Michelle Wood

Affiliate Marketing Strategy: Ensure a Healthy Mix of Publishers to Grow Your Affiliate Program

By now most marketers understand the importance and value of having an affiliate program.  Over the years, affiliate marketing has proven to be both a significant sales driver for advertisers, as well as a highly efficient tactic with a high ROAS by virtue of its pay-for-performance model.  

Some marketers may look at their affiliate channel as a monolith and see sales goals and ROAS targets being met by the channel at large, and think everything’s fine. But, healthy performance at a high-level is not the only thing you should be aware of. 

If you dig deeper into your portfolio of publishers, you may find that the majority of your sales are being driven by a small number of high-volume publishers. This is a danger sign! As an advertiser, you need to objectively ask, “What would happen to my affiliate channel sales volume if one of these top producers suddenly stopped… well, producing?”  

Having an affiliate program that is largely dependent on just a handful of top sales producers, thus putting all of your eggs in one basket, creates risk.  Here are a few tactics you can put into place to implement an affiliate marketing strategy  with an optimal mix of differentiated publishers. This way, you mitigate the risk of concentrating sales from your affiliate program into just a few publishers, and instead have a healthy and balanced mix of publishers producing quality traffic and sales for your program. 

Do you have a problem? Analyze the data.

First, determine if you have this potential issue. Take a look at the analytics from your affiliate network. Specifically, run your affiliate sales report for the last couple of months, by publisher. (Take into account any seasonality that could produce abnormal spikes in your data, so choose a wide enough time-range to create a reliable analysis.)

Then, analyze what percent of your total sales from that same time frame each individually-named publisher in the report contributed. 

Are there any single publishers in your affiliate program that are individually responsible for more than 20% of your affiliate channel sales in any given month? If you have hundreds, or even thousands, of publishers helping you grow your affiliate program, but a few individual publishers are each driving 20% or more of your sales, this is a warning sign that your publisher mix is a little out of whack. You’ll need to take some action to bring your affiliate marketing strategy into balance. 

First, analyze your top publishers to inform how to grow your affiliate program. 

If you find that growth in your affiliate program is only being driven by a select group of publishers, don’t panic. Instead, use this data to get ideas for how you can grow your affiliate program with publisher expansion and/or optimization and diversification into new verticals. 

These are some questions you can ask to get expansion ideas: 

  • What vertical(s) are your top publishers in?
  • Who are the top- and mid-tier publishers in that vertical who aren’t in your affiliate program yet?
  • Who are the competitors of your top publishers who aren’t yet in your program?
  • What adjacent verticals could you consider expanding into that still make sense for your brand? 
  • What publishers show up for the top keywords in those adjacent verticals?

Asking these questions can provide a big list of prospective new publishers, and potential ways to differentiate and grow your affiliate program.  

Don’t forget to consider whether your affiliate marketing strategy has a branding component.  If so, we also recommend that you take a balanced approach to growing your affiliate program publisher  portfolio by including publishers with high volume and high converting sales, as well as publishers that offer low volume but high-quality consumers interested in your brand.

Take what’s working, and repeat it.

Another way to grow your affiliate program is to go beyond looking at your top publishers’ verticals and/or competitors. You should also consider the types of marketing methods your top publishers are utilizing to drive their sales.  

Affiliate marketing should be seen as an extension of your internal marketing channels.  Understanding which marketing methods produce quality traffic and sales to your own site can help identify other affiliates utilizing similar methods that you would like to recruit in your program. Is your company highly successful with content marketing, like sharing data and infographics? Do you have a nichey DTC brand that’s doing well with social media and influencer marketing?  

Knowing what works for you can help you further grow your affiliate program by leveraging the power of publishers who are also successful with these marketing tactics. 

Or not...

Conversely, don’t limit growth of your affiliate program to publishers that only employ marketing methods similar to those you use in-house.  Affiliates are utilizing very creative strategies to drive traffic and conversion that you might not have considered before.   

Consider testing your program with a variety of publishers who are using techniques different than those that work best for your brand, and analyze the data to determine if those traffic sources are effective and meet your goals to grow your affiliate program before placing limitations or restrictions on the types of marketing you’ll allow, or who you will partner with.  Being open to testing with a wide variety of publishers will ensure that you automatically get new ideas and insights on what types of marketing works best for your brand since publishers are always trying new things that are outside of your typical marketing tactics.

Put your recruitment plan into action.

Once you have considered these three different avenues for expanding the mix of affiliates in your publisher base, you should have a list of new potential partners you’d like to recruit. Now it’s time to grow your affiliate program by getting these new prospective publishers to join.

Remember, recruiting new partners can be time consuming.   To save time when you try to grow your affiliate program with new publishers, you could also consider tapping into third-parties. Affiliate networks, affiliate agencies, or even partners who act as “super affiliates” can connect you with new affiliates or a built-in publisher network more quickly. Outsourcing this work can speed up the tasks of outreach/recruitment, quick onboarding, and in turn, speedy revenue generation. 

Just trying the three methods listed above and onboarding new publishers from your target list can be effective affiliate marketing strategies to diversify and expand your publisher base. But the work to expand the publishers and results in your affiliate marketing strategy doesn’t stop there!

Communicate often with partners: 

Regular communication with publishers, especially your new ones, will reap great rewards.  By scheduling regular check-ins, you can communicate any new product launches and key promotions to stay top of mind with your publishers when they are planning their own marketing efforts. 

Note also that publishers have insight into what is working well for competitors that can help you learn more about other methods to test, if they’re willing to share that information. Then, you can determine how best to utilize potential new marketing methods to entice consumers to convert or engage with your brand.  

This is another important reason to strive for publisher diversity: so you can take advantage of previously-unconsidered ideas and methods for driving sales for your brand.   Partners are also more willing to share best practices based on their own data to help optimize your program to their audience if you have built a rapport with regular communication.  


In summary, affiliate marketing is a highly effective high-volume sales contributor and ROI-positive marketing channel for your company but you simply can’t set it and forget it.  Taking the time to understand your publisher mix and their revenue contributions, and rectifying any “top heavy” issues is key to continued success. Developing an affiliate program with a wide range of different publisher types, in different verticals, and of different sizes, is one of the most important aspects of an affiliate marketing strategy. Doing so will help you spread your eggs across many baskets, and will leave you less susceptible to loss of revenue if a top publisher leaves your program.


Schedule a call with our Merchant Development team to learn how you can scale and grow your affiliate program easily.

Published by Michelle Wood October 12, 2021
Michelle Wood