What’s the Most Effective Commission Level for a WordPress Affiliate Program

A couple of weeks ago, we (re)published our guide to affiliate programs for WordPress. While working on the guide, we also did some research around the most effective and popular commission levels for popular WordPress affiliate programs.

Since this sort of information will prove more useful to merchants – or soon-to-be-merchants – than to affiliates looking for things to promote, we figured that we best publish it as a separate blog post. Hence what you’re reading today.

So the question is, if you’re about to launch an affiliate program for your WordPress product, what commission should you aim for? Is there a standard/popular commission level?

As it turns out, there is:

 

How much do WordPress affiliate programs pay out?

Payouts for affiliate programs across all industries vary wildly: Amazon’s longstanding and highly popular affiliate program pays out 1-5% whilst 20% is considered a good rate for most programs. At the same time, rates as high as even 100% are not uncommon in the online marketing niche and other markets where the lifetime value of a customer is much higher than their initial purchase.

The WordPress product space is competitive and popular and thus, similar to how the marketing dictates how much a WordPress theme costs, the market has driven up commissions for affiliate programs: most WordPress affiliate programs pay roughly a 30% commission, but as we’re about to see, a small number of WordPress companies now offer 50% or more as an affiliate commission.

Below you’ll see some number crunching from 36 popular WordPress affiliate programs, with details of their commission levels:

(Hover your mouse over the bars to see the individual stores and their commission levels.)

 

(Charts by Visualizer Lite.)

 
As you can see, the average commission hovers around 35%, with only a few being much higher, and quite a lot being lower. These will provide a very useful benchmark when considering how to align your own program and how competitive the commission is likely to be.

However, as skilled affiliate marketers all know, choosing the best affiliate programs requires more nuance and analysis than simply picking the program with the highest level of commission.

 
There are a number of important other factors in play, including the quality of the product, fit for a given blog and/or promotion method, and likely average order value.

As an example, let’s compare two of the top paying WordPress affiliate programs: MyThemeShop and ThemeIsle. MyThemeShop offers a huge 70% commission, but their most expensive product is only $85 (for a $60 commission fee). ThemeIsle, in contrast, offer 55% on products up to $249 (for a $137 commission fee). The lower percentage on higher price products will have you better off.

This leads to a completely different perspective on affiliate programs and their commission levels. Here are two more charts; this time looking into the minimum and maximum commissions that affiliates can expect – based on the pricing of the products offered by the merchants.

 

 
As you can see, the numbers are somewhat all over the place, so it’s hard to draw any conclusions. However, I can still tell you that the average minimum commission has turned out to be $17.60, and the average maximum commission $76.24.

What does it take to build a successful affiliate program?

Building a successful affiliate program isn’t easy, and we’ve seen a number of them closing down over the years for various reasons. Perhaps one of the more talked-about shutdowns happened at WooThemes (this was before they got acquired by Automattic).

The official reason being:

We’re sorry to say that we are discontinuing our referral program because of lack of traction for the program.

Finding traction is surely one of the toughest pieces of the puzzle. On the one hand, your products need to be first class in order to even attract clients and convert at a reasonable rate in the first place. But on the other, the commission levels also need to make things worthwhile for the affiliates.

From an affiliate’s perspective, promoting a $2-commission product isn’t necessarily very different from promoting a $70-commission product. That is why affiliates naturally gravitate towards products that are more likely to earn them money over the long haul.

In other words, if you’re offering a 50% commission on a $15 product then probably not a lot of people will bother to join the program. And especially if they can find similar programs with higher payouts, which they can, since WordPress is already quite a large ecosystem. If you look at the most popular theme stores, for example, nearly the whole top 10 has affiliate programs. Plugin developers? I don’t know, but I assume similar.

Then, there’s the other unknown – the conversion rate – which is probably the most important factor for those who rely on affiliate income as their no.1 earning tool. Here’s a quote by Ionut Neagu, founder of this site and CEO of ThemeIsle:

 

Ionut Neagu

Ionut Neagu
While commission percentages might be appealing for casual users, experienced marketers don’t really bother that much paying attention to them. This is all because the difference in conversion rates can be huge.

For example, theme shops like ElegantThemes tend to convert even 10x better than some other sellers. So even if ElegantThemes decided to pay 10%, while some other shop 50%, ElegantThemes would still produce double the results.

So, ideally, before settling on a given commission percentage, try to gather feedback from affiliates that are already in your space, measure your conversion and see if you can come up with a competitive offer. Otherwise better promote it as a “refer a friend” program rather than a full affiliate program, and target your existing users.

 
What do you think about this? Does affiliate marketing play an important role in WordPress? Also, if you have an affiliate program, what’s your commission level and why?

Don’t forget to join our free crash course on speeding up your WordPress site. With some simple fixes, you can reduce your loading time by even 50-80%:

Original text by Alex Denning and Karol K.
Layout and presentation by Karol K.

 

CodeinWP Editorial

CodeinWP Editorial is a team of writers and WordPress experts led by Ionut Neagu. All content edited by Karol K.
  • Excellent article. Thanks for the research and information.

    We offer a monthly service vs. a one-time purchase.
    Our commission rate is $100 to $300 which we feel is generous.
    It is essentially the first month service rate.
    We also have ongoing costs involved to offer our service instead of development fees, etc..

    My point is: it is challenging to compare the percentages in the post because our client duration is not known when they subscribe.
    (hopefully they stay with us for a long time).
    I suppose we will just need to get feedback from our affiliates to see if they are happy or not.