Affiliate marketing may very well be the most effective of all online marketing methods.

For those of you who do not know what affiliate marketing is, think of it as an automated marketing program in which a merchant pays an affiliate to display their ads, for the purpose of lead generation and/or sales.

The 4 parties involved in affiliate marketing include the merchant (advertiser/retailer), the affiliate (publisher), the network (system in place that handles payments and contains various offers for affiliates to choose from), and the customer. For example, Jerry\'s Photo Blog (affiliate) earns revenue through the affiliate marketing program Associates (network) by displaying Nikon camera ads (merchant) on the blog.

If you run a blog or e-commerce site, then affiliate marketing may be a great way to increase your revenue stream. If you\'re looking to run a successful affiliate marketing program to increase your own sales and reach, you should first be involved in a niche market (because being too generic and too widespread usually results in failure). In addition to locating niche affiliates who generate enough relevant traffic to be beneficial for your business, you must also constantly be on the lookout for new, appropriate affiliates. The game just keeps on changin'.

No matter which of these situations you are in, there are some basic things you should know about affiliate marketing before getting started. Payment plans and the current leaders in the affiliate program field are good places to start.

3 of the most common affiliate marketing plans are pay-per-click, pay-per-lead and pay-per-sale.

  • Pay-per-click: each time visitors click a text link, banner ad, graphic etc. on the affiliate\'s website leading them to the merchant\'s website, the affiliate receives a fee.
  • Pay-per-lead: each time visitors click a text link, banner ad, graphic etc. on the affiliate\'s website, a form pops up to be completed and sent to the merchant (this can be an opt-in for downloads, trial offers, email newsletters or the like). The affiliate is paid for each completed form.
  • Pay-per-sale: affiliates receive a revenue share of each completed sale stemming from the text link, banner ad, graphic etc. on the affiliate's website.

Currently, the major players in the field of affiliate marketing are Associates, Commission Junction, LinkShare, ShareASale, eBay Partner Network and Clickbank to name a few. Payout rates vary widely within all of these programs, and each one is set up differently. However, the main idea of all of them is to connect merchants and affiliates by offering literally thousands of products as well as large and small businesses and brands in one database of opportunity.

For online publishers with product-related content seeking a more hands-off approach, or for those living in a state with an affiliate nexus tax, 2 other options are Skimlinks and VigLink (these companies offer services for merchants, too). They make it easy by instantly converting product and merchant links in users\' content for them. Publishers must first apply for these programs, but upon being accepted and installing the program, the process of making money is quite simple and straightforward (publishers pay a cut to the service provider from any earned commissions).

As a newbie to affiliate marketing, it's best to look around and compare each of the above services. Finding the right one for your particular situation really depends on what it is you're hoping to gain from affiliate marketing, and keep in mind the process of signing up for and maintaining multiple programs to really maximize your earning or sales potential can become very time consuming. Don't think you can just sign up and watch the money roll in, that would be too good to be true!

"Have a Pawsitively Tail Waggin' Good Day!"