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Internet Affiliates
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
Internet affiliates are individuals and businesses who run websites that promote or sell services and products on behalf of others, and by so doing, gain a commission. This article aims to provide an overview of the various myths, models, and methods relating to Internet affiliation.

Why Creatives Consider Affiliation

If you run a website that offers creative services, it's possible you may have considered offering software that may also be of use to your clients. For example, say you're a busy designer. Perhaps you've discovered a great program that has transformed the way you manage support communications with your clients. You might consider that your clients might also benefit from this software. By offering the software as an affiliate on your website, you could make them aware of the product that may be of considerable benefit to them, and at the same time receive a small commission each time it is sold in this manner.

Be aware however, becoming an affiliate changes your website's purpose. You will be part creative, part advertiser. This can be to your advantage as being an affiliate may increase revenue if you have a very busy site with visitors who are interested in the product/s you are promoting, but there are also other issues to bear in mind. The focus of your site to attract new clients may be diluted as you invite them to click a link that may take their custom or interest away from your core service.

Awash with Affiliates

Most banner ads and a high proportion of text links on the Internet are placed as a result of an affiliate arrangement. The majority of 'free' or resource websites offer links to thousands of products, many driven by an affiliate model in which the merchant will pay per click, or per sale, for each referral.

It's fairly easy to tell when there's an affiliate arrangement when browsing. Passing your mouse over a link and looking at your status bar at the lower part of your browser window will normally show the true destination, unless the webmaster has altered this default behaviour. Rather than a simple direct link to a web address, you'll likely see a far more complex affiliate ID URL which allows the affiliate to be tracked until the point of commission. This address will fleetingly appear in your browser address field before you find yourself seamlessly redirected to the destination you had originally anticipated.

Affiliate Programs

Affiliate marketing is when a software publisher offers the opportunity for others to promote or sell their products from their website in return for a commission on leads or sales. To achieve this, the website owner needs to register with an 'Affiliate Program' (
also known as 'associate', 'reseller', or 'referral' programs), and will need to display ads, text links, or product links on their website, in email campaigns, or in search listings. Internet Affiliate Programs are expected to account for a colossal $53 Billion of E-Commerce sales in 2005.

From a merchant's perspective, Internet affiliation allows them to extend their marketing reach by advertising on web sites other than their own. The website owner, or Affiliate, gets paid a percentage based on the sale or lead value.
Remember, the affiliate network will also be taking a commission from the merchant, so unless the product or service for sale is at a high price, the revenue per sale for the affiliate will be low. High volume sales are generally the key to a successful affiliate arrangement.

You can become
an affiliate directly through a company who may be inviting website owners to join their own program, or via one of the many Affiliate Program Networks. Program Networks are businesses who connect 'Merchants' (those who provide products and services) with Affiliates. I'm not going to list the networks here as evaluating these networks is outside the scope of this article.

Be aware however that not all affiliate program networks are created equal. Any website owner can download a free CGI script from the Internet and set themselves up as offering such a service, however these sites are very unlikely to offer a useful network of merchants, and their payment protocols and procedures will most probably be poorly thought through, potentially insecure, and unreliable.

If you're a merchant or potential affiliate, always check out the program network site first, before signing up. Review their administration areas as these will indicate the level of service they offer which should include comprehensive sales and commission reporting. Above all, ensure their payment procedures are up to scratch as the only reason for considering associating yourself with an affiliate program is to generate revenue. The last thing you'll want to do is spend time and energy on developing your affiliate area only to be let down by an inadequate service.

Planning, the Key to Success

Affiliate marketing isn't going to deliver a single sale unless the merchant, affiliate, and affiliate network is working effectively as a team: the merchant needs to provide a high quality product or service that has a good reputation and high sales; the affiliate needs to be clear about their target audience so appropriate products and services are promoted according to the focus of the site; and the affiliate network needs to provide an administrative backend that serves both the merchant's and affiliate's needs to effectively track, sell, and ensure commissions are appropriately paid.

Research and planning is the key to ensuring marketing success when using an affiliate model. The product needs to be of value to its audience, websites need to be well presented with good graphics and body text, and the customer should pay for the products or services on offer in an easily understandable, secure, and prompt payment environment delivered by the merchant.

Conclusion

The affiliate model used to be viewed as an easy and fast way to generate revenue on the Internet. The truth is that making significant money through affiliation is not as straight forward as many Internet marketers would have you believe. It takes a great deal of effort to make a success of affiliation. If you don't put the work in, don't expect great results.

The majority of the larger affiliate program networks withhold the most lucrative affiliate deals to all but the most successful merchants and affiliates. These chosen few will be introduced privately and behind the scenes to one another by representatives of the affiliate program network. They will develop 'channel' partnerships that will prove to be very lucrative for all parties.

As with all commerce and capitalism, the big guys will always tell the little guys there's a pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow. Sometimes however, we forget it's the big guys who control when the sun shines and the rain falls...

     
       
 
Contributor Information


Mike de Sousa is the Director of
AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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