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Step 2: Building Your List

There are three prime ways to recruit affiliates:

  • Do it yourself.

  • Register with the affiliate directories.

  • Use the affiliate solution providers.

Before you launch your affiliate recruitment program, there are some key points to remember. When looking at building your list of affiliate candidates, focus on three types of sites:

  • Sites with their own domain name.

  • Sites with their own domain name are far preferable to free web pages, such as those provided by Yahoo! Geocities and Tripod. With the proliferation of low-cost domain registrars, a domain can be purchased for less than $20 per year. If a Webmaster isn't serious enough to have his own domain, don't count on him to produce results for your program.

  • Sites that draw high traffic.

  • If your business has an established name on the Net and you're offering a product or service that appeals to a desirable demographic, you could have a decent chance of attracting web sites with high traffic to your affiliate program. The top 500 sites are listed in Media Metrix.

  • Sites that draw consistent or targeted traffic.

  • Unlike the high-traffic site that may draw one-time visitors, some sites draw a consistent number of repeat visitors because they fill a special or targeted need for the visitor. These are good potential candidates for your network for two reasons. First, they give the affiliate web site a chance to continuously promote your offer to the same visitors and make a sale. Second, you can choose sites that can offer your product or service in context, thus making a sale more likely.

Start with a list of 100 potential sites (10 dream affiliates and 90 likely to join your program) with which you would like to form a profitable relationship. Then contact them—preferably by phone, but use email if you can't find a phone number—and create a win-win strategy with them. Rather than aiming for tens of thousands of affiliates, which may look good on paper, focus on establishing business partnerships with highly targeted, segmented sites. After all, an affiliate is not just a place to advertise your business, but a business partner.

Keep in mind that while finding affiliate partners isn't as impossible as it seems, it does require an incredible amount of work.

Finding Affiliates on Your Own

To find affiliates, start with your own site. You can promote your program to your current customer and site visitors who just may a have web site that would fit with your program. The words "Join our Affiliate Program" are being seen more and more on web sites today. At the very least, you should do the same for your company's web site. You should post your invitation to join your affiliate program on your home page and every navigational bar elsewhere on your site. This simple act alone can be a valuable medium for reaching Webmasters.

And don't stop there. Plug your program in your email signature, company newsletter, printed collateral, and even your invoices, email signature, business cards, voice mail, and your signature in online forums and discussion lists.

Your next step is to use the search engines and web directories to find potential candidates. How? By thinking like your customer. Find out where your customers like to go and you'll find your best affiliates. Here's how.

The bane of most search engines on the Net is that they return hundreds or even thousands of results that may have little to do with what you're specifically looking for. You can use this inefficiency of the search engines to find sites that would be good candidates for selling your particular product or service. Let's take searching for a Madonna CD, for example. Suppose you have an online store that sells CDs—Madonna CDs included. And suppose you wanted to recruit affiliate sites to sell your CDs. You can use the search results to target potential affiliate sites that could sell Madonna music from their site to their "Material Girl" visitors. If you enter the name of a Madonna CD in the search engines, you'll get hundreds of search results—you now have a ready-made list of affiliate site candidates.

Another trick is to use AltaVista to find targeted affiliate sites. Let's say you're selling pet supplies and are looking for sites that target pet owners. Spend some time thinking about who your competitors are in your market space. Let's say it's PETsMART.com. In the AltaVista search bar, type link:petsmart.com. You'll get a list of hundreds of sites that link to PETsMART.com. From there, you can quickly compile a list of sites to email about joining your pet supplies affiliate program.

If you're adding to your affiliate program, visit your best affiliates' sites and look at their links. Sometimes they link to other great sites that would be a perfect match for your program.

Registering with Directories

Once you've done your best to hand-pick and contact your best affiliate candidates, it's time to turn to the affiliate directories. They've already spent the time, effort, and advertising dollars to attract web sites interested in joining an affiliate program to their sites. These visitors can be yours if you list your program with these directories.

The affiliate directories are like specialized Yahoo!s. There are 20 or so main directories and as many smaller directories to register with. They consist of two types:

  • Affiliate Network Directories or Affiliate Solution Providers

  • Affiliate Marketing Directories

For a complete list of these directories, see Affiliate Manager.

Using Affiliate Solution Providers

The first type of affiliate directory is that of the affiliate network or affiliate solution provider. These networks actually administer your program and provide the tracking and reporting features you and your affiliates need. Your company pays this middleman a fee to handle the tracking, sign-up, and payments for each referral or sale of your affiliates. The advantage of contracting with one of these network directories is that they invite web sites to visit their site and view the stable of merchants with affiliate programs in their own network and allow them to join.

If you contract with one of these solution providers, they will list and even announce your program to their network of web sites. Using this shotgun approach, your company can recruit and sign up volumes of affiliates a week! The disadvantage is twofold. First you have to contract with a solution provider, and some will not let you join another solution provider's program as long as you are with theirs. This can present a problem if you want to have access to more than the potential affiliates the solution provider can offer, or if you want to run two programs side by side to see which one gives the better results, offers the better tracking and reporting program, or even which program your affiliates prefer to work with.

The shotgun approach of these solution providers also can be a disadvantage. You'll receive hundreds or even thousands of sign-ups a week. Even though some of these programs have an auto-approval feature, you do have the option of turning off that feature and personally approving each request for sign-up. But let's be realistic. If you plan to personally approve each request in order to keep your program targeted to the right affiliates from the hundreds you may receive each day, you better have the staff and resources to do it. As you can see, this could be quite time consuming.

If you use a solution provider, you have two choices. Either build your program on quantity, with most of your network performing below average, or shoot for quality and hand-pick your affiliates from the pool of candidates that the shotgun approach will produce.

With some of the affiliate solution providers, you can pay a fee to have them manually review the applications to your program. The biggest and most popular affiliate solution providers are Be Free, Commission Junction, and LinkShare.

If you decide to contract with one of these solution providers—and even if you don't—your next step is to register with the dozens of affiliate directories dedicated to affiliate marketing. Because of the popularity of affiliate marketing, new affiliate marketing directories pop up almost every day. The good news is that submitting your program is free. It costs nothing to join. But you're not automatically listed when you submit your request. The directory's editor reviews just about all the affiliate programs submitted to the directory. He or she makes the final decision on whether to list your program.

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