Guidelines for establishing and running a successful affiliate program

Much debate has been raised on whether a company should focus its marketing efforts on the Pay Per Click model or the Affiliate Marketing model. While we do not believe the two are mutually exclusive, we were glad to see MarketingExperiments.com perform a couple of case studies showing real life examples of affiliate programs growing revenues exponentially in less than a year's time. You may read the complete study here, but meanwhile, we have posted the study's "Guidelines For Establishing And Running A Successful Affiliate Program" below. Some of the points listed are commonsense and some you may not have considered. One thing is certain though, and that is that we can all use a refresher on the basics every now and then. Please let us know your thoughts by adding your comments to our blog.


  1. Commit to allocating sufficient resources to fully research and explore the best way in which to manage your affiliate program, whether you use an in-house affiliate management solution, or partner with an outside supplier like Commission Junction or LinkShare.
  2. If you are going to use an in-house solution, invest in a program or service from an established provider. While some companies have done well with solutions they have built and programmed themselves, this takes an enormous investment of time and money and fails to leverage the enormous expertise and experience of other companies.
  3. When launching an affiliate program, give yourself a 12-month breakeven horizon. It takes time to build a reputation for having a good program, and to recruit good affiliates.
  4. While some affiliate programs make huge revenues by having tens of thousands of affiliates, others achieve the same results with just a few strong partners.
  5. Treat your top affiliates as valued strategic partners. Your top few affiliates may have the potential to provide you with a significant proportion of your total revenues.
  6. Get to know how each super-affiliate operates. Some will feature your company within an existing, high-traffic content site. Others will create new sites, specifically to sell your products or service.
  7. Be generous with your commissions. Top affiliates make their living as affiliate marketers and invest their resources only in programs which offer generous terms and are well managed.
  8. Be prepared to increase commission rates for your top performing affiliates.
  9. Provide affiliates with the marketing tools they need in order to effectively promote your products or services. These may include text links, banners, content pages, data feeds and even complete stores delivered by javascript.
  10. Give affiliates access to detailed reporting on their performance and sales. Top affiliates will want to track the ROI of links from their pages...from exposures, to clicks and through to sales.
  11. Be open to special requests from key affiliates. Some may ask you to place custom code on your sales confirmation pages in order to track their own marketing efforts, including PPC campaigns.
  12. Listen carefully to top affiliates when they critique your landing pages. Many professional affiliates will have deep expertise in what works and what doesn’t.
  13. Be available to top affiliates by email and phone. You should treat your top performers as important strategic marketing partners. Being available to them helps build that kind of relationship.
  14. Appoint a single individual to work with top affiliates, so they know who their contact person is within your company.
  15. Enable affiliates to link to any interior page on your site. Conversions will be low if you simply attract affiliate traffic
    to your home page.
  16. Work with your top affiliates, learn from them and build custom landing pages to help maximize conversion rates.
  17. Alert your affiliates to upcoming specials, deals and new product or service introductions, so they have time to prepare their own pages or links.
  18. While some companies forbid their affiliates to bid on the company’s “own” keywords, this practice is not recommended. eBay, Amazon and other major sites freely allow this practice, as they understand and have calculated that giving their affiliates free reign is to their advantage. A common exception is that most companies will not allow you to bid on their trademarked names and phrases.