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Customer acquisition has always been and continues to be one of the greatest challenges facing any business of any size in practically any industry. It can be very difficult to target just the right people and it can be even more difficult to commit them to a sale. This is equally true with e-commerce sites as it is with more traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.

One tool that online businesses can have at their disposal that offline businesses cannot is the incredible power of affiliate marketing. This is easily one of the most effective strategies that an e-commerce site can take to increase traffic and to generate sales, being amazingly effective both in terms of cost and performance. Of course, not all affiliate programs are made alike. Merchants must not only make their programs enticing to affiliates, but they must also configure them such that affiliates have the greatest chance at success. After all, when the affiliates succeed, so does the e-commerce site.

Here are six critical points that any e-commerce site should keep in mind when designing and launching an affiliate program.

1. Leverage the Network – Running your own affiliate program in isolation has its significant disadvantages. You will only reach potential affiliates who already know about your company and its products, reducing the number of top-tier affiliates who will want to promote what you have to offer. It also means that you will have greater administration costs in order to setup, run and maintain the program.

It is far more prudent to run the affiliate program through an established affiliate network. This grants access to an existing base of affiliates, many of whom may not even know of your existence if it were not for the affiliate program in the network. Use this to your advantage!

2. Design Banners in Multiple Sizes – Affiliates are human beings and, as such, they will oftentimes look toward the path of least resistance. Let’s say that they already have a website that fits perfectly with the niche of your e-commerce site and they have a fantastic 728×90 leaderboard spot above the fold. However, you chose to only offer banners as a 160×600 skyscraper. If that were the case, this great affiliate might pass by your offer and program entirely.To attract the greatest number and the best affiliates, you need to provide them with the creative material to best promote your products and services. Offer banners in as many of the standard sizes as possible and try to offer multiple designs in each size too. This helps to overcome ad blindness and it can help affiliates find the design that best suits their promotional needs.

3. Offer an Enticing Commission Structure – There will always be arguments as to whether you should offer a flat rate for the commission or if you should offer a percentage of the sale. Whatever path you choose, make sure that the commission rate is high enough that affiliates will be encouraged to sign up and promote your products and services. Set the rate too low and they’ll figure that your program isn’t worth their time and effort.

This isn’t to say that you should sell yourself short, but you also have to realize that taking a proportionately smaller slice of a much larger pie will always be in your best interest.

4. Keep Motivating Your Affiliates – As with so many other things in business, affiliate marketing isn’t going to be a “set it and forget it” kind of affair. While you may generate a surge in interest when you first launch your affiliate program, you must work to ensure this level of interest does not wane over time.

Many affiliate networks send out periodic newsletters to its affiliates. That’s a great opportunity to reach out to new and existing affiliates to tell them why they should be promoting your e-commerce site. It’s also a great chance to run a promotion to reward top-performing affiliates, giving that much needed incentive for them to work harder for your mutual success and benefit.

Do you run an affiliate program for your e-commerce site? Tell us about your experience by leaving a comment below.