Should I create an affiliate program?

Years ago I considered creating an affiliate program for my desktop software. At the time I was talked out of it, as a distraction with low chance of successful pay off.

Times have changed, so I’d like to reconsider. Who has positive or negative experience with an affiliate program for your software?

(To be clear: I mean a program where an “affiliate partner” would deliver us traffic. When a lead converts to a paid customer, we pay a % to the affiliate partner.)


Yes, you probably should :wink:

We’ve been running our own little and very simple affiliate program for nearly 10 years now and it brings a nice little chunk of stable traffic every month.

After some testing I’ve decided against joining a network, we’re running a very simple piece of software instead.
Basically it tags every visitor to the site with the affiliate’s ID and we read that ID with the sale. Then we pay out semi-automatically by Paypal at the end of the month. After the initial setup, which took a couple of days, I’ve basically not touched the technical side at all. We had someone create a lot of “banners” and graphical ads but now people mostly only use text links. We’ve never updated the graphics and nobody asked us to.

Not joining a network has the downside of having to manage the technical side on ones own and not having a large base of potential affiliates from the start. But in my experience even in a large network good affiliates are rare and the really good affiliates are able to find and recognize good programs on their own and they understand that you as an independent vendor can pay higher commission rates and are more flexible in what you can offer. So not being in a network might take longer to take off but it offers much more freedom, control and flexibility - and your cookies are not blocked by ad blockers.

Having an affiliate program is a nice incentive for people to put links on their website and tell every customer they can earn a little extra with recommending our product.

Consider offering “lifetime commission”, so the affiliates get a commission with every puchase / update / upsell a customer makes. Affiliates are people - so they like getting money on a regular basis or unexpectedly :wink:

That said, our little affiliate program is not our major source of traffic or revenue but it brings very qualified leads regularly and it’s so simple to maintain that setting it up and running it paid off many, many times over.


I would think a key part of this is are you B2C or B2C.

In my case (B2B) the person who decides to purchase is often not the person who does actually purchase (accounts/procurement) so anything based on the usual tracking schemes would not work.

That’s right. Had I not known Steve is selling poker software, my answer probably would have been more general and less specific :wink:
On the other hand, we’re mostly small B2B and the tracking still works fine.

Good point! The advice I got years ago was from B2B…whereas I sell to consumers.

If you are a big company with a mass market product (e.g. antivirus) then it probably makes sense to put effort into affiliate sales. Maybe even have full time affiliate managers.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken to anyone from a small company who made a significant part of their income from affiliate sales. The big affiliate sites (‘super affiliates’) aren’t going to be interested in small fry. There isn’t enough in it for them.

Affiliates can also be shady and result in various headaches. For example discount sites that advertise non-existent discounts so they can stuff an affiliate cookie in the visitor’s browser.

My very modest successes with affiliates have been from me approaching a company with an audience in my market. When affiliates have approached me it has never been very worthwhile.

The biggest affiliates probably won’t even talk to you if you have a ‘home rolled’ affilite system. They will want you to use a known third party.

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Absolutely. We did have strange traffic spikes from time to time when someone used spammy methods or paid-per-mail system or the like. Fortunately these die away pretty quickly when they learn there’s not much to gain.

That’s what I learned as well: the “super affiliates” often only care about mass market products on the big networks and there they go for pay per click campaigns if possible.

On the other hand, poker players and poker websites are relatively easy to target, there are even tons of websites that list poker affiliate programs. Maybe there’s even some kind of specialized network for that…

Indeed! What triggered my new interest in an affiliate program is that a successful, long-running site for poker players expressed disappointment that I don’t have an affiliate program.

I’m going to propose to them that they be my first and only affiliate for now.

If you have a well targeted affiliate lined up and your payment processor has an affiliate program, then it is surely worth a try. And it might be worth approaching other poker sites. But I wouldn’t just let anyone sign up - avoid voucher sites and all the other bottom feeders.

Unfortunately Avangate advertises the fact I have an affiliate program to their affiliates, whether I want them to or not. So I get lot of affiliate applications from voucher sites etc, but I don’t approve them.

Any recommendations on affiliate networks for desktop software? Thanks!

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It depends on your product, but you don’t have to think in terms of traditional affiliates to be your target influencers. If your product/service will help e.g. design agencies, they too will become a potential driving force to your aff program.

I don’t quite understand how to find and approach them. My app is good for freelancers (project tracking, invoicing) and while I’ve found hundreds of related sites, I have little idea how to negotiate with them and what they would like (well, besides money).

Your product is Qbserve, right? At $40/sale, I think you are going to have problems attracting any worthwhile affiliates.

However you could try informing your existing customers in your email newsletter letter that you have an affiliate program and that you are looking for affiliates to sign up. Having said that I don’t recall receiving any email newsletter from you, so maybe you don’t have one.

(BTW: I use Qbserve every day…)

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A simple way to start would be, if you were “them” and someone approached you, what would it take to convince you to sign up?

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We are still trying to come up with some useful themes to send out – maybe productivity tips. But it will take time to write (blog!), so I don’t want to start a campaign with just “Earn money with us” email.

That’s the problem – I have very poor sense of how all the bloggers and other content creators survive at their market.

What I would do at this point:
– find some ready-to-go affiliate program (no time to roll our own)
– set 30% from each sale (by the way we want to raise price a bit after project tracking update)
– write a short pitch about the app, with free license included
– go through relevant blogs (productivity, freelance, design, development, Mac, etc.)