Like a gorilla on steroids, there is a powerful way to add profits to your bottom line -- and that's through actively participating in the "right" affiliate program. By "right" affiliate program, I mean the one that's right for you.
For our readers who are unfamiliar with what an affiliate program is, it's simply a "no-risk" partnership that allows you to promote another company's product or service on your web site to earn a percentage of the sales. As one of the company's "affiliates" (promotion partners) you earn a commission each time someone you've referred to their web site makes a purchase. You might post a banner on your web site that links to the affiliate program's site, or you might publish an article about the company and their products in your newsletter.
No matter how you promote them, though, it's a win-win arrangement for both of you because:
- The affiliate program gets "no-risk" advertising (in most cases, they don't pay you unless one of your referred visitors makes a purchase),
- And you, the affiliate, get the opportunity to earn easy extra income without the hassles of production, packaging, shipping, or customer service. Generally, there is no fee for you to join and you can leave the program whenever you choose.
Forrester Research recently reported that by 2003, 21% of all online sales will be driven by affiliate sites promoting affiliate products like this; however, before you become an affiliate and grab your share of this multi-billion dollar commission income pie, it's extremely important that you educate yourself on how to know which is the best affiliate program to join and which are the most profitable affiliate products to promote.
While it's not uncommon to find site owners earning $40,000+ per year promoting just one or two affiliate products (and that's not including the "regular" income many of them earn promoting their own products), the fact is that not all affiliate programs are created equal. For example, while our own Internet Marketing Center affiliates enjoy commissions upwards of $4,000+ per month (lower traffic sites typically see $400 - $900 a month), there are plenty of other affiliate programs out there that are NOT as generous... or as reputable!
With literally thousands of new affiliate programs having come online since my last article on this topic, I wanted to make sure that you don't make a mistake and waste your time and efforts promoting a program that will not generate the extra income you deserve.
So to help you choose the "right" affiliate program, I've put together a list of the seven critical questions you MUST ask to ensure you make the best choice and give yourself the greatest opportunity for success.
Question #1: Is the product or service offered for resale by the affiliate program something you would use and personally recommend?
First and foremost, the affiliate product you promote should be something that you truly believe in. It should be something that you would personally use yourself and be comfortable recommending to your best friend. Think of your role as a consultant who personally:
- Researches products available in your specialty,
- Objectively compares the product to its competitors,
- Ensures that the one you choose to promote outperforms the competition by offering a major benefit,
- And then "reports" your findings to your web site visitors and opt-in subscribers.
Your customers benefit by saving the time they would have taken to conduct their own research, by saving money, and by being offered the best solution for their purchasing dollars.
Look for products that offer exceptional value and unique benefits that potential buyers want but will not be able to find anywhere else. During your research, also watch for new product announcements. New products can bring in first-time buyers, previous purchasers who wish to upgrade, and owners of competitive products.
With literally thousands of programs to choose from, there's no reason for you to promote an affiliate product that you don't truly believe in. Money is a great motivator, but you should never let the lure of "quick cash" cloud your thinking. When you build your online business around the best interests of your customers, the money will follow.
Question #2: Does the affiliate product you are considering promoting "fit" with your web site's theme?
As you research various affiliate products, watch for those that fit closely with your existing web site's theme; any affiliate product you consider promoting should match the interests, needs, requirements, and budgets of your current customers and web site visitors.
For example, if you sell wild bird feeders, you could join an affiliate program that allows you to earn commissions promoting bird feed, books on identifying wild birds, audio recordings of birds, binoculars, and maybe even night vision goggles for late-night bird watching.
Any product that enhances customer enjoyment, increases personal productivity, or provides a desirable benefit should be considered. Also, look for products that can be used alongside your offer, or that may be needed prior to using your product or afterwards. You will then be offering your customers a "complete" solution... not just one component of it.
Pay close attention to the comments you receive from your customers and subscribers. Both positive and negative feedback can give you critical clues about products or services your market is looking for to fill a need that your product cannot. You can then use this information to look for an affiliate program that offers more of what they tell you they want, or that provides a solution to one of their pressing problems.
SPECIAL NOTE: If you find an exceptional product that does not match your web site's theme or the interests of your visitors, and if it is so exciting that you believe it has excellent potential for a different niche market, then I suggest you develop a separate web site, opt-in mailing list, and promotional campaign just for that specific product.
You'll earn much bigger commissions developing targeted niche sites like this than by turning your homepage into a flea market that makes you look unprofessional and decreases your sales.
Question #3: Is the company reputable?
Your buyers are relying on you to make sure that every product and service you recommend will perform as promised. If you're considering joining a particular affiliate program, check to see how long the company has been in business and investigate them as thoroughly as you would any prospective business partner. See if they offer a "testimonials" page. Ask questions about their products in various industry newsgroups and bulletin boards.
When you recommend another company to your visitors, it's your reputation that's on the line. Ask yourself if associating with this affiliate program will enhance your reputation with your online community. If it won't, then you have a good reason to pass on the "opportunity." Your reputation is priceless. Only associate with the best in your industry.
Question #4: Do they stand behind their product with a solid guarantee and excellent after-sales service?
A key component in selling over the Internet is removing as much of the "risk" as possible for the potential customers -- people will look very carefully at the guarantee that comes with any affiliate product or service that you promote. If the affiliate program you are considering joining does not stand behind what they sell with a risk-free guarantee, then you can expect to lose sales and affiliate commissions to their competitors who do!
As you look at the guarantee, read the fine print. Are the rules for a customer getting their money back so tough that it becomes discouraging to even try? Is it guaranteed for 72 hours, 30 days, or a lifetime? If no refunds are allowed at all, then the company is making a statement about not only their product, but also their attitude towards customers.
Phone their help desk and see how you are treated. If they do not provide a phone number that clients can call, then try sending an e-mail to their customer support. Your inquiry should be answered promptly.
Choosing to associate with an affiliate program that offers "live" support by phone is important since 57% of online buyers prefer to speak directly with a "real" person in customer service. Many of your potential buyers will want to make sure that the company has someone they can turn to for help before they make their online purchase.
Question #5: How good a job does the company web site do of selling their product?
As an affiliate, you will be referring your visitors and subscribers to the affiliate program's sales site. It is the other company's "job" to provide all the information a potential buyer needs to make an informed decision and then close the sale.
Your web site should not have to be a "sales site" for the affiliate product you're promoting. It should be enough for you just to get visitors interested with a personal recommendation that links visitors to the sales site. You may only need a simple paragraph stating something like…
"I just recently discovered a new toothpaste that I am sure will interest all my
fellow Nut-Lover.org members. It is made from a variety of Amazon rain forest
nuts and rum and it has the best taste I have ever enjoyed while brushing my
teeth. You can visit their site now at..."
You should be able to explain the product and its unique benefit to your visitors in just a few compelling sentences. Once visitors click through from your site to the affiliate program's site, the potential purchaser should easily be able to get all the information they need to make a buying decision.
If the potential affiliate program's sales site is confusing, hard to navigate, unfocused, too technical, or overrun with distracting graphics, then prospective buyers will quickly move on before they arrive at the order page. If it's a really bad site, your referred visitors won't be able to find the order page at all!
Before joining an affiliate program, look at their product pages from the perspective, knowledge level, and personal interest of a typical visitor who comes to your site. If you have a lot more technical expertise or specialized knowledge than most of your visitors, then terms and explanations that are easy for you to understand could be mind boggling for them.
Question #6: How are commissions paid?
There are a variety of tracking and payment systems that affiliate programs use to calculate your overall sales and commissions. So before you sign up, you'll want to make sure you have a thorough understanding of how -- and when -- you'll be paid. Factors to consider include...
a) How much commission will you earn on each sale?
Consider both the dollar amount and percentage of the sale price that you will receive. If it's a product that you'll sell high volumes of, a lower commission may be more acceptable than a high-priced product that you'll make few sales with. Look for products that you'll be able to sell in high volumes while earning a hefty percentage of the sale -- this is the ideal combination.
For example, here at IMC we pay our affiliates $65 for every sale of our #1 best-selling "Insider Secrets To Marketing Your Business On The Internet" course. That's over 30% of the total price…
and a huge chunk of our profits.
However, we're willing to pay our affiliates such high commissions because we recognize the "lifetime value" of our customers. Any affiliate program you join should recognize this, too.
b) Is the program one-tier or two-tier?
All affiliate programs are either one-tier or two-tier. With one-tier programs, you recommend the product to your customers, visitors, and subscribers, and earn a commission for each sale you refer.
With a two-tier program, you earn a commission on each sale you refer. However, you can ALSO recommend the affiliate program to your customers, visitors, and subscribers. Each person who signs up for the program through your referral becomes your "sub-affiliate" -- and you earn a commission on each sale they make!
For example, the IMC Affiliate Program is two-tier. If you joined our affiliate program and sold a copy of our "Insider Secrets" course, you would earn a $65 commission. If, as a result of your recommendation, a visitor to your site clicked through the affiliate link we give you and joined our affiliate program, they would become your "sub-affiliate." Each time one of your sub-affiliates sells a course, they earn a first-tier commission of $65, and you earn a second-tier commission of $20.
Obviously, the benefit of joining a two-tier affiliate program is that you have an opportunity to recommend the program to your customers and subscribers to earn some easy extra income on the sales they make.
c) Will you earn a one-time commission or residual income?
Affiliate programs that allow you to promote products that customers run out of, use up, or need to renew are frequently "residual income," which means you receive a commission every time the same customers come back to purchase more of the same product -- rather than just earning a commission on the initial sale.
Good examples of products or services that might be offered as residual income through affiliate programs are cleaning supplies, flowers, web site hosting, newsletter subscriptions, and dating site memberships.
Commissions from residual income products can really add up because on top of the "first-time sales" commissions you can earn each month, you can also earn more and more "residual" commissions as satisfied customers you referred come back to purchase more of the same product!
For example, "Secrets To Their Success" (the IMC private members' site that features interviews with successful online business owners) is offered through the IMC Affiliate Program as a "residual income" product. We pay our affiliates a residual commission of $6 per month for each new subscriber they refer for as long as that person remains a subscriber.
And while $6 might not seem like very much, when you do the math you will see that your commissions from a residual income program like this can snowball very quickly:
- 10 subscribers @ $6/month = $60/month OR $720/year
- 100 subscribers @ $6/month = $600/month OR $7,200/year
- 500 subscribers @ $6/month = $3,000/month OR $36,000/year
As you can see, the biggest benefit of residual income programs is the cumulative commissions you can earn. Once you've "sold" a first-time customer, you don't do any more work, but you continue to rake in the commissions for as long as that person remains a customer.
d) How much commission do you have to earn before the affiliate program issues you a check?
Many affiliate programs require you to have earned a set dollar figure in commissions before they will issue you a check. Obviously, printing and mailing checks is an expense for the company, so it makes sense that they may not want to issue you a check for only a few dollars. However, there are some programs that set this "minimum commission" figure extremely high ($100 and up), which means it can be months before you see your first check.
Before joining any program, find out the minimum amount that they'll issue a commission check for and how frequently your checks will be mailed. Make sure you're comfortable with these regulations. Ideally, you should look for programs that pay you monthly, no matter how much you've earned.
e) What currency is the check issued in?
This is an important question if you're considering joining an affiliate program based in a foreign country or if you want to be paid in a strong currency.
f) Can you check your sales statistics online?
Whether your sales are shown online in "real time" or you are notified by e-mail whenever you make a sale, be sure to maintain your own records to make sure your figures match the company's.
Naturally, the easier they make it for you to track your sales, the more ways you can test your own promotional efforts (newsletters, advertisements, offline promotions) to see which ones are giving you the best response and have the highest conversion (leads to sales) ratio.
g) Within what time period do your visitors have to make a purchase for you to be credited with the sale?
Ideally, your referrals will buy "on the spot" once they click through to your affiliate partner's site. Realistically though, many people hesitate to make a purchase until they have more information, more money, or feel more confident that the product or service is exactly what they are looking for.
To track the sales of those people who click through your affiliate link but don't purchase the first time they visit the affiliate program's site, you want to make sure the program you join uses "cookie" tracking.
"Cookies" are small files that, in this case, contain the unique affiliate identification number you should be given when you join a particular program. This cookie with your affiliate ID# is saved on the visitor's computer so that if they leave the affiliate program's site, but come back again later to buy, you will be credited with that sale.
SPECIAL NOTE: This is very important! You'll also want to find out how long the cookies are "set" for. For example, if a company sets their cookies to 30 days, then you will be paid a commission for every buyer you refer who makes a purchase within that 30-day period.
If the affiliate program sets their cookies for 30 days and your referred customer buys 31 days later, then you won't earn a cent. Here at IMC, our cookies are set for three years. Be sure you have the answer to this important question before you make your final selection of which affiliate programs to team up with.
Question #7: What advertising and promotional tools do they provide you with?
The affiliate program you join should not expect you to reinvent the wheel. They should have at least a handful of tools that you can use to promote their products like:
- Text links
- Classified ads
- Product photos
Everything they provide you with should already be tested and proven to generate the highest click-throughs and sales, so you can immediately implement them and start earning top commissions. They should also provide some kind of training... or at least be willing to speak with you personally about how you might best promote their products in your newsletter or on your web site.
For example, if you'd like to see what a highly developed affiliate training program might look like, check out our IMC Affiliate Support Center. Just sign up as an affiliate (don't worry, it's free to join and you're under no obligation to do anything) and you'll receive the username and password you need to snoop around and check out the resources we provide our affiliates with.
With so many great affiliate programs to choose from, with a little research you should have no trouble finding profitable affiliate products to promote and earn top commissions. Look for products and services that complement your existing product line, match the interests of your visitors, and offer exceptional value.
Only deal with reputable companies who are proud of their products, stand behind them, and will bend over backwards to please their customers. With the wide variety of commission pay plans available, choose one that offers an attractive incentive.
To find top affiliate programs, you can visit:
No matter which affiliate program gets you the most excited, use the seven questions I've provided you with in this article to thoroughly investigate before you invest your time and effort. Once you join, if you actively participate, continue to learn, and keep testing, you'll separate yourself from the pack and soon be well on your way to earning a serious part-time or even full-time income promoting affiliate products.