I’ve mentioned affiliate programs in other posts, but haven’t explained the nuts and bolts of them yet.

Unless you’re absolutely new to Internet marketing, you know the basic concept of an affiliate program. You sign up with a company to get commissions anytime you refer someone to them who purchases a product. You’re becoming a sort of roving salesman. Imagine making an arrangement with your local Barnes & Nobles bookstore, so that you could wander around town and tell everyone you meet, “Barnes & Nobles has some great books, tell them Jay sent you”. When they went to the bookstore and bought something, and said “Jay sent me”, you’d get a commission.

That’s basically what happens with online affiliate programs. The way you referrals say “Jay sent me” online is by clicking on a link that you place on your website, in your email signature, in a forum signature, or anywhere. The link will contain a piece of information that says you’re the one referring this customer to the company. For example, a normal link to Sears might look like “sears.com”. An affiliate link to Sears might look like “jay.sears.com”.

There are basically three steps to making money online with affiliate programs:

  1. Find your market
  2. Find your product
  3. Advertise

Find Your Market

To sell anything, online or offline, you need to have a market ready to buy. It’s pointless to pick a product without having a market. So, look for targeted groups of people online. Forums dedicated to specific topics are good places to start. You’ll probably run across markets you never new existed.

To find forums, do a web search using the phrase “powered by phpbb” or “powered by vbulletin”. Those are two popular forum packages. If you have an idea of a niche already, add in some keywords for the niche to find forums specific to that niche. Those forums represent markets.

Find Your Product

Once you have a market, you need a product to sell to the market. Don’t just pick something that seems likely and advertise it to the market. Research likely products, and buy the top three to make sure they’ll fit the needs of your market. You’re wasting time advertising a product that doesn’t fit the needs of your market.

Some companies run their own affiliate programs, while others use affiliate clearinghouses. A popular affiliate clearinghouse for ebooks and software is Clickbank. The Clickbank marketplace allows you to search through all their products. Or, if you have an ebook or software application to sell, you can go to their publisher page.

Commission Junction is another popular affiliate clearinghouse. While Clickbank deals exclusively with products that can be delivered electronically, Commission Junction deals with everything. You must apply to be an affiliate with a company in Commission Junction, and they may turn down your application if your website doesn’t match how they want their products marketed.

There are numerous other affiliate clearinghouses (ShareASale and FusionQuest are two more). Individual companies sometimes manage their own affiliate programs, though. For example, the Internet Marketing Center has 9 Internet marketing products, plus 4 software programs for online marketing. By joining as an affiliate there you get access to sell all the products.

It goes all the way down to companies that have only a single product, and you must signup at their site to be an affiliate for that product. Don’t limit yourself to just the clearinghouses when looking for products. Do web searches like your market would, and find the products they would find. On the websites, look for a link that says “Affiliates”, “Opportunity”, or “Referrals”. They may use other text, too. If you don’t see anything on their website, check the clearinghouses to see if they’re listed there.

So let’s assume you find a product that you think your market is ready to buy.

Advertise

You have to get the word out about your product in some way. The easiest way is to put your affiliate links on a website you control. This might be a blog or some other sort of website. That gets the links to where people can see them and click on them. Now you need to get your market to go there.

When you pick a market by finding suitable forums, you can use forum marketing pretty easily. The idea is to put a link to your website in your forum signature. Most forums do not allow affiliate links in signatures, so that’s why it’s important to have your own website. Create a blog on Blogger.com if you can’t manage anything else, and populate it with posts about the products you’re selling. Mix in some other normal blogging type of posts, too.

As you participate in the forum, people will naturally click the link in your signature to see your website. This’ll happen more the more you participate, and the better the quality of your participation. While this won’t get a huge amount of traffic, it will be very targeted.

Work several forums populated by the same market for best effect.

Article marketing can also be used to target specific markets. You generally cannot put affiliate links into articles, so stick a link to your website in your author’s bio box. You can also link to specific pages in your website, if the article targets a specific product.

Another topic to mention is affiliate link cloaking. This is turning an obvious affiliate link into a non-obvious affiliate link. Affiliate links are perceived as unprofessional, and unscrupulous people might use their own link instead of yours to purchase. This is especially prevalent with Clickbank products, where it’s an easy matter to use your own Clickbank ID instead of someone else’s. Affiliate link cloaking makes affiliate links look more professional, and makes link stealing harder. I’ll go into details on affiliate link cloaking in a later article, since this is already running long.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of how to advertise affiliate products. What ways do you find effective?

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