A grocery store owner prepares a display of baskets of fresh bread for the front of his store. The enticing aroma of the bread seems a certain way to encourage sales, but he watches as many of the customers look at the bread and quickly walk away. On low-carb diets, they want nothing to do with bread! As an affiliate, your success will likewise depend on understanding your customers' preferences. Like the storeowner, the better you understand your customers and what they want, the more likely you are to generate sales and earn commissions. This article presents a general framework for an affiliate to begin preparing, designing, analyzing, and promoting a Web site with close attention to an audience.
You can understand the importance of the audience by looking at how the affiliate business comes down to numbers. The number of people who visit a Web site drives the number of those who will see a merchant link. The number of people who click on a merchant link drives potential sales and therefore commissions.
For example, over a period of time, an affiliate might have a merchant link that is displayed 4,500 times (each time called an impression). Clicked on 10% of these times, it would produce 450 click-throughs, and these click-throughs might produce sales 2% of the time, for 9 orders by customers. The total sales generated by these 9 orders might be $360 which produces a 5% commission of $18. The connection among all these numbers can be expressed by the amount of money the affiliate earns per impression. In this case, the affiliate earned $18 for 45,000 impressions or $0.004 per impression. For convenience, this quantity is often expressed in earnings per thousand, so the affiliate would have an earnings on this merchant link of $4 per thousand impressions.
The bottom line is that as an affiliate, your earnings depend on the chain of events starting with a visitor seeing, then clicking on a link, then making an order, and then you earning a commission. The more closely you understand your customer, attract them, and offer links that match their interests, the more likely you'll be able to earn more.
As a starting point for understand your audience, identify who comes to your Web site and why. The "why" of your site is its purpose--why would someone want to come to your site? For example, your Web site's purpose might be to provide reliable information about low-carb diets. Then, describe the audience of your site--who would come to your site for your stated purpose? For example, people wanting to loose some weight and improve their health. From your audience and purpose statement, you then can identify your audience's concerns, activities, and characteristics.
You can then use your site's purpose and audience statements to design your Web site around your audience and select merchant links that best match your site's contents. This is essential to gaining the interest of your audience in the merchant links you include on your site. Certainly, your purpose and audience statements are dynamic--you'll adjust them as you see new opportunities and understand the preferences of different audience segments.
For the design of your Web site, you can break up your information into individual Web pages and groups of Web pages that relate to each topic area of interest to your audience. Look at your audiences's activities and look at how you can make individual pages to address these. For example, in our low-carb site, we might want to have Web pages that relate to recipes, general nutritional information, links to medical advice, an essay addressing the different opinions of the efficacy of low-carb diets.
Once you have a Web site implemented consisting of pages addressing specific topic, you then can chose merchant links for the pages. Look at the merchant links you have available on the affiliate network site. Your goal is to find links for each page that closely relate to the activities, concerns, and topics addressed on that page. Some merchants provide links to the storefront or front page of the merchant site. You might also have a selection of links to landing pages that contain a group of related products. These landing pages are analogous to a department in a large store. Other linking options might include links to individual products or search engines of the merchant offerings.
Your choice of links will be guided by many factors such as your sense of what appeals to your users and the type of graphics that match the look of your site. As you grow in experience, you'll learn from your link performance, the experience of other affiliates, or research in the area of marketing in computer-mediated environments (for example, http://elab.vanderbilt.edu/).
Once you have your Web site operating with merchant links, you can engage in the analysis of the ongoing results. Because your focus is on audience and their reaction to your site, you can set up several simultaneous tactics to understand what your results say about your users.
First, you might ask for feedback from your audience on your Web pages via an email link. Just including your email and letting your users know you are available can enhance your user's perception of your site. If you can carry on a dialogue with audience members via email, or host an email discussion list or Web-based conference, you might get a better idea of what your users want and appreciate about your site.
Another tactic could be to try a survey form on your site. You might ask your users what topics they'd like to see covered in more detail or what they find the most useful. However, surveys of this type result in responses from the self-selected people who choose to respond, not a random sample of your users, so you'll have to take this into consideration.
An alternative to seeking feedback from users is to look not at what your users say, but what they do. You can find this out in reports from the affiliate network and Web server logs.
You can find out the performance of merchant links from reports provided by the affiliate network. These reports show link performance including impressions, click-throughs, sales, and commissions. From this data, you can calculate your earnings per thousand impressions on each link to get an idea of what links perform the best. Most affiliate networks provide quite elaborate report generation options that can shed light on your link performance.
You Web hosting provider should be able to supply you with Web server logs that show what pages your users access. These logs will give you an idea of the most popular areas of coverage of your site. There are software applications which help you analyze server logs and get detailed insight into patterns of traffic on your site.
If you have a working site, you'll want to continue the process of bringing it to the attention of your audience. As a starting point, you can submit your site to search engines, directories, and use keywords on your pages to raise the appearance of your site in search engine listings. Other methods of promotion include advertising campaigns, and even placing your URL on products like pens, tshirts, or hats that you give away. If you've prepared your site to engage your audience, this promotion work increases the impressions of merchant links on your site, which in turn gives you a better chance at click-throughs resulting in sales and commissions.
As you watch your server logs, affiliate network reports, and gain feedback from your audience, continuously look for ways to come up with new content. Since the bottom line is commissions, you might take the approach of starting with the affiliate network reports and figuring out which links produce the most commissions per impression and then use more of these links. Another approach is to look at your most popular content and provide more of that. The exciting thing about being an affiliate is that you'll have chances to learn more about your Web site's audience and create content that helps them better.
You've heard the cliche--"content is king"--but believe it. Without content, you don't need a Web site at all. With content that delights your audience, you'll increase your affiliate earnings by attracting more visitors and translating those visits into clicks on merchant links.