"Begin where you are and such as you are, without aiming mainly to become of more worth, and with kindness aforethought, go about doing good." - Henry David Thoreau
This holiday season it was time to part ways with AvantLink, a company I co-founded and helped to build for over nine years. It is hard to move on from this chapter in life, but I am very grateful for the opportunity. I have evolved from a naive ski bum entrepreneur worried about the next powder fix, to a proud and determined, business-savvy family man.
As a founding member, I was initially responsible for marketing and establishing the brand online. Within five years, and without outside funding, we effectively penetrated a competitive market and became associated with top affiliate marketing technologies worldwide.
Transitions in life are hard. Change is uncomfortable, but it's inevitable and must be embraced. As sophisticated as the software had become (and will become), it all boils down to people. When I look back on helping to build a technology company, what I appreciate most are the relationships, time spent mentoring and making complex solutions easy for others to understand.
We quietly rolled out Affiliate marketing's first app marketplace yesterday (think platform), and this is the first blog post about it (although we did a #sneakpeak tweet yesterday). Hopefully there will be many more to come. It's AvantLink Affiliate network integrated, and there are no fees to submit or use the ad technology.
AvantLink has introduced the AvantLink App Market to encourage innovators to build capabilities within our architecture that will enhance business relationships, provide new technical tools for Affiliate marketers, and in general, continue to add functionality to our platform.
Yessir. Game on. Learn more HERE or HERE...or watch the Prezi below.
Oh, and not bad launch timing in light of the Google Rant going around.
This is a no brainer solution for manufacturers or brand names who publish online product info, but do not have ecommerce enabled on their web site(s).
Attention brands and/or manufacturers: Are you considering going direct-to-consumer with an ecommerce platform? If so AvantLink has an alternative option for you. Join AvantLink as an Affiliate, and through the use of their existing network functionality, you can partner with your retail vendors to drive customers their way...instead of competing with them!
Options include placing a "Where to Buy" widget on your site's product information pages that displays links to merchants who carry your products (as long as the merchant is offering their Affiliate program through AvantLink). Or you can use their Affiliate Link Encoder to automatically convert links you might already have to your retail vendors, to referral tracking and revenue generating links.
WordPress (Wikipedia, 5/31/11): "WordPress is an open source blog tool and publishing platform powered by PHP and MySQL. It's often customized into a Content Management System. It has many features including a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is used by over 14% of the 1,000,000 biggest websites."
First Thing's First
Pick a topic. Make a firm choice in your area of expertise because you only get one. Let me say it another way: if you try and build content as an expert for ten different sites, with ten different topics, it will not work. Your time will be wasted and you will walk away defeated. I cannot emphasize this enough.
Decide on a domain name. You are better off with a short, brandable domain rather than a long-hyphenated-keyword-match.com domain. If you can get something short and unique with a .com that's perfect, but you can still get creative otherwise. For example you have probably seen people use actual domain extensions as part of the branding (think del.icio.us or shopsocial.ly).
Find a web host. There are plenty to choose from, and if you're just starting out all you'll need is a shared hosting platform...I use Hostican.com. Lucky for you the shared hosting providers are more similar than they are different, but you should still spend a bit of time looking around the web for consumer reviews of the different hosts.
WordPress & Configuration
The inherent nature of the WordPress CMS allows for easy categorization, tagging and archiving of your web content. Content can include anything from photographs, editorials and articles, to podcasts and videos. As Gary V says, "just make sure and put out good shit." Be authentic. Be yourself. Be the authority on your topic. Build your personal brand online. Whether you're a true authority or just a poser will come out clear as day in the content you put out.
Most shared web hosting platforms have one click installs of popular tools and scripts via admin interfaces like cpanel. If that's the case with your host (this might be something to find out before you choose on a host), installing WordPress literally takes seconds. If that's not the case don't sweat it because installing WordPress manually is not that difficult. Start here.
Once you have WordPress installed find a theme (or skin) that works for you. There are countless themes out there, but use this Free WordPress Themes database to search from. You can also find higher quality paid or custom themes, but to start out get a simple layout that's free. If you have some basic HTML or CSS skills than it's fairly easy to do some of your own customizations.
Now that you have a theme, tweak two important admin settings before you get started from within the WP panel: Permalinks & Privacy. More info on each below, including screen grabs.
Settings -> Permalinks
You can assign a custom permalink structure to the content you produce, and you should. Personally I think it's best to structure URLs to include the keywords you use in page or post titles, as well as categories. To do this simply go to "Settings" then "Permalinks" page, select "Custom Structure" then apply the following value to that field:
This allows permalinks (or URLs) of the content you produce to include category and postname keywords. So for example if I posted a fact on GeekArm.com about how bad it is to try and build ten thin Affiliates sites at once, the title might be something like: Focus or Lose. With the custom permalink structure in place, the archived URL would include the category (Facts) and the post title (Focus or Lose): http://www.geekarm.com/facts/focus-or-lose/
WordPress Permalink Settings
Settings -> Privacy
If you're building a niche Affiliate site it's essential that you allow search engines to get in and index your content. There is a specific setting for allowing or disallowing this on the "Settings" then "Privacy" page. Real simple...just select "I would like my site to be visible to everyone, including search engines (like Google, Bing, Technorati) and archivers" and then click "Save Changes".
WordPress Privacy Settings
If you own high profile SERPs with good content, for competitive KWs/product searches in your niche, you will convert sales and earn commissions. Of course the trick is going to be to win those SERPs, so dig in and do it right. You will not succeed by gaming the search engines. Build something from your knowledge and passion that's sustainable.
There are a handful of plugins that you should download and activate right away (see arrows below in "WordPress Plugins List"). As you get more familiar with WordPress, and become more familiar with it's plugin capabilities, you will be able to easily add or delete others. There are lots to choose from and you can read reviews or view ratings before you download and activate them. In the dashboard sidebar of WordPress just click "Plugins" for access to your list of plugins.
WordPress Plugins List
Akismet should come with the install, and yes you should activate it right away. It effectively controls and filters comment spam that will become rampant once your site gains some traction. You'll first need to sign up for an API key, though, and there is a small monthly fee...no complaining, it's entirely worth it.
Others I recommend starting with include a video embed plugin of some sort (there are lots!), WP Super Cache and ShareThis (or a similar plugin that helps others share your content). Downloading and of course activating plugins can be done from within the WordPress admin panel by clicking "Plugins" then "Add New".
WordPress Install Plugins
Remember it's not brain science to follow the guidelines above for WordPress. Your two main challenges will be to 1) focus your efforts, and 2) dig your heals in for the long haul. Do yourself a favor and focus on your area of knowledge or expertise with one web site and put out good content regularly. If you do this you will earn natural inbound links over time, which naturally builds site authority...preserving the integrity of your efforts to build a profitable, niche Affiliate site.
A clear example of how social media works as a marketing and business tool..
We recently hit our distribution channels hard with mentions of AvantLink Mobile, a new Android phone application for Affiliates and merchants. This Android app allows people to check their Affiliate program stats, and do some other cool things from their smart phones. As you might have guessed, the impact my social media contacts had on further distributing this news was significant.
Although I have been dabbling over the last few years, it's been tough to really sink my teeth in fully to social media channels...what with building our Affiliate network from the ground up and all. But now that I'm getting more time to really test and measure the effectiveness of Twitter and Facebook (among others), I'm a believer all the way.
The value of industry peers and contacts advancing your news far exceeds the exposure you get on any one web site...like you didn't already know that
We know how to make an analysis of web traffic that makes it 99.9% probable that Affiliates are using CPV/PPV Networks to drive traffic, as in this case. We have the secret sauce, and the cheaters don't know what that is. And neither will anyone reading this article...
At any rate, during the vetting this individual didn't seem to understand what we meant by "bad traffic", so Scott spelled it out for him in an email. I thought it was worth posting here to help others understand what we believe to be Good vs. Bad traffic:
We would consider "good" traffic to be (but not limited to):
Sites that visitors come to naturally or through search results, and then click through affiliate links to merchant sites.
PPC bidding (not on trademarked terms and that follows our network level and merchant level terms and conditions) on search engines to drive traffic through affiliate links.
Opt-in email campaigns (not SPAM) that drive traffic through affiliate links.
We consider "bad" traffic to be anything not covered by the above, including (but not limited to):
The use of browser toolbar/add-ons that trigger content including affiliate links to users and as a result intercept the natural click stream of the user.
Trademark-term PPC bidding and/or any PPC bidding that violates our network level or merchant level terms and conditions.
Spamdexing, or any attempt to use black hat SEO methods to game the search engine results.
And it hurts my GeekArm to hold one to my ear. For the most part they are a silly and outdated tool, especially for those of us who spend our time doing web marketing stuff all day. There are two reasons why I prefer email over phones with my day-to-day work @AvantLink, and they are basically the same thing.
Self-documentation. With a phone call you spend the first ten minutes on small talk, and then by the time it's wrapped up thirty minutes or more have passed. Then (and here's the best part), ten minutes later you can't remember details or a course of action from the call!
Correspondence history. You can't just say you did something or lie over a digital conversation. Trust me, there are plenty of opportunities in this business to forward a previous correspondence to corroborate your side of a dispute or disagreement.
We authenticate every application for ownership, and check Affiliate sites against siteadvisor.com and other helpful resources to insure they are above board.
If the Affiliate doesn't apply with a site that holds value in the form of unique and compelling content and/or services, then we deny. It's that simple. This does NOT exclude the little guys. Show us the goods and you're in!
We closely monitor any spike in Affiliate traffic and sales, and require full disclosure of traffic driving techniques from Affiliates who fail to send any referrer URLs with clicks. Periodic blank referrers are expected, but not 100% blank referrer data.
Now, if we're finding the crap we find...what is going down in the larger networks who seem to be just fine with letting any and every Affiliate have access so long as they've completed the application?
Mitigating traffic fraud is a constant battle for us as we continue to find perpetrators injecting cookies, spamdexing or otherwise trademark bidding on merchant or brand names. We're committed to a level playing field, despite what that will cost us in terms of immediate revenue.
When busted and questioned about their traffic these Affiliates have packaged responses, as if they were taught how to respond. And they LIE without hesitation. One just told us they were sending traffic via email marketing campaigns exclusively, yet 100% of the clicks came from Internet Explorer. Hmmm...
Unlike some of our competitors, we're proving it with our actions. The long term integrity and sustainability of the cost per sale Affiliate marketing industry is what we're focused on. But unfortunately the companies right now with the most influence in our space are littering the perception and friggin' it up for everyone by looking the other way, or otherwise failing to maintain quality control in the Affiliate traffic moving through their networks.
No company names, but digest this:
Recently a high-profile merchant migrated their Affiliate program to us from a well known and respected network. As you can guess, tons of Affiliates came on board with the migration to continue promoting the merchant...because they crank. So far we've busted several of those Affiliates who migrated with the program on rogue techniques outlined on Scott's article linked to above.
So again, I'll ask: How pervasive do you think Affiliate traffic fraud is on the large networks?