Referral programs are on the rise.
The industry of affiliate programs is generates billions of dollars in the United States alone.
That’s a huge chunk of money… and the playing field is wide open for more people to get in on it.
For business owners, the projected growth also means that affiliate programs are becoming increasingly mainstream and viable options for you to increase your reach and revenue.
So let’s take a look at how you can use something as simple as a WordPress affiliate plugin to host a profitable affiliate program on your own website.
How a WordPress Referral Plugin Can Increase Your Reach
Nathalie Lussier, the founder of AccessAlly, recently shared a candid look at how she’s been on both sides of the referral industry, and has made multiple 6 figures in referral sales.
That’s good news for those who are building an income as affiliate marketers.
And, considering the fact that the affiliate only receives a portion of the cut, it’s even better news for the company selling the products.
The initial revenue from an affiliate sale is only the beginning of the story: referrals have a prolific tendency to snowball. A single affiliate might be end up being responsible for a large percentage of your sales. As more affiliates become engaged with your business and actively promoting your products, the bigger the snowball effect will be.
Features of an Affiliate Program Poised for Success
Ok let’s pause a minute.
A referral program isn’t a magic cure-all for your sales and marketing woes. There’s a possibility that it might not be right for your business.
That’s because the ultimate goal, for affiliate marketers, is to create streams of recurring revenue, whether through annual launches or with evergreen promotions that keep on earning.
Once your understand this, you’ll be in a good place:
To successfully enroll affiliates and earn referrals you’ll need:
#1 A Great Product
Hopefully, this is a total no-brainer, but the product you’re opening up to affiliates will have the most success if it can beat the competition in the eyes of your affiliates and clients. A smart affiliate marketer (the kind you want on your side) will ignore poor quality products in favor of ones that deliver real results to their end clients.
#2 Dedicated Fans or Existing Network
Speaking of a great product… if you don’t already have a crowd of dedicated fans or an existing network of peers, you’ll definitely want to focus on building relationships before starting your affiliate program.
After all, it takes an average of 6 to 8 touchpoints before someone is ready to commit… so if your product isn’t already “out there,” you may find that your affiliates fizzle out and lose interest quickly.
#3 A Good Commission Structure
It’s tempting to want to fill your pockets faster. But generosity with your affiliates is a long-term strategy that increases their own incentive to promote your products, bringing you more revenue over the long haul. (If it doesn’t pay off for them, it probably won’t pay off for you, either.)
Many affiliate programs start at a 50% commission split, depending on the offer.
#4 Referral Training Materials
The fact that someone is excited about your product doesn’t mean they’re a natural marketer. The more guidelines and training materials you can provide to your affiliates, the better they’ll be able to promote your product.
#5 Promotion Materials
Along the same lines as the training materials, it’s always a good idea to pre-design a variety of promotion materials, from banner ads to social media posts to email swipe copy. Not only does this help save time for your affiliates, but it also ensures that the promotional material will be on-brand.
#6 Affiliate Management & Guidelines
We’ve talked before about the dark side of affiliate marketing. The more effective you are at eliminating spammy promotion and fake coupons, the better your product will appear to online shoppers.
Prepping Your Business for An Affiliate Program
You know what to include in your affiliate program and how you want it to look… but you also have to do some preparation on the business side of things to make sure that the new referral program will get off the ground without a hitch.
1. Multiple success stories
The best affiliate marketers are often those who have already invested in your product and received its benefits first hand. Make sure you have a strong network of these case studies in place, as they may be responsible for your very first referral sales.
2. Bandwidth to manage a separate program
Affiliate marketing might seem like a hands-off way to get more sales… but there’s a ton of behind-the-scenes admin work required, too.
3. A WordPress referral plugin to run your affiliate program.
Finally, you need the right software to take care of the all the technical component of you referral program, from order records (purchases, returns, and refunds) to link tracking and custom referral links. There are self-hosted plugin solutions that you can add to your own WordPress site.
Two of the bigger WordPress affiliate plugins in this sphere are AccessAlly and AffiliateWP.
Affiliate WP is a “standalone” referral plugin that can give your site affiliate functionality and offers some integrations with other order form and shopping cart WordPress plugins. If you have a WordPress site set up, but none of your other plugins or systems include affiliate functionality, you may benefit from using the Affiliate WP plugin.
AccessAlly is a full suite plugin that includes memberships, online courses, and an e-commerce solution in addition to affiliate management functionality. The benefit of using AccessAlly is that, since everything is housed in a single plugin, you don’t have to worry about failed integrations that might put your entire program in jeopardy.
Plus, since it integrates with your CRM, you can have a fully automated program that’s set up once, and runs automatically afterwards.
Tips & Tricks’ Affiliate Plugin
Tips and Tricks’ Affiliate Plugin is another option for WordPress referral plugins that focuses on integration with WooCommerce and Cart66 plugins, along with a few other options. One main drawback will be integrating with your CRM, but the biggest benefit for this option is the low price point. Worth checking out if you’re just getting started.
What About Third Party Affiliate Systems? You might have heard of affiliate tools like Post Affiliate Pro or Everflow.
These software solutions are made for the sole purpose of running the affiliate programs of hundreds (or thousands) of businesses. They can be particularly beneficial if you can’t house an affiliate program on your own site (like if you’re not on WordPress or you plan to move off eventually).
The downside is that it’s another tech tool to add to your stack, and it might not integrate with some of the systems you’re already using. You also don’t have full control over what the affiliate area looks and feels like. With a WordPress referral plugin, you can design your own affiliate center and keep it on-brand.
How To Set Up Your WordPress Referral Plugin
In this video, you’ll see first hand what a “real” referral program looks like to the affiliates and program manager. While the video is specific to AccessAlly, you can expect to follow the same general setup process no matter which tool you sign up for.
1. Accept Applicants
At AccessAlly, we prefer to review all affiliate applications, asking for some key information to assess whether an applicant will be able to send high quality referral traffic our way.
This helps us prevent irritating spam signups that waste our time and that of our clients.
2. Add New Affiliate to a Tier
Each affiliate tier that you create can have a different commission structure. So you might offer a “regular” 30% commission for affiliates, but a higher commission of 50% to key joint venture partners of your business, for example.
3. Connect Affiliates With Resources
When a new affiliate logs into your site, they should see a well-organized area where they can access promotional materials (including swipe copy and graphics), as well as any information available on the number of link clicks, sales, and clawbacks associated with their account.
4. Motivate Affiliates With Contests and Leaderboards
Your affiliates have lives of their own, and may not always feel motivated to promote your product, especially if they’ve hit a referral dry spell.
One way to counter this natural loss of motivation is by running special affiliate contests and using leaderboards to offer special bonuses to top performing affiliates.
5. Manage and Review Link Clicks
As your program begins to grow and you start getting some great referral traffic, you’ll want to keep an eye on where all that traffic is coming from, and whether it’s converting into sales.
Take a look at the link clicks periodically to see what pages (and affiliates) are making the biggest impact on your program.
6. Payout Time
Pay your affiliates promptly and on time every month, to maintain trust and a positive working relationship with them.
Increasing Reach with Your Referral Program
A well-run affiliate program will grow and expand along with your business, multiplying the effectiveness of your campaigns, leading to increased visibility and reach for your products. As you begin to develop your own referral program, always look for ways to leverage your existing fans and clients, trusting that the ripples will make their way to other circles as well.
Take a look at how AccessAlly’s WordPress affiliate plugin functionality has helped WordPress membership site owners scale.
Content updated February 2019.