Affiliate programs are pretty simple in concept, but a lot of behind-the-scenes work is necessary to make them work properly. In order for the affiliates to be compensated, someone needs to keep track of the actual activity surrounding the affiliate's link to the merchant site.
Depending on the arrangement, someone might need to determine:
- the number of people who click on the merchant site's link on an affiliate site
- the number of people who end up buying something or performing some other predetermined action once the affiliate sends them to the merchant site.
- the number of people who see the merchant site's banner link on an affiliate site
Someone also has to keep track of the original arrangement between the merchant and the affiliate and make sure the affiliate receives whatever money is owed to them.
It's a lot of work for merchant Web sites to actively recruit affiliates, and for affiliates to search for affiliate programs they are interested in. Nonetheless, many companies, such as Amazon.com, deal with their affiliates directly because the administration is well worth their time. Even though they take full control over the process, and so determine themselves what they owe, these companies can attract a lot of affiliates because their offer has no real risk or cost: All an affiliate webmaster has to do is put the link up and hope the checks come rolling in. For a lot of Web sites, however, all the work of recruiting affiliates or merchant Web sites is just too time consuming. And a lot of webmasters would rather not rely on the merchant site to tally their own bill correctly!
As we'll see in the next section, affiliate program networks offer an excellent solution to these problems.