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Affiliate marketing — everybody’s doing it. Why? Because it’s a win-win-win situation. You win, visitors to your site win and your affiliate-partner wins.

Affiliate marketing is nothing more than placing an ad and a link from your site to your partner-affiliate. So, if you become an affiliate of, say, Gerber baby foods, you’ll show a small (or large) link to Gerber on your site. When a visitor clicks on the Gerber link and performs the required action (we’ll get into that shortly) you make money. Gerber wins by pulling more traffic, you win with more money in your pocket and visitors win because you’ve provided them with a relevant link that proved helpful. The simple fact is — you can significantly increase your site’s revenues by signing up as an affiliate marketer for one or more other sites. Of course, there are caveats.

The Importance of Relevant Affiliate Links
The operative word in the previously described win-win-win scenario is the relevance of the affiliate links. Sure, a link to Gerber foods would be perfect for a pregnancy site or a ‘new parent’ site. The reason is obvious — visitors to those sites are likely to want or need information on infant nutrition and, thanks to the site owners and their affiliate links, visitors can continue on the same subject track as their searches continues.

Conversely, using the pregnancy site again, it would make little sense to have a link to the Harley-Davidson site because the likelihood that a visitor to a pregnancy site might also be interested in picking up an HD Sportster is fairly remote. So, a link to Harley isn’t helpful to your visitor, and therefore, the visitor doesn’t win, you don’t win (no click-throughs or cash) and Harley doesn’t win because whatever visitors do come to its site via your link aren’t going to be highly-motivated buyers. So, relevance counts.

Also, consider the purpose of being an affiliate — to direct visitors from your site to your partner’s site and make money. The more relevant the links off of your home page, the more click-throughs, the higher the conversion rate and the more cash in your account.

Another important reason to target affiliate links with laser precision is the impact links have on search engines and, ultimately, on your site’s Page Rank, or PR. Search engines like links. They recognize their value to users when the links are relevant. They also recognize when links aren’t relevant to your target market, and you lose ranking points for unrelated links when SEs determine page rank.

So, if you load your home page with links to sites featuring everything from candy bouquets to auto mechanic tools, your visitors will be put off and the search engines won’t like you much, either. The key is to find links that are relevant to the content of your site and to your target demographic — your target market. So, how do you find these links?

There are virtually thousands of companies, large and small, who offer affiliate marketing programs — companies as large as Ford Motors and Citigroup, to Mother McCree’s Home-Cured Hams. You can visit sites similar to yours to start developing a list of potential companies with which you’d like to partner, or you can visit a site like Commission Junction, which simplifies the process of finding companies that fit your site model. This, and similar sites, provide links to hundreds of businesses looking to hook up with you.

In addition to providing links to potential affiliates, Commission Junction also tracks and manages your links and even deposits your newly-found cash directly into the account of your choice. Of course, they charge a fee for services rendered, but they’re services that save time and headaches.

So, How Do You Make Money As An Affiliate Site?
Each affiliate partner has a different deal. The folks at e-Bay, for example, will pay you $45 for every sign-up they get through your site’s link to them. And, they’ll pay you 25 cents every time one of ‘your’ sign-ups places a bid. You get a lot of regular bidders to sign up, and we’re talking a very nice revenue stream.

It’s important to read the details of how you’ll be paid. This information is always located on the ‘affiliates’ section of the site. In all cases, visitors to your site, who click on a link to one of your affiliates, must perform one of two actions. They must either complete a form (sometimes nothing more than an e-mail address) or buy something.

In the case of sign-ups, you’ll receive a flat fee — anywhere from a few bucks to a few hundred bucks, depending on the difficulty in getting people to actually sign up for a service, product or to receive hourly e-mails for all eternity.

Other sites with affiliate programs are interested in sales, plain and simple. They want you to drive traffic to their sites so they’ll sell more stuff. In these arrangements, you’ll receive a percentage of what that visitor spends on the site. Variables in typical affiliate agreements are the percentage you’ll receive and how long you’ll receive it. In some cases, you’ll be associated with your referrals forever! Great! In others, you’ll have a three- or six-month time window to collect your percentage of the referrals’ purchases. However, if a referral from your site doesn’t buy on the first visit, but comes back three weeks later, it’s still your referral and you still collect.

How To Get Started As An Affiliate
As with all things, an organized, well-considered strategy will deliver better results then the ‘toss-a-coin’ approach employed by many site owners. Think relevance, relevance, relevance.

Start by making a list (a long one) of potential products and services that might be of value to your market — the people who visit your site. Take some time doing this because finding ‘the hook’, the site that no one else had considered, could generate a whole lot of money. For example, how about a pregnancy site that hooks up with a pillow site — one that sells those body pillows pregnant woman use to get comfortable? Home run!

To help develop your list, conduct a key word search. There’s keyword software for e-commerce pros, or you can visit a site like Good Keywords to see the latest keywords entered by SE users in the past few months. (They change, often.) This list might point you in some interesting directions you wouldn’t consider otherwise.

Visit Commission Junction and do your research. Review the affiliate terms of sites related to your own. You don’t want your landing page to look like one big billboard, so narrow your choices down to two or three good prospects.

Sign up as an affiliate. You’ll be assigned an HTML number to insert into your site address. This number identifies the source of each referral. Then, monitor and tweak. One of the nice things about affiliate programs is there’s no iron-clad contract, so if one link is raking in cash, while link number two is just taking up pixels, swap the unproductive link out for another.

You’ve spent the money on site design and you’re paying a monthly hosting fee, so why not take advantage of a money-making opportunity that also adds visitor-value to your site. Your visitors will like it, the SE spiders will like it and your bottom line will absolutely love it.

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