5.27 Becoming an Affiliate

Establishing a brand identity on the web takes time, and many small companies become an affiliate to supplement their revenues. Amazon Books started the idea. Companies providing literary content, or selling travel products etc., placed a link from their site to a recommended book, a convenience to visitors that also earned commission for the site. The link recorded the site originating the sale, and software maintained by Amazon managed all aspects of the process thereafter. The link was a simple piece of HTML code, readily cut and pasted to the page, and affiliates could view sales through a password-managed account.

Amazon still run their own system, but many companies have handed the process over to Affiliate Solution Providers. The fee or percentage of sales taken by the third party company covers:

1. Maintaining lists of potential affiliates and companies looking for affiliates.
2. Supplying links to the affiliate sites.
3. Maintaining records of sales and commissions earned.
4. Providing password-secured sites where sales records can be viewed.
5. Publishing a simple-to-read report.
6. Paying commissions at agreed intervals.

Pay-by-Lead Deals

Free offers and newsletters are a popular way of building traffic, and also of securing emails for later marketing. Pay-by-lead deals reward affiliates who get visitors to take up these offers, usually by payments in the 25 cents to $5 range, but occasionally substantially more.

Dealing Direct

You can sometimes cut out the middleman and deal direct with the companies whose products you wish to represent. The link software itself is readily available, but you'll have to come to some arrangement with the company concerned over its purchase, coding and/or installation, particularly on managing sales and commissions.

Applying

How do you become an affiliate? Simple. You either look at the merchants represented by affiliate solution providers, or visit specialist affiliate sites presenting their own recommendations. Alternatively, you can make your own list by searching for affiliate opportunities available from the companies of interest to you. You'll appraise the goods or services concerned, scrutinize the terms and conditions applying, and sign up. An online form will ask for details of yourself, your website and the account into which the commissions will be paid. Acceptance is often automatic — particularly if you have already been accepted by the affiliate solution provider — or you'll get an email from the merchant a day or so later when they've inspected your site.

Finding an Affiliate

Solution Provider An Internet search will locate dozens of providers, but you need to:

1. Shop around for the best deal, one where companies supply quality goods/services.
2. Have popular products/services that really sell.
3. Offer lifetime commissions.
4. Happily provide names of other affiliates.
5. Assist their affiliates with good product information.
6. Not insist on exclusive contracts.
7. Allow independent sales copy/evaluations.
8. Consult third-party sites and manuals for advice on selecting a competent and reputable provider (some 40% of companies are not apparently happy with their initial choice).

Creating a site with dozens of affiliate links is just the start. You'll need to work hard to:
1. Make your site outstanding: i.e. provide uniquely useful content.
2. Promote effectively.
3. Keep promoting through search engines, pay per click search engines and email marketing.
4. Establish trust, confidence and authority.
5. Actually sell the affiliate products.

Marketing the Product

While it's easy to become an affiliate, competition is fierce, the popular products are being promoted by thousands (and sometimes tens of thousands) of affiliates. There are many sites with advice, courses and ebooks, but the points constantly stressed are:

1. Planning: find out what's really selling, and by what methods.
2. Content: your site must provide free/unique/helpful content to be popular.
3. Research: you must understand affiliate products to endorse them.
4. Suitability: products must be appropriate to your visitor's needs and wants.
5. Quality: you need topnotch products you can be proud of.
6. Commissions should be sufficiently generous to repay your efforts in promoting the products.
7. Do not engage in hard-sell, but create a willingness to purchase by engendering trust and confidence in your visitors.
8. Replace banners supplied by informative text links — if allowed to by the merchant.
9. Consider adding a doorway page between your recommendation and the merchant's site, one where you can supply more information to the potential purchaser.
10. Tacking on affiliate programs to an existing site doesn't usually work: you'll need to redesign the site around a tightly-focused group of affiliate opportunities.

Current Picture

1. Anecdotal evidence suggest that 95% of affiliates make no money at all, a figure supported by an eMarketer eAdvertising report back in 2000, which showed that the top 10 web companies earned 76% of online advertisement dollars, and top 50 earned 95%. Even earlier, in September 1997, a Jakob Nielson article suggested that only the top 0.01% of websites could support themselves by advertising alone.

2. Smaller sites do make a success of affiliates schemes, but may not be models you want to follow. These companies focus on selling by:
a. constantly researching the changing world of the Internet to identify new opportunities and exploit them for the 6-12 months they exist. Quick to move in, they are equally quick to move on.
b. constructing very basic (but effective) sites that can be put up in a few hours.
c. operating several such sites (often as many as 20) at any one time. Sites that don't pay are quickly dumped.
d. using fairly unscrupulous methods to promote their sites with the search engines, accepting that some will break the rules and be closed down.
e. operating through a chain of companies to evade legal restrictions.

Questions

1. How does selling through affiliate work? What do the two parties look for?
2. What are the advantages of working with an affiliate solution provider?
3. What sort of company would act as an affiliate? Is it worthwhile doing so today?

Sources and Further Reading

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