Affiliate Marketing today is so much more than what it used to be, when simply having someone place your banner on their website to drive traffic was the norm. Back in the day, your banner would catch someones eye, they would click on it, and you would pay the person displaying your banner for each click that came through to your site from theirs. (Not so different from Pay Per Click on the search engines today).
Cartoon Courtesy of: http://www.marketingmentor.net
Then came the Cost per Action or Cost per Acquisition method of compensation, and the game got much tougher, and the cream of the affiliate marketing crop rose to the top, showing the marketing mettle they really possessed. Affiliates learned (and taught many of their merchant partners) about Qualified Traffic vs. free-for-all visitors. Using every tool they could find in the arsenal, such as pay per click, Datafeeds, coupons, and a host of others, they proved to be worth every bit of their weight in gold.
Image courtesy of: www.elmhurst.edu
Now, in a perfect world, Affiliate Marketers would have the most wonderful and honorable Merchants to work with, and vice versa, however, we all know that the world, although it is many wonderfully interesting things, is not perfect. Enter Affiliate Network Platforms. These are sort of "hubs" where merchants can go to promote what they offer affiliate marketing partners who sign on with them, and where affiliates can go to see which merchants have programs worthy of their time and expertise. These Affiliate Networks provide a great deal of service to merchants by managing many aspects of the affiliate program such as paying out the affiliates, hosting advertising links and images, providing a way of communication to all of the affiliates within a merchant's program, delivering measurable statistical data, etc. They also provide a way for the affiliates to easily gather advertising links, current promotions, coupon codes, and see what commissions they are earning from each of the merchants they are marketing for.
Having an affiliate program for your business can easily be one of the most successful methods of increasing your sales, or getting more lead forms filled out, or increasing credit applications. Its not uncommon to have thousands of affiliates in your program all working to bring in your qualified traffic. Of course, there will be those who try and never seem to succeed within your program, and others who show up consistently as your performers, but what a sales force, and once you have some established metrics to work with and performers proving to be fantastic marketing partners, you can tailor their compensation accordingly (and trust me, they will know their worth).
It has been my experience in past marketing incarnation that the top performing affiliate partners are very savvy in the world of PPC, and can be an excellent source of marketing broad terms across the search engine platforms, leaving merchants and their other agents to better manage and focus on the actual brand. GREAT performing affiliates will respect the need and right for merchants to hold on to their brand marketing while others will target a merchant's brand only, even against existing terms and conditions, warnings, and finally expulsion from the merchant's program. Running an affiliate program for your business requires someone to manage it. It will not manage itself, and if not watched closely, can cost thousands and thousands of "unearned" commission dollars.
Of course, this is a very brief synopsis of Affiliate Marketing and there are plethora of things you need to watch while participating in this tactic, however, that being said, there is a HUGE world to explore out there when it comes to Affiliate Marketing, and I highly suggest that if you aren't currently using it for your online business, you at least check it out and see if it would be a fit for you.
aka The Doug