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How to Set Up an Affiliate System within WordPress

on WordPress

Affiliate systems are pretty complex, and this necessitates an appropriately broad and advanced plugin to fully administer the functionality that is considered standard with any such program. Sadly, this means that most of the major plugins for enabling a WordPress affiliate program are paid plugins that place a premium on their advanced features and capabilities.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however. These WordPress affiliate program plugins do sometimes demand a fee, but they give users advanced features and guaranteed compatibility updates for life. That’s a significant benefit, especially because many of the free plugins contained at WordPress.org’s “Extend” gallery of plugins can cease active development at a moment’s notice. Users who are considering an affiliate program should acquaint themselves with the two major paths to enabling this functionality and bringing users into the fold. Both plugins are solid contenders for usage, with each have unique features and benefits that will benefit certain types of users.

Going the Free Route: Using the WordPress Affiliates Plugin from the WPMU Dev Team

It’s certainly true that most affiliate plugins for WordPress are offered on a pay-for-functionality model, but that’s not the case with the WordPress Affiliate Plugin created by WPMU Dev. The group is notorious for creating some of the most advanced and budget-friendly plugins available, and their affiliate offering is no exception to this rule. Indeed, its free price tag might almost undercut the fact that this plugin easily qualified as the most robust and advanced, in terms of features, of any affiliate plugin currently being offered to WordPress users.

It should be noted that the WordPress Affiliates Plugin cannot be installed from within the WordPress Dashboard by using the built-in plugin installation feature. The plugin is actually not a part of the official WordPress Extend development site, and thus cannot be found nor downloaded within the Dashboard. Instead, it must be obtained directory from WPMUDev.org, the development team’s official website. It will be transmitted as a zipped archive file, which must be unzipped and uploaded to the server with all of its subfolders and files contained within in the main “wordpress-affiliates-program” folder that will be revealed after the file is expanded.

The plugin will take a good deal of time to upload, as it’s a pretty big plugin with a number of folders and advanced features. Once it has finished uploading to the server via FTP, website administrators should navigate to the Dashboard’s plugin control panel and activate the new plugin for use. After this completes, an entirely new heading will appear in the Dashboard, named “WPMUDev.” Expanding this heading will reveal settings and preference pages for the WordPress Affiliates Plugin, and this is how the site’s new affiliate system will be setup and unleashed for public use.

To get the setup process started, WordPress site administrators should click on the resulting “Affiliates” link that lies below the “WPMUDev” heading in the WordPress Dashboard. That page will reveal four different panes for administration. These include:

  • Affiliate Reports
  • Manage Affiliates
  • Affiliate Settings
  • Manage Addons

Each page is essential to setting up the new affiliate program and monitoring its success. It’s also the key way to determine how much revenue an affiliate has generated, and how much income they have earned for themselves to be paid out by the website’s administrator. The “Affiliate Reports” page will make all of this information clear, as it will track revenue generated by affiliates as a group and individually; it will also list how much income has been earned, via referrals, for each affiliate. Traffic will be monitored here as it pertains to the website at large, and website administrators can monitor how much traffic each affiliate has brought to the website — even if those new readers have not purchased the site’s product or premium offering. These reports can all be exported directly from the control panel page to the administrator’s desktop as a static file. That file can be imported to databases and bookkeeping programs as required.

On the “Manage Affiliates” screen of the plugin, administrators will be treated to a more in-depth view of every single affiliate currently participating in the program. This is where new affiliates can be added to the program, while other ones can be deleted if they’re ineffective or simply no longer interested. The “Manage Affiliates” control panel page allows for the debiting of affiliate user accounts, if necessary, as well as crediting those accounts with a payment for referrals and signups based on their links to the website’s content or products. Advanced reports of an affiliate’s performance and earnings over time can also be accessed and exported within this page. This is probably the first area that a new affiliate program operator will navigate to, as it is the place to add new affiliates to the program and create the first referral links for the website.

In the “Affiliate Settings” area of the control panel, website administrators can describe the affiliate program itself, as well as include marketing copy about why the program is important and why the website’s products are worth the referral. The affiliate program can be named here, and promotional text or banners can be generated and included for use by the affiliates added within the “Manage Affiliates” control panel page.

Finally, the “Manage Addons” control panel page is the central location for bringing affiliate program features to other WPMUDev plugins. These add-ons can integrate the affiliate system with the WordPress Membership plugin, the WordPress Directory plugin, and the WordPress Supporter plugin. For those WordPress administrators who are heavily invested in the plugins and technologies promoted by WPMUDev, this is a great way to promote consistency and usability across the board, linking all of the plugins together through the affiliate system. This also enhances the amount of revenue that will likely be earned by the website, allowing the affiliate system to become truly prolific across the board.

Finally, the WordPress Affiliate System comes with an extensive amount of documentation that should be reviewed after the plugin has been activated. The documentation is contained within the plugin folder itself, and has extensive information about shortcodes and more advanced configurations for the plugin. Chief among these more advanced customizations is the ability to change or reset the cookie associated with the affiliate links, which are central to tracking traffic and rewarding it with a percentage of the profits earned by these referrals. A quick read will make it even easier to setup the plugin and optimize it for maximum earnings and minimal effort by the website’s administrators or marketing staff.

The WPMUDev team ships every download of its free WordPress Affiliates Plugin with a guarantee of lifetime updates and feature enhancements for every user. Given the prominence of WPMUDev in the development community at large, this promise is one that can likely be counted on — even as it is paired with a free plugin rather than a premium one.

Going the Premium Route with the WordPress Affiliate Platform Plugin

Tips and Tricks, another major WordPress development arm, has its own take on affiliate programs that differs just a but from the plugin promoted by WPMUDev. One of the biggest differentiators is that this plugin leaves behind the free price tag and instead charges a one-time fee of $49.95 for a plugin license. This fee will not be assessed again, even for plugin updates and major overhauls of functionality. All users of the plugin are guaranteed lifetime access to updates, upgrades, and feature enhancements, as well as any add-ons developed for this more premium WordPress plugin.

The plugin must be downloaded from the Tips and Tricks website, as it is also not included in the WordPress Extend gallery of plugins. Users will find that this plugin’s file size and structure is even bigger and more complex than that paired with the WPMUDev plugin mentioned earlier in this tutorial. That’s because there are a number of features included with this premium plugin that are appropriately more advanced.

Setup, however, is pretty basic. After activation has finished in the WordPress Dashboard, users will notice a “WordPress Affiliate Platform” heading in the Dashboard sidebar. Expanding this will reveal a whole host of settings which, after being customized, will lead to the immediate activation of the plugin. It can then be used by any affiliates to refer users and earn revenue for both themselves and the website.

Where the WordPress Affiliate Platform Plugin greatly differs from the WPMUDev version of this functionality is in its ability to create a self-managed portal for affiliate users. Instead of requiring the site’s administrator to manually add and delete affiliates from the system using the WordPress Dashboard, the plugin actually includes its own affiliate account management portal. Using usernames and passwords assigned or chosen when an affiliate is added, that affiliate can log in and access tools like promotional link codes or banners; they can enroll in the program or opt out at any time; they can view their earnings and request a pay-off of their accrued balance; and they can request a promotion to a higher level of affiliation.

That promotion, in and of itself, is a feature unique to the WordPress Affiliate Platform Plugin. Unlike the WPMUDev variant, this plugin actually promotes two tiers of affiliates within the program. Those in the “lower” tier actually earn a lower rate and, when they’ve referred enough users or earned enough money, they can request a promotion to a higher tier where earnings are greater per-click and per purchase. This can also be made to happen automatically by the website’s administrator during the setup process of the plugin within the WordPress Dashboard.

The WordPress Affiliate Platform Plugin also integrates fully with most shopping cart solutions offered independently of WordPress. It can integrate with WordPress-specific shopping cart plugins and solutions as well, and can also integrate with the WordPress eStore. That’s a significant amount of extra functionality that simply cannot be found with the free WPMUDev plugin and, for larger sites, its a purchase that simply makes sense. The convenience and extensive integration offered by this plugin are second to none, making it worthy of its premium status and price tag.

A Great Way to Enhance Website Traffic and Generate Substantial Revenue

Marketing budgets can be a pretty big burden on businesses or websites of any size. Luckily, those budgets can actually be minimized by using an affiliate program within WordPress. Other users will do the promotional work on behalf of the website and, while they’re paid to perform this task, their fee is much lower than paying a marketing professional to perform the same service. And, unlike a marketing professional, users who engage in an affiliate program will be motivated to sell for their own reasons. The promise of regular earnings and unlimited potential will ensure that promotional links are consistently and smartly placed, and the website’s content or products are sold regularly and with increasing frequency. That’s a good deal for website owners — even those who choose a premium plugin to get the job done.