5 downsides of running an affiliate program (and how to overcome them)

While we praise the benefits of running an affiliate marketing program for your online store, you have to be aware that, unfortunately, there are unwelcome downsides too.

Some of these downsides can be easily overlooked when starting out, which makes them more difficult to deal with later on.

Your goal with running an affiliate program should be, besides increasing sales and revenue, to create brand trust. Through their promotional efforts, affiliates not only bring you sales, but also endorse your brand.

Therefore, it’s better to know about the possible downsides to be able to address them early on.

Here are six of the most recurrent affiliate program issues and how you can fix or avoid them altogether:

1. Spam

This one is very frequent and should not be tolerated, because it can ruin your brand image.

Some people will go to any extent to get the word out about their affiliate links, in order to obtain sales and get their commissions. It can be out of desperation, or just due to a lack of basic understanding about how affiliate marketing works.

This means they will spam people, hoping someone will click their affiliate link and make a purchase. They can do it via unwanted promotional email, direct messaging, aggressive posting in Facebook groups, mass commenting on articles and blog posts.

If their affiliate link is connected to a discount code, they can place it on large coupon sites where people fish for bargains.

To avoid this, thoroughly vet each and one of your affiliates, before letting them join your program. See where they are active, what is their audience saying, who else they’re affiliated with (are they serious brands?).

Also, make sure that zero tolerance for spammers is something clearly mentioned in your Affiliate Terms & Conditions. If you catch them involved in dodgy practices, you can deny their right to receive the respective commissions.

Even with strong T&C to cover for any possible undesired event, you still need to ensure they are actually complied with. If you start to notice visits coming in from fishy websites via one of your affiliate’s links, might be a sign they’ve been engaging in spammy practices.

2. Brand misrepresentation

Besides spam, another way that can hurt your business image is through brand misrepresentation done by your affiliates. This can take various forms, like:

  • overpraising the quality or benefits of the product
  • using misleading or false information about the product
  • fake testimonials

Have all these situations written in your T&C as disallowed practices.

Ensure your affiliates know your products well and preferably even use them regularly. Provide thorough details about your products on the website to cover for any information your affiliates and customers might need.

Another thing you can do to make certain your affiliate partners stay on brand, is to provide them a sufficient amount of creatives (promotional material like images, videos, text etc). This way, you avoid misunderstandings and retain control over your brand image being represented accordingly.

You’ll still need to keep an eye on their practices and, as in the case of spam, vet each affiliate before on-boarding them.

2. Lack of loyalty

Your affiliates can be easily lured by your competitors with higher commission rates or other benefits. If you don’t take care of them, you’ll end up losing sales in your competitors’ favor.

An idea to solve this would be to build trust and cultivate your affiliate relationships for the long term:

  • offer them an easy-to-use platform and a smooth overall experience
  • reward them for reaching certain goals
  • make their job easier by providing creatives
  • be available for their inquiries or suggestions
  • pay them on time

However, you don’t need to focus all of your attention to all of your affiliates. Not all of them will be an asset to your brand and you might be better of without some of them (see #1 and #2). Focus on the ones that matter!

Set different commission rates for each affiliate (you can do this easily with SliceWP) depending on how strong the partnership is and how well the affiliate is performing.

Offering your affiliates higher commission rates just so they don’t leave to your competition is not always a good idea. Money is important, but if it’s all that matters, what makes you think they won’t leave you for the next big bidder?

You have to consider your expenses and whether retaining that particular affiliate is worthwhile. If you find yourself in this situation, have an honest talk with them and think it through before taking a decision.

4. High overhead expenses

Sharing a percentage of each affiliate sale with your partners can be perceived as less profit in your pocket. However, affiliates give you an entry ticket to an audience you might have not reached otherwise (at least not easily). They spread the word about your business, growing your brand awareness and your sales.

Therefore, an affiliate program run well should be worth the investment.

Ideally, you should consider how much you can afford to pay for affiliate marketing BEFORE launching a product and adjusting your pricing and the commission rates accordingly.

These being said, you might find yourself in a situation where due to changes in your business model, unexpected expenses or simply not accounting for a marketing budget, you can’t afford to keep paying your affiliates.

If that’s the case, it’s probably time to review your strategy and your affiliates’ performance. You have, for example, the possibility to let some of them go or change the commission rate from percentage to a flat fee you can afford.

You can also lower the commission rates entirely. This practice can sometimes backfire, so use it consciously.

Whichever way you choose, it’s only fair to let your affiliates know in advance about the upcoming changes. They should have the chance to opt-out of the program or renegotiate the conditions. After all, a partnership works both ways!

5. Changes in the promotional channel’s T&C

Each channel (or platform) your partners use for promotional purposes has certain policies regarding the permitted use of affiliate links. On top of this, each country has its own laws that might require to disclose when there’s a commercial relationship between the endorser and the business being endorsed (affiliate links, sponsorships, ads etc).

Imagine this situation: most of your affiliates promote your products on Pinterest and, one day, Pinterest decides they won’t accept affiliate links anymore. Bummer! (this is actually a true story, but Pinterest eventually lifted the ban)

Amongst the downsides of running an affiliate program, this one is the least under your control. What you can do, though, is to diversify the promotional channels that your affiliates are active on and not depend on just one.

Also, find affiliate partners that have also built active email lists where they can promote their partnerships. Email marketing is the safest bet right now! Furthermore, if you aren’t already building an email list of your own, Kinsta has a comprehensive article about why and how you can do it.

Conclusion

Despite having its downsides, running an affiliate program can still be worthwhile, as long as you find the right people for your brand.

Try to set realistic expectations and don’t rely your marketing and whole business solely on affiliates. They can help you grow, but you have to meet them halfway.

Focus your efforts on finding those suitable partners that have authority in their niche, have an engaged audience and strong work ethics. Once you found them, help them bring you sales by making their job easier and their experience enjoyable.

Keep them close and don’t forget to assess from time to time how they’re complying with your requirements.