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The importance of ‘long tail’ affiliates

by Dave Tinneny | 14.03.2012
Long Tail is the term given to sites that seem to sit inactive on an affiliate programme, occasionally driving an impression or a click.


Anyone with affiliate experience has seen them and some of us have even built them. These are generally the ‘thin’, low content affiliate sites that Google’s Panda updates promised to punish into oblivion. These are the sites that have been ‘under construction’ for the past two years. These are the homepages that still show the ‘just another wordpress site’ message and are using a Hotmail contact address. Some of them have broken banners, broken links and an ‘About’ page with the words ‘this is a test’ typed with conviction at some stage but now long forgotten about.


There’s also this statistic to think about – 95% of affiliate sales are generated by 5.5% of affiliates.


So… the temptation for a lot of Affiliate Managers is to regularly clean out any sites that they think have been inactive for too long, or that don’t look pretty enough to ever make a sale.


These sites are important for the following reasons:


The Competition – You know, those guys who threaten your livelihood and home life stability on a daily basis… what are they doing? Chances are they’re all over these sites. If it’s good enough for them, then it should be good enough for your programme. Visibility in relation to the competition should be a top priority in the affiliate space and giving free reign to a competitor because these sites don’t seem important enough is risky at best.


Incremental sales – How many friends do you have? Would you tell them if you built a website? Or tell them what it’s about? Would they try out your site because they’re super cool people who want to be supportive? Well, affiliates have friends too… and families… and Facebook, Google+, Twitter, sports teams, groups, a gym, neighbourhood watch and that Krav Maga class they signed up to but never went. Even with no other promotion than word of mouth, a long tail affiliate could drive a couple of sales a year (which is a couple more that the competitors will lose out on).


Any affiliate can become a super affiliate – With a lot of networks, it’s not necessary for the affiliate to list every site they own. Maybe they’re working on something new and have neglected the site you’ve been laughing at in the office. Maybe they’re some bizarre genetic combination of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg that’s hatching a plan for total affiliate domination. The affiliate space changes so dramatically year from year that even the most unlikely sites could be successful 12 months from now. Removing them from a programme before they’ve had a chance to develop could be a sore regret in the future.


Long tail affiliates are a vital part of any programme and will remain so for a long time to come. Their value should not be underestimated.