The True Value of Review Affiliates

I love review affiliates

A successful affiliate program should account for at least 20% of overall sales regardless of the industry. In select industries with high commissions, the affiliate channel can account for 30% to 50% of your sales. Few people understand affiliate marketing in depth and even fewer people understand how different affiliate models add to the bottom line. One of my favorite affiliate models is the review based website.

Before I get into why I love the review model, I first want to explain how affiliate marketing works and why it has gone in the directions it has. Traditionally, affiliate marketing was driven on a last touch winner take all system. That means that if an end customer clicked on my affiliate link first and a coupon site’s affiliate link last, the coupon site would enjoy the entire commission for the sale. Clickstream based attribution employed by networks, such as ShareASale, have allowed merchants in recent years to share the wealth to all the affiliate that contributed to the sale. The end result of the overarching strategy is that successful affiliates chase the keywords people search for when they are close to making a purchase. The most important keywords in affiliate marketing are: best, top, review, buy, cheap, coupon, deals, discount, comparison, vs, etc. These keywords indicate the consumer is close to making their purchase. Conversion rates soar from .5% when you are trying to introduce someone to a new topic to 5%-20%.

Why I Love Review Based Affiliate Partners

  •  Long-Tailed Keywords

A review affiliate is more likely to write content intended to rank for keyword phrases with fewer than 1000 searches a month than a company will. This is simple economics of scale at play. An affiliate site is one person 9 times out of 10. If they can rank for a keyword or keyword phrase with relatively low search volume to gain another 10 conversions a month they frequently will because that amount of money matters to them. Many corporations are more big picture. They don’t want to focus on strategies or content that might generate another $1000 or $2000 a month in sales. They consider this  trivial. On the other hand, an affiliate might say, if I can generate $1000 to $2000 in additional sales for a merchant with a 10% commission that is $1200 to $2400 a year towards my overall income. If merchants can’t or won’t try to rank for these keywords themselves, it is better to let the affiliate do it and share in the mutual bounty.

 

  • Turning Your Competitors’ Traffic Into Your Conversions

A lot of myopic marketing people look at a review based affiliate and say that punk is riding on my coat tails for brand + review related searches. They would be absolutely right. What these people often ignore is that the good review affiliates also draw that same traffic from all of your competitors. They also generate substantial traffic related to model + review searches. These models are often sold on the other competitors sites. E.G.   x merchant is 10% of a given industry. A knowledgeable review affiliate is pulling traffic from your 10% along with the other 90% of the industry. Your are benefited by working with the affiliate in the most productive manner possible because they can drive your competitors traffic to your site at the point when they are closest to making a purchase. You not only gain a conversion. You steal one from the grasp of your competitor. What could be better?

 

  • Increasing Your Conversion Rate

The higher the cost of a purchase, the more likely the consumer is to search for reviews on both the product and retailer. This is just common sense. If you are buying a new pack of gum, you aren’t going to feel that badly if the flavor stinks or the merchant sold you a stale package. If you are spending several hundred or several thousand dollars, you are going to feel mightily burned if the product or purchasing experience stinks. Most people want to mitigate the risk by having others reassure them that they are making the right decision. Many merchants have horrible reviews when a search for site + review is conducted. Extortion schemes like Reseller Ratings and angry sites like Pissed Consumer, and Rip Off Repot abound. Many of the reviews on these sites only paint on side of the picture. Good review affiliates are also brand advocates capable of painting the other side. If a potential consumer conducts a review search and only sees a full page of 1 star reviews, there is a good chance you are going to lose the sale. If your skilled affiliate partners outrank these angrier sites and highlight why you are a good merchant, you will close the sale. At the end of the day, this is marketing 101. Unfortunately, a huge number of people at all levels in organizations don’t understand this simple fact. My suspicion is a lot of this ignorance comes down to ill informed greed. They can easily see on paper the 10% commission paid to the partner. It is harder to quantify the untold lost sales.

 

  • Helping Consumers Make An Informed Decision

Good review affiliates prepare the consumer for what to expect. They are likely to tout your strong suits most, but they will also reveal some of your warts. This process is important to help companies recognize better how they can improve. A skilled affiliate will outline the most important marketing points in your industry. If you get dinged on some of these points, determine how you can do a better job. Too many employees fall into a horrible pattern of group think and company worship. They are either unable to see the company’s flaws or incapable to discuss them with the team for fear of being accused of not having drunk enough kool-aid. If an affiliate points out the flaws, improvements can be made without making any employees into doubting outcasts.

Affiliate Nexus Thresholds By State

A growing list of states are passing nexus laws requiring merchants to collect sales tax in states where they have affiliates. In many states with nexus legislation, there is a revenue threshold an affiliate must surpass for nexus to be created.

What States Have Nexus Legislation?

affiliate nexus mapaffiliate nexus key

I borrowed this map from CJ. I recommend looking at their site to find the most updated list of nexus states. It is a troubling list of growing states.

 

Nexus Thresholds By State

The amount listed by the state is how much an affiliate / publisher who resides in that state would have to generate in revenue for sales tax to need to be created. If you are an affiliate manager for a merchant who hasn’t outright banned affiliates from nexus states, I highly recommend having a written protocol in place. Everyone makes mistakes, but if an investigator ever comes knocking, you want to be able to prove to them that you had appropriate measure in place.

Arkansas – $10,000

California – $10,000

Connecticut – $2,000

Georgia – $50,000

Illinois – $10,000

Kansas – $10,000

Maine – $10,000

Michigan – $10,000

Minnesota – $10,000

Missouri – $10,000

New York – $10,000

New Jersey – $10,000

North Carolina -$10,000

Pennsylvania – No limit

Rhode Island – $5,000

Vermont – $10,000

West Virginia – No limit

 

Nexus Legislation Is Stupid

In some of the programs I have managed, we have had more foreign affiliates than Americans. It blows my mind that I can have numerous affiliates based out of China without placing the merchant at a competitive disadvantage, but one sale from an affiliate in West Virginia means we have to collect sales tax. The proponents of these bills also claim states will collect far more lavish sums than they actually do. My general skepticism is that many of these bills are lobbied for by large brick and mortar stores.

Workarounds

California has the most commonly used nexus workaround. It is a pain because the affiliate has to sign a new document every year. Here is a copy of the nexus affidavit I use for California. Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Missouri, and New York have possible loopholes / workarounds regarding what is solicitation. A lot of that starts going over my head though since I am not a lawyer.

Internet Fairness Act

I never thought I would support a national Internet sales tax law. I support it now because the state by state situation is too muddy. Most smaller and mid-sized companies don’t have the resources to track all the bills going through the legislature. I can’t wait to see more evidence on how much additional revenue states are collecting in comparison to what they spend on enforcement and lost income tax from affiliates moving to other states or countries.

Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program

performance bicycle logo

Performance Bicycle is where I purchased my current bike. In typical fashion, I spent five hundred dollars, rode it twice, and it has been sitting in the corner ever since. Unfortunately, I can’t blame in the bike shop for me not using the bike. What drew me to Performance Bicycle in the first place is they were one of the few shops that didn’t try to shame me for wanting to spend a mere five hundred dollars on a bike. When searching for a bicycle, I got the impression that biking was a far more snobby sport than I ever realized. The point is I liked Performance Bicycle, and they offer a solid affiliate program for people looking to promote bikes.

 

How To Join The Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program

You can join the Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program through either Avantlink or Commission Junction.

Personally, I would pick Avantlink because I think CJ is a pretty crappy network coasting on a brand name that was established years ago.

 

How Much Does The Performance Bicycle Affiliate Program Pay?

In both CJ and Avantlink, the base commission rate is 3% with a 30 day tracking cookie. Honestly, this is an uninspiring rate. If you can’t beat Amazon’s 4% base rate, you probably shouldn’t have an affiliate program in the first place. The good news is the promotional page for the Performance Bike Affiliate Program mentions rates up to 6%. There aren’t tiers or performance incentives to receive this higher rate. If you think your site is worthy to earn the better commission rate, you will need to email the affiliate manager. It’s at his discretion.

The current 3 month EPC (earnings per 100 clicks) is $16.94. The 7 day EPC is $21.65. These numbers aren’t horrible, but if I was going full force towards a project, I would like to earn more than 17 cents a click. CJ indicates the program has a 4 bar network earnings status. This indicates that a lot of volume passes through the program. 5 bars is the highest earnings level.

performance bicycle earnings

Sales volume is also at the 4 bar level in Avantlink. The AOV is an impressive $509.31. Unfortunately, the low commission rate means the average sale only earns a commission of $15. The conversion rate is listed at slightly over 2%. I would consider this pretty average for a program that isn’t laden with coupon and loyalty sites. Coupon and loyalty sites tend to skew conversion percentages higher since they represent the very end of the sales funnel.

 

performance bicycle numbers in avantlink

 

Who Manages The Program?

The program appears to be managed in-house on the surface. This is because the contact email is listed as affiliates@performanceinc.com. The reality is the listed affiliate manager, Brian Clark, works for an OPM called eAccountable based out of Colorado. When I emailed the contact address, I received a prompt reply from Jason Waring at eAccountable.

 

Company Background

Performance Bicycle was started in 1982. Home base is Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Catalog sales were the bread and butter back in the day, so migrating to ecommerce should have been a logical transition. They now operate more than 100 brick and mortar stores in over 20 states. Here is map of states with stores:

performance bicycle location map

I like the idea of maintaining a brick and mortar presence in combination with ecommerce for a product as finicky and expensive to ship as a bicycle. You can find more contact information here.

 

What Are Some Alternative Affiliate Programs?

  • Amazon stands out as the most logical alternative affiliate program. Their base rate is 4% and increases all the way to 8.5% with enough volume. I suspect Performance would counter by saying Amazon doesn’t have a brick and mortar presence and having a well assembled bike can make all the difference in the world. This is all true, but Amazon sure is cheap and their customer service sure is friendly and forgiving. Performance is also likely to sell bikes that Amazon does not stock.
  • Jenson USA is a more similar alternative. They offer a 5% base rate and tout an EPC over $80. This means the average affiliate is making almost 4x as much with the Jenson Affiliate Program.
  • Bikeparts.com pays referral partners 5% commissions using an in-house affiliate program.
  • Viglink – say you really like the Performance Bike program, but you don’t think the affiliate manager would see your vision and give you the higher 6% commission rate. You could always register for the program as a sub-affiliate under the Viglink umbrella. They are at the higher 6% rate. They offer a 75% / 25% split, meaning your actual rate is 4.5%. This is slightly lower than some competitors, but higher than the base Amazon rate at least. Also, Performance Bicycle has an established brand with over 100 brick and mortar stores. a 4.5% commission rate beats a 5% commission rate any day if the site converts better.

 

Tire Rack Affiliate Program

tire rack logo

I’ve been on a kick of writing about different automotive related affiliate programs. Two of the best programs for aftermarket parts are from Advance Auto Parts and Autozone. Those two programs pay roughly 8%. Tire Rack sells some products that overlap with the aforementioned stores, like wiper blades and brakes, but their bread and butter products are tires and wheels. I know you are shocked since the company is named Tire Rack.

 

Tire Rack Affiliate Program

Tire Rack runs their affiliate program on Commission Junction. It’s apparent by looking at the terms of service that lawyers play an important role at Tire Rack. Their terms of service comes in at 17 pages long. It probably took a highly paid attorney a week to write. Here are the pertinent details of the program.

  • 6% commission on all sales.
  • Nexus rules are big in their TOS with partners from Arkansas, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Virgina explicitly banned.
  • Average order value of $400 (I am surprised this number isn’t a little higher given the product mix).
  • 60 day tracking cookie.
  • They are oddly selective about who they work with. My application was declined and they don’t appear to be part of Viglink either. Of course, they work with Retailmenot. I also see them listed on loyalty sites, like Mr. Rebates.
  • Daniel Gersey is listed as the affiliate contact. They appear to manage the program in-house since affiliates@tirerack.com is listed as the contact address. Based upon Daniel’s Linkedin page, he appears to be making a career of it, having been at Tire Rack for 11.5 years. He is listed as the Online Media Buyer.
  • The program as listed at the highest 5 bar earning level with an EPC (earnings per 100 clicks) average of over $70 for both the 7 day and 3 month average.

tire rack affiliate program numbers

Signup Link – https://signup.cj.com/member/brandedPublisherSignUp.do?air_refmerchantid=1463221

 

Company Overview

Tire Rack was founded in 1979 and is based in Southbend, Indiana. As a geographic reference point, this is the same Southbend where the University of Notre Dame is located. The company has an impressive 4.5 star rating with 51 reviews on Yelp. Their sales model is different than most companies that sell tires. The customer orders the tires over the Internet and uses an independent installer. Obviously, the model works for them as they have over 150 employees. Employees have a favorable opinion of working for the company on Glassdoor. With 10 reviews, it receives a 3.5 star rating. Since the company is privately held and somewhat secretive, financial details are hard to find. There is, however, a fascinating write up from USA Today.

 

Address:

7101 Vorden Pkwy, South Bend, IN 46628

Phone:

(574) 232-4614

 

Competing Affiliate Programs

TireBuyer.com is the strongest competing affiliate program to Tire Rack.  They pay the same 6% commission rate and advertise a similar AOV. Their claimed EPC is a whipping $139.

JC Whitney Affiliate Program

jc whitney logo

 

I’ve found myself on a kick of writing about auto parts affiliate programs. For reference, you can find my article on the Advance Auto Parts Affiliate Program here and the Autozone Affiliate Program here. Today I’m going to write about the JC Whitney Affiliate Program.

 

Company Background

JC Whitney is one of the oldest auto parts retailers. The company was founded in 1915 as a scrap metal yard in Chicago. Headquarters were moved to LaSalle, Illinois in the 1990s. A private equity firm named The Riverside Company purchase JC Whintey in 2002. The main property was combined with CarParts.com, StylinTrucks.com, and AllBikeSupershop.com to create the Whitney Automotive Group in 2007. The group was purchased by US Auto Parts in 2010. As you can see, there are many sister sites that are part of the larger parent company.

 

JC Whitney Affiliate Program

Partners have the choice of working with JC Whitney through Link Connector or Commission Junction. It looks like it is better to join through CJ because the commission rate is listed as 8%-10% as opposed to the 8% rate listed on Link Connector. It’s also interesting that the official affiliate page on the JC Whitney site only missions the Commission Juntion program. I suspect this has to do with how much larger CJ is.

Commission Junction Signup Link

Link Connector Signup Link

 

When I look at the JC Whitney program stats in CJ, I can see that it is a four bar (high earning) program. The EPC (earnings per 100 clicks) tends to be in the $15 range. This latter number is on the low side unless they don’t work with coupon sites that tend to skew all the numbers. I tested this by searching for “JC Whitney Coupon” and clicking on one of the links. The resolved link has affiliate tracking on it, so they work with coupon sites through their affiliate program.

 

http://www.jcwhitney.com/?TID=101&AID=10429361&PID=2210202&SID=uuuA85FE64D-61A9-A93B-5CED-E034C4C12DE8&cj=1&flexid=&JCW_SRC=AFF&CID=193220

jc whitney cj stats

The additional earning tiers are as such:

8% – $0-$4,999

9% – $5,000-$9,999

10% – $10,000

Whenever you see revenue tiers like this, the merchant is referencing earnings in a given month.

 

Fiscal Health

U.S. Auto Parts, owner of JC Whitney, is a publicly traded stock, but just barely. The stock was trading under a dollar a share during parts of July 2013. Fortunately, it has rebounded in 2014 and now trades at $3.39 a share for a market cap of 113 million dollars. Considering the Whitney Automative Group sold for 27.5 million, the U.S. Auto Parts group is substantially larger than the former company. When compared to the likes of Autozone, Advance Auto Parts, O’Reilly Automotive, Inc, JC Whitney is a much, much smaller company. It would be far easier for them to teeter to the brink than any of the aforementioned multi-billion dollar companies.

 

us auto parts stock

Autozone Affiliate Program

autozone logo

Autozone is one of the largest car parts retailers in the United States with over 5,200 brick and mortar stores and a market cap over 17 billion dollars. The Autozone affiliate program began operating on the Commission Junction network in December of 2009. They run my second favorite auto parts affiliate program next to Advance Auto Parts. I like this latter company more because their discount strategy is more coupon focused. The earnings potential with Autozone is still substantial.

 

Program Performance

Autozone has a 4 bar network earnings ranking in CJ. While this is substantial, I was surprised that a 17 billion dollar company wasn’t 5 bars. This indicates that they are likely selective about who they let into the program. While they might be more selective with smaller players, they still allow the standard coupon sites. I tested this by going to Retailmenot. Their link resolved with obvious CJ tracking:

http://www.autozone.com/autozone/?CJPID=2210202&cmpid=cj

autozone cj earnings

EPC (earnings per 100 clicks) has stayed consistent over the last three months. Amongst all affiliate, they pay an average of 25 cents per click. Keep in mind publishers like Retailmenot skew this average and also take commissions from more niche focused affiliates by swooping in at the last minute to capture the brand + coupon searches to earn a share of sales that were going to take place with or without their existence.

 

Commission Rate

Autozone’s affiliate commission rate is fairly close to Advance Auto Parts. They both has a base rate of 8%. The top advertised rate is 9% for sales over $10,000 per month. You can see all the tiers in the following image:

autozone commission tiers
The referral period was increased 50% from the original 30 days mentioned on their affiliate page to the 45 day length in the current program terms. It’s always nice to have the longest referral period possible.

Cashback Rate

As an affiliate junky and lover of cashback, I am always curious how much of their commissions cashback sites are passing to the consumer. In the case of Autozone, there are a handful of sites passing on nearly their entire commission value. If you are looking for a good cashback site to use, I recommend looking at Mr. Rebates.

autozone cashback

Contact Information

Autozone does not display contact information for their affiliate manager within Commission Junction. This is a good indication that the affiliate program is on the relative back burner in terms of their overall ecommerce strategy. It appears that they manage the program internally. If i had to go out on a limb, I would say that Mitch Walden is the program contact.

 

Company Background

Autozone is a relatively young company given their size. The first store wasn’t opened until 1979. They are headquartered in Memphis, Tennessee. The company has seen tremendous growth both in its stock price and in terms of revenue over the last few years. Shares that could have been purchased for less than $100 in 2008 are now worth more than five times that amount. Price to earnings is at around 17. This number is less concerning than the price to earnings ratio of 22 for Advance Auto Parts. Of course it could also mean that the prognosticators are expecting more growth for the latter. Either way, this would have been a great stock to own in recent times.

autozone stock price

You can find more information about the Autozone Affiliate Program here.

Advance Auto Parts Affiliate Program

advance auto parts logo

Advance Auto Parts runs one of the most generous and lenient affiliate programs in the auto parts industry. They operate their affiliate program on the Commission Junction network. You can register here.

https://members.cj.com/member/publisher/advertiserdirect.do?advertiserid=2800540

 

Commission Rates

The base commission rate for the Advance Auto Parts Affiliate Program is 8%. Performance incentives increase this rate to 9% for sales over $10,000 in a month and to 10% for sales over $20,000 per month. A referral period of 30 days is granted between when the affiliate link is clicked and the cookie expires.

advance auto parts affiliate terms

The affiliate program has the highest 5 bar network earnings rank in Commission Junction. This isn’t terribly surprising from a multibillion dollar company. The EPC (earnings per 100 clicks) has ranges from $31 when looking at a 3 month average to over $40 when looking at the 7 day average. Said another way, the average affiliate is earning more than 30 cents per click when using the Advance Auto Parts Affiliate Program.

advance auto parts earnings

Contact Information

Advance Auto Parts uses an outsourced program manager (OPM) to run their program. Gen 3 Marketing out of Pennsylvania is the company they use. Gen 3 is one of the larger OPM’s. The provided contact address is:

advanceauto@gen3marketing.com

Jon Kendall is the manager currently assigned to this account. His Linkedin profile indicates he has a wealth of affiliate marketing experience.

 

Why I Like The Advance Auto Parts Affiliate Program

I like the Advance Auto Parts Affiliate Program more than most of their competitors because they consistently release aggressive tiered coupons. Honestly, their promotional discount strategy is an affiliate marketers dream. Here is a typical offer:

advance auto parts coupons

I never realized the margins were so rich in the auto parts industry until I saw this level of discounting.  $40 off $110 equates to over 36% off if you could nail the order value at exactly $110. If you slap the highest commission rate of 10% on that, they are discounting up to 46%, which is fairly remarkable. I can only assume that the lifetime value of an auto parts customer is quite high. After all, most of us will drive for the majority of our lives.

 

Company Background

Advance Auto Parts was founded in 1932 and now has over 4,000 brick and mortar locations. The company generates roughly 6 billion dollars in revenue with the assistance of over 55,000 employees. AAP is the stock symbol. Price to earning is at a seemingly inflated rate of almost 23, resulting in a market cap of 9.5 billion. Even more impressively, they trade for roughly 5 times the October 24, 2008 price of $25.91. All I have to say on this front is good for them.

advance auto parts stock

 

Alternative Affiliate Programs

  • Autozone is the most logical alternative affiliate program. They also pay an 8% base rate with the program run out of Commission Junction. 5,200 locations with a market cap of 17.4 billion makes Autozone almost twice as large in valuation than Advance.
  • Auto Parts Warehouse also pays a base rate of 8%. They have a 10% tier for parts labeled as engine and a whopping 14% tier for parts labeled as replacement. Unfortunately, they pay nothing for over 11,000 tire and wheel products. I can’t even  begin to speculate why they do this, but it does make me nervous about the program.
  • Neither Pep Boys nor O’Reilly Automotive appear to run affiliate programs at this time.

Viglink Review

My day job is as an affiliate manager. I spend a ridiculously large amount of my life thinking about every aspect of affiliate marketing. One of my favorite affiliate marketing tools is Viglink.

How Does Viglink Work?

Viglink acts as a sub-affiliate network. In other words, they act as an intermediary between you and the actual merchant’s affiliate program. After you join Viglink you can see if a given store is associated and the corresponding commission rate. If they are associated, you can create affiliate links for that store without directly joining their program.

I mostly use the Anywhere option to create an affiliate link to any page one a participating merchants website. The Anywhere section is a tab you can find at the top of the site.

viglink anywhere

I don’t usually check if a merchant is associated first. You can do that by clicking the Merchants tab and conducting a search if you like. I usually go to the Anywhere tab first and create the link. I can usually tell from the addition of Google Analytics or Omniture parameters whether or not they are associated. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, I recommend checking first.

Here is an example I found interesting. Wine Enthusiast is a competitor of my current employer. My research has indicated that they do not work with coupon affiliates because they used a tool called Convertro to provide analytics on the value of various partners. These analytics showed coupon affiliates had little to no value. The reason I state this is because I think it is interesting that they would still work with a sub-affiliate program that tends to mask the identity of the actual affiliate. Seems like a good backdoor for coupon sites if you ask me.

The process to create your affiliate link is incredibly simple. Enter the page you want to link to and click build. You then use the redirect link to direct visitors to the intended merchant’s site.

viglink anywhere

Here is the above WineEnthusiast link.

wineenthusiast cj link resolved

As I mentioned, I can see that this is an affiliate link by the parameters at the end (AfID=CJ & PID=6155762). This first parameter (CJ) stands for Commission Junction, the affiliate network they use. The second PID parameter is associated with Viglink within Commission Junction.

viglink cj pid

The above screenshot is interesting because it shows how much Viglink has earned on average per 100 clicks. A 3 month and 7 day average is provided. Viglink’s 3 month average is around 10 cents per click, and the 7 day average is around 9 cents per click. It’s not an incredibly impressive average, but you have to keep in mind they likely have many novice affiliates using their system.

Despite the relatively low average earnings per click, they still have a 5 bar rank for network earnings. This means they generate a ton of revenue, which makes sense as they have an army of affiliate partners using their interface.

 

Automatically Insert Links

If you are the set it and forget it type, Viglink has an option to automatically affiliate links for you based upon keywords. I like to think their algorithm isn’t as smart as I am, but I’m not too keen on giving up that much control over my own blog. Using this feature is particularly simple if you have a CMS they’ve already created a plugin or step by step instructions. These platforms include: