If you’ve been around the Internet over the past decade, you’ve likely seen the terms “Affiliate Marketing” or “Affiliate Program.” Today, nearly every monetized website, whether it be a niche content blog or actual merchant site such as Amazon.com, uses affiliate programs to spread their brand. So, what is affiliate marketing and how can you use it to grow your business?
Let’s start with the first part of that question and talk about how affiliate programs work. At its most basic definition, an affiliate program is an arrangement where a merchant or website’s business owner pays other websites (affiliates) a commission to send traffic (customers) to the merchant’s website. Affiliates drive the traffic to the merchant’s site by placing links on their own sites in the form of hyperlinks within the text of written content, or through badges or banners on the sidebars of pages.
When people click on those links, they are taken to the paying merchant’s website to purchase products or services, and if they follow through and buy something (known as a conversion), the affiliate gets a percentage of the profit from that sale. Amazon is one of the most comprehensive and successful players in the affiliate marketing landscape. It seems you can’t visit a single web page anymore without coming across a link or banner that leads you directly to a product on the Amazon marketplace.
In the early days of affiliate marketing, affiliates quickly learned that they could profit greatly by littering the Internet with spammy links dropped in blog comments, FB post comments, and through other unscrupulous tactics. Thankfully, however, Google and other vested members of the Internet community quickly caught on and put measures in place to penalize websites and affiliates who practice those types of online behaviors (known as black hat SEO and black hat affiliate marketing).
Now, it might seem that if you’re going to be giving up a percentage of your profits to pay affiliates, you might as well pay for traditional advertising. But the latter method isn’t always the best way to reach out to multiple audiences across multiple platforms. In fact, affiliate marketing can proliferate your company’s products or services much more quickly, and at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising.
For example, if you partner with a social media influencer (someone who has already built a following) and that influencer promotes your product or service through an affiliate partnership, their followers are more likely to buy your products. In many instances, even though consumers might be interested in a product they see advertised, they won’t follow through to purchase (convert) unless somebody they know and trust recommends it.
Now, for the second part of the question. How can you start your own affiliate program? For most startups and small business entities not yet generating a lot of profit, joining an affiliate network is the best option. An affiliate network acts as the conduit between your company and your affiliates. For a percentage of the percentage you’ll be paying your affiliates, these networks handle all the management aspects of finding the affiliates as well as tracking all your website’s traffic metrics and data behind the scenes – leaving you to focus on running your company.
If you think you might be interested in learning more about or joining an affiliate network, here’s a link to the Top 20 Affiliate Networks so far in 2017. Just make sure you take some time to explore each network as thoroughly as possible as well as their pros and cons before you commit to one.