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In my early days as an affiliate marketer, my focus was on joining programs that I felt had high marketability and appeal. I was less concerned about a program’s overall structure, but more interested in the financial outcomes that hadn’t yet occurred. For example, I joined Julep’s affiliate program, which paid a commission rate of 3 percent. A couple of months later, I revisited Julep’s program and thought more about its commission structure. To earn $3,000, I would need to sell $100,000. Knowing how difficult it is to sell $10,000 of merchandise, never mind $100,000, left me scratching my head. I realized that partnering with fantastic merchants, promoting high-converting products, and joining excellent programs is how you make money in affiliate marketing.
A good product with unfavorable affiliate program terms won’t generate significant income for you. The same can be said for a good program that supports a low-converting product. You must promote a good product with a rewarding program to achieve your goals. To get on the path to success, I created a document called “Affiliate Program Guidelines,” which addressed the terms I sought. For instance, a program should have a minimum referral period/cookie length of thirty days and a commission rate of 30 percent.
Upcoming is a list of factors that guide what affiliate products and programs I promote. Additionally, you should market items that you understand and appeal to your target market to increase your conversion rates.
Product & Program Criteria
- Company status
- Conversion rate
- Commission rate
- Cookie length
- Payout threshold
- Affiliate tracking software
- Deep linking
- Program management
- Terms & policies
- Free trial & plans
- Marketing materials
I want to promote products and merchants that offer unique value propositions and dominate their markets. Case in point, Shopify is an excellent company that leaves its competitors in the dust. It does so many things right that thousands of users try and buy its online store software. It’s well-reviewed, growing, and has an excellent reputation. Alternatively, Udemy is not a company I want to promote. It’s one of many e-learning websites and competes in a saturated marketplace. There isn’t anything unique about Udemy, and it has a bad reputation regarding transparency, fairness, and content quality.
The best performing merchants frequently convert traffic into sales. Earnings per click (EPC) indicates how much money an affiliate program is generating per click. It can also represent how much an affiliate is making per click. Without EPC or conversion data, it’s impossible to say how a merchant is performing. (Some merchants boast about how well their programs do without providing real evidence.)
EPC data is available on most affiliate networks, and a valid comparison can be made between similar merchants, products, and services. A merchant with a low EPC could indicate that conversion rates need improving or the merchant is new.
Advertisers who pay single to low double-digit commission rates (or who nickel and dime publishers) aren’t worth your consideration. (Note: some industries pay low rates because they operate on thin margins.) A commission rate of 20 percent is the benchmark I use, whereas the fixed commission amount will vary. An advertiser who pays well wants to:
- Scale its program and revenues
- Build profitable relationships and mutually beneficial outcomes
- Show an appreciation for affiliates
Merchants who pay less than 30 percent don’t grab my attention and active participation.
Giving marketers one or a few days to convert traffic is ridiculous and unfair. By contrast, a 30-day conversion period allows for prospects to become customers and affiliates to get credit for their promotional efforts. Although thirty-day referral periods are a standard industry practice, a minimum of 90 days should be commonplace. For instance, Thrive Themes and Bluehost offer favorable referral periods of more than 100 days.
A low payout threshold keeps affiliates motivated and engaged. Many merchants have reasonable thresholds of zero to $100. On affiliate networks, $50 is the standard. However, some companies want publishers to reach $100+ before issuing payments, which is unjust I’ve skipped and quit programs over bogus payment minimums.
Affiliate Marketing Software
Affiliate tracking software is the cornerstone of success, and there are good and bad applications. Reliable tracking, user-friendly dashboards, and robust reporting make for excellent user experiences. Activity data—such as impressions, clicks, and conversions—should be available. Applications that omit activity data and reporting make it difficult to track and evaluate performance. Also, you should avoid applications that don’t make updates regularly to tackle market trends, like Apple’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention protocol. I know at least one network that hasn’t addressed that issue.
Deep linking is the practice by which an affiliate creates a link to a specific page on the merchant’s site. For example, instead of using a generic homepage affiliate link, I can link to an article that relates to my post. Deep linking has the potential to increase conversion rates because traffic is sent to targeted landing pages. Most affiliate tracking apps offer deep linking, but advertisers might have to enable.
The best merchants typically employ affiliate managers who can run and scale programs effectively. These managers welcome everyone (not only existing customers) to promote their goods and approve affiliates quickly. Please consider the above criteria when selecting merchants and programs.
Terms & Policies
A program’s terms and policies are worth reading because you want to ensure they align with your marketing ideas, goals, and activities. Also, you want to abide by the merchant’s rules to avoid disciplinary action. For instance, most affiliate programs prohibit publishers from using specific keywords for search engine marketing (SEM). Merchants don’t want to compete against affiliates in the cost-per-click (CPC) bidding process.
Free Trials & Plans
I like merchants that offer free trial periods and plans. The longer the trial period, the better. A minimum period of thirty days is sufficient to get leads immersed in a product/service, whereas fewer days might not suffice. Free plans are even better to create user stickiness. For example, Sendinblue offers a free email marketing plan, whereas AWeber does not. All else being equal, the more time a lead invests, the higher the chance of converting the prospects. Fair return policies and money-back guarantees are also beneficial.
Advertising materials can help increase brand awareness and conversion rates. I’ve gotten excited about programs only to be disappointed by their marketing materials, creative assets, and banners. Good programs offer marketing materials that are useful and appealing. They also conduct A/B tests to assess which creative assets convert higher.
There are thousands of merchants, products, and services to promote. You must select high potential items with robust affiliate programs to achieve your goals. The criteria in this post will help you to do that. Of particular importance are conversion rates, commissions, cookie periods, payout threshold, and affiliate tracking software.