I was reading through Google's Ten Corporate Goals [google.com], and just about all of them can be used to make affiliate sites better.
1) Focus on the user and all else will follow.
There's a reason this one is first, and I wholeheartedly agree. The more you focus on the needs of the user, the better your long term success will be. Too many people focus on other things (profitability, SEO, keywords, competition, etc.) first. Those other things may be important, but they're all secondary.
2) It's best to do one thing really, really well.
The idea of finding a niche embodies this goal. How big or how small the niche is isn't as important as how well you cover the niche. You need to become an expert.
3) Fast is better than slow.
I wouldn't take this as far as Google (worrying about every bit and byte), but speed is definitely important. This normally isn't an issue. I would take this a step further and say it's important to help the user find what they want as quickly and easily as possible.
4) Democracy on the web works.
Similar to the way Google uses PageRank, affiliates should build their sites in such a way that they respond to market conditions. I'm a big fan of dynamically updated "Top Seller" lists and tracking performance. If you can track all the way through to the sale with your merchants, the best converting items are very important to promote.
5) You don't need to be at your desk to need an answer.
As affiliates, we fall short here. It's tough to place an order over a PDA, plus who knows how well tracking will work on a device like that. I think it'll be a while before people regularly place orders over a PDA, but we need to keep our eyes on the future.
6) You can make money without doing evil.
I totally agree with this. Your credibility is at stake. Don't sacrifice it for short term gain. You need to earn the trust of your visitors.
7) There's always more information out there.
There's always more we can do with our sites, as well. Never leave a site to rot on the vine. By continuing to improve your sites, you'll keep a step ahead of the competition.
8) The need for information crosses all borders.
As affiliates, we're often limited by our merchants. We should always be looking for ways to expand our market, though.
9) You can be serious without a suit.
This certainly talks about affiliates. We can even be serious without pants.
10) Great just isn't good enough.
I agree once again. Many affiliates settle for "marginal". Some try for "good". A few try to be "great". Not many are continually striving to be the best.
I think there's quite a bit we can all learn from Google's Corporate Goals here.