Okay, let's talk about another great way to drive traffic to your site: setting up an affiliate program. We talked about affiliate marketing back in Chapter 2, but at that time we looked at it from the perspective of an affiliate. Now let's take a look at affiliate marketing from the perspective of a retail site owner (since that's what you are now).
Note: If you're running an affiliate product store rather than an eCommerce site, you can skip this section since it won't make sense for you to set up an affiliate program as you yourself are an affiliate! 🙂
When you set up an affiliate program, you'll set the commission percentage and other terms of how the program will work. Affiliates who sign up for your program will promote your store and products (on their websites/blogs, through their social networking profiles, via newsletters sent to their mailing lists, etc.) and will send targeted traffic to your website. You won't pay anything for this traffic. But when somebody referred by an affiliate buys something, the affiliate software credits the affiliate's account and you'll need to periodically send payments to your affiliates.
So, it's different kind of paid advertising. You're not paying for the traffic, itself. You don't pay your affiliates a penny unless and until somebody referred by an affiliate actually places an order. To put it another way, you pay for acquisitions (i.e. sales) rather than paying for leads (i.e. visitors). The following video recaps what we've discussed and then lines out the steps for setting up your own affiliate program ...
Step 1. Choose Affiliate Software or Network
The first item of business is choosing which affiliate network or software to use. There are 2 main categories: 1) large affiliate networks and 2) self-managed affiliate software. The affiliate network route is quite expensive.
The most affordable major affiliate network (ShareASale.com) has a set-up fee of $550 and a "monthly minimum" of $25. Then, there's Commission Junction (CJ.com), which absolutely rocks but which has a set-up fee of $3,000 and a $500 monthly minimum! There are, of course, major benefits to using a hosted network solution ... 1) recruiting affiliates is easier since these big affiliate networks have HUGE built-in pools of affiliates looking for new programs to join, and 2) administering the program is easier since affiliates are paid automatically.
Because of the hefty fees involved with joining a large affiliate network, most of you will opt to go the self-managed affiliate software route. There are a lot of affiliate software options available, but our hands-down favorite is Omnistar. It starts at just $47.95/month (after a 15-day free trial), and it's incredibly easy to set up and use. It's 100% compatible and super easy to integrate with almost every major shopping cart, including Shopify and WordPress. (If you'd rather pay a $200-400 one-time fee and ditch the monthly recurring payments for the software, my top recommendation would be iDevAffiliate.)
While Omnistar and iDevAffiliate don't have quite the same size of built-in affiliate pool that ShareASale and (especially) CJ have, they do have fairly sizable affiliate directories you can list your program in to attract affiliates looking to join new programs. And, in step 4 below, I'll show you a bunch of easy ways to recruit affiliates to join your affiliate program.
Step 2. Set Up & Configure Your Affiliate Program
After you integrate your affiliate software/network (aka "link" it to your store), you simply need to configure the program setting.
The most important decision, of course, is choosing what percentage of revenue you're willing to pay affiliates. The higher the percentage you offer, the easier it will be to recruit affiliates and keep them interested in promoting your products. But obviously, you don't want to go so high that it wipes out most of your profit. As in all things, take a look at what your competitors are doing and make your affiliate commissions competitive.
In addition to selecting the affiliate commission percentage, you'll also need to specify the amount of time the affiliate tracking cookie remains active (usually at least 30 days), the earnings cap (usually unlimited), the payout schedule (usually monthly, with a $50-100 minimum threshold) and the payment method (usually PayPal).
After you've configured all of the program settings, make sure to run a couple of test transactions (using "sandbox" mode, aka testing mode) to verify that everything is working correctly. Your affiliate software/network should provide tutorials on how to do all of this (integration, configuration and testing).
Step 3. Create Your Affiliate Program Information Page
The next step is to create a page on your site that basically "sells" your affiliate program to potential affiliates. This can just be a regular old page on your site (it doesn't need to be "tied" to your affiliate program) as long as the "join" button links to your affiliate software/network's sign-up page.
You'll want to keyword-optimize this page (which you should know how to do at this point!) for the term '[main keyword phrase] affiliate program' so that it ranks well in Google for that phrase (which affiliate marketers frequently search for). The goal here is to inform potential affiliates about your program and, more importantly, to entice them to sign up and start promoting your store.
You'll obviously want to provide key information about your program (commission percentage, tracking cookie, earnings cap, payout schedule, etc.), presenting everything in as appealing a way as possible. It's also important to include professional-quality banner ads and other "creatives" your affiliates can use to promote your store/products.
Step 4. Get the Word Out to Potential Affiliates
There are a handful of things you should do to drum up interest in your affiliate program ...
List it in affiliate directories: If you're using ShareASale or CJ, your program is automatically added to the network's directory. If you're using Omnistar, you'll need to manually add it to Omnistar's affiliate directory. In addition to listing your affiliate program in your provider's directory, there are literally dozens of other affiliate directories you can get your affiliate program listed in. Most of them are free. Here's a list of some of the best affiliate directories to consider.
Add an 'Affiliate Program' (or 'Affiliates') link to your store's footer: Affiliate marketers will often search for new affiliate opportunities by visiting sites relevant to their genre/topic and looking in the footer for an affiliate link. You'd also be surprised how many affiliate sign-ups you can get from ordinary visitors/customers on your site. So you should definitely take 2-3 minutes to quickly an a link to your affiliate program information page to the footer of your store.
Invite topically related sites to become an affiliate: This is very simple but extremely powerful. Just do a few Google searches (for various keyword phrases related to your niche/market) and cruise through the results to find high-ranking sites that appear to be ad- or affiliate-based (as opposed to selling products or services themselves). Write up a nice email template that invites them to join your affiliate program (note: you can borrow most of the content from your affiliate program information page) and send it to all the sites you find.
- Invite sites that have been displaying your PPC display ads to become an affiliate: If you've been running Google AdWords PPC ads using the Display Network, you can log in to your Google AdWords account and see a list of all the sites that have ever displayed one of your ads. These sites are the perfect candidates to receive an affiliate invite! (They've essentially pre-qualified themselves as topically-related sites willing to promote related sites' products.) Reach out to these site owners directly (using the same email template discussed above) and invite them to become an affiliate for your store.