Launching an affiliate marketing program is a great way to raise awareness of a brand and boost sales. It can help grow a business to unprecedented levels, assuming that everything is done the right way. Unfortunately, as in all fields, mistakes are common.
Some of them are performed by merchants. Others stem from affiliate program management errors. Some mistakes have only mild, easy to reverse consequences, while others can negatively affect and even ruin a brand’s affiliate marketing program.
In this post, we will review the most dangerous 20 and their implications. The list is by no means exhaustive, and our very own Geno Prussakov covers no less than 40 merchant and manager mistakes in his book, Affiliate Program Management: An Hour A Day.
Common and Dangerous Affiliate Program Mistakes to Avoid
Whether you manage your affiliate program in-house or through an outsourced program management company, you should avoid the following mistakes at all costs:
Affiliate Program Mistakes Referring to Setup
1. Leaky, Poorly Designed, Low-Converting Merchant Website
Among the first details publishers check when deciding whether to join an affiliate program is the merchant’s website. If yours loads slowly, lacks the ability to convert visitors into buyers, and redirects visitors to untracked pages, websites, or services, no publishers will want to promote you.
Therefore, before even thinking about launching your affiliate program, evaluate your merchant website from visitors’ and publishers’ perspective. Make sure to remove:
- Live chat and phone numbers
- Adsense units
- Amazon widgets and links to platforms where transactions are not tracked and rewarded.
2. Neglecting the Affiliate Program Agreement
Your affiliate program needs a comprehensive program agreement, with clear terms and conditions. Without it, you would be giving your affiliates a free pass to use any means they wish to drive qualifying actions. This is one of the most dangerous affiliate program mistakes and you should take immediate measures to correct it.
Make sure to include clear rules for affiliate paid search, trademark, and coupons use. The last thing you want is affiliates bidding on brand-terms and linking to your merchant websites through their affiliate links, or coupon affiliates stealing sales from content and reviews affiliates at the last minute.
Also, clearly define the types of actions you reward, by how much, and when the rewards become final. Otherwise, you may find yourself paying commissions on sales or free trials that are later canceled and drive no profits.
3. Poor Choice of Platform and Tracking Solutions
It is up to you whether you manage your affiliate program in-house, using dedicated affiliate tracking software, or on an affiliate network. You can also combine in-house solutions with network-based ones, or host your program on several networks.
Before you do it, study all options carefully and make sure that the solution you choose allows for accurate tracking and is accessible to the type of publishers you want to onboard. Switching solutions could be troublesome and expensive, and tracking gaps could cost you valuable affiliates.
4. Low Commission Rates and Short Cookie Life
Many merchants would like their affiliates to promote them for free if it were possible. They set embarrassingly low commission rates and extremely short cookie life. This is a huge mistake. If you really want your affiliate program to be successful, you need to motivate and reward your affiliates.
A good way to figure out what commissions and cookie life to offer is to study your competitors and try to top their offer. Your goal is to convince their affiliates to promote you. Here, it makes sense offering something that your competitors don’t.
Of course, you should keep your resources in mind and not go overboard. The last thing you want is to find yourself forced to lower commissions. While the average commissions vary considerably between market segments, when it comes to cookie life, you want to be generous. Even Amazon extended it to 89 days (conditions apply). You surely have a long way to go before being able to compare yourself to the retail giant.
5. Neglecting Management
Setting up an attractive affiliate program is just one step in a more complex process. Another important step, perhaps the most important, is ensuring its proper management. No, you cannot run your affiliate program on auto-pilot, and affiliate networks will not manage it.
If you try, your program will be cannibalized by unscrupulous affiliates whose deceitful practices may end up harming not only its performance but even your brand. It is up to you if you learn the basics and manage it yourself, hire someone to do it, or turn to an outsourced program management company.
One thing is certain: you need someone experienced and reliable to recruit affiliates, activate them, police them, track their activities, monitor compliance with your rules and policies, sanction violators, and lead your affiliates to success – both theirs and yours.
Affiliate Program Mistakes Referring to Management
1. Underestimating the Importance of Continuous Affiliate Recruitment
Once they have found a few valuable affiliates who start driving sales, many merchants and affiliate managers stop recruiting and expect their program to grow by itself. It will not. On the contrary, as more programs are launched, they may stop promoting you and focus on your competitors.
To make sure that does not happen, it is important to continue recruiting and focus not just on one or two types of affiliates but on as many as possible. You want a diversified affiliate base, to help you reach out to and engage as many potential customers as possible. Perhaps you won’t be able to onboard all 18 types of affiliates but make it your goal to onboard as many types as possible.
2. Terminating Inactive Affiliates from Your Program (or Ignoring Them)
Even though many affiliate program managers do it and even some affiliate networks advise it, you should not remove inactive affiliates from your program. They are unexploited gold mines. Your goal should be to activate them and help them drive sales.
If you succeed, the benefits are obvious. If you fail and they remain inactive, you have nothing to lose. But eliminating them from your program would mean saying “no” to the sales they could drive, and some affiliates may actually surprise you.
3. Automatically Approving or Rejecting Affiliates
Not all publishers applying to become your affiliates will add value to your program, so setting your program to automatically approve affiliate applications is not a good idea. You want to know who your affiliates are, what type of websites they run, how they are going to promote your products or services, etc.
Automatically rejecting certain affiliate types could prove detrimental as well. Many publishers run several websites, and they should not be prevented from joining your program just because they listed themselves as incentive affiliates or registered with a website unrelated to your niche.
Instead, give your affiliates the chance to explain how they plan to promote your products and services and decide whether you want them doing that on a case-to-case basis. Encourage the affiliates you reject to provide more details on their promotional plans and reapply and monitor the activity of the affiliates you approve. You can later remove them from your program if you feel that they do not add value.
4. Not Policing Affiliates
Just because you have a sound program agreement and clear rules and policies in place it does not mean that your affiliates will follow them to the letter. Many publishers do not even read them, and it is safer to assume that yours do not. To prevent them from harming your brand or cannibalizing your affiliate program, you need to monitor their activity and sanction violations.
There are tools you can use for this purpose. For example, BrandVerity will help you identify affiliates who do not comply with your PPC and trademark use policies. With TypoAssassin, you can catch typo- and cybersquatters.
If you find affiliates violating your agreement, do not hesitate to take measures: warn them to stop and, if they do not, remove them from your program. You can and should withhold their commissions on any transactions driven through prohibited practices. Just do not make accusations without evidence, and give your affiliates a chance to explain or correct their behavior.
5. Dictating Affiliates Which Products to Promote and How
Affiliates are not your employees. They are your partners, your collaborators. You cannot and should not tell them what to do and how to do it. Instead, you should set clear expectations, offer attractive rewards and incentives, and work with them to drive sales and profits for both of you.
Do not try to force your affiliates to place links to your website on their homepage or to promote your bestsellers! Do not pressure them to stop promoting your competitors or threaten to terminate their accounts if they do not drive sales!
Such practices will most likely determine affiliates to stop promoting you. If you want them to focus on particular products or display your links on their homepage, use incentives. Provide your affiliates with lists of bestsellers and statistics so that they may figure out by themselves which products are worth promoting and which are not.
Generally, it is better to assume that your affiliates know what they are doing, provide them with the tools they need, and just offer your help and support. Some may take you up on your offer. Others will not. Treat them all with respect and consideration, and they will treat you the same way.
6. Few and Poor Quality Creatives
Different affiliates use different promotion methods. Do not neglect the importance of a varied arsenal of high-quality creatives! Provide your affiliates with everything they may need to drive sales, from text links and banners of all sizes to coupons, text samples, and even videos.
7. Tracking Gaps and Broken Affiliate Links
You update your website regularly, and that is great. However, when you do, watch out for tracking code errors and broken links. Any gaps in tracking and rewarding affiliate transactions could cost you affiliates and harm your reputation. But should, God forbid, it happen, refer to Geno’s insightful post entitled How to Remedy Downtimes in Affiliate Tracking.
Tracking gaps would mean stealing from your affiliates. Broken links would make your affiliates’ work in vain. Double-check your creatives every once in a while and delete or redirect those referring to discontinued products or services.
8. Late Lock Dates and Payments
You want to make sure that the sales your affiliates generated are final and that is great. However, do not set too distant lock dates and do not delay paying your affiliates. One-month lock dates are more than reasonable, and they should give your customers enough time to try your products and return them if they do not like them.
9. Lowering Commissions
Some merchants and affiliate program managers set unrealistic commissions when launching the program and later decide to drop them. Others drop commissions around Black Friday and other major sales periods. This is a bad idea. It’s like telling an employee that they will get paid less although their work program and responsibilities have not changed.
The initial commission rate was a promise you made to your affiliates. Lowering it means breaking your promise. It suggests that you do not value your affiliates’ efforts and could determine them to stop promoting you.
10. Voiding Commissions on Valid Transactions
Some merchants void valid transactions to diminish payments to affiliates. It is an awful idea that can only harm your affiliate program. Affiliates know how many sales they drove, and they also have an idea of how many of those sales could be reversed.
If you get many returns and cancellations, they could signal quality issues or deceitful advertising. Investigate the causes of those returns and cancellations and act on them but do not void commissions on valid transactions. Your affiliates will know, and they will not only stop promoting you but also spread the word to other publishers.
Affiliate Program Mistakes Referring to Communication
1. Impersonal, Bland, and Dry Communications
Your affiliates are real persons, with limited time and attention span. Reach out to them with personalized, interesting communication pieces. Get to know them and treat them as your friends and business partners, not as some profit-driving bots.
2. Unnecessary Phone Calls and Emails
Emailing your affiliates every other day with no particular reason and calling them all the time will not get you anywhere. On the contrary, it will determine them to stop reading your emails and not answer your calls. A monthly or weekly newsletter and occasional emails when you have something important to announce are more than enough.
3. No, Late, or Poor Quality Responses
Not responding to your affiliates’ communications, doing it late, or providing superficial, unhelpful answers is a huge mistake. If they reach out to you, it is for a reason. Take the time to answer, show that you care, and make an effort to help. It is the best way to keep your affiliates close, engaged.
Think of it this way: when a publisher applies to join your program or sends inquiries, it is because your program is suitable for a content piece they are going to publish, they received inquiries for the types of products or services you sell, they think they can drive sales, or they need something from you.
If you let them wait too long, by the time you approve their application or provide the information they need, chances are they have already joined your competitors’ programs and started promoting them. So do not keep them waiting. If replying within 24 hours is too much to ask, taking more than 48 hours to do it is a huge affiliate program communication mistake.
4. Lack of or Late Notifications
Are you discontinuing a product, launching a new one, making changes to your program agreement, or offering new perks to your customers? Do not assume that your affiliates check your website and affiliate program page every day and will find out by themselves! Do not wait until the last minute to inform them of your plans!
Reach out to them in advance, by email, so as to give them time to align their promotional strategies, update the links and banners on their own sites and social media profiles, and inform their own audience. This way, your new campaigns will receive the exposure they need and your affiliates will not waste resources promoting products, services, or offers that are no longer available.
5. Selective Communication and Helping
You may be tempted to work closely with your best-performing affiliates and ignore those who drive few to no sales. You shouldn’t. Those “small” affiliates may easily turn into super affiliates with a little guidance from your part.
You should support and encourage all your affiliates, not only in your communications but also in the contests and promotions you organize. Do not offer prizes or commission increases only to affiliates who drive the most sales. Focus on those who create the most valuable written and video content, drive their first sales, or generate the most positive social media interactions.
Final Advice: Identify, Accept, Correct, and Learn from Your Affiliate Program Mistakes
As mentioned above, the list is not exhaustive. Feel free to contribute to it and, by all means, stay alert for other mistakes you might be making. If you already made some of the mistakes above, do not panic, as you are not alone!
We all make mistakes, and, unfortunately, we cannot turn back time. What we can do is acknowledge them and do what we can to make things better. We should also learn from them and avoid them in the future.
Your affiliates are neither blind nor oblivious. Denying your mistakes and continuing to make them will not help the relationship with them or your affiliate program. So, instead of pretending to be perfect and all-knowing, be honest, acknowledge your affiliate program mistakes and correct them, and work with your affiliates to drive performance. It will be worth it!