5 Steps to Better Affiliate Marketing Programs

5 Steps to Better Affiliate Marketing Programs

Interested in launching an affiliate program? Make sure you go through our checklist to get the most from this great marketing technique.

Digital marketing is ever-evolving, and one of the most notable trends of the last few years has been the rise in affiliate marketing.

Once seen as the dark side of online acquisition and favoured by pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing fraudsters, affiliate marketing is now increasingly legitimised – and easier to leverage than you might think.

But before you get started in this fascinating and rewarding world, make sure you read our five-step checklist. And let’s go over a few definitions.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing, also known as performance-based marketing, is simply the process of rewarding other people for helping you with a conversion.

These partners, as they are known, work on their own terms to help you with a specific conversion. That goal may be to bring users to your site, make them sign up for your newsletter, or purchase a product/service. 

And according to Forrester research, affiliate marketing spend has been growing at a CAGR of 10.1%, reaching $6,8M in 2020. The biggest names, such as Amazon Associates have 900,000+ affiliates, and ShareASale has 700,000+. 

The Pros and Cons of Affiliate Marketing

The obvious pro is that, unlike with paid advertising, you have complete control over the reward scheme. As long as you have a good tracking solution, you decide what a conversion looks like. It can be a website visit or a full lead-qualification.

There are also no limits to how many affiliates you can have – and the initial investment is minimal. Affiliate programs can be started in seconds, especially if you go through a renowned publisher, who will connect you with the right network.

Finally, it’s a fantastic way to reach new customers and to gain more opportunities. In fact, in some industries which aren’t allowed to advertise on Google or Facebook (certain iGaming and online casinos, for instance), it’s the best way to do so.

In terms of the negatives, you may find that the results can be inconsistent. Some affiliates will bring a lot of traffic, but not many conversions, for instance. It’s also worth thinking about how people will use your name, and whether it may affect your branding. Finally, you have to keep an eye on affiliate fraud, which we’ll cover in detail below.

Pros and Cons summary:

  • Pro: reach more people
  • Pro: minimal investment
  • Pro: no limits to the number of partners
  • Con: inconsistent results
  • Con: need to control your branding
  • Con: potential for fraud

Now that we’ve covered the basic, let’s go over our five-step to getting started with better affiliate marketing programs.

1. Have a Good Understanding of Your Own Product

Knowing where you stand in terms of branding, positioning and the product-market fit is important for many reasons. It will help you with your long-term marketing strategy, of course, in the context of affiliate programs, it will also help you vet the best partners.

Put simply: it’s about understanding what you stand for before you ask for outside help. You don’t want to associate with partners who may tarnish your reputation. If you sell kid’s toys, you don’t want an NSFW Twitch streamer to promote your product. 

On a more technical note, it’s also about knowing how conversions look on your site. Do you have a good UX? Is the customer journey well-planned? You must ensure every step of the conversion process is in great shape before you ask others to help you with it. 

Pro tip: use a test account to go through the conversion funnel yourself, and double-check that everything works as it should before you ask affiliates to bring people to your site.

2. Pick the Right Affiliate Models

This step is all about choosing the right commission structure for your program. There are several to choose from. If you’re familiar with online ads, you’ll find that some of them are similar.

  • CPM: cost per thousand impressions (note that the M is for the Roman numeral). You pay a fee every time an advert featuring your product or service has been loaded a thousand times. It’s traditionally been used for brand campaigns because there’s no real action involved.
  • CPC: cost per click. A better measure for affiliate marketing, because you actually look at how many times a link is clicked. Very effective, but also a strong incentive for fraudsters to use bots to auto-click your links and earn commissions.
  • CPL: cost per lead: You pay every time a lead form is filled, using a tracking code from your program. Also very effective in terms of seeing results – but here again some unscrupulous affiliates have been known to submit opt-out lists as opt-ins.

Then there are the self-explanatory CPA (cost per action) where you decide on another metric; CPS (cost per sale); and CPI (cost per install) which works great for app developers.

Recommended: Use CPM, CPC, and CPA to convert customers

Finally, the influencer model is also considered an affiliate model. You may also choose one of the aforementioned payment schemes, or simply give them goodies for exposure.

Pro tip: one of the great things about affiliate marketing is that you’re not limited to one model. Pick and choose all of them if you want, and only keep the ones that really bring results.

3. Be Clear About Your Program

Got a good understanding of what you want from your affiliates? Good. Now it’s time to ensure they get it just as well as you do. While affiliate programs are easy to start, it doesn’t mean you have to be light on details. Every partnership is a contract, and it’s imperative that both parties are clear on the terms from the start.

Make sure you have laid out in clear language:

  • How commissions works
  • What kind of cookies are allowed
  • Payment terms
  • Duration of the partnership
  • Rules and dealbreakers
  • Etc…

Pro tip: take a leaf from the book of companies like ShareASale, which offer in-depth resources to let users know exactly how things work. 

4. Keep Track of Performance

Of course, the only way to make sure your partnership is working is to keep track of its performance. Common practices apply:

  • So set up your analytics,
  • Use KPIs (key performance indicators)
  • Track and calculate ROI (return on investment)
  • Set benchmarks

Note that some affiliate programs may take a while to bring a positive ROI. You’ll have to be patient and wait for a time frame that makes sense to average things out.

Pro tip: use both ROI calculations and ROAS (return on ad spend). The first gives you a dollar value, while the second gives you a useful ratio.

5. Beware of Affiliate Fraudsters

Sadly, affiliate programs are increasingly abused by malicious individuals. They know how to increase the rewards, either using:

  • Bot traffic: from simple auto clickers to sophisticated bots that will go all the way to a signup stage.
  • Malware: to auto-install apps without authorization, or redirect traffic to your page from unsuspecting web users
  • Cookie stuffing: they find ways to add your tracking cookies to a website visitor who is never made aware of your site.
  • Ad overlays: fraudsters superimpose adverts on top of each other so that the number of impressions goes up – even if nobody sees your ad.
  • Fake influence profiles: some of the most sophisticated scams will even see fraudsters build entire online personalities only to receive your freebies.

This causes a whole range of problems, as bots play havoc with your analytics, you waste precious marketing dollars, and KPIs become near impossible to measure.

For the most complex reward schemes, where you need user signup, fraudsters will rely on multi-accounting, often with fake IDs purchased from the dark web. This could land you in hot waters with regulatory bodies if your company is supposed to perform KYC and AML checks.

Pro tip: read more about affiliate marketing fraud here and use a tool like SEON to help you flag bad agents.


For many companies, the pros of affiliate marketing programs outweigh the cons. Sure, there are inherent risks to working with partners in the online world, but for the most part, this marketing channel gives you plenty of freedom to explore, test, and get high-quality conversions.

Just make sure you prepare well in advance and follow the steps highlighted in this post to get the most from your marketing spend and to create successful affiliate campaigns – it’ll be a win-win for you, your partners, and your users too.

This post was submitted by a TNS experts. Check out our Contributor page for details about how you can share your ideas on digital marketing, SEO, social media, growth hacking and content marketing with our audience.

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