Affiliate Program: Driving Web Traffic Home

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For almost two years, the Affiliate Program has been successful on the national level, with currently close to 500 affiliations made up of a mix of authors, political organizations, and businesses. Now, the number of independent bookstores that are initiating their own affiliate programs through their Web sites is rapidly growing. A major reason for the burgeoning numbers is simple, according to Meg Smith, business development and marketing manager. "It's a great marketing tool," she summed up.

Sample Affiliate Link Graphic

Affiliate programs involve associates linking their products to another Web site for fulfillment. In exchange, the associates receive a percentage of the sales that result from this link. This is a common business practice among e-commerce retailers, both big and small. "Affiliate programs are a great way to drive traffic to a Web site," Smith said, and she noted that approximately five percent of sales originate with affiliates. Due to the success of the national affiliate program, created user-friendly tools allowing stores to easily create their own store affiliate program. (A how-to list is provided at the end of this article).

One bookstore that initiated a successful affiliate program is Village Books in Bellingham, Washington, owned by Chuck and Dee Robinson. Village Books started its affiliate program early in 2002, said Chuck Robinson. "We believe that one of the ways to get customers and customer loyalty is through recommendations from other customers," Robinson explained. "It makes sense to extend that to the Web and build traffic to our site. It seemed to be a good way to broaden our reach."

To start, Robinson said that he identified the most likely affiliate candidates, including local authors and organizations. He then sent them e-mails asking if they would like to join, explaining the program and how easy it is do. "We solicited people we had some sort of relationship with in the past," he said. "Those were the ones we felt were very likely [affiliate prospects]."

A few businesses signed up right away after the e-mailing, Robinson said, but, of course, some did not respond and some requested more information. "Some took a while, but then it started to build," he explained. "Most people have a lot going on, and we were very direct. We told them that they'd receive a commission, but there was little likelihood of generating great profits through the program."

Thus far, Village Books has signed up 21 associates, including the Whatcom Literary Council (Bellingham is in Whatcom County), the local North Cascades Audubon Society, the Whatcom Land Trust, as well as a bed and breakfast, and a hardware store. "The Audubon Society has been fairly successful," he said. "They set up reviews of birding books and cross-linked them to our site. It's been helpful to both of us. The Land Trust wrote a book, Whatcom Places, with regional photos and essays, and linked it to our site. We've sent their book to a number of places around the country."

Robinson noted that, while the affiliate program has yet to increase sales significantly, it has made the store just under $1,000 since its inception in early 2002. Of the 21 affiliates, only approximately one-third have brought a sale to the Village Books Web site, he said. But he stressed that the affiliate program brings more to the table than sales -- it broadens the Village Books' site's visibility locally and nationally. "For instance, the Land Trust sales were sales we never would have seen because they came from outside the area," he said.

Robinson said the technology that offers members to start affiliate programs is very easy to use. Once you enable your affiliate program from the administration page, the program automatically places a link on your homepage that allows businesses to sign on as an affiliate. Who becomes your affiliate is up to you.

Robinson keeps the criteria for being an affiliate fairly broad, he explained. "They just can't be in conflict with what we do," he said. "They can't be selling illegal things. When people sign up to be an affiliate, we check out their Web site."

How to Start Your Own Affiliate Program

For those stores who wish to start their own affiliate program, the steps are simple:

  1. Log onto your administration page.
  2. In the left tool bar, click on 'Edit Affiliate Settings.'
  3. On that page, you will see that your affiliates setting are disabled. DON'T CHANGE IT JUST YET! Click on 'Edit Affiliate FAQ' and edit as you see fit (making sure to place your store name where appropriate); then click on 'Edit Contract' and edit the contract -- making sure that you add your store name where appropriate. You may also decide on what percent of sales to pay affiliates while in the 'Edit Contract' page.
  4. NOW you can click on 'Enable.' This will place a 'Become an Affiliate' link in the left-hand corner of your homepage. When someone clicks on this link they are directed to the FAQ and Contract page.

It's up to the customer to accept the agreement and submit it to you. Once it's submitted, it will show up on your administration page. There, you can accept or decline the offer. If you accept, you will be asked to give the affiliate an 'Affiliate ID' of your creation.

That's it. will track the sales information, which you will be able to access at any time. And please note it is up to the bookstore to pay the affiliate according to the provisions in the contract.

For more information, call customer service at (800) 637-0037, ext. 1234 or e-mail [email protected].

--David Grogan