Affiliate programs are one of the oldest methods used to monetize web sites, and promote online product sales. By offering a commission, site owners are baited into linking to and promoting a product. This practice has a lot of good and bad implications. However, we’re not going to talk about that today. No, today we are going to discuss why affiliate programs don’t work.
There are two types of personalities, when it comes to buying things. There are impulse buyers, and those who debate whether or not they should purchase something before they do (I fall into the latter group). Affiliate programs are designed with impulse buyers in mind. The goal is to turn a user on one website into a customer on another.
Consider scenario #1: A user on Example.com is reading through a blog’s archives, and finds a review of a book on PHP. After reading the review, she follows the affiliate link to Amazon, where she noted that it’s only $20, instead of the $40 it would cost at the local Barnes and Noble. An impulse buyer would just add the book to the virtual shopping cart, and surf off somewhere else. But this user just writes down the title of the book, along with the price. She doesn’t actually buy the book until three days have passed, and the 24-hour cookie from Amazon has expired, costing Example.com the commission on the book. The moral of this story? Don’t expect people to buy the product right away.
Scenario #2: An amateur photographer is trying to find the lowest price for a digital camera. He types the make and model into Google, and is greeted with the first ten results. He checks the top three results, and discovers that the top result has the lowest price. He buys is directly from there. How did that online retailer get to be the top result on Google? All the suckers who linked to them, hoping to make a few dollars off their affiliate deal, helped them to the top. For a real-life example, try Google-ing a few book titles. How many times does Amazon come-up?
Affiliate programs can work, but they often don’t. They only really work if the referred user buys the product fairly quick, which not everyone does. Whether you’ll have decent results depends largely on your user base, and the nature of the product. If you’re referring people to a service like Text-Link-Ads, then you may see better results than if you’re trying to persuade people to buy an expensive product like a computer or camcorder. Expense is a big factor in whether someone will complete the action required for your referral.