Choosing the Right Affiliate Program

Choosing the right affiliate program for your online business is very important for your business success. The right affiliate program can provide you with a good income. The wrong one could damage your finances and your reputation.

Choosing the right affiliate program is not a decision to be made in a hurry.

After all, you've worked hard to build your site and grow your traffic. Your visitors have come to know you and trust the information you provide. You don't want to jeopardise all that hard work by offering an inferior product or service.

Neither do you want to end in a situation where your visitors get great products and your merchant partners make a good income, while you struggle to pay the mortgage. Affiliate marketing - when done well - should be a true win-win-win for all parties involved.

When I evaluate an affiliate program, I tend to look specifically at the following criteria to make sure I'm choosing the right affiliate program:

RELEVANCY: Does it complement my business?

That doesn't sound so complex, but many website publishers get this wrong. Choosing the right affiliate program does not mean you have to pick the first one you happen across. Neither should you join as many different programs as you possibly can. Scatter gun approaches don't work in affiliate marketing.

You know your visitors. You know what they want, why they come to your site. Does this program give your visitors what they're looking for? If it does, carry on. If it does not, stop right there. You don't have time to waste. Neither do your visitors.

VALUE: Would you buy this product yourself?

And I mean BUY, put your very own hard-earned on the table. This is very important to me ... and it should be to you. Your reputation's on the line here.

If you would not buy a product and use it yourself, don't recommend it. You worked hard to build your visitors' trust in your expertise and integrity. Don't ruin it by offering less than the best.

TERMS: What are you being paid for?

Remember what I said about not all affiliate programs being equal? Here's a difference that can make choosing the right affiliate program crucial for your success and future income.

Some programs (like Google Adsense) pay you each time a visitor clicks on one of their links. That's why they're called pay-per-click or PPC.

Other programs pay an agreed amount if the visitor clicks through and then fills in a form, or takes a survey. These are called pay-per-lead or PPL.

And yet other programs pay out if the customer buys a product.

Obviously, more of your visitors will be inclined to check out an ad, than buy a product. So do you have enough visitors for a program that pays on sale only?

PRICE AND COMMISSION: How much can you earn?

This is relevant for programs that pay per sale. You need to consider how much of your time and effort is required to make a sale and what you get in return. If the item is of very high value - maybe a car or a house - then you would only need to sell one or two to make a decent return. If the item only costs a few pounds, then you need to sell in higher volume to make the same sort of income.

Some programs encourage and reward their busiest affiliate by raising commission percentage after a certain number of sales a month. Do you think you can reach that higher number? If you can't is the payout still worth your efforts?

COOKIE LENGTH: Is it adequate?

Some people make purchases on the spur of the moment, others take longer to decide. The bigger the purchase, the more likely it is that visitors might want to think it over.

Why should this bother you?

Because merchants tag visitors you send to their site with a little marker called a cookie. They then allow this visitor time to make up his or her mind about buying - and still pay you commission.

But cookie lengths vary.

Amazon, for example, only uses single-session cookies. If your visitor navigates away from their screen without making a purchase there and then, you won't earn a bean, even if they come back  later the same day and buy the item they saw on your site. Other merchants offer longer cookie periods - up to 90 days on some travel affiliate programs. Consider your visitors' willingness to buy straight away with the price of the product you're promoting and the cookie period the merchant offers to see if it makes sense.

EASE OF USE: Is the merchant on your side?

This is where choosing the right affiliate program can seriously impact your work day. Some merchants get affiliate marketing and the benefits it brings them. They're the ones who offer you not just banners, but also text links, product feeds, store fronts and tools to deep link directly to products. They're the ones who keep you updated about special offers and new products and give you tools that are easy to use.

Others... don't. And these are the merchants who will have you tearing your hair out when you've spent hours building links that don't work... Look carefully before you choose.

NEXT: Where and how to find the right affiliate programs for your online business...