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Affiliate Marketing 101 – What You Need to Know

What would you like to promote? Affiliate marketing is no stranger to the Internet, and certainly no stranger to network marketers and article marketing is still a successful way to promote your online business or blog. Affiliate marketing offers a phenomenal opportunity for people who do not have a lot of start-up capital or a lot of time to put together a giant campaign. Affiliate marketing has some very good advantages which include no product of your own, no inventory, no shipping or overhead and no real sales force. For the merchant it can also be a cheap and effective marketing strategy.

What are Affiliate Programs?
Generally speaking affiliate programs are marketing programs offered by web advertisers or merchants that recruit website owners and bloggers. The merchants provide banner ads, links and buttons for website owners to place on their website to market the merchant’s products. In turn, the website owner or blogger will receive a referral fee or commission when a customer purchases a product that is delivered via an affiliate link. One of the most common types of affiliate links are pay per click (PPC – Pay Per Click) however, increasingly now have been intertwined with email and content marketing.

The Product:
When you are looking for an affiliate program there are some things you need to consider before choosing which company you are going to take arms with. The product should be one of quality can also be a service. As long as it’s a product viable service and it offers something of value to the customer.

There are several types of compensation plans built into affiliate marketing programs, and one of them can be a residual program. However, not all affiliate marketing programs have residual programs built into them. If you can find one with residual funds, then that would be the way to go. However, there are some that actually offer a significantly high commission rate that may make up for the loss of the residual income. There are also others that offer a multilevel marketing structure of compensation. Now if you’re familiar with multilevel marketing than that may be an avenue that you would choose to examine.

But before jumping into any multilevel marketing program, you should read up on it and do a thorough analysis. The last thing you want to do is jump into an affiliate program that is going to be a serious waste of time.

Choosing an Affiliate Program:
Back in 1994 there weren’t very many affiliate programs to choose from and most of them were revolved around offensive content websites. Today, affiliate programs have a higher standard and it is a new way of doing business. There are many companies that have affiliate marketing programs lime Amazon, web hosting companies, domain name registrars, and electronic websites, Apple iTunes, bit defender, panda security, PC health boost, Commission Junction, eBay Partner Network, Google AdSense, VistaPrint and the list goes on and on.

You can find an affiliate program for almost anything you want to sell. It is a good idea to sell something that is related to your website, providing you have one. Not everybody that signs up for an affiliate program has a website to run it through. There are some that actually write articles and direct the URLs to their affiliate program.

Becoming an Affiliate:
If you want to become an affiliate it’s not that hard. You simply go to the website of choice and look for their affiliate link program. Usually what will happen is you will sign up and get a unique affiliate ID along with some banners and links. You then place these on your website so that your potential audience can click on those links which if they purchase, you will receive a commission. Just because you signed up for an affiliate program doesn’t mean that you’re actually going to drive traffic to your website. You still need to do something about driving traffic to your website or affiliate link like write compelling articles and become an expert in your field. These articles can be placed on article databases and are a sure way of driving traffic to your website or affiliate link.

What You Should Look For:
When you go shopping for an affiliate program, try to look for high affiliate commissions, long cookies and of course you would want to get a great conversion rate. Two-tier programs which have the same structure as a multilevel marketing organization and can be quite lucrative. Such organizations that earn billions in multilevel marketing and direct sales is companies like Amway which has been in business for 53 years, Nu Skin started in 1984 and Nature’s Sunshine started in 1972 so multilevel marketing has been around for some time. Residual affiliate programs is definitely the way to go. You continue to make money on that visitor month after month. The advantage here is that eventually your sales start accumulating where you’re making more and more money as opposed to the individual sale where you have to continuously make money to stay at the same level.

Where You Can Go:
There is services out there that have a database of a lot of companies that are doing affiliate program so you do not have to run around and seek out each individual program themselves. Companies like ClickBank where you sign up and select the affiliate program you wish to support.

Marketing Your Link:
Now let’s talk about that affiliate link for a moment. Most affiliate links are extremely long, hideous and some of them have special characters in them like a “?” or “=” sign. These links will not rank on search engines like Google very well and definitely cannot be added to pay per click like Google AdSense. What I would suggest is getting yourself a domain name and rerouting it to your affiliate offer. Let’s take for an example if I wanted to become an affiliate of a cell phone electronics company and I had a website I can actually write a review on a particular cell phone that I’m trying to market. If it’s more than one, then I could just pick a product or two to write my articles on. Anyway, I would try to register a domain name that may have something in it like cheap cell phones or something along those lines to help the search engines determine what your product might be.

Increase Your Sales:
What if you don’t have a website and you wish to increase your sales with affiliate marketing; what would you do? One way to market an affiliate program I briefly touched on is to write quality articles about the product that is being marketed. I truly suggest this strategy to increase traffic and sales. There are several article directories that you can post your articles to, but do not post the same article to multiple sites other than the article directory and your own site if you have one. Article directories can be a very good source of traffic because of their reputation and the amount of visitors they have each month reading your article. Of course, some of those readers will click on your affiliate link driving traffic to your affiliate program. I like Ezine Articles as an article directory, but there are others like; Goarticles, ehow, Examiner, Technorati, Thefreelibrary and much more, but that’s a good start. Don’t just read one article when doing your research and regurgitate the content from that one article. Try to do some in-depth study to get a complete understanding of what it is you’re writing about. Once you have that understanding, try to simplify your article by using either bullet points or topic list. To get people to click on your link you need to be compelled to do so, but the only way to do that is to write compelling articles.

Making money on the net with affiliate programs can be a rewarding experience if you know where to go the fine the right affiliate program and how to do the research needed. Just locating an affiliate program is not all you need to do, you need to weigh the gravity of that affiliate program. First determine what it is you would like to sell and do your research. Hopefully, you will look for something that accents your website or if you don’t have a website, something that you know a lot about so that you can write your reviews.

The Ins and Outs of Affiliate Marketing Campaigns

Let the professionals help you… in mass:

Affiliate marketing networks provide an environment where companies who have something to sell (Advertisers) meet with companies who know how to sell it (Publishers). Many large Affiliate marketing networks provide hundreds of products to be sold to their network of thousands of publishers.

Affiliate marketing networks generally work on a performance basis (CPA), where you only pay when a sale or lead is generated for you. You receive a sale or lead at a predetermined cost and then award the affiliate network with a bounty for generating the sale or lead for you. The Affiliate network then pays their publishers for generating sales on your behalf, minus what the network keeps for itself for putting the deal together. This may sound similar to a shopping portal, however there are some distinct differences. A shopping portal places your products in direct connection with the online shopper. Affiliate marketing networks place your products in direct connection with publishers (marketing or media companies.) Each publisher will then use their own resources to generate sales for you, be it PPC, SEO, email, banners and the like.

Not every product or service will work with an affiliate marketing campaign, and many affiliate networks will not accept your offer unless certain criteria are met. The average website is not “marketing ready” for an affiliate marketing campaign, and often requires a redesign or a separate website to allow for easy sales or lead conversions. Most sales lead generation campaigns work across affiliate marketing networks as long as you are not trying to collect too much information, or information that makes your customers feel nervous such as a social security number. For product sales, you need to present a very attractive offer like “a free 7 day trial for a diet pill”, “free services for 1 month”, or anything that can be considered a low risk bargain. An offer such as “a 42 inch plasma screen Television for only $1,597” will not work. As always, there are exceptions, and you may need to work closely with your affiliate manager to produce a campaign that will be popular amongst the publishers.

Due to the nature of the affiliate networks, they can be volatile and risky, and are not recommended for any company until they have a lot of internet marketing experience under their belt. The overall sales potential of affiliate network marketing can be enormous, and any time gigantic sales numbers come into play, so do gigantic risks. Many affiliate networks have what are known as “Super Affiliates” who have the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales commissions each month. The volatility stems from both the marketing power available through an affiliate network, along with the performance-based environment they provide.

For the most part, the publishers who do the selling through the affiliate networks are greedy. They want to sell only the products and services that yield them the most revenue. It is their right, after all, because they are working on a performance basis and assume all marketing risks. If a good offer comes across an affiliate network, where a lot of money can be made, many publishers will market the product and sales will come streaming in. If a product comes in that does not generate good, or at least acceptable, revenue for the publishers, they will chose to not market the product and sales will be almost nonexistent. It is difficult to find the right balance to satisfy all parties involved (advertiser, publisher, affiliate network, and potential customer.) All parties must be happy in order to yield a successful affiliate campaign. The swing between a high performing campaign and an unpopular one can be tremendous. This volatility introduces significant risk, which comes in three flavors.

Affiliate Network Marketing Risk:

  • (1) Not enough business You have put significant time and resources into building an Affiliate marketing campaign. You have commissioned all types of marketing creative, website design and even bulked up your sales staff. Despite this preparation, your offer is not a money maker for the publishers, and they are not marketing your campaign. Your expenses have increased in anticipation of increased sales that simply never materialized.
  • (2) Too much business You hit the nail on the head… Your offer is hot and the publishers love it. They love it so much that sales flow in faster than you can handle. Your call center can handle 50 leads per day but the publishers are generating 200. For each sale or lead made you must pay a commission whether or not you can address it. You are literally downing in too much business, and your pocketbook can’t hold out long enough to expand accordingly.
  • (3) Cheating You didn’t invest much effort in validating your sales or leads. Your affiliate marketing campaign is generating a lot of leads, but sales are not happening. You are receiving numerous disconnected phone numbers, invalid credit card numbers or people who say “I only signed up for the free gift.” Leads are coming in, but a bunch of crooked publishers are submitting fake information to get paid as if their data was real. Notice how that last lead had a Texas area code, their zip code was “12345,” they stated they live in Alaska and gave you the credit card number “4444555544445555.”

Many Affiliate marketing networks will also ask if they can run your campaign exclusively. This means that they are the only affiliate network that can provide your offer to the world. There are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to running your campaign exclusively with one network.

Exclusive Affiliate network Campaign Advantages:

  • Your Affiliate marketing campaign manager may pass your campaign on to other affiliate marketing networks, and manage your account for you. This saves you considerable time by not having to seek out new networks, organizing campaign launches, marketing creative, and other tasks required to launch a new campaign.
  • You will not have to pay startup fees or sign contracts for the affiliate marketing networks that your affiliate manager passes your campaign on to. You simply work under your single agreement with your affiliate manager. This can save you thousands of dollars in startup costs, and lots of time.
  • Affiliate marketing networks use exclusive campaigns as “bragging rights,” and often give priority to their exclusive campaigns. Your campaign is more likely to be advertised to the publishers and given special attention. This helps to get your campaign noticed by the publisher, and ultimately increases sales or lead flow.

Exclusive Affiliate network Disadvantages:

  • Your campaign manager will outsource your campaign to other affiliate marketing networks. You will not know exactly who is marketing your offer and therefore the quality of the web traffic coming into your website is unknown.
  • Your affiliate manager may not be as ambitious as you. Your campaign may not get passed on to other affiliate marketing networks, and because it is an exclusive offer you can’t pass it on to other networks. Growth may become stifled.
  • The publishers who run your campaign through outsourced affiliate networks will not receive as high of a payout (sales commission). There are effectively two affiliate marketing networks: Your direct affiliate network and the outsourced network. More hands are in the pot, taking money and leaving less for the publishers themselves. The decreased publisher bounty with result in decreased interest in your campaign, so the outsourced affiliate marketing networks will not be as productive as if you worked with them directly.

Most affiliate networks will want to incorporate email marketing into your campaign. This is strongly recommended, as sales or lead generation volumes could be significantly higher. If you do allow your campaign to be email marketed, you will need to be able to maintain an email suppression list. The suppression list is a list of email addresses of people who want to opt-out from receiving your offer. An opt-out link must be provided on your email marketing creative where people can opt-out from your offer. You must then supply the suppression file to your affiliate network so they can in turn pass your suppression file to their publishers. This is a part of the Can-Spam law and it can be effectively managed with a small opt-out landing page connected to a simple database. Make sure you provide an updated suppression file to the affiliate networks at least once per week.

Launching affiliate marketing campaigns that convert:

  • Your goal is to generate a campaign that puts the most money possible into your publisher’s pockets, while also generating a profit yourself. Keep in mind that a break-even campaign is also a successful campaign as long as you can re-market to your clients and generate additional sales, upgrades, etc.
  • Design your campaign to maximize conversions. Minimize the clicks needed to purchase a product, or have your lead generation form on the home page. Don’t collect information that you really do not need, or that people do not like to give out (like an SSN.) You may have to build a unique website for the affiliate marketing campaign if your current website is not fine-tuned for affiliate marketing.
  • You are competing against all of the other campaigns on an affiliate network, not just ones selling the same thing you are. Publishers optimize the offers they market and drop the poor performing campaigns. Design an offer that works both for you and your publishers; your affiliate manager can help.
  • Make the steps necessary to allow your campaign to be email marketed by the publishers. This means you will need to create Can-Spam compliant email marketing creative, an opt-out page linked to a database, and provide access to an updated suppression file (a text dump of your database suppression file.) Email marketing will significantly amplify your campaign’s effectiveness.
  • Develop a large selection of various marketing creative, lots of standard size banners, multiple email creative, multiple email titles and subject lines, various text links and so on. Your affiliate manager will provide you a list of critical media types and sizes, but try to provide more than their minimum requirements.
  • Stay on top of lead quality and fraud. No matter how advanced your validation system may get, someone will try to sneak fake data past you. Make sure that you can track all lead sources, including the subIDs that are passed on through the affiliate network.
  • Every time you make a change to your website, submit a test to ensure that the affiliate campaign is still running as it should be. If your website has an error preventing sales conversions or introduces tracking problems, you may be asked to pay the publishers for their lost business. Remember that your broken website will affect many companies who stuck their neck out for you.
  • Be prepared for large volumes of leads, or no leads at all.

The risks associated with affiliate network marketing are many, and they are significant. You must be on your toes, thinking ahead and quick to move if things turn sour. But if you come prepared and design an offer that the publishers love, the financial rewards can be enormous.

Professional Affiliate Marketing Primer

If you’re new to the professional affiliate marketing Internet business playground, then you’re no doubt wondering what affiliate marketing is all about. In simplest terms, it is marketing and promoting some other company’s products/services on the Internet. You, the pro affiliate marketer, promote through whatever means is available to you (your ezine, blog, email, online advertising, etc.), which then sends traffic and customers to another company’s website, who then does all the work — develop, sell and support the actual products and/or services; close the sale; process the orders, take payments and make delivery; etc. — for the paying customer. You, as the marketer and source of that business, are then paid a commission for your work. That’s it!

The whole business arrangement is essentially revenue sharing. The company that provides the product or service being sold is generally called the affiliate merchant, and he shares the revenue they generate with you, the affiliate marketer, for sending business their way. In most cases, the affiliate marketer drums up that business through various forms of legitimate advertising techniques on a wide variety of online avenues and platforms.

Note that generally, the affiliate merchant does not pay anything for the “marketing” and promotion until a sale has actually occurred. This way, the merchant can minimize both risk and expenditures. Theoretically, the affiliate can then be rewarded more handsomely for taking on that marketing risk and expenditure. However, since the affiliate marketer does not need to take on the risk, investment and expenditure of developing and supporting a product/service and administering a sale, the relationship is very much considered a win-win arrangement, with each party focusing on the part of the business they are good at and interested in.

Tracking, Calculating and Paying Affiliate Income

How the affiliate marketer essentially gets paid for his work depends entirely on the affiliate merchant. In practically all cases, the arrangement is wholly managed through an automated system, with the merchant using Internet server-based software that gives an affiliate marketer a unique link code or ID which the marketer must then use to identify all the traffic and customers he sends to the merchant. This is really the only way the merchant can properly identify, credit and compensate the right affiliate for any business generated.

In some cases, an affiliate merchant uses the resources of a much larger affiliate network service (such as Commission Junction, LinkShare, etc.) to administer its affiliate program. Some other merchants, on the other hand, choose to run their own in-house affiliate system, keeping their program independent from everybody else’s. In practically all cases, however, the basics of how an affiliate program tracks and calculates affiliate commissions follow what is outlined above.

The merchant generally specifies the financial terms beforehand (pay periods, minimum payment thresholds, when money is paid and how, etc.), whether it uses the services of a 3rd party service or runs its own affiliate program in-house. How an affiliate is ultimately paid will depend on these predetermined specifics, and they can run the gamut from being paid online through services like Paypal, having funds wired directly to an affiliate’s bank account, to having a physical check printed and mailed directly to the affiliate.

Although there is obviously a level of trust in the merchant involved in this arrangement, it works because not only is it to the affiliate merchant’s benefit to maintain a good working relationship with its affiliates in order to grow its business and ensure its continued success, the community of professional affiliate marketers is fairly tight-knit with extensive communications channels that quickly reports any shadiness and negative business dealings. On top of that, affiliate programs that run on third party network services offer an extra layer of protection and trust to the affiliate, with the networks helping ensure that all transactions are properly tracked, calculated and compensated. This is one reason that many professional affiliate marketers often adopt a policy that they will only work with affiliate programs that are administered through these third party affiliate network services.

Affiliate Program Selection

You, as the professional affiliate marketer, are free to choose whatever affiliate program you wish to join and market. In other words, you essentially choose which products and/or services you’ll be promoting (through your blog, web site, ezine, advertisements, etc.). It is not a light decision, since your income is very much affected by how well you match your total “offer” to your “audience” or “market.” That, however, is essentially your job and is part of what you as the professional affiliate marketer is compensated richly for.

In many cases, what affiliate programs you do choose is usually determined by your preexisting markets and audiences, For example, if you already run a gardening blog, then obviously the programs you would seek out would be gardening related or ones that you’ve determined would be of interest to the audience demographic your gardening site attracts.

If you are approaching this affiliate marketing business as a pure marketer, however, where the decision on how to market a product or service would be highly dependent on what it is you actually select to promote, how you select an affiliate program can be based on many different factors.

Some professional affiliate marketers, for example, choose programs based on commission size (high payouts per sale) or market size. These are business decisions you have to make, again, part of what you’re getting paid for. Here are some suggestions for beginners, however, that may help you get started.

Choose products/services you are personally interested in. If you are interested in gardening or golf, for example, then focus on products/services specifically for those markets. The plain simple truth of it is that it is much harder to promote a product or service that you really couldn’t care less about.

Choose products/services that do not embarrass you and that you are comfortable having your friends and family associate with you. For example, even though it’s quite lucrative, some professional affiliate marketers are unable to promote dating sites and services for reasons of embarrassment and discomfort.

Choose products/services you are already familiar with and fully understand. Even if you are not all that interested in automobiles or travel, for instance, you may already know more than enough about the products and services in those particular markets that you can actually sell in those market niches.

Select affiliate programs that provide you with the best sales support. This only comes up from prior research, of course, but it’s something you must do anyway. The sales support referred to here are things like training, advertising material and resources, extensive product information, etc. Obviously, the more tools they give you to sell with, the better your chances.

Remember: Being a professional affiliate marketer means that you are in business. Your business. Your success is ultimately determined by your decisions and actions. Good luck.