Picking Your Ponies: How to Choose Your Affiliate Marketing Programs

As someone that’s been an affiliate marketer for a few years now, I can tell you that the number of people trying their hand at affiliate marketing has literally skyrocketed. A lot of people are out of work and a lot of others have gotten fed up with working their tails off, answering to someone else and collecting a meager paycheck that doesn’t even cover all the bills. They’re turning to affiliate marketing in hopes of starting a new career.

It’s important to realize that calling yourself an affiliate marketer doesn’t necessarily mean you’re successful at it. Hollywood and New York are full of “actors” and “musicians” that are actually waiters and bus boys, if you get my drift. Even so, if you’re willing to take the time to learn what you’re doing and you’re willing to work hard, it really is possible to become a successful affiliate marketer.

Choosing What to Promote: Pick Your Ponies Wisely

It seems like every hypothetical affiliate marketer on the internet earns thousands of dollars per week. Back in the day, I was willing to promote just about anything for that reason alone. Needless to say, it didn’t exactly work out too well—I put in more time and effort than I care to admit, with very little results. Nowadays I know I’ve got to pick my ponies, just like people do at the race track.

When you’re picking your ponies— or figuring out which products you’re going to promote—you should make a selection and stick with it the whole time. Rooting for the underdog (underhorse?) at the races may pay off occasionally, but when it comes to affiliate marketing your best “bet” is to promote a quality program that you’d actually use yourself and recommend to your friends and family.

Steve’s Secret to Success: Know Your Products

Learn everything there is to know about the products you’re promoting. Become an evangelist of that product, if you will. Know it in and out, just like you would with a product that you created yourself. You’ve even got to be confident enough to point out any flaws it might have.
Most of the aspiring-yet-failing affiliate marketers who email me to ask what they’re doing wrong share a common trait—they do not know their products. Affiliate marketers tend to fail because they don’t know the ins and outs of the products they promote.

Think of it this way. You love your phone, right? Or maybe you’re really passionate about your new laptop, or your car, or your boat…. something. There’s some product out there that you love so much you’re able to talk up a storm when anyone asks you a question because you know all there is to know about it. You know the ins and outs.

When it comes to affiliate marketing, it’s up to you to communicate with your prospects like the product you’re promoting is your own. Act the way you’d act if you were pitching that cell phone or laptop you love so much. Start to promote products you’re passionate about and you’ll most likely notice an increase in commissions!

Take Action. Get Results.

35 thoughts on “Picking Your Ponies: How to Choose Your Affiliate Marketing Programs”

  1. Hi Steve:

    Lots of words of wisdom from you. I love it , so real word by words first paragraph to the last. I had this in my mind. It is the best time for affiliates that are not even making money right now to work harder and get a good position, as they are market savvy already to teach the newbies. I do not know what do you say about it, but I feel that way. However, you are absolutely right in this post.

    Make it great for yourself

    Fran A

    • Fran,

      yes I agree, everything is a sliding scale. There is always room for newer people to learn (and hopefully learn decent lessons) and more experienced people to lay out some good training (and often learn a lot themselves in the process.

  2. Hi Steve,

    Sensational post and all the more reason to be a master of 1 trade instead of a jack of all trades. You can’t specialize in a handful of products because you don’t have enough time to learn many products intimately.

    As I receive more JV offers I have to say No, and pretty quickly too. I’m involved with a few online ventures and can’t add any, for having too many income channels you need to actively work dilutes your power. The temptation is there: wow, I can make loads of money with all of these opportunities! Nope. You can make loads of money by seizing a few opportunities and learning the product you’re selling like the back of your hand. Authorities command respect, and sales. Amateurs command little respect because they are sellers. They are too busy selling to offer a solution, and even if we are looking for a product we are looking for the solution first.

    We become known for a few certain things. Maybe 1, if you’re really specializing. It becomes virtually impossible to be known for more than a few things; we don’t have enough time to do so. Stick to a product you feel passionate about, learn the in’s and out’s of the product. People will be drawn to your combination of enthusiasm and expertise of the offering. This is where the sales start.

    Thanks for sharing real talk when it comes to affiliate marketing Steve. Have a powerful day!


    • JV offers is something I have never done. I am not saying there are not good ones out there. I am sure there are. It is just that, for now at least, I do not want to be connected to something where there could be things of “variable” quality.

      Like you said, for affiliate marketing being a jack of all trades does not work. When you settle on an affiliate marketing you should be prepared to be in the basic niche for a long time. It is all about building up a real brand, recognition, authority and finding those products that are really worthwhile.

      You make some great points Ryan! Thanks for the comment, and have a wonderful weekend

  3. I think there’s 3 great ways to approach affiliate products:

    1. Buy the product and go through it (the best option)
    2. Request a copy (leverage your blog – might be difficult)
    3. Make sure it covers what you’d cover (last option)

    If you can buy the product and work through it than you’re likely to be able to easily convey, to your community, what the program is about. If you can get a copy that you also gain that benefit (but you have to let the owner know that you may not necessarily give it a great reviews just because you got it for free). Finally, if you know that a product would need to cover certain items to reach an end goal (since you’ve done it yourself before) and they omit these steps – than it probably isn’t “complete” enough, ya know?

    That’s how I see it.

    • I am not going to say I have NEVER don number 3. or even 4,5,6 … but I totally agree with you. I have in the past affiliated for products that “looked” good, but ended up being…well who knows.

      One of the best lessons I have learned is that this is a poor thing to do. It is much better to buy 2-3 products. Get refunds if they are outright scams (CB has a great refund system) and only affiliate for products that really look good.

      There are of course many approaches, but only two that I think are worthwhile and they both start with your #1.

      1. Products you use, love and would willingly endorse for free anyway

      2. Info Products you may not USE, but that are things that contain information that you may have liked to have when you were starting out. IN other words, really good info, just mostly stuff you know.

      Either way it is essential that you really know understand and can get behind the products. They may have minor flaws and that is fine…but they should be something good enough that you would suggest it to a friend or family member on that topic.

      An example of all of this is the ebook I am almost finished with (rough draft) I looked and looked for an “How to” Affiliate Marketing product that gives real and honest information that I could promote AS an affiliate. I simply could not find one, so I am writing my own for people just getting started.

      There are enough good products out there that it seems “unworthy” to promote one of those sleazy ones. Of even the borderline ones that are, “meh”

        • For sure, I am counting on some of you all to affiliate for it! 😉 I have been working on it a few hours a day every-day for well over a month. A lot of rewrites, editing and polishing still to go, but hopefully it will really be a kick ass product that will really help people.

    • For sure, for affiliate marketing definitely check out competitors products. You never know, maybe it is BETTER and then you have just found an even better product to market for. Sort of like split testing, you keep narrowing the focus of ever better products.

  4. Steve,

    This post rang so very true for me! When I first looked into AM back in early 2009, I thought I hit the goldmine. I believed all the hype, promoted “moob” remover products and everything else under the sun because I thought it would be easy. BIG mistake. So, I quit.
    Late in 2010, I took back to the blog, redirected my efforts a bit and really researched the market. I found reputable products and studied everything I could about them and stopped wasting my efforts on sitz bath articles!! 🙂
    You really nailed it with knowing your product and promoting a product you can use yourself.

    Thanks for the reminder tips!

    • I think many people have heard the siren call of “craptastic” products. Fortunately most people who are successful get out of that schlock.

      It is simply “harder” to be an affiliate for something you do not believe in. When you can talk about a product you actually use and enjoy the words flow easier and more importantly it has an underlying ring of “truthiness” (to quote Stephen Colbert)

  5. Hi Steve,

    Pearls of wisdom! Dude, your posts always make me hungry to work harder! Nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy to attain, it’s all about hard work and smart thinking with honesty always at the centre of it.

    Personally I’ve never promoted anything that I haven’t tested first and I mostly promote only the stuff I use myself. I guess in a way I’ve been lucky as someone new to IM and affiliate marketing to end up on blogs like yours and Karol Gajda’s Ridiculously Extraordinary. So I never got caught up in trying to promoting ‘craptastic’ products.

    Keep spreading the good Karma Steve, and thanks so much for all you do.

    • Gabi,

      That is awesome! A good post should be a little inspirational and want to get out and make you get something done. Thanks for letting me know it is working! It feels good that the post has the effect I hoped for! 🙂

      Karol has a great blog. Really good stuff and he certainly tells it like it is too. It is like used car salesmen. There are “some” people out there who can make a living selling the beat up pinto that barely runs and calling it a rare BMW. But it is so much easier to actually sell the BMW. After all the quality is there, you never have to fool people just let them know the truth.

  6. Great advice you give here, Steve. I guess for newbies trying to figure out their ways, it can be confusing at times. But the only way to walk away not feeling like a dirt-bag is to promote products you know are quality, whether you use them or not.

    P.S. Your videos are done well and I’m enjoying them. Keep up the great work.

    • Yeah, most of us who have been around for a while have either committed to the dark side of sleaze (few I hope) or realized that the best way is with honest product endorsements. My goal is to keep the ‘newer’ people informed and hopefully save them a little bit of wasted time and energy.

  7. Hey Steve, this is excellent. It’s right on par with my last blog post about affiliate marketing… too many people just promoting anything because the commission is high and the sales page looks great. And that’s all they need.

    A good sales page matters, but knowing the product itself also really matters. I’m sure most affiliates don’t actually buy or use products that they promote, which is sad. Affiliate marketing is great, but there is a darkside to it (like there is with practically everything, haha.)

    Thanks, love the stuff you’ve got goin on around here!


  8. I made some of the same mistakes you made early in your affiliate marketing career. I was picking any product and writing text surrounding the sales landing page for it. But I ended up with big fat zeros for revenue. When I started writing my review of The 4 Hour Body, I was doing it mainly for myself and anyone who may be interested in it. I didn’t realize how much traffic it would actually generate for me (peanuts in comparison to this blog but a great amount for me). When I noticed I was ranking for the term in Google, I decided to try to monetize the article a bit with some more obvious affiliate links – and it’s worked. The article is now earning me a small amount of coffee money for the month.

    I think the key word in this whole post is evangelist. If you love the product and share that love for it with others, they will pick up on it and want to have that product, too. It’s making me rethink how I approach things online and having me be more careful in which products to actually promote. Thanks for the great advice.

    • James,

      I think that is the normal progression, many people really do sell by high gravity or try to “sell what sells”. Over time they learn that selling what you “know” is quality is not only easier, but it is more effective.

      It is great that you have had some share of success being an, “evangelist”

  9. Hi Steve,

    This is really great advice. I’ve made the mistake of promoting products simply because I thought I could make lots of money with them.

    I didn’t do any due diligence. I knew very little about them and certainly didn’t buy them to ensure they were worthy products. As you can imagine, I made no money.

    Now, I only promote products I would use or recommend to my family and friends. I buy them first and give them a trial run. In short, I love the products I’m promoting.

    So, I’m starting to make some money. Yay! The money comes when you do the right things. Or, at least it does for me. 🙂

    • Right on Jazz!

      Good to hear a little money is flowing for ya! It is so much easier to push good products…because they are good. They do their own job selling themselves. All you have to do is a little testimonial and legwork.

      Amazon affiliate stuff is the perfect example. I haven’t done “much” with that just and article ans squidoo/hubpage here and there for “test” cases. Just about every sale I have made is something I bought and and really liked. It sells better and is easier to get all “salesy” with it.

  10. Hi Steve

    I am glad you said concentrate on a few you believe in. I like that. Probably cos that is what I will be doing.My lovely lavenders with all their associated products and a couple of others I am just about to begin working on.

    As always, some helpful tips for me here. And looking forward to your ebook Steve as I know it will be top quality; just like this blog 🙂

    • Thanks for the kind words Patricia.

      You are the perfect example of this. It is obvious you are passionate about what you sell. You would give an evangelistic endorsement of lavender even if you do not sell any at all I am sure.

      That is exactly what people need to look for to affiliate market. If you only work at “marketing” products you love, it will never really feel like you are “working” either

  11. Hi Steve,

    I was just about to publish my first affiliate website focusing exclusively on a product that I love and use just about everyday. You could say that I am definitely an evangelist for this product so it seemed like a good fit to promote it.

    After joining up to their affiliate program, researching and buying a good domain name, getting together some content and developing a website yesterday I went to check out the product’s website to see if there was anything new. To my surprise they had completely restructured their website and product revenue model which included ceasing their affiliate program. I respect their rights as the product owner but some information to their affiliates early in their transformation process would have saved me work and money!

    The big lesson for me is that while a company might have a great product, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they run a great affiliate program! That being said, for the price of a domain name and some of my time I certainly learnt a lot about affiliate marketing which I now plan on putting to good use on my next idea!

    • Breton,

      That is really a shame. It is seems very unfair that they snatched back their affiliate program like that. Hopefully there is another decent product that is similar (and also decent) so that all the work is not lost.

      But anyway, you did learn a good lesson and you are right. Good product does not always mean good affiliate program. That might be part of the reason those “bad” programs do so well. They have NOTHING going for them but a strong affiliate program.

      You have a great attitude for your “mistake” too. A big part of starting out is trying things and seeing what works for YOU. Taking a “setback” as a great “learning” experience is really the perfect attitude and shows me you WILL have success!

  12. I like it Steve, this point was so simple even I understood it and can implement it with enthusiasm. Only sell what you like……..I like it.

    The only downside I can see is that this may be expensive. In order for me to promote somthing I know inside out, I will have to own it.

    For the moment I will stick with stuff I already use; XsitePro web design, Aweber list managent, Market Samurai keyword research, and my hosting company.

    Actually I may change my host. I am with 1and1 at the moment and pay £15 per month for 100gb. Who do you use Steve?

    Rambling a bit in Leamington Spa, England

    • Yup! Easy enough concept! Like it/promote it! you do not need to do buy too many things at first either. Once you get a couple of things you like (and can rank for… Market Samurai might be a tough one to rank) just push them hard. make a domain for them. Write ezine articles, squidoo lenses, hubpages, article base articles, videos blogspot blog posts and a ton of other content, all pushing the same thing. It is a lot of work, but hopefully if you love the product writing the same thing 100 different ways won’t make you vomit ‘to’ much. The idea is to make it so you really rank in top ten results rather than JUST sending products to list/website (do it there too, of course) where sales may be a little lukewarm for the first couple of years.

  13. The sales people at my company are required to learn all of the product stats and to understand the benefits/negatives of each as well as how different people would want to use them. That all starts on the first day for a reason – you can’t sell what you don’t know.

    It could be as simple as knowing the colors that a tie comes in, or as difficult as knowing the side effects of a new drug, their potential reactions with other drugs, and the myriad of other information that someone would want to know when making a decision that could improve or destroy people’s lives.

    This is great advice & is something that it appears many people do not pay attention to. The lure of easy money has never worked out to anyone’s benefit as far as I know. I have tried to market products that I did not know anything about other than what is on the sales page in the past. It is really difficult to write any kind of readable, or trustworthy copy without knowing the product.

    Have a good day!

    • Mark,

      It really is a fairly basic sales philosophy. thanks for pointing out that it really is true in the ‘real world’ too. Sales IS sales. and it is so much easier to sell when you know something back and forth and you really believe in what you are selling. I think it just seeps into the cracks between the words and fills it with truthfulness.

  14. Steve, I agree with you totally I would only promote an affiliate program that I bought and endorsed. Great information. Pick your product wisely and know your products. Simple Thanks

  15. Everybody can do affiliate marketing the way they want but, there is a difference between good ones and bad affiliate marketers.

    The good ones, care about their lists and leads, and they will not throw just any product out there and urge their list to buy it. They will very it, try to find if it’s worth the money and if they can offer any kind of support for that product.
    As a reward they get happy clients, that might recommend you to other but also that will for sure trust you more and might buy other products you will want to promote.

    And there is bad marketers, that don’t really care about the humans behind those credit cards, they just want the money, and to get as more money as possible they will do anything. Will promote all the scams products that are out there and will even guarantee for their success. The fact is that they will most likely make some money but in return they will get unsatisfied customers, a lot of refund requests and of course they will for sure not recommend you to someone else and will unsubscribe or avoid your emails forever.

    Who would you choose to be??!

  16. Steve,

    Real simple advice, but one that is so very important!

    I’ll begin promoting some stuff soon, but certainly that’s going to be what I totally believe in. Not sure how I would handle competition’s products when it is the concept that I promote rather than one particular brand – but as you’ve mentioned in one of the comments, something like split testing seems to be a good idea.

    Sometimes people think that it is easier to promote any bulls**t, just because it is the Internet. It would be good to think about affiliate marketing as really world stuff where you actually approach people in person and try to sell that stuff. If you believe in it enough to be able to sell it with confidence and sincerity even in real life, than I think that’s a sign that it is the right product to market even on the Internet.

    After all, customers can easily tell whether you are knowledgeable and passionate about what you are trying to sell.


    • Mark,

      Some of the scam he sales things probably are “easier” for people to get into. But really these are huge mistake. Promoting things that really matter or at least that you believe have a general positive effect (even if others don’t end up likeing it) is essential. Not only does it help you grow as a brand since people who get your stuff will be more likely to actually like the products but it makes a definite difference in the quality of your writing about it since you will have that passion in your writing, “voice”.

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