Increase Sales With Affiliate Marketing

Driving traffic to your Web site is a never-ending, herculean task. You can work the search engine optimization and social media all by yourself, spending most of your day “trolling for traffic,” or you can pay other people to do it for you. Affiliate marketing programs are designed to help you get customers the easier way. Here’s how it works…

Getting Started With Affiliate Marketing

An “affiliate” is simply an independent sales agent, who represents you and probably other online vendors, merchants or publishers. An affiliate’s job is to direct prospective customers to a merchant’s website and get them to perform an action.
In most cases, that desired action is to make an immediate purchase. Some merchants or publishers may want affiliates to refer visitors and entice them to download a report, or sign up for an email newsletter. Softer sells like this allows the merchant to stay build a relationship with a prospect, and present them with a sales pitch later on.
Affiliate Programs
Cookies are typically used in affiliate tracking systems, to identify that a particular affiliate referred a customer. The duration of the cookie on the prospect’s computer is often set at 30 days. This way, the affiliate can be credited for a sale, even if the prospect makes a purchase the next day, the next week, or next month.
As an independent contractor, the affiliate is free to employ whatever means he deems fit to get the job done; he’s paid for results, not just activity. In practice, the contract between affiliate and merchant usually limits the means employed to things that are legal, ethical, or at least things the affiliate thinks he can get away with. It’s important for vendors to spell out the terms of affiliate contracts carefully, to avoid damage to one’s reputation or even lawsuits.
In particular, affiliates should be warned not to use unsolicited email (spam) to send traffic. If search marketing is permitted, or if there are restrictions on bidding keywords, it must be mentioned. From the merchant’s perspective, it’s a good idea to insist that affiliate web pages and ad copy must clearly specify the affiliate relationship. Affiliates may not claim to be an “official site” or “authorized distributor” unless you explicitly permit it.
You may not want affiliates to bid on your trade name, website URL or variations thereof. And it’s advisable that affiliate ads, bidding keywords and web pages not contain copyrighted material, trademarks or logos of companies other than yours, unless used with permission from the copyright/trademark owner.

Affiliate Networks

Affiliate networks are third-party organizations that represent and provide services to both merchants and affiliates. A network provides software and other infrastructure that keeps track of an affiliate’s impressions, click and sales on behalf of vendors; collects commissions from vendors; distributes payments to affiliates; and markets the merchants’ affiliate programs to prospective affiliates. It’s easier for a vendor to deal with one affiliate network and its contract than to deal with dozens or thousands of individual affiliates.
Affiliate networks offer all sorts of marketing styles. “Search affiliates” promote their vendors ads on Web pages optimized for high rankings in search engine results. “Cause-related marketing” networks offer charitable donations out of their commissions to entice purchases of their vendors’ wares. Coupon-and-rebate or loyalty networks require vendors to offer such incentives, or operate by giving a slice of their affiliate commission to members. Ebates, iGive and Lyoness are examples of “super affiliates” that operate loyalty programs.
CJ Affiliate by Conversant (formerly Commission Junction) offers services for vendors and affiliates (independent marketers). CJ claims that “more top brands choose CJ than any other affiliate marketing network,” which says something about CJ’s own marketing savvy.
ShareASale has been in the affiliate marketing game for fourteen years. It provides affiliate marketers with sophisticated technology tools, and connects vendors with marketers who get their job done effectively and ethically.
I’ve used both CJ and ShareASale to manage my affiliate program for FlowersFast since 1998, and have been pleased with the results. In addition to handling all the tracking and affiliate payments, one of the biggest advantages of using a service like this is that it brings affiliates to you. Affiliates can browse a directory of merchants, and select one based on the commissions and terms listed there.

Affiliate Program Software

There are companies that offer tools for building a do-it-yourself affiliate network.
HasOffers provides a software suite the facilitates all of the tasks mentioned above. It also helps you contact marketers and recruit them to your affiliate network. You can customize payouts, track and tweak each campaign for best ROI.
PostAffiliate Pro is another affiliate program management suite. It, too, supports multiple campaigns, tracks referrals and sales, and helps you manage payouts.
iDevAffiliate is a software suite that has been refined and enhanced for over 15 years to maximize ease-of-use, flexibility of offers and campaigns, and reporting functions.
You can start and run your own affiliate network, recruiting independent marketers; pushing out offers to all of them to be promoted to prospects; tracking referrals and conversions; and paying out commissions to lots and lots of affiliates, hopefully.
Whether you build and manage your own affiliate network using software tools such as these, or outsource that work to an affiliate marketing network, you will end up with a legion of helpers driving buyers to your Web site.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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  1. I looked into Commission Junction and found that the upfront costs are pretty steep for a startup enterprise like mine. But Share-A-Sale was much more reasonable, and I am starting to build a group of affiliates to promote my site now.

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