Affiliate Marketing Is an Easy and "Hands Off" Business - Or Is It?  Peel Back the Layers to Reveal the Naked Truth...  It's Marketing!

by Sherry Gordon


Many people get involved with webmarketing, and affiliate marketing, because it can be done spare-time - without a lot of effort, or the beleaguerment of others' expectations - with "behind a screen" anonymity.  

...That's okay for dilettantes - but that's not how to run a business.

Sure, if you've got a hobby website, you might as well add in affiliate marketing.  If you've already got a going concern online, becoming an affiliate for a program or few is bound to be a smart business move.

But to turn a hobby into a business - or to shape a business around affiliate marketing - that's a different matter entirely. ...Assuming you want to succeed.  And for almost any business anywhere (and especially online), success takes marketing.

And marketing is effort.  Done with others in mind, not just for ourselves.  And those who have the most success get out there and interact.

Of course, we all have our own definitions of success.  But presumably they all are based on some level of monetary payback for outlay of time and expenditures...  And it's marketing that brings the money in! - and allows you to strategize for profiting more.

It took me a long time to see it...  Affiliate marketing may indeed be something that any old person can do, but it's not something that any old person succeeds at.  You have to dive below the surface, to the depths.

The outer layer, affiliate marketing

I certainly started out with those convenient, naive concepts in mind though...  Having deliberately left a stressful job behind, I knew one thing I wanted - to work for myself now.  I had moved to a remote village where I would have to create a job anyway.  Fortunately, I had plenty of spare time...  (Until I began to delve into affiliate marketing!)

Like many casual web users, I had no idea how people who didn't sell anything on the web made money.  I put together a book of travel games I'd been working on for a few years.  In some "brainstorm sleuthing" on the internet, looking for ideas on how to market the book, I bumped into affiliate marketing...  Hey, perfect!  And a travel-related website idea grew up around (and seriously dwarfed) that little book.

So!  I became an affiliate marketer, as so many have done - through the back door, as it were. ...Having been tantalized by its superb logic.  Without much thought beyond what looked like a great idea to me (even though travel wasn't something I was really gung-ho about).  I could do this sitting in the backwoods, in agreeable privacy.

I started a site because of affiliate marketing.  Others add it to websites they already have (and perhaps didn't at first plan to be commercial).  Either way, many, like me, splash into it unprepared and just start to swim...

At first, it really does look very simple.  Sign up with some affiliate programs that relate to your site, put up banners or text links, and rely on your traffic to make the programs pay.

Actually, there's an awful lot to understand about affiliate marketing itself.  (And since I couldn't find a tutorial anywhere, I eventually wrote up what I learned so that others might be saved some trials and tribulations...  The Affiliate Marketing Primer, now on its own at  There's...

  • How it works, why it's so attractive to the merchants who set up affiliate programs, and how merchants can help their affiliates succeed.
  • The ins and outs of different commission possibilities.
  • What affiliate links are like, where they might go, and how they're used to track click-throughs/sales.
  • How to find affiliate programs, how to choose from amongst them.
  • How to join them, what IDs to select, what to expect from your merchant partners.
  • How to insert the links in your webpages.
  • How to track your results, how to help your sub-affiliates.
  • What the difference is between selling and pre-selling.


Still, those initial concepts hold water here...  You can do all of this set-up in your spare time, at your own pace.  In which case, it doesn't seem to take too much effort.  You can do it all your own way, within certain parameters of how things function.  And it's true that no one has to know who you are.

But in fact, all of that is just the beginning - because...

Peel away the affiliate marketing, and you have webmarketing

Um... traffic?  Yes, that's one of the basics of webmarketing - a whole other layer of concerns, and tasks.

Of course, the first component is webmastering - and there sure is a whole lot to master!  You can spend a year or more, if from scratch, just learning how to construct and fine-tune a website.  (I envy those starting out now...  If they know about Site Build It! (SBI!), so that they can get quickly up to speed without having to be a website designer.)

Webmarketing takes you on into the wide world of website promotion...  Titles/descriptions/meta tags/etc., keywords and content, link reciprocity, search engine and directory submission, pay-per-click bidding, ezines, articles, participation in discussion forums, autoresponder courses, chat rooms, free e-books, etc. etc. ...All those things that pull traffic to your site.

...And that cumulatively undermine those early ideas you had!

Your "spare" time is now all eaten up with researching, planning, and doing - and you just can't ever get it all done.  (Vacation?  Relaxation? ...Huh?)

A little effort has turned into a major endeavor - if not an obsession.

You realize that others' expectations are important...  That your success is reliant on the search engines and on directory editors, on the whims and needs of your website visitors, customers, and ezine subscribers.  Some of your affiliate merchant partners prod you to change, do, achieve.  Web gurus you respect tell you what you ought to be doing - and there's always something new to add in.

And if you want to really make this business a success, you'd better take heed of all of them!

And anonymity?  You, who once relished the privacy of a website that spoke for itself, begin to realize that you are important.  That it's your personality, your good advice, your own individual merit that keeps people with you...  At your website/s, reading your ezine/s, buying from/through you again and again, or dealing with you as a fellow business person. (...And so, if you're like me, you try not to cringe when you see your name so bizarrely begin to spread around the web!)

But even the mechanics of webmarketing isn't the whole truth - because we haven't even talked about psychology yet!

Peel back the webmarketing, and plain old marketing is at the core

Marketing.  "Sales", as it's often called. ...How you reach people, touch people, and influence their decision-making.  That's what sits behind the mechanisms and special twists of webmarketing.

Whether you're selling something directly, or "pre-selling" (SiteSell's Ken Evoy's term for how affiliates must move potential customers toward the merchant's sales site)...  You have to think marketing throughout.

  • Targeting your customers - identifying with them.
  • Writing persuasively - with your "voice" but with their interests to the fore.
  • Showing them benefits as well as features.
  • Wooing them - helping them - reassuring them - giving them more than they expect... instead of "selling" them.
  • Making it gratifying and easy for them to focus on doing what you want them to do (click/sign up/buy).

None of these things have to do with webmarketing per se, but with all marketing.

  • Having your finger on the pulse of your area of interest.
  • Being open to new opportunities that present themselves.
  • Being ready to flex when change overtakes you.
  • Valuing new contacts, who may turn into friends and/or joint venture partners.
  • Using every avenue you can to get to people, and to help people get to you.
  • ...Don't forget offline advertising and promotional opportunities!
  • Think globally, think regionally, think wholesale, think networking... 

There are many ways in which your business might grow - or in which you might change direction, if where you are now is stagnant.

Do you really want a business?? - Implement your marketing plan

It may take one person a good many months of studying and preparation to get to the succeeding point.  After all, many of us get into this affiliate business believing the "it's completely easy!" patter of the affiliate program sign-up pages...  And do our thinking ahead after the fact.

And sometimes that thinking ahead leads to realizing that the rigors of a real business aren't for us.  We might not want to get beyond the stage we started from.

So it's no wonder that so many affiliates go nowhere fast, as affiliate program managers are so chagrined to discover.  Presumably some are latent "succeeders", just needing information on how to go about it - or more time to pull it off.  But I think a lot of people decide to stay where it's comfortable.  (Maybe program managers should get off their backs?)

I'm going the business route... in my own time.  Building up - it all adds up.  And it kind of gets in your blood.  It can be fun to play the game.

Every effort has its effect, and each plays synergystically into the whole.  (And you learn to concentrate on the ones that have the most effect.)  The key is to keep moving!

If you're coming, all you have to do is work at it - in the right way (get/keep informed), as you can (make it happen).  Just don't forget to peel to the core... 

Concentrate on marketing, not just affiliate marketing.

Gordon Pioneering - Copyright 6-2001



You are very welcome to reprint this article in its entirety, including hyperlinks, if you'll also put this resource box at the end:

Sherry Gordon is the learn-it-and-pass-it-on creator of "The Affiliate Marketing Primer", at


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