Affiliates: Achieving Success With Benchmarks

Stephen Yagielowicz

Achieving success as an affiliate is not a matter of chance, it is the result of a thoughtful process of planning and experimentation that has many facets.

Regardless of your business goals or particular needs, the important thing is to have a plan for dealing with affiliate programs. This is not a matter of “sure, I have a plan: I plan to join and promote affiliate programs,” with the more thoughtful adding, “in my niche.” It is about understanding your goals and the results you hope to achieve, and how a particular program fits into this plan.

Regardless of your business goals or particular needs, the important thing is to have a plan for dealing with affiliate programs.

For example, are you looking for short term revenues or long term profits?

The difference impacts the type of program that is best for you: pay per sale (PPS) or revenue sharing — think of it in terms of a big lottery payout, where you get more if you wait for it, or less, if you want it all right away. Of course it is more complicated than that, because the states running the lotteries are not likely to cheat you or to be insolvent before the long term payments (if any) flow in. Also, surfers are much more savvy these days, and many will cancel their membership immediately after joining a site, so there is no recurring payout, just a percentage of the initial sale — and even that modest amount may be subject to chargeback fees and refunds.

Read the affiliate program’s terms of service: are there prohibitions against the types of promotions that you are planning? For example, some programs ban chat and mailer traffic and will keep your cash if you are caught violating these terms. Some programs will lower payout amounts and percentages for failing to deliver a specified number of sales (including maintaining or increasing your existing sales volume), or may limit the number of recurring payments you will receive.

For example, you may refer a member that retains his membership for several years, but find that your percentage is only paid for the first year — likewise, webmaster referrals that promise you a percentage of that referred affiliate’s sales may only occur for a limited time, such as the first month, six months or year.

How deep do the payouts go, or in other words, are you paid not only on customer sales, but a referral fee for affiliates, customers, performers or other service providers sent to the sponsor? This is a concern for those with both B2B as well as B2C traffic and specific business models.

What about so-called “traffic leaks” on the sites you are promoting, including cross- and up-sells from the tour pages — do you get paid for every purchase your referred visitor makes? For example, some paysites might offer a cam promotion for their own sponsors or other affiliate offers that skim off the traffic you sent without compensating you for it. This doesn’t make the sponsor evil, it’s a necessary way to earn the revenue a site needs to survive today — but it is also a factor in the affiliate’s survival, too.

While I personally believe that paysite owners, especially those running PPS programs, are entitled to all revenues earned from members’ area promotions and up-sells, non-member sales should be credited to the referring affiliate — but not all program operators, or their affiliates agree with this — some owners will want to keep all non-membership revenue to themselves, while some affiliates demand a taste of all sales made from referrals. A successful affiliate/sponsor relationship will be a balance between the two.

For example, I want to know if a sponsor offers the option of delivering iframe ads via a secure server (HTTPS), so the ad won’t “break” the security of my site — preventing the little lock in the browser from appearing and warning users of a security issue. I also want IAB standard ad sizes, particularly 300x250 and 160x600 banners — animated GIFs preferred.

Likewise, if you run a cam or video program, are you able to provide me with non-Flash ads (animated GIFs or HTML5 video) so that my many mobile visitors can see your previews? And is the sponsor’s site that I’m sending traffic to mobile friendly? What about Google Analytics integration throughout the transaction funnel? Many legacy affiliate programs offer 2005-era tools and simply don’t provide the tools you need to succeed in 2015, so look before you leap.