|Only one thing to do before you finalize on the Site Concept/Concept
Keyword of your Theme-Based Content Site. Grow a list of good merchants
with affiliate programs who have product lines that fit. Then we’ll choose
the best ones and group them according to high profitability keywords.
Yes, you have already started this process in chapter 3 by using AltaVista,
Google, Overture, and/or Ixquick to build groups of possible partners for
each keyword in your master keyword list, right?
However, chapter 3 was more focused upon getting good ideas for content
and a feel for your market space (demand, supply, supply site info).
It’s time to grow your list further.
Partners Through Search Engines
|Do a search for one of your keywords, plus the word “affiliate.”
(The “+” sign means that both words must appear on the Web page returned
by the search.)
Or if that turns up a blank, like this
Do this at AltaVista, Google, Overture, and/or Ixquick. This will yield
either fashion merchants with affiliate programs or content sites that
are affiliates. Visit the Top 10 sites, do 20 if you’re feeling ambitious!.
If it’s a merchant site, and if it has an affiliate program that fits
your concept, first enter what kind of merchandise they sell and then enter
the URL of the join page into possible partners for that keyword. If it’s
a content site, review its content and follow the links out in the same
way as outlined above, add to your columns of possible partners and ideas
Repeat the process for each keyword in your master keyword list (i.e.,
replace “fashion” above with another keyword like “fashion models” so that
you search for this
+“fashion models” +affiliate
||Grow Possible Partners Through Altavista
|Let’s backtrack for a second. While searching for a keyword
at one of the above engines earlier today, let’s say that you discovered
a content site, Fashionbrokers.com. By following links out of Fashionbrokers.com,
you found a shoe shop with an affiliate program, called Shoebuy.com.
Shoebuy.com fits with an idea that you had added to the ideas for content
column. So you entered Shoebuy.com into your list of possible partners
for the keyword “high heel shoes.” See how you can use the master keyword
list to group programs according to keywords?
We’ll use Shoebuy.com as our example of how to grow your list of possible
partners for “high heel shoes”. Start by checking what other affiliates
link to Shoebuy.com! How? Simple. Go to http://www.altavista.com/
and enter link:shoebuy.com
At the time of this writing, 134 pages linked to good old Shoebuy.com.
Many of these sites will be content sites that also link to other fashion-related
merchants as affiliates (you can often tell by the linking URLs). So most
likely these linked-to merchants already have affiliate programs, all you
have to do is check them out and see if they fit! Add the ones that fit
to your list of possible partners for each keyword. And you can use this
AltaVista link-finder technique for all of your possible partners for all
of your keywords!
||Grow And Prune Possible Partners
Through Specialized Affiliate Directories
|Now let’s investigate your possible partners and add some
new merchants, too. There are some terrific folks out there who have already
compiled exhaustive lists of merchants with affiliate programs. They’ve
even organized them all for you into categories.
Here is a list of the ten most important directories in approximate
order of popularity on the Net. The visit count appears in brackets after
How to use the directories
Allan Gardyne has one of the best directories going -- it screens out
the riff-raff. Active forum, too. Not to be missed.
one of the grand-daddies, has a comprehensive directory and an excellent
extensive directory, good tools.
excellent overall resource.
useful, in-depth program reviews.
useful forum, top-notch articles.
2-Tier Affiliate Program
Drill-down through the relevant major categories of the directory until
you find good fit sub-categories. You’ll find one or more merchants in
each subcategory that should fit into your Site Concept well. Enter what
kind of merchandise they sell. Also enter the URL of the join page to the
possible partners column in your master keyword list, for each keyword
that is relevant.
Use their search tool. Do keyword searches at three levels of specificity.
Let’s start with the most specific and then get progressively more general.
Also use their search tool to find the possible partners that you have
already identified as candidates (just enter the domain name into the search
tool). Does the report seem positive?
Other things to do at the directories
Find matches for Specific High Profitability Keywords from your master
keyword list. Enter the keywords, one by one, into the directory’s search
tool. Put each keyword that is a phrase inside quotes.
Find matches for your General Concept Keywords
(ex., “pricing” and other “concept-level” keywords that you develop,
such as “fulfillment,” etc.).
Find matches for cross-concept companies. These are companies selling products
that fit with most or all concepts. For example, whether your concept is
about Renaissance art or pricing or fashion, you’ll find books about it.
So always include a book store in your group of affiliate programs.
You can either drill-down to these categories or use the appropriate
word to search for them (ex., “book”). Look for the following cross-concept
categories, not all of them will fit your bill.
Catalogs Clip art
When you find programs that fit, read the reviews and look at the ratings.
Use the forums. Review them for comments about programs that interest you.
And ask questions if you don’t find the answers you seek. Most of the above
directories have a forum where you can ask questions. So don’t be shy --
ask whether Company ABC really is about to close its program! I don’t recommend
that you e-mail the owners of the above directories. They are swamped with
work. However, if you post to the forums of some of the smaller ones, there’s
a good chance that the owner himself will answer you.
Check out their Top 10 reports. A directory may have different kinds of
Top 10 lists.
Give special weighting to the most profitable, the most popular ones often
just reflect the results of major promotional pushes, and not necessarily
profits. These are the ones that are getting the job done and making money
for affiliates. Read the personal opinion Top 10, too. One drawback
of any of the Top 10’s. They likely will not cover programs that fit your
concept. Don’t pick a Top 10 unless you can figure out how it fits into
Subscribe to their e-zines to stay up-to-date. There’s some excellent material
Read the articles. But don’t get sidetracked, you can get that famous golfing
disease paralysis by analysis. Keep moving forward.
||Grow Possible Partners Through
Affiliate Backend Providers / Affiliate Networks
|There are several companies that provide the tools, technology
and services that online businesses need to register, track, report and
pay affiliates. In other words, merchants don’t have to do it themselves
because these companies provide all the backend functionality necessary
to run an affiliate program.
The backend providers prefer to call themselves affiliate networks.
Because they do more than just provide merchants with affiliate software.
They also provide merchants with affiliates, and vice-versa. Since they
have a pool of hundreds of thousands of affiliates, the merchant’s program
gets instant exposure to potentially interested affiliates. And affiliates
get exposure to a wide variety of merchants. So join each of these backend
providers. You will likely come across many of the same merchants that
you found in the affiliate directories. But you will also find new ones.
So it is worth checking to see whether they feature any programs that fit
If you don’t find merchants with products that fit, enter what kind of
merchandise they sell, and also enter the URL of the join page to the possible
partners column in your master keyword list, for each keyword that is relevant.
||Grow Possible Partners Through Miscellaneous
|If you can figure out how to make Vstore fit into your
site, make notes in the possible partners column in your master keyword
list, for each keyword that is relevant.
Create your own online storefront to sell products that you love; sports,
music, whatever. It truly is easy to set up. Only one problem, you have
to drive traffic to your store if you want to make any sales, unlike the
of Dreams movie, they will not come just because you have built it.
Most Vstore owners simply can’t overcome this challenge. Perhaps this explains
why Nexchange and ePod did not flourish.
Why include Vstore in this discussion? Because you don’t actually make
a sale or ship a product. You make a commission. But you only make a commission
if you drive traffic to your store and if those visitors buy. So the difference
between this model and the pure affiliate concept is moot. And one more
important reason to include it.
When you complete this discussion, you’ll have a Theme-Based Content
Site that builds targeted traffic and that PREsells its visitors. Why not
build a store that fits your theme and refer visitors at your Theme-Based
site to your own store which literally takes less than 30 minutes to build?
Consider Vstore as an interface between you (i.e., the affiliates) and
the merchants. One way or the other, it collects a small piece of each
pie that is sold, not from you but from the merchant. Kind of like a super-affiliate.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. Vstore provides true value for that
fee. But be careful... a high-profile company called Affinia.com had a
similar model. They had an excellent product that empowered you to turn
your site into a store. In September, 2000, Affinia went bankrupt. Those
affiliates who had spent a lot of time developing business and income through
Affinia lost out. Can the other affiliate intermediaries make enough money
For that matter, what about the affiliate backend providers?Actually,
what about any individual merchant? That brings us to the topic of reducing
||Reduce Risk By Diversifying
|One of the major attractions of becoming an affiliate is
the small amount of risk involved. Affiliates have little or no
In other words, affiliates do not have millions at stake.
product development expenses
inventory to maintain
overhead expenses (salaries, physical location, etc.)
But you do have one big risk. If a merchant, backend provider, or affiliate
intermediary go out of business, they take you with it. Let’s talk briefly
about how to minimize this risk. After you review the affiliate directories,
backend providers, and affiliate intermediaries, you should have a good
selection of programs. How many programs should you choose? How do you
know which ones are solid?
You don’t, really. Yes, you can weed out the dogs by doing the basic
research outlined below. But most of us just don’t have the ability or
time to thoroughly analyze a company, its financials, and its business
model. And then predict success or failure.
So your best bet is to diversify among as many programs as possible
that fit with your Site Concept. But there are the some important qualifiers
to this policy
If you represent 15 programs, don’t put them all on the same Keyword- Focused
Content Page. Only work in the few that are tightly relevant to the content
of each page.
Pick the best-of-breed from each category of merchant. For example, if
you plan on representing a Net marketing company, SiteSell.com would be
the obvious choice.
If you plan unusually heavy support for a given category of product,
you might want to represent the best two merchants. For example, suppose
you foresee hundreds of book links on your site. It might be a good idea
to choose the best 2 online bookstores, if Bookstore A and Bookstore B
fit with your concept and both seem to be stable companies, then use these
two. Not more, though.
Don’t over-diversify. Tracking each program takes time, so 10-15 programs
is probably a good balance. If any one of them dies, you don’t lose too
Your best results will come from focusing on a smaller group of quality
programs from within your longer list. Their products must
Also, don’t pick merchants that “belong” only to BeFree or only to CJ or
Linkshare. What happens to your business if one of these backend providers
folds? Same policy goes, too, for the affiliate intermediaries.
be complementary with, even enhance, each other
fit your concept
be from a rock-solid company. Since you will give these companies more
attention than the others, you must feel very comfortable with their business
Don’t give too much emphasis to any single program, unless you have
some special reason to feel unusually comfortable with it. Things happen.
So protect yourself by diversifying.
Of course, you can also reduce your risk by weeding out the dogs through
some basic research.
||Prune Possible Partners By Eliminating
High Risk Programs
|Find the good programs and eliminate the dogs by considering
the following plus signs, minus signs, and red flags. Let’s start with
the plus signs, which means good things to look for. Here they are, in
the approximate order of importance
quality product or service
remember, it’s your reputation that is on the line (and online!).
Don’t recommend products that underdeliver.
Merchant has a good site
that sells effectively.
for affiliate to link straight to individual products
rather than just to the home page. If the visitor has to find
the product that you recommend, your Conversion Rate plummets.
of payment model
Pay-per-sale and pay-per-lead are good. This is true performance
marketing. If your referred visitor delivers the desired response, you
get paid. What about pay-per-click? See red flags below.
Great affiliate support is important for a between the lines reason, too.
It indicates a high degree of commitment to the program and its affiliates.
Detailed traffic and linking stats
Notification by e-mail when a sale is made
Useful marketing assistance, provides traffic-building and sales-getting
High-quality newsletter that educates, trains, and accounts for amounts
Professional marketing materials available
Affiliates receive discount on products
hard goods have lower margins than digital ones. So their commissions
will be lower. Still, you should make at least 10% (hard good) or 20% (digital
good) on any product that you recommend. Don’t be scared off by low-priced
products if they offer a good % commission -- the lower dollar value per
sale is offset by the higher sales volume.
no charge to join, no need to buy the product.
if the program pays a commission on future sales of other products
to customers that you refer, this is a huge plus.
if the program pays a commission on affiliates who join because
of you, this is also great.
Do you receive a commission if the person you referred returns
and buys within one month? Three months? The cookie that tracks this should
on number of affiliates
you won’t find many of these. But if you do, grab it.
with reasonable minimum.
Do all those pluses have to be present? No. But the more, the merrier.
Minus signs are definite detractors. Naturally, if you are unable to give
to any of the criteria listed just above, consider its absence to be a
minus. And watch out for these negative factors
Slow and/or poor support.
Unethical conduct of any kind.
Reports of late or lack of payments.
Allow spam, or seem to spam themselves.
Defective affiliate-joining process. Hey, if they can’t get this right...
Clauses in the agreement that you find unacceptable
The dark side of affiliate programs. Is the program really just a way to
legally bribe folks to recommend overpriced, underdelivering products in
order to collect excessive commissions?
||If lifetime customers are important to you, then a clause that allows
unilateral termination or modification of the agreement at any time by
the company, without just cause, effectively makes the lifetime commitment
of no value.
||No exclusivity -- i.e., you should be allowed to represent more than
one book vendor.
Red flags are warning signs
method of payment
In this method, you get paid whenever a visitor clicks on your
link. No purchase or lead-generation necessary.
Unfortunately, it’s wide open for abuse, very sophisticated folks create
incentives to get thousands of people to click on their links. But the
visitors could care less about the products being promoted. It’s virtually
unstoppable. And merchants end up paying for nothing.
So merchants cancel or change the program. Microsoft’s Clicktrade used
to offer pay-per-click backend programming for merchants. They dropped
it due to the level of fraudulent activity that hurt merchants.
This is online MLM, which is perfectly legal. Do your due diligence
to make sure, of course, that a multi-tier program is not an illegal pyramid
scheme. If the game is to earn income by signing up others, you most likely
are dealing with a pyramid. Many people confuse honest, legal MLM with
dishonest, scammy pyramid schemes.
or little info about affiliate program available
With MLM, also known as Network Marketing, it becomes as important to
build a strong downline as it does to sell product. Also, MLM companies
are subject to numerous regulations to prevent them from becoming pyramids,
basically. Not all online companies are complying or even know about this!.
Watch out for a big shakeout with many of these companies going belly-up.
If multi-tier interests you, I would recommend that you check out established
offline MLMs that are now online. Or investigate all others extremely carefully
before you decide to invest a lot of time in these.
What kind of priority could it have?
links on merchant site.
clear anti-spamming policy visible on site.
that promotes get-rich-quick gimmicks.
You can lose a lot of momentum if a company goes under, especially
if you were banking on lifetime customer/2-tier promises.
||Add Category Choices And Prune Possible Partners Through
|Alexa serves as a wonderful final check in two ways
Using Alexa, we see that
it gives some indication of the success of the program
it yields good competitors in the same category as the program you are
Now let’s use Alexa again to visit Shoebuy.com’s Related sites,
you just might find a better shoe merchant! Doing this, you find
Shoebuy.com only has 155 links coming in (confirming the AltaVista stat
of 134 earlier). So its affiliate program is certainly not a mind-boggling
success. But here’s the question... does that mean danger or does that
It gets decent traffic (9344 visits). Good.
The site only seems to have 47 pages, although this stat is sometimes wrong.
And it ranks the site as fast and fresh, both good signs.
Bottom line? Alexa is a great starting point for finding even more merchants
in any given category, and giving you some additional basis for choosing
those with least risk.
Shoes.com only gets 1700 visits, and does not seem to have an affiliate
Zappos.com has an affiliate program. It also has a bright, fun site with
over 1,000 pages, and has about the same traffic (9158). It has 136 links
in, and Alexa ranks the site as fast and fresh. A better
Shoesonthenet.com is a cleverly structured content site. It looks, at first
glance, like a huge shoe store. But it’s a content site. Sometimes, content
sites hide the relationship by using frames. To detect this, right-click
on a frame to pop-up a new window that contains only that frame, it will
show the URL of the company that the content site represents. These kinds
of sites can, of course, lead you to even more merchants!
Tricky Alexa Tip:
Many sites use ad networks to run their banners. In this case, Alexa
shows you the traffic stats for the network, instead of the site. You'll
know because you'll see the name of the network (ex., DoubleClick or 24/7)
rather than the name of the site.
To get around this enter a totally weird URL, like http://www.THECOMPANY.COM/
abdefeddee.html, where THECOMPANY.com is the site you are investigating.
You'll get a 404 error. Since most companies don't put a banner on their
404 page, wait for a few seconds until Alexa updates with the real stats
for that site!
|To loop, or not to loop? That is the Question.
Almost done! You’ve checked the programs out at the directories. You’ve
eliminated the high-risk dogs who don’t deserve your time by considering
the plus signs, the minus signs, and the red flags. And you’ve run Alexa
on each possible partner for each of your keywords. Finalize your selection
of affiliate programs. If you don’t find enough good programs, you may
have to broaden your concept, or even replace it.
Remember when we talked about the critical loop point at the end of
chapter 2? Be sure that you’ve got a Site Concept that can make some money.
If not, return to chapter 3 and keep breaking out and adding more high
profitability keywords. Then continue to chapter 4 to find more good programs
If your concept is just too narrow and esoteric that chapters 3 and
4 don’t work, return to chapter 2 and investigate the next concept on your
short list of Site Concepts.
Do not feel that you must have your entire business worked out to the
nth degree by working on chapters 3 and 4 forever. I don’t need
to remind you that Rome was not built in a day, do I?
|With that perspective in mind, please allow me to remind
you of a small business truism. The two biggest mistakes any entrepreneur
makes are actually opposites of each other
In other words, don’t get stuck perfecting chapters 3 and 4.
the person who leaps before he looks. If this fits you, I can only
repeat Ben Franklin’s quote “By failing to prepare, you are preparing
to fail.” In other words, ignore the preparation work at your peril.
the person who researches, then researches some more, then some more.
For this person, I can only offer this profound wisdom, fish or cut bait.
Or, as Nike would say, Just do it!
So if you have brainstormed a good Site Concept, picked your highest
profitability topics, and selected excellent merchant-partners who you
are proud to represent, then you are ready to roar ahead.