Thousands of affiliate programs are available for webmasters. Among this variety of choices, it can be rather difficult to find the right program not only for a beginner affiliate marketer, but also for a professional. Even worse, beginners may fall for a scam, as some of these programs or networks may be fraudulent. In this article, you will learn tips on how to spot affiliate marketing scams.
Is affiliate marketing generally a scam?
Let's start with the main question asked by many people: is affiliate marketing a scam or not? Of course not. Affiliate marketing is a billion-dollar industry that includes major brands such as Amazon or Walmart.
However, as in any niche, in addition to the respectable and trustworthy players in the affiliate marketing arena, there are also crooked players. Dealing with these individuals is where you can face many problems and potentially lose money. Therefore, it is important to learn how to distinguish scams from real programs.
How to spot affiliate marketing scams
If you are a beginner, remember this simple rule: do not pay money to any affiliate program. There are very few programs on the market that require you to make a deposit or any other payments.
Some real networks, such as Awin, require a small joining fee for the purpose of compliance. However, for a beginner, the best solution would be to take it for granted and not join any other programs if they cost money. After you get accustomed to affiliate marketing and can assess the risks, then you may safely join programs/ networks that request payments from you. In the beginning, you would not miss out on many good options by avoiding paid programs, as membership fees are incredibly rare. You will definitely be able to find free-to-join affiliate programs.
When you find a program or network you want to join, check for the following signals.
Explore the official website and the company
An affiliate program page can show all the aces if you don't simply rely on what is written on said page. You should check:
- Date of running the affiliate program
New affiliate programs are not intended to deliberately scam anyone, but they need to be approached attentively.
Check the domain registration date, for example, through the whois.com service:
If the domain has a long history and the affiliate program has been on the market for a long time, there are fewer scam risks. Nevertheless, among old domains, there can still be a black sheep. For example, the affiliate program may be in its final days, which means you will not get paid. Thus, there are other parameters that should also be checked.
Sometimes, affiliate programs change their domain name. For example, if they buy a short brand name instead of going with their original title. You can also study the history of the program through the Web Archive service by trying to find older versions of the page:
- The quality of the site
If the site has a lot of errors in the copy or has clearly been cobbled together, this is a signal that the affiliate program may be a scam. Pages of genuine affiliate programs are typically error-free and in style.
- The last update
Try to find a mention of the latest update on the site. Updates can be found in the blog feed, in the footer, etc.
Sometimes, an affiliate program may not work even if the page is available. Real affiliate programs, as a general rule, still have some kind of updates. So, if in 2021, the last article on the company's blog dates back to 2016, double-check to see if the offer still stands.
- Check the product or service
Scams can happen from two sides: from the side of the affiliate program and from the side of the product/service. You don't want to offer your audience a fraudulent product, do you?
Therefore, you need to study both the affiliate program and the service or product offered by the advertiser. This will allow you to be confident in the quality of what is being offered to your audience.
Ideally, you should test the product yourself. This is not always possible, so at least do you due diligence, do the research, compare the offerings with those from the competitors, and read reviews.
- Realistic conditions
If other programs offer less generous conditions than the affiliate program in question, double check it.
Affiliate marketing is a business and the advertiser needs to make money too. Therefore, if you see rates that are multiple times higher than the standard rates, treat such a program with the utmost caution.
Often, all “get rich quick” schemes turn out to be scams, but unexpectedly higher rates are not always a red flag. Perhaps the rates are temporarily high to attract new affiliates and will be reduced in the future to economically justified levels. You must assess the realism of the conditions and remember that advertisers don't run charities.
Explore the reviews
Reviews of an affiliate program will help you better understand the program you're working with.
If you have not found the program you are looking for on Trustpilot, try searching on Google by the name of the program with the word “review” or directly by typing the name of the affiliate program and the word “scam”. Small programs often do not have a page on Trustpilot, so the easiest way to find reviews for such programs is through Google. For example:
Nevertheless, you should not rely 100% on reviews, since even trustworthy affiliate programs may have negative reviews, including those claiming that the program is cheating.
For example, CJ.com is one of the largest affiliate networks in the world. It has a reliable reputation, but also has negative reviews:
Negative reviews should be evaluated wisely, since they are based on specific cases — authentic, but potentially irrelevant to your situation.
Also, some negative reviews are left by affiliates who violated the rules of the program and were blocked without receiving payment. Keep in mind that just a few people will write a positive review when everything goes well, but many people are ready to share their negative experience when even a tiny detail goes wrong.
Explore the conditions and rules
Review the conditions before driving traffic to the advertiser — those conditions might not suit you. For example, in the list of available payout methods, there may not be an acceptable payment option for your country. Or for example, the advertiser may not accept the type of traffic you are going to drive to their site.
In the program reviews, you may come across many disgruntled webmasters who felt like they were cheated, but could have avoided this by studying the conditions and not violating the rules. You will avoid problems if you take the time to learn the rules before joining a program.
Get in touch with other webmasters
Well-known programs usually have many active affiliates who leave a noticeable digital footprint. Check out industry-relevant forums and communities and look for reviews, discussion or mentions of the program in question. You can even search for it on Facebook, as there are plenty of affiliate groups where people discuss CPA offers.
Unfortunately, not all programs have threads on forums and social media, but this is still an excellent verification method. Moreover, if you find the related thread, you may always seek advice from seasoned affiliates as they have more experience with this particular program.
How to secure your work with a new affiliate program
If you've analyzed an affiliate program and are ready to join, there are several more things to do to ensure your security.
Join programs through networks
Affiliate networks, such as Travelpayouts, CJ.com, AWIN, and others, are aggregating hundreds of programs. The presence of an affiliate program in a large network is not a 100% security guarantee, but it does offer strong evidence that the program is not a scam.
Working through a network, in addition to the obvious convenience of a single payment source, has an undeniable advantage when it comes to disputes with an affiliate program. If you encounter any difficulties, you'll have an arbitrator involved in solving the situation (the network), which adds stability to the work process.
The conditions of affnetworks may vary from those of specific direct affiliate programs. So, before joining, study the conditions of the direct affiliate program and compare them with the offer on the network.
There are far fewer affiliate networks on the market than affiliate programs. So, to find the turntable platform, you will need to analyze fewer options. General networks, such as Doubletrade, CJ.com, or AWIN, are available for you, as well as specialized networks. For example, Travelpayouts specializes in the travel market and offers more than 80 proven travel brands, such as Booking, GetYourGuide, TripAdvisor, and others.
Note: Not all affiliate programs are available through these networks. For example, Amazon works directly with affiliates. So, sometimes the direct offer is the only way to join a program.
Drive just a part of your traffic during the trial
If you are not sure about the program, you do not have to drive all your traffic from the first month. If the offer allows (i.e. it is not limited by time or traffic volume), you can safely drive only some of your traffic to it in order to check if sales are correctly being taken into account, how payouts are made, etc.
During this trial period, you can also check if the statistics tools work correctly. To get more data, use traffic analytics services, such as Clickmeter.com. This will allow you to, at least partially, compare statistics in the advertiser's dashboard.
The morning sun never lasts a day. So, even when you find the right affiliate program, you should take a moment. Changes may await you even where you do not expect them (for example, in the methods of payment from some foreign affiliate programs). Therefore, constantly analyze current conditions and try new programs to ultimately increase the efficiency of your affiliate business.
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