Online Business Success

Working With Affiliate Programs

Sandy Tam - Thursday, May 15, 2014

Affiliate Programs enable you to promote your online businesses. After you create an Affiliate Program, you subscribe participants and send them a custom tracking link, which they can distribute via email and on their website to earn commissions.

Every time a visitor clicks the custom link, the system tracks the subsequent activity in the site's database. That way, you'll know which sales came from each participant, so that you can compensate them.

You have complete control over the commission you want to set for each order. The system accepts values from 1% to 100% of the sale that was generated based on a referral. And if you'd like, you can also choose to compensate participants when the visitors who click the custom link perform other activities, such as subscribing to a newsletter, submitting an inquiry in a form, or even just visiting your site (like pay per click). You set the terms and you can edit the message sent to participants explaining the commissions they will receive for promoting your site. 

Affiliate Programs are an effective marketing technique because they are based on a "pay for performance model", meaning that you do not incur marketing expenses unless actual results are realized. Some businesses find that inviting participants to Affiliate Programs help them grow their customer base and increase their earnings significantly. And participants enjoy earning commissions by featuring your site in their blog posts, newsletters and their websites, because it is an easy way for them to earn revenue as well.


Strategies for rewarding affiliates

The terms you set and the way you choose to compensate participants for referring visitors to your site is completely up to you. You also get to decide which actions taken by the visitor result in gaining commissions for participants.

When a visitor that uses the referral link to access the site performs the following actions, they are tracked in the database and listed in the performance reports:

If you work closely with another business in your industry, you might consider a duel Affiliate Program situation, to help promote each other's sites. By cross linking your sites, you can improve the search engine ranking and drive traffic to both businesses.


Note: Unlike display advertising, Affiliate Mrketing is not easily scalable.

To take advantage of Affiliate Programs and use them to drive potential customers to your site, follow these steps:

  1. Create an Affiliate Program (or have one created for you)
  2. Update the message that is sent by the system with the terms of the program
  3. Subscribe participants to your Affiliate Program 
  4. Send each affiliate their own unique tracking link for the Affiliate Program to distribute
  5. Run reports to see the performance of each participant and find out the commissions they've earned
  6. Compensate the participant by paying them their commissions

Every visitor that accesses your site is identified by a bit of unique code (a cookie that is placed on the visitor's browser). When the visitor clicks or pastes a custom Affiliate Program link and uses a browser to view your site, the participant is associated with that visitor's unique ID. The cookie used to store the unique ID has an expiration period of one year, and is renewed every time the visitor accesses the site.

This means as long as a visitor accesses the site at least once a year, the participant will continue to receive commissions whenever the visitor purchases products. If there is a one-year lapse (where the visitor doesn't access the site), then the connection to the participant of the Affiliate Program will be lost.

Creating an Affiliate Program

  1. Choose Ecommerce > Affiliate Program > Create a new Affiliate Program. 

  2. The Affiliate Program Details page appears. Enter the name for the Affiliate Program. In this example, the program is designed to promote a catalog that sells T-Shirts, so the Affiliate Program is named T-shirts and the home page of the catalog is set as the landing page. This is the page that will appear when visitors click the participant's link. 


    Note: The landing page can be any page in the site; you can set the site's home page as the Affiliate Program's landing page, if you prefer. To set the landing page, click the square icon to the right of the Landing Page field and browse to select  the page. 
  3. Enter the numeric value (in percentages) to set the commission in the Commission field. You can set the commission to a value between 1% and 100% (although you enter the decimal value, so .01 is equal to 1% and 1 is equal to 100%). In the screenshot above, .2 is the commission set, which is equal to 20%. That means if the referral purchases a t-shirt for $10, the affiliate participant makes a $2.00 commission. This field is optional, if you prefer to reward participants on a flat fee basis. 
  4. Click Save.

Customizing the system message that is sent to participants with the terms of the program

Follow these steps to customize the email with the affiliate program details:

  1. Choose Admin > Customize System Emails. 

  2. In the page that appears, click the item named Affiliate Program Details. 

  3. The System Email Details page appears with the default message. Edit the subject and the main content of the message with the text you want to send to your invited participants, like the example shown below: 

  4. Use the Tag Insert menu to insert the custom link that is associated with the Affiliate Program you just created. For example, place your cursor in the Content pane at the desired location and then choose the first tag, {tag_affiliateprogram, XX} from the list. 

  5. Edit the code, updating the XX in the inserted tag to add the unique ID number of the Affiliate Program (such as 1553) to relate the custom tracking link to the specific Affiliate Program. 


    Note: To find the ID number of the Affiliate Program, choose  Ecommerce > Affiliate Program and then hover your cursor over the name of the Affiliate Program in the list. The unique ID number of the Affiliate Program is displayed at the end of the link in the browser's status bar, as shown below: 

  6. The HTML tab of the online editor enables you to see the code, so if you prefer you can also customize the appearance of the system message (as long as you keep the email format set as HTML in the menu at the top). 

  7. After updating the message, click Save to save your changes.

Subscribe participants to a Affiliate Program

  1. Choose Ecommerce > Affiliate Programs, and then select the name of the Affiliate Program from the list. 

  2. The Affiliate Program Details page appears. Click the Subscribers link in the sidebar to add a participant to the program. 

  3. A new window appears with an interface to invite participants. Enter their name and email address in the fields and click Subscribe. 


    Note: Use this form to manually invite participants--you cannot import the data via a spreadsheet into the system. 
  4. Make sure the option Email Details to User is selecting. After clicking Subscribe, the customized email you created in the previous section is sent to the email address you entered in the Quick Subscribe fields. 

    There's no guarantee that the participant you invite will choose to distribute the custom link you send them--so invite as many colleagues and acquaintances as possible to help spread the word about the online business.

 After subscribing participants, they will receive the email notification and distribute the custom link that was included in the message. Over time, visitors that received the link (either via email, newsletters, or by visiting the participant's site) will use it to access your website. Any activity is tracked in the system. In the next section, you'll learn how to track the performance of the referrals.

Run reports to see the performance of Affiliate Programs

Periodically, you or your client will log into the Admin Console to check the progress of referrals. Follow these steps to see their activity:

  1. Choose Ecommerce > Affiliate Programs, and then click on the name of the Affiliate Program from the list.
  2. The Affiliate Program Details page appears. Click the Reports and Performance link in the sidebar. 

  3. The Affiliate Program Performance window appears. Use the menus and date pickers to select the desired search parameters and then click the Filter button to see a report of the recent activity: 


  4. Using the Affiliate Program Performance window, you can sort by all affiliate participants, or choose a specific participant's name using the Affiliate menu to see the referrals generated by a specific participant. The top portion of the window displays data about referrals related to orders. These purchases use the commission values you set when you created the Affiliate Program to calculate the amount of commissions that are owed to the participant that distributed the link to your site. 
  5. If desired, you can click the Export Report button to export the details about orders that were generated by referrals. Click the desired document format (Excel or CSV) to generate a file that you can open in a spreadsheet software program, such as Microsoft Excel. 

    Notice that the top part of the window only lists the orders. These are the only activities that track the commissions based on the numeric value you set. The other activities are listed below; to pay out commissions on subscriptions to newsletters, submission of web forms and other visitor activities, you must manually track the actions, calculate the commissions owed to participants, and send them the resulting rewards on a periodic basis. The system does not track the rate of commission for these actions or the status of the payment for referrals.

Rewarding commissions to affiliate participants

Follow these steps to pay commissions:

  1. Choose Customers > Orders. The Orders page appears. 

  2. The orders that were purchased by visitors that clicked the link from an affiliates website display a commission that is owed to the affiliate participant. Click the View link next to one of the orders in the list to see its details. 

  3. The Order Details page appears. Click Commissions in the top navigation to see the commissions that were earned for this order. 

  4. Click the Make Commission Payments link in the top right corner. A payment form appears. 

  5. Since the commission is 20% of the total sale and this order was for $20.00, the commission payment is $4.00. Click the boxes to the right of each field to populate it. If desired, you can enter a note in the Payment Description field. 
  6. Click Make Payment. A confirmation message appears, indicating that the payment was applied. 

  7. To make another commission payment, click the option to View all orders in the sidebar. Return to the list of orders and select a different one from the list, and repeat steps 2-5. 


Note: There is no predetermined turnaround date for paying the participants their commissions. The schedule is completely up to you; you can pay participants after each referral order, once a week, once a month, or whenever it is convenient.

Analyzing overall performance of Affiliate Programs

To get the big picture of how the Affiliate Programs are promoting your site and generating referrals, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Reports > Summary. In the sidebar, expand the Visitors tab and choose Visits by Source from the options: 

  2. The main content of the page loads, displaying a graph and statistics about the number of referrals sent to your site by the Affiliate Programs. 

  3. Click the View link for the Affiliate row to see additional information. In the window that appears, use the menu in the top left corner to choose the duration of time to run the report. For example, you can choose to see the statistics for yesterday, the last week, the last month, the last 3 months, or the past year, by selecting the corresponding option. 

  4. Keep notes including the date you create new Affiliate Programs and when you subscribe new participants. Use the metrics provided by these reports to track trends and see how many new visitors your site gained through the Affiliates Program.

Affiliate Programs and non-seamless gateways

The only non-seamless payment gateway that Affiliate Programs currently support is PayPal Standard.

When using PayPal Standard, be sure to check if your PayPal account is configured to accept payments instantly or if it's set to the "Review Payments" mode. If your PayPal Standard account is set to the "Review Payments" mode, you'll need to manually accept the payments in your PayPal account in order to complete the process of recording the commission in your site's Affiliate Program.