Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. If you click through and purchase an item, I may earn a commission. See my terms of service for details.
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 their 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.
As I thought more about my affiliate partnerships and what made sense to promote, I created a document called “Affiliate Program Guidelines,” which addressed features I sought. For instance, a program should have a minimum referral period/cookie window of thirty days and a commission rate of 30 percent.
Below is a list of factors that guide what affiliate programs I join. Additionally, you should promote products/services that you understand and align with your target market to increase conversion rates.
The best advertisers pay commission rates of 30 percent or more. Affiliate managers who are serious about their programs offer excellent compensation and incentives to heighten affiliate engagement. A minimum of 30 percent yields a win-win scenario. Programs that pay recurring commissions and for leads are fantastic too. On the other hand, merchants who pay less than 30 percent don’t grab my attention and active participation.
On top of regular commissions, some merchants pay bonuses and volume sales incentives. Affiliate marketing is about marketing, but it’s about sales too. Savvy merchants understand that and want to motivate affiliates to sell their brains out. For example, Fiverr pays up to $100 for first-time buyers and up to $1,000 in bonuses. Many web hosting programs offer huge bonuses as well.
- Cookie Length
A minimum conversion window of 30 days benefits both parties. I like advertisers that give me time to receive credit for my promotional efforts. For example, someone clicks on my affiliate link, makes a purchase 27 days after, and I earn a commission. Some programs have insufficient 24-hour cookie windows such as Amazon Associates and the eBay Partner Network. Other companies like Thrive Themes and Bluehost offer referral periods of more than 100 days.
- Deep Linking
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 deep link to an article that relates to my post. Most affiliate networks offer deep linking, and it’s up to advertisers to enable.
- Earning Potential
I want to promote items that belong to growing industries and sectors, not declining ones. Furthermore, I want to join programs that have high conversion rates and earnings per click (EPC). Ideally, I want to be an early mover in a market that is exploding and ripe for opportunities. For instance, I like promoting financial technology companies because many of these businesses offer innovative, high growth products/services that I use and recommend like TransferWise.
- Reporting & Activity Data
Reporting and activity data such as impressions, clicks, conversions, and commissions are standard. Therefore, you shouldn’t have a problem unless you deal with substandard merchants, affiliate programs, software, or networks.
- Trial Period
The longer the trial period, the better. A minimum trial period of thirty days is sufficient to get leads immersed in a product/service whereas fewer days might not do the trick. For example, Hootsuite offers a 30-day trial whereas Buffer provides seven. All else being equal, the more time a prospect invests, the higher the chance of converting.
- Coupons & Deals
Coupons don’t always make sense or align with an advertiser’s objectives, but programs that do have regular promotions, deals, or coupons get my active participation.
- Marketing Materials & Creative Assets
In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.” I’ve gotten excited about programs only to be disappointed by their marketing materials, creative assets, and banners. Advertising materials are critical to promotional activities, and they can help increase conversion rates. Savvy affiliate managers understand that and design marketing materials that are current and appealing. They also conduct A/B tests to assess which creative assets convert higher.
- Program Terms & Policies
A program’s terms 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 don’t allow publishers to use specific keywords for search engine marketing (SEM).
- Affiliate Network
Affiliate networks such as FlexOffers and ShareASale are convenient because of the variety of merchants, categories, and items available in one place. That said, I do join self-hosted and privately hosted programs if they are attractive.
- Affiliate Support
I had a bad experience with a merchant in which I couldn’t log into my affiliate account and got no response from the affiliate manager after inquiring. I eventually had to call them, and the support was just as pathetic. Suffice it to say; that program was relegated to the bottom of my list.
Some affiliate managers act as if they’re doing you a favor whereas others appreciate your contributions. The programs you want to join are those that welcome and respect affiliates.