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How to start an affiliate program
If you want to have hundreds or thousands of affiliates promoting your products for you, you have many options.
You can hire affiliate networks such as Commission Junction (now owned by ValueClick), LinkShare or Performics. They handle the tracking and money - and charge you a healthy percentage. Those companies charge a few thousand dollars to get your affiliate program established.
There is also a wide range of smaller affiliate networks to choose from. They charge smaller fees.
You can hire someone to put their affiliate tracking software on your server. You can buy a CGI tracking script - or you can start an affiliate program by writing your own script.
You can also use web-based tracking systems which charge a monthly fee.
One thing to ask affiliate networks is who owns and controls the email addresses of affiliates. If they're YOUR affiliates, you want to be in control of those valuable names.
If you're thinking of using any of the networks as a merchant, I strongly recommend you sign up as an affiliate first - free - and test the service your affiliates will be receiving.
Want to do more research on how to start an affiliate program? Here are the main options:
Quick, easy and budget priced: AffiliateShop
AffiliateShop offers an easy, quick and effective way to set up an affiliate program.
It offers you the ability to pay-per-lead, pay-per-click, pay-per-sale, or pay using several of these methods (e.g. pay 5% on sales and $0.05 per lead). It also can pay out step wise (e.g. pay 5% for less than 100 sales and 10% for above 100 sales).
AffiliateShop has anti-fraud protection, so that affiliates cannot generate fraudulent click throughs. The software has full tracking and real time statistics for you and your affiliates, and can easily track two-tier programs.
AffiliateShop is partnered with TroySystems to allow you to cheaply send bulk checks to your affiliates. The US Treasury has printed checks on TroySystems equipment since 1984.
AffiliateShop can quickly integrate with most third party shopping cart systems, Microsoft ASP scripts, UNIX and NT Servers and can easily export data to other databases such as MS Access and MS SQL.
All software is hosted on an AffiliateShop server meaning the set up time is minimal. You can have an unlimited number of affiliates, even multiple affiliate programs.
Affiliate Shop is good value for money, with a setup fee of $395 and a monthly fee of $45. AffiliateShop offers a 30 day free trial, and can typically be set up in less than a single day.
AffiliateShop is very quick to set up and easy to use and I highly recommend it.
A popular budget-priced option: Interneka
Tomas Brikman of Interneka has a popular, budget-priced third party tracking solution.
Tomas says it isn't as advanced as MyAffiliateProgram but it has all the features that AffiliateShop has.
"Our customers are small to medium web sites that can't pay $500 for affiliate software. That's why we are offering a really good deal for merchants who are in need of affiliate software," he says.
Popular with affiliates: ShareaSale
Your affiliates will approve if you choose to go with ShareaSale. It's a large network offering hundreds of programs - pay-per-sale, pay-per-lead, and pay-per-click programs. More than 700 merchants. It has a strong pro-affiliate attitude and despises parasites. Has lots of datafeeds. Highly recommended.
Large network: Commission Junction
Commission Junction, launched in 1998, has a large network of merchants. You can quickly establish a pay-per-lead or pay-per-sale program, and benefit from publicity generated by this prominent affiliate network. Here's the description from the site:
"With a pay-per-lead program, you pay a commission when an authorized affiliate refers a customer to your site and that customer fills out a form or performs another action that allows you to follow up on the sales process.
"With a pay-per-sale program, you pay a commission when an authorized affiliate refers a customer to your site and that customer buys a product or service. The purchase may occur when the visitor is at your site or it may occur at a later time.
"Whether you want to start a new program or upgrade your existing program, we can get you started in a matter of days at a price that any organization can afford. We professionally manage all the details of your revenue sharing operations including affiliate sign-ups, approvals, tracking, reporting, and commission payments."
The system works well. A huge advantage of using a large network is that it promotes your program for you. Also, Commission Junction consolidates payouts (payouts from other CJ programs get lumped together into one large check), making it a favorite of affiliates.
However, you will still have to promote your affiliate program yourself. A large percentage of the affiliates who sign up through a major affiliate network will be newcomers who don't know how to sell on the Net.
If you want to pay someone a commission for taking care of most of the details, this is a good option.
Performics is a highly professional, large affiliate network with some well known brands. Performics' clients include: America Online, Blair Corp., Bose, CompUSA, Eddie Bauer, HP Shopping, Kohl's, L.L.Bean, PC Connection, RedEnvelope, Verizon Wireless, and more than 200 others. Performics is owned by DoubleClick.
LinkShare is a large network which handles revenue sharing arrangements.
LinkShare Corporation has created a software solution to track leads that result in immediate or long-term sales. As well, it has established a network to help publishers of sites and online retailers. The software enables merchants and sites to share feedback information and customer analysis. It costs several thousand dollars to set up. LinkShare organizes things, does the tracking and handles payments. LinkShare offers consolidated affiliate payments, direct deposit for U.S. affiliates, and user defined minimum payment thresholds. LinkShare has attracted many big names, including Dell. You benefit from the publicity it generates.
ClickBank allows sellers of information products to set up a simple affiliate program very quickly, easily and very cheaply. Because it is so easy, you will be sharing space with a fairly mixed crowd. ClickBank accepts payments by credit card for you, and charges a percentage of each sale. It has about 100,000 affiliates. This is a very popular solution.
PayDotCom is a budget-priced ClickBank competitor, offering some features not offered by ClickBank.
ClickXchange will enable you to build your own affiliate program paying per-click, per-lead, per-sale, or per-impression. ClickXchange has over 150,000 affiliates in its network, and all advertiser accounts include a customized affiliate sign-up process that merges into your site.
DoubleClick advertising network, now owned by Google, works with direct marketers on per-lead and per-sale advertising solutions. It's also a useful resource for online advertising information.
I want to do it myself: QuickPayPro
QuickPayPro is an advanced shopping cart system with affiliate tracking built in. It is a hosted solution with a MySQL back end. It is completely automated, freeing up your valuable time and resources that can be better spent marketing your products, rather than wasted doing paper work.
The program automatically accepts new affiliate sign ups, and provides detailed and useful stats, including click throughs, conversion rates, expenses, profit and more, for both you, and your affiliates. Referrals are tracked reliably, using both cookies and IP address association.
The system also allows you add unlimited products to your catalog, and both you and your affiliates can link to specific products and track the effectiveness of those links.
The system can integrate with Authorize.net, InstaBill, PayPal, and ClickBank, enabling you to automatically process sales, and send out electronic checks to your affiliates with the click of a button.
The system costs $37 per month, with a trial for the first month costing only $1.
So far, I'm very impressed with this system. This is one you should seriously consider.
Web-based system: My Affiliate Program software
My Affiliate Program software is made by KowaBunga! Technologies, a sister company of Invisio.
Features include: Fully-automated setup; admin and members' page; banner location tracking and verification; email your affiliate members; monthly account statements; export your affiliate information; tracking click-throughs, sales and commissions; automatic reminders; SMART sales report; online sales history; variable commission structure; two-tier commissions and lifetime commissions support. Perl/cgi, runs on Unix/NT.
Major improvements were made to this software in 2001, adding even more useful features and options, too many to list here. The company is well known for its superb support. Take a close look at this option.
Thousands of merchants are using this My Affiliate Program.
Another good do-it-yourself option: Paul Galloway
Paul Galloway offers is Synergyx, full-featured two-tier affiliate program software with an e-commerce platform. It's perfect for anyone selling digital products because it offers a "time-expired-authentication" digital product download system. For those who need it, a shopping cart is included as well. Everything resides on your server, so you maintain complete control. Highly recommended.
Craig Belcher's AffiliateTracking charges a flat rate - $104.95 the first month and $29.95 a month thereafter. "It's a good choice for small webmasters," Craig says. "If you're planning to have over 50,000 affiliates we can set you up with a dedicated tracking server as well. Pricing starts off at $700 a month for a dedicated tracking server and tops out at around $3000 a month . . . we don't charge 20% of the affiliates' commissions either. A flat monthly fee for both pay per sale and pay per click programs."
AffiliateGuerrilla software is installed on your own site - not a 3rd party solution. It is designed for Windows hosted web sites. It allows up to 5 levels of commissions, fixed or percent. It allows both standard products and subscriptions. It is integrated with PayPal so website owners can start their own affiliate program without a merchant account or shopping cart.
You can add affiliates or sales manually. It is only $89.
DirectTrack is the software that was originally developed by advertising network DirectLeads to track their own affiliate program, and is now being marketed as a hosted tracking solution.
The set-up cost is $750 and they charge a "nominal fee for bandwidth and traffic".
UK based AffiliateWindow is a complete affiliate tracking and management software suite. "The program can be easily installed into existing e-commerce solutions in a matter of minutes," says managing director Kevin Brown.
AffiliateWindow.com Ltd manages the affiliate relationships, "taking away much of the financial cost and administration of running an affiliate program allowing the affiliate merchant to focus revenues and staff in other areas".
AffiliateWindow was launched in 2000. Pricing: ?999 followed by support at ?300 a month.
PDG Shopping Cart software
PDG Shopping Cart software is a fully featured shopping cart software with affiliate link tracking piggy-backed on to it. An SSL-enhanced version costs $US750.
Do-it-yourself sites, articles, and books
For a superb article on how to operate an affiliate program, get a copy of Ken Evoy's Make Your Site Sell. It's incredibly good value for money, and comes with a 224-page FREE manual for affiliates.
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Learn from an affiliate veteran.
Your host, Allan Gardyne, has been earning a good living from affiliate programs since 1998.