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Carsten 2005 - Affiliate Marketer and Web- & Database Developer
Search Engine Journal Editor ReveNews Blogger

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Carsten Cumbrowski's Blogs and News

  • Google Services Bugs and Usability Issues That Spoil My Holiday Spirit - Part II

    12/30/2007

    This is the second part of my series about bugs and usability issues with various Google services. My previous post was about Google Picasa and Google Checkout and also included some general comments to Google Storage, which is a paid service provided by Google to increase the amount of data you can have in your account and use for files and other things. Part II talks about the general Google Account, Google Desktop Search and Gmail (Hosted and Regular) as well is the migration of Emails from platforms like MS Outlook into Gmail. (more...)

  • Google Services Bugs and Usability Issues That Spoil My Holiday Spirit - Part I

    12/30/2007

    It's the end of the year and I have a little gift for Google for the year 2008. It's a summary of issues and bugs I found in the various Google services, free and paid ones as well. Some are fresh and triggered this post and some others are older where I already send a feedback to Google in the past.

    Google is obviously not used to deal with people and their best people for web usability must all be busy with the organic web search page. Okay, it is not easy to manage all the different new services and offerings that are partially in-house developed products and partially products and services that were acquired over the past few years. However, fundamental mistakes and errors should not happen, even under those circumstances. I was lucky today to bump into a whole chain of bugs and usability issues with Google's Picasa, Google Checkout and Gmail. I also include some older issues, including ones with other Google services while I am at it. It comes down in total to SEVEN usability issues and FIVE real bugs for Picasa and Google Checkout alone.

    It's a long post, broken down into multiple parts and it is primarily written for Google.

    If you encountered the same, similar or completely different issues, feel free to use this opportunity to let Google know about it by commenting to this post via the form provided at the end of this post. (more...)

  • Affiliate Marketing and Channel Conflicts

    12/30/2007

    I stumbled across an old forum thread from March 2006 that was started in response to the request for comments on a post that Linda Buquet from 5 Star Affiliate Program Forums made about how an affiliate manager should deal with a channel conflicts with direct mail marketing (and other marketing channels).

    Linda received a message that stated the following:

    "..., I found you on the XYZ forum and hope you're well. Not sure if you can help, but I'm trying to do some research to understand a problem that's come up for a client. I'm particularly ignorant about affiliate marketing and I'm really hoping that you might be able to direct me towards some resources that could help me. Basically, the problem is that my client sends out direct mail and each piece of mail has a code that the prospect enters on the home page when they come to purchase/apply. However, the company also has an affiliate program. What seems to be happening is that people receive the direct mail piece, go online and either with a basic search to find the site, or if they're searching and trying to do some research, they end up on an affiliates site. They then click through to the company site and sign up with the direct mail code. Essentially, my client then ends up paying both the DM and affiliate costs for the same prospect. Do you know if this problem is endemic and if so, what are others doing about it?"

    There was by coincidence a discussion going on at the non-public affiliate manager forum at ABestWeb.com just around the same time where I and several AMs discussed the issue. It concluded the following:

    The Fact
    It is impossible to determine for sure who is responsible for a sale, the merchant who has an AdWords campaign running where the customer clicked on or the affiliate site the same customer clicked through earlier. There were many arguments, which did and who did not and how much percent etc. etc. but at the end remains the fact, it cannot be determined conclusively. *

    This is an important fact!

    The Decision
    If the merchant decides to kill an affiliates cookie or not to pay commission or revert commission when the customer is clicking a merchants Ad somewhere else or a link in the merchants newsletter (Welcome email, follow up email etc. does not matter). The merchant must make this decision. All kind of reasons must be considered like marketing cost, margins and the merchant's opinion or policy.

    The Must Do
    If the merchant decides not to pay commission, then it is absolutely crucial, that this is spelled out in the affiliate program agreement between the merchant and affiliate. Not in legal gibberish, but in plain and clear language, that an affiliate can understand this restriction / policy and make an educated decision, if it wants to partner with this merchant under those conditions or not. It should also be mentioned outside the agreement from time to time, such as affiliate newsletters and Forums or direct communication with the affiliate.

    The Do not Ever Do
    Not doing so could mean, correction, will mean serious trouble when affiliates find out about it somewhere else. One merchant in the discussion was able to experience first-hand the result of this. It caused serious damage to his Program and if the merchant's AM would not have been a trusted authority for his affiliates and other AM's for years, the whole program could have fallen apart in a matter of days. That is it and there is not much to argue about it, except the details of the "decision" - do it or do not do it and the "how" of the "must do" part.

    With regards to the exact example of direct mail scenario I did state the following:

    How does the merchant know for sure that the affiliate was not the trigger to actually get the customer to the site, then remember the direct mail, look for it and enter the code? On the other hand, how can he be 100% sure that it was the direct mail alone that made the customer go to the site and sign-up? Maybe he saw another offer at an affiliate site which finally convinced the customer to go and signup, meaning both the affiliate and the direct mail are responsible for the conversion. How does the merchant know if the affiliate cookie was set before the customer read the direct mail or after?

    In affiliate marketing is the rule that the last clicked affiliate link, before the action occurred, is the one that gets the commission, because all previous affiliate cookies are overwritten by that click.

    That is how it was defined, an agreement so to speak where everybody, especially the affiliates agrees to it. The affiliate that gets the commission can thank all other affiliates and the merchant for the help to make the sale happen. It is rarely the case, that the one affiliate can be credited to 100% for the sale. To make somebody buy is not that easy and many factors play a role in the process.

    However, in the case of BHO's / parasite ware, which jumps into the process at the end (almost) with the lowest probability to have contributed anything to the sale, pretty much all affiliates and most merchants do disagree with the rule that the last affiliate click/cookie gets the commission. You do not have to be a marketing expert to know that what the "parasites" do is wrong. Common sense is enough to figure-out that one.

    Time-warp to the Present
    This was the summary of the original conclusion from early 2006. Two years have passed and think it is getting time to discuss the issue once more and include changes and improvements in areas that are relevant as well.

    *Note to: "It is impossible to determine for sure who is responsible for a sale".
    This statement was in early 2006, almost two years ago. It is still holding true generally speaking, but there have been improvements in the area of web analytics over the years. Those improvements do not solve the problem in the previous example with the direct mail campaign, but there are also other channel conflicts between marketing campaigns online that can be tracked.

    Some analytics providers are offering features that allow the analysis of multiple touch-points a user might had have with other campaigns from different marketing and advertising channels, in addition to the traditional "last one".

    Multiple Touch-Points Scenarios
    For example is it possible to see for a user who came to the site and purchased something after he clicked on an Ad of a paid search campaign, that the same user responded prior to that to a display Ad that was part of an Ad-buy by the department that manages the display advertising campaigns.

    In traditional web analytics are all credits for a referred sale assigned to the last "touch-point". With multiple touch-point analysis is it possible to give credit to campaigns and exposures of the user to the ads and offers of another campaign where the user reacted to, but did not convert.

    Offline scenarios are unfortunately not covered yet.**

    The Actual Buying Process of People
    It is known for a long time already that people usually go through different stages before they purchase a product. "Impulse purchases" happen, but are more the exception than the norm.

    People usually do some research to determine what product the need and what the options are. Then they might do some price comparison or look for available deals for the products they consider to purchase. Next to price of the products play factors like additional order cost like tax, shipping and handling cost or the trustworthiness and ease of the ordering and checkout process of a merchants website a role that finally result in a completed and final sale.

    Who Should Get the Credits?
    If the person who responded to a paid search ad that advertises a current promotion for a product also responded to display ad on a web portal site that introduced the product and/or came earlier in time to the site from an affiliate's web site that provides product reviews, credits for the sale should not to hundred percent go to the paid search campaign. The display ad campaign and the affiliate site should also receive credits, because of their impact on the buying decision of the customer that finally lead to the purchase of the product.

    Back to Reality
    The determination process of how much earlier touch-points should get credit for a sale is still in its infancy. There are no standards yet. Practical studies and internal tests of merchants show that the removal of a touch-point of one marketing and advertising channel also impacted the response to other campaigns. This is not new and known for a long time that an aggressive TV ad campaign for example increases responses to campaigns of other channels, such as paid search ads as well.

    As you can see, the problem of proper determination of how much credits each touch-point should get who was part of a customer's buying decision and conversion process is not easy. This type of tracking and analysis is far away from becoming a standard in web analytics; however, most web analytics providers look or already work on the implementation of such features into their line of products.

    Current affiliate tracking solutions are also not up to this task yet at all and I am unaware of people at the networks discussing it. At least I have not encountered anybody who is publically or unofficially talking to me about this.

    The Future
    This will eventually become a priority when advertisers become sophisticated enough and demand solutions to this problem. This would have a huge impact on the current affiliate tracking infrastructure and technologies, but it will be the way to go. It will also require some re-thinking of current ways of doing things for affiliates who will suddenly not get 100% credit for a conversion anymore, but in return should get a small cut on transactions where they played a small part in it and don't get any credits today.

    The perfect solution would also include offline tracking of in-store purchases, because studies show that online advertising drives in-store sales at a 6:1 ratio to online sales. Customers spent in average $16 offline to every $1 spent online***. It would be nice as affiliate to get some credits for those indirect conversions one day.

    **On a note to offline conversion tracking of online campaign: There are some solutions available today, which are specifically designed to allow offline tracking (at least orders made via phone) after an exposure to an online campaign. To read more about this subject, see my post from September this year, titled: "Multichannel Offline and Online Conversion Tracking".

    *** Numbers were taken from this Yahoo! Study from 2007 (the result of the study in PDF format for download).

    If you have any thoughts or comments on the issues and possible solutions for the future, feel free to post them below. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

    Carsten Cumbrowski

  • The Future of Affiliate Marketing is not Written Yet

    12/22/2007

    Jeff Molander was writing a post titled "The Ironic Future of Affiliate Marketing: MLM" at his blog about how Mike Moran, an IBM Product Manager and author of the book "Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules", Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0. and him see where the developments in social media, internet and affiliate marketing are maybe leading to.

    Mike Moran said

    "We're all direct marketers now. The Web is one big direct marketing machine and everyone is invited to the party."

    Direct marketing is the correct word for the type of marketing that is growing and developing out of the social media stuff. What we see today is a baby that is crawling and trying to stand on its own feed, just to fall down again and again.

    The Future
    Nobody knows where the social media will lead the Internet too, but most are convinced that it is towards a better Internet, which will even go beyond the virtual realm and impact the physical world as well. People connect with others more than they ever did, not only locally, but globally. How far people open themselves or how much they follow the personal details of somebody else, is up to everybody himself.

    Scott Karp said

    "The game is now to manipulate consumers not only to click, but to take some further action. And I don't use the word 'manipulate' arbitrarily.

    This is about turning the web into one big pile of junk mail, aimed at getting you to sign up, buy, or commit to something that you hadn't necessarily wanted."

    People did always let themselves manipulate, there is nothing new here. They will continue to have the choice (or not) to be manipulated to the extend they allow to happen.

    The Definition of "Friend"
    The social web has impact on people who are deeply involved in it already. Those are the minority at the moment, but all change starts with minorities. Discussions are happening already that talk about the meaning of "friend" in a virtual world that extends to the physical one. What we see evolving is a multi-layered structure for what we used to describe with a single word, "friendship". The lower layers start with "very casual friends" and are topped by the layers of "deep personal friendship" with layers for everything else in between.

    The German language already had two different words for those two different top and bottom layers; "Kumpel" to indicate that somebody is only a casual friend and "Friend" for a personal friend.

    Jeff Molander said

    "At what point does a "social networker" want to cross the line into "social marketer" and how -- exactly -- does trust (motivation behind recommendations) factor in when financial compensation is involved? Hmm... this makes me wonder does compensation need be cash-based?"

    Layers of Trust
    Each layer comes with its own amount of "trust" with the top layer having the most trust of all. This amount of trust has direct impact on possible direct influence in personal and professional decision making when it comes to sharing information and making recommendations. The higher the trust, the more weight a recommendation has.

    Social marketers can only operate within the bottom layers of friendship and trust with a larger number of people, but that is already enough and infinite times more than a marketer has who does not engage into social marketing at all and continues to live in his own bubble. A very successful marketer is able to engage people in within the lower trust layer and convince them to an extent that they will become the messenger for the marketer to talk to the people that have higher trust in that person and people who the marketer could not reach yet, because he did not even gained the first level of trust with them yet (and in some cases will never gain).

    Skewing the System
    If this system will allow ruthless marketers to make false promises and lies heard and believed remains to be seen. Social media has a few safeguards to protect people better than before from false hopes and unrealistic and sometimes completely false advertisement that sells fake and fiction, a dream if you will, rather than correct, verified and highly targeted advertising that passed to a number of trusted filters for the majority of people.

    Nobody can Predict the Future
    It remains to be seen if this system is safe from severe manipulation or not. Only time will provide an answer to that question. If affiliate marketing will play a role between those recommendations, especially within the inner trust layers of a social networking community is also not sure yet, but if it does, then there is a vulnerability to the whole system, in cases where multi-tier referrals go hand in hand with multi-tier rewards and commissions. If the financial reward is great enough for everybody in the chain of trust to break through each layer and getting to the final consumer; the consumer at the end of the chain will end up doing the wrong decision based on trusted, but commercially motivated recommendations.

    MLM the Future of Affiliate Marketing?
    I am not that pessimistic though and believe that the chain will break in most cases before it even gets to the consumer at the end. You can have much greater and long term success if you are honest and prove time and again that you deserve the trust that you earned over time. I also do not see more than one or two "affiliate layers" in between to be more realistic. Social media will not make an affiliate marketer out of everybody, which would mean the decay to a MLM schema as Jeff pointed out correctly IMO.

    Invitation to Discussion
    My guess is as good as everybody else's, so what is your guess? Feel free to share your thoughts and believes regarding the future development of affiliate marketing and social media in the comment area below.

    Cheers!
    Carsten Cumbrowski

  • MS AdCenter Affiliate Program Launch and Some Historic Affiliate Marketing Insights

    12/18/2007

    Despite the not so perfect reputation that affiliate marketing has are companies like Microsoft and even Google using this advertising and marketing channel with thousands of other retailers around the world to promote their products and services on the Internet.

    Linda at 5 Star Affiliate Programs just released the news about Microsoft's new adCenter Affiliate Program. See her blog post here and the official press release here. (more...)

  • Microsoft Expands Officially Their Affiliate Activities to Promote MS AdCenter

    12/18/2007

    Linda at 5 Star Affiliate Programs just released the news about Microsoft's new adCenter Affiliate Program. See her blog post here and the official press release here.

    This does not come as a surprise to me, since Microsoft was "lurking" around the affiliate marketing space for a while already. There was the news in May this year about their "affiliate network" launch (MicrosoftAffiliates.net), which is basically an in-house program based on Kowabunga Technologies tracking and reporting platform (MyAffiliateProgram). It was a bummer for me, when Microsoft only launched a campaign for their Microsoft Live OneCare product and not for any of their other services or software products.

    See my more detailed post about that launch from May.

    They used to run some test campaigns via Commission Junction and their advertising company McCann throughout this year until about September. They paid good commission, very good one as a matter of fact and I am promoting their offer (on and off depending on availability) since early this year. It converts pretty well too and is definitely worthwhile checking out.

    I was happy to hear about the news that they launched a new campaign via their in-house solution via a Kowabunga rep a few days ago. The only bummer was that the commission rate for a new account is "only" $30.00 $35.00 (compared to the $90.00 via McCann/CJ).

    Okay, the commission is around the same amount that Microsoft's competition is paying, such as Yahoo!, who pays $25-$50, Enhance (CJ) $25.00, Miva (CJ) $20.00 and goClick (ShareASale) $25.00 and trailing at the end Google with $5.00 via their own AdSense tracking platform.

    I hope that they will raise the commission a bit in the future to be a bit more aggressive that their competitors. The higher commission would get Microsoft more exposure and promotion by affiliates and could significantly increase the number of clients in a relative short period of time. I heard somewhere unofficially that MS has a shortage of ad inventory, which would explain why their cut down on their aggressive advertiser acquisition strategy. The deal with Facebook has with almost 100% certainty to some extend to do with this shortage.

    Cheers!
    Carsten Cumbrowski

  • Paid Reviews Examples by Matt Cutts and Paid Links

    12/16/2007

    Matt Cutts wrote two weeks ago at his blog a post about selling links that pass PageRank.

    I wanted to comment at his blog, but 500+ comments made me shy away from it and write a full post here at SearchEngineJournal.com instead. Matt presented a number of (allegedly) paid reviews/posts (there is no absolute proof that the author was paid) to demonstrate how badly paid reviews are and why nofollow should be used on any paid review because of it.

    I suggest reading Matts post first get familiarized with his examples to which I will refer below.

    Although the presented examples are bad, I would like to say something about them. (more...)

  • Google Knol"edge", Wikipedia and Trias Politica

    12/16/2007

    Arnold Zafra posted about Google's KNOL service (derived from the word "knowledge") already on Friday here at SearchEngineJournal.com.

    Yesterday Brook Schaaf from Schaaf Consulting reported at ReveNews.com about an article about the subject at the Times Online that was published also yesterday. (more...)

  • Affiliate Retention, Activation and Recruitment - Do's and Don'ts

    12/16/2007

    I just posted earlier this month a long post about affiliate activation and retention.

    I spent some time to look for other good tips about what to do and also what not to do to run a successful affiliate program, get inactive affiliates to promote your products actively and to keep existing affiliates happy.

    Affiliate Retention
    Not a blog post but an old fashioned forums thread: 5 Ways You Can Keep Your Affiliates Happy a forum post at 5StarAffiliatePrograms Forums from August 2007.

    Key take aways from the tread:

    1. "EVERY time you face a tough decision about your affiliate channel, pretend you are one of your own affiliates and walk in his/her shoes."

    2. "Pull Your Program Out of the Dark Ages - Keep up with technology"

    3. "Find Out What Your Affiliates Want and Give it To Them!"

    4. "Think Outside the Box! Offer Affiliates a Free Consultation"

    5. "Raise Commission and Increase your Cookie Duration - Money talks!"

    Affiliate Activation
    This one was actually referenced from the forum thread above for the bullet point "Think Outside the Box! Offer Affiliates a Free Consultation". It's the blog post titled "Ultimate Affiliate Activation Email from zZounds Affiliate Manager" by Linda Buquet at the 5StarAffiliatePrograms Blog from August 29th, 2006

    Finding Affiliates
    Fitting the subject and always on the "hot-list" for affiliate managers is the subject of finding and recruiting new affiliates with the ultimate goal of finding one of the few super affiliates and getting them interested in promoting your services or products.

    Heather Paulson wrote a detailed Review of the tool "Affiliate Recruiter" by Syntryx and how it can be used effectively to find potential affiliates and super affiliates in your niche.

    Ouch, Affiliate Communication Gone Bad
    Here are some bad examples that illustrate what you should NOT do. I would say that those examples are equally if not more important that the tips about what you should do.

    Example 1: An Affiliate Done Wrong by Shawn Collins at AffiliateTip.com from November 30th, 2007

    Example 2: Affiliate Account Suspension - Bad Joo Joo by Alice Seba at InternetMarketingSweetie.com from March 27th, 2008 and Part 2 from a day after.

    Example 3: I actually have one myself, which I blogged about in June 2007 called "Call off the Cops and Get the Undertaker Instead" here at ReveNews.com. It still leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I talk about this one :(.

    I hope you find those additional resources and information useful. Feel free to post any comments or tips for other affiliate managers based on your on successes and mistakes.

    Thank you and Cheers!
    Carsten Cumbrowski

  • 11 Steps to Successful SEO for Your Business

    12/16/2007

    I wrote in November a long article for my website about the necessary steps for a business to successfully engage in organic search engine optimization. The article provides an overview with additional references to go into more detail for each of the steps.

    Here is a shorter and more compressed version of this article that is meant to be a high level guide for orientation. It is aimed to people who are not experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to SEO.

    SEO is not magic and there is no magic bullet either. SEO is a long term marketing strategy with high ROI opportunities. Because of its long term commitment necessary, is a well formed strategy key to success, a strategy that is followed and verified and scrutinized along the way. (more...)

  • Links for 2007-12-09 [del.icio.us]

    12/10/2007

  • About URL Tracking Parameters and Duplicate Content Issues

    12/7/2007

    How do you deal with links that have tracking parameters in the URL for referrer measurement for analytical reasons or in case of a partner program where the referring site gets some form of compensation for referred traffic and/or customers?

    The webmasters fear was regarding the duplicate URLs that are generated for the same page and possible negative consequences in Google or other search engines as a result of it.

    This question was asked by an attendee during the panel about SEO design and organic site structure on Wednesday at Webmaster Worlds "PubCon" 2007 in Las Vegas. (more...)

  • How to Add Content to Wikipedia the "White Hat" Way?

    12/6/2007

    I gave tips to people about editing Wikipedia or getting missing content into Wikipedia over and over again, via email, blog comments etc. So I decided to put one up here, which makes it much better accessible for anybody who is interested in this subject. You might also want to see my previous article about Wikipedia article quality assessment.

    I consider this the "short version" and it focuses on the content itself and not on "Wikipolitics", which plays also a role, but is virtually impossible to summarize in a single post or article, without reducing it to a skeleton that is not practical and not realistic at all. The rules for content in Wikipedia are simple and for the most part straight forward actually (even if most people believe that it takes a lot). (more...)

  • About Affiliate Activation and Retention

    12/3/2007

    There is some wacky discussion going on at Sam's post that is titled "Affiliate Managers Don't Get It: Communication Is Still Key". Many of the comments don't have to do with the actual post, but they all relate somehow to communication in affiliate marketing. Jesse Bouman, affiliate manager of 1and1.com complained (okay, mentioned) that there are not many posts and information out there that talk about affiliate retention, nourishment and activation.

    Well, I started a comment, but decided to post it separately to avoid that it gets buried and forgotten in the list of the already 37 comments to that post.

    What affiliates want
    My post from July titled "What (super) Affiliates Want" was well received by affiliates who agreed with my statements. It's good for starters and you should take it by heart. It talks affiliate needs and wants. Those things are the same for affiliates that did not sign up for your program yet, new affiliates to your program who are inactive and also for affiliates that make up your top active tier.

    I will also provide some general and some specific tips for affiliate managers to help acquire, activate, nourish and retain affiliates broken down by type of affiliate.

    Personalized Communication jada jada jada
    First, personalized and specific communication always helps, but is not as effective as you might think it is. You maybe got a food into the door, which is already more than many others got, but that's pretty much it and did not get you much further in regards to motivating an affiliate. You got their attention.

    AIDA?!
    Now look at an affiliate from a different view for a moment. Consider it to be a "customer". Ask yourself the question: What does he or she need? What does he or she not have enough of? Then deliver or offer it to the affiliate. Apply the classic sales principle AIDA. AIDA is an acronym that stands for A = Attention, I=Interest, D=Desire and A=Action.

    "A" for Attention
    Okay, the first "A" was covered with your personalized communication, but this attention will not last very long. The next letter is "I" for Interest and the toughest part. If the affiliate signed up for your program then it already showed some interest in it. Something seems to be missing though or the affiliate would already promote your products. You already got the interest of existing affiliates that actually do promote your offers already. A bit nurturing of the desire does not hurt either type of affiliate. Some of the examples below are as good as a nurturing tool as they are for activation of inactive affiliates.

    Creating interest and desire is one step in case of affiliates who already signed up. It is only separate for new affiliates where you need to get them interested first to be able to create desire. I will not go into too details regarding affiliates that don't have signed up for your program yet. Just combine the stuff I mentioned in my article about what affiliates want with this one.

    "I" for Interest and "D" for Desire
    Affiliates who signed up for your program did so for a reason. Unless you offered an incentive to do so, chances are that the affiliate had something specific in mind with you at the time of applying to your program. Most programs require manual approval, which is good and bad. I personally would prefer to do an auto approval first, but then make sure to check all sign-ups and deactivate quickly affiliates you don't want. I strongly recommend to make it clear to affiliates who you are looking for and most important who you are NOT looking for. Let them know that their account is only active and in trial status and that it will be deactivated if it does not fit those criteria.

    This will help to counter the IMO biggest cause of inactive affiliates.

    Understanding how most affiliates work
    Affiliates work weird hours, often nights and on weekend. Unless you are a robot, it will be impossible to approve new affiliate applications within minutes 24/7, 365 d. Sign-ups are usually not planned days or weeks in advance. They happen when the affiliate is ready to go with a specific goal in mind the affiliate tries to accomplish right there and then. If the account is not approved, the affiliate might be unable to proceed with what it is doing. It either decides to stop right there or applies for competitors programs who maybe auto approve or the AM happened to be around at that time to approve the application quickly, following up with an email asking the affiliate what it needs right away.

    This last part is something you should always do after you approved an affiliate. When you go through the review of the application, you probably check the affiliate site etc. This is the perfect time to make notes already about what the affiliate does and might need. This will allow you to be already specific in your email where you welcome the affiliate and ask for what the affiliate needs. You can already add a specific question related to the affiliate site or include an offer or tip for how to promote your products or services.

    Time from SignUp to Contact
    If the affiliate was not approved, every hour, every day that passes between the signup and the initial personal contact will work against you. Chances increase that what the affiliate planned was already finished without you or that it was abandoned altogether. It may sounds funny, but affiliates have sometimes ideas in their head that they attempt to realize immediately if it does not seem to take too much time to get something going.

    Remember, affiliates do stuff by trial and error and most of the stuff they try does not work or yields less return than they hoped it would. Affiliates that plan and plan and never do anything are usually not the ones that are successful. Affiliates build small first and then grow it later.

    Missed Opportunity
    If you missed the opportunity to be right there and then with exactly what the affiliate needed, you already made it much harder for you to get an affiliate going. But even if you jumped in early enough or auto-approved the affiliate, but do not provide what the affiliate was looking for, you lost right there and then and there is only little you can do to activate that affiliate. This does not always have to be your fault, but it probably is in the vast majority of cases. It will happen that an affiliate signed up because he or she thought that you offer something that you don't, but that is more the exception.

    Problems to avoid
    Most of the time is the problem that either important information, such as details about does and don'ts were not accessible or hidden to the affiliate prior sign-up, things that are a deal breaker for the affiliate. The second most common problem is the lack of the right promotional material the affiliate planned to use, but is not available for them. Size of banners and buttons, promotional offers for coupon affiliates, no or impractical product data feeds for comparison shopping site affiliates, search-boxes, ready to use templates for email campaigns, the ability to create an affiliate link to a desired page on your website etc.

    Now lets assume that everything the affiliate needs does exist, but the affiliate still does not use any of it to get going. This can happen. Time is often the factor that causes this. Affiliates need also sleep and also underestimate things regarding their complexity and what is needed to get a specific thing going. There you have the opportunity to help and give the affiliate what it can't do itself at that moment.

    Website/Content Affiliate
    If it is a web based affiliate, what does this affiliate need? Content! If it is a product review site, check which of your products fit the types of products reviewed by that affiliate. Provide the content that the affiliate needs for the review that are independent of opinion. Provide a good image and maybe even the ready to use affiliate link. You could even go so far that you send the affiliate a sample product for review, permanently or leased (depending on the product).

    Search Affiliate
    If it is a search affiliate, provide keyword suggestions, but more important provide statistics. Numbers like: average conversion of PPC campaigns across the board, break down by brand term keywords vs. generic keywords would also be nice. What is the average order size if it is not a specific product that is advertised by a system or product category?

    Cut a deal to send the affiliate a check over $xx/xxx dollars that they have to use for a campaign for your site to try it out. They burn your money = no risk for them. However, if it is looking promising or they even made profits, guess what they will do when your play-money is exhausted? (I would do this only with known successful search affiliates though)

    Coupon Affiliate
    Provide the coupons as early as possible. Always include an expiration date. List the facts clearly, such as Type of promotion (% off, $ off, shipping etc.), coupon code, expiration date, start date, restrictions. Provide an image if it is a product related coupon and provide a ready to use link with affiliate ID encoded already.

    Offer exclusive coupons with the site name of the affiliate as the coupon code. It does not only show the affiliate that you respect her, but also that you take her serious. It also helps the affiliate to show to its users that they are recognized by you, which will increase the confidence of the user into the offer promoted by the affiliate.

    "A" for Action
    You should get the idea by now and be able to start getting creative about the needs and wants of your own affiliates. Those things will certainly get the interest and create the desire to promote you in your affiliates; the action will follow with almost certainty.

    If my examples sound like a lot of work then the reason for that is obvious, those things are actually a lot of work and they cannot be automated in almost all cases.

    No Jeff, It does not "scale"
    Jeff Molander and others say that the biggest problem of affiliate marketing is that it does not scale. The thing is that affiliate marketing was never meant to scale in the first place. Many relationships that exist today under the umbrella affiliate relationships are not that, but something different. They only use the affiliate tracking technology for what they are doing, but that choice was only because of convenience and availability.

    A little off topic rant
    Yes, I am referring to incentive sites. You might notice that I did not include an example for them. The reason for that is that I do not have an example other than giving them a higher cut that they can pass on a higher reward to their users. Coupon sites are border line in my opinion. Affiliate marketing was meant as a customer acquisition tool. It can be leveraged as customer retention tool, but that is rarely what advertisers have in mind when their launch their affiliate program. The types of sites I just mentioned do a poor job when it comes to customer acquisition (compared to any other type of affiliates, except for search affiliates who bid on trademark and brand terms in PPC search engines). They provide new customers too, no doubt about that, but they come with the additional price tag of diverting certain types of customers of yours to their site to send them right back to you, acting as a porter or concierge.

    But this is good for its very own discussion all by itself. Lets focus on the affiliate activation and retention part for now, shall we?

    Cheers!
    Carsten Cumbrowski

  • LinkShares Sales Reporting Web Service and Affiliate Tracking Methods 101

    11/29/2007

    Shawn Collins from AffiliateTip.com reported about the new LinkShare web services tool for sales reporting by Advertisers. After reading the post did it occur to me that many (including Shawn how it seems) do not understand how the affiliate tracking works and what the difference is between the two main methods that are used by affiliate networks.

    Affiliate Tracking Methods
    Commission Junction offers advertisers the choice between pixel tracking and batch processing for the affiliate tracking implementation. Pretty much every network except from LinkShare offers pixel tracking. Some networks even offer pixel tracking as the only available tracking option, especially if they target small and mid-size advertisers only. LinkShare on the other hand does not offer the pixel tracking option. This is one of the reasons why the minimum initial implementation cost of the LinkShare solution is more expensive than the initial cost of the pixel tracking implementation by any other network. Batch processing is more interesting for large advertisers, but it is also more complicated and harder (and more expensive) to implement for a merchant.

    The Pixel Tracking Issue
    Tracking cookies created by networks on computers of users, which are needed for the pixel tracking method became threatened by spyware and anti-virus software vendors who started to flag those cookies as unsafe and then deleted them from the user's machines. Click2Customers hired Ben Edelman to do some research of how bad the situation actually is. The result of this research was a special report that Clicks2Customers released to the public for free in September 2006.

    How Does LinkShare Track?
    When the issue of deleted affiliate cookies was debated did LinkShare always claim that they are not affected by this, because their "cookie-less" tracking system did not depend on this. Everybody was speculating how else they do the tracking, especially for programs that offer 30 or more return days. Finally in 2006 did LinkShare's CEO Steve Denton came out of the closet and explained in an interview with Wayne Porter how their tracking-system works. They also use cookies, just not on the network side and there is no magic that was only known to LinkShare to make their tracking work. We learned that LinkShare does also just "cooks with water" like the rest of us. :)

    Pixel tracking? Batch Tracking? What does this actually mean and what are the pros and cons of each of the methods? I think it is about time for some clarification for the non-technical folks.

    Pixel Tracking

    1. User clicks on affiliate Link that refers to a domain owned by the network. Prominent tracking domains include Qksrv.net (CJ*1), click.linksynergy.com (LinkShare), service.bfast.com (BeFree), ww.shareasale.com (ShareASale) and clickserve.cc-dt.com (Performics)
    2. The network records the click, sets a tracking cookie on the users machine and redirects to the specified target URL at the advertisers website
    3. User lands on the advertisers website
    4. User shops at advertisers website
    5. User completes a purchase and hits the confirmation screen that thanks the user for the order and provides him with the order number. This page contains an invisible 1x1 pixel image*2 that is located on the networks server and is not loaded from the advertiser's website. This image is actually not an image, but a tracking script that records the transaction.

    Notes:
    *1 Commission Junction owns 86 domains, where most of them are used for tracking

    *2 1x1 Pixel tracking example codes

    Commission Junction 1x1 pixel tracking code example

    <img src="https://www.commission-junction.com/track/receive.dll?AMOUNT=100.00&CID=999999&OID=100001&TYPE=1111&KEEP=YES&METHOD=IMG" height="1" width="1">

    ShareASale 1x1 pixel tracking code example

    <img src="https://shareasale.com/sale.cfm?amount=1.00&tracking=1000001&transtype=LEAD&persale=&perlead=&perhit=&merchantID=99999" width=1 height=1>

    Batch Tracking

    1. User clicks on affiliate Link that either refers to a domain owned by the network OR directly to the advertisers website
    2. (optional) The network records the click and redirects the user to the specified target URL at the advertisers website
    3. User lands on advertisers website who sets a cookie at the users machine for tracking purposes
    4. User shops at advertisers site
    5. User completes a purchase and hits the confirmation page at the advertiser's site. The advertiser saves with the order relevant data for the affiliate program tracking.
    6. (offline) At this point is the user not on the advertiser's site anymore. The advertiser sends recorded transactions that involve an affiliate to the affiliate network.*1

    Notes:
    *1 The transfer of data is usually done via FTP transfer on a frequent basis. The frequency of the transfer varies from advertiser to advertiser. Some do it every other day, maybe even only once or twice per week, while others do it daily or multiple times per day. It is never done in real time for a single transaction.

    Pixel Tracking Pros

    1. Easy to implement for the advertiser, because it only requires a somewhat minor modification of one page of their website to make it work. Everything else is setup and configured on the network side, by the network itself or the advertiser via the backend interface.
    2. Instant recording of a sale, which is often shown instantly (or only delayed a little bit) in the reports for the publishers/affiliates as well.
    3. Advertisers can't manipulate manually recorded sales. They could do something programmatically, but that would raise suspicion fairly quickly.

    Pixel Tracking Cons

    1. Vulnerable to fraud and hacking
    2. Dependent on network cookie, which is blocked by a number of anti-spyware and anti-virus tools or browser plug-ins.
    3. Advertiser has to report sales that are not fulfilled yet and might get cancelled, because he cannot delay the transfer of the transaction to the network. This increases the likelihood that he has to reverse transactions manually via the admin interface of the network visibly to the affiliate.

    Batch Tracking Pros

    1. Advertiser has more control of what transactions are sent at what time to the network. This allows the advertiser to withhold transactions until the sale is actually completed and reduces the need and likelihood of reversals of transactions that were already reported to the network and seen by the affiliate.
    2. The tracking cookie to allow return days beyond the current browser session (also called cookie-duration) is set on the advertiser's domain. It is less likely to be blocked by any third party software or being deleted manually by the user because the user does more likely recognize the advertiser's domain than the tracking domain of a network.

    Batch Tracking Cons

    1. More changes and additions to the advertiser's website code and business processes are necessary, which require deep technical knowledge and higher sophistication for the proper implementation of the tracking mechanism
    2. The advertiser has control over what is being sent to the affiliate network and when it is being sent. Fraudulent activities or simply bugs in the tracking code on the advertiser's website are harder to detect.
    3. Reporting data are not available to affiliates quickly. This can become more of an issue the less frequent an advertiser sends transactions via batch to the network. Imagine a paid search affiliate who runs a major campaign for an advertiser and has to wait a day or longer to see if the campaign actually works or if money is wasted.

    What Does the new LinkShare Web Service?
    So what does the new LinkShare web service do and change? It addresses the "con #3" of batch tracking.

    The web services allows instant reporting of transactions to the network, eliminating the need to wait for the next scheduled batch transfer. I assume that the web service is optional for LinkShare advertisers and can be used to replace the batch transfers entirely or can be used in conjunction with it to send some transactions immediately while still sending other transactions via batch transfer later, if needed. This is a good feature, because it offers advertisers a choice and the ability to take only the good things from each method without getting the bad things than usually came with it, except for the higher sophistication and complexity of the implementation of course.

    Death of the Pixel?
    Shawn asks the question

    "Does this mark the death of the pixel?"

    The answer to that question is "No".

    Small advertisers will still go for the cheaper and easier to implement pixel tracking method. If CJ would offer a service like this, it could become another good reason for larger CJ advertisers to switch to batch processing, advertisers who hesitated doing it because of their paid search affiliates. The only thing this announcement by LinkShare changes is that we will see more advertisers on the LinkShare network reporting sales data in pseudo real-time back to the network who is then able to show those data also in pseudo real-time to the affiliate/publisher. Search affiliates and others will welcome this change and appreciate it.

    Further Reading
    I have CJ's batch processing implementation guide (advertiser action data feed) and LinkShare's integration guide available on my site, together with other guides for data feed and web services implementation for various networks.

    I hope that I can get my hands on the web services guide for advertisers to report sales data back to the network. If you are an advertiser who plans to look into this and requested the integration document from LinkShare, please contact me and send me that document. If you are working for LinkShare and willing to send me the document that would be even better. I would appreciate that. Thank you.

    Carsten Cumbrowski

  • Links for 2007-11-25 [del.icio.us]

    11/26/2007

  • Links for 2007-11-22 [del.icio.us]

    11/23/2007

    • Does Image Search Traffic Convert?
      Interesting discusion about the question if traffic generated from image searches does or can actually convert the visitor to a customer and if it can, how well?
  • Wikipedia Article Quality Assessment and Ranking Tips for Users and Search Engine Engineers

    11/22/2007

    The subject is getting old, but I believe that the complaining about the dominance of Wikipedia articles in the Google search results will continue until something happens that will make most people happy.

    Here are two posts related to this subject from this month where I actually left long comments already, before I decided to make yet another post about it here at Search Engine Journal.

    The first one from beginning of this month is the post titled: "Wikipedia: The Barry Bonds of Search Results" by Eric Lander here at Search Engine Journal. The second post is only a few days old and is titled "When Will Wikipedia Rank for everything?" that was written by Aaron Wall's wife Giovanna at SEOBook.com. (more...)

  • Video Impressions and Comments from BlogWorld Expo 2007

    11/9/2007

    BlogWorld ExpoOkay, this is a first for me, but I am at BlogWorld Expo 2007 in Las Vegas, which is reason enough for me to take the step into the territory of video blogging.
    I recorded the video below from my hotel room with a simple Logitech web cam.
    I am sorry for the thick German accent, but that is something I can do nothing about or get rid of, no matter how long I will be staying in the United States. Well, you will get an impression how it is, if we get the chance to meet in the real life one day.

    Here is a short written summary of the things I am talking about in the video.

    Day two of the BlogWorld Expo 2007 conference is over and I met a lot of different people already. The crowd here is mixed and includes affiliate marketers, search engine marketers, SEOs, bloggers, podcasters and video bloggers as well as internet marketers and entrepreneurs of all sorts.

    I was invited to the cocktail party sponsored by ShareASale and The Conversation Group at the Wynn yesterday. I was very nice and I'd like to thank Brian Littleton, president of ShareASale and Stephanie Agresta, co-founder of The Conversation Group for this nice evening and the opportunity to meet old friends and new people in a casual and relaxed environment.

    One of the main subjects I discussed with various bloggers is the question about how to monetize your blog. This is a question that remains not fully answered to this day. Questions that were discussed at the conference were about which monetization option works or does not work with blogs, CPC, CPM, Sponsorship or CPA, using AdSense or not. Experiences with CPA were generally bad, in comparison with CPC or CPM. This does not mean that CPA and revenue share a.k.a. affiliate marketing does not work with blogs. It is more the question how and where to use each type of monetization to get the most out of your blog content overall.

    Bloggers are afraid of using affiliate marketing within their blog content. They feel that this is like a sell-out and that they would lose their credibility with their audience. This fear is warranted and as old as affiliate marketing itself. If you make recommendations about a product, because of the amount of commission you are receiving for referrals, you move into dangerous territory and the fear of losing credibility with your audience is becoming very real.

    Disclosure of affiliate relationships with a merchant or service provider is certainly very important. The format and extend of how you disclose that relationship depends on your audience and what they would expect.

    This sounds easy, but it does not solve the problem with overcoming the initial fear to try out affiliate marketing. I spent some time thinking about a way to solve this dilemma. I believe that a good approach would be to go and look at existing product and service recommendation that were made in older blog posts. Those posts are generating traffic from search engines and other sources and changes to them would not create the risk of losing your core readership, the subscribers to your blogs RSS feed. Replace links or add links if you only mentioned products without providing a link to retailer you like to purchase the product. There is also no reason for fearing corruption and deception, because you are not changing your opinion or anything of that sort. Then watch what happens. There is nothing to lose and you either win nothing or a lot. Then take it from there. You could keep it like that and not include affiliate links in current posts to avoid repelling your subscribers and then modify the post later to add affiliate links, when your regular audience already read the post.

    I am now heading to the official BlogWorld Expo party at the Hard Rock Caf\u00E9 Hotel and Casino and will then watch the Cirque Du Soleil show "KA" at the MGM Grand. I admit that I am a big Cirque fan. Hey, there is more than work and you have to enjoy the spoils of your hard work from time to time. This is why we work so hard, isn't it?

    Cheers!
    Carsten

  • Links for 2007-11-01 [del.icio.us]

    11/2/2007

  • Links for 2007-10-31 [del.icio.us]

    11/1/2007

    • Commission Junction Damaging the Future of Affiliate Marketing!
      Affiliate Marketing Blog by AMWSO. Popular and free anti spyware software blocks CJ cookies. CJ tries to convince the authors that they should not do that, but that seems to be the wrong approach to the issue that CJ permits way to many shady affiliates t
  • Links for 2007-10-22 [del.icio.us]

    10/23/2007

    • The Ultimate Guide to Podcasting
      for podcasters and not for the listening audience. iTune submission, storage, integration into the blog, other directories, trade shows, books and much more.
  • Links for 2007-10-19 [del.icio.us]

    10/20/2007

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Internet Marketing Events, Tradeshows and Conferences
September 15, 2009
Commission Junction University (CJU) 2009Commission Junction University (CJU) 2009; Date/Time: 2009-09-15 ; End Date/Time: 2009-09-18 ;Location: Santa Ba aa, CA
September 16, 2009
Internet Marketing Conference VancouverInternet Marketing Conference Vancouver; Date/Time: 2009-09-16 ; End Date/Time: 2009-09-19 ;Location: Vancouve, Canada
September 21, 2009
OMMA GlobalOMMA Global; Date/Time: 2009-09-21 ; End Date/Time: 2009-09-23 ;Location: New Yok City, NY
Shop.org Annual Summit 2009Shop.org Annual Summit 2009; Date/Time: 2009-09-21 ; End Date/Time: 2009-09-24 ;Location: Las Vegas, NV
September 22, 2009
Ad-Tech London 2009Ad-Tech London 2009; Date/Time: 2009-09-22 ; End Date/Time: 2009-09-24 ;Location: London, UK
September 23, 2009
MarketingSherpa's 6th Annual B2B Marketing Summit 2009MarketingSherpa's 6th Annual B2B Marketing Summit 2009; Date/Time: 2009-09-23 ; End Date/Time: 2009-09-25 ;Location: San Fancisco,CA
PPC Summit Los Angeles 2009PPC Summit Los Angeles 2009; Date/Time: 2009-09-23 ; End Date/Time: 2009-09-25 ;Location: Los Angeles, CA
October 01, 2009
IZEAFest 2009IZEAFest 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-01 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-05 ;Location: Olando, FL
October 05, 2009
MarketingSherpa's 6th Annual B2B Marketing Summit 2009MarketingSherpa's 6th Annual B2B Marketing Summit 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-05 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-07 ;Location: Boston,
SMX East 2009SMX East 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-05 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-09 ;Location: New Yok City, NY
October 12, 2009
eMetrics Summit Stockholm 2009eMetrics Summit Stockholm 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-12 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-14 ;Location: Stockholm, Sweden
SMX Stockholm 2009SMX Stockholm 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-12 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-14 ;Location: Stockholm, Sweden
October 14, 2009
a4uexpo Europe 2009a4uexpo Europe 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-14 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-16 ;Location: London, UK
Affilicon Scandinavia 2009Affilicon Scandinavia 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-14 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-16 ;Location: Stockholm,Sweden
The Marketing Forum UK 2009The Marketing Forum UK 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-14 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-18 ;Location: Southampton, UK
October 15, 2009
BlogWorld Expo 2009BlogWorld Expo 2009; Date/Time: 2009-10-15 ; End Date/Time: 2009-10-18 ;Location: Las Vegas, NV


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