Affiliate Marketing is a popular method of promoting web businesses in which an affiliate is rewarded for every visitor, subscriber and/or customer provided through his efforts. It is a modern variation of the practice of paying finder's-fees for the introduction of new clients to a business. Compensation may be made based on a certain value for each visit (Pay per click), registrant (Pay per lead), or a commission for each customer or sale (Pay per Sale), or any combination.
The most attractive aspect of affiliate marketing, from the merchant's viewpoint, is that with this pay for performance model, no payment is due to an affiliate until results are realized.
Some e-commerce sites run their own affiliate programs while other e-commerce vendors use third party services provided by intermediaries to track traffic or sales that are referred from affiliates. Some businesses owe much of their growth and success to this marketing technique, although research has shown in general the increase to be approximately 15-20% of online revenue.
Some advertisers offer multi-tier affiliate programs that distribute commission into a hierarchical referral network of sign-ups and sub-affiliates. In practical terms: publisher "A" signs up the affiliate program with an advertiser and gets rewarded for the agreed activity conducted by a referred visitor. If publisher "A" attracts other publishers ("B", "C", etc.) to sign up for the same affiliate program using her sign-up code all future activities by the joining publishers "B" and "C" will result in additional, lower commission for publisher "A".
Snowballing, this system rewards a chain of hierarchical publishers who may or may not know of each others' existence, yet generate income for the higher level signup. Most affiliate programs are simply one-tier.
Merchants who are considering adding an affiliate strategy to their online sales channel should research the different technological solutions available to them. Some types of affiliate management solutions include: standalone software, hosted services, shopping carts with affiliate features, and third party affiliate networks.
In its early days many internet users held negative opinions of affiliate marketing due to the tendency of affiliates to use spam to promote the programs in which they were enrolled. As affiliate marketing has matured many affiliate merchants have refined their terms and conditions to prohibit affiliates from spamming.
Currently there is much debate around the affiliate practice of Spamdexing and many affiliates have converted from sending email spam to creating large volumes of autogenerated webpages each devoted to different niche keywords as a way of SEOing their sites with the search engines. This is sometimes referred to as spamming the search engine results. Spam is the biggest threat to organic Search Engines whose goal is to provide quality search results for keywords or phrases entered by their users. Google's algorithm update dubbed "Big Daddy" in February 2006 which was the final stage of Google's major update dubbed "Jagger" which started mid-summer 2005 specifically targeted this kind of spam with great success and enabled Google to remove a large amount of mostly computer generated duplicate content from its index.
In the early days of affiliate marketing, there was very little control over what affiliates were doing, which was abused by a large number of affiliates. Affiliates used false advertisements, trademark bidding on search engines, forced clicks to get tracking cookies set on users' computers, and Adware. Many affiliate programs were poorly managed.
This changed dramatically over the last few years for multiple reasons. Revenue generated online grew quickly. The e-commerce website, viewed as a marketing toy in the early days of the web, became an integrated part of the overall business plan and in some cases grew to a bigger business than the existing offline business. Many companies hired outside affiliate management companies to manage the affiliate program.
When Google, the most popular search engine on the Internet, introduced AdWords (pay-per-click advertising pioneered by Goto.com, then Overture.com and now Yahoo! Search Marketing) many Merchants became aware of the issue of trademark bidding by affiliates. The terms of service were quickly modified by most merchants and structures were put in place to monitor affiliate activities.
Adware is still an issue today, but affiliate marketers have taken steps to fight it. Merchants usually had no clue what adware was, what it does and how it was damaging their brand. Affiliate marketers became aware of the issue much quicker, especially because they noticed that adware often overwrites their tracking cookie and results in a decline of commissions. Affiliates who do not use adware became enraged by adware, which they felt was stealing hard earned commission from them. Adware usually has no valuable purpose or provides any useful content to the often unaware user that has the adware running on his computer. Affiliates discussed the issues in various affiliate forums such as ABestWeb and started to get organized. It became obvious that the best way to cut off adware was by discouraging merchants from advertising via adware. Merchants that did not care or even supported adware were made public by affiliates, which damaged the merchants' reputations and also hurt the merchants' general affiliate marketing efforts. Many affiliates simply "canned" the merchant or switched to a competitor's affiliate program. Eventually, affiliate networks were also forced by merchants and affiliates to take a stand and ban adware publishers from their network.
The new Web
The rise of blogging, interactive online communities and other new technologies, web sites and services based on the concepts that are now called Web 2.0 have impacted the affiliate marketing world as well. The new media allowed merchants to get closer to their affiliates and improved communication between each other. New portals like Return on Affiliates allow affiliates, merchants, and networks to interconnect easily, on a professional and a personal level.
New developments have made it harder for unscrupulous affiliates to make money. Emerging black sheep are detected and made known to the affiliate marketing community with much greater speed and efficiency.
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