The Journey to Become an Affiliate

Malcolm Lubliner contacted me in early November, just a month into my taking over the duties as editor of Revenue. He was looking to our magazine as a trusted source to give him some advice about getting started in the world of affiliate marketing. I was also in the process of trying to learn everything I could about this new market I would be covering. I responded to Malcolm’s email with a handful of links to sites that had information about affiliates that had been helpful for me as an editor and journalist trying to get up to speed on a new subject area. I also passed along some names of authors and books, some interesting articles I had encountered in my research and my sincere wishes of success.

I didn’t expect Malcolm to continue to correspond with me and update me on his progress, but I’m certainly glad he has. So I thought it might be interesting to keep tabs on Malcolm’s journey to become an affiliate – the problems, the progress, the successes and the lessons he’s learning along the way.

Malcolm Lubliner has been a commercial photographer for more than 30 years. Before that he was a painter. He’s a self-described “visual person” who didn’t find my advice of reading all the information he could find about affiliate marketing – then reading some more – all that helpful.

Malcolm wanted someone to just lay out the basics. He says everything he read about the world of affiliate marketing assumed a certain level of knowledge about the fundamentals that he readily admits he did not possess. “I just wanted someone to hold my hand for five minutes,” he says.

What he wanted was basic information about how to take his Web site and turn it into a sustainable online magazine about urban life and culture. Malcolm has owned the domain name cityvisions.com for more than eight years and was originally using it as an online portfolio to showcase his work focusing on product, industrial, architectural and advertising photography.

Malcolm admits that a magazine covering urban issues is not a novel concept, but he believes that his unique perspective and passion are what could make the site a success. For the last three years he’s been focused on how to take this passion and make it a reality, but he wasn’t sure how to make enough money to support the magazine.

Although he doesn’t have a business plan mapped out, Malcolm has spent a lot of time thinking about this transition. One of his initial steps was to trademark the cityvisions.com domain name. Meanwhile, he continued to be plagued by the thought that in order to support the magazine he needed to generate money.

Then about a year ago he saw something on TV. It was an advertisement for a book promoting affiliate marketing as a tool to make money. The book was The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 Last Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online by Rosalind Gardner.

“I had never heard about the concept before. I knew about pop-up ads on Web sites, but didn’t know much more than that,” he says. “I had no idea this was a viable way to make money.”

But, the book cost $75, and Malcolm thought that was a bit too pricey considering he was still a little skeptical about the concept. That’s when he made the decision to conduct his own research. He spent hours scouring the Internet, doing Google searches, and what he found is that “nobody tells you the nuts and bolts.”

His limited experience in marketing and advertising made it hard to figure out his first step. “I just don’t know where to put my foot down first,” he says. “No one puts all the steps down in real simple terms that you need to follow steps A through Z to get started.”

It was overwhelming for him to try to decipher the language and the jargon associated with affiliate marketing that he found on the Internet. “The world of affiliate marketing is all so mysterious,” Malcolm says. “It’s like learning a new language. At first glance just not knowing all the terminology made me very uncomfortable.”

Malcolm is perplexed by the lack of affordable consultants that can be hired to help small publishers sort through the process of starting an affiliate site.

“How come I can hire a computer guy to come over to my house and help fix my computer, but I can’t hire a consultant that is affordable to come in and help with this?” he asks. “Most of the consultants are guys looking for big bucks and work with big companies.”

In mid-November, Malcolm called Commission Junction to inquire about the networks’ affiliate programs. “I remembered their name from my research, and I think that book I never bought was authored by a woman who works there,” he says.

The phone call gave Malcolm some fundamental information about Commission Junction’s services and the basics of signing up to be an affiliate. He also feels that talking to a live person rather than just reading about these concepts clarified a lot of issues. He claims that the call made “it all seem so easy.”

He’s going to sign up as an affiliate within a month, but in the meantime he says there are three things he’s concentrating on – design, driving traffic and acquiring content. And to complicate matters, Malcolm would also like to figure out how to give a portion of any profits he might make to charity.

To date, he’s had some problems finding a Web site design that satisfies him visually and is likely to entice people to navigate the site and ultimately click on the affiliate links. He is also concerned about how to best promote the site. He knows that he needs to start driving traffic before he can expect to generate any revenue. To do that, he plans to advertise in mediums other than the Web. He also wants to try to connect with like-minded companies or individuals with “an altruistic interest” that may help drive traffic to his site. An email newsletter is also in the works to help promote the site to previous visitors, former clients and others who might be interested in his concept.

He is continuing to acquire content for the online pictorial publication. He’s trying to keep his costs down by getting people to submit content. He’s focused on trying to get travelers to submit photos and journals, as well as those that live in cities big and small to contribute their pictures and stories.

Malcolm has thought about creating links to travel sites or book publishers that have travel books. He’s also contemplating putting links for subscriptions to travel magazines on his site.

Ultimately, he believes letting his site evolve organically, rather than following a rigid business plan, will be more conducive to an artistic venture.

Malcolm spent the entire month of November gathering even more information about affiliate marketing and preparing to launch his site. By the beginning of 2005, he expects to be a full-fledged affiliate. In forthcoming issues of Revenue, we’ll keep you posted on Malcolm’s progress.

Lisa Picarille is the editor of Revenue.

Know Your Audience

When designing a Web site, you must take the intended audience into careful consideration. Whether the Web site is business-to-business or business-to-consumer, the design will require a format that caters to the desired type of visitor, and it must also guide them through the intended process as comfortably and efficiently as possible.

First, take into account whether the target demographic is business- or consumer-oriented. In the B2B arena, and particularly in the business service industry, the primary goal is to establish trust in the prospective client.

Business-to-business Web sites usually avoid the kind of hype and pizazz that a consumer Web site may have. A highly sales-oriented site promoting an immediate purchase is simply not appropriate for establishing trust to promote a sale that may require a large risk on the part of the purchaser. The prospective purchaser will perceive this risk as being higher when little information is given to back up any claims that have been made.

It is best in this case to provide easily accessible information to the visitor to make them feel more comfortable with the offer before presenting any extensive hype about the product or service. It is also advisable to make testimonials or case studies available to the visitor, as well as comparisons of the competition.

Instant Visual Clues

In addition, a more visual tactic for establishing trust would be to present the logos and names of well-known clients. These provide instant visual references for the visitor and can help keep their interest long enough to make the sale or establish contact. If the product or service is complex or the value is not immediately obvious, it may be advisable to lead the customer to call and talk to someone one on one. Highly specialized services and products are likely to raise a lot of questions in the customer’s mind. Most of these questions would be best answered over the phone rather than having the visitor perform a tedious search through FAQ pages.

In contrast to business-oriented sites, consumer-targeted sites offering low-risk purchases should make the process of buying as easy and straightforward as possible. Clear presentation of a good offer on the home page will help establish a different kind of trust in the visitor than that of a B2B site. This type of trust tells visitors that they are receiving a fair price and quality service. A simple two- or three-step sales process will encourage the customer to return to make more purchases. In consumer-based Web sites, ease of use and good value mean everything for customer retention, and customer retention means everything for robust profit margins.

Knowing how much information to present about the product or service is critical in working with the attention span of the consumer. First, take into consideration the financial risk that the product presents to the consumer. Obviously, a customer looking to purchase asset protection online, for example, would not jump into the purchase without knowing that he or she can trust the service. This scenario presents a huge financial risk on the part of the visitor. In this case, you would want to provide complete information about the service and comparative information regarding the competition. Presenting a low price point immediately in this case can actually break down any trust that has been established as it cheapens the offer and its reputability. The consumer may have many questions as well. For this reason, the entire emphasis would be to establish enough trust so that the visitor calls or acquires some form of consultation.

By contrast, a low-priced item such as a magazine subscription can be sold with very little information because it does not require a large financial risk on the part of the visitor. Also, if a product is well known due to extensive branding, the visitor may not need as much information before being pushed toward the purchase. In these cases, the emphasis should be put on the value of the offer and the price point.

Visual cues such as starbursts, arrows or bright red writing can capture the visitors’ attention just long enough to present the offer to them. Save these tactics for impulse buys, and use the information you acquire from the visitor to promote other offers on your site through auto responders or newsletters.

Purchase Price Is Key

You must also take into consideration the wealth of your average visitor. Most sites are aimed at a middle-income family. However, there are products and services that cater toward very high-end customers. If this is the case, price point is not nearly as important. In fact, wealthier visitors tend to directly correlate price with quality. Because of this, a low price may actually deter a wealthy visitor from the purchase. For wealthy visitors, don’t present the price immediately, but make it available, and pay much more attention to the style and artistic aspects of the site.

Designing for the proper demographic is one of the more difficult aspects of creating a site that converts well to sales. There is so much to take into account, including the audience, the industry, the financial risk of the visitor and more. These suggestions are just the beginning as far as special considerations that must be made to ensure high conversion rates. Be as aware as possible of the state of mind of your visitors. Jumping into the visitors’ shoes, so to speak, is the best way to really know what will work. In fact, a great way to do this is to simply research your competition from a visitor’s perspective.

GREG SHEPARD is CEO of NetTraction.com, an online marketing company found at GotRevenue.com. He has eight years of experience in online marketing and 16 in business development.