Where Do Affiliates Come From?

Affiliate marketing gets a lot of attention these days. Forrester reported that affiliate programs accounted for 13 percent of 1999’s online retail sales. Viewed more broadly, all forms of performance marketing are expected to further erode CPM-based budgets ultimately accounting for nearly half of online marketing expenditures within a few years.

What’s odd about these published reports is their failure to address the most important part of affiliate marketing: the affiliates themselves and how to acquire them. It’s an omission more than one reader has asked me about. So today we’ll take a look at some of the ways affiliate marketers can recruit the affiliates they need.

Networks

The most obvious play for many affiliate marketers is to join an affiliate network. Whether you join up with Be Free, LinkShare, Dynamic Trade, CJ or ClickTrade, all provide you with ready access to a stable of affiliates, anywhere from 40,000 to 250,000 at last count.

Just be sure to do your homework. What’s interesting is that the various networks can be surprisingly different. Part of the benefit of running six programs through two different networks is that I get to do a tremendous amount of benchmarking.

The results are often surprising. Sometimes, what works with Program 1 on Network A is only modestly successful at Network B. Conversely, Program 2 at Network B reaps incredible returns, but can’t get out of the blocks at Network A. Without the benefit of both networks to draw from, I’d be inclined to think it was the something about the program itself: the creative, or the offer, or the payout. What I’m learning is that it’s simply a matter of a different type of affiliate base from one network to the next.

Directories

After joining a network, the next stop for any affiliate marketer should be to get listed in the dozens of directories dedicated to affiliate marketing. Whether you submit yourself or use a service, be sure to check back periodically. Over time, categories expand and morph. Think about how affiliates would find your program at the various directory sites and make sure you’re listed accordingly.

Affiliate Recruiting

Sometimes there really is no substitute for doing it yourself. Too many companies I talk to have a “build it and they will come” philosophy. They launch an affiliate program and make some noise at the directories, but then expect it will take care of itself. Not surprisingly, most are usually disappointed. While affiliate marketing won’t exactly make your brain hurt, it does require an incredible amount of discipline.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with affiliate recruitment. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning myself. For far too long, affiliate marketers have been dependent on network partners and other marketing efforts to bring in affiliates. In reality, there’s nothing better than personally recruiting affiliates. It’s perhaps one of the best ways to rev up a program. After all, you know exactly the type of affiliate you’re looking for.

Better still, you already know how to find affiliates. Just hop over to your favorite search engine and start plugging in some likely keywords. The sites that index well for your keywords are the sites you want to target.

Let’s use an example to illustrate another favorite technique. Perhaps you run an affiliate program for one of those stores that sells weathervanes, thermometers, rain gauges and other related trinkets. Perhaps you decide to target other weather-related sites as affiliates. One lesser-known technique involves a quick visit to AltaVista. Spend a few moments thinking of other popular sites (including those of your competitors) that might be the recipient of links from your target affiliates.

Suppose you determine weather.com is a good target. In the AltaVista search bar, type “link:weather.com.” The result is a listing of hundreds of sites that link to weather.com. A bit of surfing and you can quickly compile a list of sites to email about joining your wind and rain program.

Another good tactic is to simply visit your best affiliates and follow all of their links. Sometimes they link to other great sites that would be a perfect match for your program. In fact, affiliates that belong to web rings and other link trading programs can be tremendously helpful in uncovering more like-minded sites.

What’s critical about affiliate marketing is taking a hands-on approach. Pay attention to your affiliate network and make your affiliates work for you. Use the power of the various affiliate directories. But more importantly, do your own affiliate recruiting.

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