Affiliate or Associate programs have been a popular topic on the
Internet for awhile now. It seems as if almost every site is either
participating in one or trying to get you to sign up to join theirs.
How valuable are Affiliate programs? Should you join one, start one,
buy from one or ignore them altogether?
For those of you who may not yet be familiar with affiliate programs
on the Internet, they are an association between a manufacturer or
distributor, and a web site owner. In essence, if you have a web site
you can sell products from it and receive a commission. Although
the method behind individual affiliate programs may differ greatly,
the most popular are probably the ones that require almost no effort
on the part of the web site owner.
Probably the most famous and successful affiliate program is the one
offered by Amazon.com. (Things change fast on the Internet. I
assume it is still the most popular) As I am sure most of you know,
Amazon.com sells books and CD's as well as several other new
ventures. Almost anyone with a web site can join this Affiliate
program. After joining you simply post a link to their site with your
affiliate code attached and if someone uses it and then buys a book,
you receive a commission. (5% to 15% the last time I looked)
What makes affiliate programs of this nature so popular is the
apparent minimum amount of risk and effort on the part of the
Affiliate. There is no up front fee to join, there is no inventory to
stock and purchase, there is no product to ship, and best of all you
do not even have to process the order or be responsible for a
dissatisfied customer. It is a passive way to make potentially a lot of
money. Or so it seems.
These factors provide the Internet Affiliate significant advantages
over traditional retailing. If this were all there was to it, then we
would all be rich. Internet affiliate programs also have their share of
disadvantages. Some of these are the reverse of the advantages.
First, because it cost nothing to become an affiliate there is little or
nothing for the Affiliate to loose. The need to succeed is
significantly less for the Internet Affiliate than for the retailer whose
life savings may be invested in their store.
Another significant disadvantage is location. A retailer hopefully
has a location that can attract a significant amount of casual walk by
traffic. An Internet site will almost never attract casual traffic. It
must be attracted through some form of promotional effort. Having
an Affiliate program in and of itself will not attract any more
visitors to a web site. If there are no visitors to a web site, there can
not be any sales.
Finally, it is far too easy for an Affiliate to become unfocused. I like
books, wine, bagels, boats, diving and architecture. If there are no
risk affiliate programs that I can join related to these interests then
why not join them? A web site can easily become cluttered with
unrelated affiliate programs that will only serve to distract a
As with most Internet hype, Internet affiliate programs promote the
ease, lack of risk and potential profits of their programs. It is
consequently not surprising why people become skeptical when after
several months their affiliate programs have generated little or no
Are affiliate programs a waste of time?
I don't think so. Affiliate programs can be very useful both as an
extra source of income and as a method for attracting visitors back
to your site. That is provided you use them as a means to an end and
not as the end themselves. What I mean is that it may be fine for you
to sell a product through an affiliate program but few people are
likely to visit your site and buy from you just because you are an
The route to benefiting from an affiliate program is the same route
you need to take to establish a successful web site. First and foremost
you must have a valid means of attracting visitors and potential
customers. The most important thing in my opinion, is to be
focussed. It is fine to like antiques and boats but unless you are
selling "antique boats", you should probably not be doing both on
I shall leave the other elements of a successful web site to a future
article. The requirements for benefiting from a successful affiliate
program are to ensure that you pick only the ones that fit exactly
with your successful web site. That means you should be very
selective about which affiliate programs you are willing to join.
They should add extra value by providing your visitors with useful
links, products and information related to the reason your visitor
came to your web site in the first place.
Books are a good example of how an affiliate program can be used
successfully or unsuccessfully. Why for example, should someone
buy a book from your site when they can visit Amazon.com and
search through their entire offering? The reason is because you can
recommend the right book and give your visitors a reason to buy it.
If you sell wine and can establish a level of expertise as a wine
taster, then it is very possible you can successfully recommend books
on wine tasting that your visitors would otherwise not be aware of.
Operating a successful affiliate program will require work, effort
and sales skills on your part. You may be lucky and sell a few
products by simply posting them on your sight but to be successful,
you really need to give a prospective customer a valid reason to buy
from you. The best reasons are knowledge about your products or
services and trust in your expertise. Post products that you know
something about and personally believe in. Post a review or talk
about the benefits of your affiliate products from your point of view
Should you buy from an Affiliate? I have not seen an affiliate
program that costs or risks more than buying from the manufacturer
or distributor. (It is possible, so you should shop wisely). More
importantly, a knowledgeable and committed affiliate can often offer
more insight, first hand knowledge and unbiased opinion about the
products that they offer than the distributor or manufacturer.
Finally, if you have a product to sell, should you consider starting an
Yes if it is appropriate for your business and provided you also have
the resources to support it effectively. Your products and services
will determine how easy it is to implement. These can of course vary
greatly and pose greater or fewer problems. Internet related products
and services such as software, hosting and web design tend to work
well. Specialty hard products that require shipping are harder to
implement and support although they are rapidly increasing in
number. You need to use your own judgment and expertise tempered
with a bit of research to make a valid decision.
Affiliate programs come in many different forms. It is important to
learn the terms and conditions of the programs you are interested in
to know exactly what your obligations and opportunities are. I have
included links to a few affiliate programs that I am familiar with
including our own. I have also included links to a few sites that will
provide you with more insight and links to other affiliate programs.
Check within your field of expertise to find those that may be
appropriate for you.