How to Successfully Participate
Affiliate marketing (also known as performance marketing) is essentially “outsourced” marketing. To augment their current (or sometimes non-existent) marketing activities companies will offer affiliate marketing programs — asking other companies (“affiliates”) to market their products for them and offering some incentive to do so.
Affiliate marketing is an ideal way for forum owners to monetize their content. Forums frequently contain discussions between forum members about products and produce recommendations which frequently lead to product purchases. Affiliate marketing allows you to paid for these product purchases.
Here’s a typical example of an affiliate marketing program: Paul McLartney runs an online music shop that sells CDs, DVDs and digital downloads. Operating on a limited marketing budget, McLartney launches an affiliate marketing program. He offers interested parties a $2 incentive for every customer they send to his site that makes a purchase.
Sarah Kewl manages a forum that is focused on latest music reviews. Visitors discuss new artists, review CDs and chat about upcoming concerts. Often times visitors end up downloading an album after coming across a new artist in the forum.
Sarah signs up for Paul’s affiliate marketing program and opts to send traffic to his site rather than an alternative. Paul’s sales increase as a result, as does Sarah’s monthly revenue stream.
There are a number of ways to participate in affiliate marketing programs.
Automated affiliate services partner directly with merchants and affiliate networks on your behalf, allowing you to completely outsource the process of affiliating links within your forum. Typically they require the addition of a small piece of code to the footer of your site, and no further work on your part. Links will be automatically affiliated by the service. VigLink is an example of an automated service.
Automated services can affiliate links your users share (not always possible with direct partnerships or networks that require manually altering individual links).
Direct Partnership with Merchants
Larger online merchants (Amazon.com, eBay, Overstock.com) offer their own affiliate marketing programs that you can sign up for directly. If you have a particular merchant that you find yourself or your users linking to often, and they offer an affiliate program, it may make sense to partner with them directly in order to capture a piece of the value you are sending their way. However, if you link to more than one merchant, direct partnerships can become extremely time consuming and an automated option may be a better fit for your needs.
An affiliate network acts as a middle man between you and a merchant. They bring together several hundred or several thousand merchants and allow you a single point of access to them. What this means is coverage is better than if you partnered with one merchant directly.
However, it’s not quite a hands-off proposition because the network usually requires that you maintain active links and active offers manually. So, even though it is easier than maintaining direct relationships with individual merchants you will still need to invest a considerable amount of time to maintain and optimize links and offers (and the network will still keep a portion of the revenue).
If you’re on the fence as to whether there is value in affiliate marketing for you, try signing up for VigLink. You’ll simply need to add a piece of code to your site, which takes all of five minutes. Wait a week and then login to your account to see how much new revenue you have earned. You may have just discovered your secret weapon to an increased revenue stream.