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Aug 99 NetProLive

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 8
Column Tag: NetProLive

Becoming an Associate

by Todd Stauffer

It's more than just Amazon, you know

You want to make a little money on your Web site, don't you? Many of us do, even if we aren't getting the sort of hits that Excite, Netcenter and iVillage are getting on a daily basis. You may have already signed up as an associated for a service like or Barnes and Noble's online site, since they've been advertising their associate services for quite some time. But did you know that there are many other associate services and banner exchange programs that can make you money?

What It Means to Associate

Before we get deep into them let's talk a little about what it means to be associated. In most cases, associate status means you're granted a commission on sales that occur through some online venue. The idea is for you to creatively and uniquely advertise a particular product or a specific e-commerce site. Take, for instance. In that case, you're asked to advertise particular books on your site, then link to for the sale. If readers click your link to Amazon, then buy the book, you'll make money.

Why offer associate programs? Two reasons. First, it's free-to-low-cost advertising for many of these e-commerce sites. After all, they've just convinced you to place a link or banner on your site and they haven't promised you a dollar up front.

The reason this works, though, is that your Web site may be uniquely situated to sell a particular product. If you run a site about health and beauty, for instance, you may have a decent amount of traffic that would be interested in buying cosmetics online. But if you're only getting a few hundred unique visitors a day, the e-commerce site doesn't really have time to visit the site, decide on the correct amount of advertising banners to buy from you, then check the click-throughs, call you to renegotiate, etc.

If they offer an associate program, though, then you're responsible for getting signed up - they just create the program and track your progress. Like any distributed marketing scheme, the e-commerce site now has hundreds or thousands of sites pouring thousands or millions of hits into their e-commerce site. In return, they pay about 3-5% in commissions - not bad for what might amount to most of their entire advertising budget.

Not that it's a bad deal for you, either. If you don't run a Web site that gets 250,000 hits a day - but it's still a good site with a nice design and good info - then you deserve a little action, too. If you repeatedly send buying customers toward the e-commerce site, the small kickbacks can start to add up.

Are there any rules? Usually each individual program will have stipulations. Some associate programs may require you to run their own artwork, others may require that your site be reviewed for good design and ease of use. Most programs don't want to be associated with adult or inflammatory content (although there are certainly associate programs designed for adult sites) and some will require a minimum of unique visitors - maybe 500 a day. Otherwise, it's usually pretty easy to apply.

Signing Up as an Associate

One of the easiest is the Associates program (Figure 1), which you can usually get into with a minimum of hassle. They just need to know who you are, where to send the checks, what your site is about and get you to agree to their legalese. Then you'll be taken to a page that helps you pick out the logos and get started. Amazon pays 15% on many titles that you link to directly, and usually pays 5% for any sale that results from a link from your site.

Figure 1. Associates.

Why partner with Amazon? If your site covers a particular topic, if you're offering your own reading list or if you know of some books that support your site and might interest your readers, then an link directly to those books might entice buyers into an impulse purchase. You can also link to music and videos. Maybe your site is specifically designed as a front-end to Amazon - I've seen people try it. Better yet, though, come up with a hook for selling your books. Offer readers an advantage - like tips, reviews, or related content - that will help you push the books.

Figure 2. Barnes and Noble Affiliate network.

Barnes and Noble offers an Affiliate network (Figure 2) that allows you to build your own bookstore, link directly to topic areas or even add the Barnes and Noble search engine to your site. Commissions are 5% for every sale, but all sales generated by your links are counted. And, if you sell a ton of books, music, videos, software, etc., some of the percentages can go as high as 7%. In this case you can link to the entire B&N "Fiction" front-end and get a percentage. If a lot of your visitors are bookworms, this might be a good way to go.

Figure 3. LinkShare.

Want to sell something other than books? In that case, you're ready to check out LinkShare (Figure 3). LinkShare offers information and management of affiliate programs for over 100 merchants that are searching for relevant affiliates. Sign onto the system (you'll need to provide a little information to get signed on) then go on a merchant hunt. Through this service, you'll see offers from merchants in subjects from automotive to magazines to cigars to consumer electronics to gardening products. Deals range depending on the merchant - some offer 20% commissions, others offer 3%. Some offer both commissions on sales and payment for click-throughs - for instance, you might get $.05 every time a reader clicks a banner ad and visits a merchant's site.

The entire LinkShare system is very impressive if you run a Web site but don't have the wherewithal to drum up advertising. Want to sell Brookstone, FAO Schwartz or products on your site? Check out the programs and see what they're currently offering. There aren't too many caveats - most of the offers don't extend to pornographic, inflammatory or poorly designed sites. In many cases you'll need a minimum of unique visitors - usually between 250-500 a day. (That's not always the case.) In almost all cases you'll need to qualify - your site will be reviewed by the merchant. You'll learn about that and other things through the information center maintained by LinkShare where you can get news, search for new sites and even read mail from merchants.

Figure 4. LinkExchange's Revenue Avenue.

A similar service is offered on Revenue Avenue of the LinkExchange program (Figure 4), which happens to offer an impressive number of merchants - a quick search on "writing" which is the topic of one of my sites, offered an unprecendented seven different advertising opportunities. (Before this site I'd been stuck with With LinkExchange, you begin by adding the text for the ad to your site while your request for membership in that particular site's program is pending. Up until then, you don't make money. Once you're approved, hopefully, you'll make money and get checks. The deals vary wildly from a percentage to a flat fee per new customer to money for click-throughs.

Want more ideas? The single best site I've come across for reviewing the various ad banner programs and pay-per-click offers is Mark J. Welch's Web sites. There you'll find links to many, many different programs, as well as pages that offer even more conglomerations, reviews and link list for still more programs.

Seller Beware

The only admonition I'll mention is one you'll find often on Welch's sites - be wary. Not all of these affiliate programs pay on time, some don't pay at all, some could go out of business quickly. Stick with the known quantities unless you're a gambler, and review your earnings regularly - using your own visitor logs, be aware of how much business you think you're sending. If you don't get updates, quit the service and try something else.

What's the worst that could happen? Convert your mid-sized Web site into a revenue machine, even if you're only filling in around your paid banners. Who knows - your associates could pay off. After all, it's who you know that counts. Associates program

Barnes and Noble Affiliate program


Revenue Avenue

Mark Welch

Todd Stauffer ( is online editor for NetProfessional, as well as a book author, magazine writer and Web magazine editor. His latest books, “Mac Upgrade and Repair Bible” and “Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mac OS 8.5” are available at better bookstores everywhere. Visit him at


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