Shout out to Chad Waite from AvantLink for this great interview at Blogworld Expo 2011 a couple of weeks ago! When it comes to explaining some of the complexities of what we do in common terms, Chad is a natural. He's also produced a very useful screencast/tutorials YouTube channel for AvantLink.
With so many affiliate marketing networks, how does a person choose one from the other? According to Chad Waite, a Network Specialist with AvantLink, their affiliate network is different. Most people associate affiliate marketing with banner and text ads, but as Waite explained, AvantLink's tools set it apart. The company's tools allow publishers to go beyond these types of ads and lets them advertise on a product level.
"When affiliate marketing becomes something like that, it becomes an enhancement to content and not so much an advertisement," said Waite.
The company also has a WordPress plugin that brings all its tools and functionality to one place to make it easier for bloggers and publishers. read more..
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 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?
For a long time it was stressed that in the cost per sale Affiliate marketing space more was better. In other words, the more Affiliates you could get on board with your program, the better off you would be. In the year 2000 that may have been the case. In the year 2010, it's definitely not.
This is especially important to realize if you're part of a network that boasts that they have "over a million publishers".
(BTW the term "publishers" referring to Affiliates in and of itself kind of annoys me, but that's for a different rant, on a different day.)
Web retailers, despite what you've been told by sales people for these platforms, a multitude of marginal Affiliates having access to your store means nothing ...but extra work, hard ache and damage to your bottom line; not to mention potential damage to the brand and reputation you've worked so hard to build.
Although you won't get any company names outta me, I'll bet a lot of folks reading this can guess who I'm talking about...and get it right. Some of the largest Affiliate network platforms could care less about a web store's brand. What they do care about is making $$$ for their stakeholders and bloated organizations. So,
They will look the other way on TONS of rogue Affiliate traffic driving techniques because, frankly, these techniques aren't against the law. This not only steals traffic and sales from legitimate Affiliates, but some of these techniques also effectively trump the web retailer's own internal ad spending and organic rankings...effectively filtering sales through a channel they don't belong to.
They will look the other way on Trademark Bidding by Affiliates. Which is the practice of driving cheap paid search traffic to retailers by bidding on their names, domain names or trademarks. Apparently (according to some platforms) it's appropriate to leave it up to the merchants to police this activity, even though greater than 9 out of 10 web merchants don't want it happening, and rightly so. In fact, a lot of merchants I talk to are pissed off and disappointed when they figure out this is happening! They feel taken advantage of.
They will nickel and dime web stores on their networks for everything imaginable. Merchants, want to send out some recruitment offers? Cough up a fee. Want to get featured placement and extra network exposure? Cough up a fee. What, you didn't move $25,000 worth of transactions through the platform this month? Cough up a fee. One way or another, they will get their money.
If you're a quality web retailer looking for a level playing field, value Affiliates and a true partner in this business check out AvantLink. Yep, it's in part my company, my blog, so I'll be plugging our company LOTS. Get over it
How's this for my first post @GeekArm? Sitting here in Las Vegas at Affiliate Summit, at the Rio, on Saturday, January 18th 2010 at 9:45pm. Although it was an eventful day of networking and seeing old friends...this place just isn't for me. What with being a country boy and all.
Not to mention the NOISE...literally. The Rio is so damn noisy.