Building an Incentive Loyalty Site

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Incentive or Loyalty sites reward users in points for visiting sites, completing offers, shopping online, or reading emails which can then be exchanged for gift cards or cash. Your computer will be your link between you and your users and sponsors. You may not need to be in front of your computer every minute of every day, but you will be able to work from almost anywhere, at any time, and when it fits into your life. Your site will be available to users around the world and around the clock, it’s always open and always earning!

NAME YOUR SITE. The name of the site is most likely also the URL (domain) or web address; www.yoursitename.com. Decide what you would like to call your site then check with a domain name registrar to ensure that the name is available. The more unique your site’s name, the less likely a user will end up on a different site whose name is similar to yours. Try to keep the domain name simple, yet in relation to what your reward site represents. If there is a similar-type site with a similar name, change yours or you may end up sending all of your members to a competitor’s site. Once you have decided on a name and it is available, use a domain name registrar and purchase the domain name.

HOSTING.  Now that your site has a name and URL, you need to have it viewable on the World Wide Web.  Publish your website using a host. Hosting your site using your own server and internet connection can be costly and time-consuming; it is much easier to use a web host service. A web host will not only host your site, database, and email, but will also monitor the server and perform any essential operations to ensure that your site stays up and running 24 hours a day.  Most web hosts offer a variety of hosting packages depending on your site’s needs. Web hosts will also allow you to register your domain on a DNS (Domain Name Server) which tells the World Wide Web just where your site is located.  Use a host who supports your website coding, database (and keeps it secured from hackers), and email client using your site’s domain name. Many sponsors do not partner with sites that do not have a top-level domain name or use a sub folder on another site (I.E. companyname.com/yoursite). Do not use free email sites for your site contact information, they are not very professional.

WEBSITE DESIGN.  When designing your website, create pages that flow and are easy for users to find the information that they need.  A user who cannot easily find the way to join or earn on your site will become frustrated and leave without ever earning one single point.  Your code will also need to “talk” to a database. While HTML is very basic coding, it does not pull information from a database. You will need to design your pages in a language such as Microsoft ASP (Active Server Pages), PHP, or ColdFusion. Each of these languages will allow information to be recorded or removed from the database and display it on the user’s page. It is very important to code the site so that is accurately records the user’s information without allowing the site to be hacked and provide that information to scam artists. Code the site to track a user’s activity. This is usually done by appending a piece of code to a sponsor’s links which attaches your user’s id. The sponsor link will then capture user id and report it back so you can award your user.

DATABASE.  Databases store your user information and tracks activity. Common databases are Microsoft Access or SQL, MySQL, or Oracle. Each uses tables to store information which can then be accessed by your website pages for display on your user’s computer. It is imperative that you secure your database to keep confidential information about your users away from prying eyes. There are many programs out there that will allow you to view and access your databases and many hosting companies offer a way to view your database right from your hosting control panel.

SPONSORSHIP. Links come from sponsors or partners. Sponsors are found via affiliate marketing networks or by joining a sponsor’s affiliate program. Your site earns a commission each time a user performs an action or shops through the sponsor links on your site.  Sponsors provide links and tracking reports.  It is up to you to append your sponsor links with your code to ensure your site captures user activity.

EMAIL.  Now that your site is published to the ‘Net, you need to let potential users know that it is out there. You can submit your site to search engines or just start talking about it to other people. Once you have users on your site, you will need to be able to communicate with them. The easiest way is via email. Include the site contact email on the site or set up a page to allow users to contact you by linking the email address or submitting a form that mails information directly to your email account. Respond to all user requests as promptly as possible and provide them with the information they seek. Email is your main form of communication between you and your sponsors who need to be able to contact you as well as send you information about their campaigns and links.

REWARDS.  Your users will be your best advertisers, so be sure to take care of them and give them the tools they need to get the word out. Allow users to refer others to the site and reward them for doing so. Award in points as many sponsors will not allow you to use their links if you offer a cash incentive. Be sure that you disclose to sponsors that you are an incentive site, how you award incentives and make sure you have a sponsor’s permission to use their links on your site. Users who have earned enough points to redeem for a reward on your site should be able to choose from a variety of rewards. Gift cards and cash are the most popular choices. It is very important to get rewards out to your users as quickly as possible.

MAKE IT STICKY.  Email newsletters or send paid emails to help keep your users interested. Daily clicks or trivia questions that award points will keep users coming back to your site each day. Online shopping is a good way to ensure users will use your site for their online purchases if they are awarded points per dollar spent for doing so. Calculate what you earn in commission from each sponsor then award an amount back to your users in points for using your site to shop rather than going directly to the sponsor’s page. There are a variety of affiliate program that host sponsor links for you to use on your site. Be sure to promptly award a user’s points who complete activities on your site.

LEGAL. Be sure to include a Terms of Service and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) pages on your site. Include pages for Privacy and Contact as well. Keep track of all of your site’s earnings and what you spend to keep it operational. You will need to file this information with your taxes each year.

* Be truthful to your members about what your site and its sponsors represent. Providing false information may lead your site to being dropped by its sponsors. * Include user id tracking in your links, this helps identify which member completed an action.
* Reward your members promptly; this makes for a happy member who will most likely recommend your site to others.
* Compensate your members in points or some other form of non-cash value system.
! To deter cheating, be sure to include some kind of duplicate submission verification or disallow multiple accounts.
! Remember, your site is an incentive site; you will need to disclose this to your sponsors and get permission to run their campaigns.
! Refrain from offering cash incentives. Use points or tokens; many sponsors do not allow cash to be offered as an incentive to use its links.

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