A beginner's guide to affiliate marketing

Creating an affiliate marketing strategy for your business

A beginners guide to affiliate marketing

Dan Cohen, Market Unit Leader, at Tradedoubler offers some sage advice on building an affiliate marketing strategy for your business

Think of a website you have visited recently. Did a banner advert appear offering you a special rate on flights, cash-back on a purchase, a 10 per cent discount on the new autumn collection or a product price comparison?

Welcome to the world of affiliate marketing.

In affiliate marketing a 'publisher' (essentially an individual or organisation with a website) acts as an outsourced digital sales team for your business, promoting your products in return for a commission. They do this by carrying promotional adverts on behalf of an advertiser and if visitors to the website click on this advert, the link takes them to a site belonging to the advertiser.

Depending on the performance metrics agreed between the advertiser and the publisher, if the customer then clicks (perhaps to receive further information), watches a video, registers, signs up to a newsletter or buys something, the website publisher receives a commission for driving that action.

Why do it?

For a publisher, affiliate marketing offers some significant benefits. Firstly, there is the opportunity to generate additional revenue. For some organisations affiliate marketing represents their entire business (for example, price comparison websites); for others it is a useful way of making some money alongside their core business activity. Secondly, carefully selected ads can bring some big brand names on to your website and boost your association with them. This can have a beneficial impact on your own brand reputation.

For an advertiser, affiliate marketing is a great way to get other people or businesses to promote your products and services and you reward them – usually with a commission payment - for each referral or sale. It extends your 'reach' in terms of audience and, if well targeted, can provide a highly cost-effective, scalable and influential additional sales channel.

How do I become an affiliate?

There are two main routes: you can either join an affiliate network run by an established affiliate marketing organisation, or you can apply directly to an advertiser to see if it has, and is accepting new members onto an affiliate programme. Affiliate networks typically have relationships and programs in place with a number of advertisers and they can help you to select the right brands for your website. They also tend to provide on-going support, development and revenue optimisation opportunities that are worth considering (see 'Seek out the experts' below.)

Making affiliate marketing work – some top tips for success

1/ Do the research

Successful affiliate marketing is not just about posting an online ad on your website and then sitting back and watching the commission pour in. A little research will help you to understand the industry, including the opportunities, risks and emerging trends, as well as the various approaches (display ad or product feed etc.) and payment options available (Pay-Per-Click, Pay-Per-Acquisition (sale) etc.). There are publications and communities devoted specifically to affiliate marketing (see for example, www.affiliates4u.com) and it is also moving up the news agenda for more general marketing magazines.

2/ Do the simple things first

These are covered in more detail in the rest of the list, but essentially it means that you should walk before you try to run. Once you have discovered how it all works, you can make your affiliate activity as sophisticated and complex as you like. For a really straightforward start you could just apply to an established affiliate program, choose your preferred advertisers and opt for something called automated ad codes. This allows the network manager to access the ads on your website and update or change them, for example with a special Christmas ad, so they are always timely and relevant. And speaking of automated ad codes, you really need to: