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Affiliate Marketing

By Michael Bloch
Friday, November 7, 2003; 2:30pm EST

What is an affiliate program?
With the proliferation of goods and services now available on the Internet, advertisers look to individuals and companies to help sell their products by utilizing webmasters and others to spread the word.

This can be in the form of banner advertising on affiliate sites, text links, reviews written by affiliates, direct email etc. The advertisers compensate webmasters by paying them for displaying the ads, or for click throughs sent to them, or (as is most common these days) a commission on sales resulting as a referral from their web site or email message. For a more detailed look at the getting involved with affiliate programs, view the learning resources and tutorial links at the end of this article.

How can I make money from being an affiliate?
There are many thousands of affiliate programs out there, all claiming to be the best. Some of them will give you the impression that all you have to do is implement their banners and links and wait for the commission cheques to start rolling in. This CAN be the case, but this scenario usually only applies to very large sites with massive web traffic that is relevant to product or service on offer. For most of us, being a successful affiliate requires a little more work!

As the range of goods and online services offered via the Internet has grown at an incredible rate over the last few years, therefore so has the competition. Web site visitors need to have a very good reason for clicking on a link or banner.

Choosing the right banners
In most affiliate programs, you are offered a wide variety of banners to place on your site - very few of them will be effective. If you can attain a clickthrough rate of 2%, then you are doing very well. It has been our experience, and this is generally speaking, that graphically rich banners do not perform as successfully as their simpler counterparts. The main reason for this is download time. If a banner is the last thing to load on your page and the banner ad is excessively byte "heavy", by the time it has loaded your visitor may already have scrolled down the page - missing it entirely. Heavy banner ads can also slow down the loading of your pages, or critical elements of your page and you can lose your visitors altogether! A graphically rich banner can also confuse the actual message - the artwork and marketing blurb can be imbalanced. For these reasons, we suggest that banners you implement be no more that 15kb wherever possible.

Banners that have "extreme" animation, such as rapid flashing, are also something to consider very carefully. While these do achieve high clickthrough rates, they are also highly annoying. If you do decide to implement this form of banner advertising, use it very sparingly.

When selecting any form of graphical advertising, try and keep the theme of your site in mind - while graphical ads are meant to stand out and catch a visitors eye, it shouldn't be to the point that everything else on the page is totally ignored. Wherever possible, ensure that all banner ads (and any advertising for that matter) uses a link that opens in a new window. That way, if a visitor does choose to visit one of your advertisers it is easy for them to return to your page and review what they actually came to your site for!

Pop ups and pop unders
Many companies, but mostly agencies representing a number of advertisers, now give their affiliates the options of using pop up and pop under ads. Our opinion - pop ups are evil. They annoy visitors and are usually closed before they even have a chance to load. Go for pop-unders and preferably those that only display once per visit. See below for further articles on this subject.

Using Text Link Ads
One of the most successful forms of advertising are text link ads. They are bandwidth friendly, don't take up a lot of space and can be easily implemented into most page layouts. Good text links ads don't just scream "buy me!", they also offer some information as to why your web site visitor should investigate the offer. A company should also supply you with very short text links which only state the product or company name. The reason for this is so that you can implement the links directly into the content of related articles and reviews.

Articles and product/service reviews
Now, this is where a bit of hard work comes in. Your regular site visitors will view you as an authority on particular subjects, so why not write a review on a product or service you are advertising? This also supplies excellent content for search engine spiders to latch onto. We have attracted many visitors to our site using what I call "adarticles".

But there's a catch......

If you are going to use the adarticle concept to promote products, you need to believe in what you write. Research the product and company well. Contact the company and let them know what you are doing and ask for further resources and assistance. Once you have created the review, send them the link - you may be suprised at the response you get.

One of our advertisers was so impressed with the effort we put into promoting his company's product that he gave us an extra 15% commission on each sale! This form of web site advertising is a bit time-consuming, so choose your products carefully. The information that you supply to your web site visitors will help them formulate a decision, so be honest in your sales copy. If you are successful in this promotion strategy, over time your reviews won't be seen as hype and bluster, but as a reliable source of information - everybody wins!

Email advertising as an affiliate marketing tool
Direct promotion via email has boomed over recent years, but has brought with it mountains of spam. If you intend on using email as a method of advertising products and services, ensure you stand behind the products you're promoting and make yourself available to answer any questions. An effective promotion technique we have found is to combine email with the adarticle strategy. In our ezine we occasionally put a summary of a product or service, just enough information to stir the curiosity of our readers. The summary then contains a link to the adarticle on our site. The benefit of this is not only that you have a good opportunity to promote the product or service, but while visitors are on your site they may also look at other sections. The advertiser benefits through having highly targeted potential clients visit their site.

Original marketing strategies
Using the two above strategies combined, you can tailor your own campaign. Visitors sometimes become blind to the advertising resources supplied by companies and your efforts in coming up with something original may spark their (and the company's) interest. As an example, our hosting company has provided great service to us over the last 18 months, which made us very confident in promoting their hosting solutions - so we approached them and negotiated a great deal for all parties involved. They have increased visibility on our site, we receive fantastic benefits in return, while promoting a service we really believe in! Using this example, you can make many of your alliances and business partnerships more beneficial to all concerned.

Successful affiliate marketing requires patience
If you are certain that your web site can generate fantastic sales for a certain company, contact them to negotiate a tailored arrangement. If they aren't too enthusiastic to begin with, be patient - companies are approached every day by affiliates wanting to cut a "better deal". The reality of it is that many affiliates cannot deliver what they promise, and the companies are aware of this. Implement their links and banners, go the extra mile with adarticles and other unique strategies, generate some sales and then approach them again. You'll probably find that they'll have a change of heart. Good affiliates are a scarce thing, and if you are performing they'll be very keen to keep you!

Also bear in mind that most forms of advertising take some time to kick into gear. Putting a link up for a couple of days and then pulling it down because it is not generating any interest may not be a reflection on the product, but just in the way that it is being presented to your web site visitors. If you have run successful campaigns before, try to remember the elements that made it a success. What works for one product may not necessarily for another, but it's worth a try. Again, if you are having problems with promotion, contact the company. They will more than likely have thousands of affiliates and will know what strategies are working. A good advertiser may even go to the trouble of reviewing your site and provide you with some tips and hints based on their observations.

Network Advertising Agencies vs. individual advertisers
One of the easiest ways to get involved with affiliate programs is through one of the major advertising agencies. They will offer you hundreds or thousands of advertisers to choose from and payment will be consolidated.

It can be quite difficult to keep track of a number of individual advertisers, but this shouldn't turn you away from considering individual companies to represent on your web site. If the company is well known, has a good product, offers excellent affiliate support and commits to regular payments with a low payout threshold, they can actually perform better than some of your agency associations.

This is particularly the case if the company offers residual income; i.e. that you receive monthly commissions from referred clients to services such as web hosting, magazine subscriptions - for as long as the client is with the company. Affiliation with these individual advertisers, over time, can build a steady stream of income for you.

By the way, be extremely wary of affiliate programs that you have to pay to join - they are really MLM (multi-level-marketing) associations. There are some very successful and respectable MLM offers around, but also many that are scams. Do your research into the company offering the program.

Successful Affiliate Marketing - unplugged
Be careful of who you advertise for. Many companies set a minimum payout level they know not many will achieve. They greatly benefit from the fact that thousands of affiliates will not make any real money from the association and over time these affiliates will drop off when they can't hit the target - but the company has benefited from the traffic, with minimum outlay.

One sale here, two sales there - it all adds up for them. Consider this - a company launches an affiliate program with a minimum payout level of US$25 (industry standard). They then recruit over 20,000 affiliates. Only the top 1,000 affiliates actually generate enough sales to receive payouts on a regular basis. The remaining 19,000 only average one sale each, lose interest and drop away. These 19,000 affiliates made nothing, but the company still raked in what could run into millions of dollars of sales.

Successful affiliate marketing boils down to survival of the fittest, the fastest, the wisest - but mainly those who put the most effort in. Don't be discouraged if after a couple of months you haven't made enough money to retire - it does take time!

Looking back over our figures, it was approximately 6 months from when we began getting involved with affiliate programs to when it really started to pay off the effort we had put in. The longer you are involved with affiliate marketing, the more savvy you will become as to what will work and won't. Then your effort vs. return will reap greater income in shorter periods of time.

Affiliate marketing can be exciting and frustrating with many highs and lows, but one thing's for sure - it's never boring!

Source of Article
This article was written by Michael Bloch. He can be emailed at michael@tamingthebeast.net or you can visit his web site at http://www.tamingthebeast.net for tutorials, web content and tools, software and community. Web Marketing, eCommerce & Development solutions.


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