Professional Affiliate Marketing Primer

If you’re new to the professional affiliate marketing Internet business playground, then you’re no doubt wondering what affiliate marketing is all about. In simplest terms, it is marketing and promoting some other company’s products/services on the Internet. You, the pro affiliate marketer, promote through whatever means is available to you (your ezine, blog, email, online advertising, etc.), which then sends traffic and customers to another company’s website, who then does all the work — develop, sell and support the actual products and/or services; close the sale; process the orders, take payments and make delivery; etc. — for the paying customer. You, as the marketer and source of that business, are then paid a commission for your work. That’s it!

The whole business arrangement is essentially revenue sharing. The company that provides the product or service being sold is generally called the affiliate merchant, and he shares the revenue they generate with you, the affiliate marketer, for sending business their way. In most cases, the affiliate marketer drums up that business through various forms of legitimate advertising techniques on a wide variety of online avenues and platforms.

Note that generally, the affiliate merchant does not pay anything for the “marketing” and promotion until a sale has actually occurred. This way, the merchant can minimize both risk and expenditures. Theoretically, the affiliate can then be rewarded more handsomely for taking on that marketing risk and expenditure. However, since the affiliate marketer does not need to take on the risk, investment and expenditure of developing and supporting a product/service and administering a sale, the relationship is very much considered a win-win arrangement, with each party focusing on the part of the business they are good at and interested in.

Tracking, Calculating and Paying Affiliate Income

How the affiliate marketer essentially gets paid for his work depends entirely on the affiliate merchant. In practically all cases, the arrangement is wholly managed through an automated system, with the merchant using Internet server-based software that gives an affiliate marketer a unique link code or ID which the marketer must then use to identify all the traffic and customers he sends to the merchant. This is really the only way the merchant can properly identify, credit and compensate the right affiliate for any business generated.

In some cases, an affiliate merchant uses the resources of a much larger affiliate network service (such as Commission Junction, LinkShare, etc.) to administer its affiliate program. Some other merchants, on the other hand, choose to run their own in-house affiliate system, keeping their program independent from everybody else’s. In practically all cases, however, the basics of how an affiliate program tracks and calculates affiliate commissions follow what is outlined above.

The merchant generally specifies the financial terms beforehand (pay periods, minimum payment thresholds, when money is paid and how, etc.), whether it uses the services of a 3rd party service or runs its own affiliate program in-house. How an affiliate is ultimately paid will depend on these predetermined specifics, and they can run the gamut from being paid online through services like Paypal, having funds wired directly to an affiliate’s bank account, to having a physical check printed and mailed directly to the affiliate.

Although there is obviously a level of trust in the merchant involved in this arrangement, it works because not only is it to the affiliate merchant’s benefit to maintain a good working relationship with its affiliates in order to grow its business and ensure its continued success, the community of professional affiliate marketers is fairly tight-knit with extensive communications channels that quickly reports any shadiness and negative business dealings. On top of that, affiliate programs that run on third party network services offer an extra layer of protection and trust to the affiliate, with the networks helping ensure that all transactions are properly tracked, calculated and compensated. This is one reason that many professional affiliate marketers often adopt a policy that they will only work with affiliate programs that are administered through these third party affiliate network services.

Affiliate Program Selection

You, as the professional affiliate marketer, are free to choose whatever affiliate program you wish to join and market. In other words, you essentially choose which products and/or services you’ll be promoting (through your blog, web site, ezine, advertisements, etc.). It is not a light decision, since your income is very much affected by how well you match your total “offer” to your “audience” or “market.” That, however, is essentially your job and is part of what you as the professional affiliate marketer is compensated richly for.

In many cases, what affiliate programs you do choose is usually determined by your preexisting markets and audiences, For example, if you already run a gardening blog, then obviously the programs you would seek out would be gardening related or ones that you’ve determined would be of interest to the audience demographic your gardening site attracts.

If you are approaching this affiliate marketing business as a pure marketer, however, where the decision on how to market a product or service would be highly dependent on what it is you actually select to promote, how you select an affiliate program can be based on many different factors.

Some professional affiliate marketers, for example, choose programs based on commission size (high payouts per sale) or market size. These are business decisions you have to make, again, part of what you’re getting paid for. Here are some suggestions for beginners, however, that may help you get started.

Choose products/services you are personally interested in. If you are interested in gardening or golf, for example, then focus on products/services specifically for those markets. The plain simple truth of it is that it is much harder to promote a product or service that you really couldn’t care less about.

Choose products/services that do not embarrass you and that you are comfortable having your friends and family associate with you. For example, even though it’s quite lucrative, some professional affiliate marketers are unable to promote dating sites and services for reasons of embarrassment and discomfort.

Choose products/services you are already familiar with and fully understand. Even if you are not all that interested in automobiles or travel, for instance, you may already know more than enough about the products and services in those particular markets that you can actually sell in those market niches.

Select affiliate programs that provide you with the best sales support. This only comes up from prior research, of course, but it’s something you must do anyway. The sales support referred to here are things like training, advertising material and resources, extensive product information, etc. Obviously, the more tools they give you to sell with, the better your chances.

Remember: Being a professional affiliate marketer means that you are in business. Your business. Your success is ultimately determined by your decisions and actions. Good luck.

The Ins and Outs of Affiliate Marketing Campaigns

Let the professionals help you… in mass:

Affiliate marketing networks provide an environment where companies who have something to sell (Advertisers) meet with companies who know how to sell it (Publishers). Many large Affiliate marketing networks provide hundreds of products to be sold to their network of thousands of publishers.

Affiliate marketing networks generally work on a performance basis (CPA), where you only pay when a sale or lead is generated for you. You receive a sale or lead at a predetermined cost and then award the affiliate network with a bounty for generating the sale or lead for you. The Affiliate network then pays their publishers for generating sales on your behalf, minus what the network keeps for itself for putting the deal together. This may sound similar to a shopping portal, however there are some distinct differences. A shopping portal places your products in direct connection with the online shopper. Affiliate marketing networks place your products in direct connection with publishers (marketing or media companies.) Each publisher will then use their own resources to generate sales for you, be it PPC, SEO, email, banners and the like.

Not every product or service will work with an affiliate marketing campaign, and many affiliate networks will not accept your offer unless certain criteria are met. The average website is not “marketing ready” for an affiliate marketing campaign, and often requires a redesign or a separate website to allow for easy sales or lead conversions. Most sales lead generation campaigns work across affiliate marketing networks as long as you are not trying to collect too much information, or information that makes your customers feel nervous such as a social security number. For product sales, you need to present a very attractive offer like “a free 7 day trial for a diet pill”, “free services for 1 month”, or anything that can be considered a low risk bargain. An offer such as “a 42 inch plasma screen Television for only $1,597” will not work. As always, there are exceptions, and you may need to work closely with your affiliate manager to produce a campaign that will be popular amongst the publishers.

Due to the nature of the affiliate networks, they can be volatile and risky, and are not recommended for any company until they have a lot of internet marketing experience under their belt. The overall sales potential of affiliate network marketing can be enormous, and any time gigantic sales numbers come into play, so do gigantic risks. Many affiliate networks have what are known as “Super Affiliates” who have the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales commissions each month. The volatility stems from both the marketing power available through an affiliate network, along with the performance-based environment they provide.

For the most part, the publishers who do the selling through the affiliate networks are greedy. They want to sell only the products and services that yield them the most revenue. It is their right, after all, because they are working on a performance basis and assume all marketing risks. If a good offer comes across an affiliate network, where a lot of money can be made, many publishers will market the product and sales will come streaming in. If a product comes in that does not generate good, or at least acceptable, revenue for the publishers, they will chose to not market the product and sales will be almost nonexistent. It is difficult to find the right balance to satisfy all parties involved (advertiser, publisher, affiliate network, and potential customer.) All parties must be happy in order to yield a successful affiliate campaign. The swing between a high performing campaign and an unpopular one can be tremendous. This volatility introduces significant risk, which comes in three flavors.

Affiliate Network Marketing Risk:

  • (1) Not enough business You have put significant time and resources into building an Affiliate marketing campaign. You have commissioned all types of marketing creative, website design and even bulked up your sales staff. Despite this preparation, your offer is not a money maker for the publishers, and they are not marketing your campaign. Your expenses have increased in anticipation of increased sales that simply never materialized.
  • (2) Too much business You hit the nail on the head… Your offer is hot and the publishers love it. They love it so much that sales flow in faster than you can handle. Your call center can handle 50 leads per day but the publishers are generating 200. For each sale or lead made you must pay a commission whether or not you can address it. You are literally downing in too much business, and your pocketbook can’t hold out long enough to expand accordingly.
  • (3) Cheating You didn’t invest much effort in validating your sales or leads. Your affiliate marketing campaign is generating a lot of leads, but sales are not happening. You are receiving numerous disconnected phone numbers, invalid credit card numbers or people who say “I only signed up for the free gift.” Leads are coming in, but a bunch of crooked publishers are submitting fake information to get paid as if their data was real. Notice how that last lead had a Texas area code, their zip code was “12345,” they stated they live in Alaska and gave you the credit card number “4444555544445555.”

Many Affiliate marketing networks will also ask if they can run your campaign exclusively. This means that they are the only affiliate network that can provide your offer to the world. There are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to running your campaign exclusively with one network.

Exclusive Affiliate network Campaign Advantages:

  • Your Affiliate marketing campaign manager may pass your campaign on to other affiliate marketing networks, and manage your account for you. This saves you considerable time by not having to seek out new networks, organizing campaign launches, marketing creative, and other tasks required to launch a new campaign.
  • You will not have to pay startup fees or sign contracts for the affiliate marketing networks that your affiliate manager passes your campaign on to. You simply work under your single agreement with your affiliate manager. This can save you thousands of dollars in startup costs, and lots of time.
  • Affiliate marketing networks use exclusive campaigns as “bragging rights,” and often give priority to their exclusive campaigns. Your campaign is more likely to be advertised to the publishers and given special attention. This helps to get your campaign noticed by the publisher, and ultimately increases sales or lead flow.

Exclusive Affiliate network Disadvantages:

  • Your campaign manager will outsource your campaign to other affiliate marketing networks. You will not know exactly who is marketing your offer and therefore the quality of the web traffic coming into your website is unknown.
  • Your affiliate manager may not be as ambitious as you. Your campaign may not get passed on to other affiliate marketing networks, and because it is an exclusive offer you can’t pass it on to other networks. Growth may become stifled.
  • The publishers who run your campaign through outsourced affiliate networks will not receive as high of a payout (sales commission). There are effectively two affiliate marketing networks: Your direct affiliate network and the outsourced network. More hands are in the pot, taking money and leaving less for the publishers themselves. The decreased publisher bounty with result in decreased interest in your campaign, so the outsourced affiliate marketing networks will not be as productive as if you worked with them directly.

Most affiliate networks will want to incorporate email marketing into your campaign. This is strongly recommended, as sales or lead generation volumes could be significantly higher. If you do allow your campaign to be email marketed, you will need to be able to maintain an email suppression list. The suppression list is a list of email addresses of people who want to opt-out from receiving your offer. An opt-out link must be provided on your email marketing creative where people can opt-out from your offer. You must then supply the suppression file to your affiliate network so they can in turn pass your suppression file to their publishers. This is a part of the Can-Spam law and it can be effectively managed with a small opt-out landing page connected to a simple database. Make sure you provide an updated suppression file to the affiliate networks at least once per week.

Launching affiliate marketing campaigns that convert:

  • Your goal is to generate a campaign that puts the most money possible into your publisher’s pockets, while also generating a profit yourself. Keep in mind that a break-even campaign is also a successful campaign as long as you can re-market to your clients and generate additional sales, upgrades, etc.
  • Design your campaign to maximize conversions. Minimize the clicks needed to purchase a product, or have your lead generation form on the home page. Don’t collect information that you really do not need, or that people do not like to give out (like an SSN.) You may have to build a unique website for the affiliate marketing campaign if your current website is not fine-tuned for affiliate marketing.
  • You are competing against all of the other campaigns on an affiliate network, not just ones selling the same thing you are. Publishers optimize the offers they market and drop the poor performing campaigns. Design an offer that works both for you and your publishers; your affiliate manager can help.
  • Make the steps necessary to allow your campaign to be email marketed by the publishers. This means you will need to create Can-Spam compliant email marketing creative, an opt-out page linked to a database, and provide access to an updated suppression file (a text dump of your database suppression file.) Email marketing will significantly amplify your campaign’s effectiveness.
  • Develop a large selection of various marketing creative, lots of standard size banners, multiple email creative, multiple email titles and subject lines, various text links and so on. Your affiliate manager will provide you a list of critical media types and sizes, but try to provide more than their minimum requirements.
  • Stay on top of lead quality and fraud. No matter how advanced your validation system may get, someone will try to sneak fake data past you. Make sure that you can track all lead sources, including the subIDs that are passed on through the affiliate network.
  • Every time you make a change to your website, submit a test to ensure that the affiliate campaign is still running as it should be. If your website has an error preventing sales conversions or introduces tracking problems, you may be asked to pay the publishers for their lost business. Remember that your broken website will affect many companies who stuck their neck out for you.
  • Be prepared for large volumes of leads, or no leads at all.

The risks associated with affiliate network marketing are many, and they are significant. You must be on your toes, thinking ahead and quick to move if things turn sour. But if you come prepared and design an offer that the publishers love, the financial rewards can be enormous.