Affiliate Programs – What Are They?
Affiliate programs are a type of performance marketing. Online companies (merchants) selling products or services agree to pay a commission for the referral of customers or prospects.
As a website owner, you can become an affiliate, advertise a merchant’s products or services on your website and send traffic to the merchant’s website. You will earn a commission on every sale that was made by visitors that you have sent to the merchant website.
Merchants may not only pay commission on sales, but also pay for lead generation. For example, a merchant might want users to register for something (maybe a free whitepaper, a newsletter subscription, or a request for information), and you as an affiliate can earn a set fee for every registrant that you have referred to the merchant website.
Large companies like amazon.com manage their own affiliate program in-house (so you sign up for amazon’s affiliate program on the amazon.com website), but many merchants sign up with affiliate networks, which manage the affiliate program for the merchant.
For an affiliate, affiliate networks have the advantage that you can sign up to many different merchant programs at the same time and get summary reports and easy and reliable payment for all programs.
For merchants, affiliate networks manage the fairly complex tracking and administrative side of the program, while allowing the merchants to promote their affiliate program to a large number of potential affiliate sites. Popular affiliate networks include Commission Junction, zanox, shareasale, Linkshare and Performics.
Tips and Tricks for Affiliates
There are two broad approaches to making money with affiliate programs: You either have an existing business and want to supplement your sales revenue with affiliate commission, or you build you online activities solely around generating affiliate commission
The Key – Qualified Traffic
In either case, the most important ingredient to affiliate success is traffic, or more specifically, qualified traffic. If no one visits your website, you can have as many affiliate ads plastered on your pages as you want, but you still won’t earn any commission.
If you have an existing website, you know what type of people visit your website and what they are looking for. In this case, offer affiliate products and services that your visitors are likely to be interested in and that complement your existing products and/or are related to the topic of your website.
For example, you might have a website promoting your cat and dog boarding kennel business, and you also provide tips on how to make holiday absences less traumatic for pets. In this case, it would probably be a good fit if you promoted pet food or pet accessories (or even pet psychologist services) through an affiliate program.
If you are thinking about setting up a website from scratch to generate affiliate revenue, think about the audience you want to target first. You need to create interesting content that will attract your target audience to your site.
For example, let’s say you want to target running enthusiasts. What kind of information would running enthusiasts be looking for online? They might be looking for information on training programs, running tracks, race meets, nutritional supplements, injury prevention, running clubs and running gear.
So create pages with useful and current information on those topics, and then add affiliate ads promoting running shoes, vitamins, training handbooks and the like. Of course, it always helps if you are really passionate about the subject you write about … your readers will recognize your passion, and this will enhance the reputation and authority of your site – which should result in more traffic!
Once you’ve got an interesting site with affiliate ads, how do you get traffic to your site? Here, you’re back to the basics of generating website traffic through paid and free methods like on-page search engine optimization, incoming links, paid search advertising and any other form of online advertising that helps to generate traffic. Whenever you spend money on acquiring traffic, you need to keep your affiliate commission in mind and make sure you spend less on getting traffic to your site than you are earning as commission. Test, test, test until you find the winning formula.
Apart from search engines, community sites and social networking sites like myspace.com are popular places for people to hang out online. Try and think of how you can tap into these sites or activities like blogging to direct traffic to your site! Email marketing can also be very effective – set up an informative newsletter for your subscribers and include ads in the newsletter, or test advertising in third-party newsletters.
Focus on Selling!
While simply including affiliate ads on your site or in your newsletters may be enough to keep your commission payments ticking over, you can give your affiliate a sales a boost by actively selling them to your customers. Product or service reviews give your visitors credible background information and more reasons to purchase, testimonials and case studies act as fantastic sales support. Including text links to affiliate products within your content is also an relevant, effective and unintrusive way of promoting affiliate products.
An Alternative to Affiliate Programs: Join A Publisher Network
Does this affiliate thing still sound like too much work for you? Well, there are alternatives: You can sign up to the publisher networks of advertising programs like Google AdWords (Google AdSense is the name of the publisher network) or Yahoo! Search Marketing.
As a publisher, you simply select where and in what form you want to display text ads on your site, and the ads are served up to automatically match the content on your site. If you feel you don’t want to promote certain companies because they are directly competing with you, you can choose to exclude these advertisers, whose ads then will never be displayed on your site.
The advantage of these kind of publisher networks are that they are very easy to implement and require minimal ongoing effort on your part. On the other hand, you are simply displaying text ads in various forms, so there are limits to how creative you can get.
Shareasale.com – The affiliate network ineedhits uses
Google AdSense – The Google AdWords Publisher Network
Yahoo! Publisher Network – The Yahoo! Search Marketing Publisher Network