Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Very Brief Introduction to Affiliate Programs

Here's a short introduction to affiliate marketing programs as I use and understand them.

What's an affiliate program?
You sell products for retailers like Amazon by linking to them in a special way from your site and you get paid a percentage of the purchase price. If I link to a book that costs $19.99 at Amazon from my blog using a special Amazon affiliate link, I get a percentage of the $19.99 for each book that readers buy after clicking through to Amazon from my site. You can also post affiliates' banners which link to the retailer. Expect to get paid any where from say, 2% to 20%, of an item's price depending on the program's terms.

How do I sign up?
Most affiliate programs for larger retailers are managed through one of a handful of companies. You sign up with the company and apply through the company's site to join any of the affiliate programs associated with it. Three of the largest affiliate companies are Commission Junction, LinkShare, and DoubleClick Performics (which was just acquired by Google). Amazon runs its own program (which I recommend as a starting point if you're new to affiliate programs).

Should I sign up?
That depends on your blog, your readership, and you. Before you sign up, ask yourself why readers would want to purchase items by clicking through to your blog. Is talking about products within your blog's scope or would it seem out of place? You've worked hard to build a blog your readers can trust. You don't want it to seem like you just want them to buy stuff. Lose your readers' trust and you lose your readers. No readers? No money. If you're already talking about products and retailers in your blog, on the other hand, then why not get paid for it? Be sure to read the affiliate program's terms of service before you sign up to make sure you're willing to abide by the rules. You may be prohibited from mentioning that great Children's Place coupon code, for example.

Which works best, banners or text links?
If you're doing a post about a particular product, then use an affiliate text link. If not, place a few carefully-chosen graphic banners on your sidebar and see how it goes. Amazon allow you to place search boxes and special widgets as well. When choosing your banners, think about the kinds of ads that will appeal to your readers. And don't overdo it. Too many ads can distract from your content. You can monitor your results by taking a look at the sales reports on the affiliate program sites or by keeping an eye on your outclicks.

How will I get paid?
You can sign up to be paid by check or by direct deposit. With Amazon, you can sign up to be paid via Amazon gift certificate. With most of the companies, you'll be paid monthly.

Further reading:
How Affiliate Programs Work by Tom Harris (via HowStuffWorks)