Affiliate Program Primer
© 2004, John Calder
Ever since Amazon launched what is perhaps the most well-known, but not the first, affiliate program in 1996, other merchants in every business category imaginable have followed suit. And even though many webmasters have earned money from these programs ever since, there are still a lot of questions to this day about affiliate (also known as associate or referral) programs. So maybe it\’s time to revisit some basics for new or soon-to-be Internet marketers.
An affiliate program is, at the bottom line, a commissioned sales job. Like the Fuller Brush salesman of old, you are an independent representative of a company, offering their products or services to potential customers. When one of them buys, you get a percentage of the sale. But, in the high-tech version, you have a few very powerful advantages over the classic door-to-door sales rep.
To start, you can represent multiple products from more than one company at a time, on as many web sites as you own, in as many markets as you choose. You don\’t have to travel anywhere, yet the web puts you in front of a worldwide market. This gives you an incredible diversity of products, markets, and “neighborhoods” to sell in, all from right in front of your computer screen. You could possibly make multiple sales at one time, yet you never have to deal with door-slammed-in-your-face rejection. On the Internet, you don\’t always even have to make a sale to earn a commission. Some affiliate programs will pay you if someone just clicks on a link at your site, fills out an application, or even asks for more information. And here\’s the best part – your web sites work for you around the clock, every day.
Commission rates vary by type of product. Physical goods (that have to be shipped) tend to pay lower rates than products like software or ebooks that can be digitally delivered. However, 5% of a $2000 TV is more than 50% of a $50 ebook, so you have to remember to look at the big picture when deciding what affiliate products to offer. For best affiliate sales results, you\’ll want to offer products and services designed to appeal to the target audience of your web site. For example, it makes no sense to place affiliate links to mechanic\’s tools on a cooking site, while it makes perfect sense to place them on a site about restoring cars.
There are several ways to join affiliate programs. Some companies operate their own program, and you will apply through the company web site. But many merchants choose to operate through an affiliate network. These third-party companies offer sign-up, tracking, payment, and overall affiliate program management services to merchants and affiliate marketers. A few top names are Commission Junction, LinkShare, and Clickbank. Just search for “affiliate program” or “affiliate network” and you\’re bound to find more.
Your sales and clicks are tracked by software. It\’s your responsibility to make sure your links follow the guidelines stated by your merchant or affiliate network. Some browsers, ad-blocking software, link cloakers, and coding techniques (such as frames) can prevent the tracking links on your site from working properly, and you may not get credit if one of your clicks leads to a sale. Most all affiliate marketers sooner or later run into this, and when it happens, it\’s not intentional, so don\’t feel victimized. Technology is very good, but it\’s not perfect.
For almost every Internet marketer, affiliate marketing offers a fast and inexpensive way to get started in an online business. These programs can help you generate income while you learn the ropes and work towards developing your own product or service, if that\’s your goal. And yes, you can even become an affiliate for the Fuller Brush Company!
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