The idea of one person selling products on behalf of someone else, and receiving a commission in return is nothing new. As a marketing method it has been around for probably thousands of years. The idea of affiliate marketing took a little longer to make it onto the Internet though.
The World Wide Web as we know it came into existence in 1990, but it was not until 1994 that the first company applied affiliate marketing methods to its sales strategy. That company was in the adult industry, which often seems to be at the forefront of marketing innovation. However, soon after that the online music store CDNow began to operate what is generally considered to be the first non-adult affiliate program.
A couple of years later, in 1996, Amazon launched their Associates Program and affiliate marketing really took off.
Affiliate marketing is an alluringly simple idea: you show an offer from a third party company to your website visitors or newsletter readers and if they click through and buy, you get an agreed commission. Those commissions can be anywhere from a few percent, right up to 100% of the products’ sales price.
Yes, some vendors will give affiliates the full value of the sale because they know that the lifetime value of a new customer is worth far more to them in the long term.
Affiliate marketing can go under many different names: associate marketing, partners programs, joint ventures and revenue sharing. Some affiliate programs are open to anyone while others insist on pre-approving applicants. Still others are only available to people who have bought the product.
It is very possible to become an affiliate for an individual company or product vendor as many run their own affiliate programs. However, the majority are run through affiliate management companies. Possibly the best known of these for online marketers are ClickBank, who specialize in digitally downloadable products and Commission Junction who represent thousands of companies under one roof.
All affiliate programs have their pros and cons. ClickBank, for example, are blissfully simple to use. You pick a product from their marketplace and they instantly give you an affiliate link to use. You need to sign up with them to become a member, but that takes only a few moments and is free. Commissions are generally between 50% and 75%. The downside is that ClickBank make it almost too easy for customers to get refunds and there is always a question-mark over how efficient their link tracking mechanism is.
Despite the potential problems, many Internet marketers make a lot of money from selling ClickBank products.
Commission Junction is great for marketers who don’t want to be part of the Internet marketing niche and prefer to sell real products from real world niches. The choice is huge at CJ, but you do have to apply to be an affiliate for each company individually.
As you also have to apply to be a member of CJ initially, the reapplication every time you find something you want to promote can be annoying, and very often the companies concerned will reject your application without giving any reason.
Commission levels at Commission Junction are usually much lower – a few percent of the price, but as the products are often in high demand, you can make up for the lower commissions by volume.
Amazon, as mentioned earlier, run their own affiliate, or as they call it, Associates Program. It is free to join and pays a sliding scale of commissions depending on the volume of sales you make. Expect to start out at around 4 or 5%.
The great beauty of Amazon is that once you’ve sent them a customer for a specific product, Amazon are experts at building up the value of the sale by offering all kinds of other products (‘customers who bought this, also like that’). As you get commission on the entire value of the shopping basket, you can often end up with a lot more than you expected.
Many affiliate programs now offer recurring income products and services, so you could make a sale for, for example, a membership site, and receive a monthly commission payment for as long as your referral remains a member. These residual income streams, as they are known, can quickly mount up and provide you with a regular paycheck for months or even years to come.
If you have a website that gets a lot of traffic, a blog with a regular readership or have built up a mailing list with whom you’ve established a trusting relationship, affiliate marketing can be very easy money. You hold no stock. write no sales letters, deal with no customer service issues and generally avoid all the hassles that product owners and vendors have to face.
Making money online doesn’t get much easier than affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketers simply make recommendations, or put up a few banner ads on their sites, and then sit back and take their cut. There need be no overheads to start and you could be earning commissions in minutes.