How Online Referrals Can Permanently Boost Your Web Traffic
Technology: Use the concept of affiliate marketing to grow your business on the Internet.
The Internet has fast become a means for personal fitness trainers to generate new fitness clients. One of the most reliable ways to increase traffic on your website is to join forces with and pay other businesses that refer their online clients to your site. That simple practice, known as affiliate marketing, simply means you pay another website a small fee every time its link to your site generates a sale or a new client.
Affiliate marketing is the way Amazon.com went from a small, daring start-up company in the mid-’90s to the powerhouse player in e-commerce that it is today.
“Look at it from Amazon’s viewpoint,” says Dr. Ralph F. Wilson (www.wilson web.com), an Internet marketing guru. “It attracted lots of interested buyers through the affiliate links, but only paid for this advertising if a sale was made. What’s more, once Amazon had made a sale, it treated its customers quite well, so next time the customer wanted a book, he or she would come directly to Amazon—not through an affiliate link. And a predictable 15% of the company’s sales price was tied up in advertising costs. Sweet,” Wilson explains.
Another reason Amazon’s affiliate marketing program was such a success: the company didn’t just treat its own customers well; it also treated its affiliate sites very well. From the beginning, Amazon was extremely diligent about paying its affiliates every month for each sale, and word spread quickly that the Amazon.com affiliate program could be trusted. With nothing to lose, hundreds of thousands of websites jumped on the bandwagon. And the rest is e-commerce history.
Fortunately, personal trainers looking to replicate Amazon.com’s formula are now able to choose from a wide variety of affiliate marketing software packages that can be installed on their websites in about a day.
Also, the costs are relatively low. Affiliate marketing software with all the bells and whistles goes for about $400, while entry-level packages can be found for $200 or less, according to Wilson.
What about maintaining your software program? Once you’ve become comfortable with the affiliate marketing software you choose (figure on 2 days of training to master the simplest ones), maintenance involves little more than making sure you pay your referral sites promptly for the business they send you. Then all you need to do is sit back and profit from the additional business coming your way!
Generally, affiliate marketing comes in several flavors. The first option is to outsource the service. A service provider runs the software from its own website and offers affiliate marketing as a service to you. In the second option, the provider sells you its affiliate marketing software outright and typically installs the software for you on your Web server.
Maros Fric is the owner of Quality Unit (www.qualityunit.com), maker of Post Affiliate Pro software ($99). He advises that most small businesses, such as personal training studios, should choose the second option and have the affiliate marketing software installed on their own Web servers (i.e., have it installed on the server that hosts your website).
“When you buy the software outright and bring the program in-house, there’s no one between you and your affiliate,” says Fric. “You build partnerships, and your partners work for you. Your company is the one making all the decisions regarding your affiliate marketing program. And there’s no monthly maintenance fee to pay to a hosting company.”
Fric’s Post Affiliate Pro software program, which is in its third update, has received good marks for its high level of sophistication, ease of use and ongoing upgrade policy. One reason for Post Affiliate Pro’s high rating is the software’s staying power: it’s been around for a while, and its makers are dedicated to continually making improvements.
Wilson recommends that buyers of any brand of marketing affiliate software should be careful to verify the software maker’s update record. Otherwise, you could get stuck with a program that becomes obsolete in a year or two.
If you’d rather go with the alternative option of outsourcing your affiliate marketing, be prepared to pay monthly service fees and to promise a small cut of each sale to the service provider.
The advantage of outsourcing is that the service provider will handle virtually all the work, including tracking and monitoring who is sending paying customers to your site, and making sure sites that refer verified sales (new clients) to your own site are paid.
For the smallest of businesses looking for this kind of outsourcing option, Wilson recommends using an online service provider such as ClickBank (www.clickbank.com).
Bigger operations looking for more robust applications would do well to look at service providers like Commission Junction (www.cj.com); LinkShare (www.linkshare.com); and TradeDoubler (www.tradedoubler.com). “Typically, these vendors charge several thousand dollars [as a] set-up fee, plus a “network access fee,” according to Wilson. “Then the merchant typically pays to the network vendor 25%–30% of the commission paid to affiliates.”
A third type of online service provider, which Wilson calls a “hybrid,” offers a little of everything. Hybrid service providers, such as My Affiliate Program (www.myaffiliateprogram.com), offer online affiliate marketing tools and a standard network of sites interested in adding links to businesses such as your own. Unlike providers who operate on a per-commission fee, hybrids charge you a flat, monthly fee to access their network of affiliate sites looking to link to websites like yours. “Typically, these networks are smaller than the commission-based companies, because their networks are newer,” Wilson says.
Wilson recommends that the affiliate marketing solution you choose should offer the following features:
Basic Web Interface. Any affiliate marketing solution should offer a customized Web page that your referral sites can use to sign up for your program. You’ll also want a password-protected section on the site, where referral sites can easily create links to your site imbued with their unique IDs. And you’ll want a password-protected area where you can perform the day-to-day administration of your affiliate marketing program.
Flexibility. If you’re looking to get creative with your program, you’ll want a way to offer various commission structures to different referral sites, based on both the performance of those sites and your business relationship with each site.
PayPal™-Friendly Service. Since many referral sites prefer to receive your payments in their PayPal accounts (www. paypal.com), you’ll want a means that enables you to easily and automatically pay these sites via PayPal each month.
Ability for Search Engines to “See” Referral Links to Your Site. Your website will rank higher on search engines, such as Google (www.google.com), if you ensure that your affiliate marketing software can be programmed to “show” all those links leading to your site. (Generally, the more links a search engine sees leading to a particular site, the higher that site is rated.) Your website designer should know how to verify that your referral links are “visible” to the search engines.
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Personal fitness trainers who are considering adding affiliate marketing to their online arsenal have several options available to them.
Option 1: Outsourcing. You enlist the aid of a service provider, who runs affiliate marketing software from its own website and simply provides the marketing as a service to your training business. The advantage is that outsourcing to a provider means you don’t have to oversee the program; the disadvantage is that you pay the provider a monthly service fee, along with a small cut of each sale.
Option 2: Internalizing. The software provider sells you its affiliate marketing program outright and typically installs it on your own Web server. This option is recommended for smaller businesses, such as personal training and body-mind studios. The advantages are that you can control the site yourself and there is no monthly fee to a hosting company. The disadvantage is that someone in your company must be tasked with overseeing the operation.
Option 3: Hybrid. In the third option, a “hybrid” provider offers online tools and a network that links to your own site. The advantage is that unlike option 1, which works on a per-commission fee paid to the provider, you pay the hybrid a flat monthly fee. The disadvantage is that the network of affiliates will be smaller than what a commission-based provider can offer.
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