Milin Enterprists
Milin Enterprises
Chapter 4

Grow, Prune and Group
Best Affiliate Programs

Only one thing to do before you finalize on the Site Concept/Concept Keyword of your Theme-Based Content Site. Grow a list of good merchants with affiliate programs who have product lines that fit. Then we’ll choose the best ones and group them according to high profitability keywords.

Yes, you have already started this process in chapter 3 by using AltaVista, Google, Overture, and/or Ixquick to build groups of possible partners for each keyword in your master keyword list, right?

However, chapter 3 was more focused upon getting good ideas for content and a feel for your market space (demand, supply, supply site info).

It’s time to grow your list further.

Grow Possible Partners Through Search Engines
Do a search for one of your keywords, plus the word “affiliate.” Like this
+fashion +affiliate 
(The “+” sign means that both words must appear on the Web page returned by the search.)

Or if that turns up a blank, like this
affiliate fashion

Do this at AltaVista, Google, Overture, and/or Ixquick. This will yield either fashion merchants with affiliate programs or content sites that are affiliates. Visit the Top 10 sites, do 20 if you’re feeling ambitious!.

If it’s a merchant site, and if it has an affiliate program that fits your concept, first enter what kind of merchandise they sell and then enter the URL of the join page into possible partners for that keyword. If it’s a content site, review its content and follow the links out in the same way as outlined above, add to your columns of possible partners and ideas for content.

Repeat the process for each keyword in your master keyword list (i.e., replace “fashion” above with another keyword like “fashion models” so that you search for this
+“fashion models” +affiliate

Grow Possible Partners Through Altavista Link Tool
Let’s backtrack for a second. While searching for a keyword at one of the above engines earlier today, let’s say that you discovered a content site, By following links out of, you found a shoe shop with an affiliate program, called fits with an idea that you had added to the ideas for content column. So you entered into your list of possible partners for the keyword “high heel shoes.” See how you can use the master keyword list to group programs according to keywords?

We’ll use as our example of how to grow your list of possible partners for “high heel shoes”. Start by checking what other affiliates link to! How? Simple. Go to

and enter

At the time of this writing, 134 pages linked to good old Many of these sites will be content sites that also link to other fashion-related merchants as affiliates (you can often tell by the linking URLs). So most likely these linked-to merchants already have affiliate programs, all you have to do is check them out and see if they fit! Add the ones that fit to your list of possible partners for each keyword. And you can use this AltaVista link-finder technique for all of your possible partners for all of your keywords!

Grow And Prune Possible Partners 
Through Specialized Affiliate Directories
Now let’s investigate your possible partners and add some new merchants, too. There are some terrific folks out there who have already compiled exhaustive lists of merchants with affiliate programs. They’ve even organized them all for you into categories.

Here is a list of the ten most important directories in approximate order of popularity on the Net. The visit count appears in brackets after directory name.

How to use the directories
  1. Drill-down through the relevant major categories of the directory until you find good fit sub-categories. You’ll find one or more merchants in each subcategory that should fit into your Site Concept well. Enter what kind of merchandise they sell. Also enter the URL of the join page to the possible partners column in your master keyword list, for each keyword that is relevant.
  2. Use their search tool. Do keyword searches at three levels of specificity. Let’s start with the most specific and then get progressively more general.
    • Find matches for Specific High Profitability Keywords from your master keyword list. Enter the keywords, one by one, into the directory’s search tool. Put each keyword that is a phrase inside quotes.
    • Find matches for your General Concept Keywords 

    • (ex., “pricing” and other “concept-level” keywords that you develop, such as “fulfillment,” etc.).
    • Find matches for cross-concept companies. These are companies selling products that fit with most or all concepts. For example, whether your concept is about Renaissance art or pricing or fashion, you’ll find books about it. So always include a book store in your group of affiliate programs.

    • You can either drill-down to these categories or use the appropriate word to search for them (ex., “book”). Look for the following cross-concept categories, not all of them will fit your bill.
      Catalogs Clip art
      Search Software
      When you find programs that fit, read the reviews and look at the ratings.
  3. Also use their search tool to find the possible partners that you have already identified as candidates (just enter the domain name into the search tool). Does the report seem positive?
Other things to do at the directories
  1. Use the forums. Review them for comments about programs that interest you. And ask questions if you don’t find the answers you seek. Most of the above directories have a forum where you can ask questions. So don’t be shy -- ask whether Company ABC really is about to close its program! I don’t recommend that you e-mail the owners of the above directories. They are swamped with work. However, if you post to the forums of some of the smaller ones, there’s a good chance that the owner himself will answer you.
  2. Check out their Top 10 reports. A directory may have different kinds of Top 10 lists.
    • Most profitable
    • Most popular
    • Personal opinion
    Give special weighting to the most profitable, the most popular ones often just reflect the results of major promotional pushes, and not necessarily profits. These are the ones that are getting the job done and making money for affiliates. Read the personal opinion Top 10, too. One drawback of any of the Top 10’s. They likely will not cover programs that fit your concept. Don’t pick a Top 10 unless you can figure out how it fits into your concept.
  3. Subscribe to their e-zines to stay up-to-date. There’s some excellent material in them
  4. Read the articles. But don’t get sidetracked, you can get that famous golfing disease paralysis by analysis. Keep moving forward.
Grow Possible Partners Through 
Affiliate Backend Providers / Affiliate Networks
There are several companies that provide the tools, technology and services that online businesses need to register, track, report and pay affiliates. In other words, merchants don’t have to do it themselves because these companies provide all the backend functionality necessary to run an affiliate program.

The backend providers prefer to call themselves affiliate networks. Why?

Because they do more than just provide merchants with affiliate software. They also provide merchants with affiliates, and vice-versa. Since they have a pool of hundreds of thousands of affiliates, the merchant’s program gets instant exposure to potentially interested affiliates. And affiliates get exposure to a wide variety of merchants. So join each of these backend providers. You will likely come across many of the same merchants that you found in the affiliate directories. But you will also find new ones. So it is worth checking to see whether they feature any programs that fit with you.

If you don’t find merchants with products that fit, enter what kind of merchandise they sell, and also enter the URL of the join page to the possible partners column in your master keyword list, for each keyword that is relevant.
Grow Possible Partners Through Miscellaneous 
Affiliate Intermediaries
If you can figure out how to make Vstore fit into your site, make notes in the possible partners column in your master keyword list, for each keyword that is relevant.

Create your own online storefront to sell products that you love; sports, music, whatever. It truly is easy to set up. Only one problem, you have to drive traffic to your store if you want to make any sales, unlike the Field of Dreams movie, they will not come just because you have built it. Most Vstore owners simply can’t overcome this challenge. Perhaps this explains why Nexchange and ePod did not flourish.

Why include Vstore in this discussion? Because you don’t actually make a sale or ship a product. You make a commission. But you only make a commission if you drive traffic to your store and if those visitors buy. So the difference between this model and the pure affiliate concept is moot. And one more important reason to include it.

When you complete this discussion, you’ll have a Theme-Based Content Site that builds targeted traffic and that PREsells its visitors. Why not build a store that fits your theme and refer visitors at your Theme-Based site to your own store which literally takes less than 30 minutes to build?

Consider Vstore as an interface between you (i.e., the affiliates) and the merchants. One way or the other, it collects a small piece of each pie that is sold, not from you but from the merchant. Kind of like a super-affiliate.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. Vstore provides true value for that fee. But be careful... a high-profile company called had a similar model. They had an excellent product that empowered you to turn your site into a store. In September, 2000, Affinia went bankrupt. Those affiliates who had spent a lot of time developing business and income through Affinia lost out. Can the other affiliate intermediaries make enough money to thrive?

For that matter, what about the affiliate backend providers?Actually, what about any individual merchant? That brings us to the topic of reducing your risk.

Reduce Risk By Diversifying
One of the major attractions of becoming an affiliate is the small amount of risk involved. Affiliates have little or no
  • product development expenses
  • advertising costs
  • inventory to maintain
  • overhead expenses (salaries, physical location, etc.)
In other words, affiliates do not have millions at stake.

But you do have one big risk. If a merchant, backend provider, or affiliate intermediary go out of business, they take you with it. Let’s talk briefly about how to minimize this risk. After you review the affiliate directories, backend providers, and affiliate intermediaries, you should have a good selection of programs. How many programs should you choose? How do you know which ones are solid?

You don’t, really. Yes, you can weed out the dogs by doing the basic research outlined below. But most of us just don’t have the ability or time to thoroughly analyze a company, its financials, and its business model. And then predict success or failure.

So your best bet is to diversify among as many programs as possible that fit with your Site Concept. But there are the some important qualifiers to this policy

  1. If you represent 15 programs, don’t put them all on the same Keyword- Focused Content Page. Only work in the few that are tightly relevant to the content of each page.

  3. Pick the best-of-breed from each category of merchant. For example, if you plan on representing a Net marketing company, would be the obvious choice.



    If you plan unusually heavy support for a given category of product, you might want to represent the best two merchants. For example, suppose you foresee hundreds of book links on your site. It might be a good idea to choose the best 2 online bookstores, if Bookstore A and Bookstore B fit with your concept and both seem to be stable companies, then use these two. Not more, though.

  5. Don’t over-diversify. Tracking each program takes time, so 10-15 programs is probably a good balance. If any one of them dies, you don’t lose too much.

  7. Your best results will come from focusing on a smaller group of quality programs from within your longer list. Their products must
    • be excellent
    • be complementary with, even enhance, each other
    • fit your concept
    • be from a rock-solid company. Since you will give these companies more attention than the others, you must feel very comfortable with their business prospects.
Also, don’t pick merchants that “belong” only to BeFree or only to CJ or Linkshare. What happens to your business if one of these backend providers folds? Same policy goes, too, for the affiliate intermediaries.

Don’t give too much emphasis to any single program, unless you have some special reason to feel unusually comfortable with it. Things happen. So protect yourself by diversifying.

Of course, you can also reduce your risk by weeding out the dogs through some basic research.

Prune Possible Partners By Eliminating 
High Risk Programs
Find the good programs and eliminate the dogs by considering the following plus signs, minus signs, and red flags. Let’s start with the plus signs, which means good things to look for. Here they are, in the approximate order of importance

+ High quality product or service

remember, it’s your reputation that is on the line (and online!). Don’t recommend products that underdeliver.
+ Merchant has a good site
that sells effectively.
+ Ability for affiliate to link straight to individual products
rather than just to the home page. If the visitor has to find the product that you recommend, your Conversion Rate plummets.
+ Type of payment model
Pay-per-sale and pay-per-lead are good. This is true performance marketing. If your referred visitor delivers the desired response, you get paid. What about pay-per-click? See red flags below.
+ Affiliate Support
    • Affiliate Support
    • Detailed traffic and linking stats
    • Notification by e-mail when a sale is made
    • Useful marketing assistance, provides traffic-building and sales-getting tools
    • High-quality newsletter that educates, trains, and accounts for amounts earned
    • Professional marketing materials available
    • Affiliates receive discount on products

    Great affiliate support is important for a between the lines reason, too. It indicates a high degree of commitment to the program and its affiliates.
+ Pays good commission
hard goods have lower margins than digital ones. So their commissions will be lower. Still, you should make at least 10% (hard good) or 20% (digital good) on any product that you recommend. Don’t be scared off by low-priced products if they offer a good % commission -- the lower dollar value per sale is offset by the higher sales volume.
+ Must be free 
no charge to join, no need to buy the product.
+ Lifetime commission
if the program pays a commission on future sales of other products to customers that you refer, this is a huge plus.
+ Two-tier commission
if the program pays a commission on affiliates who join because of you, this is also great.
+ Lifetime cookie
Do you receive a commission if the person you referred returns and buys within one month? Three months? The cookie that tracks this should not expire.
+ Restriction on number of affiliates
you won’t find many of these. But if you do, grab it.
+ Monthly payment
with reasonable minimum.

Do all those pluses have to be present? No. But the more, the merrier.

- Minus signs are definite detractors. Naturally, if you are unable to give a + to any of the criteria listed just above, consider its absence to be a minus. And watch out for these negative factors

  • Slow and/or poor support.
  • Unethical conduct of any kind.
  • Reports of late or lack of payments.
  • Allow spam, or seem to spam themselves.
  • Defective affiliate-joining process. Hey, if they can’t get this right...
  • Clauses in the agreement that you find unacceptable
  • The dark side of affiliate programs. Is the program really just a way to legally bribe folks to recommend overpriced, underdelivering products in order to collect excessive commissions?
Example:  If lifetime customers are important to you, then a clause that allows unilateral termination or modification of the agreement at any time by the company, without just cause, effectively makes the lifetime commitment of no value.
Example:  No exclusivity -- i.e., you should be allowed to represent more than one book vendor.

Red flags are warning signs

flagPay-per-click method of payment

In this method, you get paid whenever a visitor clicks on your link. No purchase or lead-generation necessary.

Unfortunately, it’s wide open for abuse, very sophisticated folks create incentives to get thousands of people to click on their links. But the visitors could care less about the products being promoted. It’s virtually unstoppable. And merchants end up paying for nothing.

So merchants cancel or change the program. Microsoft’s Clicktrade used to offer pay-per-click backend programming for merchants. They dropped it due to the level of fraudulent activity that hurt merchants.

flagMulti-tier commission
This is online MLM, which is perfectly legal. Do your due diligence to make sure, of course, that a multi-tier program is not an illegal pyramid scheme. If the game is to earn income by signing up others, you most likely are dealing with a pyramid. Many people confuse honest, legal MLM with dishonest, scammy pyramid schemes.

With MLM, also known as Network Marketing, it becomes as important to build a strong downline as it does to sell product. Also, MLM companies are subject to numerous regulations to prevent them from becoming pyramids, basically. Not all online companies are complying or even know about this!.

Watch out for a big shakeout with many of these companies going belly-up. If multi-tier interests you, I would recommend that you check out established offline MLMs that are now online. Or investigate all others extremely carefully before you decide to invest a lot of time in these.

flagPoor or little info about affiliate program available
What kind of priority could it have?
flagDead links on merchant site.

flagNo clear anti-spamming policy visible on site.

flagSite that promotes get-rich-quick gimmicks.

flagFinancially unstable.

You can lose a lot of momentum if a company goes under, especially if you were banking on lifetime customer/2-tier promises.
Add Category Choices And Prune Possible Partners Through Alexa.Com
Alexa serves as a wonderful final check in two ways
  1. it gives some indication of the success of the program
  2. it yields good competitors in the same category as the program you are considering.
Using Alexa, we see that
  • only has 155 links coming in (confirming the AltaVista stat of 134 earlier). So its affiliate program is certainly not a mind-boggling success. But here’s the question... does that mean danger or does that mean opportunity?
  • It gets decent traffic (9344 visits). Good.
  • The site only seems to have 47 pages, although this stat is sometimes wrong. And it ranks the site as fast and fresh, both good signs.
Now let’s use Alexa again to visit’s Related sites, you just might find a better shoe merchant! Doing this, you find
  • only gets 1700 visits, and does not seem to have an affiliate program
  • has an affiliate program. It also has a bright, fun site with over 1,000 pages, and has about the same traffic (9158). It has 136 links in, and Alexa ranks the site as fast and fresh. A better choice?
  • is a cleverly structured content site. It looks, at first glance, like a huge shoe store. But it’s a content site. Sometimes, content sites hide the relationship by using frames. To detect this, right-click on a frame to pop-up a new window that contains only that frame, it will show the URL of the company that the content site represents. These kinds of sites can, of course, lead you to even more merchants!
Bottom line? Alexa is a great starting point for finding even more merchants in any given category, and giving you some additional basis for choosing those with least risk.
Tricky Alexa Tip: 

Many sites use ad networks to run their banners. In this case, Alexa shows you the traffic stats for the network, instead of the site. You'll know because you'll see the name of the network (ex., DoubleClick or 24/7) rather than the name of the site.

To get around this enter a totally weird URL, like http://www.THECOMPANY.COM/ abdefeddee.html, where is the site you are investigating. You'll get a 404 error. Since most companies don't put a banner on their 404 page, wait for a few seconds until Alexa updates with the real stats for that site! 

To loop, or not to loop? That is the Question.

Almost done! You’ve checked the programs out at the directories. You’ve eliminated the high-risk dogs who don’t deserve your time by considering the plus signs, the minus signs, and the red flags. And you’ve run Alexa on each possible partner for each of your keywords. Finalize your selection of affiliate programs. If you don’t find enough good programs, you may have to broaden your concept, or even replace it. 

Remember when we talked about the critical loop point at the end of chapter 2? Be sure that you’ve got a Site Concept that can make some money. If not, return to chapter 3 and keep breaking out and adding more high profitability keywords. Then continue to chapter 4 to find more good programs that fit.

If your concept is just too narrow and esoteric that chapters 3 and 4 don’t work, return to chapter 2 and investigate the next concept on your short list of Site Concepts.

Do not feel that you must have your entire business worked out to the nth degree by working on chapters 3 and 4 forever. I don’t need to remind you that Rome was not built in a day, do I?

With that perspective in mind, please allow me to remind you of a small business truism. The two biggest mistakes any entrepreneur makes are actually opposites of each other

  2. the person who leaps before he looks. If this fits you, I can only repeat Ben Franklin’s quote “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” In other words, ignore the preparation work at your peril.

  4. the person who researches, then researches some more, then some more. For this person, I can only offer this profound wisdom, fish or cut bait. Or, as Nike would say, Just do it!
In other words, don’t get stuck perfecting chapters 3 and 4.

So if you have brainstormed a good Site Concept, picked your highest profitability topics, and selected excellent merchant-partners who you are proud to represent, then you are ready to roar ahead.

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