Disclosure: Our company is an Amazon.com Associate and uses the Amazon API. The links to Associate Engine are affiliate links, and we may earn commission if you buy after following one of these links.
Somebody asked today about Amazon’s APIs and how this fits into their affiliate program, so I thought I would write a little note about the topic, and explain what it is all about.
First of all, I need to summarize I need to explain what Amazon’s affiliate program is: Basically it’s a way for other websites to earn money by promoting sales of Amazon products. The websites place special hyperlinks to Amazon on their pages, and Amazon pays a commission based whenever visitors click on these links and subsequently buy a product from Amazon. Amazon provide a ton of different linking options, such as text links, graphic links, aStores (which are like a frameable Amazon mini-store website), etc.
Amazon refer to their affiliate program as the “Amazon Associate Program”, and just so you know, there are different versions of the Amazon Associate Program for each of the Amazon sites: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, Amazon.de, etc. Our company, Answers 2000 Limited, currently participates only in the Amazon.com Associate program.
The other thing I need to explain is what an API: API stands for “Application Programming Interface”, and in this context what it means, is a way in which Amazon provide services which can be utilized by other websites and software programs. Amazon provide a ton of different APIs for all sorts of “cloud services” - which websites can use for pretty much any purpose. Some of the APIs are free to use, but many have fees associated with them. To be honest, with one exception (which I’ll come to a minute), I haven’t really explored them.
One of the APIs that Amazon provides (and is free to use) is API for getting data for Amazon Associate advertising. The idea is that a script can be installed on a website that downloads latest product descriptions and details from Amazon and display’s them on the associate’s website. That way product details and pricing are always up to date, and new products, etc. can be made to appear automatically on the associate’s website when Amazon adds them to their inventory. You should note that this is much more powerful that the aStore option - since a script can select products based on any criteria you choose, display information in your template on your own domain (not a framed page of Amazon’s site), and integrate with other features you might have on your website, etc.
Amazon provides full documentation on their APIs, so if you have the skill and inclination, you can write your own scripts for your site(s). This is what we did, especially since we had some unusual requirements, but it was a non-trivial exercise. Our script is about 3,000 lines of fairly dense programming code.
If you don’t want to write your own Amazon Associate script, then there are some off-the-shelf scripts you can buy, for example, Associate Engine. Buying an off-the-shelf script, means that you can be up and running quickly, even if you don’t have programming skills. And while it true that buying an off-the-shelf script may not give you every last ounce of flexibility that is offered as compared to programming your own, the best scripts (such as Associate Engine) do include configuration options covering all the common requirements (and many less common requirements too).
Finally one final little niggle that I will mention when buying or using an off-the-shelf script: In order to use Amazon’s APIs, you need to get a Developer Key (it’s like an alphanumeric password) from Amazon. Don’t worry it’s free! However you do need to keep it secret once you have it. The purpose of the key is exactly like a password - it only allows authorized users and websites to access Amazon’s API services. The reason you need to key it secret is that if somebody else uses your Developer Key they could in theory run-up chargeable services in your name!