In the few days since AffiliateRecruiters.com went live but was still unpublicized, Be Free's program signed up 1,000 affiliate recruiters, including search engines, ISPs, and the new category of "affiliate professionals." That includes sites like Get Sponsors.com, 4Your$ite, and SiteExperts.com, which advise Webmasters and other site managers of ways to improve their Web sites.
"It's been a tremendous win so far, and it shows the power and benefits of this technology," said Craig Palli, Be Free's manager of affiliate outreach.
In an affiliate program, a Web merchant recruits other sites to sell the retailer's goods and services, with the affiliate collecting a percentage of sales. Often affiliates are specialty content sites that recommend books, for example, that can be purchased at BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com, with the recommending site collecting a share of the purchase price.
Merchants support affiliate programs because they reduce their costs of acquiring a new customer--in Be Free's previous recruitment efforts, it was spending $25 per new affiliate, compared to its $2 bounty under the new program.
With 1,000 affiliates on board already, Palli expects Be Free to sign up at least 5,000 new affiliates for its customers, which include BarnesandNoble.com, American Greetings, Staples, and Value America. That means paying an average of $10 per recruiting site or $10,000 overall, compared to $125,000 to sign up 5,000 affiliates using Be Free's earlier methods.
But analyst Ken Cassar of Jupiter Communications worries that affiliate programs focus too much on signing up big numbers of affiliates rather than concentrating on quality affiliates that generate strong sales for a merchant.
"Vendors of affiliate programs and merchants are too focused on mass rather than quality," said Cassar, whose research for a December report on the affiliate phenomenon found that the top 15 percent of affiliates drive 85 percent of total sales.
Nonetheless, affiliates are a popular marketing tool for Web merchants. Be Free, which runs affiliate programs for its customers, has grown from 50,000 affiliates in October to 940,000 today.