10 Things to Consider Before Applying to Join an Affiliate Program

Mind map of Affiliate Marketing and all related online traffic sources.

So, you’ve heard about people making money on the internet by promoting other merchant’s products in return for a commission – Affiliate Marketing. You’re keen to test the waters but not quite sure how to go about it. This article is intended to give some pointers to people starting out in this business. Most experienced Affiliate Marketers will already be familiar with the concepts discussed in this article.

1) Decide on the promotional method you are going to use

A good place to start is to decide on what method you’re going to use to promote the merchant. Maybe you have an opt-in e-mail subscriber list you intend to send promotional e-mails to. If you’re starting out, you’re unlikely to have a mailing list – this is something you can build up if you decide to promote the merchant via your own website.

Another option is PPC (Pay Per Click), where you bid on keyword phrases for inclusion in the paid ads in Google’s search engine results. The higher you bid, the higher your ad appears in the results – every time a visitor clicks on your ad, Google charges you the amount you bid. This way, you can send visitors directly to the merchant with your affiliate link embedded (if the merchant allows this), or to your own website, if you have one. But you need to carefully check the merchant’s terms and conditions – many have policies forbidding bidding on their brand names and trademarks, or linking direct to their website. Also, you can make a lot of money using PPC, but you can also lose a lot – and you will be competing with some very smart people who have been doing this for years.

Another possibility is to promote the merchant via Social Media – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc. My favorite method is build my own website, either built around a niche, where you can promote several merchants who carry relevant products, or dedicated to one merchant. Having your own website will certainly help you get approved to join the merchant’s affiliate program. More on that later.

2) What terms is the merchant offering?

The terms that merchants offer affiliates vary greatly. The main factors to look at are:

A) The commission rate. Obviously, the higher the better. Some merchants offer as low as 4%, some as high as 20% or even 25%. Most are somewhere in between. Commissions are greatly influenced by the type of products on offer, you may find that jewelry merchants can always offer more than those selling household electronics for example.

B) Cookie duration. The longer the better. A tracking cookie is placed on your visitor’s computer when they click on one of your affiliate links and go through to the merchant site. If they make a purchase, the merchant knows who to assign the commission to via the tracking cookie.

3) Read the merchant’s terms and conditions in detail

By signing up for an affiliate program, you are entering into a legally binding contract with the merchant (and the Affiliate Network, if there is one.) It’s important to read the agreement(s) fully before signing up.

4) What is the minimum payout level and how will I get paid?

Most affiliate programs have a minimum payment threshold before they will pay you your due commissions. It may be $50, it may be $100. If you sign up to a merchant through a network, and work with other merchants in that network, most networks nowadays will aggregate commissions from all merchants to calculate their minimum payment level. Most networks offer various payment options – check, direct deposit in a bank, PayPal etc.

5) Is the program run in-house or associated with an affiliate network?

Some affiliate programs are run and managed entirely in-house. Others are associated with an Affiliate Network – a ‘friendly’, third-party agent between affiliates and merchants. There are many ethical, well-run in-house affiliate programs. If you have any controversy with a merchant (ie a commission is ‘reversed’ and you don’t believe it should have been), you probably have more options to resolve the dispute if an Affiliate Network is involved.

6 Is the program managed in-house or by an OPM (Out-sourced Program Manager)

Some affiliate programs are managed by an in-house Affiliate Manager (or, in many cases, no Affiliate Manager – these merchants are generally best avoided). Some merchants avail themselves of the services of an Outsourced Program Manager. It’s a good idea to find a reliable OPM and build a relationship with them. There are some OPMs where you may well feel safe joining any program they manage, because you know they insist on solid ethical standards and practices.

7) Search the ABestWeb Forum or similar affiliate forum for positive or negative feedback from other affiliates

A great resource for information about dependable merchants and OPMs is the ABestWeb Forum (http://forum.abestweb.com). It’s highly recommended to register an account there and start reading the posts. You will soon get an idea for which programs and managers are trustworthy.

8) Take a look at the merchant website

Before signing up you should have a good look at the merchant website. Would you buy something from this merchant? Is it the kind of site you’d recommend to friends?  Also make sure there are no third party ads on the site. A merchant that is promoting out bound ads on their home page most likely has a very low opinion of their sites ability to convert your traffic into sales.

9) If you don’t have a website, build one before applying

Many Affiliate Program Managers will reject your application if you don’t have a website at the time you apply. They are really looking for a website in the niche the merchant operates in. Even if you are planning to promote the merchant by other means, e-mail, PPC etc., it’s a good idea to have a website outlining your business model. Most Affiliate Program Managers will want to know precisely how you intend to promote the merchant before they accept you into their program. If you should get rejected then reach out and contact the Program Manager for more details. A good manager will be swift to reply and let you know the reasons.

10) Fill out / update your profile on the Affiliate Network before you apply

If you’re applying to join a program through an Affiliate Network, make sure your profile on the Network is up to date – with full contact information, and your website address. Old info, or links to an old web site could cause your application to be rejected.