Affiliate marketing is the act of promoting products and services online in exchange for a commission should promotional efforts result in a sale or a lead in some cases. I’m an affiliate marketer and enjoy marketing and discussing the products/services that I use in the hopes that they’ll help others succeed in their online ventures. Well-known television personalities such as Oprah, Dr. Oz, Ellen, and Tony Robbins are also affiliate marketers in one fashion or another (read the fine print on their websites). These folks generate revenue for promoting products and services to their global audiences.
Let’s say that you like your friend’s haircare products and want to tell your online network about them. You could do this for free or as a savvy business person; you could propose to your friend a referral agreement whereby you would get a 10% commission from any new business you bring to her. That’s affiliate marketing in a nutshell. Referral marketing is slightly different in that existing customers are leveraged to generate new business.
Where affiliate marketing attracts scrutiny is when recommendations are tied to financial incentives without disclosure. Furthermore, affiliate marketing invites conflicts of interest because the question then becomes “Is the affiliate marketer recommending a product because it’s good or because she’s trying to generate a commission?” There have always been honest and dishonest marketers and salespeople, so consumers must depend on their instincts, savvy, and judgment toward affiliates.
Affiliate Marketing Tips
Learn Affiliate Terms – Affiliate marketing isn’t a complicated online activity, but learning jargon will enhance your learning curve. LinkShare offers a glossary of terms, and CJ provides useful information throughout their site.
Adopt the Correct Mindset – Successful affiliate marketers know that income is a function of click volume followed by conversions. From the start, you need to adopt a link deployment strategy that will help you to attract tens of thousands of clicks monthly to have any chance of generating your desired revenue. I usually attract a minimum of 50,000 clicks through various link deployment and marketing activities, for example, auto-posting tweets through HootSuite‘s bulk scheduling tool. When it comes to link deployment, you can’t be shy, yet you don’t want to be spammy either. You should focus on striking the right balance between affiliate marketing and value added activities concerning your network and followers.
Embrace Transparency – I was a very transparent financial advisor, and I believe the same transparency and objectivity should apply to my affiliate marketing activities. I disclose my affiliate details on all the footers of my pages and posts. I recommend taking the high road and being honest with your readers about your affiliate activities and any conflicts of interest.
Consider Commissions, Conversion Windows, and Program Rules – There are thousands of affiliate programs and categories to choose. Two selection factors that should be on your radar are commissions and conversion windows.
A desirable commission starts at 30%, for instance, if I convert $100,000 in sales, I’ll collect $30,000 for my efforts. The higher the commission, the better. Conversely, some affiliate managers introduce or maintain unworthy commission schedules such as those in the single digits. You’ll want to avoid these programs because the return on your time and activities won’t be worth it. A commission rate of 3%, for example, equates to generating $3,000 on $100,000 sold. Low commission rates are a foolish pursuit of income as generating commissions are challenging enough.
A conversion or cookie window (also known as return days) highlights the eligibility period for an affiliate to get credit for a sale. For example, a 30-day window means you’ll get credit for a sale if someone clicks on your link and converts within that timeframe. The more days you have to convert, the better. Contrariwise, Amazon has an insulting 24-hour conversion window which adversely affects affiliate marketing activities and income.
Affiliate programs have their set of rules that marketers must follow. Affiliate managers determine these guidelines and failure to abide by them could result in lost commissions and termination from their programs.
Promote Products and Services You Use – The easiest way to convince someone to buy something is to show him that you bought and use the item. I’ve done this with the redesign of my online tools page by highlighting when I started using the product/service. This is where the idea of advocacy comes in, and you appear more credible as someone who uses an item rather than someone who only recommends it. For instance, I use and recommend DreamHost for website hosting. If I used a different provider but recommended them, you might conclude that I have a conflict of interest related to the affiliate commission i.e. higher payout from DreamHost than my provider. For all other items, vet them to ensure they’re worth promoting to your audience.
View the Earnings Per Click (EPC) – Affiliate networks often provide a line of sight to how programs and individual links are performing via earnings per click. I use this information to decide which programs to join as EPC indicates a program’s profitability and if others are making money from it.
Experiment, Experiment, and Experiment! – Don’t become a one program pony. You may think you know exactly what your audience and readers want, but you’ll need to test a minimum of five programs to see which ones lead to outstanding results. Be open-minded yet practical about which programs make sense for your brand and business. On the flip side, you shouldn’t spread yourself too thin by joining more than 25 programs (I’m an affiliate to 15 programs with a strong focus on five).
Change Your Payment Threshold – When you sign up to an affiliate network such as LinkShare, CJ or FlexOffers, the default payment/payout minimum is usually set to $100. You’ll want to set this to the lowest possible amount, typically $50, to get your payment cycle started faster. There’s no point of having money tied up in higher thresholds to delay your commissions.
Cloak Your Links – Google searches websites to determine the value of their content, and if they suspect that your content consists mainly of advertisements and affiliate links, your site won’t rank well. To solve this problem, you could cloak or conceal your links by using a URL shortening service such as Bitly.com or ThirstyAffiliates, a top rated WordPress plugin which cloaks links automatically. I use this plugin, so it comes highly recommended.
Email the Affiliate Manager if Necessary – Sometimes you’ll get declined after applying to a program for whatever reason(s). Rejections tend to happen more in affiliate networks when affiliate managers preset approval criteria. I’ve been rejected in the past but have followed up with an email to inquire, state my desire to join, and understand what I need to do to get approved. You don’t need to overstate a follow-up email as a few lines will suffice.
Design Your Creative – Advertisers will usually provide banners and images for affiliates to use for their websites and marketing activities. These creative assets might be what you’re looking for or not. In the latter case, you have two options: ask for custom creative for your website or design your own. It isn’t likely that an advertiser is going to customize creative for an unproven publisher, and it’s easier for them to embrace a one size fits all approach. As for designing your own, I have a creative vain and like to design banners to fit the stylistic elements and theme of my site, for example, the Dreamhost banner you see at the top. Designing your creative isn’t against the rules, but you better ensure your banners align with the spirit of the advertiser’s banners and that they don’t mislead viewers in any way. When in doubt, check with the advertiser about your design and creative ideas for approval.