Build Traffic with Incentives

One of the best ways to bring customers to your site is to give a percentage of sales to other sites that link to you.

For example, if your site sells products for show dogs, you can ask show dog related sites to link to you, and offer them 10% of any sales that come through that link. You'll find that they go out of their way to send visitors to you, and that those visitors will probably spend more per capita than visitors you get from search engines.

Leaders like Amazon.Com have used this technique with great results. It works for small merchants too, if they have the tools. And as a Viaweb merchant, you have the tools.

With Viaweb's new Link Tracker, you can assign a special code to each site that links to yours. Then both you and the referring site can track how many visitors, and how many sales, came from that link.

You decide how big a percentage to give, and whether to pay in cash or merchandise. You can make different deals with different sites. Whatever deal you make, Viaweb's Link Tracker makes it easy for you to administer, and also gives the referring site confidence that they will get the cut they're entitled to.

Step one is to build a list of sites that you want to get links from. There are two ways to do that: by finding them, and by having them find you. You should do both.

To find the sites you want links from, put yourself in your customer's place. If you were your customer, where would you be? For example, if you are selling products related to show dogs, search for "show dog" in all the search engines. Add those sites to your list, then follow the links within them to find others. Then send emails to the webmasters of the sites you like, saying something like:
We liked your show dog (or whatever) site. We run an online store selling products for show dogs. If you add a link to our site, we will pay you (or give you credit for) x% of any sales that come through that link during the next year. We'll give you a unique code to use in links to our site, and also a special URL at Viaweb where you can check the number of visits and sales you have sent to us. Since Viaweb is a neutral party, you'll know you can trust the numbers. Let us know if you're interested. Thanks for your time.
You should also encourage related sites to approach you. Put a link on your front page saying something like "Link to us and get a cut", and have it lead to a page saying, for example:
You may be able to get x% of any sales that come from linking to our site. Send mail to x including your URL, and if we choose you as one of our partner sites, we will pay you (or give you a credit for) up to x% of any sales you refer to us. We'll give you a unique code to use in links to our site, and also a special URL at Viaweb where you can check the number of visits and sales you have sent to us. Since Viaweb is a neutral party, you'll know you can trust the numbers. Interested? Send mail to X.
Don't offer a cut to everyone. Check each site first, and only get links from the ones you like.

Be sure to specify some time limit on the agreement. You may want to renegotiate the percentage when you renew it, or even not renew, if they don't send you a significant amount of traffic.

You may want to ask in advance how many page views the referring site gets, so that you don't waste time getting links from sites with no traffic.

Once you've agreed to give a cut to a number of sites, you should create trackable links for each of them.
  1. Log into the Manager, and click on Create Links, under Promotion.

  2. Enter the name (for example, Omar's Poodle Site) of one of the sites in the box and click on Create. The name doesn't have to be exact. It is just to help you identify the link.

  3. You'll see a page with two URLs on it. The first is the URL that Omar's Poodle Site should use as a link to you. The second is a URL that they can use to track visits and sales through that link.

  4. Send mail to Omar's Poodle Site saying something like:

    Thanks for agreeing to link to our site. Here is the URL you should use to link to us (first URL), and here is another that you can use to track visits and sales from your site (second URL). The numbers are updated daily. We look forward to working with you.
Once you've established trackable links, you will be able to see a summary of traffic and sales from them by logging into the Manager and clicking on Track Links, under Promotion.

Should you pay referring sites in cash or give them a merchandise credit? Giving a merchandise credit is obviously less expensive for you. On the other hand, referring sites may work harder to promote you for cash - especially after they receive the first check.

If the referring site is a business, you should probably offer cash. What is a company going to do with merchandise? But for links from personal sites, it may be enough to offer merchandise. Experiment, and see what works best.

How big a cut should you give? We think you should give quite a big one, at least 10%, and maybe as much as 20%.

Right now, online commerce is in its growth phase. Smart merchants are working to increase their traffic, not to squeeze every penny out of the traffic they have. So anything you can do to increase your customer base is a good investment.

Even if you give such a large cut that you make no profit on the first order, it could be a smart move. A customer who has ordered from you should come back and order again. And when they come back they will probably come back directly to you. A repeat customer can generate many orders, but you will probably only have to pay the percentage the first time.

If you're not sure, experiment. Try giving different percentages to different partners, and see what number makes them really work hard to send traffic to you.

How often should you pay? Quarterly, or twice yearly, might be better than monthly. The amount of traffic will vary a lot between sites, and if you pay too often, you may waste time writing a lot of checks for small amounts.

Notice: This page is only intended to suggest some general ideas about arrangements you might make to promote your site. It is not complete legal advice about the matter (it would probably be much longer and more boring if it were), and Viaweb will not be liable for any damages that result from following the suggestions outlined here. Consult your lawyer before entering into an agreement with anyone.

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