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Its official: A declining economy is no enemy of affiliate marketing. James Marciano, founder of Refer-it, once referred to affiliate marketing as "a recession-proof marketing channel," and he was right on. But if an affiliate program were launched yet never promoted, would anybody join it?

We are currently seeing tremendous growth in the area of affiliate marketing, even as other segments are shrinking due to budget cuts. According to findings in a January 2001 Forrester report, "Online Advertising Eclipsed," 83 percent of spending by 2003 will be pure cost-per-action deals or a hybrid of CPM and performance. This will be up from 62 percent in 2000.

However, the sustained growth of affiliate marketing will hinge on the ability of affiliate programs to recruit quality affiliates. The affiliate program directories provide a valuable service by indexing programs at no cost, but they also offer opportunities for paid, targeted advertising.

In Search of... Your Affiliate Program

In a recent poll conducted by affiliate matrix, affiliate managers was asked how much they spent to advertise their program in 2000. Nearly 60 percent of respondents allocated $500 or less to advertise their affiliate program last year.

I am inclined to believe that a great many of those affiliate managers that do not actively advertise their programs are shaking their heads. They're wondering why they are not experiencing the super affiliate serendipity of other affiliate programs. Though there may be a combination of factors, including a paltry commission and low rate of conversion, it's a good bet that super affiliates simply cannot find many of these programs that are not advertised.

Although there are a number of venues to advertise an affiliate program on, there is compelling evidence that the affiliate program directories offer the best return on investment. For instance, One and Only Network and E-Commerce Exchange are currently advertising "above the fold" on the home page of Refer-it. Coincidentally, these two programs are arguably the leaders in their categories.

According to Cynthia Arko of Refer-it, the company's seen "exponential growth from companies advertising in the Refer-it directory." And that makes sense -- putting your recruitment message at the point where web masters are looking to join new affiliate programs.

Additionally, the fact that you are advertising in the first place will imply that your company is doing OK economically. "In this volatile market, advertising sends a strong branding message to consumers and web-savvy visitors," continued Arko.

Where the Real Affiliates Are

There are 50 or so affiliate program directories out there but really fewer than 10 that you should focus on in your affiliate acquisition efforts. Among the directories offering advertising opportunities, CashPile.com is a leader with many areas available for advertising.

Brandon Kirby of CashPile.com explains that its "mission is to establish and maintain the vital link between online merchants and affiliate marketers. Through our web site and unique service offerings, our objective is to foster an active, educated affiliate marketing community.

"Not only do affiliates come to our site to join programs, they come often to take advantage of our educational seminars and expert guest speakers."

"Our affiliate program rating system," he adds, "also provides them with background information they can't get anywhere else."

In addition to paid placement on CashPile.com, they are also exploring some co marketing initiatives. Susan Drechsler, CashPile.com's merchant advisor, is reaching out to affiliate managers that publish a newsletter. With this offer, affiliate programs will be promoted in the Cash Pile Newsletter in exchange for plugs in affiliate newsletters.

Many affiliate acquisition dollars are spent on the affiliate directories, but there is another great resource for acquiring super affiliates: sponsorships and booths at affiliate marketing conferences such as Affiliate FORCE and Affiliate Solutions.


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