Affiliate Perspective: 5 Criteria for Choosing an Affiliate Program

I love speaking with smart affiliates. There is so much one can learn that these talks are always invaluable. I’ve interviewed a couple of affiliates in my blog in the past; and this week I’d like to resume the tradition.

I have recently interviewed Nancy Ocasio, an affiliate I’ve known for many years, a person I highly respect (because every time I speak with her, she makes me think). I’ve broken her interview down into two parts, and today I’d like to bring you the first part (the second one will be following the day after tomorrow). Without further ado, here’s the transcript of my talk with Nancy:

Geno: First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself (how you got into affiliate marketing; whether this is something that you do full-time; what niches you specialize in)?

Nancy: I started building websites in 1999 to sell my own products. I had started a small manufacturing business when I was widowed and the business was successful, but I had no time and could scarcely wait to retire and close my business. As I approached retirement at 62 I opened a few POD T-Shirt shops with different services that let you create designs and they fulfill your orders. That meant a few more websites to promote my own products although the sales took place on the Manufacturer’s sites. Many of those first designs are still selling, but I don’t consider that as a full time business. It is like a hobby that can generate some extra income.

I first started working as an affiliate when I found that one of my company’s main parts suppliers offered an affiliate program. I had been promoting their products on my site since 2002 for people who had similar interests. Since the site I built for my own business had a good number of followers, I looked for products that were related in one way or another that I could add to that site as I removed my own products. My business specialized in custom game tables with custom graphics and many options to personalize so I looked for products that could be personalized, and products related to game tables and furniture in general.

Currently I am supposed to be retired, but now I work full time on my sites. I try to stick to things that I have some interest in or knowledge about because I try to build content sites that offer helpful information to visitors and answer questions they may have on the topic of the site. I have sites for everything from jewelry to building materials, but have reached a point where I am not considering any further expansion because of the limitations of managing more than I have now. I am currently more interested in shedding domains than starting more.

Geno: Earlier this year in a comment under one of my posts you mentioned that you “quit or not join programs when” you “find a promo code box in their checkout when there are no coupons for affiliates.” What would be your top 5 reasons for not joining (or quitting) affiliate programs, and why?

Nancy: My answers will not be appropriate for all affiliates, they apply to the way I work and not generally across the spectrum of affiliates. I don’t know that I have a “Top 5” list but there are lots of things I check into before signing up. Not everything I’m listing here is applied equally to all programs because some information can make some items on the list unnecessary. It all requires your own judgment, it is not a checklist. When I see a program and would like to be able to promote their products I look carefully at the unintentional warning signs a merchant gives that signing up would be a waste of my time. It needs to look like it would be mutually beneficial before I will be interested. Some of this comes from errors made in the past. There is no teacher like experience to remind you what to look for to avoid disappointment in the future.

#1 Management

The main thing I am wary of is programs that are not professionally managed. Not just run by an affiliate management company, but by someone who understands the business. There are some management companies that have no ethics and deserve no trust. More things you have to learn the hard way because until you see things happening in programs they manage they all appear to be honest and competent and you never know if these things happen with or without their knowledge. If you consistently send traffic to a merchant and get no results or poor results, look deeper and you are likely to know why. Programs that tell me they are managed “by the Network” fall into this category. Most of those will also have “No additional terms” so it is like jumping on a sinking ship to sign up. Auto Approve is a bad sign, but not always a deal breaker if it is a competently run program.

I recently quit a program because before I even put up anything for them, I started getting useless pushy emails, and even worse, they posted the site of their highest producing affiliate each month. Now why would I want to be number one in that case? No, thanks. It goes back to being a poorly managed program, having a person in charge who has no understanding of affiliates. But sometimes you can’t tell until you are in a program.

#2 Merchant Site

I take a tour through their site, first via the network link, then anonymously. I shop the site and look for difficulties in checkout. I look for what my traffic will see when they go there. 800 numbers are on every merchant’s site, but the “Call in your order and get free shipping!” is not necessarily on every merchant’s site. On a network that offers easy phone tracking, does the merchant offer that feature? Social Marketing is the latest thing that leaves me wondering if my cookies will be eaten before checkout with all the offers for special discounts “On Our FaceBook Page”.  And of course, the coupon box in checkout that sends my traffic out to find the coupons that the merchant does not make available to affiliates. To see how well they manage it, I do a “Merchant+Coupon” search and see how many thousands of results I’m up against. That tells me that the merchant does not understand that they are also buying their own traffic. I have seen affiliate ads and AdSense ads on merchant’s sites also, watch out that you aren’t sending your traffic to another affiliate site.

#3 Creatives

Are they calling shoppers to I have seen banners with an 800 number to call, too. No thanks, those should be paid ads. I don’t depend on banners much, too many adblocker add ons for browsers these days. A merchant that will let you create the creatives (with their approval!) has a better chance of getting effective “banners” IMHO. If banners is all they have to offer, it is generally a waste of my time. Not always true for all affiliates, but for me I want to show people what you have to offer and tell them why they need this product from this merchant. People don’t want to read a page full of text, images sell (for me anyway).

Reasons to quit? If I’m in a program and sending traffic and nothing is happening I will do another click through to see if things have changed. There are some merchants who throw out a datafeed and never update it so that what I am showing people is not what they will find when they click through.  I will ask them about updating the feed and explain the problem. Still no feed? Look for a replacement.

#4 Products

Would I buy this? Do I think it is a good product, a good deal? Do I think the customer service matters to this merchant? Will I regret sending someone I know to this place? Are these products that customers need to ask specific questions about, or something they can add to the cart and check out. Does the merchant offer adequate descriptions and images of what they sell? Again, I am selective in that I need to have some trust in what I want to promote to someone else. It has to do with sleeping well at night.

#5 Look Around

Look at the program stats in the network, just to see if there is a history of “Offline Status” or exceptional reversals. Reversals happen over the couse of doing business, but they should not be happening on a regular basis. EPC is nice, but not especially useful, it can it can show a well run program paired with easy checkout OR it can signal some aggressive cookie stuffers. See if others have run into problems with a particular program, do a search at Abestweb Forum for example. If the program has been around more than a few years, problems that others have had may show up there. If you are particularly concerned about a program, check it out at Ben Edelman’s site with their Ipensatori tools. I found one program I work with listed there with 65 cookie stuffers, 29 typosquatters and at least 10 known fraudulent affiliates sharing the ride..not to mention Adware/Spyware players. This explains why even high ranking pages are producing poorly and has me seeking a replacement program.


…To Be Continued.

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