The Affiliate Connection
In ancient times, a village's central marketplace brought sellers and buyers together. Shouting fish sellers jostled alongside weavers seated behind bolts of cloth, and customers mingled throughout, examining products and making their best deal. Today, the World Wide Web continues this tradition by attracting people seeking information, communication, products, and services. You can join the marketplace of the Web if you have a Web site and can attract an audience who might be interested in products and services. By becoming an affiliate, you can earn money and make your Web site a nexus where buyers and sellers meet. This article introduces how affiliate programs work and how you can participate.
How Affiliate Programs Work
As an affiliate, you help sell a merchant's products by placing hypertext links or graphics on your Web site. A person visiting your Web site may be interested in a product and click on the link you provide. This link leads to a merchant's Web site where the customer can order the product online. When the customer orders the product, you earn a sales commission based on the agreement you have with the merchant. In this way, you can earn money from sales, and users of your Web site can meet their needs for products by visiting your site. Note that in this transaction, you do not actually conduct the sale, nor are you working directly for the merchant. It is your presentation of the product and link that helps spur the sale, and that is the value-added service for which you get paid.
The affiliate relationship is loosely comparable to the age-old practice of sales commissions. What makes an affiliate program different is that the transactions take place online in a very dynamic, diverse, and competitive environment. Everything can be in flux: an audience's needs and interests, merchant products and prices, the mix of merchants and affiliates participating, your Web site's content, and the flow of Web traffic world wide. This challenging environment offers those wanting to participate in an affiliate program with many chances to earn money, connect with an audience, and develop technical, creative, organizational, and business skills.
Becoming an Affiliate
To be an affiliate, you first must have access to a Web site where it is acceptable to conduct commercial activity. It is best to use your own Web site domain name rather than use Web pages accessed through your Internet Service Provider's domain name. This is so that the Web addresses of your pages won't have to change if you change your Internet Service Provider or Web hosting provider, and your own domain name helps in promoting your Web site. You'll also need skills in Web page production to create your content and links to merchant products. Knowledge of basic HTML or simple Web production software is enough to get you started.
Once you have a Web site and some Web production skills, your next step is to apply to become an affiliate. Because affiliate transactions involve a certain amount of technical and administrative work, many merchants work with an affiliate network. An affiliate network is a company that specializes in coordinating the relationship between a merchant and its affiliates. Most affiliate networks have many different merchants as clients and offer affiliates who sign up the chance to apply for participation in other merchant affiliate programs in the network.
When you are ready to sign up for an affiliate program, you can go to the Web site of the affiliate network or you might find a link about affiliate opportunities on the merchant's Web site. By following the link, you'll find information about how to apply for participation in the affiliate network. You'll need to fill out a form to apply, meet the requirements of the agreement (be sure to read the agreement!), and follow the rules of the network and merchant. Of course, your choice of business model (whether you will work as a sole proprietor or corporation) as well as tax issues will be your responsibility.
Working as an Affiliate
After your sign up with the affiliate network, and if you're accepted, you can begin your affiliate work. You can begin linking to merchant products immediately, and the affiliate network takes care of the technical details of tracking the performance of your links and transferring the customer to the merchant's Web site.
Placing affiliate links on your Web site is easy, and most affiliate network Web sites have thorough instructions and technical support. Many affiliate programs provide a range of technical features, ranging from simple HTML or email links and graphics to interactive and dynamic content. This allows you to start out with the simpler technologies and adopt more advanced features according to your audience's needs.
In many cases, you can apply, be accepted, and implement your first affiliate links in a matter of hours. The affiliate network will provide you with reports showing the performance of your links, including impressions (how many times a link was displayed), click-throughs (how many times a user clicked on a link), and sales (when the user ordered products).
Your success as an affiliate will depend on your ability to promote merchant products in a context that helps your users make decisions. You'll need to understand your audience well and present products in an appealing way and in just the right mix to take advantage of your user's limited time and attention. Through feedback and reports, you can adjust your strategies. Success is not assured, but by participating you can take satisfaction in being a player in a new global marketplace.
Affiliate Connection Checklist
To be a participant in an affiliate program, you'll:
- Need to have access to a Web site appropriate for commercial activity and the skills to create content on it.
- Apply to be an affiliate from a merchant's Web site or from the merchant's designated affiliate network.
- Create links or graphics to merchant products on your Web site according to affiliate network directions.
- Track your progress through affiliate network reports as well as feedback from your users.
- Continuously work to understand your audience and serve them well.
Next article: The Audience Advantage.
Participating in an affiliate program involves a key focus on understanding your audience. Ignoring your audience's preferences and needs may lead them to go elsewhere. By focusing on your audience, you'll gain important clues for choosing the right mix of merchant links to include on your site and how to present them.