A Study of Affiliate Customer Journeys

Exploring the data behind single and multi-publisher customer journeys in affiliate.

A Study of Affiliate Customer Journeys

Exploring the data behind single and multi-publisher customer journeys in affiliate.

Executive Summary

In CJ Affiliate’s whitepaper on Affiliate Incrementality we found that affiliate’s presence in the path-to-purchase produces 88% more revenue per shopper when compared to no affiliate presence in the path to purchase. Building on this finding, this Affiliate Customer Journey whitepaper evaluates the relationship of publishers and their position in a consumer’s purchase journey. Leveraging data from our Affiliate Customer Journey solution, we compared how single-publisher and multi-publisher journeys performed.

Key Findings


These findings show that allocating investment to publishers who were part of the journey prior to last click can deliver incremental returns while continuing to invest in the unique reach afforded by single-publisher journeys. In this whitepaper, these findings are made actionable with practical strategic applications for your program. They are further substantiated by success stories from a leading global consumer electronics brand and a major brand from the network services vertical.


We leveraged our proprietary Affiliate Customer Journey solution, which uses data from across the entire CJ Affiliate network, to examine publisher placement in the path-to-purchase and the impact this has on business outcomes. For commissionable events, we selected an observation window of 45 days to provide visibility into how publisher interactions affect key performance indicators (KPIs), regardless of program term referral period. The data for this study was collected from May 2019 through August 2020 and is comprised of aggregated data from over 143M transactions and over US$18B in sales revenue across more than 3,000 advertisers. The purpose of this study is to help the industry understand publisher influence on consumer behaviour during their path to purchase.


Key Terms

Affiliate Customer:
A consumer who made a purchase through an affiliate link.

Assist Publisher (assist):
Publisher that participates in a journey prior to the conversion.

Closer (close):
Publisher who was the last touchpoint prior to the conversion and is rewarded for the subsequent transaction.

Finding 01
83% of affiliate customer journeys involve only one publisher.

What does this mean?

  1. For the majority of affiliate customer journeys, there is a single publisher in the path-to-purchase. Publishers typically do not compete for a conversion.
  2. Publishers attract loyal and diverse audiences through a variety of customer-need driven models which inform and provide consumers with confidence regarding their purchasing decisions.
  3. Ongoing recruitment and diversification across publisher types and sizes allows advertisers to reach new and unique audiences through publishers who meet consumer needs. This leads to sustainable growth.

How do I apply this?

  1. Don’t shy away from leveraging many publishers across many models. A more diverse program will provide greater unique reach.
  2. Recruitment efforts need to be ongoing to maximise long term, sustainable growth (see success story below).
  3. Avoid 'one size fits all' compensation models. Structure offers using Situational Commissioning to reward publishers for their unique strengths so they can maximise engagement with consumers and, ultimately, convert them.
  4. Leverage the affiliate channel’s impressive incrementality (88% more revenue per shopper compared to other channels) to amplify your omni-channel marketing strategy to achieve greater higher conversion rates and greater revenue gains.

Example Strategies to Increase Unique Reach

  1. Work with search publishers. Reach more consumers in a cost-effective way by allowing affiliate search publishers to target long-tail search terms through trademark plus bidding (trademark terms + an additional term, such as 'free shipping'). This is a complimentary approach to direct search efforts that frees up internal teams to focus on key branded terms while creating scale for competitive advantage with a performance-based, risk-free model.
  2. Seek placements in publisher newsletters. Supercharge your email efforts by leveraging an affiliate partner to keep your brand top-of mind. Seek placements in publishers’ newsletter sends that occur shortly after a brand-delivered email campaign. This additional touchpoint improves conversion rates with target consumers who are looking for another 'voice' to help them make the decision to purchase your product.
  3. Leverage third party validation. These recommendations, reviews, or testimonials give consumers confidence in purchasing from you. Partner with content publishers and influencers for an authentic third party voice to help on-the-fence or new-to-you customers convert.
  4. Partner with publishers who offer geo-targeting. Reach consumers who prefer in-store or click-and-collect experiences. Work with publishers who can geo-target consumers online with in-store offers to ensure you’re creating a diverse shopping experience that can also adapt to regional differences in shopping preference.
finding 01: A case study

Growth from Recruitment & Activation

A new-to-affiliate consumer electronics advertiser selects CJ Affiliate to recruit, activate and grow revenue internationally, demonstrating the importance of publisher recruitment for a diverse portfolio.


With a focus on recruitment, activation and diversification of their publisher base, the advertiser looked to CJ Affiliate’s managed services to move merchandise and grow top line revenue.

  • CJ’s recruitment solutions and network expertise helped the team identify, recruit, and activate a diverse mix of publishers to reach key customer demographics in international markets.
  • The CJ account team and Global Publisher Development team leveraged data science insights and their strong international publisher relationships to activate and quickly optimise new partnerships.
  • The CJ account team also employed elasticity testing, tested regional offers in new international markets and developed an automated placement tracker to identify ideal opportunities by region, publisher vertical, rate and time period.
  • Situational Commissioning allowed the brand to offer flexible, premium, exclusive rates on specific products at certain times to support successful launches and move inventory.
acj_revenue_graph acj_international_markets_graph acj_key_kpi_graph acj_apac_graph
Recruitment & Activation Highlights
  • 93% of publishers recruited in 2018 were revenue-active within 12 months. And publishers newly recruited in 2019 drove 22% of program revenue for the year.
  • Publishers recruited and activated in 2018 went on to drive 78% of the program’s revenue in 2019.
  • The program’s revenue-active publisher base grew by 61% from Q3 to Q4, and by another 31% for the same period in 2019.
  • 77% of publishers recruited and activated in 2018 remained revenue-active through Q4 2019.
  • In 2019, the program increased distribution among content small/micro-influencers by 60%, mid-tier pubs grew by 30%, while top tier revenue concentration risk decreased by 20%.
Finding 02
17% of affiliate customer journeys involve more than one publisher, resulting in higher average order values, regardless of the publisher type or publisher position in the path-to-purchase.

What does this mean?

  1. Our data shows that all publisher models play a role in both assisting and closing conversions.
  2. Affiliate journeys are as complex and infinite as the shoppers behind them. Multi-publisher journeys are more valuable journeys and publishers should be viewed as complementary.
  3. Multi-publisher journeys should be encouraged and rewarded. While most affiliate customer journeys involve a single publisher, multi-publisher journeys offer consumers differentiated third-party validation resulting in higher value purchases (as demonstrated by higher AOVs)
Unique Publishers in Journey
% Difference in AOV from
Single-Publisher Journey
1 n/a
2 12%
3 18%
4 20%
5 32%
6+ 30%

How do I apply this?

  1. Structure compensation to account for the frequency with which publishers are involved in multi-publisher journeys. Program terms should be easy to understand as hyper-complex compensation terms can hinder results.
  2. Make recruitment an ongoing priority. Recruiting a diverse group of publishers, who reach unique audiences, enables you to reach unique audiences for long-term results.
  3. Use customer journey data to understand which publishers are reaching consumers upstream of a conversion and invest in media exposure or content with those publishers.
  4. Ensure that you are investing in diversified exposure across all varieties of promotional models (loyalty, deal, content, influencers, search, etc) in order to increase the number of affiliate touch-points in the consumer shopping journey so that your AOV increases as every type of publisher model helps to both assist and convert consumers.

Example Strategies to Increase AOV

  1. Partner with a diverse group of content publishers and influencers. Provide these partners with flat media spend in exchange for content creation, reviews about your product, and prime brand placement. These partners value authenticity which translates to an increase in consumer confidence wherever they are in their shopping journey from product discovery to conversion.
  2. Optimise with or add loyalty partners to your program. These partners play a key role in assisting shoppers with product and brand exploration and discovery, and thus provide your brand with additional reach. Offer increased cash back and prime placement opportunities to get more exposure on the loyalty publisher’s site, which helps consumers discover your brand and increases their likelihood of converting with you over a competitor.
  3. Leverage search publishers who specialise in trademark plus (TM+) strategies. This is a cost-effective way to expand your search footprint. These publishers offer greater expansion, on a performance basis, that is complimentary to your direct search efforts. TM+ partners provide a competitive edge by ensuring that your brand appears in longer-tail search results when consumers are in their product discovery phase or research phase (e.g. searching for “best laptops”).
Finding 02: A Case Study

Growth from Investing in Influence

Major Service Provider Increases Return & Efficiency with CJ's Affiliate Customer Journey Solution
A global home and business services brand leveraged CJ’s Affiliate Customer Journey reporting to diversify media partners which resulted in increased ROAS and growth in new customer contracts.

  • The advertiser, a tenured affiliate partner, has a successful history of continually outperforming competitors in the telecommunications category.
  • The CJ account team looked to optimise return on ad spend (ROAS) with current media partners and recommended a shift in investment based on Affiliate Customer Journey data to incorporate publishers who drove initial customer influence.
  • Leveraging CJ’s Affiliate Customer Journey solution, the CJ team analysed customer journeys across the advertiser’s program and identified a group of publishers whose influence in converting customers was not known via standard affiliate last-click model.
  • The CJ account team proposed increasing investing with additional key partners who influenced the beginning of the customer journey, the point of research and consideration, as a well as with program converters.
  • The CJ account team recommended testing investment with seven new media partners who had shown pivotal influence early in the customer journey.
  • After analysing results, the strategy benefited all publishers who participated in multi-touch journey which resulted in increased program conversion and increased ROAS.
Results (Q3 YOY)


Affiliate journeys are as complex as the shoppers behind them and all publisher models play an important role in these customer journeys. The ideal position for an advertiser is to be present in as many customer paths as possible. Focus on creating optimal moments because there is no optimal journey.

Single-publisher journeys reach unique customers and offer strong scale and reach. Multi-publisher journeys are equally important and lead to even more valuable outcomes. A diverse portfolio that prioritises and invests in multi-touch publisher journeys introduces brands to new audiences. By providing third-party validation, these publishers convert potential buyers into customers.

Considering the channel’s ability to drive 88% more revenue per shopper compared to other channels, ongoing publisher recruitment, activation, and diversification are essential for long-term and sustained growth. A strategy that encourages both single and multi-publisher journeys is critical for brands to gain competitive advantage and improve the bottom line.

Learn more about this study and find out how we can help you intelligently grow your business.