Affiliate Program Facts: What You Need to Know

Want the real scoop on affiliate programs? Have you been put off by the get-rich-quick tone of most affiliate program information?

Then grab a cup of tea and let's chat.

First, let's get the terms right.

An affiliate program is online talk for marketing partnerships. The affiliate is a person who endorses, promotes or advertises another person's product or service online. The merchant is the person who pays a commission to the affiliate when a sale is made. The program is the organization that brings the affiliate and merchant together.

So for instance, you have a website where you post vegetarian recipes. You discover a seasoning that adds a wonderful flavor to your favorite corn casserole. You do a little research on several affiliate market sites, and discover this small, family owned business is looking for customers to tell others about their product. You agree to be an affiliate and place their ad on your website. Now, every time website visitors click on that ad, your website will be credited for the link, and if the visitor buys the seasoning, the company will pay you a commission.

And it really is that simple. You don't have to be a technical whiz, an advertising guru, or even own a website to be part of an affiliate program. It just takes someone who is online and willing to recommend products or services to other people.

There's got to be a catch

No, but there is a lot of oversell, so you'll encounter claims and promises about making serious money without any work. You'd be wise to remain skeptical of those claims.

It's possible, and maybe even probable, that you can generate a respectable monthly income from affiliate programs, but it requires honest effort. If you want to turn your affiliate programs into a serious money-making endeavor, you'll need to make a decision upfront about how you go about your apprenticeship to the business.

You can learn as you go through trial and error, or you can pay a consultant to give you marketing tips and insider news. If you choose to pay for insider information, then be thorough in your research of the provider and get reliable recommendations before paying the fee.

Different marketing methods

For the person who wants to earn as much as possible through affiliate programs there are two "multiples" to know: multi-tiered affiliate programs and multiple methods of marketing.

Multi-tiered affiliate programs are different from affiliate programs because they rely on you signing other people up as sub-affiliates. When that person's marketing produces a sale then you get a commission as well. So these people work for you, in a manner of speaking.

Read your affiliate agreements carefully to understand exactly what is expected of you and anyone who sub-affiliates through you in a multi-tiered program. Ask for recommendations and talk to sub-affiliates and affiliates with other products to find out what problems they may have encountered before you make a decision.

Another way to increase your affiliate program earnings is through multiple marketing methods. If you want to go beyond a website ad, then you can promote your affiliates in many other ways. Blogs, email marketing, traditional promotions, writing e-zines and e-books, or engaging in online discussion like forums, chats, message boards all offer marketing opportunities.

A blog is a webpage where you write regular entries about any subject you like and expect visitors to read your thoughts, opinions, frustrations, and ideas. Many bloggers write entries about their experiences on a specific topic then recommend the product or service that they enjoy using. Visitors to blogs are not looking for advertisements, and they'll leave quickly if that's what you write, but if you build a readership that trusts you, then they'll be interested in the products and services you recommend.

Email marketing includes a variety of techniques. It can be as simple as having an ad linked with your automated signature. Each time you send out an email the product or service link is included with your name at the bottom of the email. Or, you can use email marketing that is more time-consuming like designing and maintaining a regular email service on a specific topic that you email to subscribers.

These daily, weekly, or monthly emails are centered on a topic you enjoy and people request to receive your emails. You should enjoy gathering or writing about the topic information and dispersing it to others, since that is how you will spend the bulk of your time.

Since people subscribe to email lists to receive inspiration, information, or encouragement, they are receptive to an ad that corresponds to the topic. You can include ads at the end of your emails or provide links within the body of the email as long as the product or service placement makes sense.

Writing a book or an article may sound far-fetched, but it is a great way to increase your affiliate commissions. Now writing isn't a wise use of your time if you are only trying to sell a product. But if you are passionate about a topic, then writing articles for ezines or ebooks is a wonderful way to share your enthusiasm while motivating and educating others about your specialty.

Once you write an ebook or for an ezine, you can include affiliate ads at the bottom or on the sides of the screen. Just make sure the products or services go along with the topic you have written about in your ebook or article.

If you enjoy engaging in an online community and already contribute your opinions and thoughts to chat rooms, forums, and message boards, then you can use those channels to increase the visibility of your affiliate links. However, and this is a big however, most online communities do not allow or desire spamming - those awful advertisements that are splattered into discussions willy-nilly. Furthermore, merchants usually don't want to be associated with spammers, so steer clear of anything that resembles that activity.

If you post regularly and have built online relationships with the people in a forum, then you should use those boards to offer your knowledge and affiliate links when it is appropriate. Sometimes this can be done easily by including the link with your signature (similar to your email signature) or other times the discussion board will have a certain forum space or specific days to for you to advertise. Just know what the site's rules are so your marketing is received positively.

Some affiliates use traditional promotions such as signs, classified ads, brochures, or flyers to interest buyers. If you go this route, remember that you need the interested buyer to remember your web information to buy the product or service. So a clever, catchy, website name or email address would be critical for this type of marketing.

All in all, when it comes down to affiliate programs what you are offering is yourself: your reputation, your character, and your online voice. So think carefully about what merchants you wish to endorse and how you much marketing you are willing to do.

Now, go wash out that teacup. You've got a lot to consider.