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If you have an affiliate program or plan to get one, congratulations. You have discovered one of the ‘secrets’ of online marketing. Affiliate programs can be extraordinarily effective if implemented, promoted, and managed properly. However, few people are able to recruit enough affiliates or develop the joint ventures with the ‘big guys’ needed for their programs to reach their potential.
So what are the keys to successful implementation of an affiliate program?
Well, first you need a great product with an ample profit margin and a professional and content-rich site on which it can be purchased through a secure server and shopping cart. Next, you need to develop a system to recruit affiliates. The main key to this is to methodically contact every related business who may wish to promote your product for a commission and to follow up with these contacts. Then, once your model is proven, you need to go after the big guys and aim to develop strategic alliances and joint ventures with the leaders in your niche and industry.
Here are the steps I followed to create an affiliate program that as of October 2002 has 1200 active affiliates and produces $45,000 in net profit per month.
Develop your website, content, and products. All three elements must of a high quality and in place before you should begin promoting your affiliate program. Be sure you have a well designed professional site, well-written copy, an intuitive navigational interface, and a shopping cart on a secure server before you begin to develop your affiliate program. Read my articles “Domain and Website Basics” and “Attributes of a Perfect Product” for help in these areas.
Implement Affiliate Software (see http://www.edgepromote.com for two recommended affiliate programs)
Develop payment amount or payment schedule for affiliates. The going rate tends to be between fifteen and twenty five percent of the sale. This will vary depending on the price of the product and your gross and net profit on each sale. Do be sure you make the commission worth your affiliates’ effort, even if this forces you to raise your prices slightly.
Develop an affiliate extranet (centralized management area) on home website with promotional graphics, text copy, best practices, sales/visitor statistics. The statistics will likely come with your affiliate program. If so, linking to the reporting feature is all you will need to do from the extranet. You may wish to hire freelancers to develop your graphics and text copy if you are not good at these things yourself or do not have in-house talent. Check out http://www.guru.com, http://www.smarterwork.com, and http://www.elance.com to find freelancers.
Develop spreadsheet (in Excel or Works Spreadsheet) of potential affiliates. First, develop a list of keywords related to your product(s). Then one by one search for these keywords in the major search engines and directories. Add the email address of any related site (do not spam unrelated sites) and the URL to your database or spreadsheet. So if, for example, your product is a nutritional supplement and you are trying to recruit affiliates who have related websites on then your spreadsheet might look like:
Note: You would want to delete Entry 7 from your spreadsheet as it is most likely an education and not a commercial site (evident from the .edu). No one likes spam so please be sure to check your lists for irrelevant entries before your send out your email.
Note: Instead of doing this process manually (by going through the search engines and checking each keyword and visiting each site), which would take hundreds of hours, you can use a program called Supersonic to do this searching automatically. Of course, you still must visit each site to assure relevancy, but this software can save hundreds of hours. Email us if you’d like to know where to purchase Supersonic.
Contact potential affiliates via email (use mail-merge mailer such as Mailloop from http://www.edgepromote.com to save time).
Keep records in your spreadsheet on who responds and who does not. Most likely the easiest way to do this will be do delete each line (use the find function to find the applicable text) as you either hear back from the potential affiliate or if they sign up for the affiliate program. You can also simply compile a list of emails to remove from the list and then use the Database Cleaning feature in Mailloop (see above) to remove these entries automatically. After making sure your records have been cleaned, re-contact non-responding potential affiliates via email after 7 days and again after 14 days.
Repeat steps 4 through 7 continuously. This is crucial. Continue to use Supersonic and Mailloop on additional keywords. However, unless you have additional support staff to respond to emails and calls, I’d suggest that you do not contact any more than 10,000 potential affiliates per week, or you may become overwhelmed with replies and lose potential affiliates.
Identify potential large affiliates and potential joint ventures and contact them via phone, fax, and/or mail. Do whatever it takes, within the realms of profitability, to convince these big guys to promote your product for a commission, even it means offering a higher commission to select partners.
Re-contact potential large affiliates and potential joint ventures via phone, fax, and/ or mail. This comes under the ‘do whatever it takes’ category. The key is to keep following up and to keep meticulous records.
Repeat steps 9 and 10 continuously.
Send out monthly checks with update letter. Some affiliate programs allow you to download monthly payment data to an .iif file for direct import into the accounting software QuickBooks.
Send monthly update newsletter to affiliates with info on best practices for producing visitors and sales.
Continuously improve website, content, and products and notify affiliates of updates accordingly.