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Terms and Definitions of Online Affiliate Partnerships, Online Referral Marketing and Multi Tier Affiliate Glossary

Affiliate terms, online promotion and marketing terminology described. Explaining standard affiliate terms and meanings, affiliate glossary.
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Key terms explained. This and any other affiliate program related web sites handle specific affiliate terms and online marketing terminology that might not be too familiar to you at first. Use this page as a frequent resource to look up unfamiliar affiliate and online referral language.

Bookmark this page so you can find all explanations quickly. We want to build a useful dictionary for you so this area will grow with your feedback as well.


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Article originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles

Affiliate programs have truly grown over the last year and a half to become perhaps one of the Internet's premier business models. However, over this time, we've received many requests for assistance from visitors new to affiliate programs and their benefits, that aren't familiar with all of the concepts and terms involved. Naturally, this can make it difficult to properly evaluate the hundreds of programs out there and decide which are best for you.

I would like to cover some of the basics, and define some of the common terms that are used when discussing affiliate programs. For those of you new to affiliate programs this guide should help you quickly get up to speed on how affiliate programs can make an excellent, and profitable, addition to your web site. Here are some of the more common affiliate program terms you'll likely run in to, and their basic definitions:

Affiliate: An independent party that promotes the products or services of a merchant in exchange for a commission. Also an associate, partner, reseller, or referral partner. An affiliate is an independent organization or person, who is willing to promote a product or a service, in exchange for a commission should that product be purchased, or lead generated as a result of your online promotional efforts.

Another description of online affiliates: In Internet marketing, an affiliate is a person or company which sends visitors to a website in exchange for commissions.

Affiliates can earn commissions in three ways: per click, per sale and per lead. Pay-per-click programs have declined dramatically in numbers because of click fraud. Pay-per-sale and pay-per-lead programs are still very common.

These days, affiliate merchants or vendors the whole process easy for affiliates. You go to the vendor's site, type in your name and address, and wait for your website to be approved. In some cases, approval is automatic.

Each affiliate is given a unique link to paste into his or her website, so the vendor can track which affiliate is responsible for generating a sale.

Affiliate Programs: Used in a broad sense, an affiliate program is any type of revenue sharing program where an affiliate web site receives a portion of income for delivering sales, leads, or traffic to a merchant web site. In a narrow sense, affiliate programs are commonly considered those programs that use a pay- per-sale model like our own. Also termed associate, partner, referral, reseller, or sponsor programs.

An affiliate program isn't really a "program". It's a business arrangement. Affiliate programs are also known as associate programs, associates programs, referral programs and even bounty programs. For newcomers to Internet marketing they provide an excellent opportunity – a way to earn money without producing your own product. Most affiliate programs are free to join.

How it might work: Let's say you love golf, so you create a website in which you recommend the golf books, magazines, videos and golfing gear you use and love.

The merchants selling those products provide you with affiliate links which you paste into your site. When visitors click on those links and buy those products, you earn a commission.

Some affiliates earn pocket money. A few make millions of dollars.

Autoresponder: An e-mailing or newsletter system that automatically delivers pre-created messages to your users. For example the autoresponder system can send out information for new subscribers the day they subscribe, after their 5th day, their 21st day and so on. Find a list of great multi-tier-affiliate autoresponder systems here.

Merchant: A company that has set up an affiliate program and has agreed to share a commission with affiliates who promote their web site, products and/or services. Also termed an advertiser, vendor, or simply referred to as an "affiliate program."
A merchant is an organization or individual who sells a product or service, and accepts orders and payment for those orders. Merchants pay commissions to affiliates for sales generated through their online promotional efforts.

Multi-Tier Affiliate Commission: The income you receive for generating a sale, lead or click-through to a merchant's web site. Sometimes called a referral fee, a finder's fee or a bounty.

Pay-Per-Sale: A program where you receive a commission for each sale of a product or service that you refer to a merchant's web site. Pay-per-sale programs usually offer the highest commissions and the lowest conversion ratio. Also referred to as Cost-per- Action (CPA for short) and generically as an Affiliate Program.

Pay-Per-Lead: A program where you receive a commission for each sales lead that you generate for a merchant web site. Examples would include completed surveys, contest or sweepstakes entries, downloaded software demos, or free trials. Pay-per-lead generally offers midrange commissions and midrange to high conversion ratios (since visitor purchases are not required for you to be able to earn a commission). Like pay-per-sale, pay-per-lead is also referred to as a Cost-per-Action or CPA for short.

Pay-Per-Click: A program where you receive a commission for each click (visitor) you refer to a merchant's web site. Pay-per-click programs generally offer some of the lowest commissions (from $0.01 to $0.25 per click), and a very high conversion ratio since visitors need only click on a link to earn you a commission.

Pay-Per-Impression: A program where you receive a commission each time that a merchant's ad or link is displayed on your site. Pay- per-impression generally offers the lowest commissions, but a nearly 100% conversion ratio since a visitor merely has to view the ad to earn you a commission -- and this often results in the highest earnings potential. Pay-per-impression programs are generally measured in CPMs (see below) and form the standard of banner advertising for larger web sites.

Conversion Ratio: The ratio of visitors from your site that are "converted" into a sale, lead or click, and go on to earn the you a commission. A conversion ratio of 5% would mean that for every 100 visitors to your site, 5 would click-through, complete an action and earn you a commission. Many factors will influence the conversion ratio, including how targeted the affiliate program's products are to your visitor's interests, the price and value of the products being promoted, the merchant's ability to track all sales, and the overall effectiveness of the merchant's web site.

Click-Through Ratio: The percentage of visitors who click-through on a link to visit the merchant's web site. Higher click-through's are preferable although not always a great measure of success. Pay-per-click earnings are highly dependent on the click-through ratios. Click-through ratios can often be improved through a variety of means: by making links more visible to visitors, adding personal comments or testimonials about the product, or even reducing the number of links a visitor can follow.

CPA: CPA is short for "cost per action".

An affiliate merchant or advertiser pays an affiliate a commission each time someone clicks on a link on the affiliate's website, goes to the merchant's site and takes a particular action.

That action could be buying a product, signing up for a newsletter or requesting information via a form.

"Cost per action" describes what's happening from the merchant's point of view.

"Pay for performance" and "pay per sale" are other ways of describing similar arrangements.

CPC: CPC stands for "cost per click".

The CPC is the amount an advertiser pays each time someone clicks on the advertiser's ad.

CPC programs, or CPC affiliate programs, also known as PPC (pay-per-click) programs, pay the affiliate or the owner of the web site a certain amount per click for displaying ads.

Several years ago, ClickTrade was a popular advertising network which provided a large number of CPC programs. It was bought by Microsoft and then abandoned, most likely because of the huge problems involved in combating rampant fraud.

CPA (cost per action) programs are less susceptible to fraud.

You can still find some CPC programs, for example Cash Clicking and Clicks Matrix.

CPM: The practice of calculating a cost per 1000 ad displays. It is used by programs that pay on an impression basis -- with the CPM rate being the amount you earn for every 1000 times an advertisement is displayed. For example, a $5 CPM means you earn $5 every time 1000 ads are displayed on your site. CPM can also be calculated for pay-per-sale, pay-per-lead and pay-per-click programs by using this formula:

Amount earned / (number of impressions/1000)

Calculating the CPM of affiliate programs can be an effective means of comparing the results over time from various programs -- allowing you to put more emphasis on the strong programs, and dropping the poorly performing programs.

Two-tier Multi-Tier Affiliate Commission: Two-tier, or multi-tier, refers to the practice of a merchant paying commissions to both the affiliate that referred a sale, lead or click, and the affiliate that referred that affiliate to the program. A descendent of network marketing, two-tier programs are generally quite legitimate and offer the merchant an effective means to promote their affiliate program quickly. However, be wary of any programs that try to charge startup or membership fees to join. These programs should be avoided, as there are hundreds of others that do not charge to become an affiliate. Some are simply pyramid schemes in disguise.

Residual Multi-Tier Affiliate Commission: Residual commissions refer to programs that provide affiliates the ability to earn an income, month after month, for referring a sale to a merchant. They are usually those that offer some type of service for which the customer is charged an ongoing subscription fee. Examples include web hosting, tele- communications, and ecommerce solutions. They offer an effective benefit to affiliates since the affiliate can earn income for an extended period, perhaps even years, from a single sale.

Tracking Method: Tracking refers to the way that a program tracks referred sales, leads or clicks. The most common are by using a unique web address (URL) for each affiliate, or by embedding an affiliate ID number into the link that is processed by the merchant's software. Some programs also use cookies for tracking.

Cookies: Cookies are small files stored on the visitor's computer which record information that is of interest to the merchant site. Despite concerns that some people have, cookies are in no way dangerous -- and can not be used to steal names, email addresses, phone or credit card numbers. With affiliate programs, cookies have two primary functions: to keep track of what a customer purchases, and to track which affiliate was responsible for generating the sale (and is due a commission).

Be especially wary of programs that only use cookies since they have many inherent limitations: the user can turn them off, they expire after a certain date or time, and they can be deleted off the visitor's computer. Most programs use either unique URLs or affiliate ID numbers in conjunction with cookies to track properly. Cookies can then be used to give the affiliate credit at a later time of purchase, even if the visitor returns to the merchant's site as opposed to the affiliate's unique URL.

Banner Networks: A whole bunch of networks have popped up to better facilitate the pay-per-click concept. Most pay-per-click programs are part of a network where the network acts as middle- man between the actual advertisers and the affiliates which run the ads. And for this service, the network takes a percentage of the overall revenues.

Multi Level Marketing, MLM: Multilevel Marketing is selling products by using independent distributors or dropshipment partners and allowing these distributors to build and manage their own sales force by recruiting, motivating, supplying, and training others to sell products. The distributors' compensation includes their own sales and a percentage of the sales of their sales group (down line).

Third-party Administrators: Similar to banner networks, an increasing number of companies have sprouted up to help merchants facilitate their affiliate programs. Most act as consultants and software providers to merchants, and thus allow them to cost- effectively outsource their affiliate program operations. For affiliates, the networks often offer simplified registration, standardized commission tracking and reporting, and even consolidated commission payments. Some leading third-party affiliate program administrators include:

   Commission Junction

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Quotes for success by top notch online and offline marketers

"If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful."
Jeff Bezos,

"Google actually relies on our users to help with our marketing. We have a very high percentage of our users who often tell others about our search engine."
Sergey Brin,

"A market is never saturated with a good product, but it is very quickly saturated with a bad one."
Henry Ford

"A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets."
Steve Jobs,

"Next to doing the right thing, the most important thing is to let people know you are doing the right thing."
John D. Rockefeller

Most popular multi level online partnership programs

Affiliate Marketing - A description by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

An affiliate network is composed of a group of merchants and a group of affiliates. Merchants join the network and affiliates join the network in order to advertise the merchant products in exchange of a commission from the merchant. Affiliate networks present some great advantages for the merchant and the affiliate. The merchant gets potential access to a wide networks of affiliates. The affiliate does not necessarily need to make a certain sale amount for one particular merchant but rather for the entire range of merchants before getting paid.

The affiliate also puts more trust in a network rather than a merchants independent affiliate program. The merchants pay the overall commission to the network. The network then distributes the money to each affiliate who made the sale.

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