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Affiliate Programs

Over the last few years, we've tried a number of approaches to earn money through the Internet, and the one that has worked the best is to include advertising on our pages. The easiest way to get paid through advertising is to join up with companies that pay "affiliates" or that serve ads.

Affiliate Programs and Ad Servers

Affiliate programs generally pay you for sending customers (not just 'visitors') to their site. To be considered a customer, the person you send must link to their site through a special link that has your affiliate code number embedded in it and then sign-up or buy something. Many sites also will place a 'cookie' on a user's machine once the user reaches their site; this cookie will enable you to get credit for return visits to their site provided that the user's PC accepts cookies, the cookie hasn't expired, and the cookie isn't overwritten by another affiliate. Web sites that offer affiliate programs generally pay higher than they would if you showed their ad through an ad server, but the trade off is that you must generate the minimum amount of commissions at their web site before they send you a check.

Ad servers are different. In many cases, they will pool the earnings you get from multiple websites and then pay you one check when the combined total reaches the minimum amount. This way, you can get paid on a nickel here and a dollar there instead of waiting for the totals to accumulate. Ad servers also are more likely (although in general not likely at all) to offer "pay per click" programs that reward you for sending traffic to another site without regard to whether the visitor actually buys anything. DirectResponse offers some of these "pay per click" programs, but qualification for them is much more stringent because they want to make sure that they are not paying for bogus traffic.

Where to Put Ads

Where is the best place to put ads in your web site? As we gleaned from our experience, the best place is to put them at the point your visitor is ready to move on to another web site. The common wisdom is, your visitors are not going to hang around your site forever, so why not, even if they are headed off to a competitor, get paid for their leaving? So your homepage or the page that people land on most frequently is a good page. That way, if their initial impression of your site is "this isn't for me," then let them find something more appealing through one of your paid links to elsewhere.

The second best place to place ads is when someone reaches the logical end of their dealings with your site. For example, users are far more likely to leave after a confirmation page or a search page than they are in the middle of "doing something." So, look through your web site like a user would, and place ads at the point that they are most likely to say "I'm done."

Ad placement on a page works the same way. Place the ads in prominent positions on the "landing" page -- up at the top or on the side. You want visitors to see the ads while they are scanning your page so that if they don't see what they want in your page, they click an ad. For the pages where a user is likely to leave because he's done, place the ads just below the point that he reached that conclusion -- such as just below the confirmation message or the end of the results table.

And, if you don't have a "storefront" yet, take a look at ebaystores.com, where you can open a site with all the eBay bells and whistles for free for the first 30 days and then its less than $10 a month after that.

Choosing a Program

There are many affiliate programs and ad servers to choose from. Below is the list of the ones we have used successfully (and yes, we're getting paid if you join, but it is at no cost to you). Find the ones that appear that they will be the most profitable to you and sign-up.

Signing up to a lot of places is a bit of a pain (how many more times do I have to type my address???), but you should develop a large list of ads, run them for a month or so, and then cull out the best performing. That may mean that you earned $12 from some company that you ultimately abandon and never get paid (because you never met the minimum), but chalk that up to learning and focus on the ads that are bringing you the real payoffs.

Create and use a new e-mail ID for receiving mail from the program managers. You will want to be aware of special promotions, etc., but you may find that there is a lot of communication that you will want to delete. A separate e-mail ID makes this easier to manage. Just remember to keep checking it.

Lastly, keep a list or spreadsheet of

  • the programs you join
  • the URL to reach them
  • your program ID and passwords
  • minimum payout amount and frequency
  • where on your web site you run their ads

This info is important because you will want to query the statistics from time to time to manage the productivity of your ads, and you will quickly forget where and how to do that.

Driving Traffic to Your Site

And finally, all the web advertising in the world will not do you any good unless others visit your site. Three main options here are: (1) get listed by search engines, (2) buy advertising and/or search engine listings, and (3) exchange links with others through formal or informal banner exchanges.

By far, the most cost effective method is to get listed by search engines. Many, many companies will offer to help you do this, for a fee, because there is a bit of science to the methodology -- perhaps comparable to learning the rules of gambling before playing blackjack: you can win with pure luck, but your chances of winning are better if you know how to play the odds. You can read what Google has published about their search methodology and how to get your site including, but he bottomline is that it is a lengthy and cumbersome process -- but the value of getting a good ranking can pay off enormously.

Buying advertising required a large investment until Google came along selling their "Adwords" program. There, you can create a text ad to appear along side of the results from searches that include specific keywords. This enables you to build traffic quickly. There is one drawback to the Adwords program, however, if you are trying to keep your costs down: although the ads start at $0.05 per click, Google gives priority to the ads with the highest cost-per-click, which for many popular searches can be over a dollar a click. So, if you want to increase the number of visitors who click through your ad to your site, you have to bid a higher cost-per-click amount in order to be near the top of the list, which receives the most clicks.

An alternative or a supplement to running Adwords is to use other cost-per click services such as . The CliqueRouter service allows you to add your site to topic-specific pages and pay a flat per-click amount (as low as $0.055 per click). River2u currently covers about a hundred topics and is expanding its coverage weekly. If River2u doesn't currently cover a topic appropriate to an advertiser, they will consider adding a page.

Collecting Money from Users

If you plan on charging for products or services, you will also need a way of collecting payments. We recommend signing up for PayPal so that you can start accepting credit card payments instantly. Owned by eBay, they have wide acceptance worldwide, accept payment via major credit cards, debit to checking, or a user's cash on deposit. Their charges are competitive, their excellent tools make tracking payments easy, and for those with programming ability, the confirmation process can be integrated into your website.

Affiliate Programs
Who
(click to visit)
Comments
DatingTech aka TangoWire We once thought highly of this program -- that is, until they left us with no recourse other than trotting out to the west coast and filing suit against them. Without notice or discussion, they unilaterally booted us from their program, shut off the "contact us" option to make themselves unreachable, and kept our revenue stream (that we had invested heavily in building) for themselves.
Focalex High paying, opt-in mailing lists on a wide variety of topics. We've been very pleased at the ability of this program to generate a steady stream of revenue simply by adding a sign-up box at the end of our registration process. We use this program very effectively to cover the cost of advertising for our free penpal site.
FriendFinder General population matchmaking service with reasonable payouts.

Ad Servers
Who
(click to visit)
Comments
ClixGalore Small ad server that accepts most sites except "paid to surf" sites.
DirectResponse Excellent ad server with wide variety of advertisers to choose from and excellent customer support. We have been a happy member of DirectResponse since day one. Occasionally, we even find higher payouts here than for some affiliate programs offered directly by web sites.
LinkShare Perhaps the best ad server. If you want to have ads for leading name companies such as American Express, AT&T, Avon, Dell, Foot Locker, FTD, Hickory Farms, Nordstroms, Office Depot, Sharper Image, Target, Wal-Mart and most other Fortune 500 companies that have an affiliate program, this is the program to join. This is a free program but because of the top quality of their merchants they are selective in the websites they accept.

As a service to you, we are experimenting with providing additional product information:
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