Affiliate marketing is a marketing practice in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought about by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts. Examples include rewards sites, where users are rewarded with cash or gifts, for the completion of an offer, and the referral of others to the site. The industry has four core players: the merchant (also known as ‘retailer’ or ‘brand’), the network, the publisher (also known as ‘the affiliate’), and the customer. The market has grown in complexity to warrant a secondary tier of players, including affiliate management agencies, super-affiliates and specialized third parties vendors.
Affiliate marketing overlaps with other Internet marketing methods to some degree, because affiliates often use regular advertising methods. Those methods include organic search engine optimization, paid search engine marketing, e-mail marketing, and in some sense display advertising. On the other hand, affiliates sometimes use less orthodox techniques, such as publishing reviews of products or services offered by a partner.
Affiliate marketing—using one website to drive traffic to another—is a form of online marketing, which is frequently overlooked by advertisers. While search engines, e-mail, and website syndication capture much of the attention of online retailers, affiliate marketing carries a much lower profile. Still, affiliates continue to play a significant role in e-retailers’ marketing strategies.
Affiliate marketing has grown quickly since its inception. The e-commerce website, viewed as a marketing toy in the early days of the Internet, became an integrated part of the overall business plan and in some cases grew to a bigger business than the existing offline business. Marketing Sherpa’s research team estimated that, in 2006, affiliates worldwide earned US$6.5 billion in bounty and commissions from a variety of sources in retail, personal finance, gaming and gambling, travel, telecom, education, publishing, and forms of lead generation other than contextual advertising programs.
Currently the most active sectors for affiliate marketing are the adult, gambling, retail industries and file-sharing services. The three sectors expected to experience the greatest growth are the mobile phone, finance, and travel sectors. Soon after these sectors came the entertainment (particularly gaming) and Internet-related services (particularly broadband) sectors. Also several of the affiliate solution providers expect to see increased interest from business-to-business marketers and advertisers in using affiliate marketing as part of their mix.
Affiliate Marketing Best Practices
1. Know Your Audience
The most successful way to use affiliate programs is to anticipate and meet the needs of your readers. Consider why they are coming to your site. What are you providing that they are looking for? Make sure the affiliate products you are promoting provide a solution to your audience’s problems.
If you are writing about sports, don’t put up affiliate ads for printer toner just because everyone has a printer and those programs have a high payout. The people who are coming to read commentary or get stats for their favorite teams aren’t thinking about those things when they’re on your site.
The more relevant the ads are to your readers, the more likely they will use them.
2. Be Trustworthy
Readers are savvy. They know an affiliate link when they see one. If you break their trust by promoting a product you don’t believe in or take advantage of their visit with too many ads, they will leave and never come back.
It is your repeat visitors that will drive traffic. They are the ones who will give you linkbacks, spread the word, and recommend your site as the go-to place for valuable content. You need to build a relationship based on genuine content.
If your visitors don’t think you’re being honest, they won’t read anything else you have to say.
3. Be Helpful
Think of affiliate ads as additional resources that complement your content. Give value to your content by making it helpful, useful, and informative.
Don’t put up a list of your favorite books, hoping people will click on the affiliate link, purchase the books (just because you listed them), so you can cash in on a sale. Take some time to write a detailed review, and use affiliate ads to point them in the right direction if they decide to act on your information. That’s what affiliate ads are for. If you write a great review recommending a book and readers buy the book because of it, you should get something for that.
But just throwing out links to products with no rhyme or reason will result in a quick exit by visitors.
4. Be Transparent
Always disclose your affiliations. Your readers will appreciate your honesty, and will feel better about contributing to your earnings. If they sense that you are being less than honest about your affiliations, they are savvy enough to bypass your link and go directly to the vendor just to avoid giving you referral credit.
Honesty and full disclosure is a necessary part to building a loyal reader base. They know they are supporting you by using your referral links. Make them happy and eager to do so.
5. Select Carefully
Take the time to go through all the different options for products or services available through the programs. Put some thought into which products or services your readers may need or like. Also, change the ads around often, try different ones, and use different graphics and text to see which are the most effective.
It may take some time before you figure out the best formula, and you may also find that you need to continually rotate ads to attract more attention.
6. Try Different Programs
If one particular program doesn’t seem to be working for you, try another one.
Affiliate programs don’t look the same. They offer different products, services, and payment structures. Some programs will have a lifetime payout on sales while others will limit it to 30-90 days. Some programs allow much more flexibility in the types of ad units available, as well as colors and design so it fits better on your site’s layout.
Also, check your favorite vendors to see if they run their own affiliate program. Sometimes you can go directly to the source. You’re not limited to big affiliate networks.
Integrate systematic ad testing into your strategy to maximize your profits.
7. Write Timeless Content
Your old content can still be valuable even though it’s no longer on your front page. Take advantage of the long term opportunities by making sure you provide timeless content.
If visitors come across your older content first, and find that it offers dated information, they will leave right away. Of course, information moves forward, so relevant content changes quickly. You can make your content timeless simply by adding links to your updated articles on your old ones.
Many platforms allow you to show “most recent” or “most popular” or “related articles” on every page, so no matter how old the article is, it will always show access to your new ones. Your old content can make money for you indefinitely.
8. Be Patient
Affiliate revenue grows and builds up with time. Remember that some programs offer lifetime payouts. If you refer a visitor, you may continue to make money from that one visitor even if he doesn’t come back to your site. Also, as long as you have referral links still active in your old posts, they may still payout for you.
Affiliate programs aren’t a get rich quick plan, but it provides opportunity to make passive income in the future.
9. Stay Relevant
Keep up to date on the latest offerings of your affiliate programs. New ad units, advertisers, and tools are constantly being added to improve usability and be more visually appealing. Small changes go a long way in motivating action by readers. You may be left out in the dust by being complacent with your strategy.
Don’t get lazy about monitoring trends and exploring new opportunities.
10. Content Comes First
Above all else, your content must be your highest priority.
Your content is your foundation, the life blood on which the site exists. Without valuable and helpful content, readers won’t come. Focus on providing excellent content, and the monetizing strategies will work out.
Once you start compromising your content to cater to the affiliate programs or any other money making venture, you will lose your readers. Once that happens, you will lose the opportunity to receive any earnings from any of your ads, be they CPM, CPC, or referral based.