Affiliate programs offer most promising opportunities to earn money, to grow contacts and to establish yourself on the net. But this is easier said than done. There are so many affiliate programs available – genuine programs and the other ones. Joining most of these programs is extremely easy. The natural question is – how do you locate good programs that will suit you? This is an important question and needs careful consideration. It is better to do a little research before joining a program rather than realizing later that all is not well.

The first consideration is the reputation of the program. It is worthwhile doing some research on this to satisfy yourself. There can be several ways of doing it. You can get in contact with the person who referred the program to you and find out his experience with it. Visit the website of the program and look for testimonials. If you know someone who is well versed with internet marketing he can offer you some advice. There are also websites that evaluate various affiliate programs and you can find them quite easily by searching on Google.

Generally affiliate programs found at these directories can be trusted because these directories do their own verification of the programs before registering them. However, this should not absolve you from doing your own little research.

Once this issue is settled to your satisfaction, you have crossed a big hurdle. I shall assume that you are interested in long term relationship and your own persistence with the program will count as much to your success as the benefits you get from the program.

Another consideration is how much it will cost to join the program. Many programs offer free affiliate membership and to that extent risk is minimized. Therefore it will be advisable to go for free or low cost affiliate programs unless you have definite information that it is worth paying for the program of your choice.

Payment schedule of the affiliate program is another issue to be considered. There are wide variations. Various programs pay weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly and some programs give immediate payments. There is now a tendency towards immediate payment and many affiliate programs are adopting it. This is facilitated by using payment processors like PayPal and Stormpay. The method of payment also varies – payments may be made by checks, direct deposit in the bank account or thru the payment processors. Also different programs have their own policy regarding minimum commission that must accrue before payments can be made to the affiliates. You will be in the best position to decide whether the program’s payment policy suits you.

Another factor to be considered is - what is the hit per sale ratio? This is the average number of hits to a banner or text link it takes to generate a sale based on all affiliate statistics. Many programs make this data available to the affiliates which is a big help. This factor is extremely important because this will tell you how much traffic you must generate before you are likely to earn a commission from the sale.

Now almost all the affiliate programs track the computers which are used to access the affiliate sites by placing cookies on those computers. The lifetime of these cookies varies from few months to the lifetime of the computer. This is necessary to give credit to the affiliate for any sales made thru his promotional efforts. The period of time that those cookies stay in the system is also important. This is because most of the time visitors do not buy initially but may want to return later to make the purchase. It will be advantageous to know if you will still get credit for the sale if it is done some months from a certain day.

Success of promotion can be improved only by trial and error. There is no fool-proof strategy which will work for all situations. This has to be done the hard way. The affiliate program should give ad-tracking services to their affiliates to keep track of their promotional campaigns. The data these services generate should be available online anytime you decide to check them out. Constantly checking your individual stats is important to know how many impressions, hits and sales are already generated from your site.

The affiliate program should offer physical goods, goods in electronic form and/or services of some value to their customers. As an affiliate you should have good knowledge about what the program offers. It will be to your advantage if you actually own and use any of those products – you will be able to narrate first-hand experience to your prospective customers. If by any chance you do not really understand what the program offers, it is better not to join such program.

Does the affiliate program have a single tier or multi-level structure? A single tier program pays you only for the business you have directly generated. A multi-level program pays you for the business, plus it also pays you a commission on the sales generated by any affiliate you sponsor in your program. Multi-level programs help you leverage your earnings which grow to huge amount with consistent effort. In the process you have a chance to get to know your up-line and down-line affiliates well and develop personal relationships with them.

Lastly, what is the commission paid by the program? What other payments are made by the program? There can be one time commission for selling a single item, recurring commission for services or memberships, leveraged earnings and bonus of various types. Understanding the compensation as well as affiliate structure is necessary for an affiliate.

These are some of the important considerations for evaluating an affiliate program. It is not a complete list by any means. The affiliate needs to remain watchful for surprises. Even then some element of risk will always be there. The success of the affiliate will depend not only on the program, but also on his own efforts.