Keys to a Successful Affiliate Marketing Program:

How an Effective Affiliate Marketing Program Works

By Sarah Jamieson

How an Effective Affiliate Marketing Program Works. A well-run affiliate program can generate solid profits for both the merchant and the affiliates. runs a very successful affiliate program. They started the concept way back in 1997 when they launched the first affiliate program (AKA associate, referrer, or partner program), and their program is still going strong today.

What is an affiliate program? It's a simple concept ...

Affiliates introduce prospects to a merchant’s website, and earn a commission when a prospect buys from the merchant.

Some merchants also pay for other actions, such as a completed lead form.

This is the typical affiliate program process:

  • Affiliates sign up for your program. After signup, they each receive a unique ID and links containing the ID that will track their referrals.
  • Affiliates promote your products / services using the unique tracking links.
  • When a prospect clicks an affiliate tracking link to visit the merchant's website, the prospect is tracked with cookies to see whether he buys.Tracking cookies will often last for a month or more, so the affiliate will get credit for the sale if the prospect returns to buy later.
  • If the prospect buys, the affiliate tracking program registers a commission for the affiliate who referred the sale.

At first blush affiliate marketing seems an easy way to earn money online and many aspiring online entrepreneurs start off as affiliates.

The vast majority of affiliates however, are not successful and often drop out of a program within a month or two of signing up.

What Makes an Affiliate Marketing Program Successful?

The key is for merchants to think like affiliates. Merchants need to dedicate themselves to training their affiliates to make them successful.

As a merchant, you know your products or services better than anyone else. Help your affiliates understand your market and develop their own unique selling propositions.

Affiliates who have identical offers and don't provide their own value to users are not going to make sales. See our Affiliate Marketing Training affiliate course for more on this.

You need to pay an attractive affiliate commission so you can recruit quality affiliates.

The image below shows how an effective affiliate marketing program can work.

On the left is the merchant's sales process, and on the right is the affiliate's marketing process.

Ideally they should work together, with the merchant training and supporting affiliates:

Affiliate marketing program

To be successful, affiliates need their own competitive advantage and value proposition that will attract visitors and keep them coming back to buy again and again.

Affiliates need their own quality content and they need to build their own email lists before referring visitors to the merchant's site. An email list is an asset affiliates can continue following up with for free.

For more on what affiliates need to do to be successful, see our Affiliate Marketing Training articles.

Keys to a Successful Affiliate Marketing Program > How an Effective Affiliate Marketing Program Works > Affiliate Tracking Software vs. Affiliate Networks