Should I Launch My Website With an Affiliate Program?

Oct 15th

Question: I am new to the market and have a product I am going to launch soon at a similar price-point to SEO Book. I am wondering if I should launch with an affiliate program, and if it will provide a substantial return prior to

Answer: I would say off the start don't enable an affiliate program until you have a better feel for the amount of effort required per purchaser and have brand awareness. I like launching without an affiliate program because it makes citations appear more natural. If you are launching a MLM hype program then a multi tiered affiliate program is a must, but if not the best option is to wait until you better learn your market and are well integrated into your market.

Why it is Best to Launch Without an Affiliate Program

  • If you test your marketing first you are going to be able to achieve a higher customer value and attract better affiliates.
  • If you are uncertain as to how to best sell your product and you have a new brand then it is going to be pretty tough for affiliates to sell it for you.
  • The best marketing looks organic. With a new product it is best to get reviewed by top editorial channels and earn a few organic citations to help others see your product as more than just hype. If a product is primarily or only hyped by affiliates off the start that can undermine your brand.
  • Some of my customers who did not sign up as affiliates have read my book and misquoted me to make me sound dumber than I am, and have misquoted to make me sound much smarter than I am. If others have profit incentive behind describing who you are or what you offer many will take the low road and use empty hype. Repositioning a brand after others have positioned it incorrectly is tougher than positioning it correctly off the start.
  • Another advantage of waiting on establishing an affiliate program is that by the time you launch it you have built enough trust that people will be willing to sign up with you directly.

The Dangers of a Loose Affiliate Program

If you start off with an affiliate program I think your best best is to make the affiliate program invite only off the start to ensure your brand is not dragged through the mud before you were able to build brand equity. Some of my affiliates have done things like

  • stealing content from my friends and wrapping it in banners for my site
  • mass email spamming (while signing my name to it)
  • a list of other dirty things I will not mention ;)

Because affiliates are hard to control, it is best to have a direct affiliate program rather than going through a third party website. This takes more time to manage, but enables you to

  • immediately warn affiliates and/or remove the profit incentive if they are doing things that are illegal and/or undermine your brand value
  • altert affiliates in advance of price changes, special promotions, or other changes to your offerings
  • keep in contact with your affiliates, protecting you from drastic cost increases seen at third party affiliate management firms like MyAffiliateProgram
  • more easily track historical trends
  • create your own dirty affiliate sites without risking your main brand

Some affiliate software also tracks referrals, which enables you to learn the difference between what sorts of traffic streams and marketing sell and which do not.

Corporations have sued other corporations based on ad targeting. Even if the lawsuits are bogus they still eat up time and valuable resources. Affiliate control is useful for mitigating some such conflicts.

A few years back a well known SEO said that I was deplorable for bidding on a broad basket of keywords including their name. One of their affiliates was bidding on my name, amongst others. Once questioned about the hypocrisy, this person eventually admitted that they were too lazy to police their own affiliates, which showed their complaint had no validity. If their complaint had validity they would have better been able to claim it by hosting their own affiliate program and holding their own affiliates to the same expectations they try to hold others to.

Affiliate Software Options

  • Some of the larger affiliate networks (like CJ) have a wide array of affiliates, but typically the best affiliates will hunt out the best affiliate programs wherever they are (instead of staying inside third party networks), so it might be just as easy to attract the best affiliates by ranking well for your keywords + affiliate program.
  • Google offers cost per action based referral ads, but they don't have much inventory, and most of the best affiliates do not like using Javascript or sharing their business model with Google.
  • Some of the smaller affiliate networks (like shareasale.com, as an example) have pitched me as a merchant for rates far below their published rates, but after seeing what happened with MyAffiliateProgram it does not make sense for me to pay a third party to place a roadblock between me and my affiliates.
  • ClickBank does not cost much to set up, but I have found that I get an extraordinary return rate there when compared with Paypal. Paypal does not have affiliate features baked into it, but does work with many affiliate software programs.
  • I use Idevaffiliate on Seo Book. Fully featured it costs $300.
  • As ShoeMoney recently highlighted, BOTW has a custom affiliate program which even tracks direct links to any page on their site. Creating such a program would probably only cost about $1,000 at most. And that link for BOTW may have been an affiliate link, and Google has no way of knowing.
Published: October 15, 2007

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Comments

affiliatetip
October 15, 2007 - 6:32pm

Because affiliates are hard to control, it is best to have a direct affiliate program rather than going through a third party website.

Hi Aaron -

Can you elaborate here? I am unclear how you see a benefit - whether you manually approve affiliates via a network or directly, you should approve and decline applications with the same standards.

October 16, 2007 - 1:59am

If you go through networks it can take a bit more work to dig up any shady stuff and people can re-cloak their identities and websites, etc. with another account. I know many people with more than 1 CJ account, for example.

If people operate directly they are less likely to do shady stuff, and if caught they are less likely to do it again. I suppose going direct requires greater trust on the part of the affiliate and ensures better qualified affiliates want to join.

And I am not just talking about approving and declining, but also the ability to quickly disable anyone who is destroying your brand value, and/or having a quick accessible route to communicate with them.

affiliatetip
October 18, 2007 - 12:55pm

I agree that it can be dicey with CJ, but they are an exception with their lack of transparency and mandated 7 day period before somebody can be booted.

October 15, 2007 - 6:38pm

Also, don't forget that BOTW's business model is arbitraging links. It was ingenious of them to create an affiliate program where their incoming links aren't cluttered with codes or redirected somehow.

October 15, 2007 - 11:43pm

I generally advise new merchants not to start an affiliate program right away, unless it's somehow part of their viral marketing scheme and baked right into the offering.

If you do get a script of your own, it's good to make sure it supports subid tracking so that your super affiliates can test their conversions from different traffic sources and creatives.

There's over 65 different affiliate management solutions out there, not to mention hundreds of networks powered by DirectTrack. Make sure you do your homework before you select your platform, as it's hard to switch later.

October 16, 2007 - 2:00am

I don't think Idev supports subid tracking... I need to look into that.

October 16, 2007 - 3:16am

Might sound like a silly question, but which affiliate program offers a program like BOTW where you can track direct links in same manner?

As ShoeMoney recently highlighted, BOTW has a custom affiliate program which even tracks direct links to any page on their site. Creating such a program would probably only cost about $1,000 at most. And that link for BOTW may have been an affiliate link, and Google has no way of knowingaffilia

affiliatetip
October 18, 2007 - 12:54pm

MYAP and LinkConnector both offer this option (or at least they did last time I checked).

October 16, 2007 - 3:36am

Can you delete my account here? My email is my user name and i can not update it. Sorry for the trouble :- )

October 16, 2007 - 3:44am

I changed your username to lop off the end part. I think you have to hire a programmer to create something custom to do something similar to what BOTW is doing. I don't think any off the shelf aff. software programs are designed to do that.

October 16, 2007 - 5:47am

Aaron,

Based on your article, I'm also considering iDevAffiliate as an option, and I wanted to know if you have any major issues with this software? Also they have an SEO module is it of any value from an SEO standpoint?

Thanks! Excellent blog, love reading it!

October 16, 2007 - 5:56am

My only suggestion from the SEO standpoint is to test it.

I think iDevAffiliate is pretty sweet.

October 20, 2007 - 6:21pm

I'll confirm that Idevaffiliate doesn't have subid support as you can see in this listing under Tracking Element category but supports custom links the affiliate can create to any page, so in that sense they could make several custom links to the same page and treat those as "sub ids"

... but it would be a real pain in the neck if you're a super affiliate with the need for 100's of subid's (e.g. ppc affiliate tracking every keyword.

It also supports "No Question Mark Links" but I'll leave it to Aaron to comment on how the SE's value these sorts of links. It would be great for the affiliate community to know if direct links - e.g. "merchant.com/info" <-- Aaron's aff link for merchant - are considered as regular links by the SE's and therefore help the merchant in the SERP's.

This bigger question re SEO value of direct aff links remains. Aaron?

October 20, 2007 - 6:37pm

Hi Asrguy
I know some affiliate links may pass link equity, but not all do, and the easiest way is to test by having a specific landing page just for affiliates and see how well it ranks, but I have not yet done that.

If you host your own aff program internally you can always separate a portion of the link equity and recombine it after testing that it works by changing the landing pages that some or all affiliate links are directed to.

Some large or small merchants may be able to get love from 301 redirected affiliate program links, but people in the middle might get their link equity edited away. And people using highly popular affiliate software that leaves easily detectable footprints might eventually see some of that link equity die away. And people who have almost all of their link equity coming into their sites from only their affiliate programs are at much greater risk than those who have more balanced link profiles with many high authority editorial citations added to the mix.

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