Weighing Your Affiliate Program Options

There are a number of factors that come into play when developing an affiliate program. Will the affiliate manager be an in-house employee of the company, or will you outsource your program? Which affiliate solutions provider or software will you use for the back end of your program? How are you going to acquire affiliates for your program?

While the management and solutions provider are certainly essential components for a program, and their selection is (hopefully) treated with deserved reverence, the acquisition of new affiliates is often neglected.

But fret not… building a quality stable of affiliates is not so hard. It’s much like building a baseball team: draft, trade, and pick up free-agent affiliates. Before you know it, you’ll have a foundation of five-tool players in your affiliate program: sites with high traffic, consistent traffic, a targeted audience, frequent site updates, and a top-level domain (TLD).

Drafting Affiliates

There are various types of affiliates that you will encounter in your program, such as the mystical super affiliates, active affiliates, and inactive affiliates. In general, the affiliates you acquire through the draft will be hit or miss, but you will be able to acquire them in bulk.

Affiliate directories offer paid and free opportunities to market your program. The directories, such as Associate-it.com, AssociatePrograms.com, CashPile, and Refer-it.com, sell a variety of advertising packages on their sites and via email blasts and newsletters.

The directories are composed of listings and reviews of affiliate programs, and you can submit your program for free exposure. Currently, there are 50 or so affiliate directories, and it can’t hurt to be in each and every one. That said, it is a laborious task to place your listings, and I would suggest utilizing one of the submission services out there: Affiliate Announce ($79 for 40 directory submissions) or Affiliate Broadcast ($59 for 30 directory submissions).

When selecting an affiliate solution provider, one issue to consider is whether it will be driving affiliates to your program. Networks like Be Free, Commission Junction, and LinkShare can provide a large pool of potential affiliates. Some of the smaller networks and software companies can also drive affiliates to your program.

Some companies have licensed the affiliate network technologies from affiliate solution providers to simplify the process of joining affiliate programs. These services are generally geared toward people that have sites with free hosting, such as Geocities Pages That Pay and Lycos Commission Central. While these services can help to quickly increase your shear number of affiliates, be aware that the “slotting fees” and other costs can really add up, and the impact of these affiliates will likely be negligible.

And one method that is often overlooked in affiliate acquisition is the simple act of putting a prominent callout on your own site. Not only should you display a link on your home page, but it is also a good idea to incorporate a blurb in your email signature about your affiliate program. If you have a newsletter, plug the program. When you send out an invoice, plug the program as well.

Trading for Affiliates

Just as a general manager of a ball club will make deals with other teams in order to improve the caliber of the roster, an affiliate manager should work together with other programs to bring in more talent.

Each time you publish your affiliate newsletter, you have an opportunity to comarket with a program that shares your audience. It works this way: You throw in a short endorsement for a program in your newsletter, and another program does the same for you. This is a free and effective way to grab some quality affiliates.

Affiliates acquired through newsletter plugs are likely to be active, since they made the effort to read an affiliate newsletter and subsequently joined your program.

Another option for comarketing is to trade access to one another’s affiliate list by sending an email blast to your respective affiliates with a message dedicated to promoting the other program. I caution trying this approach, as it may bring more resentment from your current affiliates than the benefit of new affiliates. There has been a recent proliferation of marketing e-books, and these provide a new viral comarketing strategy for your program. For instance, I recently created an e-book featuring search engine strategies. The purpose of this e-book is to acquire new affiliates for the ClubMom affiliate program through comarketing. I license the content out for affiliate managers to offer the content to their affiliates, and the content is peppered with references to my program.

Affiliate Free Agents

In baseball, there are All Stars, and these coveted players can literally be the basis of a team’s success. They merit special attention and better perks than the average player. The affiliate version of the all star is the super affiliate, and when one is available, many competitors will vie for its services. You should be reaching out to these free-agent players and bringing them into your program.

One method to facilitate the acquisition of super affiliates is the upcoming Affiliate Webinar. The Affiliate Webinar is the first affiliate marketing seminar conducted entirely online where affiliate programs will have a chance to showcase themselves to affiliates through moderated chats, a virtual display floor, and a variety of affiliate resources – all for free.

Another way to reel in the super affiliates for your niche is to identify and contact them directly. This can be a very effective approach but only if it is done correctly. The process of hunting and gathering for tons of potential sites and contacting them in a mail merge is not going to yield fantastic results. If you are going to solicit sites, narrow your wish list to fewer sites and make a higher quality of contact with them (for example, a very personalized email with references to their site or a telephone call).

And if you really want to sign on those super affiliates, you should go where they go: affiliate marketing discussion boards. When you post well-thought-out messages to the discussion boards (with a signature that plugs your program), you are posting a free ad for your program, as well as exhibiting your active role in the education and success of affiliates. Some of the more populated discussion boards are AssociatePrograms.com, CashPile, iBoost, and ReveNews.

As you build your affiliate program, there are a number of methods for acquiring affiliates. The players in your program will assume all sorts of roles, and they cannot all be superstars. Bearing that in mind, be sure to actively recruit super affiliates and utility players alike. Some of the best programs are built on home-grown talent that was groomed from the minor leagues and promoted to the majors through internal instruction and management.

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