Interview with David Vogelpohl from WPEngine

David Vogelpohl is the Vice President of Web Strategy at WPEngine – one of the top WordPress hosting companies, that has more than 90 000 customers worldwide. WPEngine is also well known for its affiliates system and that is exactly what we wanted to learn more about.

In this interview, we talked about how affiliate systems work for WPEngine and how to make them work for your own business.

Could you tell us a little bit more about yourself?

As you pointed out I’m the V.P. of web strategy at WPEngine. Part of the efforts I lead within WPEngine is our support for the WordPress community. Including our contributions to WordPress core as well as our support for technology partners in the WordPress ecosystem.

WPEngine is quite famous for its culture, quality, and communication. How is it working there?

I really enjoy it. I actually ran a WordPress agency for five years before I started working in WPEngine. And as you can imagine the shift from owning your business to working for another company can be an interesting transition. But I think the culture for me was a big part of what made that easy for me.

I think WPEngine has a set of core values, you can google it and check them out. But I think the expression of that is really fundamentally, we’re there to serve the customer, help them with their objectives but also to support each other in those efforts. So I would say that the culture is genuine and true. And I think it makes it one of the best parts about working there.

Another thing WPEngine is famous for is its affiliate system, probably the best one in the business. So what differs it from others, what makes it so good?

Our affiliate team and the platform that we use to service our partners is interesting because of the strategy and the techniques the affiliate team uses to support our affiliate partners. Whether they be publishers or solution providers in the ecosystem, (the strategy and the techniques) is really to take a look at their business and understand what they’re trying to achieve. And then we try to understand how campaigns that might include WPEngine support that overarching business objective.

So it’s not just “Oh, we pay high commissions and we have high conversion rates”, but rather how can we work together to do something clever that supports someone else in customer. But in a way that’s aligned with the partners business objectives. Then through that, of course, benefit WPEngine.

That kind of customer-first approach and the creative approach to content campaigns. Also solutioning in terms of special campaigns that might provide information to the end user. But again it’s this vision of how do we help someone else, how do we help the partners business and then how in doing those things might we support WPEngine. I think that’s what’s special and unique about our affiliate company.

Do you think affiliates program is something that every business should consider?

I think that if an affiliate program is something that every business should consider. I think before you take that first step before you get into it, you really need to understand all the nuances of what it takes to run a good affiliate program.

First and foremost you need to understand who you’re partnering with, Who are you going to allow in, are they going to do things that might be kind of “iffy” in terms of its quality. What message are they going to be delivering to others? And then also making sure that you have a good affiliate team in place to support those partners. It’s not a set it and forget it strategy. It’s an active strategy in its relationships with others.

And I think you need to understand that who you’re partnering with and how are you going to support them before you take that first leap because it’s a lot more than just setting up an account on affiliate platform. There’s actually an entire business motion in relationship management because behind that. And if you invest in those areas you will get returns but you need to make sure you go into it with the right mindset.

What would you say are the biggest mistakes that businesses usually make when setting up an affiliate program?

I think the number one thing that I’ve seen is a lack of attention to what’s called “affiliate attribution”. In other words, understanding the role the affiliate plays and convincing the customer that your solution might be a good option for them to buy.

The most extreme example I would say would be cookie stuffing. An affiliate that randomly stuffs cookies into people’s browsers and tries to earn commissions that way. Of course, that’s a bad actor and a lot of affiliate teams and a lot of affiliate managers don’t know what to look for in terms of that. They don’t have a good grasp of the role the affiliate’s playing in terms of convincing the customer to get moved over. And so I would say the biggest mistake I see just at large is really not paying attention to that attribution and truly understanding the value.

I think this is also where affiliate marketing gets some of its reputation from in terms of some of the negativity. People see the attribution problems but don’t really ever take action to correct them. They kind of “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and not understand that there are affiliates who drive significant value and there are affiliates that don’t. And so really getting a good grasp of attribution and having a strategy that reflects that. I would say that’s the number one thing this affiliate teams most affiliate managers overlook is this notion of really being on top of your attribution strategy and how you execute against it.

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