This article will show you the ten deadly mistakes you can make when starting an affiliate marketing program. Of course, mistakes are a vital part of the learning process. It’s hard to become an expert in anything, affiliate marketing included, without trying and failing at it first.
But let’s face it: Who wants to make a mistake if you can avoid it first?
That’s why I will list the top 10 mistakes I’ve encountered while auditing and working on dozens of affiliate programs. See what you should do to prevent them and hopefully avoid making big no-nos in your program.
- 1. Not setting clear objectives and expectations early on.
- 2. Launching without a clear strategy and expert guidance
- 3. Going to market with the wrong commission model
- 4. Expecting results to show up immediately
- 5. Not getting serious about tracking and technology.
- 6. Accepting every publisher that applies
- 7. Ignoring optimization and incrementality
- 8. Letting excessive fees and costs add up.
- 9. Not monitoring for fraud and compliance.
- 10. Forgetting that partnerships are a two-way street.
1. Not setting clear objectives and expectations early on.
Many website owners launch an affiliate program to get more traffic and sales. But without setting up clear objectives and key results to track, you will not be able to measure the success.
Also, successful affiliate programs require constant communication. However, the most critical talk you can have with your affiliate partners is before they serve any traffic.
Whether working with a network, an agency or directly with partners, make sure you discuss and agree on your expectations before even one offer is promoted. When expectations are aligned, trust is established, and your relationship will be stronger.
2. Launching without a clear strategy and expert guidance
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Same with strategy and planning: Do a little now to save yourself a lot of work down the road. While you’re at it, hire an affiliate marketing expert who knows what he’s doing to help get your partner marketing program off the ground.
It takes years to learn your niche’s affiliate marketing industry and particularities. An expert can get you started on the right foot and share shortcuts along the path to success.
It’s essential to have a strategy built out before promoting the affiliate program and partnering with affiliates. Keeping all partners in line with your brand identity and values is vital.
It’s better to have 20 high-quality partners with the right audience than 300 affiliate partners that are not aligned with your brand identity or are introducing your brand to the wrong demographic.
So don’t just throw an inexperienced person in to run the program. There are many advantages an experienced affiliate marketer or agency (I know, I’m biased) can bring to the table.
They have the right contacts and relationships, know how to structure partner engagements more strategically, and can grow programs faster and healthier. They also know how to leverage additional tools and data outside of the basics to understand the value of each partnership.
3. Going to market with the wrong commission model
As a newcomer to the affiliate space, what you’re willing to pay partners for their time and hard work says a lot about your brand and partnership perspective.
That doesn’t mean coming in with sky-high (and ultimately unprofitable) affiliate commissions. Do competitive research, set reliable commissions, and be willing to adapt as time goes on. In the end, it’s all about the results. You should make enough money and also keep your partners happy.
Successful clients know their margins, do competitive research, and clearly plan what they will offer and what they can offer in private to VIP partners.
I have seen clients go into the market with really high commissions, which have to adjust later to remain profitable. While it wasn’t a significant decrease and seemed minimal, it caused a lot of frustration to affiliates and impacted the campaign’s results. Affiliates also talk to their friends, so reputation is essential.
4. Expecting results to show up immediately
The affiliate channel requires time to nurture and grow like a good relationship. While some partners may be able to get up and running traffic in a few days, that’s not the norm. If you aren’t willing to take a longer-term view of your program, you may face frustration and disappointment in the short term.
Some companies believe that affiliate marketing is a set and forget marketing channels when there is a lot of creative negotiating. Optimizations are needed to build up this acquisition channel.
So be patient and tenacious! Success will not happen overnight; this is a long-term objective, just like branding and SEO. The payout model is different, the end goal is the same.
5. Not getting serious about tracking and technology.
Performance marketing is all about real-time data, optimization, and analysis. A free web analytics account and some spreadsheets won’t cut it. To be successful, affiliate programs require specialized software and tools for tracking, managing, and playing partners.
Setting these up and mastering their use is no small feat. However, it is necessary for any business that wants to capitalize on the opportunities of the affiliate marketing channel.
Lack of careful selection of technological partners. Each time you migrate a program, you will likely have short-term disruptions with some of your key performers and lose long-tail affiliates.
While smaller affiliates do not necessarily count much in terms of immediate sales, they often make a difference in a long time for demand creation.
If you run a WordPress business, I recommend you check our top 10 WordPress plugins to add an affiliate program to WordPress or WooCommerce.
6. Accepting every publisher that applies
In our guide on promoting your affiliate program, I’ve shown you 20 methods you can use to gather more affiliates. However, it’s quality over quantity for affiliates, influencers, and other marketing partners. Almost every affiliate channel sees 95%+ of its revenue from its top 10 partners.
While it is essential to diversify your portfolio of relationships, you will spend a lot of wasted energy building the biggest program in partner numbers.
Even when the goal is scale, seek out and select the highest-quality partnerships you can find. Brand alignment, product-market fit, and personal relationships will lead to better outcomes 99% of the time.
You can have a thousand publishers in your program, but how many of them are click active or revenue-driving?
Less is more when you find the right partners!
In other words: Be picky.
7. Ignoring optimization and incrementality
Affiliate marketing can help drive more new customers, increase AOV, and help drive a substantial amount of traffic.
The affiliate channel is sometimes undervalued in organizations that expect it to drive bottom-of-funnel sales constantly. However, brands that play the long game and focus on building solid relationships eventually see those optimizations pay off.
The path to success becomes evident when you precisely understand what actions lead to outcomes. All you have to do is take it.
8. Letting excessive fees and costs add up.
It seems like a no-brainer, right? Yet plenty of affiliate program rookies wonder where they went wrong as they watch the bills roll in. Recurring charges, like monthly access to a partner marketplace or fees based on a percentage of each payout, quickly add up.
Avoid unnecessary costs using affiliate program software with SaaS-based pricing and adding extras (such as network partners or agency services) only as needed.
9. Not monitoring for fraud and compliance.
They say one bad apple spoils the barrel. You can say the same thing about partner marketing — one bad actor can break your program. While most affiliates you work with will prove trustworthy, assuming that is always the case is reckless.
Monitoring for affiliate marketing fraud will protect your investments. Making sure partners comply with your policies and rules will protect your reputation.
To best curb future fraud from the start, ensure you have a solid foundation in your program agreement that lays out the rules of operation with your business.
An affiliate marketing program agreement should include everything from rules on paid search, coupon promotion, email, social media promotion, et cetera. Be sure also to have grounds for commission reversal and/or program termination.
Next, keep a close eye on your reporting once the program is live to spot any anomalies in traffic or sales spikes. If it looks too good to be true, it likely is. Affiliate conversions and trends should mirror what you typically see for the site overall.
It would be best if you examined anything out of the ordinary further.
10. Forgetting that partnerships are a two-way street.
The most important thing to remember in partner marketing is the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated.
Put yourself in the shoes of your potential affiliates: What will make them successful? You will likely make your affiliate program a hit if you can objectively answer this question.
Affiliates are working to make a living by helping your business profit. Give your fellow marketers the respect they deserve, and they will overwhelmingly return it in kind.
That’s the beauty of performance partnerships — they’re mutually beneficial. When one person wins, everybody wins.
I see a lot of companies approaching partnership conversations with ego. Building relationships with publishers is an art and requires mutual respect and a willingness to find ways to make the engagement beneficial for everyone, including the publisher.
And there are the top 10 mistakes when starting an affiliate program. Unfortunately, every one of these mistakes can cost your business a lot in profit and credibility.
Let’s recap the top 10 mistakes to make sure you know them to prevent them from happening.
- Not setting objectives and expectations early on.
- Launching without a clear strategy and expert guidance.
- Going to market with the wrong commission model.
- Expect results to show up immediately.
- Not getting serious about tracking and technology.
- Accept every publisher that applies.
- Ignoring optimization and incrementality.
- Letting excessive fees and costs add up.
- Not monitoring for fraud and compliance.
- Forgetting that partnerships are a two-way street.
Before closing, you should understand that you can quickly fix these affiliate marketing mistakes if the necessary measures are taken. So it doesn’t matter the situation; if you plan to start an affiliate program or have already run one, you can hire an affiliate marketing expert to help you audit your program and identify the issues.