How to Prepare for the Holiday Season in Affiliate Marketing


Q4 is the most wonderful time of the year. According to Adobe Digital Insights, the online holiday shopping season in 2017 topped expectations. The Thanksgiving weekend saw shoppers spending over $19B dollars during the days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. Over $7B was spent on tablets and smartphones over the holiday weekend (37.5% of all online revenue during that time).

Everyone wants a piece of the action and to maximize sales over Q4. So when does this crazy season begin? When my coffee is served in the “red cup” from Starbucks, that’s my sign that the season has started. My friendly Barista told me this morning, that those cups will be out in early November, so that gives us about 10 days. Planning and communication are key and should start long before Q4. However, for those that are getting a late start, all is not lost, as I am going to give you fifteen quick tips to help you get your program in top shape to navigate the season.

Event targeting, first of all – is the impact on the audience at the level of emotions and needs, when it is important to get to the right wave and perhaps get hyped. Let’s take the famous coronavirus as an example. At the peak of news about the disease, many decided to make a profit on this occasion – legally and not very much. Pharmacies began to sell drugs against the virus, the effect of which has not been proven at that time, and the installation has increased ads on the sale of antiviral masks with different prints.

Here are some marketing strategies and recommendations on how affiliate marketers can prepare for a successful holiday season.

1. Review Your Last Year’s Holiday Affiliate Program

  • Who were your top publishers?
  • What placements were purchased?
  • What commission increases were extended?
  • Rank the peak dates and days in your program.
  • Review key promotions and repeat strong performing promotions for upcoming holiday season.

Take a deep dive into your data from last year’s Q4 to help guide your planning for this year’s holiday season. You will want to analyze performance from last year’s secured placements – ROI, AOV, revenue, clicks, returns – and book any top performing placements again this year. Also, what promotions yielded the best results last year? Can you repeat the same promotions again this year? Can you offer stronger, more competitive promotions?

It’s also important to analyze your program’s performance from the first three quarters of this year and identify any new partners from this year that have been instrumental in driving conversions.  From this data, you can develop a directional strategy that can help to guide your current year’s holiday plan and help prioritize which partners on which to focus.

2. Create a Holiday Calendar

The holiday season goes beyond the Black Friday hype. There’s several holidays in the following weeks to include in your affiliate marketing strategy.

These days include:

  • Black Friday: November 29
  • Small Business Saturday: November 30
  • Cyber Monday: December 2
  • Free Shipping Day: December 14
  • Hanukkah: December 22-30
  • Christmas Day: December 25
  • Boxing Day: December 26
  • New Years Eve: December 31

Beyond Black Friday
Along with these major days, think about what you can do in the weeks following Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This is when competition has cooled down from the initial rush but consumers are still actively searching for gifts, providing your brand with the opportunity to increase sales.

One way to do this is by creating a “shopping holiday” specific to your store. Have a specific day (or days) for killer deals and flash sales to draw customers in.

For example, Cosmetic retailer Ulta has their annual “Holiday Beauty Blitz” featuring flash sales for different items each day leading up to Christmas. Amazon does “12 Days of Deals” with new items on sale each day. Macy’s has several holiday sale days, including their “After Christmas Sale” that focuses on advertising deals post-holiday.

Incentivize affiliates by setting higher commission rates or offer bonuses for this specific event. Affiliates can promote the event by sharing limited-time discounts and coupon codes with their audiences. An affiliate promotion could be something like sharing with their followers: use code JOLLY for free shipping, expires at midnight

3. Start Your Campaigns Early

Start your campaigns early (e.g., by dripping content) so you can cultivate trust and relationships with your audience before promoting the holiday offers. In addition, you can add incentives on non-peak days (e.g., before Black Friday and Cyber Monday) to build momentum.

Holiday shopping begins sooner than you think – over a third of shoppers say they begin shopping for holiday gifts in November. Strong sales between Black Friday and Cyber Monday are also a good indicator of a strong holiday sales season.

4. Communicate holiday goals with your partners

Identify the specials, promotions and sales that your brand will run in the fourth quarter and align these with your partners.

Publishers have different methods of distribution, including themed newsletters, paid placements or banners, which can provide great exposure for your promotion. Go beyond the media kit, and set up strategic meetings to explain your marketing calendar and brainstorm unique opportunities to support your goals.

Plan early to secure the best rates possible, and consider strategic incentives such as a temporary commission boost in exchange for promotional support on a publisher’s site.

Before any holiday, you want your affiliates to have 100% clarity on the following 5 things:

a. Holiday shipping schedule — It is integral that both your target audience and your affiliates know the exact cut off dates to get a gift in time for the holiday.

b. Promo dates — If you cannot let them know the exact promo details well in advance (for them not to start marketing it too early), make sure you equip them with the information on when exactly to expect the promo information.

c. Promo landing pages — Don’t ruin your good promo ideas by failing to put together dedicated promo landing pages, but having your affiliates send their targeted traffic just to your homepage. Learn about the 5 important elements of a promo landing page here, and make sure you each promo has its own landing page.

d. Good creatives — Each promo must have at least 3 creatives for affiliates to use: (i) a small size image (e.g. 88×31 px button), (ii) a larger size image (e.g. 125×125 px square banner), and (iii) a text link. If you want to offer other banner sizes, see what sizes are popular among affiliates here.

e. Clear descriptions — Finally, each promo must have two good descriptions: one — for the consumers (the information your affiliates will use to market the promo), and another one — for the affiliate (the information on any restrictions or special terms [e.g.: some merchants pay low or no commission on some promos — a practice I don’t support, and especially if it’s not properly disclosed] your affiliates must be aware of).

5. Optimize your Optimization

Christmas promotional campaigns may differ each year. You can’t trust previous experience only and wait for the same or even higher results. It’s necessary to monitor all affiliate activities of the festive season through the regular statistical and analytical reports. Also, you need to quickly optimize your programs or promotions if something suddenly goes wrong.

BEWARE! Through the Christmas period, the Ad Fraud problem escalates enormously.

Make sure that your site is not just optimized, but optimized for holiday shopping. It’s important to get started on holiday SEO early. Ramp up your holiday-related content gradually and well in advance, so that Google and other search engines have time to crawl, index and rank your site.

6. Feed Affiliates Lots of Content

Don’t you love when someone makes your job easier? So do affiliates. Supply your affiliates with everything they’ll need to sing your company’s praises during this time of the year.

From banners that automatically update with special sale messaging to boilerplate information they can use for blog posts, repurposable creative and content can go a long way when it comes to affiliate promotions, particularly during the holiday season.

Don’t forget — even with massive site-wide sales, offers for specific products tend to draw in more buyers. Provide affiliates with hand-curated gift guides and talking points spotlighting best-selling products and other high converters as this will increase your chances of landing coveted promotional features.

7. Optimize Your Site

This is not the time to embark on a full redesign. But small tweaks to your visitor experience can have a big impact, including on the success of your affiliate marketing. Some ideas:

  • Evaluate the placement and relevance of your existing ads and banners
  • Consider new opportunities to display ads or incorporate links
  • Look through your analytics and troubleshoot any unexpected or undesired visitor behaviour – here’s a guide to valuable Google Analytics data to get you started 
  • Check your page-load times and overall site speed (Google Analytics offers a Site Speed report that works well for this). Google’s own PageSpeed Insights tool can also track the speed of your website. You can find a detailed article about how it works here: Make Your Site Load Faster Using Google PageSpeed Insights

Don’t stress yourself out by turning these into huge projects – you can deep-dive after the holidays. For now, just polish up the place as best you can and move on.

8. Promoting on social networks

A lot of marketing can be done for free too.

For example, spreading the word about your cool offers on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and LinkedIn.

Here are few tips for each of them:

Facebook – If you own a fan page or a group, you’ll put your links there first. Another best thing are Facebook groups. This can be tricky or considered as spam, but try to squeeze some links in few popular and targeted Facebook groups.

Twitter – Hashtags like #BlackFriday and #CyberMonday will be oversaturated, true, but that just means you need to be more active, tweet more often and follow more people. Don’t do it all manually, use some kind of automation tool like Zapier, IFTTT or a dedicated Twitter auto poster like Twuffer (it’s free).

Pinterest – Everything you need to know about marketing on Pinterest is summed in my article about how to get tons of traffic from Pinterest.

LinkedIn – I have over 1000 connections on LinkedIn, what about you? Posting a LinkedIn update or even a post on it can bring quite a few eyes on your offer. Don’t forget LinkedIn groups either.

Google+ – I barely use Google+ and have almost 500 followers. There are also Google+ communities where you can find your targeted customers and tell them about your deal.

9. Set-Up Creative & Offers Early

The holiday season can easily become a bit chaotic-from strategic planning for your marketing channels to traveling and time off. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to prepare ahead of time and get your program in tip-top shape for the holidays.

  • Text Links – follow best practices when creating text links – be specific to what’s on sale and include dates and times for when promotions are live
  • Banners – while most publishers utilize text links, product links and deep links, some prefer banners; run a Link Type Report to see what your specific partners are using and which size banners are the best converting
  • Offers – create holiday rev-share offers early, as you can extend them now and publishers can opt-in at anytime
  • Schedule Mail Merges and Newsletters – share details of your upcoming promotions as early as possible, so that publishers have enough time to place creative on their sites
  • Paid Placement Tracker – as you book placements, add the details in the dashboard in order to track performance and identify what’s working

Finally, a few important things to remember:

  • Holiday shopping will start in October – some consumers have already started shopping!
  • Many publishers will go into code-freeze in October, meaning they will not on-board any new merchants to their site – if you want to establish a partnership, do so now!
  • Last ship date is moving closer and closer to Christmas, especially if you have in-store pick-up.
  • Ensure your mobile site is optimized to capture smartphone orders and to provide an optimal experience for those who browse on their phones and buy on a PC or in-store.

10. Leverage Paid Search

According to Search Engine Land, 85% of the respondents of a survey used Google to find product ideas and information before making a purchase. This should not come as surprise as we all have, and are still using Google to search our queries. From new t-shirts to latest gadgets, people turn to Google for help with their product search.

This is the reason you should leverage paid search in the holiday season. Surely, many affiliate marketers like you will be planning to do the same, therefore, the competition will be quite high. Keep your bids higher for ‘holiday’ focused keywords. Also, when writing ad copy, ensure to add seasonal keywords such as ‘Christmas Gift Ideas’ or ‘Black Friday Deals’.

11. Online Press Releases

Online press releases are a great tool to increase your website’s exposure as well as building inbound links to your website. I recommend either PRWeb or You can send a press release such as: Black Friday Deals are Launching on Evan’s Shopping Mall or Holiday Deals Have Launched at Mom’s Saving Mall (or whatever your website is called). Make sure to embed a couple of hyperlinks to your website in your press release to maximize inbound links to your site. Online press releases have cost, so make sure to have a really great titles and great content to make sure it gets good search rankings based on your content. Typically online press releases get distributed to 100′s of well-ranking websites, so over time this strategy can gain increased saturation in the search engines and bring traffic and exposure to your website. I recommend doing online press releases on a monthly basis, if not weekly. They work great!

12. Word of Mouth

Telling people to check out your website or blog for some great deals shouldn’t be under-estimated. Having a website url that can be emailed, told by phone, posted socially, or otherwise communicated to your friends and family is great because why wouldn’t someone shopping online to buy through your site when they can get great deals from all the top merchants online? So make sure to tell people to check out your site or blog for some great shopping deals whenever you can. Make sure to list deals and coupon from all the advertisers you are affiliated with so your friends and family will actually get a great deal and get excited about it, which will cause them to return later for more deals. You can even ask your affiliate advertisers to provide you with a dedicated coupon code (vanity coupons) to match your site url, which adds a little site branding to the experience and can increase the conversion rate of the sale. Social networking has stepped in to facilitate word of mouth, so make sure to be a very active social networker, which can help expose more people to the offers you are promoting.

13. Running Sweepstakes and Contests

Running sweepstakes, contests, and giveaways through WooBox, Wishpond, or Raffelcopter, is a great way to maximize your reach, build fans, and gather data for your newsletter list. The nice thing about Woobox is that it gives you the ability to capture more email opt-ins and Facebook fans from your site visitors, fans, and email subscribers. You can even convince some of your affiliate advertisers to sponsor your sweepstakes and donate the prize so it costs you very little to run the promotion. Then you can promote the sweepstakes on your site, newsletter, fan page, tweets, and other ways you can get the word out about your holiday sweepstakes. This is a really powerful way to maximize your exposure, grow your Facebook Fans, and build your email subscriber list. And, it’s extremely affordable to run a basic sweepstakes on your site.

14. Make sure you don’t neglect your long time top performers

Apart from discounted holiday offers for Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Green Monday, Q4 is also about Christmas, and sharing some love with the best-performing affiliates from your program.

Though this can usually be translated into a bonus or an increased commission for their sales between Christmas and New Year’s, you can also be creative and work together on a special project like a license or subscription giveaway for their websites and blog readers.

15. Grow a High-Quality Email List

Email marketing is still one of the best ways to drive high-quality traffic, either to your website or affiliate links. Set up a lead capture mechanism on your website and entice visitors to sign up to your list by offering a “lead magnet” (e.g., a piece of high-value content.)

Don’t just collect email addresses though – you should build a list of engaged subscribers by sharing high-value and relatable content regularly to boost the “like, know, and trust” factor.

16. Leverage the Power of Personalized Marketing

To increase the effectiveness of your email marketing, you can segment your list based on criteria relevant to each offer so you can deliver the most impactful messaging to drive conversion. In addition, you can set up email workflows based on subscribers’ interactions with your content and use email remarketing to maximize engagement and CTR.

17. Use tools to personalize the message

Make sure your product feeds are customized to the promotions you are running and maximized for your publisher’s audience. For example, if you are a fashion retailer, consider creating product feeds customized for the occasion, such as “holiday dresses.”

Segmenting your product catalog into specialized product feeds makes it easier for publishers to access curated content that they can personalize to their audience.

Implementing these proven strategies can help your team up their game this holiday season. And don’t forget, what you spend in advertising during the fourth quarter can reap rewards in the future.

Make sure you have an attribution solution to accurately measure your success beyond November and December. Understanding the lifetime value of customers that you earn in these critical months can help you show a higher return on investment.

18. Have Post-Holiday Plans

The season doesn’t have to end at Christmas. In fact, as Geno Prussakov once pointed out: “One of Q4’s frequently overlooked opportunities lies post-holiday.”

Sales after December 26th can be strong as consumers shop for post-Christmas sales and bargains. Some buy seasonal items that are discounted for the following year. January can also provide sales opportunities as people prepare for the New Year with new resolutions. Get creative and keep the sales rolling. Create some clearance events or after Holiday sales. In January, create a New Year Promotion & reach out to new customers that you acquired over the holidays.

19. Outreach

Remember that it’s all about partnerships. When the season has died down, make sure you reach out to your affiliates and thank them for their part in helping you have a successful Q4. Congratulate them on their successful season and what worked for them. Do a quick overview and recap wins and losses and strategies for the upcoming months. The holiday season may be over but the show must go on. Start planning for the months ahead.

I hope these tips are helpful in preparing you for the upcoming holiday season.

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