Should You Consider Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a pay for performance marketing channel where bloggers and website owners (affiliates) send customers to your website in return for commissions on the sales they bring you. If you’re looking to grow your client base without breaking the bank, then setting up an affiliate marketing program might be a good fit for your company.

If you’re looking to grow your client base without breaking the bank, then setting up an affiliate marketing program might be a good fit for your company. If you’re not familiar with affiliate marketing, it is a Pay for Performance marketing channel where bloggers and website owners (affiliates) send customers to your website in return for commissions on the sales they bring you.

What makes affiliate marketing such a great fit for small businesses is the fact that you only pay for results. This usually comes as a breath of fresh air for business owners who know all too well how fast CPM and PPC campaigns can blow through their marketing budgets, regardless of the conversions they deliver.

Affiliate Networks

Unless you have the resources to build and operate your own in-house affiliate program, then your first step should be to join an affiliate network. While affiliate networks are numerous, you may want to start with one of the larger networks such as CJ.com, ShareASale.com, LinkShare.com or Neverblue.com. All networks are a little different in regard to features and types of merchants, so it is worth it to do your research before choosing one. Rick Gardiner wrote a great piece about choosing the right affiliate network for your business.

While most of the larger networks have small start-up fees, they are cheaper than what you would spend building your own in-house program. Joining large networks is also beneficial because they already have thousands of potential affiliate partners who you can contact to join your program.

After you have joined a network, you will then place the tracking pixels on your site, draft your terms and conditions, and upload banners and text links for affiliates to use. Coupon codes are a big subset of the affiliate industry, so if you offer those then be sure to list them as well. If you need help with any of the technical aspects, the networks have customer support teams to walk you through the process. Personally, I have had very positive experiences with CJ and ShareASale’s client support teams.

Recruiting Affiliates

Once your program is live, the next step is to start recruiting affiliates. Networks have helpful recruitment tools you can use to search for affiliates by categories, which will allow you to target affiliates in your niche or industry. You should also spend time recruiting relevant bloggers and thought leaders from your industry into your program.

Recruitment is the toughest part of affiliate marketing, so don’t get discouraged if everyone doesn’t join your program. This is especially true in the early stages of your program, as some super-affiliates wait to see proven success before they join.

Sending recruitment emails is a fine art, and it takes time to perfect. In my experience, emails that are personally tailored, non-spammy and short produce the best results. Geno Prussakov wrote a good article about recruitment emails on his blog.

Managing Your Affiliate Program

Managing your affiliate program will also involve choosing the affiliates you trust to promote your brand. As a rule of thumb, you should always manually accept or decline your affiliate applications. This not only helps to protect you from affiliate fraud, but it also allows you to begin forming relationships your affiliates. Successful affiliate program management means talking to affiliates and discovering what they need to successfully promote your brand. Always treat affiliates with respect and remember that they work with you, not for you.

It will take some time before you start seeing results from your affiliate program, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come. On average it takes about three to six months for a program to gain traction, so it is important to keep growing your affiliate list and stick with it.

If you do decide to launch a program, here are some very valuable resources on affiliate marketing and program management.

  • Abestweb.com– One of the best affiliate marketing forums on the web. If you have a question about anything affiliate related, Abestweb has the answer.
  • Affiliate Summit– The largest affiliate marketing conference around. The next one is in Philly from August 18-20 so there is still time to register!
  • Affiliate Management Days– A professional forum where affiliate managers and marketing execs from all over the world get together and discuss program  management and strategy. If you’re just starting your program this is a great chance to interact with and learn from the best.
  • Feedfront Magazine– The official magazine of Affiliate Summit. Wonderful content and it’s FREE.
  • Affiliate Tip– The blog of Affiliate Summit’s co-founder, Shawn Collins.
  • Geno Prussakov’s Affiliate Marketing Blog
  • Greg Hoffman’s Affiliate Management Blog 

Do you run an affiliate program, or are you considering starting one? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments!

Round 2 Begins!

We had an incredibly exciting first round, with several upsets and amazing comebacks. There were lots of examples of competitors using various social media tools to drive large amounts of votes, and in many cases that made the difference.

Shoeboxed Internet March Mayhem e-Tournament
Shoeboxed Internet March Mayhem e-Tournament

Some match-ups show the entire number of votes logged for a particular contest, but we are only counting the votes cast before the 5:00 p.m. EST deadline that passed on March 27. We’ll make sure to get the true vote counts on there soon, but just in case there is any discrepancy, that is why.

Make sure to vote your favorites into the Sweet Sixteen. And, if you’re just joining the fun, here is a summary of what’s happened so far. You may learn a bit about how to keep your favorites in and get some explanations for some of the amazing upsets that have happened so far!

So here’s a recap, with a look to Round 2:

Web Celebs Bracket

At the top of the Web Celeb bracket, 16 seed Frank Warren, the founder of PostSecret pulled off a big upset over Robert Scoble, the first seed. We saw people really rallying around Warren in the last day of voting and he overcame a big deficit. People love PostSecret it seems!

We also saw Jason Calacanis, the founder of Mahalo, barely beat Peter Shankman in the first round. Despite some Twittering for Shankman’s cause, the HARO founder was not able to overcome Calacanis’ name recognition and fan base. Calacanis will face Warren in the next round.

One of the most intense matchups of the first round was Guy Kawasaki versus Chris Pirillo. The matchup was neck and neck for a long time, but Pirillo fans prevailed, and put their man into Round 2 with a late surge.

Despite how many people posted tweets about their votes in Round 1, Twitter founder Evan Williams was unable to advance, losing at the hands of LonelyGirl15, the YouTube star. She’ll face Chris Pirillo in the next round in a battle of the video stars.

Michael Arrington called March Mayhem an “absurd contest” and probably hasn’t changed his mind, since he lost to Chris Brogan in the first round. Brogran will face Squidoo founder Seth Godin, who beat Grant Robertson in his first-round matchup.

Kevin Rose, a Web Celeb with a huge following, beat Pete Cashmore of Mashable and will face Lifehacker’s Gina Trapani in the next round. Trapani upset major Web Celeb Perez Hilton in her matchup. If Kevin Rose starts tweeting to his 300,000+ followers about this tournament, he’ll be hard to beat in this bracket.

Social Media Bracket

It’s probably not too incredible that the Social Media Bracket produced some upsets, because social media sites often have lots of power to drive traffic online.

Kwippy was able to rally it’s loyal fans to eek out a victory against the mighty Facebook. No effort from Facebook itself led to its demise.

Tumblr had a late surge in votes to overcome Twitter. This traffic really could have come from anywhere, but Twitter was one of the favorites to win it all, considering so much Twitter marketing was used to promote voting on this very contest. Tumblr will face Kwippy in Round 2.

If you’ve ever wondered whether anyone uses Freindster anymore, you can rest assured that there are. Friendster beat Flickr and earned a spot to face Del.icio.us in the next round. Del.icio.us beat out Wikipedia.

Identi.ca has really been the Cinderella of this whole tournament. By posting a link to the voting ON THEIR HOMEPAGE (!), they were able to drive enough traffic to beat out LinkedIn, a far larger social network. They’ll face social news powerhouse Digg in the second round. Digg easily beat 3rd seeded MySpace.

In the rest of the bracket, Jaiku beat out Ning and Brighkite pulled a major upset over YouTube due to lots of loyal fans showing up to vote!

Start-Ups Bracket

In the first match-up, FreshBooks overcame a late surge in MFBP votes to win narrowly. MFBP sent out an email to all of their users at the last minute to get more votes, but came up just short.

BatchBlue also drummed up some last minute support via Twitter to narrowly beat out Mahalo. BatchBlue will face off against FreshBooks in the second round.

Shoeboxed, the host, won over Storenvy, and will face off against PlaceVine, who surged in the end to beat out everybody’s favorite music player, Grooveshark.

Outright will face off against MailChimp in the second round after beating out SimpleFeed. JigSaw could never muster up enough votes to beat out MailChimp, who used Twitter and other techniques to move into the next round.

FourSquare had an impressive showing against BrightCove and emerged victories. They will face Foodzie in the next round, who organized an amazing comeback over Evernote on the last day of voting. Evernote is still awesome, though!

Blogs Bracket

The match-up between the Huffington Post and Consumerist was neck and neck for the whole first round, until Consumerist pulled ahead at the end. They will face Seth’s Blog in the next round after Dosh Dosh wasn’t able to pull enough votes together to advance.

Lifehacker easily beat Engadget, and will face off against another gadget blog, Gizmodo in the next round. Gizmodo beat out TechCrunch in a shocker.

Gawker beat out Mashable and Problogger beat out TMZ.com. It would have been awesome to see Gawker vs. TMZ, but Problogger may be too strong.

Daily Kos surged ahead of Ars Technica at the end of the voting period, and will face VFTW in Round 2. In perhaps the warmest embrace of this tournament, VFTW rallied its readers to vote for it in a dedicated blog post. With no American Idol episode during this round, can they keep the momentum alive?