Long-term success from the long tail

When it comes to affiliate marketing, the saying, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, couldn’t ring more true and relying on a just a handful of the largest publishers isn’t always the best approach to take. The biggest affiliates have huge volumes of traffic and can generate considerable sales for advertisers, but if the relationship with a key publisher breaks down for whatever reason, any over-reliance on that one revenue driver can expose the business.

In 2004 Chris Anderson coined the phrase ‘long tail’ to describe a “shift away from a focus on a relatively small number of ‘hits’ at the head of the demand curve…toward a huge number of niches in the tail”. This often neglected segment of publishers not only ensures you are spreading your bets, but collectively, the publications that make up the long tail can drive significant volumes of quality leads.

It’s important to note that the long tail can consist of any type of site – it could be a cashback, voucher or price comparison site, but is most likely to be a content site run by small team, or even one person; a blogger. Bloggers have risen to prominence in recent years due to the proliferation of publishing tools. These days anyone and everyone can buy a URL and set up a simple site on open-source content management platforms like WordPress. This means consumers are no longer limited to their favourite newspaper or magazine when it comes to content; instead they are able to choose from a whole host of online content sites tailored to their particular interests. . Many have huge influence amongst loyal followers in niche areas making these publishers powerful mediums through which brands can drive interest in their products.

The number of sales each long tail publisher influences may not be huge, but it’s a case of many hands making light work, and the combination of a large number of sites each making a small number of sales has the potential to make the long tail collectively an indispensable part of any affiliate programme.

Not only this, but there is an argument to say that those leads that are driven by content sites, are more likely to become engaged in the brand they are buying from, and in turn have a greater lifetime value.. In affilinet’s Trust Index launched earlier this year, bloggers came just below friends and family in a survey of whose opinion consumers trusted the most. By affiliating with trusted publishers, brands are perfectly placed not only to drive sales but to garner the trust and in turn a long term relationship with potential customers.

There are obvious benefits to the long tail but managing and recruiting hundreds of sites that may only make one or two sales a month each, is not a luxury many can afford. The best way a brand can take advantage of the long tail is by working with an affiliate network that has curated and maintained an extensive list of publishers and can streamline the process. The best networks will not only be constantly recruiting new publishers, but maintaining relationships with current ones to ensure a relevant database that allows brands to target the niches that will yield the best results.

Once the long tail publishers are on board ensure it stays that way; don’t take them for granted. Make sure they feel appreciated and are recognised and think beyond simply paying them – engage with publishers in the same way they enable you to engage with your customers.

A good programme doesn’t just focus on one type of publisher, it has a healthy mix of short, mid and long tail publishers, able to deliver both short term wins and build ongoing relationships with loyal customers. If brands want to generate leads that translate into long-term sales and loyal customers, it is essential they make the most of what the long tail has to offer.

Jonathan Reynolds

As Head of Client Services Jonathan heads up the account management and publisher management teams at affilinet and is responsible for the strategic growth of our clients. His focus is the teams’ delivery on all revenue and margin targets whilst ensuring that they have all the tools and skills required to deliver a premium service.

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