Who is Jason Hulott and tell us about your book Affiliate Marketing Programmes for Business Owners.
So my name is Jason Hulott and I am an affiliate marketeer. I started and earnt my first affiliate commission back in 1997 I think from memory. I had built a web design business as a side hustle while still working for a UK Bank. My first commission was for referring someone to web hosting. It made sense. Since that point, that is what we have always tried to do – match the offer to the customer. In 2003, I set up Speedie Consultants Limited, our digital marketing agency with my wife Stella. We use affiliate marketing as part of our offering to both help clients drive more traffic by getting them to run their own programmes, or by increasing revenues by referring declines into other people’s programmes and earning commissions.
I wrote the book, Affiliate Marketing Programmes for Business Owners, because I felt there wasn’t really enough on the setting up of affiliate programmes. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the number of good books out there on the subject and some are really old. Most of them were also US experience driven, and we have some slightly different experiences on this side of the pond. The book hopes to give business owners some options suitable for them and then an action plan to build and launch a programme – then the ongoing management and growth. If you build it they will come – is not really what happens online and affiliates are no different.
The Book is on Amazon so hopefully you will use your affiliate link to share it 🙂
I had no idea you got started in affiliate marketing way back in 1997, did anybody take you seriously back then when you explained what you did?
Yeah, I am old school. We were affiliate marketing before Google was around. Not really something we shared with people at that point, as it was a side-hustle really. No-one in the early days really understood what an affiliate link was. If you shared something (onsite or via email) and they liked it, they bought it. Simples. We build hundreds of sites in all kinds of niches till we got lazy and Google killed us.
For affiliate program software, you list a few but mention Post Affiliate Pro. Are they your favourite affiliate system to work with or one you recommend the most?
To be honest, I have worked with so many companies and pieces of software, I tend not to recommend a favourite these days. PAP is good, runs in the cloud but is a standalone piece of software. It is about what fits with the client goals and needs. Right now, for example most businesses I talk to are on WordPress, so we tend to suggest AffiliateWP as it works nicely with WooCommerce, well supported and easy to configure. Plus, it is then all in one place. In the UK right now, AffiliateWindow has removed costs for setup and monthly management fees so this is a great time to launch a UK programme on a network.
Do you think Amazon would be as big as it is today without their affiliate program and do you think they might close it in the future because they dominate?
To my mind, the Amazon Associates programme has been key in their growth and continues to be so, even with all the reductions in commissions over the years. They really don’t seem to love their affiliates. That said, they provide a huge array of tools and educational services for affiliates. I still suggest people signup and they can get a lot of learning and education on online marketing from Amazon, if they choose to read it.
I think Amazon will keep their programme running as it is on a sale basis, so they are basically getting a lot of extra free brand exposure. I think as an overall percentage of their revenue it is probably really small. But I don’t see them canning it anytime soon.
Are banners dead, yet?
Nope. Banners won’t die. They are great for merchants as they are brand assets and you are basically putting them all over the place for free. For affiliates, a banner gives the site some level of authority by association. Most affiliate sites still use templates which have built in ad spots.
With social media, especially sites such as Instagram where image is king, banners will take on a new role of not just being ads, but also will be content.
All of that said, from our experience though as both merchant and affiliates – the trusty text link still rules.
In my personal experience in dealing with hundreds of affiliate programs, an affiliate manager can make or break a program. Why are operations still not getting this right?
Yes, it is funny one. An affiliate manager might not just have an affiliate role in a business, or they have been given an affiliate role without any training. They could actually in some cases be the business owner. We see a big skills gap, we also see affiliate managers bounce all over the place – so account managers don’t get a huge amount of experience. Part of this could be a lack of investment in the programme via the company. This is then hard to rectify when the programme doesn’t grow and management won’t put any more money into it. This is especially true of commission programmes, there is no perceived investment by the business – they feel like it is free – so don’t take it too seriously.
The issue here is of course, as we both know, affiliates can and do spend lots of time, effort and money into growing their traffic. I think more needs to be done by merchants to engage with affiliates. Not just at conventions – but actually have private networking events, affiliate days and meetups.
Say if someone is a very small business but they have products or services to sell and want to offer incentives for people to refer more traffic to them. What is the easiest and cheapest solution for getting a quick affiliate program off the ground where you can automate it and have tracking links setup and ready to go?
One of the simplest and cheapest ways to setup a referral scheme for a programme of say 20 to 30 affiliates is to simply use Google Analytics, Conversion Goal Tracking and Google Campaign URL builder. This won’t give affiliates real time stats and reporting but it will let you run a programme. This tends to work well for small local businesses that want to get local referrals. It isn’t really that scalable. I have seen large insurance companies use this method to run referral schemes.
Failing that, if you are on WordPress then use a plugin.
What new trends and industries are you seeing emerge for this year and beyond?
I think there will be more and more affiliate programmes this year and we will start to see more B2B programmes. The majority of sites are still affiliate consumer led but with developments in other sectors such as fintech we will see the affiliate model working really well (especially if I have anything to do with it). But there is a lack of big brands or big affiliates in the B2B space. If that opens up, it will grow hugely.
I also think the industry itself is cleaner than it used to be and the scammy history of affiliates is being replaced with good case studies and good codes of practice. Influencer marketing will have an impact here but again, we are now seeing advertising standard codes of practice and laws being passed to make sure the consumer is not being mis-sold or misled about an ad. That is still a grey area right now that will need sorting quickly. If you are not using #ad #aff on your social media promotions for example – you are breaking the law. It’s an education piece that’s missing.
I think the role of the affiliate manager will become more important and like you ask above, they will need training and budget to build relationships with affiliates.
Other things I can see impacting on the space, tracking restrictions as browsers remove 3rd party cookie-based tracking. Affiliate programmes will have to find other ways to track so I think this year we will see software needing to evolve and track in different ways. We have also heard a lot last year about omnichannel – so activity that leads to the sale across multiple channels and devices. I think that user lifetime tracking will become more important so marketers will be better able to understand what is driving sales and what is influencing sales.
I have been in this space for a long time but there is still a lot of potential.