Affiliate Marketing Mythology: Separating Fact from Fiction
“Affiliate marketing” is a term that means different things to different people. Â For many publishers, forum owners, and entrepreneurs, affiliate marketing has served as a primary source of their monthly income.
Others arenâ€™t quite sure what it entails or whether itâ€™s applicable to their site. Â Those that do understand the mechanics but opt not to participate often do so because of misconceptions about affiliate marketing.
As a result, a large group of site owners assume that ad options like Google AdSense and/or banner sales are the only ways to monetize their site. Â In reality, this is simply untrue.
“Modern Day” Affiliate Marketing
In its simplest terms, affiliate marketing is outsourced marketing. Â Companies have a product to market and “affiliates” are other websites that help them sell their product by promoting their product and delivering customers to them.
The concept intuitively makes sense. Â To illustrate, letâ€™s consider a hypothetical scenario: a merchant recently created a new type of orange widget heâ€™s hoping to sell. Â One day he walks into a store packed to the brim with people talking about all things orange widget related. Â Heâ€™d likely want to approach the store owner and ask how he might be able to offer his orange widgets to the group.
In a nutshell, thatâ€™s affiliate marketing. Â As a â€œstore ownerâ€ (e.g. site owner / web publisher / potential affiliate) you operate a site that attracts an audience with a specific set of interests (in the scenario above itâ€™s orange widgets). Â As a result, you are in an ideal position to connect your audience with the advertisers that are most relevant to them. Â And those advertisers are very interested in reaching your audience. Itâ€™s a win-win-win scenario: the advertiser gets a sale, the affiliate gets a commission and the audience learns about something relevant.
But, relatively speaking, only a small percentage of eligible web publishers take advantage of affiliate marketing programs. Â I started my company after conducting a web crawl that showed fewer than 50% of eligible merchant links were affiliated.
So how come 50% of eligible web publishers donâ€™t engage in affiliate marketing? Â There are a variety of factors, but after talking to what seems like hundreds of publishers over the last few years Iâ€™ve found that the reasons usually boil down to one of three misconceptions surrounding affiliate marketing.
Myth 1: I’m Not Selling. Â They’re Not Buying.
When I have the opportunity to chat with a publisher that writes exclusively about, say, a topic like “how to make scented candles” they’ll often present the same push back: “my site isnâ€™t designed to sell anything.â€
In the case of the candle-maker the individual learned how to make scented candles at home and then started sharing how she did so on her blog. Â Because she didnâ€™t launch her site with the idea of selling candles, she assumes her site isnâ€™t oriented towards selling and her readers arenâ€™t interested in buying products.
In reality this mindset couldnâ€™t be further from the truth.
Visitors come to a site because they are interested in its content. Â In many cases, visitors are coming to your site because they are about to make a purchasing decision. Â If it seems hard to believe that some percentage of your visitors are on the cusp of making a purchase, take a moment to consider each of these scenarios:
- Will the person visiting a web site about DIY gardening or skin care make a purchase in one of those categories in the next 30 days?
- Will the person visiting a web site about electronics or interior design make a purchase in one of those categories in the next 6 months?
In all likelihood, yes.
Whether you are aware of it or not, you influence the purchasing decisions that your readers make. Â Affiliate marketing programs allow you to be compensated for your help.
Myth 2: There Aren’t Affiliate Programs that Apply to my Content
Some think affiliate programs only apply to “traditional” online purchases: shoes from Zappos or an electronic item from Best Buy. Â While each of these merchants do offer robust affiliate programs, they are by no means the only players in affiliate marketing.
There are thousands of retailers across virtually every product category that offer affiliate programs directly, or who participate in affiliate networks. Â There are programs for real estate, jewelry, car parts, pet products, flowers, dating sites, electronics, dog training, gym memberships, and the list goes on and on.
In fact, some of the biggest names in retail, Apple, Amazon, WalMart and Sears all offer affiliate programs. Â A simple google search: “my product’s name + affiliate program” might just reveal your site’s next great revenue stream.
Myth 3: You Need a PhD in Computer Science and Lots of Time to Implement and Manage Affiliate Marketing Programs
Even if you recognize the potential value affiliate marketing offers, you may be putting off adoption because the process of implementing and managing an affiliate program seems overwhelming. Â But there are a couple of options that make the process dead simple — whether or not you are an HTML wizard, or whether you have lots of free time on your hands.
The Automated Option
Automated affiliate marketing solutions affiliate links on your site automatically and partner with both merchants and networks on your behalf. Â This means that there is no need to constantly modify links by hand or deal with managing a large number of affiliates programs on your own. Â VigLink (disclosure: I’m the CEO), and a few of our competitors offer automated affiliate marketing solutions.
The Network Option
If you find that you refer traffic to just a small group of retailers, joining an affiliate network is also a great way to simplify the affiliate marketing process. Â An affiliate network groups a number of merchants together (hundreds or even thousands) and serves as a single point of contact for them all. Â While you will have to manually affiliate links if you join a network there will only be one type of link modification schema youâ€™ll need to understand, so the likelihood that you break links or incorrectly tag links is diminished. Â Commission Junction, Google Affiliate Network, and Pepperjam are just a few affiliate networks that boast a sizable number of merchants.
What it All Means
Affiliate marketing programs have been around since 1994. Â It’s rare that a particular marketing medium lasts so long unless there is real value delivered for both advertisers and publishers. Â So while you may not have implemented an affiliate marketing strategy yet, others are making it work and have turned affiliate marketing into a significant revenue source for their site. Â They have recognized the value of their siteâ€™s audience, located the programs that fit their audience and ensured they adopted an implementation that matched their skill set.
In short: they avoided the three all too common misconceptions above. Â And you can too. The affiliate industry is vibrant, and affiliate marketing is a great way to monetize your web site if you are a content creator or curator, regardless of which other forms of advertising are on your site.
This guest post was written by Oliver Roup, the founder and CEO of VigLink, a service that allows online publishers to earn money from the content on their site. VigLink is backed by Google Ventures, First Round Capital, Emergence Capital and SoftTech VC. Notable individual investors include LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman and former Google executive and current LinkedIn VP of Product Deep Nishar.