How to Turn an Affiliate Program Failure Into Success

Has your affiliate program reached a dead point, where the few affiliates you have are no longer promoting you, or their efforts no longer pay out? You may be tempted to give up think that your failure simply means that affiliate marketing does not work for your business model.

Don’t give up without a fight! We have yet to find a business model for which performance-based advertising does not work. Chances are that, if your affiliate program is not driving the results you were hoping for, it’s because you’re doing something wrong, especially if you’re active in one of these 15 niches.

The least you can do, before giving up, is to try to identify your mistakes and correct them. You can do that by performing an in-depth affiliate program health check to see where you stand and what can be improved.

You’ve already invested time and money into your affiliate program, so you owe it to yourself to not give up without a fight. I’m pretty sure your affiliate program can be resuscitated, and I’ll lay out the steps in the following lines.

10-Steps Health-Check or How to Turn Affiliate Program Failure into Success

1. Competitive Landscape

When you launch an affiliate program, you can expect the best publishers to be already promoting your competitors. If you want them to switch to you or promote you as well, you need to offer something more, like higher commissions, better creatives, better offers to the end consumer.

If you haven’t done it already, it is imperative that you do your homework on what your competitors are doing and how they are doing it. Compare your current offer with theirs, and see what you can improve so as to at least match but preferably beat their offer, at least for select niche affiliates.

Put yourself the question all affiliates ask: “what’s in it for me?”. Why should they promote you? And keep reporting yourself to your competitors and learning from them throughout the following steps as well. It will help you make better decisions and, eventually, turn your affiliate program failure into success.

2. Affiliate Program Agreement or Terms of Service

Do you have an affiliate program agreement in place, to define the terms of your collaboration with affiliates? Without it, some rogue affiliates could be trashing your brand name and resort to fraud, deceitful advertising, spamming, and more.

Good affiliates avoid promoting merchants without a thorough agreement in place because they know their cookies will most likely be overwritten by those rogue affiliates and they will not get paid anyway.

If you do not have a program agreement in place, then its lack could definitely explain your affiliate program failure. If you have one, make sure it clearly defines what your affiliates should and should not do. This guide on how to create your affiliate program’s terms and conditions and this sample affiliate program agreement will surely help.

3. Affiliate Compliance

Let’s say you have a sound affiliate program agreement in place. Do your affiliates actually comply with it? You shouldn’t expect them to but rather monitor their activity and take measures against those who do not. Many affiliates resort to parasitism and other activities that do not add value. Such activities could justify your affiliate program failure.

If you want your affiliate program to work, you need to start policing your affiliates. Use tools like BrandVerity to monitor their TM use and ad hijacks. Analyze affiliate transactions and canceled orders. Monitor affiliate traffic volume and sources keeping an eye for red flags like:

  • Higher rate of canceled orders from the same affiliate
  • Sudden and unexplained spikes in affiliate traffic
  • Affiliate clicks from websites you do not recognize
  • A high number of overwritten affiliate transactions

Once you’ve confirmed violations of your affiliate program agreement, depending on their gravity, warn affiliates to stop or report them and remove them from the program directly.

If they generated fraudulent transactions or overwrote other affiliates’ referrals, don’t hesitate to withhold their commissions and, if applicable, credit the affiliates who should have received them in the first place.

4. Affiliate Creatives

Did you provide your affiliates with links and banners, perhaps even a datafeed and some videos, to enable them to promote you? Again, look at what your competitors are offering and match or even beat their offer. You need different banner sizes, including some mobile-friendly banners.

If you’ve already provided some banners to your affiliates, it may be time for an update. Make sure the banners you have don’t include spelling mistakes and, worse, your website URL, phone numbers, or email addresses.

These last three qualify as traffic leaks and could determine affiliates to never start promoting you or, if they have, stop. Affiliates hate leaky websites and landing pages as well. This brings us to the next step to turning your affiliate program failure into success.

5. Merchant Website and Landing Pages

Believe it or not, your very own website and landing pages may have driven your affiliate program failure. Publishers check websites and landing pages before joining affiliate programs.

If they notice traffic leaks, they don’t join or, even if they do, never promote the respective merchant. Therefore, either don’t display phone numbers, email addresses, chat, and links to other websites, or accurately track all referrals.

Also, do your landing pages convert? If you’ve received traffic but no sales, it could be a sign that they don’t, and you need to improve them. This post covers 15 ways to create affiliate-friendly websites. It should be enough to get you on the right path.

6. Affiliate Recruitment

Did you actively recruit affiliates? Many merchants don’t. They join affiliate networks and mistakenly believe that, just because they’re listed as merchants, publishers will rush to join. They don’t, at least not the ones you really want in your program.

You need to reach out to them, using all means available (email, social media, affiliate network tools, website contact forms, forums, etc.), and this affiliate recruitment guide should help. Don’t forget to follow up on your initial contact initiatives. recommends five follow-ups and I’ve seen good results following this approach as well.

Also, remember that you need diversification in your affiliate recruitment efforts. Don’t focus on coupon affiliates, reviewers, and bloggers only. There are at least 18 types of affiliates you can and should reach out to, and doing it could be key to turning your affiliate program failure into success.

 7. Affiliate Vetting and Approval Process

So you’re recruiting and receiving quite a few affiliate applications. How do you deal with them? Auto-approval based on affiliate rating may seem a good way to save time but it will also mean leaving the door open to affiliate fraud and parasitism. From there to affiliate program failure, there is only one step.

Auto-approval of affiliate applications could lead to affiliate program failureNowadays, some merchants and program managers provide positive feedback to affiliates just for joining their program or in an attempt to convince them to put up their links, without even looking at the affiliate’s specific.

A proof that rating is not a reliable criterion for automatic affiliate approval is ShareASale’s test account ended with +50 rating (not that they don’t deserve it). Just check their and other affiliates’ feedback and you’ll see for yourself.

Many merchants do not police their affiliates and find themselves praising TM, PPC, and coupons policy violators for driving their first sale. At the opposite end, I’ve seen affiliates with negative feedback because they chose not to promote a merchant, gave up, or didn’t drive sales.

Therefore, review each affiliate application carefully, and request a marketing plan from the publishers who join your program. Check websites to make sure they are live and compatibility with your products or services. Do not accept PPC and coupon affiliates if you do not plan on working with them, or notify them of your related policies and monitor their activity.

8. Affiliate Activation and Motivation

Perhaps you have hundreds of affiliates, and that probably makes your affiliate program failure more difficult to accept. But just because a publisher joins your program it does not mean they will actually promote you.

It is up to you to convince them through first sale bonuses, incentives, contests, and strategic affiliate communication. We’ve covered some effective ways to motivate and activate affiliates in this post.

9. Affiliate Payments and Voids

It should go without saying that all valid affiliate sales should be rewarded accordingly and on time. However, quite a few merchants neglect to activate the auto-deposit function or void transactions. If your merchant account funds run out, your program goes offline, its statistics are messed up, and your reputation suffers.

If you void transactions without a valid reason, your affiliates will eventually stop promoting you. Sure, it makes sense not to pay commissions on canceled orders or returned merchandise. However, it is important to consider the reasons for those cancellations and returns.

If it’s something out of your control, like credit card issues or repeat orders, it’s your right to void transactions and not pay commissions. If the buyer claimed a refund or returned the merchandise, you should assess your contribution (assuming there are no instances of deceitful advertising involved).

When affiliates do their job and drive valid sales, your failure to retain buyers should not affect them. Most of the time, the middle way works just fine. Just make sure to provide accurate reasons when voiding transactions and, of course, do it before the commissions lock.

10. Management and Leadership

Have you actively managed your affiliate program and acted as the leader your affiliates need? Just like your business, your affiliate program needs management. This covers all the above and more:

  • Besides making continuous efforts to grow your affiliate program, you need to use affiliate program analytics to assess results and make better decisions. Don’t rely only on instinct, experience, or third-party advice. Your affiliate tracking software, whether network-based or in-house, provides accurate numbers. Use those to assess results and steer your affiliate program in the right direction.
  • Just like your employees, your affiliates need supervision, guidance, and inspiration. But do not forget that affiliates are not your employees and you cannot manage them. They are your partners, your collaborators, and all you can do is help them reach their full potential while also protecting your brand and interests.
  • Communication is also important. You need to write your affiliate program description, affiliate application receipt, approval, and denial emails, newsletters, recruitment, and motivation emails carefully. It is also important to notify your affiliates in advance of any promotions you run and changes to your affiliate program. We’ve covered all about affiliate communication here.

Check out our guide on affiliate program management and affiliate marketing leadership here.

Final Advice on Turning Affiliate Program Failure into Success

Now you have ten possible reasons for your affiliate program failure. Keep in mind that more than one could apply to your particular situation. As advised above, the best way to identify the reasons is to perform your own affiliate program health check.

Another option is to request an affiliate program audit from specialists. Besides clearly identifying all problems, they will also recommend effective solutions.

If you decide to take matters into your own hands, remember to be as objective as possible and consider your affiliate program from your affiliates’ and target publishers’ perspective. Also:

  • Do not let your findings disappoint or discourage you. You cannot turn back time but you can take measures to ensure a better future.
  • Don’t rush things. Take steps, one at a time, monitoring results and affiliate feedback.
  • Admit to your mistakes and rest assured that you’re not alone. Even the best merchants and affiliate program managers make mistakes. I’ve listed no less than 20 affiliate program mistakes here. Check them out and make efforts to avoid/correct them.

Steps from Affiliate Program Failure to SuccessFinally, do not hesitate to ask for help, especially since we’re offering it for free. Contact us, give us more details about your affiliate program failure, and we will advise you on how to resuscitate it. If you agree, we can also do it for you. You have nothing to lose, and your affiliate program deserves a chance to grow and drive profits, don’t you agree?