Many customers consult ranked lists of products during the purchasing process. Getting placement on these can drive significant sales.

Why it’s a good idea

Being chosen as one of the best products in your niche can be powerful. First off, you’ll have something to use in your marketing messaging, or around your site for trust and authority building. Second, your product’s claims are much more believable to people when someone else says them.

As a bonus, the brand mentions and inbound links should be helpful for SEO.

In our experience, getting on these lists (and performing well for the publisher) can open the door for much larger and more lucrative partnerships.

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Strategy Analysis

Getting in front of customers

Best lists get distribution through two primary channels:

  • Organic Search (SEO)
  • Paid Search (SEM)

Therefore, the discovery of these lists is simple. For the SEO side, just google [best + product name] — anything on the first two pages is a great target.

For the SEM side, repeat the same process and look specifically at the ads. In our experience, the SEM lists are most easy to negotiate your way onto but often require performance incentives.

Many of the “best lists” created by publishers are filled with products that they have a financial relationship with. Large publishers often call this “commerce content,” while the rest of the world simply calls it “affiliate.”

The first step is typically to send an email to the publisher.

With small publishers, you’ll likely get in touch with the right person, but with larger publishers, there can sometimes be a separate “commerce” team. Based on our experience with major review outlets, such as The Wirecutter and Consumer Reports, editorial teams cannot accept products or requests for placement and will encourage you to contact biz dev or partnerships employees directly. Since they’re not editorial staff they’re unlikely to be found on journalist contact websites like MuckRack — we’ve had the best results from going through LinkedIn to discover these employees and then targeting them through email.

Performance Incentives

Many affiliates, particularly those operating on the paid side, will require guaranteed earnings per click (guaranteed EPC). These affiliates will have robust data and tracking systems that enable them to post back revenue per click for any product on the list. They’ll be able to say, “for position 3 we should be earning at least $x per click.”

In a guaranteed EPC agreement, if your affiliate revenue for the publisher doesn’t back out for at least $x per click, you’ll pay the difference at the end of the month.

EPC Guarantee Example

You’ve agreed to $2 per click for position 2. Each approved sale pays the publisher $50. This means that your product needs to convert at least 1/25 visitors they send. If we assume that they send you 100 visits per month, that’s $200 total revenue, and for 1,000 visits they get $2,000 total revenue.

For last month, the publisher was approved for 10 sales, totaling $500, yet they sent a total of 100 clicks. The EPC guarantee covers $200, which is less than the actual earnings, so no payment is due.

This month so far they’ve sent 130 clicks and have only sent 3 approved sales, so you’re operating at a negative balance of (130 * $2) – (3 * $50) = $110, which you’ll have to cut a check for at the end of the month.

Note that this scheme can also be called a PPC Subsidy, particularly with paid media affiliates.

Positioning and Messaging

One major tip is to attempt to negotiate to be the best in a specific category. It’s really only impressive to be top 3, and most affiliates are incentivized to send out as many clicks as possible, so they’ll often break up lists into sections, such as:

  • Overall
  • Best for [use case]
  • Best value

So, if you can’t be the best overall, try to be the best for whatever your product’s strongest marketing claim is.

Budget Considerations

For products with affiliate offers, the budget depends entirely on how well your product converts relative to the rest of the competition. If you have a poor performing product and want to outrank better performing competitors, you’ll probably need to allocate budget to a PPC subsidy.

When working with SEO affiliates, EPC guarantees are often much lower, due to less overhead. For PPC, the traffic quality can be higher (due to specificity in the keyword and audience targeting) but performance requirements are often higher, too.

Tech and Tools

Since most lists are based on performance, having a way to track and verify traffic amounts is essential. UTM parameters can work but can be quite noisy, so we recommend opting for a redirect service or ad server redirect, but be careful to screen out bots and duplicate clicks.