So, you’ve decided to dive into the world of affiliate marketing, but you’re not quite sure where to start.
Well, you’re in luck because I’ve got some valuable insights to share with you.
Forget about just chasing after the highest payouts;
let’s talk about what really matters when it comes to finding top-performing affiliate programs.

Over my two-decade journey in the affiliate marketing game,
I’ve encountered a myriad of perspectives on what makes an affiliate program truly shine in terms of generating income.
Some folks swear by programs with sky-high payouts, while others sing the praises of network earnings per click (EPCs).
However, let me be clear: unless you have the magical ability to intercept a store or service provider’s traffic,
those metrics can sometimes be more of a cautionary sign than an endorsement of a top-tier affiliate program.
And that’s precisely why I’m here to guide you through this.

The burning question I’ve often faced, especially at conferences geared towards publishers and SEO enthusiasts, is,
“What truly defines the ultimate affiliate program?” Well, I’m about to break it down for you.
I’ll share the seven crucial factors I consider before jumping into bed with an affiliate program
or when I find myself torn between two promising options.

In addition to discussing these metrics, I’ll also explain why each one matters and, in many cases,
how you can test them to see if they align with your unique situation.
This is how you can uncover an affiliate program with the highest potential for making serious cash.

Let’s dive right in, but before we do, let me emphasize one thing: “testing” will be a recurring theme throughout this journey.
The most basic affiliate tracking test involves:

1. Clicking your affiliate link.
2. Adding products to the cart.
3. Checking out like a regular customer.
4. Ensuring that the commission registers in your account.

Don’t get sidetracked by cashback offers, coupons, multiple payment options, or ads for other brands on the site.
Your goal here is to determine if the basic tracking is working, not to delve into attribution testing.

With that said, here’s what to look for when scouting for affiliate programs that can truly elevate your earnings,
with a few real-world testing tips thrown in:

1) Reach Out to Responsive Managers

The Power of Personal Connection

Before you even think about joining an affiliate program, reach out to the affiliate manager using the
contact information provided by the network. In your email, introduce yourself, explain why you’re a great fit for their brand,
and outline how you plan to bring value to their table.

It’s also a smart move to ask a few well-thought-out questions about the program and tracking capabilities.
This will help you gauge the manager’s expertise and responsiveness.
If the affiliate manager doesn’t respond within two business days, don’t waste your timeā€”move on.

Why, you ask? Well, if they’re unresponsive when you’re trying to send them business,
imagine what happens when tracking issues or missing sales rear their ugly heads.

And speaking of questions, choose them wisely. Some affiliates make
the mistake of asking for freebies like product samples and vanity codes upfront.
Remember, affiliate programs are about driving customers to a store and earning commissions, not snagging freebies.

Share your business plan with the manager using their product, and avoid committing to just doing a review.
Reviews have limited long-term earning potential and offer less value to the brand compared to
solution-oriented content or “how-to” guides.

Other questions to consider include asking about marketing strategies,
backup tracking systems, cross-device tracking methods, and understanding
where you fit on the attribution lines within the affiliate program.

When the affiliate manager responds, pay attention to the specifics they provide.
A good affiliate manager will analyze your site and offer concrete suggestions to improve sales from the get-go.
They won’t simply throw out generic statements like “Add a link,” “Use a coupon code,” or “Do a review.”
If their response lacks detail or examples, it may indicate a lack of marketing knowledge on their part,
which can be a red flag. But remember, your role is to be the strategic marketer, not theirs.

The key here is to receive a response, as it shows that the affiliate program is attentive and values
its potential partners. Don’t judge them solely based on their marketing knowledge; that’s your territory.

2) Align with Your Audience Demographics

The Art of Targeted Traffic

It’s easy to find stores selling similar products, like cell phones or t-shirts, but where you send your traffic matters greatly.
Different retailers or service providers cater to distinct target audience demographics and
have unique selling points tailored to those audiences.

The price tag of a cell phone or a t-shirt may be important to your audience,
but other factors influence conversion rates, including the wording used, selling points highlighted,
return policies, imagery, free shipping, press coverage, and more.

This is why understanding the primary customer base of each retailer or service provider is crucial.
You can even leverage your website’s analytics to identify your audience demographics and
share this data with the affiliate manager. This not only showcases your value
but also helps the manager learn something new.

If you’re not well-versed in analytics, don’t fret. Start by surveying your audience directly through forms,
pop-ups, or newsletter outreach. Ask them about their price preferences, willingness to pay for security or
luxury, and what factors matter most to them, such as free shipping or product variety.

By aligning your audience’s needs with the affiliate programs you promote,
you can improve conversions and ultimately boost your income.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you have two affiliate programs, A and B.

– Program A offers the best prices and higher payouts but lacks a money-back guarantee or free shipping.
– Program B provides free shipping and a 30-day money-back guarantee but offers slightly lower payouts.
Program B prominently displays these selling points next to the “Add to cart” button.

In this scenario, even though Program A offers higher payouts and better pricing,
Program B might resonate more with your audience, leading to better conversion rates and ultimately higher earnings.
Don’t forget that a discounted price may lead to a lower average order value (AOV).
If the commission is percentage-based, not a flat payout, a lower AOV may still result in higher overall earnings.

The key here is to ensure that the affiliate program aligns with your audience’s preferences and needs.

3) Beware of Live Chat and Traffic Leaks

Navigating the Waters of Live Chat and Traffic Leaks

There are two often-overlooked factors in affiliate marketing: live chat and traffic leaks.
Traffic leaks occur when you send your traffic to a merchant, and the merchant makes it easy for
your referrals to exit their website or click on another affiliate’s links.

To test for traffic leaks and live chat issues, follow these steps:

1. Visit each affiliate program you’re considering and engage with their customer support or live chat.
2. Inquire if they can process your order through live chat or phone support without using the shopping cart.
3. Check if the commission registers in your account. Some networks offer real-time tracking, while others
may have a daily batch process.

If the live chat representative or phone agent can easily process your order without you going through the
shopping cart, that’s a traffic leak. When a live chat representative or phone agent facilitates a sale without
proper tracking, you risk losing commissions.

To address this, communicate with the affiliate manager about your concerns and suggest implementing
safeguards against traffic leaks. They might not be aware that their live chat agents can effectively override
your tracking link, and your insight could be invaluable.

Remember, live chat and phone sales are fantastic for conversion rates, but they can turn into a nightmare
if commissions don’t track correctly.

4) Verify Cookie Lifetimes

The Longevity of Tracking Cookies

Cookies are the cornerstone of affiliate marketing tracking. They’re tiny pieces of code that help the affiliate
program track user behavior, attributing sales and commissions to the right affiliates. However, not
all cookies are created equal.

When assessing affiliate programs, investigate the duration of their tracking cookies.
Some cookies last for a brief moment, while others stick around for months.
The longer the cookie lifetime, the better your chances of earning commissions on future purchases
by the same customer.

Here’s a simple test to determine cookie longevity:

1. Click your affiliate link.
2. Add products to your cart.
3. Close the browser or tab.
4. Return to the merchant’s website a few days later (or even weeks) using the same device.

If your affiliate tracking is still intact, it’s a good sign.
If not, the program may have short cookie durations, which could limit your earnings potential.

Long cookie durations are especially beneficial for high-ticket items or products with long sales cycles,
like software subscriptions or luxury goods. They give you ample time to earn commissions
on a single customer’s multiple purchases.

Additionally, check if the affiliate program uses “last click” or “first click” attribution.
Last-click attribution means the last affiliate link clicked before a sale gets the commission.
First-click attribution rewards the affiliate whose link the customer clicked first.

In most cases, you’ll want to partner with programs that use last-click attribution, as it’s more common and fair.
However, some niches or networks may prefer first-click attribution, so it’s essential to understand the rules of the game.

5) Explore Payment Terms and Thresholds

The Dollars and Cents of Affiliate Payments

Let’s talk money. It’s crucial to understand an affiliate program’s payment terms and thresholds before you commit.
Payment terms encompass commission rates, payout frequencies, and methods of payment.

1. Commission Rates: Obviously, you want to know how much you’ll earn for each sale or lead.
However, keep in mind that higher isn’t always better. Look at the overall picture, including conversion rates and
the quality of the product or service you’re promoting. A program with a slightly lower commission
but significantly higher conversion rates can often be more profitable.

2. Payout Frequencies: Determine how frequently the program pays its affiliates.
Common options include monthly, bi-weekly, and weekly payments.
Some programs may even offer daily payouts. Your choice here depends on your cash flow needs and
the program’s reliability.

3. Payment Methods: Affiliate programs typically offer various payment methods, such as bank transfers,
checks, PayPal, or direct deposits. Ensure that the program supports your preferred payment method
and that it’s accessible in your region.

4. Payment Thresholds: The payment threshold is the minimum amount you must earn before
the program releases your payment. If the threshold is too high, it may take a while before you receive your earnings.
On the other hand, a very low threshold can be problematic if the program has high transaction fees.
Strike a balance between the two based on your earning potential and the program’s reliability.

5. Hold Periods: Some affiliate programs implement a hold period, which means they delay payments for
a certain period after the sale. This is common in industries with high refund rates, like digital products.
Make sure you’re comfortable with the hold period’s length.

Before jumping in, test the payment system by making a few test sales and ensuring
the commissions are correctly credited to your account. This will help you avoid surprises down the road.

6) Investigate Product Quality and Reputation

The Quality Assurance Check

Your reputation as an affiliate marketer is at stake when you promote products or services to your audience.
Even if an affiliate program promises high commissions, you should never compromise on the quality
and reputation of what you’re promoting.

Here’s a checklist to evaluate product quality and reputation:

1. Product Reviews: Research the product or service you’ll be promoting. Read reviews from real customers to
understand their experiences. Are there recurring complaints about the product, customer service, or billing issues?

2. Brand Reputation: Investigate the reputation of the brand or service provider. Look for any major controversies, lawsuits,
or scandals associated with them. A tarnished brand can negatively impact your audience’s trust and your credibility.

3. Customer Support: Test the customer support of the merchant. Reach out with a question or inquiry.
How responsive and helpful are they? Good customer support can lead to higher conversion rates and happier customers.

4. Refund Policy: Review the refund policy of the product or service. A transparent and customer-friendly
refund policy can instill confidence in your audience.

Remember, your goal as an affiliate marketer is not just to make a quick buck but to build
a long-term relationship with your audience. Promoting subpar products or questionable brands can harm that
relationship and impact your future earnings.

7) Monitor Network Reputation and Track Record

The Network’s Role in Your Success

Affiliate networks play a pivotal role in your affiliate marketing journey. They act as intermediaries
between you and the merchants, providing tracking, reporting, and sometimes additional support.
Therefore, it’s essential to assess the reputation and track record of the affiliate network itself.

Here’s what to look for when evaluating affiliate networks:

1. Network Reliability: Research the network’s history and reliability. Have they been involved in any
major controversies or issues? Do they have a good track record of making timely payments to affiliates?

2. Payment Processing: Check if the network has a reliable payment processing system.
Late or missing payments can be a significant headache.

3. Reporting and Analytics: Assess the quality of the network’s reporting and analytics tools.
Accurate and timely data is crucial for optimizing your campaigns.

4. Customer Support: Evaluate the network’s customer support. Are they responsive to affiliate inquiries and issues?
A network with excellent customer support can make your life much easier.

5. Diversity of Offers: Consider the diversity of offers available on the network.
A network with a wide range of offers in your niche can provide you with more earning opportunities.

6. Policies and Terms: Thoroughly read and understand the network’s policies and terms of service.
Ensure they align with your business practices and goals.

7. Reviews and Recommendations: Look for reviews and recommendations from other affiliates
who have worked with the network. Their experiences can provide valuable insights.

Once you’ve assessed these factors, you’ll have a better understanding of whether
the affiliate network is a reliable and suitable partner for your affiliate marketing endeavors.


In the ever-evolving landscape of affiliate marketing, finding the most lucrative
affiliate programs requires a combination of research, testing, and strategic decision-making.
By following these seven essential steps and conducting the necessary tests,
you can increase your chances of partnering with programs that align with your audience,
provide quality products or services, and offer fair commissions and reliable tracking.

Remember that affiliate marketing success often comes with persistence and optimization.
Continuously refine your strategies, explore new opportunities, and adapt to changing market dynamics.
Over time, you can build a sustainable and profitable affiliate marketing business.

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