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Affiliate Marketing

Imagine that you could earn commissions on a popular brand-name product just by placing a link on your website or in your email. That, my friends, is “Affiliate Marketing”!

OK… So it’s not quite that simple, but it doesn’t have to be much more complicated either.

Let’s start with a few definitions. An advertiser, or merchant, is the company who is selling a product. An affiliate, sometimes referred to as a publisher or partner, is another person or company who assists in the promotion of the product and earns a commission for doing so. (That could be you!) In between is the account management service that partners the advertisers with the affiliates and keeps track of the sales and commissions.

If you want to become an affiliate, you first need to choose either a product you want to sell, or an account management service. You will end up with both, but the choice of one will determine the choice for the other. If you choose the product first, the advertiser will direct you to the account management service that they already work with. If you choose the account management service first, they will provide you with a list of merchants that they do business with.

To see if your favorite product or company offers an affiliate program, go to their website and check the menu bar or the bottom of the screen. Look around for the word “affiliate”. Click on that link, read about their program and requirements, and fill out their application. Some companies require specific types of websites to place their links on. They will email you all you need to know to get started.

If you don’t know what specific product you would like to promote, or if you want to promote several, I recommend browsing the participating merchants on the account management service’s website. Try to stick to products or ideas that you are familiar with and passionate about. It will be much easier to market to your visitors if you can add value to the link you want them to click on. Personal recommendations or stories will get way better results than just a banner or solo text link. Give them a reason to “click here”.

Some Affiliate Marketing Questions To Consider

I’ve been receiving emails from people asking for my advice on which affiliate programs are the best, who pays the most and most often, and many other basic questions.

I went out this weekend looking for content that I could publish here temporarily while I got down to writing. I had a hard time finding unbiased content. Most of the so-called reviews out there are infomercials, and that’s not what I was looking for with this blog.

I put together four questions you should ask before you embark on your affiliate program or any Internet advertising. Before I get to the four questions you should ask before you enbark on your affiliate program, I am going to review two concepts that I use often.

The first is what I call the macro view of your Internet presence: Incoming visitors – Internet Presence – Sales or Actions You are really running two campaigns with your Internet presence — the first campaign is concerned with getting visitors to the site, and the campaign is ongoing. The second campaign is to get those visitors to do something. That something may be just to spend more time at your site, or it may be to sign up for something or buy something. The other represents the process of Internet advertising: Impression – Click – Action Most affiliate programs pay publishers in the last part of the process, the Action. I’ll be using both of these concepts in my questions. So here we go

1. Do you know enough about your visitors? There are literally thousands of affiliate programs out there. While some affiliate marketing hubs are experimenting with context-sensitive serving of affiliate banners and banner rotation on affiliate sites, YOU will be the one to decide what kind of products and services you want to offer your visitors. This seems like a minor detail, but it is a major factor in your success. If you haven’t already, take a look at the stats for your web site over the past month or so. Where do your visitors come from? Have you paid for Google, Yahoo or other search engine traffic? What are the keywords that people used to get to you? More complex and specific search terms tend to result in more immediate conversions, while broader search terms may result in sales later.

If people get to your site using what you believe to be broad search terms, you need to be sure that the cookie life (the amount of time that passes between someone from your site visiting the affiliate merchant’s site and the sale) is long. Do you have textlinks or other advertising on other sites? Do you know the demographics of the visitors from those sites? Have you spoken to the webmaster, owner or manager of the sites on which you advertise and asked him or her about their visitors? Do you know the websites? Have you visited the sites that advertise on the same sites as you? When you investigate all of these things a profile of the visitors to your site should begin to emerge. Which search engine brings you the most traffic? If it’s Google, the user is slightly more apt to be male, and in the middle (of MSN, Yahoo and Google) as far as propensity toward buying something (42% more likely than the average user). There’s a terrific article on marketingvox.com if you want to see more details. You can also find some interesting demographic info on the major search engines from AQABA.

You should pay particular attention to the domains of your visitors. If you have a lot of AOL traffic for example, you should consider that the profile of the average AOL user is 35 or older (77%) and married (62%). If you have trouble with textual representation vs. graphical representation (as I do), there is a terrific product called VisitorVille that takes your web logs and animates them.

After all this you should be able to sit down and come up with the profile of a typical visitor. This profile should hopefully include estimates of age, country of origin, education and income. Try to think like your visitors. Try to anticipate their interests and the products and services they might want to purchase. Affiliate programs raise the bar from PPC — your payment comes at the end of the Internet marketing process (the Action) rather than at the beginning (Impression or Click) like Google Adsense or Doubleclick. You need to apply more brainpower to the process, and you’ll make more money if you do it right.

2. Is your site perfect? You’re asking someone to buy something from your site. If the pages have sloppy html code, broken links or instability from a bad Cascading Stylesheet, it makes you look cheesy. We’ve all been uncomfortable buying something off a cheesy website. You don’t want to be that website. Let’s start with the html code. Are you sure there are no errors in it? Have you used an html checker ? I find mistakes in my code all the time. Unless you check your code on several browsers in several resolutions you might not catch an error.  If you use Cascading Stylesheets you should also visit the CSS Checker. Speaking of validators, you should check your links often. W3.org also has a link validator.

The site should also be optimized for search engines, be easy to understand and navigate, and should have a sitemap for people (and spiders) to find their way around. You should have had ten of your closest friends take a look at the site and give you their feedback, and you should always listen to unsolicited comments from users with an open mind and place value on them. If someone takes the time from their busy day to send you an email about your site, they feel strongly about it and you should take a close look at what they’re talking about. Understand that if your Incoming Visitors campaign is not working right, you’re wasting your time with your Sales or Action program.

3. Do you know what kind of ads you’re going to use, and where the ads are going to go? People have been ignoring banners for ten years. That’s why they shake and make sounds (someday I’ll tell you about the screaming match I had with a creative director the day we put out the first talking banner ad) to try to get your attention. Where you put it on the page is going to make a huge difference. Briefly — banners need to go somewhere the eye naturally rests (next to the masthead, near the navigation, at the bottom of the page). Placement of any ads is a huge part of getting them noticed or clicked. A lot of people (including me) believe that text ads should be placed at natural breaks and be close to the same in text size and color as the text. You need to surf around and look at where people place their ads, and you need to figure out where you think they would work on your site.

If you plan to create pages for some of the products you endorse (a great idea), you need to figure out how prominently you want to place the advertising. Most people won’t buy something if they believe you’re shilling for a particular company. They will buy from someone they believe honestly endorses the product or service. You need to figure out how to keep the distinction.

4. What’s your hunch on the right kind of offers for your site? I ask this question a lot. Now that you have a better idea of the demographics of your visitors, try to decide on which action you think they would be more apt to take — pay-per-lead, pay-per-sale or even pay-per-click (hard to come by) on your site. If you have a general interest website that gives away free stuff it’s probably going to be difficult to sell people products from that website. It might be smarter to try to get them to sign up for a free products newsletter from one of the affiliate programs, or you may want to look for offers that target the age group of your site rather than offers that target a specific interest.

You might be looking for smaller-ticket sales or only leads. Leads get the user to the end of the advertising process chain, but require less of a commitment. Try to come up with the four, five, six or fifty ways to slice this all up, by type of action, by type of sale or lead, or any other way you can come up with. Then you can go out and find the different offers that might appeal to your visitors. When it comes time to place the ads, try to put different ads in similar spaces on the same pages, and see how they do. Get your questions answered and you’re ready to take the plunge into affiliate marketing.

Welcome to the world of Affiliate Marketing! Good luck with your new venture!

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