Affiliate marketing with respect to online marketing is when a company pays out a commission or bounty to another company or individual in exchange for generating either a lead or a sale. The affiliate has a rather tenuous relationship with the company he/she promotes for and is not an employee or even a franchisee. In fact, in most cases, the affiliate isn’t even allowed to represent himself as being associated with the company in any way. The affiliate marketing relationship is a bit of a fine line that both vendor and affiliate must walk.
Prior to entering the consulting business, I was an online affiliate marketer and is something that I still participate in today. I’ve managed to earn some nice revenues from promoting other people’s products and services as a full time affiliate marketer. So how can an offline business utilize online affiliate marketing? The first thing to consider is if there are any kinds of products or services related to your own business that you don’t currently provide, if there are, then there is most likely another business that provides them and also runs an affiliate program.
But first let’s have a look at how an affiliate program works.
How Online Affiliate Programs Work
Simply put, a merchant such as Sports Authority or Best Buy, sets up a program whereby participants (affiliates) can promote most any product from their extensive online catalog by sending online visitors to the merchant’s own eCommerce site. Affiliates are paid an agreed upon commission if the visitors they send make a purchase once on the site. Each affiliate is assigned an unique ID (affiliate ID), which is then used to create special links (affiliate links) to track both referrals and commissions. Affiliates then place this link in a range of places online – everywhere from on the affiliate’s own Website to a Facebook Fan Page. The actual methods of online promotion allowed by each merchant is determined by the merchant and is set forth in an agreement between the merchant and their affiliates.
As can be imagined, the tracking involved in such a program is fairly complex and must be both accurate and reliable. Affiliates can get pretty upset if they feel they aren’t being properly credited for leads and sales that they send to the merchant. As a result, most merchants, at least the larger ones, outsource their affiliate programs to affiliate networks that specialize in this area. At the end of this post is a list of some of the major affiliate networks you may like to get started with. It should also be pointed out that these tracking systems rely in large part on “cookies” to track referrals that occur within the “referral period”. This means that if a merchant has a referral period of say 15 days, then the affiliate is eligible to be paid a commission if someone clicks one of his affiliate links and then makes a purchase within that 15 day period. Of course, the person who clicked on the link would need to have cookies enabled in his Web browser in order for this to work.
Now let’s have a look at a few examples of how small businesses can take advantage of affiliate marketing programs.
Medical and Health Practices – how many times have you been to the dentist and he has recommended a particular kind of electric toothbrush or advised you to consider getting a WaterPik or a tongue scraper? In most cases, these are items that your dentist probably doesn’t sell. Instead, you need to either go looking in stores or searching online. I know the first place I begin my search is at Amazon.com. Well, did you know that Amazon also has their own affiliate program? It really would be a simple matter for your dentist to sign up for the “Amazon Associates Program” (Amazon’s affiliate program) and then selecting a few items he’d like to promote by inserting affiliate links for them on a page or pages on his dental Website. The same applies to other health care providers such as chiropractors and physical therapists. Off the top of my head I can come up with several items these providers could promote as affiliates such as books, physical therapy aids, and nutritional supplements.
Tutors and Educational Companies – many times tutors and other instructional companies will sell text books and other learning materials to their students. This is part of their inventory and provides an additional revenue stream. Related reading material that the business does not stock can easily be added to the business Website. Students will probably make these additional purchases based on your recommendation anyway, so why not benefit from the purchase by promoting them as an affiliate? An independent music instructor (not working in a music store) can “stock” music books and even a catalog of musical instruments on her business Website. Musicians Friend and eBay both have affiliate programs and both carry a wide range of musical instruments. eBay even has used instruments, often at great prices, which will save students a lot of money.
Lawn Maintenance and Landscapers – actually landscapers typically have quite a few products in their inventory to sell to customers, however it’s pretty difficult for any one business to stock or even be able to order every possible lawn or garden adornment or accessory. Books on lawn and garden maintenance and cultivation are good candidates for placement as affiliate links on a landscaping Website. This is also a great way to generate revenue from people who visit your business Website, but have not yet become customers.
Antique, Art, and Collectibles Dealers – like the landscapers above, collectibles and antique dealers can’t possibly keep in stock every possible item that customers may desire. This is where the eBay affiliate program comes in very handy. Some of the largest categories on eBay are for antiques and collectible of every variety. Sports memorabilia is huge on eBay and in fact, many dealers in these items also have eBay Stores. As an eBay affiliate (ePN Partner), a dealer can promote both his own items for sale or auction on eBay as well as virtually expand his inventory by listing the items from other eBay sellers. However, it should be noted that you must be very careful to avoid what ePN terms “round-tripping” – sending people off eBay to pages that contain your ePN affiliate links as this is a violation of their Partner Agreement. This can happen if you have a link to your business Website from your eBay “About Me” page.
Below is a brief list of some of the major affiliate networks that are available to join:
- eBay Partner Program (ePN)
- Amazon Associates Program
- Commission Junction (CJ)
- Share a Sale (SaS)
- The Google Affiliate Network (GAN)
There are also many smaller merchants that operate private, in-house affiliate programs. These smaller programs may be worth investigating for more specialized items and industries. Signing up for affiliate programs is pretty straightforward, but does require a bit of tact as well as self-promotion. Some programs are quite selective about who they allow in and it’s not uncommon to receive a rejection letter. This is where having someone experienced in affiliate marketing can come in very handy in getting your small business set up to take advantage of these opportunities to generate additional revenue streams. If you’d like to get started with online affiliate marketing for your business and could use help in selecting the right program and products, creating affiliate links and getting them posted to your site, and identifying ways to drive visitors to your affiliate links or you simply would like to learn more about this topic, then please get in touch.