Affiliate marketing is one of those things that sounds like a dream come true for anyone wanting to make money on the internet. You don’t have to do any real work other than try to convince people to go to somebody else’s website and buy something. The merchant, who is, in essence, “hiring” you to send visitors to his or her website, really does all the work.

When someone goes to the merchant’s website through your affiliate link and buys something, you get paid an affiliate “commission” by the person or company who is handling all of the details of actually providing the product or service. It sound’s like a great deal. But there’s more to making affiliate marketing work if you want to make any real money.

The concept behind affiliate marketing is not something new. It precedes the internet and has been around in one form or another for quite some time. Any commission salesman has been doing pretty much the same thing, with the exception that the affiliate marketer is not exclusive to any one merchant … or to any one product line, for that matter.

As an affiliate marketer, you can literally market anything as long as you are accepted by the merchant to be one of their affiliates. Some merchants are more picky than others. Some require you to go through a lengthy application process while others just want a name and email address.

Affiliate marketing is really a “win-win” situation for both the merchant and the affiliate. The merchants are merely expanding their sales force for free by enrolling more affiliates. Their only real investment is providing affiliate “links” that can be tracked to the affiliate responsible for sending them the visitor. Some affiliates, as mentioned earlier, go the extra step by providing banners, replicated websites or other affiliate tools to help the affiliate market their wares.

The affiliate benefits from not having to provide any of the nuts and bolts of operating the business. All that he or she has to do is send visitors to the merchant’s website and collect commission checks (or Paypal deposits) for any sales that are made. It’s up to the merchant to deal with the real work of stocking inventory, delivering the product or service and any customer service.

Affiliate marketing has grown quickly since it was introduced to the internet. Like the California Gold Rush in the 1800s, affiliate marketing has people from all over the world rushing by the thousands to join the affiliate marketing frenzy. And also like the California Gold Rush, most of the real money that has been made has been by those selling the tools more than those who have struck it rich mining the hills of affiliate marketing.

Not to say that you won’t make money as an affiliate marketer. Most have made “some” money, but, in reality, most have spent more on their “tools” than they’ve made through their affiliate links. A simple P&L statement (“profit and loss”) would reveal an embarrassing bent toward the expenditure column.

Most affiliate marketing programs are free to join. Some of the major players in the field are Clickbank, Commission Junction and Share-a-Sale, although there are literally thousands to choose from. Many, including the ones mentioned above, are affiliate networks that act as a go-between for the merchant and the affiliate. They handle the tracking and commission payments for the merchant in exchange for a percentage of the transaction.

The key to succeeding with affiliate marketing is generating quality, targeted traffic. Most affiliate programs will drop you like a hot potato if you are ever found guilty of “spamming.” In general, a “shotgun” approach to marketing is not only dangerous, it’s a waste of everybody’s time.

Think “boutique” instead of Wal-Mart or a mall. People who make purchases on the internet are typically looking for something very specific. The more targeted and specific you can be, the better your chances of finding the right person for the right product.

Regardless of what you may have heard, you must advertise in some form or fashion if you want to be successful. But be careful here. Pay-per-click advertising, such as Adwords, can quickly get out of hand if you’re not careful. Make sure you set a budget and stick with it.

Avoid the “send-your-email-to-one-million-people” types of offers. You might as well flush your money down the commode and wait for your sink to fill up with cash. They’re worthless.

The best approach is to build a targeted “boutique” website or blog and fill it with valuable content. Find something that you are interested in and focus on that. If you like fast cars, focus on a specific model. A website on “mustang convertibles” is much better than “fast cars.” If you like birds, build a website or blog on “hummingbirds” instead of just “birds.”

Whatever your topic, there are thousands of ways to “monetize” your site through affiliate programs. Open an account with Commission Junction or one of the other affiliate networks and browse through what they have to offer.

You should also try to start a newsletter or offer a free report so that you can begin your own “list” of potential buyers. Having your own mailing list will help you to build trust over time and, eventually, to make a more affiliate sales.

Affiliate marketing really is a fantastic way to make money on the internet. Avoid the pitfalls and stay focused. With very little investment, and in some cases none, affiliate marketing can be a quick and easy way to make money on the internet.

Tim Wright, Ph.D. is a freelance writer and busy internet entrepreneur living in Virginia.
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