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Network providers such as LinkShare also provide technical support to top-producing affiliates in the form of dynamic rich imaging. Such tools allows affiliates to dedicate a space on their site to a particular merchant, so that updated information and images are fed live from the merchant’s database every time the page is uploaded. “We provide technology that makes that happen,” says Messer. “But it may not be available to everyone. It depends on the merchant and on how we classify the affiliate. We have affiliates in our top 10 that don’t get any of these services because we don’t believe it will be of value to them.”
Top-producing affiliates also get the benefit of the network provider’s broad view of the market and its players. A competitive assessment by the network could reveal that a merchant is paying a lower percentage to affiliates than its peers, leading to a recommendation for a commission adjustment to spur higher sales. Educational forums and conferences that offer networking opportunities with merchants are other benefits extended by networks to elite affiliates in the hope they’ll spark connections that will drive even better performance.
While the extra level of network service earned by top affiliates puts them in an elite club, affiliates ultimately are deemed valuable to merchants-or not-by the results they drive. Thus, even the newest affiliate is potentially a future big producer, so it receives the basic support needed to start down that road as soon as it signs on with a network provider. To reach that higher plane, however, the affiliates must look first not to those tools, but to their standing with their own visitors as the basis for any traffic or sales they hope to drive at the sites of merchant partners.
Affiliate sites today span huge variety, going far beyond content and community sites to include cause related and charity sites, shopping comparison and shopping aggregator sites, discount and rebate sites, loyalty and reward sites, sweepstakes sites, and more. All have different purposes that attract visitors to their sites, and their success in compelling that traffic is the first rung on the ladder to being a top-producing affiliate. “Some of our affiliates have built such powerful communities that people prefer to shop through that site,” says Henger. “Then there are tech-oriented sites where people gather to share information on the latest equipment or gizmo; when offers are presented in that context, they get a big response. If you want to be a successful affiliate you need a clear strategy on how you will build and cultivate your audience.”