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Starting An Affiliate Program - Part One

by Greg Shepard

Your Website Through The Eyes of an Affiliate

Affiliate Programs provide the answer to every marketer's dream - results and guaranteed advertising. If it doesn't work, you don't pay a penny. Can it be that simple? Can one really just, purchase an affiliate software solution, throw together a quick Affiliate offer and add a few banners hoping the offer will convert? Will it be possible to attain digital sales force of literally thousands of affiliates in just a few days? Unfortunately, it's a bit more complicated than it might seem. So the question remains, "how does one start a profitable affiliate program?"

Though I am not a writer by profession or education, it is well known by fellow colleagues and partners that I love the affiliate industry and care about preserving its future as an opportunity for all levels of marketing expertise. In this industry, credentials are certainly overrated and cannot qualify an individual to give advice. Only experience and seeking out information from those with experience can help one to succeed in this dynamic marketing channel.

Being an online entrepreneur, I have spent over 6 years in the affiliate industry. I have experienced every side, whether assuming the role of affiliate, merchant or affiliate manager. Through experience, I have learned the ins and outs of growing a successful affiliate program. I intend to share with you these tried and tested techniques that have been proven to work through years of trial.

There is no doubt that Affiliate Marketing can be highly effective and profitable. However, it takes time, careful planning, execution and excellent management to create a successful program. Do not let this dampen your enthusiasm! Though it does take time and effort, one is greatly rewarded provided the techniques being used have been proven to work. There is no easy way to build a program quickly. You won't find any free short cuts. A successful program takes perseverance to build. This article is dedicated to helping affiliate managers build a strong foundation, and to helping them to lay a clear path to a return on their investment.

Why are some programs extremely successful while others stumble at the first hurdle? Well, you may be disappointed to find that there is no quick and easy trick guaranteed to create a successful affiliate program. The good news is that there are many tactics, that when used in combination, can give a program the boost it needs to reach its full potential over time. First, let's eliminate some of the myths surrounding affiliate promotion. Your affiliate marketing channel will not be an overnight success, and affiliates will not often come knocking on your door asking to join your affiliate program! Contrary to popular belief, a profitable affiliate program does not look after itself. It is not an automated sales generator.

An affiliate program is a long-term annuity that will out perform any other marketing channel, period. However, it typically takes at least 90 days before an affiliate program starts to pick up steam. What you do in those first 90 days is fundamental to your program's success or failure. Remember, if you dedicate consistent time and effort to the planning and management of your program, you will secure a powerful and profitable sales channel for your business.

First, you will need a clear plan of action as well as an understanding of the resources required, both in terms of time and money. An effective program needs commitment and dedication, not just for launch and the acquisition of affiliates, but also to keep and help your newly developed sales force to actually promote your offer effectively. You will need a generous splash of knowledge and an ongoing commitment to work with your affiliate partners to ensure high quality, targeted visitors are referred to your site. Affiliate Marketing is not about generating "cheap" advertising but rather about developing profitable, strategic, long-term win-win relationships.

It is also important to understand the perspective of the affiliate. The affiliates' traffic represents revenue, mostly in the form of profit. To maximize profit per visitor, the question becomes how well a creative and the site convert the affiliate's traffic, firstly by referring clicks to your site and then by converting those clicks to revenue at the highest rate possible.

Lets start with the creative. What aspects must be focused on and how can one find the source of conversion problems? One must first ensure that the page where the banner or link will be placed is exposed to traffic. Without exposure, there will be no clicks and no conversion. Many affiliates are not aware of which pages of their site carry traffic. Monitoring impressions in your affiliate software will allow you to evaluate these affiliates and to contact them and make suggestions for improvement.

If a banner or link is not converting impressions from the affiliate's site to clicks then there are several factors to consider. Does the creative cater to the correct demographic and does this demographic match that of the site? It is vitally important that the creative caters to the correct demographic. For example, a banner featuring a natural supplement would want to targeted to the best demographic. In this case, it may be men and women over the age of 30. One would want to include a picture or copy on the banner that is targeted to this demographic and must also ensure that the banner or link in question is placed on a site that is likely to cater to the same demographic. For example, a hunting site would be a poor demographic for promotion of a natural supplement, whereas a natural health site would be perfect. There has been a great deal of untargeted marketing online. This is a huge mistake. Offers such as "win a free mp3 player" that are targeted to any demographic will likely get the click but not the sale, unless the actual offer being promoted reaches the same demographic. It is incredibly important to strike a balance between impressions to clicks conversion and clicks to sales conversion. It is the dynamic of these conversions that makes a truly lucrative offer.

The next question involves whether the creative has the ability to attract the visitors' attention, while clearly presenting an offer and enticing a click. There are methods for creating a banner or link that is likely to convert. Remember, it is vitally important that a banner is not simply focused on getting the click. That click must be likely to convert through targeting and the presentation of a clear offer with features and benefits. An offer is not simply what you may be selling. Offers consist of a discount, buy 1 get 1 free, enter to win, etc. Offers are meant to convince the visitor that they are receiving a special unique opportunity. An offer should be accompanied by a sense of urgency (limited time offer) and features and benefits that set it apart from any competitors' products or services.

Now, assuming your creative is targeted, placed on the correct page, has an attractive offer and contains all of the necessary elements, the next step is the landing page. If clicks are not converting to sales when banners or links are implemented and placed properly then the next step is to review your landing page. A landing page must be a continuation of the offer. If it is not a clear continuation of the offer presented on the banner, you will lose the visitor and thus your click to sale conversion will suffer as a result. Confirm your offer on the landing page and present more detail and supporting features and benefits. Make your "buy now" link visible in multiple locations. Or, if you are simply trying to produce a lead, make your form immediately visible. Try to funnel the visitor into the sale or lead by gaining trust through guarantees and associations. Review copy, navigation and the number of clicks its takes to get to the cart of lead form. Eliminate dilutions that may distract the visitor from entering the purchase process.

The landing page is the last step before the purchase process. The purchase process should be as user friendly and simple, reducing the number of clicks to as few as possible. Also, avoid registration processes that divert the visitor away from the offer. This is a major point of attrition. You may be able to transparently build this into the process, or acquire this information after you have attained the sale. Look for leaks! Leaks are anything that can create a sale while bypassing tracking, like phone numbers with no affiliate id or forms that don't track affiliate ID. The best affiliates will test your system, and any leaks will likely leave you with inexperienced and unmotivated affiliates. Your affiliates send traffic, not sales; the conversion of traffic to sales is your responsibility, not your affiliates.

In conclusion, a successful affiliate program will never be a completely automated solution. However, with special attention paid to a few details, and knowledge acquired from those experienced in affiliate marketing, one can truly increase profits exponentially with some effort. Take the time to communicate with your affiliates to ensure that every part of the process is implemented correctly. Your success is hidden in the details, and the details take some time and effort to perfect.

- By Greg Shepard
Greg Shepard writes and speaks about all facets of affiliate marketing including design, conversion, online advertising, and e-commerce. Greg is the CEO for NetTraction.com and AffiliateTraction.com. He can be reached at greg@NetTraction.com.

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