Archive for March, 2005

Competing in an Affiliate World

How many affiliate marketers are too many?

Conventional wisdom says that no solid product, eBook or service, will lack for new customers. With the right pitch and the right price point, you can pretty much sell anything. But what happens if you and I, and the person next door, and hundreds of other people are all trying to sell the same product, will we run out buyers?

For any single individual product, maybe. If nothing else, even the best eBook is going to be outdated at some point. But the most successful affiliate marketers don’t stick to one product. Whether or not you are selling your own product, the resell rights, or just pitching someone else’s eBook, the best diversify their portfolio so that no one single product makes or break their profit potential.

Still, I think it is fair to say that it is not easy competing in the affiliate world. It is our own fault really; affiliates have long perpetuated the myth that affiliate marketing is easy money. That customers come and buy and there are no returns and little fraud - and all you have to do is just start and you will be successful. That very notion was the reason I got into the affiliate game.

Maybe at one time, it was easier to compete, but now there is some very real competition that you have to contend with to be a successful affiliate.

Pay Per Click Advertising

Even if you know what you’re doing, beating the competition in pay per click advertising is a gamble and a lot of work. You have to identify highly targeted keywords. You have to write ad text that compels your prospective customers to click with the intent to buy. Then you have to have a landing page that either converts sales, or collects e-mail addresses - and if you are promoting someone else’s product, you have no control over that at all (except not to promote it.) And then you have to position your ad with a pay per click advertising program so prospective customers can find it.

That is a lot of factors, without even addressing the costs of advertising and your competition. Beating your competition in pay per click advertising means pricing yourself over the top of them, bidding on obscure keywords - which for practical purposes, there is no such thing anymore - or promoting a niche product targeting a specific interest group which may very well mean a limited demand.

Website Marketing

A lot of people, rather than promote others’ products directly, send everyone to their own website and promote from there, or through autoresponders. This is deceptively simple idea. There is no competition because the site is wholly yours, and you can saturate the page with advertising.

The problem, of course, two fold. One problem is generating traffic to your site. If you do it organically, it can take months to be at the top of search engines, and you have to continually add new content. And though the current model rewards you for inbound links from other highly ranked sites, gaining any is rarely a fluid process. The upside is that your costs are limited to purchasing the domain and paying for hosting. The downside is that you may never see a single targeted visitor for weeks while other established marketers are selling the same product that whole time. And furthermore, you always have to be thinking about what you are offering your visitors that is both unique and persuasive to buy.

The other problem is web users are banner blind, and banner blockers are as common as pop-up blockers now. There are programs that will wholesale block any ad script from loading in a user’s browser, which effectively means 90% of your advertising is for nothing.

One of the unfortunate trends that doesn’t make competing by having your own website any easier is the prevalence of websites that aggregate content. You promote your presence on ezine or other article submission sites, and a website aggregator picks up the first paragraph and targets the ezine article, not your own homepage. Not only are these aggregators not really effectively promoting your article, they are not linking back to your webpage. Furthermore, their own sites are just garbage because there is no original content and not even full length articles. So you are competing not just with legitimate websites but also with aggregator sites.

Product Development

Can you develop your own product that is a truly unique offering? It is simple enough to copy the gist of another eBook and just call it your own, but people are pretty skeptical about the quality of eBooks. And the last thing that will endear you to your affiliates (and for that matter, Clickbank) is to have a product that produces a lot of returns.

On the other hand, developing a quality product requires that you have an area of specialization, whether in a niche market or a broader market, and some intangible benefit to distinguish your product from the rest. Well, if that’s all it takes, right?

Fortunately, even with the competition, there is success out their for affiliate marketers. It’s not easy money, and there are a lot of people trying to do the exact same thing you are. But even for all the obstacles, just know that your success or failure won’t hinge on what the competition is doing.

The Myth of Cloaking Affiliate Links

One of the things I untaught myself quickly was the fear of stolen affiliate links. If you decide to cloak your affiliate links, do it for the right reasons. Do not purchase a product that will cloak links for you (you can do it yourself just as easily with only basic html knowledge) and whatever you do, do not cloak your links because…

…Other affiliates will steal your links
Yes, a knowledgeable person who understands how affiliate links are structured could replace your affiliate id with their own in the website address and “steal” your affiliate sale. The problem with this reasoning is that if they belong to the same affiliate program that you do, they can just create the link with their own affiliate id and purchase the product from that url anyway. There is no reason they have to steal anything.

But maybe more to the point: most affiliates don’t buy affiliate products.

The one circumstance where that might not be true is when an affiliate is ready to sell a new product. Then, that affiliate would buy the product once in order to be fully educated on the product’s features. But even in that case, the affiliate salesman is still buying it from their own link, not yours.

…Casual customers remove the affiliate link
Listen, the casual customer knows nothing about the world of affiliate sales. They don’t care one way or another who pays whom as long the product addresses their needs and is within their cost considerations. Not in a million years are they going to remove part of the url, not because they are maliciously “stealing” your sale and not out of ignorance either.

…because Affiliate links are too long
Web surfers are used to lengthy and incomprehensible web addresses. Users will think nothing of it at all.

That said, one reason you would cloak your link is because Google Adwords does not allow competition between identical display urls. So if you are promoting a product through Adwords that other people are promoting, your options are:

1.) Bid higher than your competition - inadvisable unless you know you can make a solid profit over and above your advertising costs

2.) Make up your display url and hope Adwords doesn’t notice - Adwords will disapprove an ad for reason of “Inaccurate Display URL” if they don’t like the one you list. But more often than not, a creative but otherwise closely associated url will pass their review process.

3.) Purchase a domain - When you purchase a unique domain name for your affiliate product, within the forwarding process, you can cloak the original url with your affiliate id using very simple javascript. (see resources) And some registries will forward and mask the url for you at no additional cost.

If you choose to cloak your affiliate links, make sure you do it for the right reasons. Precaution is fine, just don’t give in to unreasonable fear that everyone is tampering with your affiliate links.

The Good and Bad of Monetization Options for Your Website

You have a website and you have heard the buzzword: monetization. Monetizing your site is simply hosting ads that you are paid for, either per click, per impression, or per sale. There are literally dozens of different options, and most of them are relatively straight forward to implement. All you have to do is decide which options are the most appropriate for your site. Whether you are starting from the beginning, or looking for a fresh concept, here are some options to consider:

Google Adsense

Adsense are content-based ads that run on your site in blocks. Google’s spiders read your site’s content and produce ads on related topics (as much as possible). You specify the size, shape and quantity of ads in blocks.

Pros: Implementation is no harder than designing your site to begin with, and ad blocks are fully customizable to fit your page layout. Adsense is pay per click so you get paid whether or not your visitor buys anything from the advertiser. Google rarely turns a site down initially, which benefits new domains that have little to no traffic. Adsense has extensive tracking features to monitor performance and there are tons of resource books out there that will walk you through step by step optimization. Google handles your relationship with advertisers.

Cons: Google’s algorithm for determining your share of ad revenue is a mystery, and often seems arbitrary. Some key words pay higher commissions than others, but even then, it depends on a lot of factors that you have little control over. Therefore, some clicks are worth $1 or more, and some are worth a penny. And in most cases, you just never know. Web users are used to ignoring Google ads because they are so prevalent, and some browsers automatically block ad scripts from loading.

Peel Away Ads

Peel Away Ads sit in the very corner of your website and peel back when a user scrolls their mouse of the ad.

Pros: Simple script to implement, but you do need to be able to design the graphics. Because they sit in the top right corner of your webpage, they are never in the way of your content. You can easily host other ad space on your page.

Cons: Peel Away Ads are eye-catching, but there is no proof that they are any more effective than other ads.
Peel Away Ads is just a script, you still need something to advertise. You can sell your own product or establishing a relationship with an advertiser.

Commission Junction

Commission Junction is an affiliate program. You establish relationships with advertisers individually through CJ’s interface. Then, each advertiser provides block and text ads for you to host on your site.

Pros:High profile, brand name companies use CJ, so you benefit from their name recognition. CJ handles the relationship with the advertisers, and commission payments. Wide variety of product types to choose from, so you can easily pick things that are highly relevant to your site. You can easily encrypt most ads, and have them open in a new browser window, as well as append tracking codes to each sale.

Cons: Most commissions through CJ are paid when the customer takes action on the advertiser’s site. Which means, no sale, no commission. Commissions can be very low compared to other affiliate programs.

Clickbank

Clickbank works the same way as Commission Junction, except all the products sold through Clickbank are digital. And for the most part, you are advertising the product not the company.

Pros: High commissions, up to 75% It is just as easy to advertise someone else’s product as your own, giving you a full range of potential income. Tracking transactions is trouble-free.

Cons: You have to establish an individual relationship with every single publisher. A lot of publishers will offer banner ads, e-mail text, and keyword help to assist you in advertising their product, but it’s up to each individual advertiser to do so. There is almost no quality control on the products themselves, so unless you have purchased the product, the only way to know if a product is viable is to do some calculation against the $/sale.

Auction Ads

Auction Ads are hosted ads for eBay products.

Pros: If you have high conversions, you can take advantage of eBay’s bonus payouts. The ads, particularly the bigger blocks, can break up the monotony of your webpage. Commission payouts occur at the end of the month, so there is no delay in payment.

Cons: Auctions Ads interface isn’t great, but it gets the job done. Control over the products displayed on your webpage is limited, even when you use highly targeted keywords. There are a lot more small ticket items on eBay than big ticket, which means your commissions will often be pennies.

ReviewMe

Advertisers commission a paid review that is posted on your blog.

Pros: In addition to getting paid for writing the review, you also get original content for your blog. Advertorials rock! A company writes the post for you, all you do is post it to your site.

Cons: Your website has to be approved by ReviewMe before you can participate. Very new sites may have a hard time geting approved. Your commissions are based on your website ranking, so newer sites will potentially do the same work for less money

Amazon.com

Amazon is one of the biggest solo affiliates on the web.

Pros: Every product that amazon sells, you can pitch on your page. You can design ads by category, you can promote specific products, you can promote seasonal sales, or you can let amazon decide. More than any other affiliate program, amazon has a dozen monetization options for you to choose from. In particular, their product previews and astore widget are top notch.

Cons: Commissions are scaled based on items shipped per month. You don’t get paid for pre-orders until they ship, which means even multiple orders within the same month may not count towards increasing your commission percentage. There reporting interface is confusing. Commissions, particularly at the lower end of the scale, are minuscule. You really need a lot of conversions every month to really make it work.

And of course, many companies that have a strong web presence offer some kind of affiliate program. So depending on the nature of your site and what you want to promote, you can seek out many, many other affiliat

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