Affiliate marketing is an Internet-based marketing practice in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought about by the affiliate's marketing efforts.
Affiliate marketing is also the name of the industry where a number of different types of companies and individuals are performing this form of Internet marketing, including affiliate networks, affiliate management companies, and in-house affiliate managers, specialized third party vendors, and various types of affiliates/publishers who promote the products and services of their partners.
Affiliate marketing overlaps with other Internet marketing methods to some degree, because affiliates often use regular advertising methods. Those methods include organic search engine optimization, paid search engine marketing, e-mail marketing, and in some sense display advertising. On the other hand, affiliates sometimes use less orthodox techniques, such as publishing reviews of products or services offered by a partner.Affiliate marketing—using one website to drive traffic to another—is a form of online marketing, which is frequently overlooked by advertisers. While search engines, e-mail, and website syndication capture much of the attention of online retailers, affiliate marketing carries a much lower profile. Still, affiliates continue to play a significant role in e-retailers' marketing strategies.
The concept of revenue sharing—paying commission for referred business—predates affiliate marketing and the Internet. The translation of the revenue share principles to mainstream e-commerce happened almost four years after the origination of the World Wide Web in November 1994.
The consensus of marketers and adult industry insiders is that Cybererotica was either the first or among the early innovators in affiliate marketing with a cost per click program.
During November 1994, CDNOW launched its BuyWeb program. With this program CDNOW was the first non-adult website to introduce the concept of an affiliate or associate program with its idea of click-through purchasing. CDNOW had the idea that music-oriented websites could review or list albums on their pages that their visitors may be interested in purchasing. These websites could also offer a link that would take the visitor directly to CDNOW to purchase the albums. The idea for remote purchasing originally arose because of conversations with music label Geffen Records in the fall of 1994. The management at Geffen wanted to sell its artists' CDs directly from its website, but did not want to implement this capability itself. Geffen asked CDNOW if it could design a program where CDNOW would handle the order fulfillment. Geffen realized that CDNOW could link directly from the artist on its website to Geffen's website, bypassing the CDNOW home page and going directly to an artist's music page.
Amazon.com (Amazon) launched its associate program in July 1996. Amazon associates could place banner or text links on their site for individual books, or link directly to the Amazon home page.
When visitors clicked from the associate's website through to Amazon and purchased a book, the associate received a commission. Amazon was not the first merchant to offer an affiliate program, but its program was the first to become widely-known and serve as a model for subsequent programs.In February 2000, Amazon announced that it had been granted a patent (6,029,141) on all the essential components of an affiliate program.
Affiliate management and program management outsourcing
Successful affiliate programs require significant work and maintenance. Having a successful affiliate program is more difficult than when such programs were just emerging. With the exception of some vertical markets, it is rare for an affiliate program to generate considerable revenue with poor management or no management (i.e., "auto-drive").
Uncontrolled affiliate programs did—and continue to do so today—aid rogue affiliates, who use spamming, trademark infringement, false advertising, "cookie cutting", typosquatting, and other unethical methods that have given affiliate marketing a negative reputation.
The increased number of Internet businesses and the increased number of people that trust the current technology enough to shop and do business online allows further maturation of affiliate marketing. The opportunity to generate a considerable amount of profit combined with a crowded marketplace filled with competitors of equal quality and size makes it more difficult for merchants to be noticed. In this environment, however, being noticed can yield greater rewards.
Recently, the Internet marketing industry has become more advanced. In some areas online media has been rising to the sophistication of offline media, in which advertising has been largely professional and competitive. There are significantly more requirements that merchants must meet to be successful, and those requirements are becoming too burdensome for the merchant to manage successfully in-house. An increasing number of merchants are seeking alternative options found in relatively new outsourced (affiliate) program management (OPM) companies, which are often founded by veteran affiliate managers and network program managers. OPM companies perform affiliate program management for the merchants as a service, similar to advertising agencies promoting a brand or product as done in offline marketing.
Types of affiliate websites
Affiliate websites are often categorized by merchants (i.e., advertisers) and affiliate networks. There are currently no industry-wide accepted standards for the categorization. The following types of websites are generic, yet are commonly understood and used by affiliate marketers.
- Search affiliates that utilize pay per click search engines to promote the advertisers' offers (i.e., search arbitrage)
- Comparison shopping websites and directories
- Loyalty websites, typically characterized by providing a reward system for purchases via points back, cash back, or charitable donations
- Coupon and rebate websites that focus on sales promotions
- Content and niche market websites, including product review sites
- Personal websites (This type of website was the reason for the birth of affiliate marketing; however, such websites are almost reduced to complete irrelevance compared to the other types of affiliate websites.)
- Weblogs and website syndication feeds
- E-mail list affiliates (i.e., owners of large opt-in -mail lists that typically employ e-mail drip marketing) and newsletter list affiliates, which are typically more content-heavy
- Registration path or co-registration affiliates who include offers from other merchants during the registration process on their own website
- Shopping directories that list merchants by categories without providing coupons, price comparisons, or other features based on information that changes frequently, thus requiring continual updates
- Cost per action networks (i.e., top-tier affiliates) that expose offers from the advertiser with which they are affiliated to their own network of affiliates
- Websites using adbars (e.g. Adsense) to display context-sensitive, highly-relevant ads for products on the site.