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Affiliate Publisher Landscape 2023 (Updated: December, 2023)

Feb 1, 2024 by Adam Weiss

What types of publishers make up a portfolio for affiliate marketers: an outline of publisher types and functions with a helpful mental map at the bottom of the article. 

 

 

There’s one piece of advice I’ve repeated often throughout my career: Treat your affiliate program like a portfolio. You want the right blend of publishers who can drive value while balancing volume and risk. What that means and what it looks like will vary depending on the program and the budget. But what’s too often missing is that common baseline of who these publishers are and how to strategically manage them in your portfolio.

Categorizing publishers can be tricky. They often fit into multiple categories depending on how they drive traffic, create consumer value or demonstrate expertise in a particular vertical.

After publishing the first version of this, we received some amazing feedback from folks throughout the industry. It’s clear that categorizing publishers is not easy and very dependent on your program and your strategy. But we think this will be  helpful to – at the least – provide a starting point. 

With the right framework, an affiliate manager can take a more holistic view of their publisher mix and better align it to their goals. Still, that’s not a one-size-fits-all model. As the category grows in volume and the publishers grow in size and reach, it’s essential to start thinking strategically about aligning goals and objectives especially when it comes to optimization. And it’s crucial to map out how best to structure the right partnerships. The first step is establishing a solid understanding of the partners and defining the framework to view them.

Below is a list of types of publishers I considered. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but it can help you start thinking about the types of partners that are available and how they might best fit your needs.

Loyalty

What it is: When the user earns a reward for taking an action.

Consider: Not all loyalty sites are created equal and different types of rewards drive different actions, basket sizes, and/or consumer types.

Coupons

What it is: A discount to the user given in the form of an end-consumer offer, such as 20% off or free shipping. 

Consider: A coupon site can support conversion, but it can also drive improved brand awareness. Consumers have come to expect this, and in some cases, by not having a coupon you can risk losing consumers to a competitor.

White Label

What it is: B2B companies that provide other sites with a solution to offer their users access to loyalty or coupon solutions.

Consider: Coupon pages often perform well in search and give additional reach for a brand as well as an off-the-shelf monetization solution for some traditional publishers. Loyalty solutions help solve many development and resource issues for publishers looking to quickly get into the space with a provider who knows how to make it happen.

Deals

What it is: Not to be confused with a coupon! These product-focused sites show a discount or price drop on a particular product or product category.

Consider: These sites are great for new customer acquisition, featuring subsets of product inventory and leveraging the viral nature of a product with a good price. These sites are too often lumped together with coupons, but they can drive a different type of value for a program.

Conversion Tech

What it is: This is an expanding category and can be defined by a wide variety of publishers. In this case, we’ve highlighted a few partners that help with the optimization of cart offers as well as user retention.

Consider: Oftentimes, these partners require some type of integration beyond a traditional affiliate partnership. Each listed here has different functionality but \ generally speaking they help e-commerce marketers convert users or recommend additional products prior to making a purchase, among other capabilities.  Make sure you understand what’s required and the level of effort that is necessary when evaluating who to work with and the return you’re getting.

Buy Now Pay Later

What it is: These partners function as a credit utility for end consumers. Yet, from an affiliate perspective, they provide a marketplace of merchants and offers to their vast user bases.

Consider: There are many ways to work with these partners. They can drive high volume and attract an engaged audience.  

Shopping Sites

What it is: This is a broader bucket, but these sites generally help consumers search, save, track, or identify products or brands that interest them.

Consider: Great for full-price products or niche verticals or categories. They might also feature discounts and deals but can be great as a product search engine amongst similar brands & products.

Content

What it is: Editorial-based information provided to the reader on a particular set or category of products. This can come through product reviews, best-of lists, buyers guides and more.   

Consider: A commerce content piece can create intent and drive an immediate sale via a niche audience. You’ll need to work closely with the partner to build the right partnership.  This is a growing and evolving category. The level and depth of the content provided should be considered here:  how are the reviews written, how are the products tested, and how is traffic driven? Other things to consider: Is the content getting optimized for SEO and/or is the publisher using paid methods to drive traffic?

Content Portfolios

What it is: Often the superset of a group of content sites, companies that build and/or roll up other sites into one offering. These partners might not always show up as a direct publisher in a program, but we felt it relevant to highlight them as they often own a variety of other publishers that will show up in your program and can provide scale in some instances as well.

Consider: It’s an excellent opportunity to work with multiple partners in one relationship and identify opportunities across a subset of sites.

Financial Services

What it is: This was called out to reflect vertically specific sites that focus on the financial services industry. This can include credit cards, checking accounts, and a lot more. 

Consider: Given the depth and breadth of these sites and that they often work a bit differently from traditional retail partners, it’s important to take notice.  Some can extend beyond just a traditional finserv offering as well. There are also a subset of these publishers who have a logged-in state that can provide a more personalized experience for the end user.

B2B/Small Business

What it is: This addition was another vertical call out to highlight some specific publishers that can support a specific demographic.

Consider: For an advertiser, you should think about your product set and desired audience to determine if this is the right fit.  Also, do you have the resources to customize an offering for this audience, which might differ from a typical end consumer?

Sub Networks & Influencer Networks

What it is: An aggregator network of merchant offers making it easier for a publisher (or influencers) to access affiliate offers, links, payment, and reporting in one place. 

Consider: Subnetworks often have tools that make it easier for publishers to feature affiliate offers/links on-site. Because of economies of scale, they can offer the end publisher a better revenue share in some cases. This is also a way to find a wide array of content producers and a great place for new publishers to jump into the industry. In this case, we’ve broken out Influencer Networks and Financial Service focused networks given the unique nature of the distribution and strategies you often need to employ when working with their downstream partners. It’s also worth noting the value provided by these specific types of networks to make it easier for publishers and advertisers.  

11/23 updates: In our latest version - we’ve further broken out Influencer Networks as this is another fast-growing category.  Influencer through affiliate can be thought of in two very broad buckets - “always on” and “campaign based.” 

“Always on” describes when an influencer generates content on their own and selects an affiliate link when featuring a brand. ”Campaign-based” describes a situation when an advertiser is proactively seeking a subset of influencer partners to promote their brand or product. In that case, there’s a bit more of a workflow involved in the content production as well as offering potentially different economics beyond just CPA.

TV

What it is: The ability to advertise on CTV on a performance basis.

Consider: Right now this is a smaller category (by volume of publishers), but we expect this to grow along with the expansion of the new form factor for distribution on a performance basis.

Summary and landscape

As you consider affiliate programs, adopt a portfolio-building mindset. Think about what you need to strike the right balance of what you need and what your potential partners can offer. Also, keep in mind that not every publisher can fit into a single category – coupon sites offer cashback, deal sites offer coupons and so on. How you group and categorize partners will ultimately be determined by you, your needs, and how you view each publisher in your program. There are sub-categories you can put these publishers into as well, but the chart below is meant to be a jumping-off point to think about different partners. It’s an art, not a science, but it’s also something you can certainly refine over time with ongoing dialogue and communication among partners.

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About Adam Weiss:

Adam has more than 20 years of leadership experience in the affiliate and digital space. 

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