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. This lead me to join Julep’s affiliate program for example when I saw $7 and $15 commissions on subscriptions. How I was going to get those subscriptions was an afterthought. A couple of months later, I revisited Julep’s program and thought more about their commission structure. To earn $10K, I would need to sell $100K of products. Knowing how difficult it is to sell $10K, never mind $100K, left me scratching my head.
As I thought more about my affiliate partnerships, I drafted a document called “Affiliate Selection Guidelines” which outlined my requirements as an affiliate going forward, for example, a program should offer a 30-day cookie window (also known as “return days”) and have a minimum payout of 30%.
I believe the top affiliate programs have a set of parameters in place to benefit both the advertiser (merchant) and publisher (affiliate). Here are some essential considerations to help you select the top affiliate programs.
#1 Commission Rate
If I wanted to be rewarded single digit commission rates or next to nothing for my efforts, I would work as an employee and not as an affiliate marketer. Just like all professional athletes, I want to get paid. The best affiliate programs will dangle an attractive commission rate of 30% or more to entice affiliates. Anything less than 30%, as in the case of Amazon Affiliates, won’t garner active participation and planning on my behalf. For instance, I do add Amazon affiliate links to my content occasionally, but with a maximum commission rate of 10%, I don’t pay much attention to their program. Sorry Jeff Bezos, screw your employees all you want, but you aren’t going to screw me too. Affiliate managers who are serious about their programs will offer excellent compensation and incentives to heighten affiliate participation and activity.
Another item you should look out for is programs that offer recurring or lifetime commissions. These programs will pay you as long as the person you signed up continues to pay, for example, AWeber offers recurring commissions of 30%. These programs are rare but definitely fantastic to find success with.
#2 Conversion Days / Cookie Window
As I mention in another post, one drawback of Udemy’s affiliate program is their seven-day conversion window which is well below the industry average of 30 days. I like affiliate programs that give me a chance to convert my marketing efforts within a reasonable period. Dinosaurs like Amazon and eBay enforce a nonsensical 24-hour conversion window i.e. if a purchase isn’t made after clicking my link within this timeframe, my efforts will go unrewarded. Conversely, take Thrive Themes’s affiliate program that offers a cookie duration of two years, which is extremely generous. I believe in most cases (depending on the product/service and price) customers will purchase or pass on an item within 30 days. Therefore, the best programs offer at least 30 days to convert buyers.
#3 Earnings Potential
The PC desktop market is getting slaughtered. Last year was the first year since 2008 were total shipments dipped below 300 million units. Yes, 300 million units still equate to a lot of sales, but the sales trend continues to plummet leading me to believe that conversion rates are falling as well.
As an affiliate marketer, I want to promote products and services that belong to a growing industry/market sector, not a declining one. Ideally, I want to be an early mover in a market that is exploding and ripe for opportunities. For instance, I’m exploring affiliate opportunities in FinTech because many financial technology companies are producing services I like and use such as TransferWise. I want to be active in the markets that offer high conversion rate potential.
#4 Marketing Materials
In the words of Jerry Maguire, “Help me, help you.” I’ve gotten excited about several programs only to be disappointed by their marketing materials, creative, and banners. Advertising creative is important in marketing, blogging, and it helps with conversion rates. Savvy, split-test minded affiliate managers understand this and ensure they offer marketing materials that are current and appealing. Furthermore, affiliate managers should stay organized by removing old stock and campaigns, so that affiliates don’t have to sift through.
#5 Deep Linking
Deep linking is the practice by which an affiliate builds a direct or custom link to a specific product page on a merchant’s website. It can improve conversion rates since the visitor will land on the product/service page of interest versus the advertiser’s home page. I prefer programs that offer deep linking capabilities because I can build context around the link I want to promote. Programs without deep linking options naturally attract greater limitations.
#6 Affiliate Marketing Networks
I enjoy using affiliate networks such as LinkShare and CJ but hate Share-A-Sale, Ambassador, and Impact Radius. In fact, irrespective of how attractive a program is, I won’t apply to it if it belongs to one of those networks. LinkShare and CJ are very easy on the eyes and stress-free to navigate. They’ve allocated a lot of resources to UI (user interface), and it shows. Without fail, many of the top programs gravitate toward top networks to leverage a positive affiliate experience.
#7 Coupons and Deals
I use DreamHost for my hosting needs and promote their services as an affiliate. They give affiliates two promotional options of 25% and 40% to entire prospects. Bluehost, on the other hand, doesn’t offer any ongoing deals for affiliates to use which is disadvantageous. Admittedly, coupons don’t always make sense or align with an advertiser’s objectives, but programs that do have regular promotions or ongoing discounts get my attention and priority.
#8 Affiliate Manager & Support
I recently had a bad experience with a program whereby I couldn’t log into my account, emailed affiliate services, and got no response. I eventually had to call them, and the service was just as pathetic. Suffice it to say; this program was relegated to the bottom of my list.
Some program managers and their support people act as if they’re doing you a favor whereas other managers consistently demonstrate an appreciation for your participation in their program. The programs you want to partner with are those that adhere to common sense, communicativeness, and support.
#9 Reporting & Terms
These two factors have become standard practice, but they’re still worth addressing. Reports should be easy to generate and understand. Most of the time you won’t have problems with this unless you deal with an underdeveloped in-house affiliate program. Secondly, most program terms are overly verbose and don’t want affiliates to compete on bidding terms for search engine marketing (SEM) and use URLs to direct traffic. Still, I usually take a quick glance at a merchant’s terms to ensure nothing out of the norm can negatively affect future commissions.
These are the factors that guide my decision-making concerning which affiliate programs to join. However, these items should be secondary to promoting products and services that align with your target market. Choosing programs otherwise will result in low conversion rates.