Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Let’s Affiliate!

(Part of the Internet Business 101 Article series)

Unless you’re brand new to the internet, or you’ve been hiding under your mouse, you’re probably aware of what an affiliate program is. As a catch-up, it’s an advertising network where lots of websites (the affiliates) point links to a central website (the merchant). A visitor comes to the affiliate’s site, and clicks through that link to the merchant site. The clickthrough carries a tracking code with it, so that if the visitor buys something, the merchant records who the visitor came from, and credits that affiliate’s account with a percentage of the sale. When that account reaches a threshold (often $50), the merchant cuts a check to the affiliate.

It’s a pretty simple system. As an affiliate, you provide the merchant with an inbound link, and traffic. If you make sales, they provide you with money. Win-win!

This technology and marketing strategy has been around for many, many years. I remember back in the day, when I was first learning how to build websites, I signed up for a GeoCities free personal page. I was making a family tree site. I liked how it looked, too. I noticed that there were a lot of other GeoCities sites with this strange ad to a place called “”. A little bit of research showed it to be one of the first affiliate programs, and actually, that’s what put the now-huge retailer on the internet map.

So, it’s possible to use affiliate programs on your own website in a couple of ways.

One is to monetize an information-based website. Is there something you really enjoy, but you can’t find product to sell in that topic? Find some affiliates that relate to that content and that audience. Make a site with lots of up-to-date information, and lots of affiliate links. Got a blog? Put on the affiliate links and turn it into an income stream!

Another is to provide additional products for your customers to buy. Let’s say you have a site selling dropshipped camping supplies. Why not affiliate link to Amazon for some camping books or travel guides?

There are a lot of mistakes made by many affiliate adopters that you should be aware of.

1. Picking the wrong Affiliate Program to join

Always pick programs that sell products of interest to your audience. In the early days, people would put up an Amazon link just to have one. Just because of the off chance that someone would arrive at their site and think, “Oh! Now’s the chance to buy that new mystery I’ve been wanting to read!”

The end result was no clickthroughs, no commissions to speak of, but a lot of free branding advertising for Amazon!

Do some due diligence and look into the companies. It’s tough to take the effort to sign up, paste the codes into your site, and then see the company fold.

There are a lot of great sites where you can research and find good affiliate programs. Sites like,, and These sites also have articles loaded with good affiliate marketing tips.

2. Generic Linking

This mistake refers to linking from your site to the main page of a merchant’s site, with little or no reference to the products inside. It’s like you signed up for the affiliate program, and simply copied and pasted the link into your site. No setup, no recommendation. Just “click here and buy something.”

There’s very little that could be less attractive than this.

Consider these case studies.

A long time ago, I was looking for a site where I could buy a “Dummies” book. I did a quick search engine check, found a likely site, and clicked in. What I found was a very well-made site, full of reviews of the various books. I found the one I wanted, and when I clicked on it, was surprised to find myself at the page OF THAT VERY BOOK. This was not a generic click to the main page in the hopes that I would find something I liked. This was a site that essentially set up Amazon as their dropship fulfillment house. They prepped me, they closed me, and they sent me to Amazon only to take the order.

Another site I visited was owned by a doctor. It contained pages and pages of information about the various illnesses and procedures he specialized in. At the bottom of each of these pages there was a bibliography. As I moused over each book in the bibliography, I discovered they were links. Guess where they linked to? That’s right! The page for that book.

The moral of the story? Find and use affiliate programs that allow you to link to specific products, not just the main page of the site.

3. No content

Affiliate sites thrive on traffic.

Think of it. A certain amount of people will click into your site. A certain percentage of those will find your affiliate links interesting. A certain number of those will click through, and a percentage of those will actually buy, generating a commission for you.

So, it stands to reason that the more people you load into the front end of that food chain, the more people will buy at the back end. So, what’s going to bring people to your site, and then keep them there long enough to go to an affiliate merchant? Content!

You have to have information, relevant and usable, on the website. That’s what draws in the visitors, that’s what makes them want to buy. Articles, instructions, blogs, whatever you do, make it informative and update it often!

And make the affiliates you join relate well to the content. You’re drawing in that audience, so sell them what they’re looking for.

4. Not knowing the payment thresholds and policies of the merchant.

Read your agreement! Know what the percentages are, and how often they pay. Learn how they account for the money and how they’re audited. This will save you a lot of grief in the long run.

5. Gaming the system

If there’s a system on the net that can benefit someone, there will also be a program someone has written to game it. By that, I mean that someone will create a way to cheat it and make either money or misery off of it, without providing the value. Affiliates can find a way to cheat the merchants with fake clickthroughs and orders. Merchants will find ways to cheat the affiliates out of the clickthroughs.

The best advice regarding gaming? Don’t! Eventually, you will be caught and you could face expulsion at least and criminal charges at worst. Long run, It’s not worth it!

6. Spamming

And while we’re talking about bad form, let’s not forget spam! Including affiliate links in spam emails can get you expelled from a merchant’s program pretty fast. It doesn’t take much for people to get irritated enough to report you. Best to not push it! If you do send out an affiliate address (in a non-spam email, of course), make sure that it’s not so long that it breaks and wraps half-way onto the next line. That will make it so the click link won’t work, and it’ll be much more clumsy for people to respond to.

So, there you have some great ideas for avoiding bad ideas in the affiliate world. Let’s turn traffic flow into cash flow!

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