Every week I sort through hundreds of sites. Whether they are Affiliate sites, we are evaluating them for backlinks for SEO or because I am auditing a site for an Affiliate or Merchant/Client, I see a lot of the same mistakes being made.
While I go through them I almost always come across errors that prevent the Affiliate from being able to earn income and rank in the search engines. Here are 50+ Affiliate mistakes that I find across the board.
The list has some that you may not know about and others you may not have thought of (like not promoting coupon sites with programs and widgets if you’re a mommy or deal blogger). If you have one that isn’t on this list, please feel free to share it by leaving a comment below.
Mistakes Affiliates Make That Stop Them From Making Money
(Quick side note: The mistakes below that can cause Affiliates to not earn commissions aren’t in any specific order. I have tried to group the bullets together so they make sense by category, but many of them could fit into multiple groups. I’ve also combined some them into the same bullet point because they were very similar and could go together. This reduced the list substantially.
The best thing to do is skim through the list (if you don’t want to read the entire thing) and look at the main topics. Please also feel free to share your favorite Affiliate mistakes that cause them or have caused you to not make money with your websites, social media accounts, etc…)
Affiliate Mistakes by Type of Site
Some of the biggest mistakes Affiliates make are the types of sites they set up. The biggest fail from the beginning is not starting with a quality site that has unique copy and is something that visitors will want to use and come back to. Here are a few of those types of sites.
1. Banner farms – When Affiliates first start out, a common mistake is that they create banner farms. Banner farms are giant groups of banners, little to no copy and will probably never drive sales, unless you shop through your own links, keep telling friends to shop through them and you provide a good user experience, which barely any of them do.
2. Using subdomains instead of their own url – Some Affiliates will start with a subdomain like url.biggerblogcompany or websitebuilder.com. This is a business and you need to at least buy a url and your own hosting solution. By being on a subdomain, most of the time you do not own your content, it can be taken from you or closed without warning. Here is my affiliate link for an affordable hosting solution for Affiliates starting out.
3. Using free website builders – Although the templates can be good for businesses, I haven’t seen a really good one for Affiliates. My personal opinion is that these can be great for SMBs that hand out cards and want their customers to have somewhere to go, but they are probably not the best option for Affiliates.
4. Not creating a resource or solution instead of only pushing a product – Creating a resource or solution with new things about products brings people back to your site. One of the most common errors is pushing product after product and not creating resources about them or pushing a ton of different products and that’s it. Product blogs were great years ago, but they rarely work for new sites. Remember to make everything content relevant and that you have categories for the main topics to keep it content relevant for end users and the search engines.
5. Trying to build the world’s largest shopping mall – Many new Affiliates build “The world’s largest shopping mall with the best deals and selection of stores”. The reality is this is a banner farm and there are already a million of these exact same sites out there. You will probably not build the world’s largest or best shopping mall and chances are that even if you did, it won’t be unique enough to bring in visitors, rank and drive sales.
6. Building a wiki – Building niche wikis can still work to make money online, but the mistake Affiliates make is that they don’t build it the right way with quality content and continue to update it. This was a large trend a long time ago and many are trying to do it again…but you also have to remember that Google started to not rank these sites as well and doesn’t always like them.
7. Building a directory – Directories are another common mistake made by new Affiliates (even some old ones). They exist, they rarely rank and probably won’t make you money. However, having a directory as part of your site or creating a well optimized and high quality directory that gets repeat users can still work.
8. Building a search engine – Unless it is very niche and you have a ton of money to spend driving traffic to it, don’t bother. Then again, if you have a really unique way to compete and beat Google, Bing, etc… then go for it.
9. Creating a coupon farm - This is like a coupon site and is another common issue with new Affiliates. They either get a blog and start listing deals or they buy a template and try creating coupon sites. Here is how to create a coupon site if you want to know how to build one and a strategy that may still work.
Affiliate Mistakes by Ads and Monetization
Once an Affiliate has traffic and readership, they start to monetize their traffic. These next mistakes Affiliates make that cause them to not make money or much money. Here are some of the common Affiliate mistakes with advertising and monetizing their sites.
10. Banner ads on the side of a website – Placing a banner ad on the side of your site may drive impressions and some clicks. But your sales are going to be minimal, unless all of the copy around it is all about how and why to use and buy a specific product or to shop at a specific store.
Another issue with using banners on a sidebar/header/etc… is that your visitors can see the banners, not click them and then go to the merchant directly. Placing banner ads on the side or top of your site is a common mistake Affiliates make that may end up costing you money instead of making you money.
This space does work for some Affiliates, but you should consider this space for media buys, adding relevance and trust for the in content links and using it for other monetization strategies if you have traffic and extra impressions. If you do have an affiliate banner on the side of your site, use a text link affiliate link to create a call to action like click the banner above to shop now. This can sometimes help to drive more clicks and hopefully more sales.
11. Promoting another Affiliate’s site – I see a lot of Mommy, Deal and Giveaway bloggers that promote coupon site widgets. Sometimes it’s free and other times it’s through the coupon site’s affiliate program. This is a common mistake if you’re an Affiliate because the blog owners are not only sending their traffic to another affiliate that can replace their cookies (i.e. your commissions are being overwritten), but they are giving their readers a new destination to shop at and replace your in content commissions too.
The next issue is that some of the widgets have a feed that shows coupons with active Affiliate Links on your Affiliate site. Now you are showing your readers a competing Affiliate’s links directly on your own site. This is definitely a reason why some Affiliates (especially mommy and deal bloggers) don’t make money with affiliate links on their sites and blogs.
12. Using plugins that monetize with Affiliate Links – Some plugins monetize their software with auto monetization tools that also use affiliate links. If you talk about a product and people comment and link directly to the merchant, your Affiliate links from above may be overwritten by the plugin that uses the same links and you no longer get the sale. The same can happen with direct links and in house links and URL shorteners.
13. Using creatives that have the merchant’s url instead of something telling the user what to do with an unbranded call to action – If you talk about a specific merchant a lot, or a product and let your website visitors know where to buy it, you may want to use a banner (with or without a call to action) branded for the company/product instead of being generic or showing random products through a showcase or widget.
Your visitors may type the merchant’s name into the search engines and not click your banner which is what you want to avoid in these posts. You do have a couple of options though.
You can say click here to buy Blue Widget now. You can list a few stores that carry it and the current prices and say click the following so there is a call to action. The other option is to pull product links from a datafeed with the prices so you can show the versions, variations and prices for that point in time.
14. Using too many banner ads and cluttering your site – Another common mistake many new Affiliates make is loading a sidebar with banner ads. This clutters your site and also makes it not easy to look at. Find some merchants that you really like, that have good creatives that can be relevant to a lot of your posts (or the main topic of your site) and then use those. More isn’t always better.
15. Having too many ads above the fold – Google has been known to penalize sites for this. Try to keep your ads relevant and where they make sense. If you talk about cooking and use a specific tool, link to that tool or show the product link for that tool in the post’s copy or after the post is finished. You can create a section on where to buy the products used in this post or try showing product links and compare stores/prices.
16. Irrelevant banners and product links – Remember that the ads have to be relevant to the copy on the specific page. This is why AdSense can work. It follows users and shows relevant ads to them.
Even if you like a store, it doesn’t mean it is relevant or that your traffic does. Make sure everything is content relevant or complimentary the copy on your site/page and why solves a solution for why your visitors are on your site and that specific article.
If the person already owns XYZ product and they are on your site to find out new ways to use it or upgrades, sell the accessories for it or complimentary products, not the product they already own. You could also try demographic based products based on data. Promote products from merchants based on data and purchasing behavior. If you know 90% of visitors that own XYZ also buy Blue Widgets, promote the blue widgets if your content is for visitors that already own XYZ.
Use the merchant and products demographics like income, gender, race, etc… That doesn’t mean to not have the product for sale on the site, it just means that if a lot of the visitors already have it, try selling the accessories, upgrades and complementary products to them since they don’t need another Blue Widget.
17. Not testing new product lines, brand extensions or cross promotions – Even if you are making money with a merchant, there could be another that you can earn more with. If merchant B has less sales for you, but a higher AOV or a higher conversion rate, you could potentially earn more with them than you can with your current merchant A. Try new merchants to see what the best option is for your site and traffic and you’ll also have a backup in case they ever close their Affiliate program.
Affiliate Mistakes by Promotional Method
Starting a site is easy, promoting it isn’t and leads to a ton of mistakes Affiliates make. If you are moving into marketing, remember to know who your user base is, what they like and then find where they are so you can try to bring them into your site. This is what will help Affiliates make money online instead of not earning anything.
18. Using url shorteners – Some URL shorteners monetize by using Affiliate Links. If you use these, there is always a chance that they could replace your Affiliate cookie or tracking with theirs. Be cautious with the ones you use and make sure they don’t use Affiliate Marketing or Affiliate Links to monetize their service.
19. Talking about a product but not pre-selling it – One common mistake Affiliates make is that they talk about the specs of the product but they don’t pre-sell it. You have to know why your visitor is there and then pre-sell the product so they are ready to buy. Talking about the specs is one thing, talking about how to use it, why it will make their lives easier and making them want to buy right now is what can turn a visitor into a sale. You also want to avoid saying we, I or it. Instead talk about how it can help the visitor by using you, your and other things that directly relate to the visitor.
20. Using thin copy – Thin copy is another huge mistake Affiliates make. Your copy should be at least 350 words, unique to your site, engaging with your readers and should provide solutions or information. It should also be unique so that it doesn’t exist or exist in the same way on other sites. Try to write something unique about the topic and make sure it is properly optimized for your visitors and the search engines.
21. Creating dedicated pages to merchants to rank for their trademarks – This is another huge mistake affiliates make. If you are able to rank for the Merchant’s trademarks, you could make easy money. Once the merchant realizes you aren’t adding value, they could also easily pull you from the program and now your revenue stream is cut off, you still have traffic coming in and trying to send people to a competitor will probably not generate as many sales or as much income so it is not a long term strategy. Some merchants may try to do negative SEO on your site as well to get rid of it from the rankings which could also tank your site overall and now you won’t earn anything. Instead of ranking for a merchant, rank for niche terms, product terms and things you can change out and make money for a long time with.
22. Targeting mobile devices with PPC when sales are normally made with a desktop or laptop and mobile to desktop tracking is not enabled – Not all merchants have the ability to track mobile to desktop or across different devices. I did this post with a few solutions to track sales across different devices that some use, but if your PPC is targeting mobile devices but sales are being made from desktops, you may be spending money and losing sales that actually did convert.
Affiliate Mistakes by Choosing the Wrong Affiliate Programs to Work With.
One of the biggest mistakes Affiliates make is working with the wrong merchants. Working with the wrong merchants or programs can drive some sales, but you could be making more money by working with the right ones. Other times Affiliates won’t make money online because they picked the wrong merchants for their audience or because the merchants do not protect them and then they think that affiliate marketing doesn’t work. Here are a few Affiliates mistakes that can cause you to not make money by choosing the wrong Merchant or affiliate program to work with.
23. Merchants placing banners or co-branded affiliate pages – This is an ongoing newer trend, especially for coupon sites. Merchant’s create a co-branded page once a specific Affiliate’s cookie is set or link is clicked. Now when the user comes back, even if you referred them your cookie may no longer be set and if it is set, the end user is being directed or given the option to use another Affiliates coupon code or link which can replace your links. If you see this happening, you should be cautious and definitely ask if you can have a co-branded page as well. If they do give you a co-branded page, click through to the other Affiliate’s site and then through their link to make sure your co-branded page still shows instead of theirs so you can hopefully still get credit for your referrals.
24. Working with dirty brands and not niche or smaller merchants – Almost every major brand and a ton of small companies work with sites that rank for trademark or url + coupons, trademark bidders or adware. All of these can potentially replace your cookies and take credit for your sales. Some merchants add in leapfrogging where the commissions could be given back to you or split between sites. Either way, unless you are getting credit for your sales, you don’t want to lose money. Most products are available in multiple stores so you can more than likely find a clean program that wants your sales and will let you keep your sales instead of giving them to another affiliate or making you split your commissions when you did the work. Try finding smaller niche merchants that carry the same products. They are usually easier to work with, can sometimes have higher commissions and will value you for sending them new customers.
25. Coupon sites poaching – If the merchant allows coupon sites to rank for url or trademark + coupons, there is a chance that when a user sees the coupon code box they will go to find a coupon, click a coupon affiliate’s link and now the coupon site will probably get credit for the sale you referred and earned. If you see this, you may want to find a different merchant or talk to them about how they can ensure you will still get credit for your sales.
26. Leaks off of the merchant’s site – Some merchants have leaks. Leaks are things like banner ads, adsense, or links to other web properties, etc… that take you off of the merchant’s website and send you somewhere else. Once the shopper has left the site, they might not come back and you can lose the sale. Other times some merchants will also be affiliates and if you had your cookie set, they can replace your cookie and take credit for your sale to another merchant.
27. Custom codes that instantly give commissions to a coupon site, regardless of referrer – This is one that is used sometimes. If a specific coupon code is used, no matter who referred the sale, the site that the specific coupon is assigned to gets credit. Ask the person managing the affiliate program if they do this and if they do, I don’t recommend working with them.
28. Working with programs that work with trademark bidders on the brand and trademark + coupons – If you send someone to a Merchant’s site and then the person comes back later to shop and does a search for the merchant’s name, or merchant name + coupon, this could overwrite your cookie or tracking and give that trademark bidding Affiliate credit for your sale. Make sure to search for variations of the merchants names including locations, extensions and misspellings and see if you find trademark bidders that could take credit for your referrals.
29. Working with programs that work with Toolbars, PPV, Adware, etc… – Please read the posts on adware that I’ve written. There is a good one on Sugarrae.com if you type Affiliate Adware into Google.
30. Working with programs that are on multiple networks for the same site and shopping cart – I did this post which will explain why this is a huge mistake affiliates make when finding affiliate programs to work with.
31. Not reading a merchant’s terms and conditions for non commissionable products – Some merchants do not pay commissions on specific products or things within their website. Make sure that if you promote their program, you do not promote these products or services. Unless you have to add them because it adds value to your visitor, try to find an alternative for your visitors and readers that you will earn money by referring a visitor to. You should also try to see how often they go offline, if they always pay their Affiliates or go offline during busy seasons so you can have a better chance at earning commissions during the times of the year when you can make the most money.
Other Common Affiliate Mistakes
There are still a ton of other mistakes Affiliates make that can cause them to not make money or lose commissions. Here are a few more common mistakes Affiliates make.
32. Using direct links or links with tracking parameters instead of network code – This is something I am finding more and more often. Some of the traditional networks have redesigned their interface and instead of showing the Affiliate’s code, they now require the Affiliate to click get html or get code. Many new Affiliates don’t realize this extra step and I am finding more and more using direct links with merchant provided parameters thinking that these are actual affiliate links. These links do not track in some of the networks from what I have seen and the Affiliates do not get credit when sales are made. This is a huge Affiliate Mistake now and one that can also be bad for the Merchant’s SEO for many reasons.
33. Scraping content – When doing affiliate approvals I come across some great looking sites that look like they have awesome content. Then I realize these sites are scraping articles and posts from other sites. Many new affiliates don’t realize how much work goes into creating a site and they think that even if they source the other site they can still make money or be successful. This is a huge Affiliate mistake that can cause your site to fail. If you want to make money online, it takes a ton of work and effort and you should not scrape other people’s content and websites. It does not work for you, does nothing for your site and will give you a lot more work if you ever decide to become a serious Affiliate that wants to make money online.
34. Buying urls that aren’t brandable, easy to type or spell – Another common Affiliate mistake is buying a url based on keywords or that cannot be repeated easily to someone and one that someone can type it in without misspelling it. Keyword rich urls or urls with -’s in between keywords used to work well, but for new sites they aren’t as good. Try buying something keyword relevant or brandable for the community based off of slang terms and then build quality content and backlinks to it. This is much better and makes it easy for people to find you site again.
35. Not doing their keyword research – One thing new Affiliates and some long time Affiliates do that is a common mistake is not researching keywords for search volume before they write a post they want to optimize and have rank well in the search engines. Use the Google Keyword Planner or other tools to find out if there is relevant traffic, what the modifiers are and then incorporate those into your copy. This gives you a better chance at ranking for the keywords you want or the longtail versions and helps you have a better chance at ranking for terms with traffic instead of things that won’t get many if any visitors which wastes your time and has less of a chance at making money.
36. Using too many keywords per page – The next common mistake Affiliates make is trying to rank to many keywords per page. Instead of ranking for blue widgets, red widgets, etc… on the same post, build separate ones out and list them under the same category or the same folder. Then try to rank the folder for the larger terms and build a solid internal linking structure to help rank the category.
37. Not using proper coding or tagging – One thing to think about is using the proper coding and tagging on your posts. Check out Schema.org and make sure everything is up to current standards and that you are using code the right way to help your pages rank.
38. Not using images – Many Affiliates forget to use images within their posts. Images can rank well in searches as well as help bring in more attention and traffic when your content is shared on social media sites. Make sure to use images and tag them with the right tags.
39. Using the wrong social media icons – Some Affiliates think that having social sharing icons or follow me icons for every social network is a good thing because they can get access to more traffic. Although that is true, it also means more work and can drive non relevant traffic. Use the social sharing icons and follow icons that are relevant for your site so you can focus your traffic and shares on sites that have your audience instead of trying to reach one or two users out of millions. By focusing on the sites with more relevant traffic you can work on gaining exposure to more of them and have a more targeted audience. You also want to make sure that the social sharing icons on your site and follow me icons don’t take the person off your site. You don’t want your visitors to get distracted, leave and forget to come back to your site, click through your links and shop.
40. Forgetting a call to action – One huge common mistake Affiliates make is forgetting to use a call to action. You can write the most amazing content and provide a great user experience, but if you forget to tell the visitor to use your link or to click here, they may go somewhere else to find out where to buy the product or service.
41. Not updating coupons, dates or when deals expire – Make sure to have when deals and coupons are good for, what they are good for and when they expire. If a visitor finds your content and nothing works or you send them to a different merchant, you have created a bad user experience and they may not come back to your site.
42. Forgetting to share other people’s products and having posts with non affiliate links – Don’t forget that having a mix of links on your site that are content relevant and sharing content relevant posts, pins, tweets, etc… This helps to keep your followers and the search engines happy. It also helps other site owners find you and they may also start sharing your content as well.
43. Having links that leave your site without keeping it opened – This one isn’t a huge mistake Affiliates make, but can be one. If there are multiple parts to your post or content or multiple sources to shop at, have the link open in a new window so the person can come back to your site and go through your other affiliate links so no matter where they shop you have a better chance at getting credit for your referrals and sales.
44. Not creating a way to collect visitor data and re-market back to their traffic (newsletters, copy about new content, follow us on social media sites, rss feeds, etc…) – This is one of the biggest mistakes Affiliates make that stop them from making more money. You should almost always have a newsletter sign up or way for people to subscribe to your site so that you can help them remember your site, come back to your site and also remarket back to them over and over.
45. Looking at irrelevant metrics like an affiliate programs EPC – One common mistake Affiliates make is using the wrong metrics. Metrics like a programs EPC are almost always flawed. If you have someone self shopping and not many other clicks or low value and no value partners that rank for url + coupons or use toolbars that poach at checkout, the merchant will have a high EPC and it could also mean there are more chances your tracking could be replaced and you will lose your sales to low value or no value partners. If someone did a newsletter drop and drove tons of clicks with a few sales, the merchant will have a low EPC. If you are a content site, the EPC is not relevant for you now. Make sure the metrics you are using are relevant for you and based off of similar traffic sources that match yours.
46. Test the merchant’s tracking to make sure it works – I recently stopped earning commissions with a merchant and wasn’t sure why. I clicked my link and made a test purchase and it did not track. By continuing to send them visitors and sales that weren’t tracking I was losing money. Try to make a test purchase when you join a program so that you can see the checkout process and make sure everything tracks properly.
47. Relying on one source of traffic – Affiliates get comfortable when they have one thing that is working and rely on that traffic source to continue. This is a huge mistake. If something happens and you no longer get traffic from that source, your site is done and you no longer have a solid revenue channel to rely on. Find multiple streams of traffic and work on ways to turn that traffic into sales.
48. Having one site they rely on instead of multiple – Some Affiliates have one site and that’s it. It can be hard to manage multiple sites, but if something ever happens to your only site, your income can be taken out completely. You should try to have multiple sites that bring in revenue so if one gets destroyed you have other revenue streams coming in so you can still make money while fixing your other site.
49. They buy a get rich quick scheme, make money online scheme or series on how to make XYZ in a week or money online – I have yet to find a good get rich quick scheme or take this course and learn to make X amount of money online. There are some good books and websites that give tutorials, but I don’t know of any get rich quick or make thousands of dollars online sites and programs that can work. If it was that easy and they did work, everyone would be doing it and be rich.
50. Forgetting to use their content to drive sales – One large mistake a lot of Affiliates make is to not include links on their images and within their content. Your content is why people are on the site and if you mention a product or service and that is what the post is about, make sure to use your affiliate links in the content since that will give a call to action and help the visitor find where to buy the product or service.
51. Asking for free products instantly – A growing trend that is a huge mistake new Affiliates make is asking for free products right as they join a program. If you do this and cannot deliver sales (not traffic or branding since Affiliate Marketing is about making money and sales) you will create a bad name for yourself and a lot of Affiliate Managers and Agencies talk to each other and you could end up black listed, with negative feedback and also getting rejected from programs because the Affiliate Manager talked to another that gave you something free and you burned them. You also want to make sure that if you promise an Affiliate Manager that you will build a page, create content, etc… that you do. If you don’t and they told their client or boss that you were going to, you just burned them and have created a very negative relationship.
52. Remember that this is a business – Some affiliates make a huge mistake and cloak links, hide their traffic sources and refuse to answer merchant emails. If you want to promote a merchant you should trust them enough to be opened about your traffic and be able to prove it adds value. Also, if you don’t have a working email or don’t respond to a merchant, they can easily decline your application or turn your commissions off. This is a huge mistake Affiliates make and one that can get you banned from a program, have merchants leave negative feedback and stop you from being able to earn commissions.
53. Using the wrong keywords for their PPC campaigns – If you aren’t familiar with PPC you can lose a ton of money fast. A huge mistake a lot of Affiliates make is bidding on the wrong terms that seem relevant but aren’t, driving traffic to the wrong pages and also not thinking about ad spend, taxes, commissions, etc… Unless you are amazing at PPC, don’t try it unless you want to lose a lot of money testing keywords and phrases. If you do have some keywords that drive traffic to your site and convert into sales, that is when you may want to try a small test with PPC on those keywords.
54. Having multiple pages about the same keywords but not using them in the same categories or using different variations and building an internal linking structure – Some Affiliates have multiple pages that all compete for the same keywords. Go back to the bullet about ranking for specific terms, creating a category or folder and then using your internal linking structure to boost the category for the larger keyword phrases. You don’t want your posts to try and compete with each other because it could confuse the search engines. At the same time, sometimes Google and other search engines will give you two or three rankings because they feel the content is good enough to show all of the pages, but I wouldn’t recommend hoping for this.
There are a ton of other mistakes Affiliates make, but this post is already very long. Please feel free to share some of the mistakes you have seen Affiliates make by leaving a comment below or mistakes that you have made as an Affiliate that aren’t already in this post. Thank you again for reading and I’m looking forward to hearing about your favorite Affiliate Mistakes that can stop you from being able to make money with affiliate marketing.
*Images were purchased from Deposit Photos.