There are 2.2 million Apps in the Android App Store and 2 million in the Apple iOS App Store. If you’re trying to sell an App, an Affiliate Marketing Program can make it easier to stand out in a crowded market.
But marketing a mobile App using an Affiliate Marketing program presents unique challenges. Understanding these challenges is essential if you’re going to succeed in selling your App.
(Disclosure: This page contains an affiliate link. If you purchase through it, I will receive a small commission – at zero cost to you. I only recommend products I use and like.)
A Brief Outline of Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate websites refer traffic to your site in exchange for a commission. Specialized software is used to link each affiliate to completed sales.
To track affiliate sales, each affiliate is given a unique ID and a special link that refers customers to your site. When customers click on this link, your site produces a cookie that is stored in the customer’s browser.
Most affiliate marketing depends on cookies in customer browsers.
Affiliates need to be assured that all traffic referred to your site will get credited. No affiliate is going to refer sales to a site that does a terrible job of tracking sales.
Apps Pose a Unique Challenge for Affiliate Marketing
An App can’t access the cookies in a customer’s browser. The browser and the App are walled off environments.
When a customer visits your site via an affiliate link and gets a browser cookie and then proceeds to the App store and purchases, the App can’t link the sale to the affiliate.
This is a problem no matter if the customer purchases the App itself from the App store or makes the purchase within the App (an in-App purchase).
There is also the problem of switching devices. If a customer clicks on an affiliate link while reading a blog post on their laptop and then uses their phone to download the App the cookie from the laptop can’t be accessed by the phone. The cookie tracking the sale is locked away on the laptop and the affiliate doesn’t get credited with the sale.
In any of these scenarios, the affiliate will get tired of giving you customers and getting nothing in return.
How to Track an Affiliate App Purchase
When we developed the affiliate program for our social media marketing App (MondoPlayer), we took a different approach. We re-engineered the purchase process to make sure both the customer and the affiliate were happy.
These are the steps we took:
- Our App uses a Fremium business model. The customer gets a free version of our App, but must pay to upgrade to the Pro version.
- The upgrade process takes place on our website. Customers who want the Pro version come to the MondoPlayer website and buy a license which unlocks the Pro version. Completing the purchase on the website allows our affiliate software to see the cookie on the customer’s browser.
- To give the customer an incentive to make the purchase on our website, we give the customer a personalized discount code when they land on our site (we display the offer for the discount code on a landing page – see below).
- The personalized discount code can only be used on our site and is not valid on the App Store.
- We email the customer their discount code and we remind them periodically of the special deal. We want to make sure they are aware of the cheaper purchase option on our website.
- The landing page displaying the personalized discount code is configured to prevent search engines from crawling the page. This is important, because we don’t want customers coming to this page organically – only affiliate referrals should see this page. To prevent search engines from crawling the page, we added a “Disallow” line in our robots.txt file and the land page also has a line of html that reads:
- To comply with App Store policy, the customer is given the option to upgrade to the Pro version using an in-App purchase. They are not told they can buy the Pro version on our website and no discount code is mentioned. But customers are aware of the cheaper option and overwhelmingly prefer to buy the App on our website.
The personalized discount code offers several benefits to the affiliate:
1. The personalized discount code expires in 7 days, giving the customer an incentive to purchase while the affiliate’s cookie is still alive.
2. Even if the customer switches browsers (e.g. from a mobile device to a desktop), the discount code tracks the sale, assuring the affiliate gets credit.
3. The personalized discount code makes our affiliates appear like “insiders” offering a special deal. It gives the affiliates an advantage.
The Downside to Discounts
Offering a discount can generate bad behaviour by some affiliates. To guard against this you need to take the following steps:
1. Don’t accept affiliates who promote discounts but don’t actually “sell” your product. They will get credit for a sale they did nothing to create.
For example when a customer purchases on your website they are asked for a discount code. If they didn’t get a code they may search for a discount. Discount sites rank high in search results so if you have affiliates that are discount sites, customers may visit their sites just for the discount code and then use it to purchase. That means you pay a commission for a sale that otherwise wouldn’t qualify.
2. We make every potential affiliate apply to our Affiliate Program. We vet each affiliate to make sure they are high quality and will work to earn the sale. We don’t want affiliates who advertise a discount and poach sales.
3. We place strict restrictions in the Affiliate’s Agreement (see example here) to prevent advertising the discount using searchable text. We only allow the discount to be mentioned in images (JPG and PNG).
Implementing an App Affiliate Program
You can self host your program or use one of several reputable affiliate marketing networks which host the program for you.
Self Hosted Affiliate Program
Self hosting gives you more control over the terms of the program. But it’s more difficult to set up.
The main advantages of a self hosted affiliate marketing program are:
1. You don’t need to pay additional fees to an affiliate network (these can be hefty).
2. You have more control over the process.
3. You control all the terms of the affiliate agreement – which is important when dealing with the unique challenges of Apps. If you want an example check out our Affiliate Agreement for our App MondoPlayer .
Affiliate Marketing Network
Using an affiliate marketing network is easier because they host the program. But you pay higher fees.
The main advantages of an affiliate network are:
1. If your product or service fits into one of the categories targeted by the affiliate marketing network, you can benefit from a large pool of affiliates.
But there are reasons why your product may not benefit:
a. You may be in a saturated space, where the affiliates on the network are already representing a product that competes with yours.
b. The affiliates on the network may not be relevant – e.g. if you’re selling a real estate product and there are no affiliates in the real estate sector.
c. You still need to attract affiliates to your product. It’s a competitive market and good affiliates are picky about the products they represent.
2. An affiliate network may be your only option if you do not have the technical expertise or resources to set up a self hosted program.
Why we Chose a Self Hosted Program
Marketing an App using the methods I’ve outlined requires flexibility. Most affiliate marketing networks that host the program for you do not offer you the options you need.
The self hosted service I recommend is a simple WordPress Plugin called AffiliateWP.
- It offers the most features that we need “out of the box”
- It’s easy for a php programmer to adapt the plugin to your needs.
- They offer good technical support.
- It’s affordable. The cost is less than 1 month of fees on most hosted affiliate networks.
A self hosted program requires technical expertise and resources to set up. If you don’t have a software developer you should go with an affiliate marketing network where the program is hosted for you.
The Benefits of Affiliate Marketing for your App
Using a self hosted program is not only possible, it’s profitable.
Instead of paying a 30% fee to the App Store for collecting your payment, you can use one of many cheaper payment systems. Even after you pay your Affiliate a healthy commission and you offer your customer a discount, you should come out ahead.
Better Search Engine Optimization
Affiliate marketing your App improves your search engine optimization because you will get links from affiliates and it will increase the number of reputable sites talking about your product. It’s like an SEO and Content Marketing campaign all wrapped into one.
The process of recruiting Affiliates has caused us to reach out to many potential users of our service. Recruiting Affiliates has become another reason for connecting with our target market.
Higher Visibility for your App
Affiliate Marketing will give your App a huge marketing boost. Affiliates will review your product, blog about it and post on social media.
To attract affiliates your App will need to be relatively expensive for you to pay a decent commission to affiliates. But if your App is a good candidate, this is a marketing option you should strongly consider.
Affiliate marketing your App is an effective way to improve your reach. Don’t let a few crumbling cookies spoil the party.