Affiliate marketing explained

Affiliate marketing is a partnership between an advertiser/merchant and a publisher. An arrangement is made that an advertiser will pay a commission to a publisher who can be directly attributed to delivering a conversion. Affiliate marketing allows both publishers and advertisers the opportunity to grow their business online, in a risk free way.

Am I a publisher or an advertiser?

If you have an online space to host content, like a blog, website or social media page that you would like to promote relevant products or offers to your audience to then you are a publisher.

If you have a service or product that you would like others to promote and drive traffic to your website then you are an advertiser or a merchant.

Affiliate marketing for publishers

Once you decide that affiliate marketing is for you, you should look for an appropriate affiliate marketing network based on your product, service, content or audience. A simple internet search will deliver reliable results and the choice of which to join is ultimately yours.

Another option is to look at services that you recommend to your customers i.e. personal trainers may recommend places to buy nutritional supplements. Have a look on their website for an affiliate program, if you can’t see this listed anywhere then get in touch with them to see if they are part of an affiliate network.

Join an affiliate network that is a fit for your business, there will be an application process and you may be asked to pay a nominal amount for your registration. Once you have been approved, you need to work your way through the advertiser directory and submit a request to be part of an advertiser's network. They will have terms and conditions to joining their program and you need to make sure that you match their criteria or your effort will be a waste of time. Criteria could be along the lines of no sexually explicit content, English sites only or your site must not be under maintenance etc.

Once you have submitted your request, you will be vetted by someone at the company; they are likely to check out your online space to see that you have been honest in your proposal and meet their partner requirements. When you have been successfully approved, you will have access to tracking links that are personal to you, do not just use the URL of the site you are promoting as you will not be credited for any sales that you drive. An advertiser may also give you graphics or website banners that you can add to your website, again, make sure you use the tracking links that you have been provided.

So, now you’re all set up and your website visitors start clicking through on these links, how do you know if any of them have made a qualifying purchased based on your partnership arrangement? All affiliate networks have an online dashboard in which you can view your stats, how many people have clicked through and how many sales have been made from this click. Each advertiser will have a validation process, they might credit you for every sale or they might wait until the distance selling cooling off period closes. Each will be different but this will have been detailed in your partnership agreement and can be viewed at any time in your partnership area of the affiliate network site. If you can’t find this, you can request a copy from the affiliate network.

Once your referrals have been approved and validated, you will get paid based on the terms et out in your agreement. If you have any referrals marked as unable to validate, you may be asked to provide further information or it could be that the validation could not be completed because the product was out of stock. You can query any that you think should have been approved directly with the affiliate network.

Affiliate marketing for advertisers

The above process is very similar in the first instance for advertisers. You need to join an appropriate affiliate network by completing an application, again you may be asked to pay a nominal fee. You will then be asked to complete a profile detailing terms and conditions and also commission rates, think about what you are willing to pay a publisher per sale. This could be a monetary value like £3 or it could be a percentage of the total sale value i.e. 5% of an order, excluding shipping costs. You may be assigned an account manager by your network that can help you through the process.

Once you have set up your partnership terms, a tracking link will be made available to anyone who you accept as an affiliate partner. You could also make banner graphics available so that your products are prominent within a publisher’s site. Not all publishers will have the necessary infrastructure set up in order to display your banners though.

Publishers will submit requests to join your program through the affiliate network's online dashboard. You will be responsible for vetting these proposals and checking that they are a credible source to promote your products. You should match each proposal to your checklist of acceptable partners and accept the ones that you believe offer value to you and your customers.

The online dashboard is where you will manage your affiliate marketing; you can add incentives to your partners, adjust commissions, approve partners and validate sales, to name a few. You will also have a reporting suite available to you to enable you to see how things are working out, your top publishers and device types etc.

Publishers may approach you with promotional offers, generally, the bigger sites do this, they might offer you additional exposure for an added commission or a fixed price. Make sure that you can resource extra exposure in terms of products and budget. I once worked with an advertiser that took up a promotional offer and spent their entire annual marketing budget in the first 3 months of the year; they also ran out of stock to fulfil the orders. You will be expected to pay for genuine sales delivered through your affiliate network.

You should validate your sales at least monthly, some affiliate networks will auto validate your sales if you haven’t approved or declined your sales within a set time frame. Some larger organisations do this fortnightly to stay on top of the approval process. The process differs depending on the network, some will give you a tick box option online, some will send you a spreadsheet that you need to match to your sales figures and send back to them detailing any discrepancies.

At regular intervals, you will be sent an invoice by your affiliate network, you should always check this matches your figures, do not take this as gospel, feel free to challenge the invoice if you think there is something wrong, they will investigate for you and own up if something untoward has happened.

Auditing will be a crucial part of your affiliate marketing process. If a publisher is displaying an expired offer on their site, that is no longer available and a customer complains, you risk a hefty fine from advertising standards. You should check your partner’s websites at least quarterly to make sure they have the up to date information listed. This sounds like a big job but it really isn’t. You can access your publishing partners through your online affiliate network dashboard and go through to their website, look around for your listing and check it matches what it should say, if there are any issues you can either raise this with the network and ask them to speak to the publisher or you can contact them through the dashboard. If you can’t find your listing then carry out a site search on Google. This is done by typing ‘site:[address of website] [your company]

e.g. ‘ google

This will bring up all mentions of your company on that website:

If an offer you are running has expired, you should let your affiliate partners know, most affiliate network's dashboards offer the ability to send email messages to your partners directly. There is no reason why you couldn’t send a message telling them your 'This offer is due to expire on DD MMMM YY. You must remove the offer by close of business on that day. Should the offer still exist on your site after this date you will be served notice of dismissal from the program and then if it still remains after the notice has elapsed, you will be removed from the program'. Your account manager can also carry out this process for you.

If this seems like a time commitment that you cannot resource then there are marketing agencies or companies like JeMarketing that can help you with the process.

What if I don’t want to work with an affiliate network?

Neither advertiser or publisher have to work with a network, if this is your first attempt at affiliate marketing then I would advise you do, this will safeguard your from any potential issues and disputes, you will also receive support from a network and they will have a community of other members that can help you with your questions too.

If you are looking for a way to monetise your site or expand your network to gain new customers then affiliate marketing is an avenue to explore. Providing you manage the process effectively, it takes little investment, set up or time to put in place. You only pay for a sale that is worth something to you, using pre-set rules. You get paid for sharing a relevant service to your visitors or customers.