Make sure you read the Terms and Conditions or Terms of Service (ToS) that you will have to agree to before joining an affiliate program. Though often written in unfriendly legalese it is important to quickly check through for any clauses that might cause you problems in the future.
Though the majority of the agreements you come across will be fairly standard, be warned that not all are. In particular, look out for exclusivity clauses that don’t allow you to advertise similar products or services from other merchants.
Check to see if there are any restrictions placed on the methods of linking you can use. Are you allowed to promote via email? Do you have to use a tracking image? Can you develop your own text links, graphics, etc., or are you forced to use the merchants banners?
The latter is important if a merchant provides just a handful of banners and you know that another 10,000 affiliates are already using them! But more than that, if you are to market creatively you need freedom to experiment and try out your own ideas. Restrictions here will both hold you back and limit your sales.
Remember: break any of its rules and the company can legally refuse to pay you for any sales you may have generated.
“Good bye… thanks for all your help!”
Unfortunately, the terms of almost all current affiliate programs allow the vendor to dump you at will, for any reason they see fit. You’ll usually find a clause that reads something like this:
“… either party may at any time cancel this agreement…”
Though referring to “either party”, the vendor knows full well that the affiliate is most unlikely to cancel. If anything they will simply cease to promote the program. It’s often just a disguised way of allowing the vendor to have a change of heart and to change direction at any time.
Lets look at an offline example to see what this could mean:
Imagine that you opened a brick and mortar shop selling electrical items and concentrated on Sony products. You devote the majority of your floor space to them. You feature Sony products heavily in your advertising and promotions. They are part of your image. They are your main source of income.
Suddenly, one day you get a letter from Sony informing you that they will cease to supply you from the end of next month. You contact Sony. A representative informs you that Sony feels that it’s brand recognition is now strong enough not to require third party sales, all sales will be taken in-house.
You complain that you will loose 90% of your income almost overnight. Sony say they’re very sorry, but they have the right and remind you of the “either party may cancel” clause in the agreement you signed.
Of course in the “real world” you would never sign such a contract and neither would Sony expect you too.
A fictional online example:
What if next week the shareholders in Amazon.com decided that the company’s name as the number one online book and CD retailer was now firmly established. Anyone can type “amazon” or something close into their browser window and arrive at the store. They vote to end affiliate commission payments to reduce costs. What would happen to all the web sites that derive most or all of their income from the sales of books or CD’s through Amazon.com?
Fortunately this is unlikely to happen, particularly since the range of products offered by Amazon.com is so large that they benefit greatly from the sales generated by the many different niche sites operated by affiliates that actively promote for them. However the same is often not true with other programs.
These aren’t perhaps the best examples, but they are all that I can come up with right now and serve to illustrate my point:
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
A couple of real examples
In my time online, I’ve seen numerous affiliate programs come and go. I remember one I joined myself which sold custom made plates displaying your URL for fixing onto the back of your car, etc. Out of the blue one day I received an email telling me that the program was being cancelled.
Apparently they’d got far fewer orders than they anticipated. Of the orders received, the company actually making the plates had apparently botched most of them. They had sent out faulty plates, or plates with incorrect details.
After a few months of problems and poor performance, the vendor decided to pull the plug. That the program had possibilities was evidenced a few months later when the rights were bought by a third party and the program restarted.
Fortunately the closing of the program didn’t effect me much as I had only put up a link or two on my site. The same was obviously not true for many other members of the program, judging by a follow-up email I received a week after the initial notification. In this letter affiliates were thanked for their support and requests to continue the program, but were more or less told that the operator had had enough, even though they still thought it a great idea.
In the case above, the company was actually closing, and so we can argue it was “just one of those things.” Here’s an example where the company simply decided it no longer needed to pay affiliates.
This was back when the company I was promoting was in it’s early days, so the company recruited affiliates to put its branded search boxes on their websites, and paid commissions on the searches.
Once the company felt it had gained sufficient market recognition it emailed its affiliates (I was one) informing them that the program was being closed and no more commissions would be paid. And that was that!
As an affiliate it is important to understand that you are not like an employee and companies generally have very little if any notion of obligation or commitment to you.
That being the case, look at affiliate programs in the same way they look at you. Never build your business around a single company. And be prepared to leave any affiliate program at the drop of a hat for another vendor with a better offer.