A beginner's guide to affiliate marketing
15th Oct 2012 | 11:08
Creating an affiliate marketing strategy for your business
Dan Cohen, Market Unit Leader, at Tradedoubler offers some sage advice on building an affiliate marketing strategy for your business
Think of a website you have visited recently. Did a banner advert appear offering you a special rate on flights, cash-back on a purchase, a 10 per cent discount on the new autumn collection or a product price comparison?
Welcome to the world of affiliate marketing.
In affiliate marketing a 'publisher' (essentially an individual or organisation with a website) acts as an outsourced digital sales team for your business, promoting your products in return for a commission. They do this by carrying promotional adverts on behalf of an advertiser and if visitors to the website click on this advert, the link takes them to a site belonging to the advertiser.
Depending on the performance metrics agreed between the advertiser and the publisher, if the customer then clicks (perhaps to receive further information), watches a video, registers, signs up to a newsletter or buys something, the website publisher receives a commission for driving that action.
Why do it?
For a publisher, affiliate marketing offers some significant benefits. Firstly, there is the opportunity to generate additional revenue. For some organisations affiliate marketing represents their entire business (for example, price comparison websites); for others it is a useful way of making some money alongside their core business activity. Secondly, carefully selected ads can bring some big brand names on to your website and boost your association with them. This can have a beneficial impact on your own brand reputation.
For an advertiser, affiliate marketing is a great way to get other people or businesses to promote your products and services and you reward them – usually with a commission payment - for each referral or sale. It extends your 'reach' in terms of audience and, if well targeted, can provide a highly cost-effective, scalable and influential additional sales channel.
How do I become an affiliate?
There are two main routes: you can either join an affiliate network run by an established affiliate marketing organisation, or you can apply directly to an advertiser to see if it has, and is accepting new members onto an affiliate programme. Affiliate networks typically have relationships and programs in place with a number of advertisers and they can help you to select the right brands for your website. They also tend to provide on-going support, development and revenue optimisation opportunities that are worth considering (see 'Seek out the experts' below.)
Making affiliate marketing work – some top tips for success
1/ Do the research
Successful affiliate marketing is not just about posting an online ad on your website and then sitting back and watching the commission pour in. A little research will help you to understand the industry, including the opportunities, risks and emerging trends, as well as the various approaches (display ad or product feed etc.) and payment options available (Pay-Per-Click, Pay-Per-Acquisition (sale) etc.). There are publications and communities devoted specifically to affiliate marketing (see for example, www.affiliates4u.com) and it is also moving up the news agenda for more general marketing magazines.
2/ Do the simple things first
These are covered in more detail in the rest of the list, but essentially it means that you should walk before you try to run. Once you have discovered how it all works, you can make your affiliate activity as sophisticated and complex as you like. For a really straightforward start you could just apply to an established affiliate program, choose your preferred advertisers and opt for something called automated ad codes. This allows the network manager to access the ads on your website and update or change them, for example with a special Christmas ad, so they are always timely and relevant. And speaking of automated ad codes, you really need to:
3/ Understand the IT
Do you have, and know how to use, the IT tools that enable your website to carry, track or upgrade the ads on your website? How about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and keywords to ensure your website and your ads come out high on the list with search engines? SEO optimisation is an increasingly specialist field and you may need some expert help here.
4/ Promote your passion
There is no point in promoting products and services that you or your company do not care about or which are not directly relevant to your business interests, personal passions or target audiences. Take some time to consider the kinds of products and services that will work best for you, or pick a niche you know a lot about. If you really want to drive sales you need to engage with the ads in some way, for example by writing about them, and you will struggle to do this if you don't really believe in them.
5/ Know your audience
What is the profile of the people who visit your website, why do they come and how can you make them return regularly? What products and services might be of interest to them?
6/ Find your ads
Once you have addressed the above two steps you will have a good idea of the brands you are looking for. Work out what will entice your audience to click on the ad: is it a voucher, a video, product feeds, banner ad or text link, for example?
7/ Content is king
It seems obvious, but if you want more people to click on the ads you carry, you need more people to visit your website. While this can be achieved in part through SEO, the truth is that people will visit your website if it carries lots of constantly updated, relevant and interesting content.
8/ Learn to market yourself
Affiliate is a sales channel; sell your ads to your audience and your audience to your advertisers.
9/ Seek out the experts
As mentioned above, there are established affiliate networks you can sign up to. These offer a range of a services and support that include access to leading brand advertiser programs, support and development, tools and techniques for boosting affiliate revenue, and tracking and performance analysis.
Lastly, once you have created your affiliate strategy it's important to keep reviewing the performance of the network and the ads that are running. Look at the ads that are performing well and those that aren't; is it because they fit the audience? Is it because they're in the wrong places? Don't be afraid to experiment and keep on testing.