Welcome to our business site!

Running a business is never easy, but building an effective web site can often make a huge difference.

We'll use this site to introduce our business and explain the goods or services we have to offer. People don't want to spend time figuring out what a business does, so our home page will highlight the most important features of both our business and our web site. We'll think of the home page as a kind of portal, giving customers the information they want at a glance, and offering lots of links to draw them in to the rest of the site.

Joining an Affiliate Program

Joining an affiliate program is usually a fairly easy process that can be conducted entirely online. The instructions for joining a program should be outlined in detail, along with all the rules and disclaimers of membership, on the vendor's site. To find out how to join a particular program, you will want to visit the vendor's site and/or contact the program administrator to inquire about specific requirements, prepare your site for submission, and promptly fulfill any technical requirements of the program.

Contact the Affiliate Program Site to Inquire About Specific Requirements for Joining

Most affiliate sites post some form of operating agreement that outlines the terms and conditions required by the program. Some sites will be very selective, with many requirements for joining; others will take on any affiliate that wants to promote their products. Joining programs that are selective about new members will ensure that your site is in good company.

Most programs fall somewhere in between these two extremes, requiring you to follow the basic rules of Netiquette by not posting offensive or discriminatory materials or content, and to not violate intellectual property rights, participate in libelous or illegal activities, use bulk e-mail or spam, or participate in pyramid schemes. Typically, you will also be responsible for the development, operation, and maintenance of your site, and for all materials appearing on your site. You may also have to agree to release the vendor from all liability relating to claims, damages, and expenses relating to the development, operation, maintenance, and contents of your site.

After reading the requirements, you will need to check an "I agree" box. Be forewarned, however, that checking the box indicates that you have reviewed that agreement, understand its contents, agree to be bound by the terms and conditions as described, and wish to participate in the program. If you do not find a detailed explanation of the site's requirements posted online, use an e-mail letter to inquire about additional details.

Implement the Vendor's Expressed Technical Requirements

The technical requirements of affiliate program participation also vary from vendor to vendor, but most include the following:

Obtaining and posting a copy of the vendor's company logos, banners, and art, usually on your home page, online store page, or some other prominent location. There may be different graphics that correspond with different product lines, so you'll have to work with the program administrator to determine which ones are right for your program. These images will help your visitors identify e-commerce opportunities and the vendor's specific products for sale. Copying these images usually can be done with a simple right-mouse-button click-and-save, and then uploading it to your Internet service provider (ISP).

Displaying a short description, review or other reference for each product included in your affiliate program, or providing a link to the affiliate home page or internal pages. The content, style, and placement of these descriptions are sometimes predetermined, but they may be left up to your discretion.

In the event that a link is required, you'll likely be required to use a specially formatted link with a unique affiliate code, provided by the vendor, that takes your viewers to the corresponding ordering page for that product on the vendor's site. After that point, the vendor takes over to close the sale, including managing order forms, processing payments, shipping, cancellations, returns and related customer service duties.

Remember, proper order tracking depends upon proper link formatting, and you won't get your commissions if you have incorrectly formatted links. Even a minor typo in your link may cause it to work incorrectly. If you have any questions about proper link formatting, contact the affiliate program administrator immediately.

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Understanding Affiliate Programs

Affiliate programs are an excellent way to expand your business and increase traffic on your site. They provide the opportunity to network with leading e-tailers, add to your revenue, and offer more products to your customers. Nevertheless, there are pitfalls to watch out for, and it is important to research the business practices of different programs and understand exactly how commissions work ahead of time.

Know the Pitfalls

Low Revenue Programs. Aggressive marketing of your affiliate programs can yield revenue in the low hundreds of dollars per month. While that's good money, it makes more sense to view your affiliate revenue as offsetting costs -- such as the cost to host your site -- rather than as true income.

Disreputable Affiliate Programs. Avoid programs that charge fees -- affiliate programs should always be free. Beware of programs that require minimum sales levels to be eligible for commission; programs that won't disclose traffic figures and other important data; and programs that feature policies subject to change without notice. Programs offered by unknown or sketchy sites or those you learn about from spammers are also something to avoid.

Affiliate Programs That Send Your Customers Offsite to Make Their Purchases. Affiliate programs are a great way to augment your site with related products you typically wouldn't or couldn't stock on our own. But remember, the commission you're earning is in trade for the buying customer who is no longer on your site to spend money. It costs a lot to attract a buying customer -- new customer acquisition costs start at $25 per customer and go into the hundreds and even thousands of dollars -- so don't let yours go too cheaply or too easily.

Understand Commission Structures

Each time a visitor at your site clicks the affiliate's link on your site, you're delivering a highly qualified lead. To make sure you get the most for the highly qualified leads you send, study the different commission structures offered by affiliate programs.

Straight Commission. This type of commission structure is also referred to as a standard program. Under this most common of all affiliate varieties, you earn a straight commission (typically 5% to 20% paid to you monthly or quarterly) for all referred sales. The most popular affiliate programs, including Amazon.com, Beyond.com, eToys.com, MusicBoulevard.com, and Reel.com, are all standard programs.

Two-Tier Programs. This commission structure is similar to multi-level marketing. You make high commissions on sales referred from your own site, as well as a smaller percentage on referrals from all sites you recruit for the affiliate network. While this requires more effort on your part, it may pay off in increased commission revenue, because the two-tier model offers a cut of sales generated by all new affiliates signing up with the merchant through your site. An example of this type is CashPile.com's Affiliate Corner.

Fee-Per-Ad or Fee-Per-Click. The third and rarest type of affiliate program pays a commission for each time a banner advertisement is displayed and/or clicked on your site. For example, AdXchange.com pays a commission each time their ad is displayed on your site; Electronic Advertising pays a commission for every click-through the ad receives.

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