Why I Love Affiliate Programs

Affiliate marketing is hot on the Internet. Nearly anyone can pull together a decent affiliate program with a good offer and some dedicated staff time. But a really great program takes more creative strategy.

Finding interested and well-matched affiliates is the first task. Amid the noise, three major players have emerged to help. Commission Junction and Cashpile are free services that recommend affiliate programs that best fit a business, and Linkshare manages its own advertising program, mediating and measuring on behalf of Web sites.

The beauty of affiliate marketing programs is illustrated in the much ballyhooed, pioneering programs of Amazon.com. A model of simplicity, Amazon.com's branded button appears on tens of thousands of sites, from name-brand properties to mom-and-pop sites, each of which takes a small cut of any item Amazon sells via click-throughs from that site.

In a good affiliate match, the affiliate site's tacit endorsement of your product gives positive impressions via association. Particularly for sites that possess some brand recognition, the appearance of the affiliate on related sites is becoming a standard online. Brand recognition is a pleasant side effect.

With an eye on creative strategy, affiliate programs are a great way to gauge effectiveness of an overall advertising campaign, especially its direct call-to-action elements, which you'll ideally position front-and-center in an affiliate campaign. Affiliate creative should capitalize on the most blatant directive deals in your arsenal. Just don't be tricky about it.

“We're seeing a much more straightforward call-to-action in affiliate creative, and it's much more product-specific,” said William Sutjiada, founder and vice president of engineering at Cashpile, San Diego. “It's more targeted to driving a site's key consumers to take an action now.”

Sutjiada noted that more merchants are using pictures of specific products, flashy design elements and a direct approach. Text links within sites are one of the most effective types of affiliate buys, he finds, with their close proximity to other site content and implied recommendation from the host site. “You can still have a residual branding effect if the creative is carefully crafted,” he said.

Affiliate programs offer a good opportunity to test different pieces of creative against one another. A pure branding button might work well for well-known sites, but a well-crafted offer is the runaway best hook for most sites. If the affiliate partner is cooperative, look for creative placements that relate directly to site content or serve as a natural progression to a product or service not offered on the host site.

It's highly desirable to locate potential affiliate partners with action-oriented visitors. Both the advertiser and affiliated site publisher can appreciate that match, and publishers can determine how to sell their available advertising at a premium while giving good value to advertisers. By closely observing visitor activity with regard to affiliate advertising on a site, the publisher can learn additional nuances of the audience. Affiliate programs can also serve as a way for advertisers to sell valuable space without giving up an indiscriminate number of impressions.

Negotiate your affiliate program carefully, and both your business and the sites on which you advertise can benefit.

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