Affiliate Program Basics

Affiliate programs have become a standard component of most online businesses. With thousands of companies and dozens of networks offering affiliate programs, it can be hard to know where to begin. Understanding the basics will help you make good decisions as you launch your affiliate marketing business.

3 Types of Affiliate Marketers

Full-time Affiliate Marketing

In this case your entire business model is based around affiliate marketing. Promoting products and making money as an affiliate is your only source of revenue in your business.

Part-time Affiliate Marketing
In this case, affiliate marketing is a major source of revenue for your business, but not the only source. You may also make money with advertising on your site, selling your own digital products (like ebooks), or other products and services.

Side-line Affiliate Marketing
In this case, your business is primarily focused around your own products and services. When appropriate you may recommend other products and services and earn additional income as an affiliate.

The amount of time required to implement an affiliate program is minimal as these programs will most commonly be placed on your existing website(s), and most programs provide ad copy, images and tracking links. Of course, the most compelling reason to begin affiliate marketing is income generation. So regardless of your type of online business, you should at least consider some form of affiliate marketing.

Monetize Your Website Traffic
You work hard to create traffic for your site – you build a busy street. Now, if you create some billboards on this busy street, you’ll make more money. Of course, with affiliate programs you receive payment for creating an action, not just for displaying an ad, but if you can create more revenue from the same amount of traffic – well that just makes good business sense.

Popular Affiliate Marketing Platforms

  • Click Bank: primarily digital products, including downloadable e-books and information products. If you aren't already, you should seriously consider promoting digital information products as an affiliate.
  • Commission Junction: covers every major industry: travel, retail goods, marketing, and even automotive.
  • perhaps the granddaddy of them all; if it's for sale on Amazon, you can promote it and earn a commission doing so.
  • Skimlinks is a technology that acts as the middle man. You put raw links from any of the advertisers they contract with on your site add a piece of code, and they transform them into affiliate links for you.
  • Google AdSense: primarily text ads and payment are for "clicks", not transaction based.
In addition to these popular affiliate networks, many companies will run their own in-house affiliate programs for the products and services they offer.

Questions Every Affiliate Marketer Should Ask
As you begin planning, there are some decisions to be made:

Will I work with just one affiliate network or many?
Initially, it’s often best to choose one affiliate product to promote, and then expand once you learn what works and what is profitable. You'll continually find and add new affiliate offers to your affiliate marketing portfolio.

Will I work directly with the company, or through a network?
Many sites have an "Affiliate Page" on their site, and it’s a great way to choose your favorite vendor and promote them on your site. Because each program has to be setup individually, this can take some time if you need more than a few. With a network, you can apply for many programs at the click of a mouse.

Many advanced marketers will work with a network like Skimlinks for ease when they are testing new affiliate offers, and then when they find a good seller they will often move to a direct relationship with the vendor to get higher commissions.

Do I have the volume to generate significant revenue on clicks alone?
You’ll need a website with a lot of traffic to realize any profits from click programs. Of course, it doesn’t cost anything to try, but many webmasters learn that transaction based affiliate programs produce better than pay-per-click programs.

Is my site better suited to specific product endorsements?
If you run an online travel agency, for example, you could also promote travel insurance, luggage, pre-paid calling cards, and other travel related products. Because your affiliate products directly relate to your clients' interests, you are more likely to have success, than if you have Google text links, promoting weight loss or home repair services.

How much control do I want regarding ad content?
Some ad networks ask for a location on your site, and they decide the content. Sometimes it relates to your site, sometimes it’s totally unrelated. Others allow you to choose the specific content, the graphics, and message.

Will the ads I choose fit with both my site design and my company image?
Would I be happy with weight loss products displaying on my financial services website or with dating ads appearing on my children’s bookstore site? It makes most sense to promote affiliate products related to your affiliate marketing niche.

What steps will I take, to ensure that I don’t unintentionally abuse the trust of my visitors?
Some ad campaigns promote services of questionable quality, or even of questionable legality / morality. Your visitors will hold you accountable, so it’s wise to visit the site of a prospective affiliate and see what they offer, if they have a guarantee, etc.

To see if they are a reputable company, run this simple test. Of course, even the best company will get complaints, but notice the volume of complaints. Simply Google the name of the company with the term "complaint" or "sucks" after it. For example: "ABC Company sucks." Don’t forget the quotation marks, and please excuse the choice of words. To see what people are saying, you need to Google with the words they use.

Affiliate Marketing Program Details to Consider
  • Payment details: Some programs pay a finder’s fee – ranging from $0.50 to over $100 per lead or sale. Others offer a percentage of any sales generated from the referral from your site (from 1% up to over 75%).
  • How they pay: Some fringe programs might never pay. It's best to stick to established programs, at least at first, to ensure that you get paid. Some require PayPal accounts or a mailing address for checks. Others pay by direct deposit to your bank account.
  • Refunds: When a refund is made on a product, your account will be deducted the amount of the commission for that order. It’s good to confirm other details on refunds with the program.
  • Tracking: Does the program provide a method to track clicks, purchases, leads? Without this, how will you know if they are paying you correctly? Most sites have a dashboard of your account, showing daily, weekly and monthly traffic stats.
  • Use of cookies: A larger program should make use of 14 or 30-day cookies, which means that if you refer a visitor to a site, and they leave without making a purchase, but return next week and then buy, you’ll get credit for the referral and you’ll get your commission.
  • Allowable marketing techniques: Some programs prohibit specific means of marketing, use of trademarked content (logos, images, and slogans) or use of their company name in search marketing.
Common Affiliate Program Requirements
Not all programs are the same, but many will require that you have:
  • A functioning, and well-programmed, website
  • A website that does not violate specific terms and conditions
  • A valid privacy policy, terms of use, and legal disclaimer
FTC Disclaimers
If you are promoting an affiliate program in the United States the FTC (Federal Trade Commision) requires a disclaimer. There is a lot of opinion about what this disclaimer entails, and I'm not a lawyer so I can't give you exact advice. But here is some of what the FTC says about it:
"The financial arrangements between some bloggers and advertisers may be apparent to industry insiders, but not to everyone else who reads a particular blog. Under the law, an act or practice is deceptive if it misleads “a significant minority” of consumers. Even if some readers are aware of these deals, many readers aren’t. That’s why disclosure is important."

The Bottom Line
Affiliate marketing is one of the fastest, easiest, and most profitable ways to make money on the internet. If you haven't already, you should consider adding affiliate marketing as a part of your online product portfolio. is the leading source of practical and adaptable knowledge dedicated to improving Health, Happiness, Productivity, Relationships, and more.


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