How to Create an Affiliate Program that Doesn’t Suck

If you have a blog or a website, I’m willing to bet that you’ve seen your fair share of bad affiliate programs. I certainly have.

It’s such a simple concept: reward the people who spread the word about your product or service.

Easy right? Apparently not so much.

Just yesterday I received an email about promoting a product that said this:

“Includes an incredible affiliate offer where you can make nearly 25% off every single sale!”

The product was $47 with a 20% commission and no other incentives.  I’m sorry but $9.40 just doesn’t excite me that much.

The reason most affiliate programs suck is because most owners of these programs care only about themselves.  They don’t want to devote the time and money to doing it right, which results in very few sales for you, and even less money for your affiliates – which let’s face it, is the whole point.

So how do we fix this?

Step 1: Consider What Motivates You

Would a $9.40 commission motivate you? Probably not.

What would get you to spend a few hours crafting a blog post or email series that would do a really good job of promoting a particular product and providing value to your audience?

Do that.

Generally this means a 50% commission on information products.  Remember, these are sales you wouldn’t have otherwise, so 50% is better than 0. Most people choose to forget this.

You should be as generous and creative as possible with your offer.  Bump up commissions when your affiliates reach a certain threshold.  Give prize bonuses for particularly good months. Offer to let them give copies away to their readers.

Not only will this make them extremely excited to promote for you, but it’s more money in your pocket!

Step 2: Give Copies Away

If you want your affiliates to do the best job possible, give them a copy of your product.  Not only will this build goodwill, but it will allow them to do a better job of reviewing and promoting.

Will there be people who try and take advantage of your generosity to get free stuff? Absolutely.  That said, it will be a very a small minority, and it shouldn’t be a primary concern.

Step 3: Make Sure Your Product Converts

Last week I was talking with a well-known blogger who was disappointed with their product launch.  “I should have brought affiliates on board for the initial launch,” they said.

If you can’t convert your own audience that’s been pre-sold, then an affiliate program isn’t going to help you.  Sure you might make a couple more sales, but more likely you’re going to waste everyone’s time, when you should be working to improve your product.

Conversions are everything.  No one wants to promote something that only converts .02% of all traffic.  Do a beta launch to get a sense of your conversion rate, and use the feedback of the initial group to improve your product.

Then when you finally approach others to help you market, you not only know how it’s going to convert, but you’ve got a better product, and testimonials to go along with it.

Step 4: Give Them What They Need

The worst affiliate programs are the ones where the owner (or manager) won’t respond to simple emails.  I know you’re busy, but your affiliates are doing you a favor, not the other way around.

Treat them well.

If they need a banner of a different size – make it for them. If they want to do an interview with you about your product, schedule it. If they have technical questions, spend the time to walk them through it.

Not only will they be more successful in selling, but they’ll be much more likely to promote future products.

A good relationship with an affiliate is just like finding a good customer, it’s much easier to keep them around and make them happy than to build a relationship with a new one.

It’s Not About You, It’s About Them

If you haven’t realized it yet, the key to a successful affiliate program is to put their success ahead of your own.  Make it your goal to make them as much money as possible, and I promise they’ll return the favor over the long run.

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Sean OgleSean Ogle writes about travel and entrepreneurship at Location 180 and helps others build small businesses they can run from anywhere on earth at Location Rebel.


  1. Sean,

    Thanks for your interesting post. I’m just starting to learn about affiliate programs and appreciate you points about being “as generous and creative as possible,” especially when it comes to people who are really bringing in sales. I’m curious about the process of selecting affiliates. Do you really want just anyone promoting your product? What happens if their site is not of top quality or if they won’t be top-notch ambassadors of your brand?

  2. Out of curiosity, do you think $9.40 would be too low if the affiliate was earning this on a per month/per subscriber basis? I am in the process of planning such a program so would be great to hear your thoughts. Otherwise great post :-) Thanks!

  3. Hm. I would actually be very happy about $9.40 if I don’t have to do anything for it besides putting up a banner :)

    Very helpful post! What exactly is a Beta Launch, though? I have heard about it, but don’t actually know what it is.

    Thank you,

  4. This is a great intro into thinking about how to do affiliate marketing better than the rest. It makes sense that affiliates can be a business products biggest cheerleader or referral source and that they should be cared for well. I am with Jenn about in that I am curious how you would advise looking for affiliate opportunities with people “who don’t suck” so much. There is a sea of slimy out there where do you start? Maybe this can be your next post. Thanks