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Create your own Affiliate program

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Note from Michael - the following article was published way back in 2000 and as such, is very out of date :). Times have change and affiliate marketing and running affiliate programs has too. Back in 2000, affiliate software was hard to come by and what was available was horrible expensive. That's no longer the case!

Learn more in my affiliate software review.

Also try my guide to recruiting and managing affiliates or get inside an affiliate's head by learning what affiliates want.

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Affiliate programs are an important tool for drawing visitors to a web site. Basically, an affiliate program pays other web sites to advertise for you based on their performance. Your affiliates are paid out based on clickthroughs, leads or sales. This article focuses on clickthroughs. One of the best ways to set up an affiliate program is to utilize a well established company such as Cj.com. They will take the headache out of administration, fraud control and payment of your affiliates.

But not all of us can afford to utilize these third party companies when we are starting out, and we need to be able to "test the waters" before outlaying such a large investment. There are a number of relatively easy, free ways to kick off and administer your own affiliate programs.

The first way is a simple code for hyperlinks you supply to affiliates that does not require you to make any changes to your site. This works best if you have access to accurate statistics reporting on your web traffic. The code would look something like this:

<a href="http://www.tamingthebeast.net?999" target="_blank"><b>Free Web design resources - Taming the Beast.net!</b></a>

The ?999 represents the unique identifier that you would issue your affiliates, a different number for each affiliate. The "_blank" will open your page up in a new window. No special software is required to direct to the page/site in question. The hits from each affiliate would appear in your server logs as the referrer along with their code to identify them, then you just need to record the results in a spreadsheet for tracking/payment purposes. If you don't get server log stats; there are a number of free web traffic reporting services that have excellent reporting mechanisms.

Another way would be to create a series of home pages that were identical to your current home page, but saved under a different name. The code that you would issue to your affiliates may look like this:

<a href="http://www.tamingthebeast.net/affiliate /a123.htm" target="_blank"><b>Free Web design resources - Taming the Beast.net!</b></a>


The "a123.htm" would be a copy of your home page with the affiliate ID as the file name. Because the page is a carbon copy of your home page; the visitor would be able to navigate the site as per normal. These should not be confused with doorway pages, a subject that is covered in another article on my site. It's important to keep search engine spiders away from these pages, as they may incorrectly assume that you are trying to "spam" your way to the top of search engine rankings. You can do this by placing the follow codes between the <head> and </head> tags:

<META NAME="ROBOTS" CONTENT="NOINDEX,NOFOLLOW">

Learn more in my robots tag tutorial.

 If you store these pages in a separate folder and depending on your authoring software, you may not even have to physically alter the navigational link coding on your "customized" home page. A package such as FrontPage 2000 will recalculate the hyperlinks for you. If you store the affiliate pages in the root directory of your web (where your index page is) there will be no need to alter the links on the page as navigation would remain the same. The resulting traffic from this method would reflect in your server log stats in a section usually entitled "Page Counts". Once again, it is simply a matter of recording the results into a spread sheet.

While I have only covered text links in this article (as they are less annoying to prospective visitors), basically the same logic applies to graphical banner ads; with one important difference. You keep the graphical banners on your server, the affiliate link contains the reference to the location. The following is sample code:

<a href="http://www.tamingthebeast.net?999" target="_blank"><img border="0" src="http://www.tamingthebeast.net/images/ smallbeastbanner.gif" alt="Free web design resources, marketing, promotion and ecommerce articles." width="468" height="60"></a></strong>

The "alt" value within the code allows a visitor to get a better idea of what is on your site as there is limited space for descriptions on graphical banners. When they move their mouse over the banner, a text box will appear with the description in it. Within the code example above, you can see the reference to the banner, which is actually located within my web. Implementing the link this way will make life easier for your affiliate and ensure that your banner is not altered.

While these methods can assist you in establishing an affiliate program for zero dollars, there are several important considerations to bear in mind.

Fraud - there are many "bots" (programs) available on the Internet that will fake clickthroughs which cost the Internet advertising industry millions of dollars each year, so you will need to be especially selective in who you allow to be a part of your affiliate program. Review your affiliate applications carefully and be specific in your agreements with them (strict fraud policies). For an example of standard agreements, consult any site that already offers an in house program for guidelines in wording, and if you can afford it; seek legal advice on policy wording.

Trust - Many affiliates, especially those who are experienced, may not trust these methods of accounting.

Targeted traffic - ensure that the affiliate links you provide are descriptive of what is actually contained in your site. This ensures that the visitors (which you are paying for) are interested in your product/services.

Administration - It's of the utmost importance that you maintain good records and copies of your server logs in case an affiliate questions their level of payments and for end of financial reporting for taxation issues. Dependent upon your structure, those payments you make to affiliates could be tax deductible.

Pricing - Clickthrough costs can add up very quickly. If you cannot convert clickthroughs into sales, your program is doomed. Again, it boils down to selecting effective affiliates. 

Time -  Running your own affiliate program on minimum budget is very time consuming. Pick and choose your affiliates carefully which will minimize the time (and money) you spend on administering your program. If your site sells bathroom accessories, there probably isn't much point in taking on affiliates who run used car sites.

Government - It might be wise to check out what other requirements the government in your country has in regards to paying "contractors", which effectively is what an affiliate is. In Australia, we now have a Goods and Services Tax (what a brilliant idea that was...not!) in place that requires us to supply extra reporting for any product we buy or any person we pay in connection with our businesses.

Future planning -  Use your home grown affiliate program as a test bed rather than as a long term solution. Try out different ad campaigns before taking the leap and spending your cash with companies such as Cj.com. If your home grown program works well, chances are it will work better in the hands of a capable co-ordinator such as Cj.com or Fineclicks as a pay per lead or pay per sale program.

And most importantly, if you make a million dollars through your home grown affiliate program, donations to Taming the Beast.net are warmly encouraged and greatly appreciated ;0)

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources
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