Smaller Merchants, Here’s how to compete with the big guys in Affiliate Marketing

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So something that most people think when they start an Affiliate Program is that Affiliate programs are an instant money maker.  They don’t involve any work or need any help and all you need to do is throw up a couple banners, make a couple text links, sit back and watch the money and the traffic come flying in.

If you are a huge name brand, yes this can happen, but most of it will be theft from adware, bhos, trademark bidders, etc…  However, you will also get some legit Affiliates joining and promoting you to based only on the fact you are a huge name brand.  Now, with that said, there is a reason the big name brands get away with low commissions, some at just 1 – 3% commissions and you cannot and should not try offering a low commission like that.  They are huge name brands that everyone trust and all of your readers are probably already aware of and these sites and stores will be more trustworthy for your traffic when then shop there so they normally also convert better and sometimes can get even more clicks.  Think about it when you are shopping online, you are more likely to trust a well known brand than some unknown mom and pop shop, so unless they trust the source or the blogger or you have an amazing deal on the same product or a new product, people tend to flock to the big name brands more and Affiliates tend to add them to their sites faster.  However there are a few things that smaller Merchants can do to be able to compete with the big name brands and really start to take some of the Affiliate traffic away from the big name brands and get the traffic and sales for themselves.  Here are some of the things smaller merchants and unknown brands can do.

1.  Be attentive and know who your Affiliates are.  Most of these big name brands do not provide their Affiliates with someone who can answer questions, who will work after hours, who knows what adware is and will remove it, etc…  One of the biggest selling points for smaller Merchants who want to compete is to have the Affiliate Manager be available all hours and on weekends.  Even have the Affiliate Manager be available or check their email before bed or during the night.  Affiliates appreciate off hour and non regular business hour responsiveness and it is something that sticks in their minds and in their heads when they are looking for programs or when they have problems.   Also, Affiliates understand that running a small business means long hours and if you are a small company, you understand that too so why not help them when they need it since you probably know what it is like to try to reach a vendor when you need them and it is after hours.  It stinks, they feel the same way so if you open the doors and help them when they need it, trust me, most of them will appreciate it and help you as well with better placements, referring other Affiliates and driving more traffic and hopefully sales your way.

2.  Run a clean program without AdWare and Parasites.  If you read the Parasite forums at and the 5 Star Affiliate Forums as well as join or read, you’ll learn about how Affiliates can use AdWare to take credit for sales that you brought in yourself as well as how they can use adware and toolbars to steal from other Affiliates.  If you learn this or higher a Manager like me or use Kellie Stevens services, we can help to prevent a majority of the bad players which are some of the most well known Affiliates from getting in your program and being able to use their adware which has the ability to steal from you.  If you do your best to run a clean program and remove the Affiliates who do use these negative practices, it shows you care not only about your company, but also about the other Affiliates who will drive legit traffic to you and not need to poach your own traffic to make a sale.  (On a side note, not all of the companies listed on the sites above are still using adware and may be clean to work with.  You will need to download and test each application yourself to make your own judgements on who you want to work with and who you do not want to work with.)   By not working with these companies and Affiliates, you’ll show your Affiliates that you are taking extra steps to ensure that they have more of a chance of getting credit for all of their sales and not have to worry as much about adware Affiliates trying to overwrite their traffic.

3.  Provide all types of tools available for your Affiliates to use.  Affiliates need more than just a few banners and text links.  Some Affiliates only allow or have room for certain sizes on their sites or their sites might look ugly if they try to use a smaller banner so they may skip over adding your link to their sites.  I use a minimum of 8 standard banner sizes with each program I launch and then I create about 40 more usually (depending on the Merchant and thier product lines) to help cover all bases. If they have large product selections, I usually even go above that because if you are going to recruit specific niche sites, you need specific banners for that niche to help make your pitch stronger than the big guys out there.  Also, don’t forget to add a call to action to every banner, except the smaller ones, as that can definitely help to increase the people clicking on your banners and help them get a little more attention.

So you think banners and text links are enough?  Think again.  Affiliates now use everything from Datafeeds to Video and Widgets so it is also important to provide as much of these and update them as often as possible for them so that you can also help them promote you much easier than they could promote the big guys who have to go through a ton of red tape to get anything to go live.

4.  Do not kick Affiliates out based on Nexus Laws and Tax Laws.  There is almost always going to be some way to be able to keep your Affiliates and when the big guys kick them out, if you can find a way to keep them, even when the big guys start to let the Affiliates back in, they will remember what you did for them.  Be open and be loud and when you see the tax laws coming, find a solution with your Tax Attorney, your Accountant or anyone else who can give legal advice (I am not a lawyer, account and cannot give you legal advice or advice on taxes since I am not qualified) and check with to find the latest tools and trends on how to be able to keep your Affiliates, even with Nexus laws.

5.  Make sure your commissions are ahead of your competitions.  One of the biggest things that drives legit and smart Affiliates to your program is how well it converts.  Less experienced Affiliates go for the highest commission so if you can find a way (again you can contact me for consulting, shameless plug but ohh well) to get your site to convert better through user experience testing and sales funneling, then offer a higher or equal commission to your biggest competitors (make sure your commission is much higher than the big name brands) then you have just created a formula that no smart Affiliate can resist.

Even if your commissions are lower, if you convert twice as high as the guy who is paying more in commissions and your average order value is higher, guess what, the Affiliate will make more with you and when they realize this, chances are they will start promoting you more and sometimes even remove your competitors since they are making more with you.

6.  Make sure you don’t add any leaks on to your site.  Leaks are anything that drives a user and shopper away from your site or from shopping online with your site and can include ads, adsense, phone numbers, etc…  Many Networks offer pay per call technologies so the phone numbers are not a huge issue anymore (they still are, just not as bad as other issues), but runing ads opens you up to a whole lot of different issues.

If you are running adsense on your site, what is going to stop an Affiliate from advertising their Affiliate links on your site directly?  Is your customer that you brought in worth keeping or worth a few cents to you and are you ok with loosing that sale and that customer to your competitors who are showing ads?  Think about it, if they buy from your competitors, not only can the competitor get the sale, but they can get them signed up for their newsletters, they can remarket to them and they can build a longer lasting relationship which you just gave up for a few pennies.

7.  Be active in the Affiliate community.  Visit some of the major forums including, 5 Star Affiliate Forums, and other and instead of spamming them and just talking about yourself and your program, participate and ask and answer questions.  Buy ad space and do your best to become a part of the community.  Another thing to do is to go to Affiliate Summit and meet some of the people from the forums in person and start Networking.  You can find out more about Affiliate Summit by clicking on the banner ad in the top right section of my blog and also buy a ticket for the next show.

There are lots of things you can do as a smaller merchant and online store to help your company be able to compete with the big guys out there.  Most of them are simple and common sense, but at the same time, most companies don’t actually do them.  Being attentive and responsive, working at getting your site to convert higher and keeping the adware out of your program is a huge way to get started and if you do all of that, plus become active in recruiting and in different Affiliate Forums, you will have a much better chance at competiting and winning against the big name brands with your own Affiliate Program.

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10 thoughts on “Smaller Merchants, Here’s how to compete with the big guys in Affiliate Marketing”

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  5. Coming from an Affiliate, can I just say Amen x 7? These are all great points and all are 100% correct. Those of us who run a clean program want us BOTH to see profit. We want to represent our Merchants very well, and in return, we really need them to do the same.

    Personally, I have a few large companies that I work with, primarily for image and/or recognition, but I prefer smaller merchants anyway. Most times, they are driven to super-service, offer a better commission and offer more unique items anyway.

    If you want to know how best to help your affiliates, ask them. It’s just that simple, and it impresses us that you care enough to give us a call, anyway. 🙂

    1. Hi Jeni,

      It’s great to hear from you! I hope all is going well and that you may be able to make it to Summit in NYC in a few months. Thank you for coming in and commenting as well. =0)



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