How to start an affiliate program
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To start an affiliate program go through these 8 steps: have an offering, optimize the store & landing pages, analyze competition, set it up, train your affiliates and grow it.

All of these steps are described below in detail. Before going to the first step, check out the following articles in case you are a beginner in the affiliate marketing industry.

​Step 1: Have an Offering

You probably already have a product(s) or a service(s) that you want to sell. Before starting an affiliate program it’s important to understand your business thoroughly.

Have a look at your business model and analyze the types of products you sell, the targeted market, performance, strategies, weaknesses, and strengths.

​Types of Offering

There are two types of offering: product and service, which are further divided into physical and digital.

Digital offerings have a lot of benefits than physical ones such as:

  • Higher margins
  • Easier to sell throughout the world
  • Easier to find affiliate marketers
  • Easier to deliver
  • Flexibility and convenience

It will be a lot easier for you to sell through affiliate marketing if you have digital products. However, those who sell physical products/services can also start an affiliate program for the target market.

​Target Audience

You should be clear about who your targeted customers are. If your target audience is everyone, you’ll struggle to grow.

Before becoming an affiliate merchant, you need to have sufficient information about your target audience such as geographic location, profession, income, age, gender, level of expertise, online habits, etc.

Affiliate marketers help people to make purchase decisions. Ideally, you want to target affiliates that have the same targeted audience as yours. This way, you can generate tons of sales with less effort and expenses.

​Product Margin

It’s very easy to sell products with high margins through affiliate marketing. You have to share a portion of your profit with your affiliates, that’s why try to increase the margin of your products by cutting down the costs of production.

Look at your competitors and try to find out how much they charge for their products/services, as well as how much they pay to their affiliates. You don’t have an option to raise prices to increase margins or pay less to your affiliates than your competitors.

Evaluate your products and find out if you can share the same or more percentage of your profits to your affiliates than your competitors.

​Current marketing strategies

What are your current marketing strategies? How much do you spend on ads? If you want to start an affiliate program, you may have to change your strategies.

You may also have to adjust your budget if you don’t have extra money to spend on an affiliate program.

Read this guide to the end to learn about creating strategies for affiliate marketing.

​Strengths and Weaknesses

You may already have a SWOT analysis of your business. If you don’t have it, take a piece of paper and write down the strengths and weaknesses of your business. Moreover, you can write the opportunities and threats to your business.

This is important because it helps you to form foolproof strategies to run a successful affiliate program. It also helps you to compare your business to your competitors and make yours better over time.

​Performance

Now it’s time to look at the performance of the products/services you offer. If people aren’t buying your product, instead, going to your competitors, you aren’t going to sell through affiliate marketing as well.

It’s important to have your product of good quality, ideally better than your competitors. If you aren’t performing well, you have to improve your business first. Affiliate marketing will just help you to get more exposure. It’s important to have good quality products/services to make profits in the long term.

​Creating an offering from scratch

In case you don’t already have any offer to sell, you want to create one to be an affiliate marketing merchant.

Choose a digital product over physical and research your market, competition, and target customers well. And, most important, choose a narrow target audience and less competitive product/service.


​Step 2: Optimize Store or Landing Pages

It takes a significant amount of time, effort, and money to run a successful affiliate program. You’ll end up wasting a lot of time and money if your eCommerce store or product landing pages aren’t optimized properly. You may get a lot of visitors from affiliate marketers but won’t be able to generate as many sales. That’s why it’s very important to have an optimized website before starting an affiliate program.

A few factors you need to take care of about optimizing an eCommerce store or product landing pages are described in this section.

​Page load time

There are high chances that 35% of users bounce back from a site that takes 3 seconds to load compared to the site that only takes 1 second.

35 out of 100 people sent to your site from affiliate marketers won’t even check out your products. This is a huge loss caused by page load time.

Ideally, your website speed should be less than a second. You can use caching, lazy load images, and minify HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. If your website is powered by WordPress, you can find tons of plugins to do this.

​How easy is it to buy?

I’ve landed on a few eCommerce sites whose cart can’t remember the items I’ve selected to purchase. Even if someone wants to buy, they can’t do it easily on such sites. Your sites never should be one of them.

Tons of site features may break down due to various reasons. You want to make sure that it’s very easy for anyone to buy the products/services you sell.

Don’t hide the buy buttons or pricing page, place them in places where people expect them to find such as footer or header navigation. Use enough space between elements and get rid of any clutter.

​Distracting Elements

Any distracting elements such as unnecessary popups, redirection, animation, colors, auto-playing videos or sounds, etc. prevent users from doing what they want on your site.

Before starting an affiliate program, make sure your site doesn’t have any such elements that users may don’t want to see.

People won’t buy if you show them popups one after another, instead, they will get irritated and leave your site, and even worse, go to your competitor.

Make everything simple, clear, and intuitive.

​Navigation

Having very intuitive site navigation is uber important for every website on the internet. It’s even more important for eCommerce sites that have hundreds and thousands of pages.

Add the links to the most important landing pages on the header and the footer. On every product category page add sorting and filtering functionality.

If you sell only one product or service add links to pricing, feature, contact, blog, and other important pages to the header menu. Add links for terms, policies, refund, and other legal pages on the footer.

Also, in an eCommerce store add a site search button/form to the header.

​Mobile-Optimized

Mobile users have significantly increased in recent years. More than 60% of searches on Google are performed from mobile devices.

If you’re selling a professional tool/service, people may use a computer to purchase. But, most of the time people prefer mobile devices to buy anything on the internet.

That’s why you’ll lose a huge portion of your targeted customers if your site isn’t mobile optimized. It’s a must in today’s world. Your website must work perfectly on smartphones and tablets.

​Site Structure

How you’ve structured your site makes a lot of difference. If you want to become a successful affiliate marketing merchant, you need to put this factor as a top priority.

Usually, websites have these types of pages: product, blog post, category, comparison, legal, about, contact, help, knowledge, forum, etc. You need to organize each type of page structurally in your website. Don’t mix up different types of pages, keep each one separate from one another and use interlinking throughout the website to connect pages.

​Users’ Feedback

How do users feel on your website?

If you don’t know the answer, you’re missing a great opportunity to improve and grow your business. Users’ feedback is the greatest source to improve a business. Listen to them. What do they say about you? What problems do they face?

Adjust your strategies as per the users’ feedback and try to be their favorite brand in your industry.

​Ensure everything is working

After optimizing your site to provide the greatest user experience possible, it’s time to make sure if everything is correctly established.

Visit your site as a user, spend some time navigating through different pages. Fill the forms, use the buttons and make sure those are working properly. And finally, buy your own product using every payment method available.

If you find everything is working properly, move to the next step. After reading the full guide you’ll be clear about how to start an affiliate program.


​Step 3: Study Competitors

The third step to start an affiliate program is studying your competitors. All the businesses that sell similar products/services as yours are your competitors. They target the same audience and affiliate marketers.

To make an affiliate program successful, you need to try to understand your competitor in every way possible.

If you aren’t better or at least as good as your competitors, it’s hard to grow your business with an affiliate program. 

The first step is to be at the same level as your competitors in terms of customer satisfaction and then the next step would be to go ahead of them.

​Methods of Marketing

You want to check how your competitors are doing their businesses. This helps you discover worthwhile ingredients that are missing in your business.

You can’t beat the competitors unless you exactly know what methods they use to market their brand.

Subscribe to their newsletter and find out how they engage their customers. Also, find out how much traffic they get from SEO, Social Media, and other sources. Check out their social media posts. Reach out to the influencers they have a partnership with and ask them why they choose your competitors to partner with.

​Competitors’ site structure

As I’ve told to how important site structure is for an online business. Now, you want to have a look at your competitors’ sites.

Check out how pages are categorized, navigation, homepage, product, and blog pages.

​Products and services they sell

Buy your competitors’ products and talk to their customer support. You want to check the quality of their products and compare them with yours.

Are their products better than yours? If so, improve the quality of your products before starting an affiliate program, otherwise, it will be harder to see the expected results.

Not only consumers but also affiliate marketers check the quality of products they promote.

​What do users say about their businesses?

Another thing you want to check is what do users say about your competitors. Are they satisfied or not? Read the comments on blog posts, social media, and product pages. Also, check the independent reviews written by content creators and consumers on the internet. If everyone likes your competitors, you’ll have to work much harder to generate sales through an affiliate program. You want to make the weaknesses of competitors your strengths.

​Your competitors’ affiliate programs

At last, look at the affiliate programs of your competitors. Below are a few tips you can use.

  • Check out the methods they use to acquire affiliate marketers. Do they have set up affiliate programs or use affiliate networks?
  • How do they provide support and guidance to their promoters? A good way to find out this is to be their affiliate. Sign up for their affiliate programs and find out the strategies they use to retain their affiliates.
  • Read their terms and policies. The helps you to understand their affiliate program more deeply.
  • Also, check the payments methods and the commission rates. You want to include all the payments methods they provide and similar commission rates in your affiliate program as well.
  • Now, find out how they are performing with their methods and strategies. If they aren’t performing well, you want to make your affiliate program differ from theirs.

​Step 4: Create Strategies

The next step to start an affiliate program is to create strategies.

Strategies are the plans that you’ll implement to accomplish a certain goal. It’s very important to create them with ultra care. With a solid plan, you can compete with big names in your industry.

​How will you acquire affiliates?

There are a lot of ways to acquire affiliates, some of which are as follows.

  • Using affiliate networks. Read more about them on step 5.
  • Reaching out to top content creators in your industry and ask them to promote your products.
  • Using existing audiences such as customers, subscribers, followers, and everyone in your network.
  • Running ads on Google, YouTube, and social media.

More on this in step 6.

If you don’t have a lot of resources such as budget and a team, you can’t use every method out there to acquire affiliates. You have to select a few that you can focus on. It requires planning to correctly spend your energy.

​How will you generate sales?

Getting tons of visitors doesn’t equal a lot of sales. Selling is different from promotion. You can generations of sales with less traffic if you have solid strategies. What matters most is the quality of traffic, and how you make visitors buy.

Never waste your time focusing on traffic that is not related to the products/services you sell. Moreover, every web page on your website should have a clear call to action. Make it clear what visitors are supposed to do.

​How will you retain affiliates?

Retaining affiliates is more important than getting them. With a very tempting affiliate program, you can attract a lot of affiliates. But, making affiliates loyal to your brand is rather harder.

You can do the following things:

  • Provide good support and guidance
  • Send an email of appreciation if an affiliate makes its first sale
  • Reply to emails as fast as possible
  • Provide live support through chat or phone
  • Send periodic personalized emails to affiliates asking how they are doing and if they need any help
  • Reward high performing affiliates
  • Organize events for affiliates such as seminars and webinars

You need to have a written plan on how you’re going to retain your affiliates. You can’t do everything but you should do as much as possible.

​Payment and commission

You have already checked the payment methods and commission rates of your competitors.

The most popular payment methods are PayPal, Payoneer, and direct deposit. You should at least provide these three to your affiliates. Depending on your competitors you can add more to the list.

Commission rates solely depend upon your margins and competitors. If you have higher margins on your products/services give a little more commission to your promoters than your competitors.

​Guidance and support to promoters

How are you going to provide guidance and support to your affiliates?

Ideally, you want to provide 24/7 support to your affiliate marketers. If possible:

  • Reply to every Tweet, social media message, and comment of your affiliates
  • Train affiliates before letting them promote your offerings
  • Set up a help center, discussion forum, and knowledge center on your website

Make a written plan about how you’re going to guide and support your affiliates.

​Rules for affiliates

Read your competitors’ affiliate program terms and conditions. What are the rules they have set?

You need to set rules for:

  • The payment and commission
  • Payment threshold to avoid a lot of small payments
  • The methods affiliates can use to promote your offerings
  • What affiliates are not supposed to do such as running search engine ads on your brand name, targeting ads directly to landing pages, spamming, or using black hat techniques
  • Minimum criteria for promoters to get accepted
  • Cookies duration and data collection

​Criteria to accept affiliates

It needs a lot of resources to manage affiliates. That’s why it’s not possible to accept everyone as your affiliate. You need to make minimum criteria such as:

  • Size of the audience of the affiliate marketer
  • Methods promoter use to promote affiliate products such as YouTube, ads, blogs, social media, etc.
  • The geographic location of the audience of the promoter
  • The niche of the affiliate marketing business of promoter

​Expenses and Returns

You need to make estimations of the investment needed to manage an affiliate program as well as the returns it will give. Surely, it needs a considerable amount of money to run an affiliate program successfully. You have to make plans for how you will get returns on your investments. Write down the factors that may contribute to your success and the obstacle that can lead to failure. Then, make plans for how you’ll tackle those obstacles.

​Goals

Make a list of goals that you want to accomplish from affiliate marketing. Why do you need an affiliate program? Is it for generating sales, raising brand awareness, building authority, or engaging your customers?

Similarly, make a list of goals that you want to accomplish for your affiliate program, for example:

  • The number of affiliate marketers you’ll recruit
  • The revenue you want to generate within a specific time

​How will you beat the competition?

You probably already have a lot of competitors that are running affiliate programs. The number of affiliate marketers within a niche is limited. You have to compete to get affiliates and retain them. 

Make strategies to beat your competitors. What different are you going to do? What are you going to do to make your brand promoters loyal?


​Step 5: Set up an Affiliate Program

After doing all the planning, it’s time to set up an affiliate program. Planning is super important because you could beat the biggest brand in your niche with a good plan. It increases your chances of success and saves you from losing a lot of money and precious time.

You have two options to sell your products/services through affiliate marketing. One is setting up an affiliate program yourself and another is using affiliate networks.

Affiliate networks are platforms that help a business to find affiliate marketers. They take care of payments and support. In exchange for their service, you have to pay them a fee. They charge businesses some percentage of what’s paid to the affiliate. Promoters get the full commission, so, businesses have to pay extra to affiliate networks.

You can depend on an affiliate network to generate sales through affiliate marketing, however, setting up your own affiliate program has its own benefits.

​Affiliate networks vs affiliate programs

Affiliate networks and in-house affiliate program have their own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s discuss a few of them.

​Pros of in-house affiliate program

  • Full control. You have full access to data and the functionality. You can set your own policies.
  • Customization. You can customize anything you want: the core functions, visual styles, dashboard, payment methods, etc.
  • Flexibility. It’s easier to grow and promote an in-house affiliate program. You have fully customized brandable landing pages.
  • Independence. When you partner with affiliate networks, you have to accept their terms and conditions. You’re dependent on them for almost everything related to affiliate marketing.
  • No need to pay an extra fee to affiliate networks. You will keep everything you earn after giving commission to affiliates. You can reinvest that extra money into your affiliate program.
  • Less costly in the long run. It may require more money to start an in-house affiliate program but in the long term, it costs less than the amount of money you pay to affiliate networks.

​Cons of in-house affiliate program

  • You have to take care of everything yourself: payment, promotion, management, tracking, support, etc.
  • You have to find affiliate marketers yourself.
  • Needs more investment at the beginning to set up an affiliate program.

​Pros of affiliate networks

  • Affiliate networks take care of payments, tracking, and management.
  • They help you to get affiliate marketers.
  • Less expensive than setting up an in-house affiliate program.

​Cons of affiliate networks

  • Dependence. You have to accept their policies if you want to work with them.
  • You have to share your profits with them for their service.
  • More costly in the long term.
  • Less control over how you want things to be.

Depending upon the resources (money, skill, manpower) you have, you can choose to start an in-house affiliate program or partner with affiliate networks, or both.

​Setting up an affiliate program

If you have decided to start your own affiliate program, you now have to choose between using affiliate software or building from scratch.

​Affiliate software

Pay a fee for an affiliate software, install it on your website and your affiliate program is ready. The benefits of using affiliate software over building an affiliate program from scratch are:

  • Easy to setup
  • Need less investment
  • No need to hire a developer
  • Easy to manage

You have to pay for the software. Some charge you on a recurring basis, others charge you a one-time fee. The other con could be that you may not get as many customization options as you get if you build an affiliate program from scratch.

​Building from scratch

The other option to start an affiliate program is to hire a developer(s) and build one. You can make it the way you want. You have full customization options, you can add the features you like to have. You are not dependent upon anyone.

However, it’s very costly. You will need a developer to set up and manage it. That’s why for most businesses this is not recommended. You can use affiliate software at the beginning.

​Top affiliate software

The top affiliate software that’s available in the market are:

  • ClickMeter
  • Tapfiliate
  • Affisse
  • Everflow
  • Post Affiliate Pro
  • PayKickstart
  • Tune
  • TrackingDesk
  • Scaleo
  • Trackier

​Top affiliate networks

The top affiliate networks are:

  • ShareAsale
  • Awin
  • Amazon associates
  • CJ Affiliate
  • Rakuten Marketing
  • ClickBank
  • Walmart Affiliates
  • eBay Partner Network
  • Avangate affiliate network
  • Peerfly
  • Skimlinks

You can use one or more of them at a time.

​Going with both a program and networks

If you have enough resources (especially budget), it’s a lot better to set up an in-house affiliate program as well as use affiliate networks.

You should already have a good idea about how much investment you’ll be needed. The following things will require some kind of investment.

  • An affiliate software
  • Promotion of the affiliate program
  • Training and support for affiliate marketers

Promotion will require the most investment.


​Step 6: Find Affiliate Marketers

After starting an affiliate program, it’s time to find affiliate marketers that will promote your products/services.

There is an infinite number of ways to get affiliates, a few of which are described below briefly.

​Affiliate networks

Affiliate networks help businesses to find affiliates, in return, they charge a small percentage of money of what you pay to promoters.

They have their own pros and cons, which we have already discussed.

​Existing customers, users, or network

If you’re doing business for quite a while, you must already have an existing audience such as blog readers, email subscribers, social media followers, etc. You can reach out and tell them about your new affiliate program. If any of them are content creators or influencers, they might show interest in your program.

If it’s a startup that doesn’t yet have an audience, you can promote your affiliate program to the people you know and ask them to tell the people they know.

​Influencers in the industry

Every industry has a lot of influencers that have a large number of followers. You can reach these people via email and tell them how exciting your new affiliate program is. Some of them may choose to promote your affiliate products.

You can also do quick research to find out the affiliate marketers that are promoting your competitors’ products and reach out to them. If your affiliate program is more tempting than the competitors, some of the affiliates may surely consider promoting yours.

Moreover, you can contact the top bloggers in your niche that have written articles such as “top health affiliate programs” when you’re in the health industry. Search similar terms on Google and reach out to those bloggers that rank on the first page. Ask them to include your program in their list. In the first email, try to convince them why they should include your affiliate program in their list. If they say no, send another email offering them a sum of money.

​Admins of forums or groups

This is an underrated way of finding affiliate marketers. What you have to do is reach out to the admins of niche forums and Facebook groups. Then, ask them to promote your affiliate program (not the products) on their forums or groups for a commission. You need to pay them for this, but you can get a lot of exposure to affiliate marketers.

Be careful while selecting them. Target those that are related to your industry. For example, if you sell health-related products, find forums/groups of health-related bloggers or YouTubers.

​Run ads

Running Google, YouTube or Social Media ads targeting the affiliate marketers in your industry is another great way to find promoters for your products.

​Content marketing

Update all the blog posts published on your website that targets bloggers, influencers, or YouTubers and promote your affiliate program there.

If you don’t do content marketing, what are you waiting for?


​Step 7: Train and Guide the Promoters

After starting an affiliate program and getting affiliates, you have to train and guide them.

To get the best return on investment, you need to train your affiliates. Remember, you’ve invested your money, time, and energy into an affiliate program. You want to see the results now. Below are a few things that you can do.

​Training before recruiting affiliates

Make a small course or training that you want every affiliate to take before starting to promote your products.

Make them understand the terms and conditions you’ve set up. Tell them the things they should do and shouldn’t do; what they’re allowed to do and aren’t allowed; how they can bring traffic to the affiliate landing pages, etc.

​Provide materials

Next, provide materials such as banners, guides, checklists, etc that they can use or refer to to promote your products.

Most affiliate marketers don’t bother to make banners for ads and research affiliate products. You can make attractive banners and a large list of pros & cons of your products and provide those to your affiliates. This way, you can deliver the correct message to your targeted customers.

Moreover, provide data that can help the promoters to make the right decisions.

​Get in touch consistently

Send periodic emails to your affiliates and ask them how they are doing or do they need any help.

Build relationships with your brand promoters so that they don’t leave you and go to the competitors. Send them an email of appreciation each month for their accomplishments.

If an affiliate marketer isn’t performing well, tell him how he can improve his performance.


​Step 8: Grow Your Affiliate Program

You started your affiliate program, now it’s time to grow it. Growing an affiliate program means the overall growth of your business. After all, you’ve set up an affiliate program to generate more sales.

Many businesses start an affiliate program with full energy, but, after some time they get lost in the crowd. This happens because they don’t focus on long-term growth, instead, spend most of their time counting sales. You need to be visionary and strategic.

A few things you can do are described in this step.

​Data analysis

Data speaks a lot of things. You need to understand it and adjust your strategies accordingly.

Track everything you can about your visitors and affiliates. What pages do the visitors visit on your website, which links they click, where they spend most of their time, what do they search, what problems do they face, etc.

​Reward high performing affiliates

You can’t forget about your affiliates. They are not just the promoters but also your business partners.

You have to find some highest-performing affiliates and reward them on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis. An email of appreciation is better than nothing.

Feature them on your website. Organize seminars & webinars, invite them and appreciate them for their contribution.

​Increase the quality of products

Nothing will work if the quality of products is compromised. A quality product promotes itself.

That’s why your topmost priority should be to improve the quality of your products/services.

​Make affiliates loyal

Another thing that you can do to grow your affiliate program is to make affiliates loyal. Keep them engage. I’ve already told a lot of things about retaining affiliates. Apply all those tips.

​Don’t stop promoting your affiliate program

You shouldn’t promote your affiliate program only when you start it. You should keep promoting it using all the methods discussed in step 5 even after you have a decent number of affiliates. If the current affiliates are generating sales, you should recruit more promoters to grow your business.

​Ask your affiliates for feedback

Asking for feedback helps you to improve your business. Ask for feedback from your affiliates every three months. Appreciate affiliates for their feedback, even if they criticize. Constructive criticisms always help your business to be better. You’ll know what problems they face and you can try to solve them.

​Keep an eye on your competitors

You cannot ignore competitors. They fight with you for the same affiliates and customers, which are always limited; either you have them or your competitors.

What different do your competitors do than you? You must have the answer to this question. Analyze the strategies they are following. If you find something that you can copy, do it.


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