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Selling From Your Site Without a Store

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Marketing falls into two general categories:

  • An Online Store which you have some control over... but depend on another business to service and
  • Banner ads which drive traffic from your site to a destination site, which pays you a percentage of the sale for your trouble.

The commonality of both sites is that while you receive a commission on the sales, you don't actively manage the back end (stocking, shipping, transactions) of the sale.

Amazon.com is the granddaddy of the affiliate marketers, but today there are literally hundreds, no thousands, of companies who are happy to let you market their products... and will even pay you a percentage of the sale if you are successful. Want to sell logowear from your site? CafePress.com allows you to use your own graphics to create "print on demand" products. A link from your site to theirs and you're in business.

What do you look for in an Online Store relationship? Longevity would be high on my list. Have they been around a while and are they producing products your customers might like to buy? Building an Amazon.com store has always been a nice addition to any site. You can build a bookstore around your site's specific topic, or branch off and add books which interest you. CafePress.com is popular with non-profits because it is an easy way to raise funds, and promote the cause. There are other "store in a box" outfits online, but I would caution you against entering into a relationship without giving thought to the nature of those stores. A generic store which sells a bit of everything and will customize the store with your logo sounds, at first blush, like a grand idea. But it is unlikely you'll sell anything.

Banner Ad Sales

Now, you probably don't want your site awash in flashing, spinning, collapsing, banner ads. Not only is it tacky, but it is so annoying it is unlikely anyone will visit you more than once. But affiliate marketing can turn a "brochure" site into an "e-commerce" site at someone else's expense. At the same time, you are providing your customers with something they really want. A banner ad sale can be as obvious as the banner at the top of this page, which encourages you to use the affiliate marketing service cj.com, or as unobtrusive as the banner ads running down the side of the chicken pages from the Farm at Morrison Corner. This page was put up because the farm had so many requests for more information on raising a small flock, they couldn't process them all. Note the link to "Lehman's" at the side of the page. The Farm will get a modest percent of any sale made through that link, but more importantly from the Farm's point of view, they don't have to stock, ship, or have anything to do with, the merchandise. They can direct viewers, who would otherwise be emailing them to ask "where can I buy...?" directly to a source where they can buy, greatly simplifying their life.

Despite what they'd have you believe on the affiliate marketing sites, you're not going to get rich as an affiliate marketer unless your site has an awful lot of traffic... or you have a large circle of family and friends you can convince to shop only through your links. The Lehman's link on the chicken pages has yielded $10 in commissions over 2002. But that's $10 more than nothing would have yielded, and it spared the site's manager from endless emails requesting vendor information.

One of the larger affiliate programs with a wide variety of merchants and an astonishing array of products is "Commission Junction." Sign Up is free, and although the commissions seem negligible, you can build a gift shop within your site... and never have to pack a box or meet a shipping deadline. To sell products and services from your site, sign up with Commission Junction.

A Faux Store

Ebay offers a new service which will create a custom linked box, or banner, for your site. You can use this banner to display only your auctions, or auctions of goods which dovetail with your site. So, for example, WoolandFeathers.com has a series of pages on raising sheep. We can create a custom search for sheep related tools on ebay, and drop that search right onto our page, like so:

To take advantage of this, you need to have an account with Ebay and an account with Commission Junction. You can either sell on ebay with these links directly off your own site... or "sell" other people's auctions.

Affiliate marketing gives you the opportunity to add value to your site which sets you apart from your competitors. A small inn with a gift shop filled with Vermont picture books and maple syrup is more memorable than one which offers little more than pictures of rooms.

Be creative, use your imagination, and build yourself a little store.

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