An associate program is an online marketing method used by a lot of small and large scale electronic businesses to generate additional sales. The method involves making a deal with another website whose content is often related to that of the main merchant’s website. Simply put, the associate website posts advertisements for the merchant website, and also offers its readers links to the merchant website. For each person who purchases items from the merchant via the associate link, the associate gets a commission. From this simple system, associate marketing has grown rapidly to become larger and more elaborate so that today, entire books are written revolving around creating and operating successful associate programs. Here are 7 basic criteria that both merchants and potential publishers should take into consideration when choosing or designing an associate program.

Compensation System – there are different types of compensation, and associate programs often use more than one in combination when making a package to offer to their merchants. The smallest and simplest types get paid a small, fixed amount every time a viewer from the associate page clicks the merchant’s link and gets redirected to its website. Others are strictly commission basis and require actual successful sales to earn a percentage. A well-designed compensation system should be fair for both the associate and the merchant.

Publisher Type – the type of associate program is very important in marketing. There are different categories, most notably Product Review Sites, Loyalty, and Rebate Sites, Comparison Shopping/Online Directories, Cross Merchant Associate Sites, and Personal Forums/Blogs. Choosing the right type of publisher to get as associates can allow a merchant to tailor different marketing strategies to suit.

Program Compatibility – this is a natural consideration to take for any web-based endeavor. The compatibility of the associate website’s programming with the merchant’s website is extremely important. Imagine if, for example, the merchant website could not be properly displayed on certain browsers that the associate website actually supported! To this end, both merchants and associates are advised to make their websites compatible with as wide a variety of different programs as possible.

Marketing Approach – this is one area where marketing can get a bit sticky. While there’s nothing wrong with advertising through the use of reviews, personal recommendations, and web-based graphic ads, some associate websites use more aggressive marketing methods that may actually give the merchant a negative reputation. For example, rampant spamming and pop-ups can get really irritating for most people and can cause both an associate’s and merchant’s websites to get registered as “spam” on someone’s firewall. Needless to say, this is counterproductive.

Niche and Demographic Coverage – special interest niches and certain demographics are always the target audience of a certain merchant. Because of this, the associate programs chosen should cater to the same groups. This does not need to be an exact match; for example, a publisher of firearms magazines can approach magazine review websites, gun enthusiast forums, and the personal websites of gun shops as viable options to take as associates.

Online Interactivity Options – associate websites MUST have a certain amount of online interactivity for users. If it exists simply for the purpose of advertising affiliated merchant websites, an associate website would quickly run out of traffic going through it. Good associate programs keep the interest of their visitors through various means, like having discussion boards, offering reviews and helpful articles, and publishing downloadable monthly e-magazines.

Multi-Tier and Two Way Affiliate Marketing – these two types of associate programs differ slightly from normal associate programs because they extend beyond the regular merchant-associate type of relationship. They actually involve multiple associate websites connected via links to each other. Multi-tier marketing is often seen in referral programs like multi-level marketing, and in this case, associates can also gain commissions by recruiting to and linking with other “lower tier” associate websites. This provides larger exposure for a product. In two-way affiliate marketing, two or more merchants act as each other’s associate programs, so that both offer their own sets of products and at the same time provide links to each other’s websites.

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