20 Critical Criteria for Choosing an Affiliate Program (Part 1)

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Thank you to Geno Prussakov, founder of AM Navigator agency and Affiliate Management Days conference, for contributing this guest post. In part one of this two-part post, Geno shares what he deems to be the most important considerations for publishers looking to join an affiliate program. Every affiliate wants to make the right choice when choosing an affiliate program, to avoid getting burnt by programs that do not yield fruit. You will often hear that the choice is as simple as “promoting those who pay higher commissions.” I strongly disagree with this simplistic approach. It can cost you a lot of money and time spent on a bad fit before you realize it was wrong in the first place.

With this in mind, I would like to propose 20 criteria for every affiliate to examine prior to spending time, money and effort on any affiliate program.

1. Website

Start by examining the advertiser’s website both as a consumer and as an affiliate. As a consumer, pay attention to its ease-of-use (both overall and the checkout process, in particular), professionalism, and how compelling its offer is. As an affiliate, make sure to check for any “leaks,” or ways for the end consumer to take a route that does not lead to commissions. Most commonly, leaks come in the form of untrackable phone numbers, online chat assistants who also take orders, links to other merchants, and even AdSense units and affiliate links of their own.

2. Mobile-Friendliness

Not only is Google making it clear that it is starting to treat mobile-friendliness as a “ranking signal,” but end consumers also increasingly use mobile devices to purchase. We now know that as much as 36% of all affiliate-referred sales occur on smartphones and tablets. Use tools like Screenfly to test how an advertiser’s website looks and works on an array of mobile devices.

 3. Reputation/Reliability

Once again, approach this both as a consumer and as an affiliate. As a consumer, turn to independent review sites; as an affiliate, visit affiliate forums and blogs. If there is something you need to be aware of, it should be easy enough to find.

4. Competitiveness

Examine the attractiveness of the merchant’s customer-facing offer. Competitive product prices are directly correlated to conversion rates (one of the crucial key performance indicators to take into account). In the age of comparison shopping, online consumers are increasingly savvy and won’t buy from uncompetitive merchants.

 5. Serviceable Areas

Do your due diligence to ensure that the advertiser services the geographic area where you plan to market them. MetLife Defender, for example (whose affiliate program I built and manage), services the Unites States only. They have a terrific product, but if your primary focus is on another geographic territory, this affiliate program won’t be good fit for you.

 6. Market Saturation

Some niches are already too crowded, and unless you have something truly unique to add to the pre-purchase process, look for a less saturated niche. Take hosting, for example. It’s an interesting niche with plenty of good players. But it is, generally, way too saturated – especially for newer affiliates.

7. Advertiser-Affiliate Compatibility

Evaluate how compatible your promotional focus is with the advertiser’s goal(s) for their affiliate program. A classic example is that of an incompatibility of incentive-oriented promotional methods with pay-per-lead affiliate programs – especially those that compensate affiliates for free trials.

8. Payout/Commission

When you put together a comparative table with all of the criteria to consider (which I hope you will), commission rates will be one of the factors you’ll want to compare among immediate competitors – but don’t focus too much on this one alone. There are many other variables that go into the final formula (described below and in Part 2 of this article), and you’ll want to look at all the pieces to get a complete picture of what you may expect to see in program earnings.

9. Commission Recurrence

Some merchants pay commission on new and unique customers only, but I do not believe this is an optimal practice. In the survey conducted for my Online Shopping Through Consumers’ Eyes book, I asked consumers: “When shopping for products requiring ongoing replenishing (e.g., grocery, ink, bank checks, etc.) and receiving satisfactory service, would you still compare your retailer’s offer to other offers next time you need their product?” Close to 72% replied “yes.” Therefore, it is my belief that advertisers that run affiliate programs should compensate affiliates for every sale, but also offer an additional incentive for new customers. For example, eBay Partner Network pays a 200% commission bonus for each new or reactivated eBay buyer.

 10. Payment Methods

Per Affiliate Summit's 2014 AffStat Report, the top three preferred methods of receiving commission payments are: bank transfer (41.8% for direct deposit and 11.9% for wire transfers), PayPal (34.3%), and check in the mail (11.9%). Check that the payment methods supported by the affiliate program you are about to promote will work for you.

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It is pivotal to keep in mind that not any one of these criteria exists in isolation. They are closely interconnected, and performance with any advertiser will depend on a combination of these variables and key performance indicators.

The above 10 represent only half of the criteria Geno Prussakov urges affiliates to consider. Take a look at Part 2 where we share the remaining 10 of Geno’s essential factors to consider when selecting an affiliate program!

Geno Prussakov is a well-known affiliate marketing expert, best-selling author of four books, popular speaker, Founder and Chair of Affiliate Management Days conference, CEO and Founder of AM Navigator – an award-winning affiliate marketing management agency. You may follow him Twitter at @ePrussakov.