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Not Your Grandma’s Couponing: How to Modernize Your Coupon Strategy

If the term “couponing” conjures images of your grandma clipping tiny newspaper squares or “extreme couponers” toeing the hoarder line, then you have a pretty antiquated take on it — chances are your business does, too.

When it comes to digital couponing strategies, many companies are stuck in the Dark Ages, basing digital tactics on old-fashioned practices. But couponing is actually a relevant marketing strategy that can add value to even the most brand-conscious companies.

A recent study reported that 73 percent of American women have printed a coupon from a website, and 53 percent of consumers use daily-deal sites like Groupon or LivingSocial. Here are the top couponing sites and their respective popularity among users:


When it comes to today’s couponing, the proof is in the pudding (or between the perforated dotted lines). Consider the following benefits of implementing a coupon strategy:

    • Amplified awareness: Coupon sites boast broad reach and large user bases that allow for maximum ROI delivery. Those who print digital coupons are typically young, affluent, and educated. Thus, you can target your most valuable consumers while they’re developing their tastes and, as they age, you have even more opportunity to build brand equity. These consumers are also 35 percent more likely to have a household income of $75,000 or more, and they’re 17 percent more likely to have graduated college.
    • Positive brand perception: If your customers are looking for discounts, adding a coupon strategy to your affiliate campaign can really furnish your brand’s perception. In a single day, Gap sold 445,000 “$50 for $25” coupons on Groupon thanks to social media promotion by customers.
    • Increased sales through exposure: A leading children’s clothing retailer ran a double cash-back promotion with Ebates and received a deal of the week, daily double, and solo email placements. It saw a 125 percent increase in clicks, a 148 percent increase in orders, and a 120 percent increase in sales when comparing its placement week to the following week.

If your product is a commodity with a lot of competition, you know promotions are important for driving sales. Partnering with coupon sites can be crucial, provided you invest wisely and manage your program to deliver effective, data-driven results.

While these are solid benefits of a coupon strategy, be sure implementing one makes sense for your company.

For example, if your website lacks offer coupons or a promo box, it’s hard to understand how coupons will add value to your business. If you’re a single-channel retailer with a high degree of product personalization, examine how coupons affect your pricing approach. Also, determine at what point in the buying cycle customers will use them.

Whether you have an existing coupon strategy for your brand or you’re just getting started, it can be difficult adjusting to the digital age.

Build a Solid Infrastructure

These days, most digital coupon sites are part of affiliate programs; this is how merchants do business with them. If you want to gain value from coupon sites, invest in an affiliate program. Be sure to clearly identify the partners you want to work with and in what capacity you want to work.

The following tips touch on successfully working with coupon sites through your affiliate program:

  • Be selective with your coupon partners. Research coupon websites before accepting them into an affiliate program. To ensure relevance, visit each site that applies to your program. This could include an applicable category on the site or a prominent section featuring similar types of companies, offers, or products.
  • Have the right oversight in place. Experienced in-house managers or specialized third-party firms should oversee your team’s coupon partners. An effective in-house manager should work closely with the coupon site counterpart and use multi-attribution models to discern what’s converting the most viewers into buyers. New customer acquisition and incrementality should be key focal points.
  • Get serious about compliance. Affiliate managers must be clear about permissible behavior by coupon sites. Common hot buttons include trademark bidding, promotion of expired offers, promotion of nonexistent offers (e.g., “save up to 40 percent”), and forced-click tactics. To monitor coupon sites, check your larger partners’ pages weekly to ensure alignment.
  • Invest in your relationships. Regularly create unique promotions for specific coupon sites. Encourage sites to put your brand in front of their users by investing in their programs like email, blogging, social media, and display ads.
  • Reward-based on desired behaviors. Set your commissions based on the value of behavioral results. Offer different levels of compensation based on the outcome, whether it’s new customer acquisition, awareness, or conversions. Your large commission payouts should only go to coupon sites that add significant value.
  • Track results and incrementality. Tracking allows for an understanding of your coupon sites’ contributions, from the beginning to the end of the customer journey. Then, you can use the data to inform program optimization.

Take It to the Next Level

Clearly, a solid base for your coupon strategy is important. Upgrade your plan further by taking a smart approach to common couponing challenges like codes leaving specific channels or ineffective partnership offers. Keep these points in mind as you forge ahead:

  • Don’t be surprised when your codes leave the intended channel. You can’t publish a promo code in a magazine and expect it to stay in its originally intended channel; the same goes for digital coupons. This can have a major effect on your reporting if it’s only based on the code. Seventy-two percent of online shopping carts are abandoned, with half of those shoppers leaving to search for coupon codes. It’s an unfortunate fact that coupon codes leak to coupon sites, social media pages, and dozens of other places — an occurrence called “coupon search leak.”
  • Send single-use codes for individual offers. If your code needs to stay in its channel, use a single-use code or a link-based code that activates an offer in the shopping cart, and limit the duration. This will mitigate the problem of a code appearing on an unintended coupon site. If you’re tying certain offers to specific partners, give them link-based offers that activate based on a specific tracking link. That way, partners won’t steal other link-based offers because they would generate commissions for their competitor.
  • Use landing pages for offline partners. Printed coupons are long-term by nature, and their inability to be canceled can cause problems. Rather than run a code in a magazine or other print medium, direct readers to a landing page that engages a link-based offer. Not only will this approach save money, but it will also ensure the publication’s ROI is being measured actively and accurately.
  • Create and optimize a coupon code landing page on your site. Understandably, merchants are often bothered when searches for their coupons and brand lead to a coupon site rather than to their own. Correct this by creating a landing page on your company website that features coupon codes with a URL structure that looks like this:

Next, optimize your landing page and keep it fresh with content — chances are it will rank high and bring more users to your site.


Coupon sites shouldn’t be an afterthought for customers already intending to make a purchase — they should be leveraged to drive customer engagement and funnel awareness. Use these tactics to foster a solid foundation for your couponing strategy, and upgrade your strategy to stay ahead of the curve.

A lot has changed since your grandma’s coupon-clipping sessions, and these updated digital methods will ensure your coupon strategy will never reach her kitchen table.

About the Author: Robert Glazer, founder and managing director of Acceleration Partners, is a customer acquisition specialist with an exceptional track record in growing revenue and profits for fast-growing consumer products and services companies. His clients include Adidas, eBay, Gymboree, The Honest Company, ModCloth, Reebok, Shutterfly, Target, Tiny Prints, and Warby Parker. For more info on how to make coupon sites work for your brand, download Acceleration Partners’ latest e-book.

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