By Michael Quoc
Newspaper coupons may seem like a relic from the past, but coupons are bigger and better than ever. With the rise of the internet, digital coupons have become widely available on coupon websites, smartphone apps, and more.
The majority of today’s consumers regularly use coupons, regardless of whether they make $250,000 or $25,000. No matter what they’re buying, people are interested in saving money. And with the way millennials and Gen Zers are embracing coupons, the coupon-clipping trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Any smart marketer should be thinking about how to incorporate coupons into their broader online strategy. Coupons are a persuasive way to acquire new customers, but you have to be thoughtful about how you go about promoting them with coupon affiliate websites—otherwise, you’ll find them eating into your margins.
Consider this your fail-safe guide to navigating the world of coupon affiliate websites, and how you can put them to work for your brand.
How do coupon affiliate websites work?
Thanks to your other digital marketing efforts, you’re probably familiar with CPM and CPC attribution models, where you pay for impressions (CPM) or clicks (CPC).
With coupon websites, you typically pay on a CPA basis. What’s nice is you’re only paying for the actual conversions or acquisitions generated by the coupon site, instead of paying for a display ad that doesn’t result in any real traffic. CPA models are often preferred by marketers because of their direct correlation to sales.
However, while the acquisition is direct, your relationship with the coupon website likely won’t be. The majority of these sites work with affiliate networks like ShareASale or CJ Affiliate (formerly Commission Junction). As the brand marketer, you’ll engage with the affiliate network, which will manage negotiations, track conversions, and manage payment to the coupon site on your behalf.
When it comes to promotion, coupon websites generally follow a standard format. They typically promote featured deals on their homepage, and make coupons searchable by industry, product, or brand. Many may also email out curated lists of deals or daily deals to their newsletter subscribers.
The value coupon sites offer brands lies in both their loyal audiences as well as their SEO dominance. When they’re looking to buy something, many people go straight to their favorite coupon site first to see if they can score a deal. Couponers like using these sites because they’re known for being reliable. Sites either have an internal team or they leverage their community to add coupons, verifying that they still work and removing them when they expire.
And if people don’t have a favorite coupon website, they go to Google and search for things like “[your industry] coupons,” “[your product] coupons,” or “[your brand] coupons.” The sites that show up in the search results tend to be—you guessed it—coupon websites.
Advertising on coupon sites ensures you reach both types of customers, including those already familiar with your brand as well as those who haven’t even heard of you yet.
Types of coupon websites
There is actually quite a bit of variety with coupon sites. Here are the most common types you’ll encounter:
Traditional coupon sites. These are large coupon sites like RetailMeNot, Offers.com, and Savings.com, and are probably what comes to mind when you think of a “coupon site.” They have huge databases of coupons, enabling them to rank well in Google. Coupons are often organized by brand and industry, with featured daily deals that are shared via email newsletters.
Curated coupon sites. Whereas a traditional coupon site just displays and houses all the coupons for their users to easily find, curation-driven coupon sites add an editorial touch. They’ll handpick coupons to include in special themed lists, or otherwise highlight the deals of the day. These sites may have a specific category focus, like “Tech Bargains,” or be more general, like “Brad’s Deals.” Because of that curated feel, these sites tend to be intimately familiar with the kinds of coupons and promotions resonate best with their visitors.
Loyalty coupon sites. Loyalty coupon sites like Ebates offer cash-back rebates to their customers, essentially passing part of their affiliate commission on to their users. Because of the cash-back system, these sites tend to have extremely loyal user bases who typically start most of their shopping with these sites, preferring to purchase from brands they can get a cash-back deal from. Because they care most about the deal versus the brand, these sites may be your brand’s best option for acquiring these types of customers. However, that also means they may be just as willing to leave your brand for a competitor if the site posts a better deal.
Coupon blogs. Coupon bloggers are another big player in the organic search landscape for coupons. Sites like The Krazy Coupon Lady and Coupon Mom boast huge traffic numbers and loyal readerships. In addition to merely listing your coupon, these sites offer added value in being able to include your coupon in curated blog lists, such as “Best Ways to Save Big on Your Wedding,” as well as dedicated blog reviews of your product, which further persuade their readers to buy.
Coupon forums. Like most forums, coupon forums like Slickdeals are very user-driven. Community members frequent these sites again and again to share deals, comment on the best places to find deals, and provide general couponing tips and tricks. Brands can partner with these sites at the brand level, or they may choose to develop individual affiliate relationships with some of the more prominent members. If you go the second route, just make sure to review the site’s guidelines to ensure that’s allowed.
Bad coupon sites
Unfortunately, affiliate marketing attracts many evildoers who use a variety of tactics, from straight-up black-hat SEO to bidding on your brand name and stealing traffic for branded coupon-related keywords.
Many of these sites set up affiliate deals, hoping to earn your commission dollars without ever sending you any actual customers. They may use bots to game the system and make it appear as if they are sending you customers when they’re not, or they’ll use bots to cancel their order after a purchase. They may also list fake deals for your site in an effort to gain keyword rankings. When people try using a fake coupon on your site, only to realize it doesn’t work, it can leave a bad taste in their mouth for your brand, not necessarily the site.
Fortunately, with a bit of due diligence, you can fairly easily avoid sites like these. Before partnering with a site, evaluate their traffic stats on SimilarWeb. Assess whether the traffic numbers they claim match what Similar Web says, and how much of it comes from organic traffic. Be wary of sites with organic traffic percentages above 90%. You don’t want to partner with a site that relies solely on Google for traffic, as they can be hit with a penalty and lose it all.
You can also verify the trustworthiness of a coupon site by testing out some of their deals. Search for a few popular brands, then go test the listed promo code on their website. If it doesn’t work, stay clear of the coupon affiliate.
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Tips for getting more out of your coupon affiliate partnerships
Now that you know how coupon affiliate marketing works, how can you make it work for you? Follow these tips to set your brand up for success.
1. Determine your coupon strategy. Coupon affiliate marketing is an exciting prospect, so it’s understandable if you’re raring to go. However, you’ll be better off if you take a beat and go in with a strategy first. What kind of coupons do you want to offer, and how often? For highly competitive industries, coupons help your brand stand out and give price-savvy consumers a reason to switch over to you. You may want to always be running a promotion. However, if your product is especially unique with little competition, you may only want to use coupon affiliate sites to amplify your efforts during special promotions, like Black Friday.
Also consider the value of your coupon. Will you offer a percent off, a dollar off, or a free trial? Run the calculations and decide what makes the most sense for your brand. Ideally, coupons drive lifetime value without eating into your margins too much.
2. Narrow in on a few top-performers. As with anything, you’ll get more return for your efforts if you focus on optimizing your relationship with a few select coupon sites, instead of partnering with too many to keep track of. Choose a handful of high-quality sites and develop relationships with their affiliate reps. The better your relationship, the more likely they are to accommodate your requests.
Plus, the fewer affiliate sites you work with, the more exclusive deals you can offer each one, which essentially gives your brand an extra chip at the bargaining table. For example, if they’re the only site offering a particular deal for your brand, they’ll be more likely to give you extra upgrades, like a special placement on their homepage, a dedicated newsletter deal, or social media promotion. Practice different things with different sites to see what works.
3. Provide guidelines. What’s nice about working with coupon affiliate websites is that they’re relatively easy to spin up and start generating a decent amount of conversions. However, part and parcel with affiliate marketing is the freedom affiliates assume they have when promoting your brand. This means you will need to pay attention to what they’re doing when it comes to promoting your brand, and provide direction on what’s okay and what’s not.
For instance, you may have certain guidelines about how they feature you versus your competitors, what kind of language you prefer they use (or not use), and particular industries you don’t want your promo codes featured by (such as sex or gambling). Also make sure to request that the site not bid on “your brand + coupons” terms in their PPC ads. This only drives up the CPC for you and reduces your visibility in the paid search results.
4. Optimize your own website for coupons. When customers click through to your website from the coupon affiliate, it should be a piece of cake for them to redeem their coupon. Ideally, the coupon should be automatically applied to their checkout total through your affiliate link. Just to cover your bases, you might add a prominent promo code box to your checkout page. This way people can add in their promo code manually if it didn’t transfer over.
Be wary, however, that seeing a promo code may encourage users who weren’t planning on using a coupon to leave and go looking for coupons. During that journey, they might choose to purchase from a competitor instead. If they do come back, they’ll return with a coupon, reducing their checkout total, and costing you an affiliate commission. A way around this is to only trigger the promo code section to appear when someone clicks through from an affiliate link, or to make it less prominent. You can also link to a dedicated coupon page on your own site that’s updated with your latest deals. This keeps people from having to leave, and it also helps you earn some organic visits from people searching for coupons while minimizing your reliance on affiliate sites.
5. Expand your reach with influencers. If you’re hoping to stretch your marketing budget further, work social media influencers into your larger coupon strategy. Similar to coupon bloggers, influencers offer much more than a mere coupon listing for your brand. An influencer’s promo code is often paired with an in-depth review, a fun video of them using your product, or a stylized Instagram photo.
Fans deeply trust influencer recommendations as much, or sometimes more so, than recommendations from friends and family. A recommendation from them of your brand, when paired with a coupon, goes a long way. Before partnering with any influencer, vet them first, just like you would with a coupon site. Ask to see examples of successful campaigns they’ve done for similar brands in the past, and ask about their fan demographics to ensure their audience lines up with your target customer personas.
Then, educate them about what sets your brand apart, so they can do a better job promoting you to their followers. However, don’t dictate that promotion. Influencers are extremely in-tune with what kind of messaging performs best with their followers, so let them take the lead on creative direction.
Always be couponing
There will always be price-conscious consumers. Working with coupon affiliate sites is an effective way for your brand to get in front of them. Plan your coupon strategy, find your coupon affiliates, and start reaching new customers.