If you plan on launching a product — be it an information product (a course, a membership website, a coaching program, a book) or an “offline” product like an event — through a network of joint venture partners, one of the most important considerations is the software you are going to use for affiliate tracking.
Your most important task is to make sure your affiliates are paid all the commissions they are entitled to. Alas, many software packages are much less than bulletproof when it comes to commission reporting and tracking.
Some shopping carts offer built-in affiliate systems. There are also a number of stand-alone affiliate tracking solutions that are either hosted for you or that you can host yourself.
Here is the list of the most important things to consider when choosing an affiliate solution:
1. Are the referrals tracked only via cookies or are there additional levels of assurance?
Browser cookies have become unreliable, both because of the user behaviour (the same person may access your site from different browsers on the same computer or from several different devices — computer, tablet, phone — rendering browser cookies useless) and because of the regulatory pressures (many new browsers block cookies by default). My prediction is that the “cookie situation” will only get worse in the future. Flash cookies and IP tracking can help, if that feature is supported by your software. Hard-coding referrals to the referring affiliate goes a very long way to give you partner more confidence in putting their effort behind your launch.
2. How much control do you have over cookie behavior?
Once someone refers you a prospect, how much time do they have for the sale to go through the shopping cart before they lose their right to earn a commission? (This is a technical article so I am going to save the discussion of what’s “good” and what’s “right” for another occasion.) Also, Is it the first cookie or the last cookie that is going to get the sale?
3. How many levels of commission can you pay?
Many launches only pay one level of commissions. However, adding an extra level will allow you to approach joint venture brokers and off-load some or most of JV partner recruiting to them. You may want to stop at two levels as anything more than that and you will be considered a multi-level company with many regulations and restrictions around of what you can and cannot do.)
4. Would you be able to set commissions to a different level for individual partners?
You may want to be able to cut a special deal to a few key partners, especially those with a celebrity status in your niche. Having a few big names backing your product will serve as a stamp of approval and make it easier to get more partners on board.
5. Is the reporting function adequate?
Many affiliate programs simply don’t give you much information. Or reports may be delayed by 24 hours, which is almost eternity in a product launch scenario.
6. Does it offer you an easy way to host media files?
You want to make the life of your affilaites easy. Can you create an place where they could grab their email copy, banners, text links, pre-written tweets and social media posts with their affiliate link automatically built in?
7. Will it work with your current autoresponder / email marketing system / shopping cart?
This is a lot more than just a matter of convenience for you the product owner. It is also a “selling” feature to attract affiliates. They need confidence in your ability to put together a system that calculates their contribution correctly and issues commission payments promptly.
8. Will it scale to handle the traffic and the load on the server?
Having a lot of partners promote your offer all at the same time can put a lot of strain on the infrastructure. If you are in any type of shared or VPS environment, your hosting company may simply shut down your site if they see the load from it to start impacting other people’s websites on the same server.
9. Can you manually verify commission amounts by matching orders to affiliates?
Blindly trusting the software can be disastrous. Best practices include thorough testing preceding the launch and spot checks throughout. Be aware that some affiliate tracking packages will report to you total amounts but may not give you enough information to know how these numbers were arrived at, rendering any manual verification impossible. Also, if your shopping cart audit reveals a few transactions that weren’t attrbuted to the correct affiliate, would you be able to make a manual entry for that affiliate? For offline scenarios, can you record a manual transaction in the system to capture a sale that happaned outside of your website or shopping cart?