A few months ago, a number of companies – ours included – began to suspend or completely end their WordPress affiliate programs.

Naturally, this created a bit of a backlash.

In all fairness, not all customers were particularly upset. Some were disappointed, sure, and rightly so but moved on with their blogs; others were far more upset about the apparent injustice that was served by companies opting to pull the plugin on the program.

Since news in WordPress opts to ebb and flow week to week, this has been something that’s passed, but I’ve begun to see some comments beginning to crop up again specifically around affiliate programs in the WordPress space.

My Thoughts on WordPress Affiliate Programs

Companies are generally free to operate however they want, but the truth of affiliate programs is that they are far too easily abused and cost the companies that offer the services too much time and/or money to resolve disputes and track down abusers to warrant the program.

In short, they can cost more money than they actually generate.

That said, there are a few individuals that seem to believe that affiliate programs are something that should be offered, no questions asked, and that the abuse that comes from them isn’t something that carries enough weight to suspend a program.

So, for whatever it’s worth (which admittedly may not be much), I’ve three thoughts on this.

1. The Primary Reason of Purchase

If your primary reason for purchasing a product with an affiliate program is the affiliate program itself and not the product and the solution that it provides, then you’re disrespecting both the company and the product that you’re purchasing.

Affiliate programs are meant to reward those who purchase a product, enjoy using it, and evangelize its quality to others.

If you’re purchasing the product primarily for the affiliate program and secondarily for the product, then you’re accepting a reward on false pretenses.

Granted, this is a morally gray area – and that’s cool – but purchasing a product first to make money and second for its solution is backwards.

2. They Are a Feature, Not a Product

People will argue that companies exist to make a profit, but I tend to be idealistic and believe that companies exist to provide solutions that in turn generate a profit.

You can’t create an affiliate program product. It’s a feature of a product provided by a company. As such, like any other feature of the product, it is subject to updates or even removal.

Now, this isn’t to say that customers shouldn’t be warned about when something is going to go away. Case in point: Google is really good about notifying users when something is going to be retired so that we can make alternative choices for our software.

Similarly, companies should do a good job of informing customers when an affiliate program is going to go away. Just like purchasing a product primarily for the affiliate program is disrespectful to the company, pulling the plug with no warning is disrespectful to the customers.

3. They Aren’t Meant To Be Secondary Income

If i don’t get push backs on either of the above points, then I think this is the one that’s likely the touchiest of the three, but I personally don’t believe that affiliate programs should be expected to provide a significant source of secondary income.

I know, I know: Affiliate marketers exist and some make quite a bit of cash from it, but there are exceptions to every rule and they are it.

If you’re a person who is a blogger or who is using a product for which an affiliate program exists, and expect it to help greatly increase your income, then I think that’s a dangerous mentality.

Here’s why: Affiliate program pay outs are based on the amount of product that you’re able to convert to sales. If people aren’t buying what you’re promoting, then that’s lost income and this can vary greatly month to month.

Secondly, most of us don’t have that great of reach so we’re likely to exhaust those who we do reach relatively quickly. And if a person doesn’t purchase a product through the first time or two of you promoting it, they aren’t likely to do so in the future.

Your Thoughts?

Of course, everything above is my opinion coming from what I’ve experienced and what I’ve observed; however – as I’ve mentioned before – I’d rather be known for strong opinions, weakly held than anything else so I’m completely interested in alternative perspectives.

So if you’ve got ’em, share ’em :)!