As they say here in New York, if you believe that, I've got a bridge to sell you!
Webmasters are legitimately concerned with shaving and maximizing the income from their traffic. To say their only option is to shrug their shoulders and give up is irresponsible at best and blatantly self-serving at worst.
I don't have a "shaving detector," but what I do have is a bullshit detector, and the statement above sets it off. Maybe there is no way to determine whether a program is shaving, but telling webmasters to stick their heads in the sand and accept what they get demonstrates the arrogance many (but, of course, not all) big-name affiliate programs project.
That said, webmasters can certainly make sure they get the best value from their traffic, shaving or not. Plain and simple, it's not the size of your check that matters, it's how you use your traffic. Bigger is not necessarily better!
You've heard it before, and it's true. Look at your conversion ratios. If you send 1,000 clicks to Program A and get two signups, that's 1:500. However, if you send 100 clicks and get one signup, that's 1:100, five times better.
Suppose you hear about a big program that's pushing the newest, greatest webmaster tools (Program A). You decide to try it, and it sounds like everyone believes in it, so you send almost all the traffic you have, say, 50,000 uniques, and behold, you get 100 joins. (Let's keep the numbers simple. I'm a pornographer, not a mathematician.)
That's a ratio of 100:50,000 or 1:500. Now say the program is paying $30 per join so you're getting a check for $3,000.
Not bad. Now let's suppose you get chatting with a guy who runs a niche site that piqued your interest. Just for giggles, you decide to send some traffic his way and see what happens. Instead of a huge banner, you toss up a button or text link and send 1,000 uniques and get just five signups. For this, you get a check for a measly $150 (at $30 per join).
At first glance, looking at the checks, it seems Program A is the better place to send traffic. After all, you got paid 20 times as much money. But when you look at the conversion ratios a very different story unfolds:
Program A: 100:50,000 or 1:500
Niche Site: 5:1,000 or 1:200
Realize that you sent 50 times the amount of traffic to Program A. Had you reversed where you directed your traffic, the niche site would have generated 250 joins, paying you $7,500! A pretty substantial difference from the first scenario, isn't it?
None of this is to imply that Program A is shaving. In this example, it simply isn't converting. There are some really great converting programs out there, but everyone's traffic is different and seeking different content. However, once you find a site or program that converts better than another, the shaving issue is no longer relevant.
So which sites do you try?
Everyone likes to win prizes, but too often I hear webmasters say they are dumping all the traffic they have on one program or another, hoping to win a toaster or something. Just make sure you are not sending traffic to programs converting 1:4000 when you know there are sites out there easily converting more than 10 times better. Is a toaster worth giving up 90 percent of your potential revenue?
Finding Right Sites
Finding the right sites is a matter of trial and error. None of us wants to chance sending traffic to the wrong site for a whole month, but it's the only way to see how it fits. To minimize the risk, take a look at a site you send traffic to. Really, would you join it? Do you even find it interesting? Do you even know the name of the site? If you think a site is boring, so will your traffic. Depending on how you generate it, odds are your traffic will be into the same kinds of sites you are. (This may be why straight webmasters have traditionally had such a hard time converting gay traffic.)
Making this process a bit harder, of course, are the ever-evolving tastes of surfers and the ebb and flow of popular niches and content.
A site or program that worked last year may not be doing as well this year, and conversely, a site that tanked for you last year may now be going strong. The trial and error process is never-ending.
Are you sending traffic to sites with good content? Is the site branded and promoted to build consumer trust? When you get those small checks, take the time to examine the stats they give you. Shaving or not, the best sites for your traffic are the ones that convert.