How affiliate marketing can help drive more sales to your online courses

How affiliate marketing can help drive more sales to your online courses
Estimated reading time:

Most people think of affiliate marketing as a way to make extra money by passively promoting products and services online. But, affiliate marketing is also a valuable money maker for entrepreneurs and creators behind the promoted product or service. While affiliates can help drive sales for these providers, it’s more involved than just signing up a bevy of affiliates and letting them go. Read on to learn how to increase your affiliate marketing sales for your online course.

Understanding affiliate marketing

At its most fundamental level, affiliate marketing is nothing more than expanding distribution of your advertising through other who have online followings. Where affiliate marketing differs from traditional marketing channels, though, is they receive payment for their results. Accordingly, affiliate marketing is often referred to as performance-based marketing.

Results from affiliate marketing can come in many different forms from clickthroughs to your course website to actual sales. Because you must track the source of these actions in order to pay your affiliates, you must have real-time metrics on the performance of your marketing dollars. As a result, return-on-investment (ROI) is much easier to calculate, especially if the result you pay for is a sale.  

Ways to increase your affiliate marketing sales

Every part of your affiliate marketing campaign can be optimized, from associate selection to the content you offer. Consider the following options for improving your affiliate marketing results.

1. Select affiliates carefully

You may be tempted to allow anyone who shows interest in your course to be an affiliate (through automated affiliate program platforms, for example). After all, the more affiliates, the more clicks, and the more clicks, the more sales, right? Not exactly. Not all affiliates are created equal, and some affiliates can actually damage your reputation and your brand.

To achieve the best results from your affiliate marketing program, you should actively moderate your affiliates. The quantity of potential customers may not be as crucial as how tied those customers are to your actual product or service.

For some online courses, such as lifestyle-oriented ones about practicing self-care or mindfulness, using an influencer affiliate with a million followers or with a very high daily site visit rate may make the most sense. But if your course is in a niche area, you may be better off using affiliates with fewer followers that are specifically interested in your subject matter.

Be careful to vet your affiliates thoroughly. Fraudulent affiliates will do more harm than good to your program. And affiliates with controversial sites may damage your reputation with existing or potential customers.

If you want to streamline the affiliate selection process, consider using an affiliate network. Networks help prescreen potential affiliates and provide businesses with access to large potential customer pools. They do, however, come with added costs.

2. Choose the best tools

E-commerce entrepreneurs, such as online course creators, need to find the best tool for every function. From your platform choice to your payment process, you should look for a seamless user experience for yourself and your users. Look for high-quality accounting and invoicing tools that come with crucial features including predefined templates, multiple currency options, and the ability to generate instant reports of monthly account statements and customer records.

Additionally, looking for services to help you monitor your metrics so you can refine your marketing programs as you move forward. Perhaps just a standard clickable ad is the best way for you to generate sales. Or maybe an interactive form will attract more attention among your users. Try a variety of options and see what works best.

3. Use analytics to optimize clickthrough rate

You need good analytics to determine what is and isn’t working and which affiliates are bringing in the best results. Google Analytics can be a good start for many creators.

With any functional analytics platform, you should be able to determine a clickthrough rate for every ad or tool you provide to your affiliates. By comparing clickthrough rates, you can see what features you may need to change to generate more clicks. While this may involve a more detailed effort on your part, it is generally worth it.

For example, you may have two different banners with significantly different clickthrough rates. What is it about the two that is causing the difference? Is it the placement of a button? A color scheme? The actual message on the banner? You can try various iterations to maximize the possibility that a user will click through the banner.


4. Follow your competition

This is a classic marketing strategy: See what works for your competition and do the same thing. While you won’t have access to the success statistics of your competitors, you can see if they publish information about their affiliate programs.

For instance, you can determine if they have specific criteria for potential affiliates or offer promotions to bring in new affiliates. You may find ideas you had not previously considered by seeing what works for others.

5. Monitor your affiliates to discourage fraud

As with everything online these days, there is the chance that you may wind up with fraudulent affiliates who inflate their numbers. You should be particularly concerned about fraud if you are paying on a per-click rather than per-sale basis. There are many ways affiliates can create fake clicks, including cookie stuffing, domain spoofing, pixel stuffing, ad stacking, and location fraud.

Worse yet, you may wind up with an affiliate who is a front for a cybercriminal looking to access your systems or your customers’ data. Make sure you have strong cybersecurity protections in place, especially if you also have a remote workforce. According to Toronto-based cybersecurity expert Ludovic Rembert of Privacy Canada, a VPN is one of the most effective tools for encrypting your data so it isn’t visible to hackers.

“A Virtual Private Network (VPN) may sound complicated, but the idea is pretty simple,” says Rembert. “A VPN is a service that creates a virtual tunnel of encrypted data flowing between the user (that’s you) and the server (that’s the internet). A VPN is the best way to incorporate privacy into your virtual world.”

Review your analytics regularly for abnormal activity that could indicate an affiliate is trying to defraud you. You should also build rules for your program that prevent fake sales. For example, you can delay payouts until after a complaint or return period expires.

See it in action

While you may hear of affiliate marketing in the context of larger business, it’s actually a strategic move for creators and businesses of any size. In fact, “smaller” creators should look at starting an affiliate marketing program as simply another avenue for revenue.

It’s easier to put in action than you may think. Think of those students or super fans who have completed your course and are eager to share their experiences via testimonials. They may be the perfect candidates to grow your affiliate network.

Easy goes it  

What’s more, Teachable makes it easy to implement an affiliate marketing plan. Those creators on the Pro plan and above can allow users to promote their course or courses (not coaching product) as an affiliate. Affiliates then receive a percentage of revenue generated from any sale that’s a result of their promotion. In the case of a subscription or payment plan course, affiliates will receive a percentage of each payment, not just the first.

And we put the power in your hands. To set up an affiliate in your school, you will first need to create a new user affiliate account in your school, or designate an existing student as an affiliate. Then, you can determine the amount of commission an affiliate will earn per sale and ensure you understand your affiliate payout options. Finally, you can share affiliate links with your affiliates for their use. Read more about how to set up your very own affiliate program with your Teachable courses in our Knowledge Base article here.

Bringing it home

Learning how to increase affiliate marketing sales is important for creators of any and every size, as it can be a highly effective way to create new sales at a low cost. Focus on attracting high-quality affiliates and providing them with the best possible tools. You can easily monitor effectiveness and adapt accordingly to change what isn’t working. All of these tips will help generate more customers and more revenue for your online courses.

Nahla Davies

Nahla Davies, Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.

Teachable Updates

Your weekly dose of creative chat and Teachable updates. Get our weekly newsletter.