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The Ins and Outs of Affiliate Marketing

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Affiliate marketing networks provide an environment where companies who have something to sell (Advertisers) meet with companies who know how to sell it (Publishers). Many large Affiliate marketing networks provide hundreds of products to be sold to their network of thousands of publishers.

Affiliate marketing networks generally work on a performance basis (CPA), where you only pay when a sale or lead is generated for you. You receive a sale or lead at a predetermined cost and then award the Affiliate network with a bounty for generating the sale or lead for you. The Affiliate network then pays their publishers for generating sales on your behalf, minus what the network keeps for itself for putting the deal together. This may sound similar to a shopping portal, however there are some distinct differences. A shopping portal places your products in direct connection with the online shopper. Affiliate marketing networks place your products in direct connection with publishers (marketing or media companies.) Each publisher will then use their own resources to generate sales for you, be it PPC, SEO, Email, banners and the like.

Not every product or service will work with an Affiliate marketing campaign, and many Affiliate marketing networks will not accept your offer unless certain criteria are met. The average website is not “marketing ready” for an Affiliate marketing campaign, and often requires a redesign or a separate website to allow for easy sales or lead conversions. Most sales lead generation campaigns work across Affiliate marketing networks as long as you are not trying to collect too much information, or information that makes your customers feel nervous such as a social security number. For product sales, you need to present a very attractive offer like a free 7 day trial for a diet pill, free services for 1 month, or anything that can be considered a low risk bargain. An offer such as a 42” plasma screen Television for only $1,597 will not work. As always, there are exceptions, and you may need to work closely with your affiliate manager to produce a campaign that will be popular amongst the publishers.

Affiliate Marketing Campaigns are Powerful, but Risky

Due to the nature of Affiliate marketing networks, they can be volatile and risky and are not recommended for any company until they have a lot of internet marketing experience under their belt.


All parties must be happy in order to yield a successful Affiliate marketing campaign. The swing between a high performing campaign and an unpopular one can be tremendous and this volatility introduces significant risk. 

Due to the nature of Affiliate marketing networks they can be volatile and risky, and are not recommended for any company until they have a lot of internet marketing experience under their belt. The overall sales potential of Affiliate network marketing can be enormous, and any time gigantic sales numbers come into play, so do gigantic risks. Many Affiliate marketing networks have what are known as “Super Affiliates” who have the potential to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales commissions each month. The volatility stems from both the marketing power available through an Affiliate network, along with the performance-based environment they provide.

For the most part, the publishers who do the selling through Affiliate marketing networks are greedy. They want to sell only the products and services that yield them the most revenue. It is their right, after all, because they are working on a performance basis and assume all marketing risks. If a good offer comes across an Affiliate network, where a lot of money can be made, many publishers will market the product and sales come streaming in. If a product comes in that does not generate good, or at least acceptable, revenue for the publishers, they will chose to not market the product and sales will be almost nonexistent. It is difficult to find the right balance to satisfy all parties involved (advertiser, publisher, Affiliate network, and potential customer.) All parties must be happy in order to yield a successful Affiliate marketing campaign. The swing between a high performing campaign and an unpopular one can be tremendous and this volatility introduces significant risk. Risk comes from Affiliate marketing campaigns in three flavors.

Affiliate Network Marketing Risk:

  • (1) Not enough business
    You have put significant time and resources into building an Affiliate marketing campaign. You have commissioned all types of marketing creative, website design and even bulked up your sales staff. Despite this preparation, your offer is not a money maker for the publishers, and they are not marketing your campaign. Your expenses have increased in anticipation of increased sales that simply never materialized.
  • (2) Too much business
    You hit the nail on the head… Your offer is hot and the publishers love it. They love it so much that leads or sales flow in faster than you can handle. Your call center can handle 50 leads per day but the publishers are generating 200. For each sale or lead made you must pay a commission whether or not you can address it. You are literally downing in too much business, and your pocketbook can’t hold out long enough to expand accordingly.
  • (3) Cheating
    You didn’t invest much effort in validating your sales or leads. Your Affiliate marketing campaign is generating a lot of leads, but sales are not happening. You are receiving numerous disconnected phone numbers, invalid credit card numbers or people who say “I only signed up for the free gift I would get by requesting info from you.” Leads are coming in, but a bunch of crooked publishers are submitting fake information to get paid as if their data was real. Notice how that last lead had a Texas area code, their zip code was “12345,” they stated they live in Alaska and gave you the credit card number “4444555544445555.”

Many Affiliate marketing networks will also ask if they can run your campaign exclusively. This means that they are the only Affiliate marketing campaign who can provide your offer to the world. There are some distinct advantages and disadvantages to running your campaign exclusively with one network.

Exclusive Affiliate network Campaign Advantages:

  • Your Affiliate marketing campaign Manager will pass your campaign on to other Affiliate marketing networks, and manage your account for you. This saves you considerable time by not having to seek out new networks, organizing campaign launches, marketing creative, and other tasks required to launch a new campaign.
  • You will not have to pay startup fees or sign contracts for the Affiliate marketing networks that your Affiliate Manager passes your campaign on to. You simply work under your single agreement with your Affiliate Manager. This can save you thousands of dollars in startup costs.
  • Affiliate marketing networks use exclusive campaigns as “bragging rights,” and often give priority to their exclusive campaigns. Your campaign is more likely to be advertised to the publishers and given special attention. This helps to get your campaign noticed by the publisher, and ultimately increases sales or lead flow.

Exclusive Affiliate network Disadvantages:

  • Your campaign manager will outsource your campaign to other Affiliate marketing networks. You will not know exactly who is marketing your offer and therefore the quality of the web traffic coming into your website is unknown.
  • Your Affiliate Manager may not be as ambitious as you. Your campaign may not get passed on to other Affiliate marketing networks, and because it is an exclusive offer you can’t pass it on to other networks. Growth may become stifled.
  • The publishers who run your campaign through the outsourced Affiliate marketing networks will not receive as high of a payout (sales commission). There are effectively two Affiliate marketing networks, your direct Affiliate network and the outsourced Affiliate network, who receive a sales commission, leaving less money for the publisher. The decreased publisher bounty with result in decreased interest in your campaign, so the outsourced Affiliate marketing networks will not be as productive as if you worked with them directly.

Most Affiliate marketing networks will want to incorporate Email marketing into your campaign. This is strongly recommended, as sales or lead generation volumes will be significantly higher. If you do allow your campaign to be Email marketed, you will need to be able to maintain an Email suppression list. The suppression list is a list of Email addresses of people who want to opt-out from receiving your offer. An opt-out link must be provided on your Email marketing creative where people can opt-out from your offer. You must then supply the suppression file to your Affiliate network so they can in turn pass your suppression file to their publishers. This is a part of the Can-Spam law and it can be effectively managed with a small opt-out landing page connected to a simple database. Make sure you provide an updated suppression file to your Affiliate marketing networks at least once per week.

Launching Affiliate marketing campaigns that Convert:

  • Your goal is to generate a campaign that puts the most money possible into your publisher’s pockets, while also generating a profit yourself. Keep in mind that a break-even campaign is also a successful campaign as long as you can remarket your clients and generate additional sales, upgrades, etc.
  • Design your campaign to maximize conversions. Minimize the clicks needed to purchase a product, or have your lead generation form on the home page. Don’t collect information that you really don’t need or that people do not like to give out (like a SSN.) You may have to build a unique website for the Affiliate marketing campaign if your current website is not tuned for affiliate marketing.
  • You are competing against all of the other campaigns on an Affiliate network, not just ones selling the same thing you are. Publishers optimize the offers they market and drop the poor performing campaigns. Design an offer that works both for you and your publishers; your affiliate manager can help.
  • Make the steps necessary to allow your campaign to be Email marketed by the publishers. This means you will need to create Can-Spam compliant Email marketing creative, an opt-out page linked to a database, and provide access to an updated suppression file (a text dump of your database suppression file.) Email marketing will significantly amplify your campaign’s effectiveness.
  • Develop a large selection of various marketing creatives, lots of standard size banners, multiple Email creatives, multiple Email titles and subject lines, various text links and so on. Your affiliate manager will provide you a list of critical media types and sizes, but try to provide more than their minimum requirements.
  • Review the Minimize Internet Marketing Risk SharpNET article (in particular where it discusses ‘fraud’), don’t move forward if you are not protected. Stay on top of lead quality.
  • Every time you make a change to your website, submit a test to ensure that the Affiliate marketing campaign is still running as it should be. If your website has an error preventing sales conversions or generating tracking issues, you may be asked to pay the publishers for their lost business. Remember that your broken website will affect many companies who stuck their neck out for you.
  • Be prepared for large volumes of leads, or no leads at all.

The risks associated with affiliate marketing are many and they are significant. You must be on your toes, thinking ahead and quick to move if things turn sour. But if you come prepared and design an offer that the publishers love, the financial rewards can be enormous. Best keep affiliate marketing on the back burner until you have some experience under your belt and are prepared for real-time lead validation and high-volume sales.