(This is the third in a series of postings about citizen media business issues. See the introduction here. All of these entries are considered to be in “beta” and will be revised and refined as they find a home on a more permanent area of the Center for Citizen Media web site. To that end, your comments, additional examples, and criticisms are welcome and will be invaluable contributions to this process.)
Affiliate programs involve you marketing the products or services of another website in some way. Perhaps the most well-known example of this is Amazon’s Associate Program, which allows you to point your readers to Amazon’s website (via a deep link) to buy certain products. If there is a sale, you get a small percentage (Amazon pays up to 10%).
The Amazon products you advertise can be an arbitrary offering your readers might like or products relevant to a blog posting (a CD you mention, a certain laptop, a book on a topic you are writing about, etc.). EBay offers a similar type of direct relationship. It allows you to place relevant auction ads on your site and offers monetary incentives based on both a percentage of eBay’s revenue when your reader has the winning bid, and the number of new eBay users that sign up after clicking through your site’s ad.
For those who are somewhat less savvy with web programming or who want a little more design customization from their auction ads, there are even “sub-affiliates” who facilitate or enhance the affiliate experience—for a cut of the proceeds, of course. One example of such a “sub-affiliate” is the aptly-named AuctionAds.
In addition to direct relationships and “sub-affiliates”, there are also affiliate networks that operate similarly to ad networks (more on those later) in that they act as mediators between you and hundreds of advertisers. LinkShare is one such affiliate network that allows you to pick the company whose products or services you will promote (including many well-known brands). The selected company will then review your site for content compatibility and, if accepted, you will start displaying their ads. Unlike most advertisements, those from affiliate networks do not pay you for each time a person sees or clicks the ad—like the Amazon or eBay link they must follow through to “action” by buying or signing up for something. When this occurs, a commission is sent from the advertiser to LinkShare, who keeps a portion for its networking service before paying the rest to you. Other examples of similarly-functioning affiliate networks are Commission Junction and ClickBank.
While a banner ad of random products for sale can be as ignorable as any other imposed ad, these customizable connections to generally-trusted ecommerce names can provide value to your reader if used correctly. What determines “correctness” may depend heavily on your content and design.
Why content matters: People who are interested enough in a topic to be reading about it will generally be the most likely to want to purchase a related product or service. For a site like DVD Talk, linking to Amazon may provide a convenient service when presented alongside a given review. The same DVD link to Amazon may not, however, be as appropriate coming from a political blog. Instead, Bill Clinton’s book might be more applicable.
Why design matters: If the ads and “buy me” buttons pepper every page or if the content seems to be secondary to the marketing—or worse, inspired by or inseparable from the marketing—people may feel untrusting or put off. On the other hand, if the ad or button is relevant and apparent but unobtrusive, it’s more of a service (“by the way, if you want it…”). You can even explain to the reader that their purchase will help your site.
- Do tailor the offerings to your content.
- Do experiment with different designs and product promotions.
- Don’t be pushy or let the ads take focus away from your content.
- Don’t feel like you need a constant overarching theme to your affiliate ads. You might want to offer the same things all the time, something different for every posting, or you might want to use these programs only once in a while when you have something that you truly use or endorse.
While these systems are used well all the time, I would really appreciate some examples from all of you of truly outstanding utilization of affiliate programs to be used as reference.
(Ryan McGrady is a new media graduate student at Emerson College where he is studying knowledge, identity, and ideas in the information age.)