What is an Affiliate Program & How Do I Get Started?

When we first started making websites, quite a long time ago, one of the things we began doing quite early in order to make additional revenue from websites was to sign up with a few Affiliate Networks and begin promoting a number of merchants, through their affiliate programs.

A number of new and existing clients have expressed an interest in doing this with their websites over the years, so, at last, here is a brief run through of what an affiliate program actually is, and how to get started with making additional revenue from your website (or emails to clients / subscribers) for helping to connect that person with a merchant selling a product or service they go on to buy.

What is an Affiliate Program

So, before we get too nuts and bolts with this, I’m going to start by explaining, as quickly and simply as possible exactly what an affiliate program is!

An affiliate program at its most basic, is a system designed to reward people (or businesses) for referring customers to a merchant.

Online, this generally means that merchants set up a program to reward “publishers” (those people and businesses who create, own, manage etc websites) for referring them “traffic” which turns into “sales”.

There are several variations on this theme:

  • CPA – Cost Per Acquisition – This means the publisher is paid on an “acquisition” as in customer acquired. In other words: a Sale. Publishers are paid either a fixed fee or a percentage fee for each sale.
  • CPL – Cost Per Lead – this means the publisher is paid when the merchant captures a lead. Generally the amount paid will be lower, to reflect the additional work the merchant must undertake to convert “lead” into “sale”. Something like £0.50 per lead might be expected for something like insurance. Most leads will be checked before payment is made.
  • CPC – Cost Per Click  – this means publisher is paid for each CLICK through to their website. This will often be a very low amount, like 1 penny per click, as it leaves merchant having to convert click into lead and lead into sale.

How To Get Started With An Affiliate Program

In order to sign up for a company’s affiliate program, it is important to note that most major companies use what is known as an Affiliate Network to facilitate the management, tracking, payment and banner delivery necessary to manage a well-organised affiliate program. In fact, it is very sensible to insist upon using a good quality affiliate network rather than going with “in house” programs as these are more likely to have trustworthy tracking systems, high quality monitoring, and better (more frequent and reliable) payment systems. Examples of good in house affiliate programs do exist, though, such as the monumentally widely-used referral program operated by Amazon.

But, generally, Amazon aside, you should look to sign up with a quality Affiliate Network (there is a good list below!).

Next, once you’ve signed up with the affiliate network, most will give you the option to list your website(s) and provide details about what your website is. You do need to take care to be accurate and honest – but also to highlight why you can help deliver sales – here because more and more affiliate program managers are becoming discerning when it comes to selecting their affiliates!

So you need to fill in your “my website(s)” profile section for each affiliate network you sign up with.

Lastly, you’ll want to find and “apply” to become an affiliate of each merchant you’d like to promote within each network, grab a banner or text link, and place this into your website.

Once you’ve been accepted, you need to get the “creative” (banners) and information you want to make your referrals. Email is still a good way to go, as are content websites. Banners are becoming less and less effective as people develop severe “ad blindness”. It is a nice (and sometimes legally required!) thing to actually tell your web visitors and email subscribers that a link you have provided them with is an affiliate link, by saying something like “please note, I do get paid for some referrals…” or similar.

Isn’t There a Faster Alternative?

Yes, there is a faster alternative. It is called Skimlinks. Skimlinks allows you to be signed up for almost every affiliate program going automatically, and also to place a small line of code into your website which automatically converts various links into affiliate (revenue generating) links. They pay you the same amount, but they do cream off the “high volume” bonuses which you could otherwise earn if you went it alone. That said, for the saved management time, Skimlinks is pretty good.

Click here to visit skimlinks and sign up (note this is an affiliate link, but doesn’t affect your earnings!).

List of Affiliate Networks

Below is a list of some popular affiliate networks we like. I have listed them in the order I like them. Most are linked to more information from us. This won’t change how much you can earn and, in some cases, being referred from an already active affiliate may be beneficial to your application(s).

  • Affiliate Window (UK, Canada, USA, Europe)
  • Amazon UK
  • Commission Junction (CJ, USA, Europe, UK)
  • Linkshare
  • Webgains
  • Clixgalore (Australia, UK, USA, world-wide)
  • Shareasale
  • Tradedoubler (Europe)
  • The Aspect Network (UK, financial)
  • DGM
  • OMG UK

What if I’m a Merchant & Want to Setup an Affiliate Program?

If you are a merchant, and you’re thinking you’d like the additional risk-free traffic that an affiliate program can generate, there are a number of things to consider.

Firstly, is your product / service appropriate for affiliate marketing at all? By this we mean, do you think you’d mind handing over a fairly significant chunk of freedom to your affiliates, or would you want to retain (quite a lot of) control over what is said, and how it is being said. If you want lots of control over the message, while affiliate marketing is still possible, this is something to be aware of.

Another thing to think about is cost. There are costs involved in setting up as a merchant in the affiliate networks before your huge waterfall(!) of sales begins. In fact, that waterfall of sales might never happen. In fact, sometimes all merchants end up increasing is their cost of sales, as having an affiliate program simply adds in an extra layer of discounting / cost when the voucher code affiliates grab your latest deals and start converting full-price customers with full baskets into money-off discounted customers… The main cost to consider is the cost of setting up your program (time and money; time = money) and whether or not this is likely to deliver Return on Investment.

Some things which do particularly well with affiliate programs are high margin items, like fashion or digital downloads where you are the creater / producer / exclusive licenced distributor in your marketplace. This is because in these instances all the affiliates are doing is the not insignificant task of introducing your product to a new market, and, because you have little or no competition on the product or service in question, their decision is either “to buy” or “not to buy” not “where else can I find this cheaper?!”. High margin means you can offer more “bounty” to affiliates which, in turn, means they’ll work that little bit harder promoting your products and services.

At Silicon Dales, we help online merchants setup e-commerce websites for major traffic, and we can introduce you to some of the better affiliate networks operating in your region. You might even be able to get some money knocked off the “setup fee” too! Just contact us for more details.

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