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How to Start Affiliate Marketing Programs

this is how you set up an affiliate marketing program properly

6 Investments for Creating or Improving Your Affiliate Marketing Implementation

Investing in an affiliate marketing program can be a big decision for a company. Learning how to start affiliate marketing programs from scratch can be an even more overwhelming ordeal. Affiliate programs are complicated and sound incredibly difficult to scale when introduced. For this reason they are incredibly underutilized in the digital marketing stack despite being the most profitable and most effective technique of any digital discipline.

You’ve probably heard of Amazon Affiliates. If you haven’t, you should know that Amazon Affiliates is one of the largest affiliate programs in the world. The company was built on affiliate marketing principles and CEO Jeff Bezos rode it all the way to the top. Almost every advertiser in the world is playing catchup to Amazon and many don’t know where to turn for answers. Lucky for you, you’re here. Let’s define the practice of affiliate marketing, why you should start affiliate marketing, and dive some more into why investing in your program is so important to the long term success of your business.

What is Affiliate Marketing:

Defined simply, affiliate marketing is the process of driving leads through third party websites in exchange for a commission on the sale or desired action. This Commission is paid through tracking parameters and is reliant on a link click to set tracking into motion.

Here’s an example of a typical affiliate marketing publisher:

Let’s say a publisher has a blog around baseball that is gaining popularity. This digital publisher really like the Giants baseball team and has an amazing blog covering everything about the club. The blog begins to get a lot of traffic. The readers are interested in one specific topic, so the publisher gets to thinking of ways to make money.
The publisher realizes that they can monetize their traffic. They can generate some leads by selling tickets to the Giants games. A ticket provider gives link(s) to the publisher for the blog once he sees the value of the site and approves it for the program. The two begin optimizing the effort together. They share the revenue on customers generated from the blog (often enticed with a special discount).
Pretty cool right?

Why Affiliate Marketing Works:

Affiliate marketing works and only enhances brand voice if it’s done correctly. There are things that third parties will always be able to say to customers that we never will as the advertiser. With reviews and comparison charts at their disposal, the affiliate marketing world has become the digital equivalent of the word of mouth referral. You just want that referral to be one of quality that adds value.
Everyone wins in the affiliate marketing model when it’s optimized. The website owner receives a commission, the business receives a customer, and the customer receives more information and a product that they want.
Let’s talk about what you can invest in to optimize your affiliate marketing system.

The 6 Affiliate Marketing Investments:


This one seems simple, but you’d be surprised at how many Advertisers are more focused on their marketing than the actual product they’re selling. The best part of affiliate marketing is supposed to be how it makes everyone happy. The quickest way to make everyone unhappy is to release a bad product.
Without the right product, you’ll be looking at returns, chargebacks, bad reviews, and who knows what else. You’ll damage the publisher’s reputation and your own. You customer will feel ripped off and yell at both parties.
Get the product right and don’t waste your time.


Relationship investment doesn’t require any real money, but it does require time, and a lot of it. Relationships are key in our personal lives and they are crucial for our affiliate lives. An affiliate partnership is a business relationship and it calls for diligent attention. It requires the same communication and trust to succeed as normal interpersonal relationships.
Interact with your partners frequently if you can. Start by providing value to them with statistics or thoughts around how they can improve. They will be inclined to offer value back. This is how you turn a “frenemy” into a best friend and ally for life.

Introductions, weekly call ins, and just general fun are always recommended for affiliate partnerships. It all helps and you’ll learn more from your discourse than you ever could on your own. You’ll be surprised at how much your partners will end up meaning to you if you do things the right way. As someone who has built several great affiliate programs, I can tell you that the relationships you make in this space stick with you and have brought me some of my best friends. It’s so much more than a business.

Affiliate Tracking

Affiliate tracking can be complicated and can absolutely drive you crazy, but it’s very important to the partners that you’re working with. Its accuracy is key for your reporting vitals in marketing and serves as visibility.

When it comes to tracking systems, there are three categories: budget, network, and platform. Companies like LeadDyno and AffiliateWP are inexpensive solutions that are great for small companies just getting started in affiliate. Once you’ve reached a stage where you’re ready to scale, different tracking will be an investment you need to make. The top networks are companies like Commission Junction, Shareasale and LinkConnector, who offer a large database of affiliates and charge based on how many sales track through affiliates. The final option is a tracking platform like Impact, Cake, and Performance Horizon which offer very clean invitation only programs and focus on dynamic tracking capabilities. All of these networks and platforms have their own merits, so finding the right fit for your company can be a challenge.

Expert Help

If you cannot invest time, the most crucial thing you could possibly do is hire a direct affiliate manager. If you don't have the budget to hire in-house, consider hiring an Outsourced Partner Manager (OPM). An OPM brings instant experience to your affiliate program. They have established relationships with publishers, which is extremely helpful to growth. They also know how to do all the things to make an affiliate program successful. It should be noted that agencies are a double edged sword; You won’t be the only client of the agencies and your clients won’t get the same personal attention you could give.

When you’re going down the road of installing and optimizing your tracking system, it’s highly recommended that you seek advice of an OPM for help unless you have an experienced affiliate mind in house. They’ll have the experience with these highly technical companies that you need. While an investment, an OPM like Apogee Agency, Lab6 Media, Ebove & Beyond, and Snow Consulting will help your program hit the ground running.


Payout is one of the biggest discussion points around affiliate marketing. It is the primary reason Advertisers think they’re failing when they launch their own programs. Many wonder if their program has a problem in the payouts department when they don’t produce revenue instantly. The reality of it is that conversion takes a while to get right, as does recruiting.

Payout has never fixed conversion or recruiting and it never will. The only way to get better at converting is by analyzing, testing, and creating. The only way to recruit better is by spending more time and effort reaching out and negotiating. Save the higher commission rates for the elite partners that will really move the needle.

You can save yourself in these discussions by having paid attention to point #2. If you’ve built a good relationship, it will be worth more than any payout and give you more leverage in evening out the situation. The situation will also come up far less often if you’re in constant contact.


The hardest part of investing in affiliate marketing is patience. Affiliate marketing is not an overnight success. Most marketers are used to the instant gratification. They think since Google PPC or Facebook ads can convert so quickly, that this is the norm for a digital marketing channels. Affiliate Marketing doesn’t work that way and partnerships need to be built before they can be deployed.

A typical affiliate channel takes 6-12 months to mature. Once maturity hits, the fun begins, and you get to reap the return on your sweet investment of constructing an affiliate infrastructure that is built to last.

When assessing expectations for return, keep in mind that recruiting, optimizing, and setting up different implementations takes time and effort. If you have that kind of time you should spend it. If you don’t you should hire an OPM as they’ll do it faster than you.

Affiliate Marketing Program Conclusion:

It still surprises me when I’m browsing the internet. My mind always wanders to different affiliate marketing SEO plays that companies could use, especially ones with commercials! They are full of brand inefficiencies and growth marketer in me always wants to try them differently. This is the exact value in affiliate marketing. There are more people who think like me, and they work on commission only. With the right mix, you get many marketers selling your product in different voices; a diverse program works like an A/B test that never stops.
Don’t close your doors off to thousands of others who could be passionate in getting the word out around your product or service. Invest in your affiliate program with both your money and your time. You won’t be disappointed.

For more information on leveraging as your guide to affiliate marketing success, learn more about why Dustin Howes created this online course here.


Dustin Howes is the owner of Coalition Marketing, an affiliate marketing agency developing innovative techniques in publisher recruitment. Dustin has created an online course that coaches affiliate managers to prioritize time, recruit the right affiliates, and develop deeper partnerships.

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