Years of running our own flight affiliate program has made us realize one fundamental problem with many travel affiliate programs. This has led to a lot of frustration among travel affiliate marketers, as described to us recently:
Does this problem sound familiar? Many affiliates believe that the hard part is over when they have built a website and signed up for an affiliate program. When this is done, it’s time to sit back and watch the revenues pour in, right? I don’t think so.
When affiliates realize that they are not getting the traffic they expected and need, they desperately start spending money on marketing. This includes PPC advertising on Google and Facebook, solo mailings, media buys, etc. That’s what the big guys are doing, so why does that rarely work for travel affiliates?
The answer to this question is simple; affiliates tend to focus on sales over creating helpful content for users, and ignore branding. Let’s take a closer look at these issues and find out how you can solve them.
Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse
Affiliates have a tendency to focus on referring users to other sites, where they hope the user will make a purchase and earn them commission. Some affiliates might even create a single offer website to take advantage of one particularly attractive affiliate offer. But Because the focus is put on making users leave the affiliate’s site to make a purchase, there is little effort put into creating real value for the user.
Little or low-quality content makes the user less likely to become a repeat visitor, minimizing customer lifetime value (CLTV), i.e. the net profit of the entire future relationship with one user. With a low CLTV, it is difficult to rationalize a big marketing budget, and affiliates find themselves in a difficult situation. They need more traffic but buying more traffic nets a negative return on investment (ROI). What should they do?
As discouraging as it might sound, building a lasting successful business requires you to create something valuable for consumers. This is exactly what the larger players like Expedia, Kayak, and us at Dohop try to do.
Creating real value for the customer will increase the likelihood of the user coming back to make another purchase. However, the larger players tend to focus more on the wider demographic, which presents an opportunity for affiliates. Operating within a specific niche gives you the opportunity to provide an even greater value for users who are interested in a particular topic. Designing your website and selecting a travel affiliate program with these users in mind will increase customer retention and CLTV.
Besides the obvious benefits you get from creating real value for your customers, there is another big reason for why travel affiliates should not only rely on the content they get from their travel affiliate programs. Google actually does not like affiliate websites at all. Google has, and will continue to always reward relevant and valuable content to improve its users’ experience. If you want to rank well with Google, create unique, handwritten content that people are likely to engage with.
Take Control of Conversions
Many affiliates depend on their merchants’ ability to convert. They shamelessly transfer the user over to a different site and make it crystal clear that they are not purchasing anything from their website.
The biggest problem with this approach is that the customer does not belong to you. A better approach would be to use a high quality white label solution, which most travel affiliate programs offer, that allows you to effectively integrate the search into your website, focusing on a seamless experience for the customer. This will give you the power to optimize your website for conversions and ultimately increase commission.
More importantly, the customers feel like they have completed the purchase on your website, so they are your customers and are more likely to come back. In addition, you might even be able to use your own data for retargeting, which can be effective for cross-selling and customer retention.
Focus on the Brand
Some of the most successful travel affiliates have strong brands. This is mostly because of the highly competitive nature of the travel industry. People need to feel comfortable booking through your website and that’s where a strong brand plays a big role.
So focus on building a strong community and a large subscriber base, be interesting and get attention from the press, and be consistent and effective with your branded marketing messages. This is a highly cost-effective way to increase traffic to your website and will significantly lower the cost per user acquisition in the long run. Signing up for travel affiliate programs is just the first step. Creating a valuable business, with a strong brand and loyal customers, is the real challenge.
Hope For Travel Affiliate Marketers
It might sound like this article is arguing against affiliate marketing but that is really not the case. The point is that affiliates need to step outside the traditional idea about affiliate marketing and make a fundamental shift in how they approach the task of making money online.
The “hit and run” marketing model is not working, for the reasons discussed above, and it’s time to start focusing on building a business that will last and grow as the brand strengthens. Real businesses focus on acquiring and keeping customers and there is no good reason why affiliates can’t do that using travel affiliate marketing programs.