Running a successful affiliate program can have a dramatic effect on your business’s revenue. When done right, it is a tremendous asset to your business, but when done poorly it can have either a minimally positive effect or even a drastically negative effect.

To operate a successful affiliate program, there are several key elements. First and foremost, you need a good system to manage affiliate accounts, track referral links, manage commissions, and process payouts. Without a decent system in place, nothing else matters, so make sure you start by getting a system up and running that you like, is easy to use, and works reliably.

Beyond having a reliable system that works, you, as the store owner, need to provide incentives that encourage affiliates to sign up for accounts and you need to encourage them to actively promote your product. Just because someone has signed up for your affiliate account does not mean they are going to begin magically making you more sales. It takes work, both on the part of the store owner and the affiliate.

By providing strong incentives for affiliates, you increase the return on investment that affiliates receive for their efforts. One of the easiest ways to offer good incentives to affiliates is to offer them a good commission rate. 10, 15, 20, or even 30% are all good rates, though the exact rate you choose will be determined both by your product and the industry that you are operating in.

You also have the option of offering multiple commission rates and awarding affiliates with higher and higher rates as they make more sales. Tiered commission rates are a great way to incentivize affiliates to work hard to promote your products.

If an affiliate spends hours upon hours writing up multitudes of blog posts and product reviews, but then only sees meager returns, they’re not likely to work on promoting your product in the future. On the other hand, however, if you have given the affiliate a good rate and they get a nice return for their time, they will likely continue to actively promote your product for months or even years to come.

While it seems like a no-brainer statement, having a good product to sell is also one of the foundations of a successful affiliate program. Without a strong product that is presented well to potential customers, affiliates will be far less likely to spend time promoting your product because the return on their investment will be much lower.

Take the time to build not only a strong product, but also a strong presentation for your product. If there are two competing products, both with seemingly equal features, the product with the better presentation will win out in the majority of cases, and that is the one affiliates will promote.

It is also important that you make your affiliates’ jobs as easy as possible, and that means providing them adequate promotional material. Often times called Creatives, this promotional material usually consists of logos, banners, text blurbs, and other small brand assets that affiliates can easily incorporate in their blog posts, product reviews, and ad slots.

One of the last things affiliates want to do when promoting a product is create their own product images or logos for your product, so make sure you provide them and make them easy to access by affiliates.

There are many, many other components of running a successful affiliate program, and we will get to more of them in the future, but these fundamentals alone will make a difference.

Pippin Williamson

About the author: Pippin Williamson is the founder and CEO of Sandhills Development.


  1. I’m starting a website soon called gift of the day. What I will be doing is giving away a product a day. I will not be selling anything. I want to build a massive list. My question is, is there any angle where an affiliate program might still be beneficial for me? Thank you.

    1. The main question you will need to ask yourself is this: how are you going to award the affiliates?

      If you’re selling anything, you may not be able to provide affiliates with monetary awards.

      Did you have something in mind?

  2. For newbies, what program do you recommend? I would like my first program to have a low start up cost & low or no monthly fees

    1. Hi Shell!

      Naturally we’re inclined to recommend AffiliateWP if you’re running a WordPress website. :) Our site licenses start from $49, and are annual, so there are no monthly fees. But there are various other affiliate marketing systems out there for both WordPress and non-WordPress websites. I’d recommend looking at the features list of a few options to see if a particular affiliate marketing system will do what you need it to. Plus, I would suggest ensuring the system you ultimately decide on has good customer support, and documentation available.

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