I've had several people ask me about Affiliate Links and why I use them when I link to my products from my website.  There seems to be some misunderstanding of what they are, and why they are of value, so I'll do my best to explain them in simple terms, both for my readers and for other authors.

First, in general, an Affiliate program is one where you—and you can mean anyone, not just authors—place special links on your website and direct traffic to an online retailer. If the person following that link buys a product, and not just the product from the link but any product, you get paid a very small commission.  When I say small, I mean very, very small... Less than sales tax in most cases.

There are people who make a living creating websites with nothing but Affiliate Links to Amazon or other retailers, so don't let this small fee fool you. Real money can be made through Affiliate Link commissions if you have the volume to do so.

Amazon's Affiliate program also will "remember" the fact that the user came to Amazon via your Affiliate Link by using a cookie. If that user comes back before the cookie expires and buys ANYTHING, you get a commission.

Though any additional revenue for a self-published author is welcome, that's not why we use Affiliate Links.

Affiliate Links allow us to track where sales came from.

That can be very important to the marketing effort for any business, and the self-published author—who also has to wear the marketing hat in the company—can benefit greatly from this information.

I'll use Amazon as an example, but similar programs are available from iTunes, Kobo & Barnes & Noble (through Linkshare), and SmashWords. Google used to have one but they dropped it. CreateSpace has one through Commission Junction. There are probably others that are interesting as well, but I'm going to focus on Amazon, since that is where the majority of self-published authors sell their books today.

Just about anyone with a website, and that includes a Facebook page or Twitter account, can open up an Associates Account at Amazon.  They have lots of rules and restrictions, but they seem to accept a wide range of people for accounts.

Once you have your account, they will assign you something they call a Tracking ID. Mine is triasage-20. When I log into my Associates account on Amazon, there are several options to create links to products, some of which are:  

  • You can browse the Amazon store and simply create a link by clicking a button in the Site Stripe, which gets added to the top of every page in your browser once you are an Associate.
  • You can search for a product within the Associates system and generate a link
  • You can create links with fancy images, banners, carousel's for your website
  • You can simply grab a link that you will use yourself in your own HTML
  • They also have a SHARE function that will automatically post a link on your Facebook page or in your Twitter account

If I take one of my books as an example, I will use their link maker to search for my book's ASIN.

My direct book link at Amazon looks like this:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00WS5648M

When I search for my product, they give me some simple results as options. One of them is simply Get a Link, and my Affiliate Link looks like this:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=as_li_qf_sp_sr_il_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&index=aps&keywords=B00WS5648M&linkCode=as2&tag=triasage-20&linkId=ZX6SKZASFXLU2FCD

In that same link display, I have the option of a shortened link using their own link shortener, and I will use that instead. My shortened Affiliate Link for the same product looks like this:

http://amzn.to/1HB5M08

If I wanted a banner instead, I could take a more complex option that lets me format a banner in several different styles, colors and sizes, and then gives me the code to cut and paste into my website for these fancy banners.

As I have my own website design, and all I really want is the link, I stick with the simple, shortened link above. Clicking that link will take you to my product page on Amazon.

Now why do I use the Affiliate Link instead of the direct link?  Because Amazon will track how many people access my product page by using my Affiliate Link, and whether or not they bought the book.

Wow! That is great!  Oh yeah, and if they do buy my book, remember I also get a small commission. Woo Hoo!  That's great right?  But it's not all.

Remember that Tracking ID?  Mine was triasage-20 if you recall. Any link that I use that contains that Tracking ID will be tracked. If I only have links in one place on my website, then that's fine. I know where the link came from.

What if I want to track those Twitter posts that the Share option on my Associates page will generate?  How will I know if any of those Tweets resulted in sales of my book, or even visits to my book page, or if they were a total waste of time? If all my Affiliate Link tracking is under the same Tracking ID, it all gets blurred together.

Amazon has an answer for that as well. There is a link in the top left corner next to your current Tracking ID that says simply manage.  This lets you create additional Tracking IDs, and you can use those with ads you have in different locations.  I have one for my Twitter tweets that I call tritweet-20, and one for my Facebook page called trifb-20, and another one for a free book link from my mailing list signup called trimail-20. I think you get the message.

I'm sure there is a limit to how many of these you can have, but it's large enough that you can get a great deal of data about who is buying your books from websites or pages that you control by using specific Target IDs.

Notice that I did NOT say you can get information from ads you place online—on Facebook, using Google Adwords, or even through your email list.  The Amazon Operation Agreement—their Terms of Service—prohibit you from using Affiliate Links directly in any of these ways.  Read it, and weep...

It would be great if you could run an ad on Facebook, and include an Affiliate Link that identified exactly which ad sent the person to your book page, and whether or not they bought the book.  If you do this, you are in violation of the TOS and if they catch you, you will lose any Affiliate revenue you earned, lose your Associates account, and be banned forever.

The same is true if you try to fool them by sending the link in your ad through an automatic redirect on your website to the Affiliate Link at Amazon. Though they may not catch you, it's directly against the TOS and you risk banning for life.

Oh... and the same is true if you include an Affiliate Link in your Email blasts and send them out to your mailing list.

Yes, all of this sucks!

Yes, other people do this and get away with it.

You as an author need to decide if the risk is worth it, as they do catch people, they do ban them, and they take these violations very seriously when they do.

"But So-and-So sends Affiliate Links in their Daily Email selling books!"  You scream at your keyboard.

Yes they do. Some company's have special deals with Amazon that allow for them to violate the General Associates Operating Agreement in specific ways. Unless you are large enough to have 1.5 million names on your email list, and generate tens of thousands of sales at Amazon every single day, don't expect them to give you the same deal.

All is not lost in tracking the source of sales from your ads however.  You can easily create a squeeze page on your website where you send people who click the link in your advertisement running on Facebook or through Adwords, and from there—where you really get a chance to sell the reader on your book—you can send them to Amazon through an Affiliate Link and track your success.

iTunes does not have this restriction in their TOS for ads, so you can send people directly to your book page using their campaign tag - similar to a Tracking ID - and know where they came from. The Linkshare links are also not restricted in this way, so you have options there that you don't have with Amazon.

In short, the Affiliate programs can help you to track where your sales come from in greater detail than you have without them, though there are rules that need to be followed, or educated risks taken, in the use of these links.

As a fellow author, I highly recommend that you take advantage of this information today, as information is the key to any successful marketing effort. As self-published authors, we are all responsible for marketing our books as well, and can use all the help we can get in understanding what works, and what doesn't when it comes to selling our books.

 

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