Sourcing Quality Affiliates

Alex Henderson

Over the years, affiliate marketing has been highly profitable for many online adult entertainment companies. But as the digital adult realm became increasingly competitive, so did affiliate marketing — and while finding and nurturing quality affiliates was important 10 years ago, it is even more important in the digital adult world of 2014.

Sarah Jayne Anderson, affiliate manager for Larry Flynt’s, said that when it comes to affiliate marketing, one of the major mistakes companies can make is failing to evolve with the times. “When a company hits a successful formula with its affiliate program, it is easy for them to assume that the formula will work forever,” Anderson observed. “Instead of keeping up with changes in the way their affiliates market, they often wait until they have squeezed the last drop out of the original formula before they sit up and take notice. By the time they get to that point, it is a perpetual game of trying to catch up.”

High-quality affiliates will always have an excellent contact base — this is the value that they bring. -Giles Hirst, ExoClick

Anderson added that effective affiliate marketing can be a matter of keeping one’s database up to date. “Remember what Dorothy said in the ‘Wizard of Oz’ about not having to look further than your own backyard? Most affiliate programs that have been around for a good number of years have a lot of inactive accounts,” Anderson explained. “Of course, many of those are people that have left the industry. But amongst those existing accounts, there are those who are still working as an affiliate. Somewhere along the line, you lost contact with each other. Run a stats report from as recent as a year ago and see who stopped sending or whose traffic has stopped converting as well. Reach out to them, and it may prove that the best new affiliates you can get are those you already have on your books.”

Derrick Gilbert, affiliate manager for Montreal-based Gamma Entertainment’s FameDollars, pointed out that affiliates that were valuable in the past aren’t necessarily going to be valuable in 2014 if they haven’t evolved. “The nature of the affiliate business means that you’re relying on them to build their own site or get their own traffic in order to promote your products,” Gilbert observed. “As we all know, a site that made tons of sales per day in the year 2000 might not be doing as well today if they haven’t updated and upgraded their business model. If they are creative and are ready to work with us in making custom promotions on their site or try a different model, then we can really see that they are high-quality affiliates. The ones that still expect the same results from the same efforts they put out years ago — you can see that they didn’t grow with the times and didn’t adapt to new models.”

Gilbert stressed that having high-quality content remains a crucial part of sourcing high-quality affiliates. “The first step to finding high-quality affiliates is to get the word out that your content is top-notch and converts,” Gilbert asserted. “There are a few ways to do this: board posts, newsletters, Twitter messages, building a blog featuring your content loaded with banners and affiliate links. Once you see that affiliates start to take interest and send traffic, keep a close eye on their traffic and the way that they promote you. A good way to accomplish this is to do a daily report of the top affiliates in terms of traffic and sales. As an affiliate manager, your job will be to analyze your affiliates’ sites and get them the tools they need to go from a low to a high sales volume.”

Many companies have turned to niche marketing in order to compete in the crowded online adult space, and savvy affiliate managers know their market whether it’s gay erotica, heterosexual BDSM erotica or Japanese hentai. Ewan French, affiliate manager for Gamma’s gay-oriented Buddy Profits, emphasized that companies need affiliates who understand their specific niche. “If you are running a fetish site, it doesn’t matter if you have 100 twink bloggers promoting you — these affiliates won’t be able to sell memberships to your site,” French asserted. “You must do extensive research and networking to find affiliates with traffic that will appreciate what you are selling.”

French continued: “The most important thing an affiliate needs is traffic. As long as an affiliate has traffic to send, it is my job to make sure that traffic converts. In general, our most successful affiliates are proactive when it comes to creating original content and requesting behind-the-scenes footage or model interviews. They understand that copying the same articles and descriptions that are available on all the other affiliate sites is not going to help them obtain a loyal following. Surfers are looking for unique content that is entertaining.”

Giles Hirst, marketing and communications manager for the Barcelona-based ExoClick, also stressed the importance of knowing one’s market when it comes to affiliates.

“If you are an adult company shooting a particular niche of content, source your affiliates in advance of shooting and packaging your product,” Hirst advised. “Get your affiliate network in place first and ask them what sells. They can offer you tips on what promotional photos will work the best, advise you on how to use softcore images to drive upsells to hardcore content, which adult stars to use, content sub-niches that you can exploit within the niche you are shooting and how to create the correct marketing tools that affiliates need to push out to their own different sales outlets. Remember: it is the affiliate who is your salesperson — so you need to work in partnership with them to gain maximum exposure and conversions.”

Hirst equated finding high-quality affiliates with hiring an effective sales team. “High-quality affiliates will always have an excellent contact base — this is the value that they bring,” Hirst explained. “It’s like hiring a new sales employee: one of the key reasons you are hiring them is for their extensive contact list and their knowledge of how to get the best out of that list. A high-quality affiliate will find solutions to problems instead of throwing out a campaign and waiting to see what converts. An expert affiliate will examine each campaign, look into why a campaign didn’t work and go back and try again with a different marketing angle or product in order to squeeze out maximum revenues. Similarly, if an affiliate is highly successful in a campaign, he will investigate why it was a success so he can use that market knowledge for future campaigns.”

Tiffany S., affiliate manager for the San Francisco-based NakedSword (one of the top providers of gay erotica), cautioned that niche-specific companies shouldn’t value quantity over quality where affiliates are concerned. “It seems high-quality affiliates are few and far between these days,” Tiffany asserted. “Affiliates that have a ton of traffic aren’t necessarily high quality. So it is important to identify what type of traffic an affiliate has. I like to make sure an affiliate’s site is up to date — or if it is a blog, that the posts are current and consistent. Keeping in touch with high-quality affiliates is the best way to keep them. A phone call can do wonders to establish a personal connection, and meeting face to face at industry shows has always been extremely beneficial.”

Tiffany cited “not enough outreach” as one of the most common mistakes that companies make with their affiliates. “Affiliates belong to so many programs that just sending weekly updates isn’t enough,” Tiffany noted. “Ongoing conversation is the key to maintaining the affiliate/sponsor relationship. Probably, the biggest mistakes companies can make with affiliates are taking them for granted, not paying enough attention, and of course, late payments.”

Asked to identify some of the things that are necessary to attract and keep high-quality affiliates, Joey Gabra (managing director for the mobile-oriented, responded: “Maintaining high-quality affiliates requires a number of factors: being a credible and reliable brand that the affiliates know and trust, offering up competitive payouts that are enticing yet still make sense for our business as well, providing great support to the affiliates and making sure they always have someone to help them with their needs, understanding that they are the bread and butter of the business and showing them that you know that.”

Gabra went on to say that in 2014, affiliate programs are less likely to make foolish mistakes because they realize that they have less room for error than in the past. “These days, a lot of the mistakes are basic textbook rookie mistakes,” Gabra observed. “This doesn’t happen often because affiliate programs nowadays have really stepped up their game and have become smarter about achieving their longterm business goals. But mistakes do still happen: overselling without being helpful, focusing on the one-time big sale rather than focusing on the residual income deals, bad tracking, poor testing.”

Filipe Rodrigues, advertising account manager for ExoClick, pointed out that different affiliates can bring different skills to the table. “Even though you may have many affiliate contacts, not all of them will be profitable for you,” Rodrigues observed. “The first port of call is to test your affiliates with different campaigns and see how they perform. You will then see which affiliates are performing better in different niches and can then target them with campaigns that they can really fly with.”

Rodrigues added: “Traits of a quality affiliate are someone who is consistent with their results, who can think strategically and who knows not only their own traffic network, but also, the target that you as a client want to reach.”

“He will have excellent local and international market knowledge and have the persistence to retarget, modify and push through campaigns to make them successful.”

Ema Fulga, affiliate manager for in Barcelona, stressed that offering a high-quality product is still an essential part of finding high-quality affiliates.

“It is crucial that you have good products with high conversion rates,” Fulga explained.

“Obviously, high-quality affiliates don’t want to push substandard products, as their reputation is on the line.

“At MobileCashOut, we produce our own apps and paysites — so we have invested resources in creating good quality products with high conversion potential to appeal to our target network of high-quality affiliates.

“Communication is important to get your message out, but at the end of the day, if you have the best product in the market, the affiliates will find you.”