Disclosure: Please note that links to merchants mentioned within this post might be using an affiliate link which means that - at zero cost to you - I might earn a commission if you buy something through that affiliate link. That said, I never recommend anything I don’t personally use and find to be a valuable asset to my business.

13 Ways to Make Your Affiliate Program Suck


  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. Geno Prussakov says:

    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. Rae Hoffman-Dolan says:

    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. Gretchen Nemechek says:

    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. Paul Flyer says:

    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. Nicole Dean says:

    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. Justin Dupre says:

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

  11. Greg Hoffman says:

    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. Chris Johnson says:


    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. Vinny O'Hare says:

    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. Karrine McFarlane says:

    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. Denise O'Berry says:

    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. David Davis, Jr says:

    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. Justin Smith says:

    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. Alex Aguilar says:

    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. Ashley K. Edwards says:

    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. Jason Walker says:

    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. Jey Pandian says:

    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.

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