Choosing a good affiliate program

By | August 30, 2007

Affiliate programs are schemes whereby you sell the products of a merchant, and get people to sign up with, or buy from the merchant. The merchant in return offers you a commission for every successful referral that buys from the merchant. The activity of selling other people’s products on the Web is called online affiliate marketing, and is amongst the best ways to make money online; of course selling your own products is best, but this does require much more initial preparation and planning.

Affiliate marketing is so simple in concept, that the only “thing” you need to worry about is your affiliate merchant. Actually this makes up most of the planning you should do before applying for the program. Remember that your affiliate merchant should be considered your partner, because affiliate marketing is in reality – a partnership.

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Just like in the offline world, affiliate marketing is not about applying for more and more programs, hoping to strike it rich with a few. It is about quality, not quantity. A few good affiliate programs that work are better than dozens that do not. Here’s some pointers on how to identify good affiliate programs.

  • The affiliate program needs to be free to join without buying anything first. There is no such thing as a pay-to-join affiliate program. But, you’ll be surprised there are a few “affiliate programs” like that.
  • Make sure the merchant is promoting quality products. This is the golden rule. Do not promote products that are low in quality, or your reputation could suffer irreversibly. Think long term.
  • Make sure the affiliate merchant’s landing page is of quality in terms of navigation, design, and appearance. Also, preferably it should be a page describing the exact product, and not somewhere else on the merchant’s site, in which it is confusing to locate the product you are promoting. These factors determine your success rate. Would you sign up with a merchant that never updates their site or pages, or has frequent downtime?
  • This one goes without saying – high lifetime commissions with two or more reward tiers. This means the merchant pays you for life on every future sale you refer, and also pays you a portion of the sales generated by other merchants who joined through you. Not very common, but these are the best.
  • The merchant should have a track record of paying promptly and on time. Avoid merchants whose systems are vague in description.
  • The merchant should offer cookies that will not expire for a long time. The reason is clear – you would want to be properly credited for your referral even long after the visitor has come and gone. Lifetime cookies are even better, but these are hard to find.
  • Good affiliate support from the merchant is essential. When you ask them a question, they should respond promptly. They should provide you with tools like banners, tracking tools, and optional newsletters. Look up their affiliate program info, is it clear or vague? Do they offer benefits to affiliates? Support is one of the most important Web criteria, that merchants without it cannot be considered trustworthy enough to pay their affiliates what is their due.
  • Financial stability. What could be worse than working hard to promote a product only to have the merchant go belly up next year?
  • Dishonesty of any kind is the biggest no-no. In the past, I’ve come across a few affiliate programs that were stealing commissions from affiliates without their knowledge. This is one of the biggest problems of affiliate marketing – having your rightfully owed commissions stolen.

As you can see, it is quite a task of choosing the right affiliate merchant. Normally, you will not know how bad the program is until you have long signed up, and have put in time, effort, and expenses to promote their products. Always read the Terms of Service carefully; there could be hidden nasty clauses. Also, conduct online searches on the merchants beforehand. Asking the merchant support relevant questions should go a long way in eliminating the lousy merchants from your list. Simply drop the ones that can’t be bothered to reply. Remember, successful marketing starts with relationships, and that relationship begins between you and your affiliate merchant.

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