I've been exploring affiliate programs this week, to compare the Amazon and Eversave programs I've been using with other affiliate programs from Google, LivingSocial, and other "daily deal" providers.  There are a lot of variables in terms and your ability to tailor the offerings to your website and in how you are compensated.  Here are three important things I've learned to look for.

How Do You Get Paid?

All these affiliate programs pay you if someone clicks through to their website from yours and buys something. Your commission could be anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent. This is pretty straightforward on a website like Amazon where people are buying a product. But on daily-deal sites like Groupon, pay attention to whether you are getting a portion of the sale price or the coupon company's commission.  For example, if one of your users buys a $50 coupon for a $100 spa service, do you get 10 percent of that, which is $5, or 10 percent of the coupon company's $25 commission, which is $2.50?

When you're doing the math on these programs you have to think about whether you're going to count on racking up a lot of tiny transactions or try to catch fewer big deals. Since my traffic still has a lot of growing to do and I can't count on a sizable click-through rate, I'm trying to find programs where my commission will amount to at least $5 anytime someone actually buys something through a link on FamiliesGo!

How Do You Get Credit For a Purchase?

You also have to suss out how long the window is in which you get credit for the transaction. On some sites, your user has to click through to the other company's site and complete the purchase right away. Others will give the user anywhere from a few hours to a month to return directly to their site to complete the purchase and still give you credit. 

For a $10 bakery Groupon, this might not make much of a difference. But for a pricier item that might require laying out $100 or $200, people are less likely to finish the purchase on their initial click-through. I recently stopped working with Eversave, a daily deal company that targets women, because the purchase window was too brief for the big-ticket vacation deals I was featuring.

I've found you often have to really dig for this piece of information and my experience is that the harder it is to find it the less likely it is to be favorable to you. I registered for LivingSocial's website but I don't think I'm actually going to use it. Among the reasons I'm wary: I've found it's nearly impossible to find out what LivingSocial's window is. In an email I sent to the company, the person who answered overlooked that part of my question and referred me to an incredibly vague page.

How Much Can You Customize Your Offerings?

Common sense—backed up by blogs I've read by people who have done well with their affiliate programs—says that the more you can tailor an affiliate programs offering to your website, the better you'll accumulate click-throughs. 

So I've looked for programs that make it easy to tailor my offerings but don't require me to constantly update them. Eversave sends a list of deals every day and let's you choose which ones you post, but the deals also expire every few days so it means cutting and pasting HTML code constantly.

LivingSocial seems to lend itself to a set-up that automatically generated deals tied to specific city—great if your website has a local focus—or that generates deals completely randomly, which I can't imagine is ideal for anyone.  But if you only want to run a particular kind of deal, say just travel or "adventure" deals, which I am interested in, you have to manually update the LivingSocial content you put on your website and it's not easy to do.

I initially thought that the best programs for FamiliesGo! would involve travel deals, because they correlate most directly to my family travel content. But I'm realizing that not many families can spontaneously purchase trips on daily deal websites. So I'm using Amazon to feature travel related products families might need, such as travel toys, portable DVD players and kids' headphones and maybe travel guides or knapsacks. It's not as easy to tinker with these as I would like but I'm getting the hang of it.

I'd like to find an affiliate program that involves advertising trips, and that isn't as time sensitive as the daily deal sites. If I do, I'll let you know.