I have been thinking a lot about affiliate programs that are on auto approval lately. I think the days of auto approval affiliate programs are coming to an end and will soon either disappear or become rare.
A month or so ago we moved the rest of the affiliate programs we manage to manual approval since most of the applications we were getting were just plain junk. Sites claiming that WordPress.com or Google.com was their domain name and coming from a foreign country was starting to become the norm. Some of these are not exactly who you want to be partners with. These applications on auto approve can easily get bad players into your affiliate program to do harm to good affiliates as well as your brand. You are giving access to trademark bidders, bad ppc bidders, PPV and even spyware.
Lets say a user goes to Google and types in your brand name. They end up clicking on either some ppc ads or a link that automatically puts spyware or malware on the end users computer. That end user is only going to remember typing in your brand name and when they tell friends about your company this is what they will remember, not exactly how you want to be known.
With the FTC cracking down on websites and affiliate programs you should have it in your best interest to know who you are dealing with. Having 1000's of affiliates in your program isn't going to help you with sales if they are not doing anything so why bother wasting time policing them. Just announcing that you have a million affiliates tells serious affiliates that your program isn't performing correctly and you are trying to get sales any way possible. Affiliate programs may be better off having a few hundred or a thousand affiliates that are performing then being stuck on trying to raise the number of affiliates in the program.
If the FTC comes knocking on the merchants door saying this affiliate is doing this and that, the only answer they can give them is that they were auto approved into the program and we didn't know what they were doing. Needless to say this isn't a good answer. The FTC just gave a huge penalty to a merchant and will require them to monitor their affiliates for a few years. Do you want this to happen to you? I don't think so as you can avoid all this by putting the affiliate program on manual approval and carefully screen affiliates. You can either do manual approvals and know who you are working with or pay later. You have to make sure the affiliate uses some sort of disclosure that they are being paid to endorse the product especially if they are doing review sites.
As a business you don't partner with everyone in the world so why should your affiliate program be operated in the same manner. It just doesn't make good business sense. What I see in the future is serious affiliates not joining affiliate programs that are on auto approve. Wouldn't you rather have a serious affiliate then 100 that will never do anything at all? Of course you would. Being on manual approval also gives you a chance to contact an affiliate that doesn't initially look like a good fit and find out how they plan to promote your program. Many affiliates that don't look right on first look, can end up being great performers because you reached out and talked to them.
Out of the top 100 programs in the Shareasale network, 44 are on auto approval. That means over half are already on manual approval. I would bet that by the end of the year that number of affiliate programs on auto approval will be less then 10. I see no reason to have an affiliate program on auto approval except you having no one running the affiliate program or a lazy affiliate manager is in place. One of the programs we use to manage on the Google affiliate network got 300 affiliate applications a week and we would approve maybe 5 if we were lucky.
If we were on auto approval with them that would be 295 affiliates lousy affiliates that would have been in the program. We now have to watch these affiliates and 90% of them wouldn't perform anyway so why have them at all. Just the amount of time we used going through the applications was time we could have spent better helping good affiliates get better or recruit better affiliates. It would waste more time being the policeman by letting these affiliates in and having to monitor them more closely.
Is there a benefit to having your affiliate program on auto approval? Yes, It allows the affiliate to get links up sooner, including the bad guys. If you manually approve affiliates the most it should take is 24-48 hours or so. Is that really a long wait. Odds are if an affiliate is looking to work with a good affiliate program waiting a day or two at worst is not that bad.
Most serious affiliates have no problem waiting a day or so to get approved. If they were smart they already emailed the affiliate manager explaining how they would promote the program. Losing affiliates because you are on manual approval is not really the way it is.
Some managers think that they can go back and remove bad affiliates that slipped in by being auto-approved. That is a bad practice for several reasons the biggest being that by the time you remove the affiliate, they already have links up and now they are mad at you when you remove them and will talk trash about your program. Some affiliates you won't care, others will have better sites that you didn't give them a chance to talk to you about. Also, with the links already out there, part of the damage is already done.
I mentioned a few reasons why if you are running an affiliate program you should think more about how you are approving affiliates. If you are serious about your business you should be serious about your affiliate program as well.