8 Rules of Survival for an Affiliate Program

Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links.

There are so many things to worry about when managing an affiliate program. These are some very important rules of survival for successful affiliate programs.

Prioritizing and delegating tasks is key because no one person can do it – especially not for a large affiliate program. So what’s most important?

Most aspects of running a tight ship is laying the foundation so you can focus on the more manual tasks. That’s what this post is about, the things that need to be in place and remain constant for the long term. It can also make or break your affiliate program.

If you would like some information about building an affiliate program, you can visit my partner AisforAffiliate.com.

1. Your Tracking Links Must Work

The quickest way to lose credibility is by your affiliates losing out on commissions because the tracking links are not working. The whole point of an affiliate program is to gain customers from partners that refer them to you.

When links don’t work correctly – customers might get a 404 error and not see your website, affiliates won’t earn commissions, and you might not gain a customer. It’s a lose – lose scenario all around. It will quickly deter affiliates from wanting to work with you.

So its best to invest in quality tracking, such as Tapfiliate, if you want to manage it in-house. Or you can use a network like Shareasale to automate some of the smaller workings. For small businesses with brand new affiliate programs, Affiliate WP can be a good option because it is an affordable WordPress plugin.

Even more important is to test and triple check that sales are showing up in your reporting tools. Hiring a developer to build your tracking platform is another option. However, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, unless you need something very customized.

2. Have an Attractive Affiliate Page

It should be easy to find from your home page. This is the first impression someone will see of your program, it should be easy to read, look relevant, and highlight some main benefits.

An outdated page or bad design will convey that affiliates are not important to your business. Its very possible to build a great page with a page builder like Elementor.

Overview your commissions, how your program works, and how to sign up. For extra points, you can have some of your top affiliates give a testimonial quote for your page. Liquid Web has a perfect example.

3. Offer Appealing Commissions

A big decision, and needs to be very strategically analyzed. Its also very subjective to your business model.

For example, products on a subscription basis might consider recurring monthly commissions. But a one time commission might be better suited for a one time purchase product.

The other aspect to this is how much you are willing to pay for a new customer. Some businesses offer a large commission upfront because they will recoup the commission cost by ensuring the customer continues to purchase. Some businesses offer only 10 – 20% of the sale because they prefer to keep some of the upfront revenue.

The best place to start to determine what commission you should offer is looking at your competitors’ affiliate programs. Not with the intent to copy, but looking for competitive advantages that you could leverage.

A few rules of thumb:

  • Don’t guarantee any earnings, it is up to the affiliate to determine how much they earn based on your payment terms.
  • Don’t set a cap for commissions. If affiliates are winning, then your business is winning.
  • Don’t change your commission structure very often.

4. Set an Appropriate Cookie Duration

This is also a subjective part of a program. It really comes back to what your product is and the buying habits of your customers.

Apparel products are usually short cookies – 7 days. SaaS products are more like 60 or 90 days because there is more consideration made before a purchase.

The longer the cookie, the higher the chances for your affiliates to earn commissions. There is reasoning to argue the opposite, but it should be decided by what’s best for your business model.

5. Set up Reasonable Payout Schedules

Affiliates want to be paid as soon as possible, but that also makes it easier for people to game your system. A good recommendation is to pay out commissions once a customer has passed their cancellation period.

It can be a balancing act to be mindful of, and a powerful tool. Because once affiliates see the their earnings coming to them, they are more inclined to continue promoting your products.

6. Have a Dedicated Affiliate Contact

Affiliates need to be treated very differently than a sales lead or general support question. Usually it’s best to have a dedicated affiliate manager managed that inbox, or just yourself as a separate inbox.

You don’t need anything fancy – affiliates@company.com – works just fine.

Most companies tend to not train their support or sales staff on affiliates, so if you can, hire an affiliate manager. The aim is to respond to affiliates quickly and with the needed information the first time. Failing in this area can lead to word getting out and a negative outlook of your program.

7. Only Approve Quality Affiliates

Once your affiliate program is established, deciding who your work with also reflects on the quality of your program.

Accepting everyone into your program may be a way to start growing, but can lead to links ending up on bad quality sites.

It doesn’t take an MBA to know that a blogspot site will not drive hardly any traffic or sales to your site. But a known influencer can be expected to send quality traffic to your site.

The best practice is to approve affiliates on a case by case basis, and to approve new affiliates daily.

8. Networking is Important

It’s not just about making money. Affiliate marketing can lead to building great friendships and business relationships. If you’re familiar with WordCamps or Affiliate Summits, you know what it’s like.

Know who the big players are in your industry – they could one day decide to recommend your product. Relationships are the best way to recruit affiliates to your affiliate program.


There are a lot of moving pieces in affiliate marketing. Taking the time to arrange each one will pay dividends long term as your business gains more exposure and higher traffic to your website.

If you would like for me to help with your affiliate program from launching to optimizing, send me a message.