There is a famous quote in the marketing world that states “half of my marketing is wasted, I just don't know which half”. The good news is, in the age of digital marketing this is much less of an issue than it was before and if you set things up right from the start you should be able to know exactly what is working so that you can constantly test, learn and improve. The bad news is you have to pay attention to your data for the lessons to become clear and just because you think something is great, it doesn't mean the market more generally will.
Looking At The Numbers
One of the things I got right early on was using a central tool to create dynamic links that I could change on the fly and would track visitors numbers and referring domains. The first of which was GoTryThis before later moving onto a self hosted WordPress solution called Ninja Affiliate. This has allowed me to go back over fours years worth of data and look at products I drove the most traffic to and also where the referrals came from.
[su_note note_color=”#e8e6f7″ radius=”0″]Please Note: The data shared here is based on approximately 60,000 affiliate offer clicks in just under four years and only relates to links that I could route through my tracking systems. Sometimes due to technical capabilities, policy restrictions and various other reasons some promotions won't have been tracked within this data set.[/su_note]
Top 10 Most Trafficked Affiliate Products
The first step I took was to analyse the most trafficked products that I recommended over the entire four year period. The top promoted products in alphabetical order are:
- Hostgator (1.89%)
- FreeAgent (2.07%)
- OptimizePress (1.75%)
- OptinSkin (1.73%)
- Namecheap (3.48%)
- S3Flowshield (3.55%)
- StandardTheme (No longer active)
- StudioPress (3.79%)
- Thesis Theme (6.67%)
- WooThemes (3.55%)
The list of products isn't surprising considering my main focus has been around WordPress development and digital marketing. In fact I only recommend products that I use myself or would recommend for use, which still covers all of these products to this day except the StandardTheme which is no longer sold and was moved to WooThemes.
What The Most Clicked Products Don't Show You
Considering the products above accounted for a combined total of over 28% of all my affiliate traffic you would expect to see some healthy commissions on all of those products. In fact to the best of my knowledge; I never made a single sale of any WooThemes product, I've haven't received any commissions for Namecheap, and I was never credited with the sale of any copies of the Thesis Theme even though I've sent more traffic there than anywhere else. Traffic alone doesn't tell you the full story!
It's not that I don't make any affiliate sales, on the same account that my Thesis promotions flopped I actually have an extremely healthy $46.05 EPC (Earnings Per Click) across all my promotions which means that if the total commissions I earned were split evenly between every click I sent, each one would be worth over $46! This means I could theoretically spend up to $45 to get a single click and I would still be in profit, even more if you ruled out dud products that have never made a sale.
Of course this will vary depending on the traffic source and how they actually get to the point of clicking as some sources are much more likely to be primed than others. i.e a personal recommendation to a friend or client vs a generic click from a banner ad. However it highlights the importance of tracking traffic and tying it back to actual data about the number of sales. Whilst I am quite happy to recommend products that weren't making sales because I use and believe in them, if I were paying for that traffic and relied on breaking a profit it would be a very different story.
Show Me The Money
When looking at the promotions that have actually driven the most profit in my affiliate marketing over the past few years the top 10 would look very different. There would still be one or two of the top 10 trafficked promotions however there would also be others that have consistently made money over the years with very few clicks, there would be affiliate programs where I make recurring revenue from a single sale and there would be products and promotions such as live events that had a limited shelf life but generated healthy commissions.
Note to affiliate marketers: Whilst most of the above could apply to both product or in house marketers as well as affiliates, there is one thing in particular that affiliates should be aware of if paying for their promotions. In some markets more than others, there are some shady practices used by affiliate program owners, affiliate networks and even other affiliates that can hijack your commissions.
If you're sending significant traffic to a company and it doesn't seem to be converting or if someone claims to have bought through your link but it isn't reflected, then you should double check your links first and if they appear to be working, it is probably worth reaching out to find out what is going on. Whether it is a simple mistake or a larger problem at least you will be aware of what is going on.
Biggest Affiliate Marketing Traffic Sources
Now this next section is very likely to be indicative more of my own marketing methods over the four year period rather than a conclusive report on which sources work best but I felt it could be useful to explore anyway.
In order to simplify things for analysis I decided to limit the referral data to referring domains. So rather than looking at inpidual pages such as a specific blog post, I grouped under the top level domain. To take things a step further, I then categorised each domain so that anyone could get a feel for the types of traffic sources without needing to have a deep knowledge of my business or to dig through all of the sites.
One last problem challenge… 77% of my traffic had no referring domain tracked for one reason or another, either it was a direct link, it didn't come from another site, or it failed to track. Therefore what follows is a list of the types of sites that have been the biggest sources of traffic to my affiliate marketing promotions and any percentages shown are of the 22.71% of visits that were tracked to a referring domain. Simple! … hopefully … probably not ;)
Top 20 Affiliate Marketing Traffic Sources
- Own Website – Blog 55.27%
- Direct Link 20.10%
- Social Publishing 7.00%
- Social Media 3.35%
- Own Website – Banner Promotion 2.84%
- Online Video 2.73%
- Own Website – Dedicated Affiliate Site 1.87%
- Link Shortener 1.61%
- Direct Link – Redirect 1.53%
- Web Service or Tool 0.75%
- Own Website – Product 0.66%
- Search Engine 0.55%
- Email Marketing 0.47% (*see note below)
- Directory 0.36%
- Scraper Blog 0.28%
- Own Website – Services 0.20%
- Social Bookmarking 0.16%
- Third Party Site 0.16%
- Online Forum 0.10%
- Own Website – Support 0.02%
As you can see from the above the top traffic source across all of my affiliate marketing has been through my collection of blogs and this isn't by accident. As we've already discussed the products I promote are the products that I use or recommend, and what the data above doesn't explicitly tell you is that most of these referrals are probably plain old reviews. Not cheesy review sites or fake review tables but just simple honest product reviews on a blog.
In fact taking things further, I would guess that a large share of the social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc), social publishing (e.g. HubPages, Squidoo, etc) and online video (e.g. YouTube, DailyMotion, etc) are also from my reviews and short recommendations.
As all of the tracked links are simply redirects, it is unlikely they would be bookmarked so the Direct Links are probably personal recommendations to friends and clients (or in some cases; me, messing up the stats to test they are working).
The only more traditional “digital advertising” is the 2.84% of banner promotions which I know offhand weren't converting well and the dedicated affiliate sites, which did convert well until they were obliterated from search results for being thin on actual content.
With the majority of almost 60,000 clicks in 4 years coming from simple reviews and recommendations of products, it goes to show that this can be an effective way of generating buzz even if you don't want to get in too deep with affiliate marketing.
[su_note]*Re: Email Marketing – This is not representative of my actual email marketing as most of my email traffic goes through a different tool so the actual numbers here would be much higher and would likely fall into the top 5 sources.[/su_note]
In Summary: Measure What is Important
I was all too eager to get started and when the money started rolling in I probably could have asked a lot more questions. In my naive view of affiliate marketing the only thing that mattered was that I kept driving traffic to my affiliate links and then the money would keep coming in. Little did I know I was probably throwing money away by ignoring the Pareto Principle a.k.a the 80/20 rule.
Actively tracking traffic only tells you half the story. It tells you how many people saw an offer but it doesn't tell you how many converted into a sale or even which products were the top converting. Wherever possible you should integrate conversion tracking so you can get direct feedback on how your offers are performing rather than having to manually tie together multiple dashboards. You should try to set unique tracking links depending on the source of your traffic so you can see which sources are driving the most conversions. And last but not least it can be beneficial to keep track of how products are converting over time in relation to the amount of traffic you send. If you notice that you are driving more traffic whilst conversions are dropping there is probably a problem somewhere.
Additional Takeaways for Product Owners
Affiliate marketing works. If you have a product that provides genuine value to someone the numbers are there for both traffic and revenue even at smaller scales with a few advocates.
Traffic is not equal to sales. You need to stay on top of your conversion rates to ensure that you make the most of any traffic that affiliates send you. If people are pro-actively driving traffic to your sites and you waste it, most will stop putting the time in.
If you found this analysis useful or would like to share you own affiliate marketing experiences, I'd love to hear from you in comments, or even feel free to drop me an email.
Alternatively if you're interested in being an affiliate with us here then you can apply here.