13 Ways to Make Your Affiliate Program Suck

I recently was complaining about an affiliate program on Twitter and my pal netmeg asked that I do a post as sort of a public service announcement to affiliate program managers on the things we affiliates find insanely annoying about their programs – later citing her biggest pet peeves.

Baby SuckingNow, I know I’m going to hear from a lot of affiliate program managers that there are plenty of things affiliates do to annoy them as well, but I’m an affiliate, not an affiliate program manager so I can only speak about the view from my side of the fence. ;-)

I’d also like to acknowledge that there are a lot of great affiliate program managers out there, so this isn’t a bash against managers as a whole, but a bash against certain aspects of some programs.

Not having creatives available in all the standard ad sizes

I cannot tell you how many times an affiliate program not having creatives in a size I need has cost the merchant to lose my promotional efforts to a company that does. There is a listing of standard ad sizes you should have available. Please use it. Or you risk losing me to someone who does.

Using creatives from 1998

Look, the more annoying your ad is may indeed mean the more attention it grabs from my site visitors, but if it’s ugly as hell, I’m not putting it on my site. This includes quick flashing ads, ads with moving components, ads that ask me “to hit the monkey” and ads that look like your ten year old nephew made them. You can’t honestly expect me to invest time into promoting your affiliate program if you can’t invest in a decent designer to create tasteful ads to promote your own products.

Not ensuring that seasonal creatives are available in a reasonable time frame

I don’t have any seasonal themed sites, but I totally understand why netmeg brought this up. She owns a site devoted to Michigan firework displays. You need to get her your July 4th specific creatives before the middle of June. Own a costume site? You should have you Halloween creatives out BEFORE the middle of October. Running a special Mother’s Day promotion? Please get me my ads at the beginning of April. Believe it or not, some people plan ahead. And if your affiliates are doing their affiliate marketing via organic SEO channels? Unless they have an insanely strong site, they need to start working on and ranking any seasonal promotion efforts at least a few weeks before people start searching for them.

Taking forever to approve affiliate applications

When I’m in the mood to build a site or individual page, I want to get it DONE. Please don’t have me waiting three weeks to get approval from your program. Because if you do, chances are I’ll already be promoting a competitor of yours that approved me in a timely fashion. I completely understand why many programs don’t do automatic approvals. But if you don’t, you need to be checking for and making decisions on applications DAILY.

Not allowing deep linking to any page on the site

I’ve said it before and I will say it again – PLEASE make it possible for me to link with an affiliate link to ANY page of your site that I choose. Especially if your site covers a broad spectrum of products. If you’re a toy company and I discuss a specific toy, I want to link with my affiliate link to that specific toy’s item page – NOT link to the homepage so that people have to search for it. Remember, most times, as an affiliate, I am pre-selling the visitor on the product or service I’m sending them to. Don’t take someone ready to buy and force them to become someone willing to search.

Not allowing extensive tracking options

The general rule of thumb is that 80% of your sales will come from 20% of your active affiliates. And that 20% are probably advanced in their marketing efforts and want to be able to track which sales channels are working for them. On my sites, we assign most links with a separate tracking code so that we know exactly which links, banners, graphics and pages are converting. And once we can figure out precisely what is working, we can do more of it.

Having product images of varying sizes in affiliate datafeeds

Probably one of the most annoying aspects an affiliate can deal with when creating a site using an affiliate datafeed. One image is 100×100 and the next is 267X865… WHY? If you’re including images in your datafeed, then you’re likely hoping we’ll display them, so please don’t make it look like shit when we do! All product images should be pre-sized to be the same image size. At the very least, they should be the same aspect ratio (meaning if you create some to be 100X100 and others to be 400X400 we can at least make them all the same size on OUR end without them looking like complete crap.)

Creating one size fits all bonus programs

I blogged about the importance of coming up with realistic affiliate program incentives for both your smaller and super affiliates recently over on the ShareASale blog. If you didn’t read it, you should now.

Having poorly designed landing pages

Part of the issue here is covered under allowing deep linking (which allows the affiliate to CHOOSE what page to send their traffic to) but to quote netmeg:

“Even [conversion] newbies know there are very few instances where you [should] send targeted traffic to a site’s generic home page. Your landing page should ANSWER the promise or question of your ad, and, in the case of a themed or seasonal ad, it should follow through [on] the theme too.”

If you ARE going to limit where we can link by not offering up deep linking as an option, then at least create your own landing pages that are aimed at making conversions easy for the (theoretically if the traffic is coming from a knowledgeable affiliate) pre-sold user for us to link to.

Having inadequate reporting

The only thing worse than not having extensive tracking options is for the general reporting you do have to be inadequate. If you do batch reporting, tell us so and how long it takes for the batches to be processed. Give us at a glance dashboards – it annoys the hell out of me that Clickbank shows me my weekly and daily sales at a glance, but doesn’t show me the number of clicks I’ve had or what my conversion rates are. In a perfect world, the merchant would make available to the affiliate the same information they’d want to have available to themselves.

Denying my application with no contact to explain why

Most of the time when I apply for an affiliate program, I’ll use my primary company website address when asked for my website. A few years ago, I did this with a third tier network. I planned to promote the program on several sites so I used the main company URL to apply. They denied my application, never followed up to tell me why and also had a “noreply” email address on the email that sent me the denial. Fast forward to a few months later. I met up with this chick at Affiliate Summit. She learned through our discussion that I had several million page views per month in the mobile phone space.

She very excitedly told me of all the offers her network offered and how they’d love to have me as an affiliate. You guessed it. The same company that denied me with no recourse a few months earlier. I already had a bad taste from that, so they didn’t get my traffic. If they had bothered to contact me before issuing the denial – or even offered a way for me to respond TO their denial, it might have been a different (and much more profitable for them) story.

Have no active affiliate management

There is nothing worse than having an affiliate manager completely ignore you. My goal is to make you sales. HELP ME. If I send you an email asking for creatives, landing pages or with a question on reporting, you should answer me. Or I will find a program that will.

Have way too active affiliate management

Ok, I lied. There is something worse than a affiliate manager that ignores you. One that drives you insane with emails, newsletters and phone calls. They’re like that guy I’m dating that I really like – until he starts texting me every three minutes and expecting me to spend every moment of my life with him two weeks into the relationship. Don’t be that guy – or that affiliate manager. ;-)

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:


  1. 14. Telling me about a 3 Day sale the day the sale started. Any sale for that fact. It is not a secret that you are going to have a Memorial Day sale… everyone does! Like I’m just sitting around waiting to load last minute creative into our ad platform.

  2. Rae, this is another great post. I’ll add three more:

    #14 – having leaky creatives (with phone numbers, and/or full URL spelled out)
    #15 – having no thumbnail images in the datafeed
    #16 – having no dedicated landing pages (but sending all affiliate traffic to homepage)

    ….I could’ve mentioned more, but it’s gonna ruin the idea of having the Affiliate Summit presentation on the key affiliate program components people are routinely missing (my topic at the upcoming ASE11). :)

  3. Thanks Geno – I mentioned not having decent landing pages above, but the other two are spot on! People should attend your session. :)

  4. Ok #14 is similar to #3 but it’s probably my biggest peeve.

    #15. Sending stupid email updates. I get the worst emails from program managers, desperately trying to say absolutely nothing. Don’t waste my time unless you have something important to say and done in a easy to understand manner. I’ve stopped reading many of them altogether.

  5. Great post Rae,
    I just have one to add that supplements Geno’s #14.

    #17 – Not offering affiliates a way to earn commissions for driving phone traffic.


  6. The ones on your list that tend to hack me off are:
    #4: Taking forever to approve affiliate applications – When I don’t get approved quickly I usually have moved on.
    #5 Not allowing deep linking to any page on the site – Hard to believe merchants still don’t allow this. When I want to promote something it is usually a specific product, not a merchant. So why would I want to send traffic to their home page and not a product page? Clueless merchants.

    And one I would add: #18 – Lowering commissions – If a merchant wants to lower their commissions moving forward for new applicants that is fine but if I have taken the time to build a site expecting to get 12% and a few months down the road get an email saying they have lowered the commission to 8% I get pretty ticked off.

  7. The Landing Pages issue is a HUGE one. There are two “sides” to the sale. I do my part, the vendor HAS to do their’s as well. Otherwise I end up sending lots of traffic and NOTHING converts. So frustrating.

  8. Eek. Guilty on several counts here. My affiliate program is the easiest one ever invented, but it’s deficient in several ways you mention. I’ve got sone work to do! Thanks for posting this. ~ i

  9. I’ve written on this topic a few times, as well. “How NOT to Motivate Your Affiliates” and “Why I’m promoting your competition instead of you”. Great minds think alike.

    Anyway, one that really irks me is being talked down to. Or yelled at (being treated as stupid for not promoting their latest webinar).

    Here’s a copy/paste from an email that I actually received:




    Yikes, eh?

    I also really dislike being called at home. Just because I’m forced to enter a phone number when signing up doesn’t give permission for you to use it.

    Thanks for the great list! Lynn Terry says you’re awesome, and I can see why. :)

  10. Having poorly designed landing pages – This right here I have to say really sucks.

  11. I moderated a panel of three affiliates at ASW11 where they talked about all these points and more. The topic can never get old and I’m glad to see you posting it. However, too many programs are on autopilot from clueless merchants who will never take the time to read this post.

  12. Thank you Rae for helping all affiliate managers realize why they probably aren’t making very many sales. In my small time as an part-time affiliate marketer I have come across pretty much everything you mentioned above. So this post gave me a good laugh. =] But some of the things I hate the most are:

    No deep linking – What! Are you kidding me? So if I want to specifically highlight one of your products I can’t…. see ya!

    Bad creatives – Awesome graphics that flash horrible colors and look like they were designed circa 1980…I’m not rockin that on my site.

    Weird ad sizes – 119×487….?

    Landing pages – Making customers scroll to find the “buy now” button below the fold…. CRO…get some!

  13. Rae-

    Sweet article.

    How would you do an affiliate tracking program for people like me – I need to talk to people before we sell them. We’re a service business, and we have more clients

    We’ve got a couple mostly productive referral relationships, bu we want to add some automation, transparency and encourage people to use us. Is this even possible?


  14. Great article. Any ideas how to find affiliates for my one lonely digital product? If i promise to be good and do all the above?? – Helen

  15. In a related post, you mentioned A-list Affiliate Networks; I am wondering if you would be willing to rate those networks and give the pros and cons of each one without crunching too many toes? The only one I’ve had dealings with is CJ~ here is your related article;
    Thank you.

  16. Rae I agree with most of your points but I get 20 applications a day from websites like 123ygtrrftg.ijjydhjjst999.google.blogspot.com. Most of the time these accounts have a second url that is a twitter url with spammy auto feed coupons that blast every 5 minutes. Some affiliate applications say their website is wordpress.com or Google.com. Which become automatic rejections with no specific reason why they were rejected ever going to the affiliate except a blanket rejection letter.

    Before I reject normal applications I will send the affiliate an email first asking what their plans are and 90% of the time there is no response to that.

    It is impossible to write every affiliate a personalized rejection letter. If I was to spend time writing personalized rejection letter to the lousy blogspot sites of the world there would be no time to actually run the affiliate program. There is a fine line between the two when it comes to time management.

  17. Sometimes as an OPM I speak with merchants who even after I share all of your tips … they just won’t budge. I think I may put your tips as ‘program requirements’ (ahead of time) if they want my help as an affiliate manager :) I actually have with a few of your tips such as ALL banner campaigns MUST have a matching set in standard AIB ad sizes – really it’s not that hard – if they pass me the psd I can do it myself in 15 minutes.

    As for …
    ‘Taking forever to approve affiliate applications’
    my one note – if managers LIST their full contact details on the sign up page then I would encourage affiliates to not wait – send off an email to the manager when you apply and you’ll find most managers (at least me) will get you up and running right away – possibly with extra incentives because we LOVE affiliates who contact us.

    Sometimes I can’t approve an affiliate because their ‘profile’ on a network doesn’t give me much to work with when considering their application – when they don’t list contact details I have to reply on the networks mailing system and well – with thousands of emails a day many affiliates (I am guessing) miss my email requesting additional info when needed ;)

    Great post!

  18. You hit all the high points on this one. Once affiliate managers understand we are in this together and have an objective to be successful, they often get it and as I’m sure you know, provide awesome service.

    On the topic of pet peeves, my biggest one is on getting notification of sales on the day before or the day it starts. It’s like they think we are just sitting there twiddling our thumbs waiting for an email. Not hardly.

  19. Great stuff! After years of programming, I am going into full-time affiliate marketing (as the affiliate and not the manager). This is great, timely info that I can use as my benchmark for what I should be getting. Thanks!!

  20. I totally agree with Vinny… it would be impossible to send individual rejection letters. I get about 70 applications per day and the vast majority are junk.

    Also, I really haven’t found the 80/20 rule to be accurate in the programs I’ve run. It’s honestly more like 95% of of sales come from 2% of affiliates.

  21. I kinda miss those punch the monkey ads. I think enough time has passed that they can make a successful comeback under the guise of early internet nostalgia. That and those spyware laden talking animal helpers like Bonzi Buddy – remember Bonzi Buddy? They have a certain retro charm to them now – I can’t be the only one who feels this.

  22. Your last point made me chuckle out loud. My aim is to be as available as possible, but to never over communicate. I promise I won’t be “that guy”.

    Great post.

  23. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt, the DVD and the pen holder.
    I’ve faced ALL of these throughout a career in advertising, and it’s not until someone like yourself (Thank You) puts them all down that you realise what we actually have to put up with… time and time again.
    Christmas is every year on the same date, so is Halloween, New Year’s Day etc. PLAN AHEAD PLEASE! We have to.

  24. @ Rae Excellent food for thought. No one program is perfect, but it helps to have this feedback so affiliate managers know what they need to do to improve.
    I agree with Vinny and Justin. With regard to “Taking forever to approve affiliate applications”, it’s been our experience that email replies end up in the affiliate’s junk folder or get no response at all.
    I’m also of the firm belief that no merchant should be providing banner ads in sizes too small for the human eye to see (for example 88×31, 120×60). Small size banner ads are painful to look at.

  25. Where’s your Facebook like button Rae? :)

  26. How about those merchants with KILLING terms and conditions that don’t make any sense but gives you the idea, how uncompetitive is the merchant?

    I’ve been promoting a merchant on my ecommerce website and been making sales for a merchant. Suddenly, the sales with 0 dollar commission started appearing. Contacted the merchant and asked why no commissions on my sales. Got a reply that one of the “links” on my website have their product name. As per their “new terms”, affiliates are not allowed to use brand name or product name in URLs, Title, Meta Description or Meta keywords.

    Oh well, what are you scared of? Are you scared of your affiliates? Well, what happened to your own SEO team, they aren’t competitive enough to rank higher on SERPs for product/brand name? I can still understand that affiliates using Brand name may be an issue. But using “product name” shouldn’t be much of an issue. After all, affiliates put in so much hard work to sell “YOUR PRODUCTS”.

    Anyway, can’t b**ch about that. But certainly, your “threatening emails” are a concern: Remove the product name from your URLs within next 3 days or we will terminate affiliation.

    Excuse me, I have like 20,000 products on my website from your affiliate program (been using datafeed). I may need a little more time to check all those products and ensure that I meet with your “banner only” approach since you won’t allow me to do anything with the content on my website.

    I said, goodbye, find another affiliate to bug the hell out of his life .. I’ll be gone. Kick me! I have 10 other sites to look at if one goes for a toss because of 20,000 dead links … grrrr.

Speak Your Mind