Digital marketers rely on various channels to boost sales and drive traffic. While organic SEO and PPC ads are important pillars of online marketing, affiliate marketing has quietly become one of the most profitable sources of traffic for businesses.

Research conducted by Hosting Tribunal reveals that affiliate marketing is tied for first place with email marketing as the largest source of online income, accounting for 16% of sales in North America.

The quality of a brand’s affiliates reflects the strength of its product, and affiliate research is a key part of the process. A poor quality affiliate, on the other hand, can potentially undo all the good results that marketers achieve from other avenues. Here are three qualities to evaluate in any potential affiliate.

Referral Business Value

Every affiliate has to bring something to the table for the relationship to be successful. Great affiliates give brands something they don’t already have – for instance, a new audience or a new traffic channel on which to sell products. Often, companies think that additional sales justify any affiliate relationship, but this is a mistake.

Digging deeper into the affiliate’s traffic generation methods, audience engagement, and fit with the brand will yield insights that can make or break the relationship. For instance, while an affiliate might generate more traffic for your brand, they might be advertising your products in ways that don’t make sense given primary use cases.

In the short term, this might boost sales, but long-time customers might get confused by the new messaging and shop elsewhere. Evaluating the gaps an affiliate can fill in a brand’s marketing strategy is also a good move.

For instance, if a company’s posts don’t rank well in SEO, signing up an affiliate who ranks high in search results can provide a boost. A good affiliate strengthens a brand and augments in-house marketing efforts. Viewing them as an extension of your marketing department is the best way to achieve results.

Using affiliate research tools, brands can also identify potential affiliate opportunities easily by comparing the volume of traffic they generate. By screening potential affiliates for niche, audience sources, and engagement in this manner, brands can extract maximum value from their partnerships.

Augmented Brand Clout

Digital marketing is highly data-driven. Unfortunately, though, in the rush to optimize for specific KPIs, it’s easy to forget that qualitative factors such as brand image matter a lot. How will a product look when it’s advertised by an affiliate? 

There are many elements brands can look at when figuring out the answer to this question. For instance, the language that a potential affiliate uses when describing products, the tone of their content, and how they describe a product contain clues regarding potential brand fit.

A product that is traditionally positioned as a luxury item cannot be advertised by an affiliate that routinely uses profanity and off-color humor, for instance.

Many affiliate sites these days favor coercive, hard-sell tactics. Their blog posts might be well written, and product descriptions might have great copy, and yet, their email marketing might be spammy, and their PPC ads might have inappropriate language.

An affiliate research tool makes it simple to notice these things. In addition, these tools will alert you to potential opportunities based on an audience’s browsing habits. Companies can benefit from this massively, since they’ll gain insight into which affiliate channels offer the highest engagement and traffic.

The quality of an affiliate’s outbound links also offers clues as to their brand fit. If they routinely link to spammy-looking websites or poorly sourced material, it’s a good indication that this affiliate is using less than savory tactics to boost its web presence. These tactics could lead to a search engine penalty that will harm a brand’s profile, or to a consumer backlash that damages your reputation.

Partner Portfolio Performance

The quality of an affiliate’s existing relationships is a good sign of its potential fit. However, what if some of these relationships involve competitors? In such cases, evaluating the promotion methods the affiliate uses and the way they present their products is instructive.

Aside from evaluating brand fit for new affiliates, companies can also examine the quality of existing affiliate relationships. For instance, a company can look at the share of overall traffic they’re receiving from an affiliate and compare it to the percentage of traffic their competition is receiving.

Analysis of this kind can lead to reevaluating relationships and crafting better deals for companies. When combined with the previous methods, it’s easy to form a full picture of the affiliate’s trustworthiness and reputation.

Better Research, More Sales

A great affiliate understands how to promote the brands with which they have relationships. The key for companies to identify such high-quality affiliates is thorough research. By evaluating everything to do with an affiliate’s strategy, companies can gain insight into what their affiliate relationships look like and how they can strengthen them.