Here at Geniuslink we pride ourselves on quality over quantity. Over our last decade in the affiliate marketing and short links business we’ve succeeded by cutting through the clutter, simplifying complexity, and finding innovative ways to do more with less.
So when it came time to write this article covering trends we foresee in 2022, we asked ourselves if the world really needs yet another predictions article. I saw one a few days ago that was simply a list of 20 “predictions” — how does that help anybody? Are all those trends equally important? No to both, in my opinion.
Instead, we focus on only the cream of the crop: what trends are poised to have the biggest impact on affiliate marketing in the coming year and beyond? Let’s dive in.
1. Affiliate marketing will fill the void as third-party cookies phase out
When it comes to defining what is influential, it doesn’t get any bigger than shifts in paradigms. And the paradigm shift away from third-party cookies is well underway as we enter 2022. Several search engines, including Safari and Firefox, already removed cookies from their browsers in 2021, and Chrome isn’t far behind (though they’ve delayed their move to 2023). Apple has moved to limit tracking in their ecosystem — roughly 20% of users have changed their preferences so they cannot be tracked.
At the 30,000-foot-view, these are just the opening moves as the big tech companies seek to remake the future of privacy online. Consumers have finally gotten to the point of rebelling against the intrusive and annoying experience advertisers have created using third-party cookies, and the online landscape is shifting as a result.
So, third-party cookies are going away, for all the reasons we know about the limitations and misuse of third-party cookies.
Good news is, affiliate marketing shines where third-party cookies falter.
Affiliate marketing can be made to rely on first-party publisher data, extinguishing any need for third-party tracking. It’s the opposite of interruptive — it’s delivering opportunities to purchase into environments that are already trusted and influential. Instead of pushing ads out, affiliate marketing is built around integrating advertising that aligns with content the consumer has proactively sought out.
If we should learn anything from the demise of third-party cookies, it’s that authenticity is key. Affiliate marketing’s growth has always been driven by delivering more authentic, effective advertising than other tactics.
According to Statista, the affiliate marketing industry is predicted to be an $8.2 billion industry by 2022, nearly double the spending we saw in 2015. The broader advertising industry’s shift away from third-party cookies will only accelerate that growth.
For publishers, be on the lookout for ways you can take advantage of this shift in your niche. As the value of third-party cookies plummets, first-party publisher data becomes more important. Use that enhanced leverage to negotiate more equitable partnerships with advertisers, such as by pushing them to move beyond the ubiquitous last-click attribution model to more dynamic commissioning strategies that better account for publishers’ influence on a purchase.
Influencers and content creators should see this as an inflection point for how affiliate marketing is used. Traditionally, the dominant use for affiliate marketing has been conversion. But with more and more emphasis on affiliate marketing, brands will be more interested in exploring how it can drive other key metrics like awareness or loyalty.
2. New habits die hard
The covid-19 pandemic has broadly boosted e-commerce relative to brick-and-mortar stores, as people moved much of their shopping and other needs from in-person to online. As the world slowly gets a handle on the virus this broad shift in our habits won’t reverse course overnight.
Exhibit A: McKinsey research detailing how retail spending online has increased about 30% above pre-Covid-19 levels.
Exhibit B: what’s more, this graph below from Deloitte shows how this online emphasis is predicted to persist after the pandemic.
These broad trends certainly affect some affiliate niches more than others. And the pandemic has been a boon to some areas and a curse to others (like home exercise equipment versus gyms, to use an easy example). We’ve seen these mixed effects both in terms of web traffic and affiliate revenue.
The moral of the story is many of the pandemic trends are here to stay. Sure, some won’t last forever. There’s only so much home gym equipment and couches we can buy, right? But at a broad level, the overall shift towards e-commerce is a boon to affiliate marketing, and understanding how that broad trend affects your niche(s) will be crucial.
3. Do you trust me?
Influencers, and trust, will play an increasingly big role in affiliate marketing. And in 2022, the micro influencers with the closest ties to their audiences will be more important than ever.
Macro influencers can reach tens of thousands or even millions of people, but how many people in that audience will actually be interested in your brand? Macro influencers are the TV and radio of the affiliate world — great reach, poor targeting. And expensive. All those followers come at a price.
What about quality over quantity, instead?
Micro influencers are generally defined as having fewer than 10k followers. They’re much more likely than macro influencers to have built their audiences organically and be hyper-focused on a particular niche or two. Audiences can relate more to influencers with fewer followers rather than some distant public figure with a huge following.
Relatability, trust, and focus on particular subjects. The key ingredients of micro influencers.
Think about a variety of niches. Maybe you make gear for long-distance bikepacking, or organic nutritional supplements. Or want to appeal to musicólogos aka Dominican car culture in New York. Lady Gaga can have all the millions of followers she wants; she’ll never be influential to that audience.
Katy Perry also has no sway here.
The traffic coming from these small niches will never be as impressive as broader categories, but this hyper-targeted approach will likely drive much higher conversion rates.
The final piece driving the rise in micro influencers will be more companies embracing tools to automate and increase efficiency in their affiliate marketing. We focus a lot in this space, helping creators of all kinds maximize revenue from their links. We do this with tools like localization and Choice Pages to improve the shopping experience, boost revenue, and capture international commissions. We also support creators by integrating those services into platforms like Kit, the largest social platform for creators to showcase their favorite products and setups. We acquired Kit in 2019 so we could pair the innovative, effective platform it gives creators with our industry-leading back-end analytics and tools to increase creators’ efficiency and revenue. For instance, we’re in the beta testing phase for our Product Matching API, a tool that allows creators to fully integrate a multi-retailer approach into their kits.
Additionally, there is a new wave of platforms like Upfluence or BuzzSumo that help automate the process of finding influencers. These tools offer the ability to search for influencers by things like keyword, audience size, demographics, engagement rate, topic niche, or even utilize AI-powered recommendations based on a brand’s unique context and needs. You’ll also see additional functionality in tools like these for tracking trending topics, creating reports on campaign and influencer performance, or connecting specifically with journalists to drive media engagement.
If automation tools make it nearly as easy, not to mention cheaper, for a brand to partner with a hundred micro influencers that collectively equal the audience size of one expensive macro influencer, why wouldn’t they?
Strip away the inefficiency from finding and partnering with micro influencers, and suddenly they hold more appeal than ever.
4. Video killed the radio star
Video, in all its forms, will be the dominant content marketing channel.
Youtube is the second most visited website in the world, trailing only Google. There are more tools than ever to create engaging videos, and the cost has fallen sharply. Video often shows higher engagement than writing and images, and it’s incredibly versatile — from explainer videos, to product reviews, to gaming streams, video handles it all.
And unlike a bad piece of writing, low-quality videos can actually be highly effective by being personal and authentic.
You don’t need tens of thousands of dollars to make compelling video content. Often all you need is the smartphone in your pocket.
Research already finds that consumers favor video as a content marketing medium, and this trend will continue, buoyed by investments across multiple platforms. Instagram is testing their own native affiliate tool, for instance. TikTok has grown up enormously during the pandemic; at the beginning of 2020 it had roughly 500 million monthly users. By September 2021 that had doubled to a billion. Twitch has followed a similar trajectory. Live shopping is huge in China and could be the next wave in e-commerce.
Tactically, platforms will wax and wane. Trends will come and go. But strategically, it’s more important than ever to understand that video should be one of your highest marketing investments.
5. Hey Alexa, can you predict the 2022 affiliate marketing trends for me?
Everyone* owns a smartphone. By this year, Microsoft expects nearly three-quarters of US households to own at least one smart speaker. And the predictive AI behind the assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Cortana built into these phones and speakers continues to get more accurate.
Is it any surprise then that people will search more by asking their devices questions, rather than typing search queries? Already, people see voice-enabled assistants as superior to traditional ways of gathering information on computers or phones — PWC has some informative research on this that’s a couple years old now but gives a good baseline sense of where things are at.
As people become more familiar with these AI capabilities in their devices, and the capabilities themselves get better, we’re going to see shifts in search engines preferentially serving up content that matches how people are asking for information. And, most voice searches come from mobile devices, so mobile responsive websites have the advantage.
In the past, you might type “chicken tikka masala recipe” in Google to start your search. But in voice search you ask “Hey Alexa, how do I make authentic chicken tikka masala?” Voice queries are a much more conversational approach compared to text queries.
Make sure you’re positioned to take advantage of this trend.
Ensure that your content — on whatever platform — is optimized for mobile.
Use a question-and-answer format liberally, such as in FAQ sections, titles, or content headers. Offer solutions with a simple, conversational tone that matches the tone that most people use with their AI assistants.
Take some time to understand how search engines like Google are processing voice search compared to text, such as Google’s RankBrain technology that move the emphasis away from individual keywords and towards a more holistic understanding of natural language.
* except your grandfather Larry, of course. But we’ll ignore the 1% of the population like him.
Wrap it up
Alright, that’s enough navel-gazing for now. Anyone who tells you they have a crystal ball for the future is lying, and we’re no different. However, we do have a lot of experience and a track record of success, and that’s enough to at least put some thoughts forward on the most influential trends you should know about.
Affiliate marketing is poised to fill the void as third-party cookies collapse into the dustbin of history.
Covid-19 has changed the world, and those new habits have some sticking power that’s beneficial for our industry at large.
Quality matters more than quantity, especially as new tools reduce the barriers for partnerships at all levels.
Video should always be in your quiver.
And last but not least, voice search continues to redefine the online landscape.
Now go forth and have a great year. And let us know if we can help you at some point along the way — all we do is help people make more money from the links they share. If that sounds useful, let’s chat.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Nate Bender. I’m a born-and-raised Montanan passionate about mountain running and bringing more data into environmental work. When I’m not running ultramarathons, I’m pursuing dual master’s degrees at the University of Montana in Resource Conservation (exp ’22) and Business Analytics (exp ’23). In my spare time, I run the marketing and data analytics for a climate action nonprofit called Footprints Running. For my graduate work, I’ve written about the intersection of data with several topics: climate refugees’ data rights, energy efficiency in the built environment, and mobilizing collective climate activism, among others. While I’m not as deeply versed in affiliate marketing like the pros at Geniuslink, this background gives me a good holistic view of how they leverage data and technology to help their clients be more efficient and profitable in a shifting online landscape. I also viscerally hate clickbait articles, getting up early, and tomatoes. So there’s that.