6 Signs You’ve Joined a Bad Affiliate Program

I started affiliate marketing in the 90’s. Back then, none of us knew what we were doing and mistakes could happen. Affiliate Managers – when there was one designated at all – fumbled their way through with trial and error. Terms and conditions for joining affiliate programs were inconsistent at best, completely unreasonable at worst. Affiliate marketing had growing pains like everything else born within this tool called the internet.

But a quarter century has gone by since the birth of affiliate programs. Yet to this day, you’ll find crazy demands, threats, insulting commission rates, commission theft and programs run with complete incompetence. Even now, many affiliate program managers have had no experience in the job… and it shows.

The good news is the affiliate marketing industry as a whole has improved overall. While you’ll still run into the old issues occasionally, the majority of advertisers are great to work with.

6 Signs You’ve Joined a Bad Affiliate Program

That said, there are still bad apples out there and you should be aware of the signs of a bad affiliate program. Following are a few signs that I still see in today’s affiliate marketing world.

1. Affiliate Program Manager Doesn’t Respond

If you ask a relevant question, someone should respond. It seems basic enough but many advertisers still don’t get it.

2. Threats of Removal

I just received one of these a couple of weeks ago. I had barely joined and got the links in place before receiving a threat from the affiliate manager, saying I had to make sales by a certain date or be removed from the program.

There are countless affiliate programs out there and several are his competitors. I cut ties with them and moved on. I’ve already brought sales to his competitor and will likely bring more.

There’s no point wasting time with advertisers who obviously have no idea how affiliate partnerships work. Incentives are a much more effective tactic to increase sales than threats of program removal.

3. Non-Payment

Non-payment can be an issue in both private and network affiliate programs. Some networks (like ShareASale) provide payment history information to help you decide if you want to work with that particular affiliate. If the advertiser doesn’t pay the network, you probably won’t get paid either.

Private programs can easily disqualify sales if they feel like it and some do just that. Apparently, they don’t understand that when their offer stops making money for their affiliate, they’re going to drop it and go with something more profitable.

Another way some private programs will get out of paying affiliates is in the small print. For example, they may have a term in their contract that states if you don’t earn a certain amount within three months, they’ll reset your account to zero. That’s commission theft.

They may also include terms that lets them avoid paying you, such as only paying commissions for sales from new customers. Others may want you to ask for permission for each link you use that isn’t part of those they supply, even if they offer deep linking. If you don’t clear every custom link with them, you won’t get paid for any sales that come through that link. Some will even try to claw back commissions months later because the customer eventually cancelled. That’s OK during a trial period, but otherwise it’s our job to bring them customers, it’s THEIR job to keep them.

Then there are instances when you just have to shake your head, and that’s not limited to smaller companies. Recently, I had two major retail chains send an email stating they were pausing payment for their program, but it was still active. One went on to include their usual sales for affiliates to promote…for free, apparently. Affiliates who already had their links in play simply wouldn’t get paid until they reactivated payments. We no longer promote either one of them.

4. They Reduce Commissions

Whether it’s a drop in the percentage of sales or not paying any commission for certain categories, changes that reduce compensation are a strong indicator of how much they value their affiliate partners.

5. They Make Ridiculous Demands

Here’s a few demands advertisers have tried to pull on me lately:

  • Insisting their links be on my homepage
  • Preapproving all posts that mention them before they were published
  • Constant changes requiring me to update my links/copy

I dropped all of them.

6. They Don’t Treat You Like an Advertising Partner

If they’re doing anything that they wouldn’t try with another type of advertising (such as print or TV), you’ll know they don’t respect you as a partner.

From charging you to receive a payment to demanding the world for a song, affiliate advertisers need to learn how to treat affiliates or their program will fail miserably. Call them on their nonsense or simply stop promoting them. You’ll be doing them a favour, supposing they learn from it eventually.

If you’d like to learn more about affiliate marketing, check out our post How to Start Affiliate Marketing in Canada.

If you’re an Affiliate Program Manager for an advertiser, always remember you are competing with other merchants who are vying for ad space. If you don’t value your affiliates, your competitors will happily do so. Learn more about the proper administration of an affiliate program in the post, How to Start an Affiliate Program for a Canadian Business.

Have you run into any bad advertiser behaviour in affiliate marketing? Tell us your horror stories below or join us in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.

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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website | + posts

Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.

Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.

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