What Are Affiliate Programs? Understanding the Basics of Affiliate Programs

In today’s world, it is incredibly easy to set up your own website. By using a computer connected to the internet, you can set up your website, get your URL and start uploading content to launch on the website. However, the hard and important parts begin when you wish to take the website to the next level. If you operate a content-driven site, how can you earn money from your traffic? 

A popular method of achieving this is using an affiliate program. In this article, we will look at what an affiliate program is, how it works, and how you can benefit from the programs as a content creator or businessperson. 

What Does Affiliate Program Mean?

An affiliate program can be defined as an automated online referral program where affiliates (also known as publishers) market the products or services of a 3rd party (known as the merchant/advertiser) and in return for their efforts, the affiliate receives compensation. 

The most simplistic approach for the affiliate is placing links or banners on their site. When a site visitor clicks the affiliate link, the visitor is instantly redirected to the advertiser’s website. If the visitor proceeds to buy a product or a service, the affiliate is paid a commission. 

An affiliate looks at the available ads and marketing material offered by the affiliate program and picks the ones s/he believes his/her visitors will be interested in. Pay-per-lead and pay-per-sale are two of the most common forms of affiliate earnings models, however, there are various others such as a CPA (Cost per action), Revenue Share, Hybrid, and others. 

How Affiliate Programs Work

An affiliate program is a very diverse operation, and there are various aspects required to make it work perfectly. We will look at some of the affiliate program aspects in this section. 

Affiliate Earnings Models

We mentioned briefly above some of the earnings models, also known as commission models. Now let’s explore this a little more and what they entail.

  • CPS: Pay-per-sale (also called cost-per-sale)

In this type of earnings model, the affiliate program pays the affiliate when he/she sends a customer who eventually makes a purchase. Popular stores like Amazon use this type of earnings model and they pay their affiliates a percentage of the sale. 

  • PPC: Pay-per-click (cost-per-click)

PPC is not a very common affiliate commission option. Essentially the affiliate program pays the affiliate based on the number of visitors that click on the affiliate links or ads and then visit the merchant’s site. Here, the visitors don’t have to buy anything on the merchant site for the affiliate to earn i.e., every valid click is worth a certain amount. 

  • CPL: Pay-per-lead (cost-per-lead)

This commission model is based on leads generated for the merchant. The affiliate refers visitors to the merchant and when they provide the required information to the merchant, the affiliate earns a commission. The lead may need to simply provide their email address, register an account or sign up for a trial. As long as the visitors provide the required information the affiliate gets paid.  

Although these three are the most popular payment arrangements for affiliate programs, there are other types. Some others are: 

  • Two-tier Programs: the affiliate receives a commission when they refer affiliates who then generate sales. 
  • Residual Programs: This is a continuous process where the affiliate keeps earning a commission as long as the visitor keeps buying goods or services from the merchant store or for a specific period of time. This is not a one-time payment, and it is mostly adopted by merchants that receive regular payments (usually monthly or annual service fees) from their customers. 

Affiliate Program Administration

Although affiliate programs have simple concepts, the work required to make them work is substantial. The leading affiliate programs like ATraffic put in a lot of work to ensure that everything operates smoothly. At the core of everything is an affiliate management platform that incorporates various back-office features for managing the program and a front-end portal where affiliates can find the various offers, get links and banners, track performance, reporting, analytics, and more. 

Some of the functions involved in the administration include:

  1. Affiliate onboarding
  2. Setting up offers and campaigns
  3. Loading up banners and other creative collateral for affiliates to use
  4. Configuring landing pages
  5. Tracking affiliate performance 
  6. Supporting affiliates
  7. Making payments
  8. Managing merchants
  9. And much more… 

 Affiliate Networks

In the affiliate program world, we have three major players: the affiliate programs, the merchants, and the affiliates. However, there is a fourth group called the affiliate networks or sometimes called the affiliate brokers. 

The affiliate networks serve as the intermediaries between the affiliates and the merchant websites with the programs. The affiliate network is a 3rd party that gives affiliates access to many offers from many different brokers. Essentially a network is a one-stop shop for affiliates to gain access to many affiliate offers without the need to join many individual programs. There is a wide range of affiliate networks currently available, and they offer varying features to their clients. 

How To Become An Affiliate With An Affiliate Program 

Now that you understand how affiliate programs work, you probably want to join an affiliate program. As a content developer, you can use affiliate marketing to increase your income and earn good money from the traffic your website is generating. 

Joining a few affiliate programs is an excellent idea or you can join an affiliate network. You need to visit the site of the program or network you wish to join. You will need to complete an application form where you will be asked for personal information (like name, address, payment method) and info about your site (like URL, name, and description of content). You also need to agree to their terms and conditions before you get started. 

Once your application is approved with an affiliate network, you can choose from the various offers available for you to promote. You will gain access to all the marketing collateral that the program makes available to you, such as banners, landing pages, email templates, and more. Each link or banner you use will have your unique affiliate link in it so that all your referrals are tracked to your account. It is worth noting that whatever elements you use, be sure to check once implemented on your site that they are redirecting correctly to the merchant’s site and that everything is tracking correctly. Many beginner affiliates fail to test that everything is working and only discover there is a problem when it’s too late. 

Let’s explore a little more some of the creative and linking options:

  • Text links

The text link is one of the most popular ways of linking an affiliate’s site to that of the merchant. When you click on a text highlighted in blue in the content on the affiliate’s page, you are redirected to the merchant’s site. Text links are very effective as they are integrated into the content of the affiliate’s site and don’t usually look like adverts. For affiliates, text links are one of the best ways to link to the merchant site. 

  • Banner links

These are also popular, and you have certainly seen banners on websites you visit. Well-crafted banners with captivating text and a strong call to action are very effective and catch the reader’s attention. Take note that many web users today have ad blockers installed which means your banners may not necessarily show up. Some affiliate programs have types of banners that are not blocked by adblockers, so be sure to ask. 

  • Landing Pages

Many affiliate programs provide their affiliates with a splash page and landing page templates. You need to host the page on your site and when the visitor clicks for example a buy now button, they are transparently redirected to the checkout of the merchant. Not all landing pages work like this, and some might simply offer a presell before redirecting to the merchant’s sales page.

  • Co-branding

Some affiliate programs allow their affiliates to maintain their site identity even after the visitor moves to the merchant’s site. Although the merchant will handle the sales and host the page, it would be configured in such a way that the visitor thinks it is still part of the affiliate’s site. This is done by adding the affiliate site logo or other notable graphics. The visitor can only know he/she has moved to the merchant store if they check the URL displayed on their browser. 

  • Storefronts

This linking method is the best one to use if the affiliate website intends to expose the visitors to a wide range of products. Most merchants develop and maintain prefabricated storefronts where they display their numerous products. Some merchants allow the affiliates to customize their storefronts, allowing them to display the most relevant products to their audience. 

  • Registration

This is also another way of linking visitors to the merchant site. The affiliate can link the visitors directly to a registration form on the merchant’s website. This is especially useful for services that require the user to register before using the merchant’s site. 

Final Thoughts

Affiliate programs provide an excellent way for affiliates to earn money from the traffic on their website. Although the process looks easy, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes to ensure everything works smoothly to enable the affiliates and merchants to achieve their objectives. Being an affiliate can be highly rewarding, but like any business, you need to allocate time and effort for it to be successful. 

Kick-start your affiliate career and join ATraffic today!