Looking for an easy way to make some cash and promote your web site at the same time? Consider joining one or more affiliate networks. It is simple and doesn't require much in the way of programming skills (if I can do it, anyone can). Here's the way they work.
An affiliate network is a group of one or more existing web storefronts that give referral fees or commissions on every shopper who originates from your web site or via a link you provide in an email. The networks keep track of the shoppers via a unique ID code issued to you, and at the end of the month or quarter cut you a check for a percentage of the sales generated by your leads. There is little risk with this: other than your time to set this up, there is no other up-front investment required on your part. If your site has lots of traffic, you'll get more dough as your visitors check out the links to these storefronts and buy something.
You have to do three things. First, you have to register with one or more affiliate networks, and agree to the storefront's terms and conditions. Registration is free, and will take just a few minutes to enter all the information. Second, you place a bit of HTML code on your own web site, to advertise the storefront and provide a path for your visitors to turn into shoppers at the store. Finally, you make some adjustments to your pages to increase traffic or select a better collection of stores that your visitors would be attracted to.
The affiliate sites give you many different choices as to banner size (and even text-only code) that you can use on your site. You can put code inside a link to general entry pages for the store, or specify links to individual items. It is also up to you to decide how to place these links on your own web pages, although the sites have plenty of design suggestions. You can also place the same HTML code into your email messages, if you want to go that route and if you know for certain that your recipients can read the HTML email. I didn't choose to do this, but it is very simple to do, just cut and paste the appropriate code. You need a rudimentary knowledge of HTML to get started and an understanding of how your pages are setup on your own site, but nothing beyond that.
Affiliate sites are not new: Amazon started them several years ago, and I have been an Amazon affiliate to sell a few books from my site for many years. (An interesting side note in the continuing legal skirmishes among the major web booksellers: once you become an Amazon affiliate, you are prevented from becoming an affiliate at Barnes & Noble or Borders. Thankfully, most of the other web merchants don't have such exclusive clauses in their agreements.) For each book (or CD or whatever Amazon is selling these days), I put my own ID inside the URL. For example, if you click on the link below you'll go to Amazon and see my very own book for sale. You'll note the "davidstromswebin" inside the URL: that is my Amazon ID that keys them into sending me my referral fees when someone starts at my site and continues shopping at Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0139786104/davidstromswebin/
There are probably thousands of web sites who offer affiliate programs, but you'll want to concentrate on just a few of the major stores for your site. Two of the biggest networks are Linkshare.net and Befree.com. I registered on both and picked a few stores that I wanted to link to. Anywhere from minutes to weeks later, I got email messages telling me whether or not my application had been accepted.
I had heard about other people putting together various affiliate links on their web sites to benefit various charities, and I was anxious to do the same for a local organization. However, I was a little surprised when stores like Brooks Brothers and JC Penney denied my application. It is a little like applying for colleges, but you don't know the selection criteria nor do you know who is going to be your "safe" school and who is going to be a stretch. The denial letters don't tell you why, unfortunately. But there are plenty of web sites to choose from and other fish in the Internet seas.
Once you have a few links, you can go back to the affiliate site and run reports to determine how you are doing. The reports can get very specific: how many shoppers, what they purchased, and what your cut of the action is. You'll also see how many lookee-loos you had: people who came from your link but didn't end up buying anything. And for privacy reasons you can't identify individual shoppers, just what items they have purchased in aggregate.
The affiliates I have set up have worked reasonably well -- I am not interested in making a living from this activity, although I know a few people who are. I would recommend using Amazon along with the other two networks: the three have a nice balance of traffic, plenty of items to choose from, and solid programs.
Want to learn more about affiliate programs? Check out this link from friends Peter Kent and Tara Calishain.
I just finished a large advertorial supplement for Ziff Davis, sponsored by CDW, on the ins and outs of Windows 2000 networking. You can download the PDF here, it will appear next month in several Ziff magazines.
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