Direct Linking – what is it and how can you set up your affiliate campaign quick and easy with it?
Let’s find out!
Sending traffic directly from a traffic source to a third-party affiliate offer is referred to as direct linking. An ad is placed on the traffic source, and when clicked, the visitor is taken directly to the offer, with no landing page in between.
It creates a one-step conversion flow for the visitor. It’s a simple but limited method for affiliates to set up campaigns and test new offers.
The Advantages of Direct Linking
The following are the benefits and drawbacks of direct linking.
It’s simple to set up; simply place an ad and wait for traffic.
There is one less thing to optimize or go wrong in order to obtain a “pure” indication of offer and traffic source quality.
It can be very effective for short-form CPA offers, email submissions, and app downloads. The lower the conversion barrier, the more likely a direct-linked campaign will succeed. A pre-sale landing page may not be required for email submission, but a $2000 e-course almost certainly would.
Occasionally, you can find affiliate offers that the general public is familiar with or that are trending, which lowers the barrier to conversion even further, making direct linking the most likely traffic flow. Examples include AirBnB and TikTok, both of which have affiliate programs and do not require introduction via a lander.
Direct linking is ideal for new affiliates who want to test the waters but lack the coding skills or confidence to create a competitive landing page.
It’s difficult to add value as an affiliate if you only directly link a traffic source to an offer. You’ll soon be competing with other affiliates and internal media buyers, making long-term, highly profitable campaigns difficult.
There is one less thing to optimize, reducing the affiliate’s ability to increase campaign conversion rates.
Some traffic sources cause issues with direct linking campaigns via a tracking redirect, which can lead to issues when running through an affiliate network or tracking platform. Because some sources do not permit redirects to different domains, your target URL must match the final URL, which causes a slew of problems.
It’s easy to waste money by directly linking to affiliate offers that lack tracking. If you run paid traffic to an internal app referral program, for example, you will not receive any data to optimize with, so it will be hit or miss from the start.
Identifying Affiliate Offers
In 2010, you could ask an affiliate manager what offers were hot on their CPA network, then fire up some direct link ads from your preferred traffic source and it would frequently be profitable. It’s much less likely that you’ll find high-volume profitable campaigns this way in 2020.
Today, I believe the best way to find offers is to look for VC-backed companies that want to grow at any cost. They frequently offer generous referral programs or some sort of affiliate scheme directly within their app or web-based platform.
Working backward is a good way to think about this process. What apps or websites would be a breeze to sell and convert in a single click? Where could you direct visitors so that they would want to sign up or buy something?
Make a list of familiar brands, then visit their homepages and look for “Affiliates”, “Partners”, and “Refer A Friend” type links in the footer.
Identifying a Traffic Source
A well-matched, under-saturated traffic source should be used for the initial test of a new offer.
This is where affiliates can provide value. There is now so much information available about how to run ads on Google and Facebook that the offers’ internal media buying team will almost certainly be running on the most popular traffic sources.
An example of a brand advertiser’s underutilized ad network
Fortunately, thousands of traffic sources and ad networks are available for all obscure digital marketing methods. Because of this, push notification networks have grown in popularity among affiliates. They were and continue to be underserved by brand advertisers, leaving room for competitive affiliates to profit from their campaigns.
This will be advantageous if you have a specific traffic source you already know. Learning the intricacies of setting up campaigns, optimizing, and creating blacklists for all traffic sources takes time and money.
Certain traffic sources have specific demographics, which must be matched to the offer. For example, an affiliate offer aimed at millennials might be better suited to TikTok than LinkedIn ads.
Testing and Early Results
Affiliates should track as much optimizable, relevant data as possible when launching a direct response campaign. We need a way to see which ads, zones, and sources are most effective at converting visitors into customers.
There are several approaches to this. One option is to employ a tracking redirect and conversion pixel. Most tracking software will have options for this, but it is also simple to do on your own.
Another option is to use the affiliates panel’s internal tracking. Many affiliate networks use Tune or a similar platform, which provides you with a more than adequate tracking platform without the need to set up your own. If a tracking platform is provided, I would recommend using it instead of your own redirects at first because it will speed up page load times.
Some direct advertisers will have no tracking in place and will refuse to place conversion pixels for new affiliates. If this is the case, it will be a difficult battle; however, if an initial test is profitable, it would be a good candidate to begin building out a more elaborate funnel that can be optimized and scaled.
Once you’ve demonstrated your ability to send sufficient leads, most affiliate offer owners will be willing to install a custom conversion pixel for you, which will feed conversion data back to your tracking system. A simple iframe on the “thank you for signing up” page provides the most flexibility for the affiliate and requires only one line of code from the owner. This can then be used in conjunction with ad networks’ machine-learning algorithms to create look-alike audiences.
Direct Link Campaign Optimization
A preliminary test will provide you with an ROI figure. Anything above 50% (as in I only lost half my money) is a win in my book. I can then optimize and develop the campaign to target profitable traffic pockets.
Some affiliates advise optimizing one thing at a time, whereas I prefer to collect data on everything from the beginning and optimize as soon as there is enough data to make accurate decisions.
So an initial test might look like this.
The first information I’ll receive will be about the offer itself. If my spend is $100 and I have zero $3 CPA conversions, something is most likely broken.
The traffic sources are the next thing I can start optimizing. I’ll have more data for traffic sources than for ads or zones, allowing me to make better decisions sooner. If one ad source is performing well while the other is not, it makes sense to concentrate on that.
Then there are advertisements. I use a continuous improvement process, so after 1000 clicks, I’ll look at each ad’s click-through rate and conversion rate. Pause any ads that aren’t performing well and create variations for the top performers.
Finally, there are zones and publisher IDs.
Most traffic sources will have multiple zones or publishers, each of which will convert differently. If you don’t have a standard whitelist of good zones or a blacklist of really bad traffic before starting the campaign, you’ll have to build one over time.
Because not all zones will send the same amount of traffic, high-volume zones will need to be optimized before low-volume zones. In practice, this entails logging into a traffic source once every few days and going through the data to block any non-performing zones that have accumulated enough traffic for you to say they will not work in the future confidently.
Expanding Affiliate Campaigns
If an offer is profitable, it’s time to start expanding it. The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you can quickly expand winning campaigns and cut losing ones.
Several methods for scaling up an affiliate offer exist, and many affiliates will try them all.
A campaign that works in one country is likely to convert well in another. The geographic regions that a merchant accepts will limit affiliates in some ways.
Merchants frequently offer different payouts for different regions. You should find that this corresponds to the cost of traffic in those areas. So, for example, a US offer may have a $5 payout and you are paying $15 cpm, whereas MX (Mexico) may have a $1 payout but traffic costs only $3 cpm.
For the majority of affiliate campaigns I’ve run, US traffic accounts for 50% of revenue, Europe 25%, Canada 10%, and the rest of the world 15%. My competitiveness in English-speaking markets may distort this, but the main point is that the United States is by far the most profitable market to target.
Because of the various languages, Europe and Asia are somewhat difficult to navigate. One-hour translation services like onehourtranslation.com can provide better translations than Google Translate.
Scaling Across Different Traffic Sources
If your campaign is profitable on one ad network, it will most likely perform well on similar traffic sources.
If you can make money on Bing Search Ads, it’s time to move it to Google Search Ads and try to compete for higher volumes.
All traffic sources are unique and require time to learn and optimize. Each traffic source will require a significant budget to test and get the campaign running properly.
Every affiliate copycat will see the campaign as soon as you start scaling across multiple traffic sources. This is typically when you will notice competitors stealing your ads and landing pages.
Keep in mind that traffic from various networks will convert differently for you and the merchant. Different ad networks have different demographics, which may result in different results for the advertiser on the back end. In the past, merchants have asked me to pause an offer I was running after scaling because the new traffic didn’t convert as well as the original test.
Slowly test new sources and gradually increase the volume. If at all possible, communicate with the affiliate manager on a regular basis to obtain feedback on traffic quality.
Increasing the Size of Each Traffic Source
Affiliates want to drive as much traffic to their profitable campaigns as possible. To accomplish this, a variety of traffic sources will be available:
- Increasing CPM/CPC bids
- Setting up multiple campaigns
- Uploading more ads
- Connecting programmatically to get access to traffic before it hits DSP
- Duplicating campaigns (can increase frequency reducing ROI)
- Doing direct fixed-rate deals for monthly placements
- Expanding reach by broadening targeting options
- Setting up retargeting campaigns
- Developing look-a-like audiences using conversion data
These are just a few methods for increasing volume, and each traffic source is unique. Test and iterate on what works.
Create A Funnel
If you’ve discovered a good direct linked offer, consider creating a conversion funnel.
A quiz-style landing page works 60% of the time.
The first step is to connect the traffic source and the ad network with a landing page (and optionally an email collection form). This allows the affiliate to pre-sell the offer, collect micro-conversion data, and build a long-term email list.
Examine what other advertisers are doing in the niche and on the traffic source. Is this something that could be converted or adapted to fit your offer?
The disadvantage is that you will experience a drop off on the landing page. As a result, a certain number of people will visit your landing page but then abandon the offer. These visitors, however, would not have converted anyway. In theory, you should see fewer clicks to the offer but a much higher conversion rate and, as a result, higher revenues as a result of the pre-sell.
Compare it to direct linking to see which generates the most revenue. If the choice is close, go with the funnel because it allows for more optimization and future monetization than a direct-linked campaign.
Top 3 Direct Linking Tips
Here are three recommendations I have for setting up and running direct linked affiliate marketing campaigns.
1 Begin Tracking Data Right Away
Nothing is more frustrating than reaching 90% ROI on a campaign and not knowing how to optimize it to make it profitable. Track as much relevant data that will aid in campaign optimization as possible from the start.
2 Look for Special Offers
Time spent at the start looking for unique under-saturated offers will increase your chances of success significantly. If every affiliate in the industry is already running it, the chances of adding enough value through a direct linked campaign to generate long-term revenues are slim.
3 Fail quickly and frequently
It is difficult to find profitable direct-linked campaigns, and having realistic expectations will help. You might have to try ten different traffic source > offer combinations before you find your first profitable campaign.
Limit your spending and make the most of your time in order to try as many new things as possible. If something isn’t working, get rid of it and try something else. Eventually, a profitable campaign will emerge that can be scaled up to make up for any losses from the tests.