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Affiliate Marketing Lessons Learned from Merchant Mistakes


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Right before I started this site, I was the Director of Business Development for , managing among other things their affiliate program. Socrates sells business forms - the most unsexy, boring and ho-hum products on the planet (ok, maybe not that bad, but bad nonetheless).

But this was my first introduction to affiliate marketing - and learning it from the merchant side of things was a rare and fantastic opportunity. I was able to analyze each affiliate site knowing which ones were doing well, and which ones weren’t selling a thing.

What was interesting to me was that high volumes of traffic was absolutely NOT an absolute indicator of success - in fact, some of our partners with an Alexa rank in the top 1000 sites didn’t do as well as some of our partners with an Alexa in the 40K - 60K range.

Even targeting the right niche audience wasn’t enough - affiliate success depended on the context:

  • Where the ad was placed on the site
  • What was on the rest of the page
  • What was on the rest of the site
  • Who was promoting our products
  • How the site was steering readers to the ad from the home page
  • How the site was building traffic
  • And most importantly, how the site was pre-selling our product to potential customers, which is really a combination of all of the above.

We had some great successes and some great flops. Here are the lessons we learned that will help you understand what contributes to success in affiliate marketing.

Pre-selling the Product

This isn’t just a testimonial or review. It comes down to why are your site visitors at your site in the first place. Socrates has an entire line of Do it Yourself Landlord products - and you might think that our ads on the Real Estate Investing section would do well. In fact, I think we sold ONE product over the course of several months.

Why? Because our ads were placed in areas of the site in which site visitors were expecting FREE advice and resources. It didn’t matter that the editor loved our stuff.

Lesson Learned: An affiliate marketer needs to present an offer to the right people, in the right place, at the right time. It is also up to the merchant to carefully screen where ads are placed and work with affiliates to ensure the right message is sent. A lead generation program would have been a better fit for, but our business at the time wasn’t set up to market that way.

Choosing the Right Affiliate Offers and Partners

We had another partner who had the right audience - real estate investors who were looking to pay for advice and resources. We invested thousands of dollars and hours into building out a microsite for this partner. Although this site sold thousands of dollars worth of products, we thought it would sell HUNDREDS of thousands. It didn’t.

Why? The site author made $3-$10 off of one of our products. Other offers made him $50-$150. Guess which products got the most attention? Not ours. He refused to integrate our products into the product navigation system, and simply threw up a couple of links to our microsite. It was a hard lesson for us to learn.

Lesson Learned: Carefully analyze what products you are promoting, and build a relationship with that merchant. Affiliate Marketing works best when both parties are invested in a successful campaign.

Steering a Site Visitor to an Offer

Our best affiliate partner was These people converted visitors to customers from DAY ONE. They had the right audience - people who were willing to pay. They were a great partner - we worked hand in hand cross promoting to each other’s customers, which were extremely complimentary. Our products added value to their site, and vice versa - it was a perfect offer.

We hand selected relevant products and put them on a page that was ONE CLICK away from the home page. The page was set up with Buy Now buttons that landed our products into a shopping cart within FOUR clicks.

Lesson Learned: This combination of being in front of people who needed our products, at a time when they needed them the most while making it easy for people to buy, created a hugely profitable partnership that is still generating revenue today with very little maintenance.


This all may seem a little daunting for the person just getting started with affiliate marketing. There is a lot of competition out there. But I reviewed thousands of sites seeking to promote our products through Commission Junction and here’s the good news: There are MOSTLY REALLY CRAPPY affiliate sites out there, which means that if you even do a halfway decent job of putting together an affiliate offer, you will be head and shoulders above most of your competition.

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    On April 18th, 2007 at 12:24 pm, Amanda said:

    That is true and you have to be careful about your ads my ads are making my site lag a bit but its better. I’m always hesitant for affiliate marketing I’ve signed up with comission junction but I feel that my sites viewer base isn’t strong enough I bet a lot of people have that feeling.

    On April 18th, 2007 at 12:29 pm, Amanda said:

    I will try this again. If it gets double commented sorry!

    I signed up with commission junction but I am always hesistant I feel that my viewer base isn’t strong enough to throw more ads in their face. The site already has ads by kontera, and burstmedia and i’m happy with that so far but its about creating the loyal reader base first before adding more sites.

    I mean is there a way to know when it is time for this?

    On April 18th, 2007 at 3:30 pm, Wendy Piersall said:

    Amanda, I think with blogs it’s a bit different. I’m about to launch a more commercial product-oriented blog, with the offers in the actual posts. You’re right that adding lots advertising around the site can be too much. But it also depends on the value you add along with it.

    Personally, I don’t want to build something to a large audience and then spring a bunch of ads on them. I’d rather build the site with the advertising in place as much as possible. That way people don’t get thrown off when a major change happens.

    On April 18th, 2007 at 9:04 pm, Char said:

    Wendy - this is so interesting. I have dabbled in affiliate marketing over the past year, but I really haven’t learned enough to make it pay off yet. I have earned some money using a handful of affiliate products, but I know I am leaving so much money on the table.

    Learning more about affiliate marketing is one of my near term goals.

    On April 18th, 2007 at 9:21 pm, Hethir said:

    A rule of thumb that I learned from the great Ken Evoy, is to wait until your traffic is to at least 20 visitors a day and you have 30+ pages of content before montezing.

    OOOOh Wendy…a new blog??????
    (this is Hethir being really curious);)

    On April 18th, 2007 at 9:23 pm, Wendy Piersall said:

    TWO new blogs. :X

    And I’ll announce one of them tomorrow. This one is big. It will be the post of my career - I’ve been writing it in my head for weeks!!! :D

    (I know. I’m mean.)

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