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The 10 Most Important Things a Webmaster Needs to Know When Picking a Retail Merchant Affiliate Program

I write a lot about what I look for in an affiliate when managing programs for various merchants. It always amazes me how many signups I get from sites with no affinity to my sites and also who never ask me a question about the performance of my merchant's site. If you don't know some of these basic facts about an affiliate program you are going to place advertising for on your site, then you are really not doing your job well.

So here are the 10 most important things you need to know about a retail merchant's site:

1. Make sure the site is the site professionally designed. First impressions are important. Nothing will turn off the visitors you refer to a site than to have them see an ugly site on the end of a link you have asked them to go to. You lose credibility with your visitor, something you never want to do.

2. Make sure the ecommerce shopping cart is easy to use. We still have lots of clunky shopping carts in the marketplace. These hinder conversions and mean you won't do well with the offer. How do you tell? Go buy something and see if you think it's easy to use. You've seen more than most people, use your experience.

3. Make sure your site has a close affinity to the merchant site. Don't sign up for an affiliate program just because they have a large payout. If your site is all about "cats and dogs" and you refer someone to a residential lending site, what do you think your chances of conversion are? Low, low, low… so don't do it. Refer visitors to sites that match your site in content and voice. You'll get higher conversions making up for someone else's supposedly higher payout.

4. Check to see if they are selling any brand name products. Having brand names does make it easier to sell online. Having a branded category name is even easier. Does that mean you have to have a brand name to be successful… no. It just makes it easier.

5. Ask them what the conversion rate of visitors to sales is. Depending on the conversion rate and the average sale price I can give the retailer a pretty good idea if he is going to be successful in attracting affiliates. A 1% conversion rate can be good depending on what you sell, and I have some customers that run at 4% as well. Likewise, an affiliate must look at the affiliate conversion rate to determine which program will do the best for him. How do you find out… ask. Good affiliate managers will tell you and you will learn which ones to trust very quickly.

6. Ask them what the average price per sale is on the site. Low priced items are not affiliate favorites as they have to drive lots of traffic to earn any money. A retailer with at least a $60 average sale is a bare minimum. Many times it may be a packaging issue, but if the retailer hasn't figured it out by the time you show up… don't expect them to get them to package their products correctly.

7. Check if they are selling a unique product. This goes to the competition. When I hear the phrase: "Well… there's really nothing quite like it on the Internet", you should I know that the merchant has not done any online research. There is competition in virtually every segment of every product type on the web. Sometimes unique is good, sometimes it is a little too "niche-y". If your site has affinity to a niche product you should be fine, if not don't stretch too much out of your comfort zone.

8. Make sure the merchant is able to offer a competitively priced retail product. He doesn't have to be the cheapest for sure. But if the competition is less expensive and they don't have a value proposition to support the pricing model, you will have trouble getting sales.

9. Similar to #7: Make sure the merchant isn't allowing others to sell the same product less expensively than you are able to sell if for. Some retailers are actually the manufacturer, so he may have lots of margin in his products. This is okay as long as he doesn't offer favored deals to other affiliates.

10. Work with merchants who offer an aggressive affiliate payout. I've got this last because if any of the first parts are not in order, high payouts won't do you any good. Also, brand names many times prescribe low payouts to affiliates, since they are… so well known. You might be better off with an aggressive competitor that really values you.

11. Bonus Answer: Find Affiliate Managers you trust. Find affiliate managers that promptly answer your questions and respond to your needs… such as getting you paid promptly. Building these relationships will enable you to more quickly determine if the program fits you.

And now once you are loaded with all of this data, your site will have appropriate highly converting product links from good retail merchants with management in place to make your life easier.

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