Who Made That Sale? The Pros and Pitfalls of Affiliate Marketing

When trying to expand marketing reach without emptying their pockets, affiliate marketing may seem like an appealing option for most businesses. Increasing sales with less upfront outlay is an ideal situation, and affiliate networks have the potential to reach widely and diffusely, expanding the reach of products. Done carefully and successfully, it can be a real moneymaker. Amazon, Match.com, and other large, successful companies use it, and aren’t those the companies who can spot a good marketing tactic when they see it?

There is a kernel of truth to the benefits of following in the footsteps of big businesses, but not all affiliate marketing is built the same. Telling the difference between trustworthy, valuable affiliates and scam artists looking for a quick profit can be a challenge. When diving into this type of marketing, it’s important to stay alert for trouble if the goal is to reap the rewards.

How it Works

Affiliate marketing is a relatively simple concept. Essentially, it involves joining a network or entering into a relationship where other websites promote and advertise products. No money is paid to these other sites up front.

Affiliate Marketing how to

Rather, by tracking click-through rates and user activity, businesses and affiliates determine which sales were the result of click-throughs from the affiliate site. The affiliate is then paid a commission based on those sales. Sounds simple, right? Not exactly – there are some negative factors to consider.

Spotting the Scam

The first big scam is tied directly to duplicitous use of click-through tracking. As the New York Times recently reported, affiliate marketers sometimes claim sales that a business would have made anyway. This typically occurs when users shop on a homepage and, before checking out, run a search for coupon codes. Even when there are no coupons or promotions available, buyers often return to the business’s page via a click-through, and then complete their order. Affiliates try to claim this click-through as traffic generated through their efforts when the sale would have been completed regardless.

clickthrough

Many experts on affiliate marketing recommend not allowing coupon and other deals sites to promote businesses if possible. These sites, while they may generate a lot of traffic, typically do so only for sales a company would have completed anyway. This kind of tricky click-through situation can be a real profit drain.

Though less of a loss than the previous scam, one of the most common issues in affiliate marketing are the individuals in it as a get rich quick scheme. Look for affiliates who have shown a proven record of sales generation. New faces on the market may eventually become successful, but many will realize that acting as an affiliate is harder than it looks and drop out of the system.

One scam that requires a little extra knowhow is the “cookie stuffing” scam. “Cookie stuffing” is when an affiliate attaches a bit of code to the advertisements on their site. This piece of code then attaches itself to all of the site’s visitors regardless of whether or not they click on any advertisements, and follows the users to any website they visit. It falsely registers as a click-through on affiliated sites. This scam is harder to catch since it takes place at the level of coding, but for businesses carefully tracking the conversion rates of various affiliates, it should become clear when something is amiss.

Reap Rewards with Super Affiliates

Of course, affiliate marketing is far from all negative. In fact, done properly, it can mean big business – a high return on investment relative to other advertising systems with limited effort. By teaming with a well-respected affiliate network, companies can harness the potential of this type of marketing at its best.

The real key to success is working with a super affiliate. While a diverse network of sites promoting a business is great, those who have worked with super affiliates know that other affiliate marketers just can’t match their success. Super affiliates typically bring in three- or four-digit click-throughs each day, multiplying website traffic exponentially.

These super affiliates truly put in the hard work behind affiliate marketing and don’t see the undertaking as a get rich quick scheme. These affiliates run reputable websites with original content, rank highly with Google, and have a strong image. Many companies who swear by this type of marketing do so because they work with a super affiliate.

Making the Sale

If marketing in this way sounds appealing, now is the time to try it. There is no upfront payout as in standard advertising, and for those paying a commission, it means that income has already been generated.

The key to keeping things under control is to carefully monitor website traffic. Master the basics of Google Analytics or a similar program before signing on with a network. A strong familiarity with this type of traffic monitoring software will help with understanding how a site is typically used and determine whether affiliate marketing is bringing in substantial traffic.

Ultimately, whatever marketing system is chosen, it’s all about making the sale. Keep that question in mind when exploring affiliate marketing.

Can affiliate marketing help companies make the sale or helpfully augment a current advertising program? Tell us about your experience with it in the comments.

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Bird

Bird Pilatsky is a PhD student in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. A graduate of Smith College, with a B.A. in English and the Study of Women and Gender. She works as an archivist and research assistant with particular interests in LGBT issues, disability studies, and literature. Bird also works as a summer camp counselor. She has worked as an art & layout editor, runs an active blog, and enjoys reading, running, and rollerskating.

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