10 Affiliate Program Obstacles and How to Overcome Them

When you launch an affiliate program, obstacles may hinder its growth. It is important to be aware of them and overcome them. Otherwise, your affiliate program will never reach its full potential. The more you let these obstacles prevent your program’s growth, the more difficult to mitigate their consequences will be. Therefore, it helps to try to prevent them or take measures to overcome them as soon as possible. Here is a list of the most common obstacles we’ve come across and the strategies that worked for us.

1. Poor Website

The first thing publishers do, when learning about an affiliate program, is to visit the merchant’s website. If they are disappointed by what they see, they will not even consider promoting the brand. Some aspects they pay attention to include:

  • Loading speed
  • Image and video quality
  • Navigation ease
  • Responsiveness
  • Content quality
  • Product presentation
  • Payment options
  • Traffic leaks

If you’ve been on the market for some time, gathering customer feedback should be easy. If you’re new to the market, consider working with an expert to evaluate your website and identify improvement opportunities. It can’t hurt for you, your team, friends, or relatives to play the buyer and carefully analyze all of the above aspects and more. Just try to be objective, even critical. Forget that you own the website for a while and evaluate it thoroughly, looking for opportunities to improve.

2. Low Conversion

Sometimes, even though your website looks and works great, it fails to convert visitors into buyers. Perhaps some payment gateways don’t work as intended. It could be the lack of reviews, endorsements, or insufficient product information. Perhaps your product descriptions aren’t detailed enough, or you need to optimize your shopping cart recovery and visitor retargeting strategy.

No matter the cause, low conversion is one of the most important affiliate program obstacles, so you need to act promptly. The low average conversion will discourage new affiliates from promoting you. It may often also influence your active affiliates to stop. We’ve covered the most important measures you can take in our post on How to Improve Website and Affiliate Program Conversion.

3. Uncompetitive Offer to Clients

The best affiliates know their audience very well. They also know your competitors. If your offer is not competitive enough, they will not promote you. When determining whether a brand is worth promoting, they take into account several aspects:

  • Brand awareness
  • Quality/price ratio
  • Inventory
  • Unique selling proposition
  • Trials and warranties
  • Buyer and third-party reviews
  • Wholesalers and 3rd party retailer offers
  • 3rd party certifications (materials, testing, professional organizations endorsements, etc.)

Uncompetitive offers are more than affiliate program obstacles. They prevent or slow down growth on all levels. To overcome them, it’s important to assess where you stand. Conduct an in-depth competitive analysis and identify opportunities to improve your offer. Perhaps you can highlight your products’ strengths better. Extending the trial period (money-back guarantee), the warranty you provide, or guaranteeing the lowest price could get you a long way.

4. Uncompetitive Offer to Affiliates

Just like you sell your products to your website visitors, you need to sell your affiliate program to publishers. They are most likely assaulted with offers from your competitors, so make sure you stand out in as many of the following fields as possible:

  • Commissions
  • Cookie life
  • Conversion
  • Average order value
  • Locking period
  • Samples to review
  • Affiliate program funding and uptime
  • Creatives

We’ve already explained the importance of affiliate program statistics here, and provided a blueprint on analyzing competitive affiliate programs here, so you should be fully equipped to overcome such affiliate program obstacles.

5. Downtimes

There are three types of downtime that can become affiliate program obstacles:

Website Downtime

The merchant website is no longer accessible. The visitors affiliates send can’t see or buy the products, and their experience with the affiliate and the merchant is negatively affected. The most successful affiliates have systems in place to receive notifications when links break, and the largest affiliate networks send such notifications to affiliates.

Affiliate Program Downtime

The most common, if not the only reason for an affiliate program to go offline is due to lack of funds. Deposits can fail, and funds can run out. When that happens, most affiliate networks display warnings and send notifications to affiliates, negatively affecting the merchant’s reputation.

Tracking Downtime

It can be an app, a plugin, a tag, or a code installed on the merchant’s website. If it’s not installed or configured properly or if it conflicts with other apps or codes, affiliate sales won’t be tracked and rewarded accurately.

Most affiliates prioritize brands based on earnings per click. If the website is down, the affiliate program is offline, or sales aren’t accurately tracked and rewarded, affiliates’ earnings per click drop. When that happens, most affiliates prefer to focus on brands that bring them higher earnings.

As a merchant, it is in your best interest to avoid downtime of any kind. The best way to do that is to:

  • Testing any website changes before putting them live
  • Ensure adequate bank account and affiliate program account funding
  • Monitor affiliate program and website statistics and check the source of any unusual variations or discrepancies

If the worst happens, I recommend the 3A approach that Geno described in his post on affiliate tracking downtimes: Admit, Apologize, and Act. Affiliates will appreciate your honesty and any efforts to compensate their losses. Of course, it helps to learn from what happened and take measures to prevent future downtime.

6. No/Bad Management

Many merchants neglect affiliate program management. Some don’t realize they need it. Others don’t realize that affiliate networks provide only the infrastructure and management is separate. There are also merchants who try to cut corners and either refuse to pay for management or choose the cheapest option out there.

There are huge dangers in leaving a program unmanaged or in paying too little. Without close management, affiliate programs can’t grow. There’s no recruitment, no protection against rogue affiliates, no compliance monitoring, no communication with affiliates, no control of costs and of how the brand is being promoted.

If you want your affiliate program to grow, make sure it’s managed by a competent, knowledgeable, and dedicated affiliate program manager. The costs will be well worth it in the long run. For more information on what affiliate program management entails and why it is so important, see our complete guide to affiliate program management.

7. Lack of Communication

Not notifying affiliates about events or changes that could affect their performance is one of the biggest affiliate program obstacles. Sure, not all affiliates will act on notifications but it is your job as a merchant to equip them with everything they need to adequately promote your products or services. That could include information on:

  • Products or services launches and updates
  • Stock issues
  • Discontinued products or services
  • Discounts and promotions
  • Prices, commissions, payment options

In theory, affiliate communication is the affiliate program manager’s job, and if you have one, you should be safe. However, many merchants have different teams managing different aspects of their marketing efforts. Those teams don’t always communicate, and, quite frequently, everyone forgets to keep the affiliate program manager in the loop.

Lack of communication tells affiliates that the merchant doesn’t consider them meaningful partners. It also makes it difficult for affiliates to sell. So take the time to notify your program manager and affiliates about any campaigns or changes that could impact their activity or be of interest to their audiences.

And if those changes refer to website URLs that affiliates may link to, remember to redirect the old URLs to the new ones or to the homepage. Also remember to update the corresponding links on the affiliate network, if applicable. Broken links and 404 error messages don’t help anyone, and it’s in your best interest to avoid them.

8. Reversed/Denied Commissions

Once a sale is registered and the commission is shown to an affiliate, it’s money in their pocket. When you reverse that commission, you take money from the affiliate, or that’s how they see it. Reversals negatively affect affiliate program statistics too, so they are among the most important affiliate program obstacles.

Sure, you can’t pay commissions on fraudulent, canceled, or returned orders. You also can’t pay two commissions for the same transaction or pay commissions on sales that already generated costs in other campaigns. What can you do?

  • Analyze fraudulent, canceled, and returned orders to identify their cause and prevent future occurrences.
  • Improve customer service and product presentation to avoid cancellations and returns.
  • Ensure close management to discourage and catch affiliate fraud and prevent double commissions.
  • Take the affiliate program and eventual costs into account when planning new marketing campaigns.
  • Process reversals as soon as possible but pay attention not to ruin the program’s short-term statistics.

While reversals of fraud orders, double commissions, and even canceled orders can be justified, things are trickier with returns. They tell affiliates that the buyers were disappointed with the products or services they received. If the reversals keep occurring and they exceed 5% or 10% of their total orders, affiliates will likely move on to another brand, so manage them carefully.

9. Negative Buyer Feedback

Before beginning to promote a merchant, affiliates check buyer reviews. If they don’t like what they see, they won’t even start. If they do start and they get negative feedback from their audience, they will stop. Therefore, monitor and manage your reputation carefully. Make sure that prospective buyers and affiliates will find positive information when looking up your brand name or key products.

10. Negative Affiliate Feedback

Although seemingly competing with one another, affiliates talk. Sometimes, they have the same mentors. Other times, they are members of the same forums or social media groups. Disappointed affiliates can become huge affiliate program obstacles, so try to keep your affiliates happy. How do you do that?

  • Equip them with everything they may need to promote you
  • Don’t remove them from the program without a valid reason
  • Avoid leaving negative feedback and getting into conflicts
  • Never try to control their promotions, incentivize them instead
  • Don’t reverse commissions without reason and supporting evidence
  • Give them access to your best promos and support them with everything they may need

It may be difficult to understand for merchants who are just getting started but affiliates are the safest and most effective way to get more sales and ensure a satisfactory return on investment. You only pay for sales when they happen and you know the costs from the beginning, to mention just of few of the benefits of having an affiliate program. There are no limits to growing your affiliate programs, as long as you are aware of the above-mentioned articles and take measures to avoid or overcome them.



2 thoughts on “10 Affiliate Program Obstacles and How to Overcome Them”

  1. completely sound advice again from Mihaela. My understanding of the effects on affiliate tracking from changes in the advertisers websites, where deeplinks or even cookie compliance can cause issues.

    1. Thank you, Chris! Yes, affiliate tracking and proper linking/link maintenance are very important. That’s why I always advise affiliates to use the deep links provided to them (and I provide them) and merchants to avoid changing URLs, or, if they do, redirect old ones to avoid 404s.

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