they came through from.

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Trend #5: Increased Scrutiny from Regulators

Brands are already on the radar of the FTC and other regulatory organizations, but with increasing privacy and disclosure concerns and an unstable political climate, it’s likely that regulation will be an ongoing trend for 2017 and the years to come.

In the last couple of years, a number of high profile brands and influencers – including Warner Bros. and the Kardashian family – have come under fire for failing to disclose paid endorsements, and the problem is likely to become more widespread in the future.

Put simply, both brands and influencers will face further pressure to disclose any and all paid endorsements, and this is likely to hit affiliate schemes hard. At the moment, affiliate bloggers flout the rules on a daily basis, often without realizing that they’re doing anything wrong. But as the internet faces further and further regulation, it’s likely that both marketers and affiliates will find themselves being forced to change with the times – or to face the possibility of a hefty fine.

What’s Next?

Affiliate marketing will continue to grow in importance over the next couple of years, and part of that is because of the explosion in user-generated content and changing consumer behaviours. People are increasingly interested in unbranded content, and millions of talented creators are more than happy to meet that demand – whether they’re blogging, tweeting or creating YouTube videos.

But while many of these creators are driven by the love of what they do, many more are struggling to monetise their content and to earn a living. Affiliate programs are a great way for them to supplement their income – and if it adds value to their followers then even better.

No wonder it’s such a hot topic.

About Dane Cobain

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