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Grow your online sales through affiliate marketing

E-commerce expert Simon Horton examines the benefits of affiliate marketing, the important considerations and pitfalls, and how to get the best from your efforts

E-commerce expert Simon Horton examines the benefits of affiliate marketing, the important considerations and pitfalls, and how to get the best from your efforts.

Through using third party partnerships, affiliate marketing can help drive sales traffic to your website on a cost per acquisition (CPA) basis. This can be an attractive proposition for small online sellers where margins are tight and budgets limited. Since affiliate marketing is essentially pay on results and you only pay when you make a sale, what have you got to lose?

Defining affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is an online partnership where one party - usually referred to as a publisher -refers potential sales traffic to your e-commerce site, usually on a CPA basis. This has grown in popularity alongside the rise in e-commerce and become an essential digital media channel for e-tailers. There are all sorts of affiliate partnerships. Popular implementations include coupon sites such as VoucherCodes, product review sites, shopping catalogue sites like FindGift.com, specialist blogging sites and directories.

What benefits does it offer?
Successful affiliate marketing depends on choosing the right partners for your business. It can then provide you with a number of benefits.
Your business can access fresh audiences, generating new traffic and sales leads.
CPA means controlled and cost effective marketing - you're only paying a fee when a sale is generated.
It helps improve search engine visibility. Remember many affiliate marketers are experts in the fields of Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and often have the time, resources and Search Engine Optimisation expertise that a craft business owner may not have.

Affiliate networks
It's essential that you keep on top of how your partners are performing by tracking and monitoring conversions, referrals, click-throughs and commission payments.

Since all this administration can take up valuable time, particularly if you work with more than one affiliate partner, you may want to consider specialist software to help recruit your network for you and automate the commission payment process.

Third-party affiliate network solutions are a good way to help you easily manage this and there are a few, which have affiliate marketeers already signed up. They'll already have marketeers with craft-related websites or blogs that will make ideal places to promote your business. The network will promote your affiliate scheme to their members to help grow your sales network. Some of the largest affiliate networks are Affiliate Window, ClixGalore, Zanox and ShareASale.

Key considerations for small businesses It's really important you choose the right publisher to fit your business. Ask yourself - what are its marketing practices, what audience can it reach and does it operate in your particular industry?

Getting the commission right is essential.
Find out what the average commission is for craft businesses. If the commission is too low, what incentive does your affiliate partner have to push your product or service? If the commission is too high. how profitable is it going to be, particularly if you're enticing the affiliate's audience with discounted offers and promotions.
Avoid a partner whose audience is similar to the one you reach already. The last thing you want is to have to pay commission on a sale you might have made anyway. You need to ensure that your affiliate partner only uses white hat marketing - safe, ethical techniques that follows search engines rule and codes of practices. You don't want to tarnish your brand through your business being advertised on unsuitable sites or being marketed inappropriately.
To get the most out of working with affiliates, choose a publisher that knows your specific industry and target audience. It's far better to have a smaller number of mutually beneficial quality partnerships than signing up to lots of indiscriminate networks. With fewer but higher quality partnerships, you're more likely to have the time and resources to build a solid working relationship, and as a consequence yield better results.
Communication is key - help your affiliates by keeping them informed of any new products, services and offers you have in the pipeline.

E-commerce software compatibility
Make sure your e-commerce checkout has the capabilities to integrate the tracking script from your third party affiliate software. There's some excellent hosted, shopping cart solutions available that make it simple for you to paste the affiliate marketing tracking script onto your order complete page. This will enable you to identify not only which affiliate site your customers came from, but also which ones converted into a sale. This is essential if you're working to a CPA arrangement where the information automatically uploads to sort out any commission owed.

Affiliate marketing can be a cost-effective marketing channel offering a number of benefits to the owners of small businesses. Just make sure the focus is on building mutually beneficial, quality partnerships. Consider freeing up your time and resources by using automated tracking and monitoring process by utilising affiliate marketing software.

Simon Horton is founder of ShopIntegrator, the e-commerce plug-in that turns existing websites into full-blown web stores without coding, www.shopintegrator.com.