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How to Pick the Right Affiliate Marketing Program

500 Bills of Euro

Picking the right affiliate program can be the difference between failure or success

While we can easily recommend an affiliate program to you, it might be a worthless recommendation. Why? Affiliate marketing programs differ in as much people differ. Just because an affiliate marketing program has a brand name and has many users, those factors alone are not enough for you to select them. You have to use a wide range of criteria to correctly pick out the affiliate program that would best fit your personality, your work style and your needs. We have learned from experience that by matching programs services and software to users based on the user’s particular circumstances that this leads to a higher chance of success or a better product fit than mere pre-made recommendations. A one-size-fits-all strategy does not work with most things and it definitely does not work with affiliate marketing.

Affiliate Marketing Basics

An affiliate marketing program is a business that puts together people that can attract buyers from the internet and merchants that want to sell to those buyers. There are four people involved when it comes to affiliate marketing.

The Marketer

There is the affiliate marketer-you. This involves you putting up a web page or sending a message to your social network or any other activity where you get the attention of interested buyers.

The Buyer

The next person in the equation is the buyer. This is the person that goes to your website or the person that is in your Facebook friends list or Twitter feed and this person is looking for a particular product or service.

The Advertiser

The third person in the equation is the advertiser. This is the person that is looking to sell a product or sell a service. They do not know enough about online marketing for them to sell directly or they already do and have a website, but they are looking for more people to sell to. Regardless of their reasons, they are using an affiliate marketing program to reach more potential buyers.

The Affiliate Program

The fourth player in this equation is the operator of the affiliate marketing program. This is the person that puts together all the other actors. They recruit sellers and marketers. The marketers then bring the buyers. The affiliate marketing program, if it is a good program, not only puts all these people together but pulls it off in a very smooth, transparent and ethical manner.

Value Added functions of Affiliate Programs

More importantly, the quality affiliate marketing program provides value to all the other players involved. It screens sellers so that the buyers are benefited because they are buying from a platform where the products have been vetted for quality and selection. Also the program benefits buyers by ensuring that they are not ripped off by the affiliate marketers. The affiliate marketer, which is you, is benefited because you are provided a system where you can get paid reliably and also your efforts are rewarded in a very transparent and predictable manner.

Differing Kinds of Programs

As you can probably tell, it is not easy running an affiliate marketing program and there are many variations of affiliate programs as there are affiliate marketers. There are fly-by-night operations that make inflated claims and run software that essentially cheats not only the end users, but their affiliate marketers and probably sellers or merchants as well. Use the considerations below so you can find the right affiliate marketing program that meets your particular needs. This is the best way to avoid rip-off programs so you do not waste your time and effort setting up web pages pushing their particular offers and you end up wasting your time because you got stiffed at the end. If you are a merchant, use these tips to quickly avoid programs that might end up ripping you off either intentionally or through processes or software that they use that might not have the level of transparency and reliability that you are looking for.

How to Select Affiliate Programs to Promote

There are many different programs out there because there are many different products and services available in the market. Affiliate marketing is a multi-billion dollar market and it is continuing to grow. As internet commerce continues to grow, the need for affiliate marketing programs continue to grow. Simply put, not every merchant has the technology, skills, resources or inclination to market their product or services. That is why there will always be a need for affiliate marketing programs. However, since the need is so big and there is so much money on the table, there are many shady operators, or worst, incompetent operators available on the market. The problem with this is that these shady and sub-par operators work to deprive you, the affiliate marketer, of hard-earned money and merchants of sales that they could be making. Use these criteria to filter out affiliate marketing programs.

Size Matters

While size does not matter in many aspects of life, when it comes to affiliate marketing, size does matter but not in the way you would probably think. The standard thinking is that bigger is better. It is not necessarily true.

Sometimes Smaller is Better

If you are an affiliate marketer that gets a particular type of traffic and your visitors are looking for a specific type of product or service, you might make more money participating in an affiliate marketing program that caters to a niche market. For example, if most of your visitors are looking for dog products, it might be worth your while to look for an affiliate marketing program that is dog specific or pet specific at the very least. Why? Affiliate marketing programs tend to specialize in the products or services that their merchants offer. This level of specialization can benefit you because the way the products are presented or the way the products are sold through the system can directly impact your bottom line.

Specialization Boosts Sales Chances

If you are dealing with a cookie cutter or generic or self-served affiliate marketing platform, you might not be getting the specialized marketing support or marketing materials you would need for optimal sales. This can easily cut into your bottom line. It may seem like a small detail, but it is not. The more specialized your affiliate marketing program is to a particular product category or product vertical, the higher the chance that it has the requisite expertise in that product category to give its affiliates the information, presentation, and marketing materials they need to do a better job. Remember that affiliate marketing is a partnership. The affiliate marketing program does not make money if you do not make money. Go with an affiliate marketing program that knows how to make money within the particular niche that you are looking for.

Situations Where Bigger is Better

As described above, in particular situations especially with niche publishers that get very specific visitors looking for very specific products and services, smaller affiliate marketing programs are probably better picks because they can give the affiliate marketer the focus that the marketer needs to succeed. However, there are situations where bigger is better. If you run a network of websites and they have different demographics, then you should look for an affiliate marketing program that covers a wide range of categories. While it is less likely that this program would be specialized in those product verticals, you are sacrificing focus and specificity for selection. Wider programs like ClickBank, cj.com and shareasale.com may not be specialized in particular products or services, but they offer a wider selection of affiliate offers.

General interest sites need a greater diversity of offers

This truly helps you in the long run if your website network appeals to many different interests and is covered by many differing niches. In your particular case, you really cannot specialize unless you plan to invest a lot of time and effort in hunting down niche affiliate marketing problems for each of your particular site. Depending on your traffic volume, this may or may not pass the cost-benefit analysis. If all your websites of differing niches get tons of traffic each, then it is worth your while to go the small, narrow and specific affiliate marketing program route. However, if they do not get that much traffic, but as aggregated they get a lot it is probably a better bet to go with the big affiliate marketing program.

Consider the Brand

It is normally not a good idea to select a product or service based on hype. However, something has to be said about branding. If an affiliate marketing program has built a brand and is a recognized brand name in your particular product niche or service category, there is a high likelihood that this is a credible and trustworthy partner to go with. It takes time, effort and resources to build a brand. Branding is not lightly undertaken. Oftentimes it takes years to create a reputable brand and a high level of engagement and management to carefully nurture and cultivate a brand.

Brands give you assurance

That is why many marketers flock to affiliate marketing program like cj.com also known as Commission Junction because its brand was built up through many years of servicing its affiliate marketers. Be very careful with no brand or untested affiliate marketing programs. They may be very specific to your particular niche or they may even give you marketing tips, one-to-one help or specialized promotional materials, but if their reputation is in doubt and you are unsure if they would even pay you, you are undertaking a lot of risks.

Affiliate Relationships Split the Risk

Remember that one of the key benefits of affiliate marketing is that the risk is split up. The affiliate marketing program does not make money if you do not drive traffic, so you split up the task in between you. When you are dealing with a shady marketer, you do all the work and then they do not pay you. All the risk basically got shifted to your end. Going with a branded affiliate marketing program minimizes your risk of being stiffed because chances are, a multimillion dollar brand would not risk destroying that brand by skipping out on $2,000 affiliate pay out to you. Keep this in mind. It is a big consideration.

When to go with non-brand affiliate programs

However, there are certain situations where you can go with an unbranded affiliate marketing program. If there are other mechanisms or other ways you can resort to in order to validate their level of trustworthiness such as going to affiliate marketing forums and asking around for reviews of a particular affiliate marketing program is a good first step. Looking up blog posts and blog reviews of such programs can also help as well. However, keep in mind that many blog reviews are self-interested. This means that they make money referring people to affiliate marketing programs. Hence, they may not be objective and might not be telling the complete truth. The same goes with forum reviews. There are many affiliate marketing programs that hire people to talk up and hype up their program online. Some even pay people to keep a signature when they are posting. This is a serious issue because you cannot really trust whatever reviews or recommendations these biased people may make. They can, for all practical purposes, be recommending an affiliate program that is a fake or a fraud. Be very careful. Always invest some time in thoroughly researching the program that you are considering because you will be investing a lot of time, money and effort marketing the merchants that that program offers. If that program ends up stiffing you, you have just wasted all that time and effort.

Consider the Amount of Marketing Support

At this stage of the game, you have probably been filtering your list of affiliate marketing programs quite a bit. The first two considerations do pack quite a bit of punch when it comes to filtering providers. However, you must keep in mind that the best kind of affiliate marketing program supports a wide array of promoters such as yourself. If you are already an established promoter and you have freelance workers creating your own affiliate marketing support materials or advertising copy, then you probably do not need to consider a program’s marketing support capabilities.

See if their marketing support fits your marketing methods

Similarly, if you are using a business model that relies only on specific custom marketing, like opt-in E-mail marketing for example, you probably do not care if the affiliate marketing program that you are considering offers a wide range of marketing support because you will not need those materials. Consider these situations when trying to gauge the ability of the affiliate program in providing you with the support you need to do a good job. There is a wide array of promotional tools available. These can be as basic as banner ads and can be quite as involved as pre-made blogs and blog networks. The key is to get a tight match between the promotional tool being offered and your level of marketing proficiency, and most importantly your level of need. Do you even need the marketing tools that they are offering?

Consider the level and quality of marketing support

Related to marketing tools is marketing support. Just as a customer and technical support is extremely important for end users and buyers, they are also very important for affiliate marketers. There are many technical glitches that can happen while you are selling online and an affiliate marketing program that runs faulty software that botches up your marketing links can mean the difference between you making a lot of money and losing a lot of money. Also there are downtime issues when the target page where your visitor clicks through is not up. That could be a serious drain on your income. It pays to select affiliate marketing program that has a dedicated staff available to field questions from affiliate marketers. This marketing support does not necessarily have to be live 24/7 support. It can be as basic as having a knowledge bank or a knowledge base of previously asked questions. A lot of the times, whatever situation you may find yourself in has probably been encountered by another marketer in the past. The question that you are asking has probably been answered in the past. You may not have to go and deal with a live affiliate marketing support staffer, although it is more soothing from a psychological point of view if a live person is dealing with your issues especially if you stand to lose hundreds of dollars for everyday that the problem is in play.

Affiliate Marketing Education Features

As we have mentioned earlier, there is a wide range of affiliate marketers out there who are just starting out and battle-tested veterans and all points in between. It is very important that when you are selecting affiliate marketing programs to pick a program that can accommodate your current level of affiliate marketing proficiency and your future proficiency because people get better as they do a certain activity over and over. If you are of average or above average intelligence, your level of proficiency will increase with time. The more you do something, the better you get at it. Pick an affiliate marketing program that can educate its marketers in a wide array of stages, whether they are newbies, intermediate marketers or veteran marketers. Also the affiliate marketing education offerings might not be what you need. If you are of the temperament where you want to figure out things on your own, this factor might not be that big of a deal. However, if you are an affiliate marketer that wants to get basic guidelines and then you figure it out on your own, this might help.

Keep in mind that affiliate education programs tend to be shallow

If you would like information gathered and given to you, this would be a crucial consideration. However, if you are the latter type of affiliate marketer, keep in mind that most affiliate marketing programs, by their nature, tend to be shallow. Why? If they can promote their materials themselves, they would not need affiliate marketers. Also many people have secret marketing techniques that they do not want to divulge. The more people use these techniques, the lower its value because either the target users get desensitized or the value of the promotional materials just get over saturated. Regardless of the reasons, many affiliate marketing programs, whether they are affiliate marketing newbies or experts, can only give you a certain level of affiliate marketing education. The rest you would have to figure out yourself. Manage your expectations at this stage of the game and not expect too much in terms of affiliate marketing education. Nobody is going to spoon feed you secret formulas and secret techniques that would make you a millionaire because that information, for all intents and purposes, is better kept under wraps.

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right affiliate program is like picking the right spouse. You will be wedded to this program for quite some time and you will be investing a lot of time, resources and money promoting this program. That is why it is extremely important that like in a marriage you pick the right partner and in business you pick the right business partner. In affiliate marketing, it is crucial. You do not want a partner that would stiff you. You do not want a partner that would give you bad customer support. While you are a business partner of the affiliate program, because they do not make money if you do not make money, you are also their customer because you are using the materials that they are handing out in order to sell. If they offer lousy affiliate support services, then you are at a disadvantage because you may not be making the amount of money that you could be making, so pick carefully.