AFFILIATE MARKETING PRIMER
7 - SETTING UP AN AFFILIATE PROGRAM (Part 2 of 3):
You did read PART
ONE, I hope?...
One thing I should mention before going on: Yes, it will likely cost you something to set up a program, whichever way you go about it - you knew that. A business expense you might not be expecting is the quantity of email (/phone?) support you may have to deal with (perhaps proportional to the number of affiliates you recruit).
You'll get questions and appeals for help from some intelligent people, from whom you can learn how to fine-tune your program, and from some people who will perhaps make you shake your head in amazement at their apparent lack of sense. (Or could it be that your instructions weren't clear, or the person fielding the query at your end didn't understand??)
The idea is that as your revenue grows through the success of your affiliate program, you'll be able to pay people to handle the incoming queries, if they pile up.
If you haven't read in the primer section "How
to Get the Most Out of Your Affiliate Programs" the paragraph beginning with "Some affiliate companies seem to be contemplating how to jettison 'poor producers'", I hope you will do so now. Don't be shocked by the influx - be prepared for it. Spend some time thinking like an unknowledgeable affiliate (even like a not-terribly-bright affiliate) so that you dispose of as many points of trouble as possible before they crop up as queries. (This is one of the best reasons to work on a really useful FAQ file!)
But realize that this point of contact is also where you can get a lot of creative ideas about improving your website or services, for free! Everyone who contacts you is interested, and possibly they are even more imaginative than you are.
Please, don't make the mistake of having a narrow-minded loyalist as your customer service representative... Someone who defensively turns questions or mild suggestions for improvement into challenges to the greatness of their company (and perhaps, when asked nicely to pass an idea on to the website design people, instead cites the years their team has been on the web and even trots out the "Marketing Degrees" everyone has, to prove that the website is already perfect and the "customer" simply too inexperienced to grasp it - I had it happen to me while writing this!)... That's how to get behind and stay behind (and quite possibly lose customers and/or affiliates, of course).
Also realize that in any situation, of the many people who have questions, only a small portion of them ask. You will do yourself a favor by taking it as read that any question you get is representative of an issue that is wrinkling the brows of a number of people who you aren't hearing from. You want the most intelligent, thoughtful, (patient,) and analytical people you can find in your customer service positions! (including if that's you).
It's a long-proven truism in marketing that the customers who come to a business with problems that are satisfactorily resolved by a customer service rep become some of that business' best ambassadors. ...So don't treat this lightly!
(Perhaps you might even test your customer support people periodically with "customer" messages sent by you via email addresses unknown to them. If they know you'll be doing it, so much the better - they'll be on their toes all the time!)
I think you'll enjoy this article from Ken Evoy of SiteSell, Turn
Lemons into Lemonade, Sure... - about the difference between customer satisfaction and customer delight.
(Mere customer satisfaction [i.e., they aren't actually complaining!] isn't enough to drive businesses to greatness.)
And here is a short article on "the 80/20 rule" (80% of a business' success tends to come from 20% of its, in this case, affiliates)... And how affiliate companies can empower all affiliates to achieve better marketing results: "Affiliate
And of course, a facility for handling international customers (and affiliates!) can boost your business greatly.
CHOOSY ABOUT AFFILIATES:
A more appropriate time to worry about which are the best affiliates for you, if this seems critical to you, is before you sign them up. (See the "Affiliate Empowerment" article linked in the previous paragraph for some excellent clues on what to look for.) If a prospective affiliate does have a website, by all means take a look at it - if it is very amateurish or you just don't feel good about it, you certainly have the right to turn down the application.
But remember - it isn't only webmarketing affiliates who can make you money.. . Do you really want to limit affiliates to only those with websites?
Also, I wonder about those companies that make it clear on their affiliate information page that they'll only consider sites with a direct connection to their field... They might be blindly ruling out some more creative connections that would work well.
For instance, what if I had a site all about the Orkney Islands? - a travel company would be a great addition, because you have to get there somehow. Or that site about Harley motorcycles - people travel on them... But I've seen travel-related affiliate programs that state that they'll only consider "travel websites". It would seem more prudent to simply invite people to present their sites and/or other marketing ideas for consideration, with the understanding that their applications will be reviewed with the company's objectives in mind.
If you aren't willing to accept an affiliate without a demonstration of his or her website's drawing "X" amount of traffic, please don't turn down the application with one of those "you may have been denied for any one of the 8 reasons listed below; but feel free to reapply" notices - that's simply rude. (Why would anyone want to come back for more of that? And wouldn't you assume that any such treatment would apply to their being a customer? - I would. ...Which would assure that I didn't become an ambassador - and could even become something opposite, in my blog or social media chatting, in my web reviews. Especially these days, that's really taking a chance with your business' reputation!)
If you require a minimum volume of hits (i.e., you are going to deny everyone with a brand new website), let people know clearly when to apply before they do so and are denied. There's no sense in being negative when you can avoid it.
(And in case this wasn't obvious, if you're leaning toward having a lot of control over your affiliates, you probably won't want to set up a multi-tier program.)
AFFILIATE PROGRAM SOFTWARE:
In "doing it yourself", you have three options:
Read through the reviews of particular options to get ideas on what to be aware of in your own analysis of any option.
- Program it yourself
- Purchase affiliate software to run on your own server
- Pay a company to run their in-house software for you on their server
- Opt for a more "generic" ClickBank-type program (entirely handled from their servers)...
(For the first two types, you will have the advantage of definitively promoting your own website via its URL being in all the affiliate links on your affiliates' websites.)
Program it yourself:
a great programmer, of course, you could create your own program! (No doubt some of the programs for sale started out this way.) Maybe you want something quite simple, or maybe you are up for any challenge...
should point out one small thing, in case you take up the gauntlet: As mentioned in the discussion on the previous page, some search engines use "link popularity" as one factor in ranking your site. What you need to be aware of is that link codes shouldn't contain question marks, because search engines can't "spider" (follow) through such URLs. It might not make a huge difference, but there's no sense in penalizing yourself unnecessarily.
that, I can't give you any help!
Purchase affiliate program software to run on your own server:
Some affiliate program software sells in the range of up to $10,000 (!). A number of programs sell for under $1000, though some of those are very basic and/or inflexible. Particularly for those who want total control over their own program, it's a challenge to find in-house software that will do the job.
and pretty darned powerful affiliate program software called Ultimate
Affiliate is available from Groundbreak.com. At a cost of $200, this software ( for use on Unix-based websites) allows you to set up a one- or multiple-level per-lead or per-sale (percentage or flat fee) affiliate program. (A pay-per-click program can be maintained with software titled "Ultimate Advertiser".) It tracks by cookies, IP address logging, and MySQL database (if applicable), and the administrator can set the timeframe (up to indefinitely). It will even create replicated websites for your affiliates, if you should choose that.
Affiliate program can be integrated with any Perl-based shopping cart (and some others). It gives you a mechanism to email your affiliates easily. The fee includes lifetime software updates; but installation, if you choose not to do it yourself (you need a decent understanding of Perl, and HTML for forms customization), is $100 extra. There are question marks in the codes (they work with various shopping cart programs), but that arrangement can be changed by the administrator. ...The site is chock-full of information! - and you can actually access some of the modules and play around with them.
a bargain! Really, about the only downside I note is that there's no automated mechanism for paying affiliates (e.g., linking up with a PayPal account) - you're on your own with that.
other hand, here's on-site software that has its own (real-time credit card processing service-integrated) shopping cart - and is designed with downloadable products in mind... Synergyx, by Paul Galloway. (You might say that it's comparable to ClickBank's own system, if you're familiar with that - more on that in the next section - but you don't have to have [only] intangible products.) Single- or two-tier, and the commission structure can be very flexible. You don't have to use the shopping cart (now - room to grow?).
be getting into the pricey range, but it includes installation, integration with 5 different payment services, and phone-based live training and customer support. Paul
is utterly devoted to customer service (and many very successful webmarketers stand by his software products.) ...And wow, does this program have features! - I think you'll be very impressed (and the site offers a great demo).
have iDevAffiliate, quite sophisticated on-your-server software at only $99. Many testimonials laud the super-easy setup and range of features. Good info/demo on the site. This choice might be especially good for merchants in three categories.
those wishing to use PayPal, this interfaces with other shopping carts, but it's easy to integrate the PayPal mass payments option.
those focusing on speakers of Spanish, German, French, Italian, Dutch, or Portuguese, the control panel for both affiliates and merchants can be set to any of these languages (or English). Plus one can calculate payments in any of 52 currencies.
for programs which especially lend themselves to offline marketing,
there is an option for creating a special page on your site for customers to type in the affiliate's ID (which could be called a "promotional code" or some such thing). The company also offers a monthly-fee, on-their-server option (which, coupled with the "promo code" page, would be a way for a merchant who works largely offline to run an affiliate program nevertheless).
|3) Pay a company to run their software for you on their server: |
Truly excellent company-hosted affiliate program software is offered by Inuvo - it's called MyAP (formerly MyAffiliateProgram). I think of this as the Cadillac of the genre... Yes, it costs to get going with it; but it has an abundance of truly useful and elegant features. The site is a well-honed information-giver, and their merchant services are superb, with different levels of service to choose from. You might want to check out their site, no matter what route you're thinking of going. One of the main virtues of this type of program, aside from server cost/space saving, is that it allows for easy portability in case you change servers or ordering systems.
A very good alternative is AffiliateShop, by Pendulab. For a good-value monthly plus small setup fee, you can have access to the means for click, lead, or sales-based affiliate tracking. (No residual - but you can pay different amounts, either by percentage or flat fee, to different affiliates.) You can also pay extra to have the company pay your affiliates each month. Single- or multi-tier program options, ad tracking, even an optional live chat feature for your site - and good access to support. Your domain in the tracking code. The software tracks by both cookies and "session variables", for a period of 30 days. You can also be included in a directory of merchants who use the AffiliateShop service.
for a more "generic" ClickBank-type program (entirely handled from their servers):
For those wishing to base an affiliate program around services or ditigal products (i.e., not tangible products), ClickBank is very popular (and easy/quick/cheap to get going with). It provides an internationally accessible infrastructure that both takes care of all the order processing (via credit/debit card - so that you don't need an expensive merchant services account) and a single-tier affiliate program. The affiliate program is fairly basic - but for what it is, it's an effective solution for many businesses.
ClickBank represents, to me, the "lazy merchant's answer to affiliate programming" - minimally, all you have to do is set it up and let it go. (Let me clarify that I don't mean to put down anyone who chooses the easy way! - I so chose myself. I feel that it's very important to limit your responsibilities to what you really want to be doing - otherwise burnout is likely to ensue.) While you can develop your own relationship with those acting as your affiliates (which is likely to add to your overall success as you work to add to your affiliates' success), you don't have to when you use ClickBank. You also don't have to pay the affiliates yourself (which is true for most of the affiliate program clearinghouses).
If you like the ClickBank model overall but are a little frustrated at some of its restrictions (intangible products only, no monthly billing, cap on the amount you can charge customers and pay affiliates, no payment differential possible for JV partners) - and are willing to at least commit yourself to a single session of affiliate-paying (through their easy-to-use mechanism) each month - I suggest taking a look at two other options...
www.Click2Sell.eu is pretty comparable to ClickBank - but as the late-comer, it offers some further advantages: It handles tangible and intangible products, including subscription sales - and it's truly geared toward international programs. Also, it's totally
free to set up an account, for any number of products; and the transaction fees are minimal (especially for pricey products). And you can receive payments instantly instead of waiting for a monthly (or less often) check.
PayDotCom is another totally cheap way to go if you have only one product, which is totally free - and their activation fee (pay once for all the other products you ever want to add) is still cheaper than ClickBank's fee (for 50 products). A major benefit of using PayDotCom is that purchasers can use their PayPal or StormPay electronic funds as well as credit cards and online checks to buy your products. (Also, your payments are instant instead of a) monthly b) and only if over a certain amount c) and minus a check charge - they go into your PayPal or StormPay account. No money held in reserve, either.) Take a look... there are a number of other feature differences that might make a big difference to you (notably the ability to track, communicate with, and provide tools for your own affiliates). Still single-tier, though. And it has one disadvantage you'll need to carefully consider: they charge affiliates a small fee for each sale they make for you (which might make some affiliates reluctant to work on your behalf).
And for another option entirely, there's the 2-tier affiliate program option for those who wish to simply add an affiliate program "on top of" their webhosting, via WebsiteWizard - an excellent webhosting service with 3 levels of service (and this feature is part of #3). Even the least expensive version of WebsiteWizard (quite cheap) let's you add a PayPal-linked shopping cart to your site; #3 also enables you to take credit cards without PayPal (and has some other nifty features, naturally).
There are many ways to go! - it just depends on your desires and your budget.
The issue of how and how long links are tracked for your program could be of great concern...
Savvy affiliates are looking for the most complete link tracking possible, for as long as possible. If you're seeking quality affiliates who will feel loyalty towards your company, this factor might help you in deciding which affiliate program management software option to go with. Here is an informative article called "How
Affiliate Tracking Work: A 'Not-too-technical' Overview!", by Todd Farmer and Jeff Doak of Kowabunga! Technologies.
While we're on the subject of affiliate program software, there are some adjuncts I should mention...
ALL THOSE SMALL PAYOUTS EFFECTIVELY:
If you're going to be handling the payments yourself, a complementary service that a great many merchants are finding valuable is PayPal.
Their Partner Program gives businesses all over the world a cost-effective means of handling the many smaller payments that tend to go along with affiliate reimbursement, via electronic transfer.
You would submit to PayPal a list of email addresses and payment amounts; they will then automate a batch payment to all of your affiliates. Money is transmitted securely from your credit card or bank account to each affiliate's "holding tank" - the recipient can then retrieve it by direct deposit or ask for a check to be mailed to him/her. You can still set a minimum amount to prompt a payment - but now you don't have the expense of cutting checks, stuffing envelopes, and paying postage... And the service, incredibly, is free to both sender and receiver.
Some international affiliate programs avoid the big expense of cutting checks in foreign currency this way... They might send checks in their own currency or distribute payments via PayPal. However, recipients in only some countries are able to take money out of their accounts (by transferring to their bank accounts) - which limits them to utilizing their affiliate income in purchases from vendors who accept PayPal payments.
(Anyone can use this service, by the way, not just affiliate programs. Individuals use it like a debit card. It's popularly used on auction sites. And it can be used to especial advantage by any other type of business that makes many small payments regularly, such as rebates. Money can even be transferred from one PayPal account to others via email as well.)
Another such growing service, also free to join, is MoneyBookers, which is rather more popular than PayPal in many countries outside the U.S. The website is in your choice of a dozen languages, and it supports payments between people (and/or businesses) in 40+ countries.
There's one more section to go - See PART
THREE of 7 - SETTING UP AN AFFILIATE PROGRAM...