6 - HOW TO GET THE MOST OUT OF YOUR AFFILIATE PROGRAMS (Part 1 of 3):
The short answer: think creatively!!... Find your own unique niche... And track your experiments to see which work best (if well enough isn't good enough for your purposes). But let's back up a bit first. Initially, you'll have some setup to attend to. You'll have to spend some time selecting, then downloading, links/banners and placing them on your site, and so forth... Rest, if you need to! When you have the energy, face the next step: making your affiliate program/s come alive.
One little point that can make a big difference... When you're invited to choose your own affiliate "I.D.", use a word or phrase that's descriptive of your business or, better yet, of the affiliate program itself (i.e., the product or service you're promoting).
You might think that it makes sense to choose some word you happen to like for your I.D. (as you might with a password). I did that at first... And now I'm stuck with it! (I wish someone had given me that excellent advice I just gave you.)
...Because oftentimes, that I.D. is used as part of your affiliate coding - which may be visible to those clicking on your link. And you might as well make use of every chance you get for impressing on people the validity of the link they're clicking on... Hence the choice of keywords that reflect back something about the link's object.
This is comparable to choosing a descriptive domain name rather than using an undescriptive business name for your URL. For instance...
I've used the excellent software "Postmaster Express", which allows one to set up unlimited autoresponders from one's own computer (it's also superb as a contact management database). Since I figured I'd be emphasizing the autoresponder feature of this product, doesn't the affiliate URL "http://www.post-master.net/rs/autoresponder" look reassuring? - especially
since the company's chosen domain name doesn't explicitly describe that aspect of the product.
If I had chosen the name of my favorite something-or-other for the I.D. instead of "autoresponder", I would have lost that chance to influence my readers to go ahead and click on that link.
...Nor does it hurt that my context-sensible I.D. made the link look less like an affiliate link! If people happen to take that for a subject-related subdirectory of the affiliate site, so much the better.
Sometimes you don't know enough to think ahead (sigh). ...Learning from my mistakes is a lot of what this website is about!
You can normally put in whatever you want as the link that's visible to the site visitor (like
this) and use the special affiliate-coded URL link in the HTML coding. But...
Most affiliate clearinghouses have very complex affiliate links, and with some, each element of them must be put into your pages exactly as given... And sometimes the offerings might not coincide precisely with what you'd like to show. So you'll have to rethink how to use the affiliate link on your site. (Some companies don't even offer a basic company name link, which is a little annoying! - I don't at all like being coerced into displaying their endorsements as though they were mine - hmmph.
am I at all grateful for having a company's link show only the domain of their affiliate clearinghouse or affiliate program software.)
If you are also (or instead) using a banner image, you must link that to the same specially-coded URL (again, you might have to accept the affiliate company's version only). (The image actually links from a specified point on your webpage to the image file itself, which must be in the same directory on your computer as the page it is to show up in... Likewise, it must be in the same directory on your webhost's server.) After
up the links, you would then reload your pages to your webhost's server, uploading any image files separately as well (in binary format, if there's a choice).
If you use a WYSIWYG ("what you see is what you get") HTML editor to create your webpages, BEWARE!!!
A low-level editor may very well change the HTML coding you think you are diligently copying exactly. (Even unto changing it after you've carefully added it to the HTML source code... The next time you open the file in your editor, there it goes again!)... And you may not get credit for the click-throughs.
Look for deletions of phrases, changes in word order, changes in capitalization... Your editor may be translating code into its own standards - it will all work, because there are different ways of coding; but the affiliate clearinghouse won't be able to track what they need to record the links from your site with their computer algorithms.
When this is the case, the only way to absolutely ensure that the coding isn't changed is to add the HTML coding directly to
your notepad. (Meaning, don't get into the notepad from your WYSIWYG editor, but call it up directly from your desktop, or wherever it resides on your computer.) ...Then upload the file to your webhost's server before you ever try to view that page again from within your editor. In other words, this is all a big fat hassle (!) unless your editor makes it possible to "wall off" selected code.
Having very little money at my disposal, or time to learn HTML, I had used Netscape Composer (years ago) to create my first site's webpages. With more than one affiliate link on a page, I found it just too difficult to keep track of what was going on and ended up buying an editor because it could "arrest" changes to added codes (this is called "supporting absolute positioning").
However, the switching from one editor to another cost me much time in fixing the other things that went awry (HTML head information missing, the wrong drive being listed in the links, ".htm" pages instead of ".html"... sigh!). I'm here to tell you that, if you possibly can, it's much better to do it right in the first place!
Some non-HTML-damaging WYSIWYG editors popular in 2010 are DreamWeaver (from Adobe - expensive), Fusion (from NetObjects - half as much), and Kompozer (free open source software from Mozilla - and very similar to MicroSoft's erstwhile FrontPage editor, which I used happily until upgrading my PC beyond it).
Okay, there's a way to avoid having to worry about how the affiliate link comes across; and I've saved it until now, because you won't necessarily want to use it (or might not want to use it everywhere) - there are, again, issues that might crop up later on to make you wish you'd known enough to think things through a little more thoroughly. (ESP would sure come in handy sometimes, wouldn't it?)
But, first we'll talk about link masking ( to differentiate from "cloaking", which can refer to hiding a page from the search engines)... You can use another link that automatically loads your affiliate link into the clicker's browser - and a simple way to do this is via a "redirect page". The main advantages to doing this might be:
- 1) People won't be able to "steal" your affiliate link by just typing the merchant's domain into their browser, or by substituting their own affiliate ID for yours in hopes of purchasing the product at a discount.*
- 2) People won't know that it's an affiliate link (i.e., they might think it could, at least, be just another page of information on your site) and therefore wouldn't be so apt to shy away from what they might perceive as advertising. [Aside:
Ahh... perhaps this sort of cut-throat competitiveness in the world of savvy affiliates might encourage you to select a niche where "nicer" people thrive? Really, there are already so many webmarketers marketing to webmarketers... Look for your special niche! - targeting non-marketers?]
- 3) You can shorten long URLs (which is especially useful for including them in email messages, where a long URL may not fit on one line, making the clickable portion incomplete - or in something like Twitter "tweets", where you're limited to a certain number of characters).
this whole problem of link stealing arose from the ubiquitous practice of replacing the affiliate ID portion of ClickBank links, and that ClickBank eventually offered a solution... in that links that are taken directly from their website are given a masking "scramble-coding". But, if you take the link from a merchant's website affiliate page, it will be the stealable one. To solve this dilemma, you could then go to the ClickBank merchants list and - quite laboriously, usually - look for the listing and get the scrambled link there... But don't bother with that! - use the page with the "HopLink
Shield" all on its own: and enter the ClickBank vendor's ID ["nickname"] plus your own.)
This "mask link", as I think of it, can be any URL - and if simply shortening is your goal, you can use one of the services such as TinyURL or BudURL to do this. (There are several others - but not all offer tracking and the right kind of redirects. See this
article by SEO guru Danny Sullivan for more information on options and issues.)
NameStick is a service that has a different twist on link cloaking... It allows you to choose a separate domain name to use for one or more specific affiliate links (you can set up unlimited sub-directories, if that makes sense in your case). The cool thing about this is that search engines do spider these "mini-domains" and can view the customizable meta-tags that help with ranking. Another nifty aspect is that your domain stays in the SE address bar, not the affiliate link or even the merchant's domain - so there's a better chance that a visitor who leaves and comes back to buy will do so through you. NameStick is very handy for those who don't want to set up their own websites! (You even get email accounts and forwarding.)
But - what affiliates with websites usually use is a link that includes their own existing website domain name... The premises being that A) they want to hide their affiliate link; B) the more times people see your domain name, the better, as far as psychological impact goes - it gets "branded" into their consciousness; and C) if your domain contains a keyword that's emphasized on the page where the link is, this will help a bit in your search engine ranking for that page. You would create a special page or subdirectory for the mask link, and this would transfer the clicker to the affiliate-coded URL.
Going back to my Postmaster Express example, I could choose to "house" the redirect link page on this site and simply set up a redirect page for it... whose URL might be "http://www.AffiliatePrimer.com/autoresponder.html" (or ".../postmaster.html", if I already had a page about autoresponders I'd used that word for). Or I could set up a subdirectory whose URL would be something like "http://www.AffiliatePrimer.com/autoresponding/" or "http://www.AffiliatePrimer.com/pm/", if making it shorter outweighed the desire to use a meaningful keyword.
If you'd like to go ahead with masking some or all of your affiliate links (and your webhost doesn't offer an automated link masking feature), here's the simplest way to take advantage of it: This HTML-type (as opposed to CGI and Java script versions) redirect page creator - "META Refresh Creator" - is free and easy to use: http://www.webpage-tools.com/refreshtool.asp
Or you can see how to create the basic HTML page yourself here: http://davesite.com/webstation/html/chap15.shtml - see the "Auto-refreshing" section of the tutorial. (The page will appear blank - the information goes in the HTML header.)
However, against the possible advantages of this practice I would place some possible disadvantages...
- You've got to keep track of what you've decided to call the phony pages or subdirectories - so you can use the same masked link the next time you want to refer people to that affiliate product. If you're doing this for a lot of affiliate links, it really adds to the complexity of your webmastering task. (And if you add too many such cool tricks to your webmarketing efforts, you might wake up one day and realize that you're overwhelmed - I speak from experience!)
- If you have more than one website, do you use different mask links for each site, or the same one for all your sites? Using a link for another of my sites on this one could add to my readers' awareness of my other site, and would be of some use in terms of adding to its link popularity... but is it appropriate to "water down" the attention paid to this site while you're reading here? And if you ever decide to back out of one of your websites, let's hope it's not the one you chose to use as the host for all your redirection pages! But if I set up redirection pages for all my sites, that really adds to the tracking complications.
- Do you choose to use redirection links in your ebooks? If so, you'd better hope that you never wish to get rid of the site you host your mask links on (or to change the pages around in it). Ebooks can be around forever, even when your site is no longer existing - or belongs to someone else, who has deleted your pages... or changed your affiliate IDs to his. If your links suddenly don't work, the ebook has lost value to the person who owns it and might want to use it again (God forbid that it's a viral ebook that this person is passing on to others for you!).
- If your own domain name is already long, adding meaningfully-named pages or subdirectories is going to make it really long! - which is cumbersome. (But the tiny URLs don't add this sort of value to your site.)
older browsers that may still be around don’t support the auto-refreshing command, so a viewer could get "stuck" on the redirection page. (You could always include a direct link on the redirection page as a back-up if you're worried about this.)
- The search engines reportedly don't like totally automatic redirection pages - i.e., where the timing is set to zero seconds... unscrupulous people used them to scam searchers who thought they were going to one site but were willy-nilly being diverted to another. If you mask your links with an HTML "auto-refresh" page (the easiest way), you must set
the delay for at least one second.
And hope that the search engines won't take a dislike to that!
- While many websearchers these days may be familiar with redirection, others may be a little put out at the itsy bit of deception involved. If your site caters to old-hand webmarketers, fine; if not, the whole endeavor to psychologically manipulate your clientele may actually not be worthwhile if it detracts from your overall effort to establish yourself as a trustworthy adviser.
So, you'll likely want to do some considering about what your future plans might look like before deciding on whether or not to mask your affiliate links. (Certainly for now, there's no need to do so - that gives you time. :^) Many webmasters do choose to use redirect links just so as to prevent link theft (though this is far less of an issue than it used to be) - and some feel that this can definitely be financially rewarding (e.g., internet marketers marketing to other internet marketers). Others won't want to be bothered with the rigamarole!
If you're the kind of person who is interested in pursuing that kind of detail in order to maximize your affiliate success, this next section may be for you as well...
TRACKING - TRACK YOUR RESULTS/EXPERIMENT FOR BETTER RESULTS:
There are a couple of major aspects to affiliate tracking/experimenting, each of which is solved by a nifty bit of software I can recommend.
The first thing to wonder about is how people are getting to your site... That wondering is answered by "The Ultimate Link Tracker" (free with Ken Evoy's "5 Pillar" affiliate program sign-up, at the SiteSell site). This will tell you precisely what web-based effort led to your getting that link - i.e., where the person who eventually came to your website came from... Email? Another website's links page? A web classified ad? A search engine? This will give you guidance in adjusting your efforts to get people to your site.
(The Ultimate Link Tracker software, originally sold elsewhere, was adapted and enhanced when SiteSell produced Site
Build It!, the fantastic theme-site-building, webhosting, domain-name-registering service that has been making waves on the web for years now. Great tracking and help with pay-per-click SEs are just two of the many usually-expensive features that Site
Build It! brings to webmasters in one inexpensive, integrated package. In fact, SiteSell keeps adding more and more powerful features, without charging extra for any of them. If, after reading about SBI! on the site, you're interested in winning a free Site Build It! site, there's often a monthly sweepstakes.)
(...Not to mention that SBI!
2.0 [a once-again revised version, for no more money] includes a fabulous, easy, and fully automated means of turning your site visitors into true Web 2.0 participants - and writers of content for your website! ...Which means fresh content without the work of blogging - as well as more pages of interest for your site - both of which lead to better search engine ranking! This is an incredible development - do check it out.)
The latest SBI! offering is the option of a WordPress plug-in version, which not only easily builds you a WP blog site but walks you through how to most effectively choose what content to put on your site. This is a wonderful innovation for the person who knows nothing about websites but wants to get a site set up for an existing business - or just wants to ease into a business or affiliate niche.
Another, similar, way to track your advertising efforts is via affiliate program management software. No, you don't need to operate an affiliate program to make use of it!... You can just use a cheap version to code each of your ads (including affiliate links) with an affiliate ID number. SimpleAffiliate is a good basic program that used to be sold for $67US and is, at time of writing, now free.
Whether or not you want to use it as affiliate program management software (see "Setting
Up an Affiliate Program, Part 2" for information on some other options), it's just fine for this purpose. (If you don't want to position yourself for the free form of tracking above!)
Once they're there, you're interested to know which affiliate links are attracting the most people... You should be able to glean this from your webhost's activity logs - but obviously it would be a whole lot nicer to have it all parsed out for you by a program designed to do this. Look in search engines under "ad tracking" for such software.
It! also tracks CTR ratios for the links placed, or ending up, there. Even if you are already hosted somewhere else, you might think of switching to SBI in order to take advantage of its array of add-on components. ...I did! - and I was very happy with the results. SBI is an especially good choice for the first year or two of hosting, even if you decide later on to transfer to a different vendor - because it is so good at "training you up right" as a webmaster, and at bringing traffic to your door.
the way, expert affiliate (and other) marketer Michael Campbell has some excellent advice more loosely related to "tracking"... See his article "Top
Tips To Avoiding Affiliate Program Glitches" for warnings largely about monitoring affiliate merchants' tracking of you.]