At its core, affiliate marketing is an online referral program where merchants pay commissions to publishers on sales generated by customers they’ve referred. The merchant can be an online retailer like eBay, or a service provider. Individuals and companies referring the traffic are called publishers, or affiliates, who publish content on the web promoting the merchant’s offerings. Customers are the people that click on the promoted content and make a purchase or complete a specified action. Payment is typically in the form of commission, but sometimes merchants offer a flat rate for a specific action, or a bonus for a type of visitor. EPN offers both commissions and bonuses.
Websites and services based on Web 2.0 concepts—blogging and interactive online communities, for example—have impacted the affiliate marketing world as well. These platforms allow improved communication between merchants and affiliates. Web 2.0 platforms have also opened affiliate marketing channels to personal bloggers, writers, and independent website owners. Contextual ads allow publishers with lower levels of web traffic to place affiliate ads on websites.
Affiliates discussed the issues in Internet forums and began to organize their efforts. They believed that the best way to address the problem was to discourage merchants from advertising via adware. Merchants that were either indifferent to or supportive of adware were exposed by affiliates, thus damaging those merchants' reputations and tarnishing their affiliate marketing efforts. Many affiliates either terminated the use of such merchants or switched to a competitor's affiliate program. Eventually, affiliate networks were also forced by merchants and affiliates to take a stand and ban certain adware publishers from their network. The result was Code of Conduct by Commission Junction/beFree and Performics, LinkShare's Anti-Predatory Advertising Addendum, and ShareASale's complete ban of software applications as a medium for affiliates to promote advertiser offers. Regardless of the progress made, adware continues to be an issue, as demonstrated by the class action lawsuit against ValueClick and its daughter company Commission Junction filed on April 20, 2007.
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An aspect of internet marketing that is rarely available with traditional marketing is the ability to measure and track results. With online marketing, your business can utilize varying tools for tracking results of your advertising campaigns. Using these tools, not only can you measure and track but also illustrate the progress of your marketing campaign in detailed graphics.
It is important for a firm to reach out to consumers and create a two-way communication model, as digital marketing allows consumers to give back feed back to the firm on a community based site or straight directly to the firm via email. Firms should seek this long term communication relationship by using multiple forms of channels and using promotional strategies related to their target consumer as well as word-of mouth marketing.
"News Feed Ads", also called "Sponsored Stories", "Boosted Posts", typically exist on social media platforms that offer a steady stream of information updates ("news feed") in regulated formats (i.e. in similar sized small boxes with a uniform style). Those advertisements are intertwined with non-promoted news that the users are reading through. Those advertisements can be of any content, such as promoting a website, a fan page, an app, or a product.
Affiliate marketing is commonly confused with referral marketing, as both forms of marketing use third parties to drive sales to the retailer. The two forms of marketing are differentiated, however, in how they drive sales, where affiliate marketing relies purely on financial motivations, while referral marketing relies more on trust and personal relationships.