Affiliate programs are a very viable way to generate income for your site, and an excellent introduction to ecommerce - but it's a numbers game. The more people who visit your site, the greater your chances of creating a good income, especially if the programs you participate in are related to your site topic.
You've probably come across many commercial sites that offer the "best affiliate program". Perhaps I can save you some time and frustration by communicating some of my experiences in this field.
How do affiliate programs work?
An affiliate program is where a company offers to pay you x amount for either a click through from your site, a fixed amount for a lead (where the visitor signs up for a newsletter, etc.) or a percentage of a purchase made by a visitor as a result of a click through.
Even if the visitor does not make a purchase on the advertisers site immediately, most programs will offer a "cookie duration" of usually around 30-90 days. This means that as long as the visitor has the cookie in their cache; even if they return to the advertisers site one month later, you will still receive the commission from the sale - but, as in all things business related, cookie duration is something that you need to check and not assume that this feature is standard.
Challenges in finding the best affiliate programs
When I first began searching and implementing affiliations with various companies; it was one of the biggest time suckers in maintaining my site. I spent countless hours searching for suitable affiliate programs, implementing the links and then monitoring their activity. It is definitely not a get rich quick scenario. The income generated from each program was relatively low, as at that time the number of visitors to my site was not high. It was not uncommon for companies to disappear without notice and since most affiliate programs only pay out at around the $25 mark, I would lose the revenue.
The other aspect that I was not happy with was the idea of another companies banners littering my site, if you implement too many on any given page it only serves to confuse and irritate your visitors. Any more than one animated element on a web page can be very distracting.
Recommended Affiliate Networks
Probably one of the easiest ways to start generating cash from your web site is using Google AdSense. Sign up, add a snippet of code where you want ads to appear and Google does the rest. Their algorithms try to determine the most relevant advertising for your site. Google offers a great interface and payments are always on time.
What I have also discovered to be very successful is to utilize companies like AdSense or Offers Quest for text link advertising. Text links are great as they are bandwidth friendly, and when implemented properly add valuable content to your site which can also assist in search engine rankings.
I still use banner ads and pop unders on some of my pages and sites, just strategically placed. Pop unders can be implemented in a way that won't annoy your web site visitors - but it depends upon the agency you use. For information regarding the creation of income via banners and pop under advertisements and the best affiliate networks for these mediums, view these articles:
The leaders in text link affiliate programs
Getting back to text link affiliate networks, while Google AdSense is probably the best known, Offers Quest are well established and with a proven track record. Offers Quest has dozens of programs covering everything from shoes to ecommerce solutions. They not only offer text links, but also banners and buttons.
Great reporting and income protection
Statistics reporting is excellent and you can monitor the progress of your
campaigns through one interface. They offer a wide range of marketing resources to assist you in implementing programs. Because all your programs are housed under the one account, the dollar amount increases more rapidly allowing you to reach the minimum payout levels more rapidly. And if one of your merchants goes belly up; you don't lose the revenue and you are advised immediately so that you can remove the link.
Quest offers multi-site support, so if you run a number of sites you can still house them under the one affiliate account.
Cookies are the be and end all with major affiliate programs. Most cookies are benign, but some companies do
utilize them unethically. The publicity from these cases has made some users quite shy of allowing cookies on their systems. Certain
browsers do not handle cookies well, but considering that those
browsers have such a tiny share of the market, this will have little impact on your career as an affiliate.
Affiliate marketing - resources
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