Every website owner can see the benefits of employing a team of dedicated personnel to actively promote their brand and sell products or services — more traffic, more revenue and higher exposure. With so many options available, selecting a third-party provider or an independent software vendor/solution can quickly become confusing.
There are literally hundreds of affiliate marketplaces from which merchants can choose. Companies like Commission Junction, LinkShare, LinkConnector and ShareASale help merchants (site owners in this instance) promote their products through large, established networks of affiliate marketers. While the cost to get started (and often the learning curve) is considered by some to be steep, if not completely out of reach, the upside is that everything is handled for you — from setup to management, technical maintenance and everything in between. These companies thrive in the Web environment for one reason — the results they provide for all parties involved. The potential benefits they can offer a Web business’ bottom line is the primary reason these outlets are top of mind with online publishers and Web advertisers alike.
If these networks are indeed out of reach for merchants, then another option is to do it yourself. If you are a whiz with development or comfortable enough working with programmers and developers, then custom software may be the way to go. While it can be costly, there is simply no substitute for creating custom software (affiliate program software or otherwise) for use on your site. It will satisfy your and your affiliates’ specific needs. If you’re interested in having custom software built for your affiliate program offering, consider sites like RentACoder.com or ProjectSpring.com to receive bids on projects from qualified programmers.
The Three C’s: Ideal Features of Affiliate Program Software
Obviously there is no uniform standard to affiliate program software but there are several features that every solution should provide. Most merchants find that much like any software, it comes down to control, configuration and communication.
■ First and arguably the most important feature is the availability of control panels for both merchant-affiliate administrators and the affiliates themselves. Administrative control panels should feature detailed reports on each affiliate and include not only the quantity of traffic sent but the sales, leads or clicks those affiliates generated on your behalf. The same can be requested for the affiliates themselves.
■ Configuration is important to be able to customize payment schedules and commission structures — including per sale, per lead or per click. When multiple-tier affiliate programs are available, proper configuration can track what percentages of per sale or per click will be paid to those on the second, third or even tenth tier of the affiliate program.
■ The third important feature, communication, should be employed to notify your affiliates of changes to program policies, new products to sell, incentives, general support or transactional emails. More advanced affiliate program software even offers logs of all communications sent and received between the program vendor and the affiliate — a helpful way to determine if you’re investment in a particular affiliate is paying dividends. Communication is a mainstay to affiliate programs and a requirement for affiliate success.
While most merchants will always opt for established networks to generate affiliate sales, there are still some that are willing to go it alone, do it themselves and reap the rewards that independence can provide.
The solution for many website owners interested in tapping the potential of affiliate marketing is to utilize software offered either free, with a limited version or those under a generic public license (GPL). One such affiliate management software is available at SourceForge.net. They offer OSC-Affiliate, an affiliate system that works with the OSCommerce shopping cart. Here are a two free affiliate software solutions to consider:
■ AffPlanet Free: Limited to 3,000 transactions monthly but provides all features of the AffPlanet Lite offering ($9 month). AffPlanet is a fully automated and immensely flexible solution that truly fits the bill for small and mid-range merchants. Supports multiple commission structures and extensive reporting and customization. Available at AffPlanet.com.
■ AffiliateClick: Allows for the simple creation of a commission-based affiliate program. Current working platforms include Unix, Linux and Windows NT, 2000 and 2003. Perl version 5 is required. Commission or “flat-rate” payment schedules are available. Features realtime stats and affiliate email notifications; customization is available. Available at CosmicPerl.com.