Saturday, December 15, 2012

What Makes a Good (or Great) Affiliate Program?

When I started out trying to earn some income online, it was with domaining, but not like it is today.  Back then (around 2000), you bought domains and listed them for sale.  I didn't know about parking, I couldn't build webpages, so you were purely hoping someone wanted that domain and would offer to buy it.  The internet was practically brand new and growing, and it seemed like domains would be in demand.  Some big sales had even been reported at the time, like

Eventually, I found a free website builder that made it easy to build webpages (mostly point and click, as easy as using Microsoft Word).  Then I discovered affiliate programs.  You mean if I put a link on my webpage, and someone clicks through and buys something, I'll earn a commission?  You can track that?  Sounds great, the internet is taking off, webpages are open for business 24/7, maybe there's something to it!

So after years of dealing with affiliate programs, I've learned that not all affiliate programs are equal.  I did do a post in 2001 called My Favorite Affiliate Program that is still valid, however it's a home business / network marketing type affiliate program.  If you have a domain with traffic that is in the home business or work at home market, this would be a great affiliate program for that.

Here are some general tips on what to look for or avoid in affiliate programs.

- Affiliate programs should have an easy sign up, and be free to join and try out.  If a company makes it hard for you to join their affiliate program, with a long approval process, to me it's a warning sign that they could be hard to deal with in other areas.

- Choose a company that has a product or service you know about, and ideally use yourself.  If you have dealt with the company as a customer, and are happy with them, it will make it so much easier to promote them in your marketing.  For example, I'm a long time Godaddy customer and also an affiliate of theirs.  As a satisfied customer, I find it easy to recommend them to others.

- If the company lets customers join or sign up for an account for free, that's great.  It allows them to track that customer and keep them tied to you, so if they buy something in the future you'll earn a commission.  If the people you send to their site have to buy something then and there, and aren't tracked for you, it's harder to earn.

- The company doesn't deduct fees from your affiliate earnings.  Some sites like Clickbank and Commission Junction have a nice variety of products and companies to promote, however if you go through a slow period they will deduct fees from your earnings, some kind of administration fee.  If you are earning commissions for every period then this doesn't apply, but features like this can eat away at your earnings.  Another drawback with Clickbank and CJ is that if you promote a lot of their links on different sites, you have to keep track of programs or products that get discontinued, which means you'd have links on your pages that don't work.  A plus is that if you can find one of their products or companies that work for you, it can be magic.

- The upgrade feature.  Good dating affiliate programs, for example, let people join free and upgrade later (which you'll earn a commission from).  If you are getting a lot of free sign ups to a program, but no one upgrades, you should think of changing programs.

- They have a good % payout.  Some companies I've seen have affiliate payouts of 1% to 3% on sales.  That is super low and not really worth your time, unless you can generate a huge volume of sales.  I once generated a sale of several hundred dollars for a travel site, and only earned something like $5.  Not worth my time!  On the flipside, one dating company I'm an affiliate for pays $55 per upgrade (even if the cost of their upgrade was less).  And the upgrade ratio is good.  Make sure the commission is worth your time.

-  Good quality and easy to use affiliate links and banners that update themselves.  Give me good marketing materials!  Text links normally work better than banners, but the company should give you good ad copy for links and banners that are attractive (and update themselves).  I hate banners or links that have end dates and have to be changed, that can take up a lot of time.  Some companies I've seen even make it hard for you to find a simple text link to use.  If they have good marketing materials with cut and paste HTML, it's a sign they're serious about their affiliate program.

- They pay regularly by cheque or paypal, with low minimums and on time.  Don't make me have to earn $500 to trigger a payment.  As little as $25 or $50 should trigger a payment, and payments should be processed every 2 to 4 weeks, which is reasonable.  I can renew 3 domains with $25.

- Good affiliate stats.  The program should let you see how much traffic you send to their site on a daily basis, when you make sales, and how your commission is calculated.  Surprisingly, not all affiliate programs do this!

- Sub affiliates.  Does the affiliate program let you refer other affiliates, and then earn a percentage off their efforts?  If so, it can add to your earnings, especially if you sign up a winner!

A few other notes on affiliate programs:

-  Choose a company that offers a product or service related to your domain or webpage content.  For example, a domain blog should promote domains, domain services and website services.  Not children's clothing.  The exception is some products or services are general and can go on almost any site, because some % of the population may always be interested (e.g.: dating).  If you know of any programs like that that work for you, let me know!  In general though, keep it related to your content.

- If you have a good domain with type in traffic, and that traffic is looking for a specific product or service, consider pointing that domain directly to an affiliate link.  If you can match a domain to a good affiliate program, you may not have to build a webpage and create content, unless you decide to build a business on the domain.  If you are able to do this, though, make sure you check that the affiliate link is up and running on a regular basis, because if the link isn't working you aren't earning.  I often see domains on parked pages that I believe could do better if paired with a good affiliate program.

- To add to the previous point, test your links and banners after you set them up to make sure they work and are tracking.  After this, monitor them when you can to see that they keep working.  Nothing like checking a webpage after a few months and finding that that banner is now non-functional.

- Are you getting paid?  If after two to three months you've been sending traffic to a site, and haven't earned anything, it's time to change it up.  Can you promote it differently, or should you just switch affiliate programs?  Decide what's best.  Maybe three months is too long to wait!

-  Test everything.  Test links and banners, where you put them on your page, the ad copy you use.  Always test and use what works, and drop what doesn't.  When you find an affiliate program that works, it's great.

-  Fewer good affiliate programs are better than lots of bad ones.  Don't load your webpages up with multiple affiliate links from lots of programs.  Find the good ones that work and promote those.  Put your efforts into the programs that give you a return.

-  Use some Adsense.  The Adsense program through Google has a good feature, which is you will earn something on every clickthrough.  It complements affiliate earnings very well, and in some cases I've found works better.

Affiliate programs are but one way to earn online.  They can be a good part of your online income if you choose the right ones for your webpages.  Hopefully I've given you a few good ideas that can help with your web marketing, if I think of any more points I will add them to this post.

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