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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Neil Patel, Conversion and Affiliate Marketing Icon

Neil Patel is a New York Times bestselling author. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies. He was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 35 by the United Nations.

What I love about what I do is meeting some of the greatest minds in digital, affiliate and growth marketing. While I was travelling in Thailand last month, Neil and I ended up speaking at the same Affiliate Marketing Conference, and had a great chat about food, travel, Vancouver, Seattle and what makes marketing great.

As the co-founder of several multi-million dollar digital companies, including Crazy Egg, KISSmetrics and Quick Sprout, AND as a personal advisor to some of the largest brands in the world, Neil knows what he's talking about.

I was lucky enough to interview Neil about his thoughts on Affiliate Marketing. Here is what he had to say:

Q: Affiliate Marketing means many things to many people. How do you view and value affiliate marketing in the overall marketing mix for brands looking to drive incremental revenue and new customer acquisitions? 

Neil: Affiliate marketing is great. It allows smaller companies to grow without having to take large risks. With marketing becoming more expensive and competitive, you have to no choice but to leverage all channels if you want to grow. And of course, affiliate marketing should be in that mix. (more…)

Exclusive Interview: Tricia Meyer Comments Black Friday / Cyber Monday Results

Tricia-Meyer-Cyber-MondayWith some of the hottest sales days of the year just passing us and Affiliate Summit West just around the corner, I wanted to get some insight from one of our industry veterans on how Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales went from an affiliate perspective, what challenges the industry is facing going into 2014, advice from an affiliate to a merchant and a few other tid-bits.
This month's exclusive interview is with the well loved and respected, Tricia Meyer.

1. How did you find Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales this year compared to other years? What changes did you make to get different results this year?

This year sales started much earlier. Years ago we didn't even have traffic on Thanksgiving. This year, we saw a huge spike in sales...rivaling Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I think it was a combination of fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas as well as all of the media attention on Big Box stores starting their sales earlier. We loaded up everything that we could to start on Thanksgiving but still took the day off to spend with family. Now we have fewer days between Cyber Monday and Christmas so we are having to stay on top of sales hourly.

2. As an affiliate of a community blog, a loyalty site and multiple micro-niche-sites, what do you want merchants to know about working with you?

More than anything else, the more that they can help us automate and streamline our processes, the better chance that we will be able to include them on our site. When merchants load coupons into the network as text links rather than promotions, we do not get them automatically in the feed. So the merchants want us to add them manually from the newsletters. But with over 1000 merchants, we just can't get to them in time. The more that we can use the technology that the networks give us, the better.

3. What do you see as the single most challenging issue with the affiliate marketing industry right now?

From my perspective, content sites are getting squeezed out. Between cookie overwriting, Google's fickle rankings, and the legal issues of disclosure and taxation, veterans with content sites are finding themselves looking for full-time jobs to pay the bills with their affiliate sites now just being on the side. If that continues, we could eventually see more and more of the piece of the pie going to the biggest sites with less going to the little ones that truly provide unique content. We need affiliates of all sizes to stick with it to keep the industry strong.


4. Of all the sites you own, which are your favorite Top 3?

I love Sunshine Rewards just because it is my primary focus and where I have gotten to know so many members over the last 8 years. Second would be WineClubReviewsandRatings.com. That one is just fun. I get to make money essentially drinking wine and writing about it! Lastly I would say Tricia.me although I don't spend as much time on it. It's the only site where I feel like I can write about anything. It isn't about making sales or profitability. It's just about writing about what I think is important.

5. I see you will be speaking at Affiliate Summit West 2014 about affiliate management. What is the main premise of your session and what do you want merchants to take away from it?

I will be moderating a panel called "Grill the Affiliate Managers" where I will be asking tough questions to affiliate managers and OPMs. Merchants will learn just how important a good affiliate manager is to the success of their program plus the kinds of decisions affiliate managers have to make (working with toolbars, choosing networks, approving affiliates). There are a lot of gray areas and a lot of ways that unseasoned affiliate managers can kill programs.

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6. Bonus question: Who are the people to watch in 2014 in the affiliate marketing space you feel are making a difference to our industry, who don't get a lot of attention?

Someone who I think is brilliant but I hardly ever hear people talking about is Tony Pantano. He is the kind of guy that you need to meet at the conferences and just spend time talking to. He has his fingers on the pulse of every network plus he will be returning to a position on the Performance Marketing Association Board of Directors. He's been in the industry a long time and was active in the Affiliate Tax fight. And it is terribly biased because he is such a good friend, but Eric Nagel is still one of the smartest people I know in affiliate marketing and is always on the cutting edge of everything related to affiliate marketing. As more of us are looking to automate processes, Eric is the go-to-guy on figuring out how to do that.
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Exclusive Interview with SEO & Affiliate Marketing Legend, Rae "SugarRae" Hoffman

Rae (Sugar Rae) Hoffman of PushFire

Rae (Sugar Rae) Hoffman of PushFire

I recently had the privilege of spending some personal time with SEO and Performance Marketing legend, Rae "SugarRae" Hoffman of PushFire.

I wanted to get to know her more, having watched her over the last few years, reading her blog and admiring the woman she is, both as a mother and a business owner.

She was wonderful in answering my very personal questions and I appreciated her genuine answers and heartfelt replies.

Exclusive Interview with Rae "SugerRae" Hoffman: 


Q. You've accomplished an incredible amount in your life and you have much to be proud of. What would you say are your top three most precious accomplishments either personally or professionally?

LOL, thanks. You know, it's funny – I really had to think on this one because looking at individual past accomplishments isn't something I do often – neither on a personal level or a professional one. I think sometimes I'm so busy moving forward I don't have much time to look back. That said… On a personal level it would have to be being a mom. Cliché, yes. Campy, yes. True, yes. I had nothing when my first child was born. My oldest son was severely multiply handicapped – both mentally and physically. By the time I was 27 (which was nine years ago) I was a newly divorced, single mom of 3 until I got remarried about three years ago. Being able to raise them on my own - without any outside financial support and without any financial struggle despite my oldest son's needs – while still being able to be an "active mom" to them is the thing I'm most proud of at the end of the day. I like to think I've shown my kids you can do anything if you work hard and don't see failure as an option.

On a professional level, it is so hard to pinpoint one specific event. I think for me, it's the entire gamut of going from foster kid to CEO and every single step that occurred between. It's very hard to pinpoint one individual thing because it was such a long series of steps, milestones and occurrences that got me from there to here. But, at the end of the day, I like to believe that never losing site of "who I am" through it all is something to be proud of. I've seen success ruin so many personalities over the course of my career. I'd like to think I'm the same personality wise today I was 10+ years ago – with a little more confidence, LOL. And I actually do my best to keep myself surrounded by people who have no problem "checking me" when needed vs. "yes men" so to speak.

Lastly, I think I'm pretty proud of making the decision to partner with Sean and build PushFire. Being able to create a company that is independent of relying on me as an individual is something I'm pretty stoked to be doing. I handle managing the SEO side of things while Sean focuses on the PPC side. We have the same values as far as our number one priority being to deliver ROI to the client. It's not about how much money we can make ourselves – it's about how much money we can make the client.


Q. From someone who specializes in Search Marketing what do you like and dislike most about the performance marketing industry?

The thing I like the most is the independence of it. As an affiliate, I answer to no one except my own bank account. I work when I want to and my revenue potential is directly tied to how hard I'm willing to work for it – but it's done on my own terms.

The thing I dislike to most is the negative opinion on our industry fueled by ignorance and some "bad apples" who will promote anything, in any way, honest or not, to make a buck. I hate that the legitimate, value add, honest affiliates out there are often undervalued and underrated for the benefits they bring to a merchant.


Q. What do you find are the greatest challenges retailers are facing today around SEO and PPC efforts?

Ha. The challenges are plentiful. Google removing the ability to track keyword referrals from organic search is a huge, huge issue in the SEO side of online marketing right now. It makes tracking the success and value of SEO campaigns so much harder – in addition to making it an uphill battle to identify and rectify SEO related issues on the keyword level. Their Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates – and the lack of transparency around them – creates a lot of collateral damage that seems to be ignored. Figuring out if any of the above is affecting you is easy. Understanding how to rectify it – not so much if you're not completely immersed in the world of SEO.

PPC isn't my specialty. But, from what I see relating to PushFire PPC clients, I think a lot of people simply aren't utilizing PPC to their fullest advantage. For instance, if merchants are running PPC campaigns but aren't involved in (smart) remarketing – they're missing out. Same goes for merchants who aren't running PLA when their target search results have big emphasis on those listings. Setting PPC and then forgetting it – instead of optimizing the hell out of it on a continual basis.


Q. What three recommendations can you make to retailers preparing for Q4 shopping season right now?

Understand the "SEO ship" has already sailed for Q4. You can't begin working on improving SEO efforts in late Q3 and expect to see any ranking miracles occur in time for Q4. If improving SEO for Q4 is a priority, it's one that needs to be addressed no later than Q2.

If you don't have your remarketing efforts for PPC integrated into your checkout process, get it done. Example: Someone put an item in their cart, but didn't complete the checkout process. This is obviously someone "warm" to you, but for whatever reason they didn't complete the sale – so maybe you decide to remarket them with an offer for free shipping or a discount code to sweeten the deal.

Get your affiliates updated creatives and create some sales increase incentives for your top affiliates to help them kick ass for you over the holiday season. Also, not specific to Q4 per se, but, if you don't have the ability for affiliates to deep link within your site, I'd heavily suggest considering it. My conversion rates as an affiliate are much higher when I can link to a specific product page versus merely linking to a homepage or category page.


Q. What are three things you'd absolutely love to do in your life that you have yet to accomplish?

You like making me self reflect, LOL!

I'd like to see PushFire on the Inc 5000 list when it's eligible company age wise. I have a side project I'm working on that I unfortunately can't release details on yet (sorry) haha.

Lastly, I'm chomping at the bit to get land and move more into the country. Like… 40+ acres with cows, chickens, horses, hay production and four wheeling in our "backyard" country. I am a redneck girl and suburbia isn't my thing. We wanted to wait until my older children were at or near driving age though before making that move. We're almost there!

Exclusive Interview with A4U on New Performance Marketing Insights Conference


Performance Marketing Insights Conference New York 2013


With Europe's largest and most powerful affiliate community coming to North America next week with the premier of their new Performance Marketing Insights Conference, I wanted to find out more about their move to the US. Below is a Q&A they generously allowed me in an exclusive interview.


Q: Please tell me a about A4u’s move to North America. Why have you decided to come now and what do you hope to gain from your presence here?

A4u has successfully programmed and executed over 15 international conferences, six Performance Marketing Awards Ceremonies, 20+ Networking Events, an Affiliate Forum and Performance Marketing News & Resource Portal. Our events have taken us across Europe including London, Amsterdam, Munich and Barcelona. It was therefore a natural step to come to the U.S. The opportunity to put on a stateside event in an exciting city like New York, complements our innovative mentality and allows us to focus on offering the most forward-looking global content in a performance marketing conference with both a local and international focus.

Our aim in launching Performance Marketing Insights is to grow the presence and professionalism of the industry we have been passionate about throughout our 14 year history. We wanted to offer a platform in which leaders in the digital marketing space could share the latest strategies, technologies and innovation taking place within the rapidly evolving performance marketing industry, as well as meet and develop the opportunity for new partnerships and generate new revenue streams, not only in the U.S. but across the globe.


Q: How do you see your conference different from other affiliate marketing and performance marketing events in the US and Canada?

Performance Marketing Insights is an antitheses of the tradeshow model that is rapidly becoming more prevalent across not only the U.S., but in the U.K. as well. Whilst tradeshows have a place in our industry we want to offer something more; a conference in which education and content is at the very core of the event.

Of course, the opportunity in which to nurture existing relationships, identify new strategic partnerships, and create new business opportunities at Performance Marketing Insights is vast. However, it is very much aligned with the opportunity for senior delegates serious about doing business and shaping the future of our industry, to not only be educated, but to educate their peers on the strategies, technologies, trends, and best practices that are creating the future of the performance marketing industry. The exclusive positioning of Performance Marketing Insights, reflects our primary aim; Quality over Quantity.


Q: Please tell us about the founders of the Performance Marketing Insights conference and what they are most known for in the space.

A4u, founded by Matthew Wood, has been in the affiliate space for over 14 years providing an online forum and news portal designed specifically for the affiliate marketing industry. Now headed up by Content Director Chris Johnson, affiliates4u.com has over 50,000 members, a plethora of research pieces, and a constant feed of performance marketing news, and insights from across the globe.

I joined the organization three years ago and have since led the direction of the event space to continue to innovate and grow our conferences very much in line with the high standard of content we produce. Alongside our annual black tie awards ceremony, a4uexpo Europe and London have grown to become the largest European Performance Marketing conferences. Therefore, we are very excited about our first U.S. show.


Q: Please tell us about the speakers and presenters of the Performance Marketing Insights Conference and why these people were chosen to speak.

The two-day agenda programmed by Chris and the team at A4u, offers over 25 presentations and panel debates from leading experts not only within the performance marketing industry, but also across the many media and marketing channels that are utilized by those involved in performance marketing.

Delegates will hear from speakers, such as yourself, who have first-hand experience on the evolution and dramatic advancements of the industry. Featuring presence from Networks, Advertisers, Publishers and Agencies across every discipline, each session will offer insights into what works and what doesn’t, identifying new opportunities, harnessing new technologies, and the development of performance marketing as part of the ecommerce ecosystem, not only for a U.S. perspective, but for those with international goals.


Q: Where do you see A4U and the Performance Marketing Insights Conference going in the next 2-3 years?

A4u’s focus has always been the growth, advancement, and professionalism of the performance marketing industry. This will continue to be our intention in the years to come as the performance marketing industry develops, via both the continued research and news produced by the team, and the growth and innovation of all of our events, whether it is across new territories or new demographics.

You can find more information about Performance Marketing Insights here, or to register with an exclusive code just for my readers use SBundy15% to get 15% off conference tickets.  Looking forward to seeing you there!

5 Questions and Answers with PMA's Lisa Picarille

This week I interviewed Lisa Picarille of the Performance Marketing Association (PMA) of which I'm an active member on their Industry Advancement Council. I love being part of a community of thought leaders and industry advocates who are trying to make a positive difference in the affiliate marketing space. Here are 5 Q&A's I sent to Lisa about why the PMA is worth joining, what they are working towards and what difference they make in the lives of those around us.


1. What are the main goals of the PMA?

The PMA has many efforts underway that promote industry education, increase the level of thoughtful conversation about the challenges facing our industry and ongoing efforts to lobby for (and against) legislation that impacts the performance marketing space. All of these efforts underscore the PMA’s single mission to grow and advance the performance marketing industry.


2. Where do you see performance marketing going in the next 2-3 years?

All research and anecdotal evidence points to nothing but continued growth for performance marketing. Advertisers of all sizes are finally catching on to the fact that performance marketing provides the most measureable marketing model.  And in an economy where ROI is crucial, performance marketing stands alone as the best way to track and measure performance. By attracting more advertisers to the space, we will see the need for all type of affiliates, new vendor services, more agencies, etc. The entire ecosystem benefits. In addition, the rapid online marketing innovations that come from super-smart affiliates and savvy developers will continue to create new exciting opportunities for performance marketers.


3. What kind of benefits would members get from being part of the PMA?

PMA Members enjoy a variety of valuable benefits. They can run for a seat on the board of directors, which gives them a meaningful way to impact the direction of the association and the overall industry. They can participate in member groups such as councils, which work on specific issues to develop output (best practices standards, whitepapers, etc.) that influence and educate those in the industry and define direction. Members also have an opportunity to raise their profile as thought leaders by participating or chairing councils, being on podcasts, contributing content and representing their particular perspective.  In addition, there are things like newsletters, unique content and legislative updates that are available only to members. They also have the unique opportunity to interact with other industry leaders that are also committed to advancement of the performance marketing space.


4. What are some of the key achievements of the PMA this year?

We made great strides this year focusing on the launch of our councils and on the legislative front.


The PMA launched five councils – Email, Compliance, Content Monetization, Agency and Industry Advancement. More are slated to launch by the end of the year. These councils focus on specific industry issues and seek to highlight benefits, overcome challenges and offer solutions in the form of educational materials, best practices and other content that promote the overall advancement of the performance marketing space.

Each of the existing councils, while still in their early stages, have already had great input from council members and their respective chairs, to move discussions forward and generate tangible output that will be shared with the community when completed.


Our new board President Brian Littleton, CEO of ShareASale, recently sent out an email to highlight huge wins on the legislative front. I think he did a fantastic job of showcasing these accomplishments. So, I will simply reiterate what he saw as our biggest achievements.

Kept Affiliates in California In Business. The PMA was instrumental in negotiating with the California Board of Equalization (the agency that oversees sales tax collection in California) to make sure that when their new law went into effect on September 15th, 2012 – Affiliates could stay in business.  The negotiated process allows for California Affiliate Marketers to continue working with out-of-State retailers.

Defeated the State of Illinois – Affiliate Nexus Ruled Unconstitutional. The PMA filed suit in the State of Illinois claiming that the recently enacted legislation that Illinois put forth to collect sales tax was unconstitutional.   With a coalition of PMA members contributing to the fight, the judge ruled in our favor.

Defeated the Affiliate Tax in Minnesota. On May 12th of this year, the Minnesota legislature declined to include proposed Affiliate Nexus Tax language in legislation.  Without the PMA, this language likely would have gone unchallenged as two major retailers - Best Buy and Target - call Minnesota home.  The above mentioned lawsuit in Illinois had a major role in indicating to the Minnesota legislature that the PMA was an important voice.

A Federal Solution

With the PMA at the Negotiating Table. Great strides have been made in Washington D.C. this year with regards to the proposed Federal level solution to the nexus tax predicament.  Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois led this charge and was inspired to do so based on the PMA’s representation of itself during the Illinois State-level fight.


5. What makes the PMA special?

It is the only group that represents all facets of the performance marketing space. It is a single voice advocating for the industry’s growth by bring together constituents from all the performance marketing disciplines to have meaningful, impaction and useful discussions to advance and promote the value of the performance marketing business model.  Also, the PMA also offers a variety of membership levels to encourage participation from everyone that has a passion to involved regardless of the size of their business.

Exclusive Interview with PMA Founder, Rebecca Madigan

Rebecca Madigan of the PMA - Performance Marketing AssociationI recently had the pleasure of speaking with Rebecca Madigan, founder of the Performance Marketing Association. We had never met even though we've both been in the industry for years and seen each others' names often. After reaching out via Facebook we connected and got to chat. She's an incredible lady and has such a keen passion for affiliate marketing. I asked to interview her so we could all get to know her and her contributions to our industry a little more.


Q: Please tell us about yourself and how you got into the Performance Marketing industry.

"I started in performance marketing in 2005 when I joined Commission Junction in product management. My previous experience was in product development in the early Internet days (I was product manager for the first VoIP product on the market), telecommunications and wireless. In all those industries we embraced trade associations and standards groups, to help propel the growth of these emerging markets. It always amazed me there was no trade association for performance marketing, considering how complex this industry is. In April 2008, after raising some outside funding from Lurn, I began organizing the PMA."


Q: What would you like people to know about you?

"I take the responsibilities of the PMA and this industry very seriously and personally. I put my heart into this, particularly the fight against the Affiliate Nexus Tax, and I've been trampled and beaten back but still keep going. But this pales in comparison to the 76,000 affiliate marketers whose incomes have been devastated. We have to get those people back in business, and that keeps me going. My fight is stronger than ever!"


Q: In all the work you've done with CJ, Lurn Inc and the Performance Marketing Association, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment to date?

"I think a lot of people in this industry will understand the feeling of being an entrepreneur, taking that giant leap of faith going out on your own, and living on the bleeding edge to get it going. As a matter of fact, I'm continually inspired by all the entrepreneurs from whom I've been inspired and mentored.

But hands down, the most difficult and greatest accomplishment professionally and personally, is beating back the Affiliate Nexus Tax bills around the country, and continuing the advocacy work in DC. The only political thing I ever did was vote regularly, so this was not only an unexpected direction but completely unknown and frightening. I feel responsibility to this industry every day with this issue. Even though we've beaten this back 60 times, there are 76,000 affiliate marketers, or about 1/3 of all publishers, who have been harmed. We need to get this solved once and for all, our best chances are in DC and we have a good chance of getting those folks back in business in 2013, early I hope!"


Q: Many people are still confused about legislations around Performance Marketing. What are the main points you feel people should understand?

"Affiliate marketers are the unintended victims in a battle between big box retailers like Walmart, Best Buy and Target, and online retailers like Amazon and Overstock, who haven't had to collect sales tax in most states.

In order for a state to get a retailer to collect its sales tax, the US Constitution requires that business must have a physical presence, or 'nexus' in the state. Typically that has meant a store or warehouse. But these 'Affiliate Nexus Tax' laws, aka Amazon tax laws, state that if those retailers have advertising agreements with Affiliate Marketers in the state, that's the same as having a store, or nexus. About 1,000 online advertisers responded by terminating their affiliate agreements, to avoid having to collect sales tax. It has passed in 9 states, wiping out a huge amount of income for about 76,000 affiliates. The PMA successfully sued Illinois to block the law, but even though the judge ruled it was unconstitutional, the state is keeping the law in effect during the appeal.

There is Federal legislation in DC that would make this whole thing go away. The bills, in the House and Senate, remove that 'nexus' requirement, meaning all retailers must collect for all states, with our without physical presence. The PMA is actively lobbying in support of these bills and we see some very positive momentum. It will likely take until early 2013, after the presidential election."


Q: If you could tell new merchants something they should know about Performance Marketing, what would it be?

"Performance marketing is the most relevant kind of advertising to consumers. Our whole industry depends on consumers trusting and clicking through on performance ads and taking action. We only get paid if consumers are happy! And publishers take all the up front risk, merchants only pay for ads that perform."

It would be great if there were more people like Rebecca in our industry. However more and more people who feel the same kind of responsibility and passion are coming out of the woodworks, which is essential to the positive development of affiliate marketing locally and globally. I'm proud to now know Rebecca and thank her for her effort and contribution to the performance marketing world.

Exclusive Interview with Shareasale's Brian Littleton

Brian Littleton of Sharesale and Sarah Bundy of Affiliate Management Trainers

Brian Littleton of Sharesale and Sarah Bundy of Affiliate Management Trainers

There are a few people in this industry that I love. Brian Littleton, Founder and President of Shareasale is one of them. Despite his incredibly hectic schedule, he allowed me time to ask him some questions to help us understand him more as a person and reflect on a few key issues faced by our industry today.


Q. Please tell us about the success of your last Think Tank. Was it as you expected? Better? Worse? What were your personal favorite parts?

Think Tank was a lot different than last year, for a number of reasons – the most of which was that last year we tried to “mix it up” and make it an open event for anyone to register.  This year we went back to a little bit of the old formula in invitation only, and a little more stepped up on the amenities, etc..   We also shared a week with Affiliate Summit in Austin (their event, Affiliate Summit Central, took place a few days prior to ours) which brought a whole new element to our event and introduced a lot of people that would otherwise not have known about it.    From a business perspective, it was a huge success as we had a number of wonderful presentations, great feedback, and I know a lot of Affiliates were introduced to some great Merchants while we were there.   From a fun perspective it was one of my favourites especially with the Lake Travis day, boating, jet skis, etc…  As you know, our event is about relaxed, casual networking which is how we feel so many of these bonds are formed between Merchants and Affiliates… I was extremely happy with how the event played out.   A great new addition was the Affiliate Summit Party which was thrown on our “off night” by Shawn Collins and Missy Ward – it was a top notch event and really added a great element to our agenda… hopefully we can do that again!


Q. Attribution is a major topic these days and one that’s going to become more important over the years. What would you suggest to new and intermediate level merchants in order to understand this area more clearly?

From the Affiliate Marketing perspective, there are two important points to remember.

1.  If you use Shareasale, attribution can be customized and is not a one-size-fits-all approach.   Our tracking software allows you to segment groups of Affiliates, setup rules to commission them differently based on multiple click points (not just the last click), and allows you to commission differently if the traffic was touched or influenced by another marketing channel.   I would highly recommend any ShareASale Merchant taking a long look at these capabilities to make sure that commissioning is happening just the way they want.

2.  Affiliates are compensated on sales only, and those commissions can be taken away in the case of voids.   This is unique to any other marketing channel being used… for example, you can’t call up a search company and ask for your PPC expenses back when an order is cancelled.  This needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with the issue of attribution.  I hear often that Merchants are concerned with Affiliates being commissioned on orders that actually came from somewhere else.  This is certainly something to research and a legitimate concern, but there is also a lot of leakage as well as reversals that act as a balance.


Q: Shareasale has a reputation for being an "ethical" affiliate network, which comes with ensuring affiliate compliance as much as possible. What are some of the things you do to ensure affiliates are being as honest as possible?

To start out it is part of our mission to work to make the affiliate channel a valuable channel for Merchants.  Once you set that as a true goal, it is easier to make decisions on what types of promotion fit within that goal set.   I don’t use words like “ethical” to describe our business practices because it implies that others are unethical and that isn’t our position.   We wish to setup our policies so that Merchants see value in our network, see that we are honestly trying to help them and grown their business, and see that we don’t put ourselves in positions where conflict of interest can complicate things.   Affiliate compliance is a huge piece of affiliate marketing right now, and it takes a concerted effort between the Merchant and their Network to get it done.


Q: Who is your personal hero or someone you look up to?

I look up to dreamers – probably the simplest way to put that.   Whether it is an athlete, artist, entrepreneur… whatever the dream might be.  It takes courage, imagination, and a ton of work to be a dreamer and those are the people that I would say most inspire me when I hear their stories.


Q: What is your favorite thing about this industry and what would you like to see changed?

Favourite is definitely the amount of diversity and imagination in our industry.   I’ve worked in the industry for some 12 years or so and still have conversations everyday that amaze me.   The people who make up our industry have so much collective knowledge and creativity, it is truly great to watch and be a part of.   The part I would like changed the most is definitely the apathy factor.   Our industry faces a lot of collective challenges – the Affiliate Tax is the most obvious of these – and despite efforts from a lot of good people, we haven’t yet been able to really inspire industry involvement from the majority of the industry.  That is Affiliates, Merchants – and others.  There are so many common challenges that it would really be great to see our industry stand up a little for ourselves, as a group.  It’s definitely something that I’ll be working on for the next few  years quite a bit – so if you are reading this and want to get involved in trying to solve some industry issues, definitely shoot me an email!  It isn’t something that can be accomplished by one group, but it is something that could benefit from any individuals participation.

If you'd like to contact Brian directly, he can be reached at brian(at)shareasale.com.

As always, thanks for your time Brian. It's always an absolute pleasure!

AFFILIATE MARKETING EXCLUSIVE: Personal Interview with Shawn Collins

affiliate marketing expert shawn collins talks to sarah bundyI recently had the privilege of an exclusive interview with Shawn Collins for my blog. Shawn has touched so many people in this industry and his work continues to set the bar for leadership and influence in productive and ethical affiliate marketing practices.

Click here to download the exclusive video interview with Affiliate Marketing Expert, Shawn Collins

Shawn's Brief Bio:

Shawn Collins has been an affiliate marketer since 1997 with a number of active affiliate projects, and a decade of affiliate management under his belt. He is a Co-founder of Affiliate Summit, the leading global conference and tradeshow for the affiliate marketing industry and Co-Editor-in-Chief of FeedFront Magazine. He authored the book Successful Affiliate Marketing for Merchants, and was an editor and contributor to Internet Marketing from the Real Experts. Also, he publishes the annual AffStat affiliate marketing benchmark reports.

Shawn blogs daily on affiliate marketing at Affiliate Tip and co-hosts the weekly Affiliate Thing podcast on GeekCast.fm. Additionally, Shawn has been quoted in numerous publications, including Entrepreneur Magazine, Internet Retailer, Inc. Magazine, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Links to Shawn's Affiliate Marketing Contributions:

Feed Font Magazine (Free)

Geek Cast.FM (Free)

Ask Shawn Collins (Free)

Aff Stat Report (Free)

Affiliate Tip Blog (Free)

Extra Money Answer (Free)

Affiliate Marketers Give Back (Free)

Affiliate Summit Meetups (Free)

Affiliate Summit Webinars (Free)

Affiliate Summit Forum (Free)

Affiliate Summit West, Central and East (Free Info)

In many ways I suppose Shawn is one of my personal heroes in the industry. He's worked hard to bring a positive name to the industry through quality education and free resources to help those around him. His integrity and "stick to his guns" ethics make him one of the most important leaders in the space, and I'm personally proud to know him and work with him in the betterment of affiliate marketing everywhere.

Industry Interview with Award Winning Affiliate Manager, Matt McWilliams

As a continuation to my "Getting to Know Performance Based Marketing" interview series, I asked award winning Affiliate Manager, Matt McWilliams, a few questions. In his responses are some great points and tips for new merchants coming into the space.

Q:   How did you get into the Affiliate Marketing industry?

"Everyone seems to have a story for that question. It seems like we are approaching the first generation of people who actually got into affiliate marketing because they wanted to and set out to do it.

I am like so many over the past 10 years...I got into it by accident. I worked with a good friend of mine, Hunter Ingram, at HometownQuotes in 2004. I had no idea what an affiliate was. I was doing sales, web design, PR, and small bits of coding and Hunter was doing the marketing and affiliate management and was CEO. 

By mid-2006 it dawned on me that I was the one doing all of the communicating with affiliates. Poor Hunter...he was completely clueless on the programming and technical side of things so inevitably everyone got turned over to me at some point.

I complained about it so he made it official...I was the new HometownQuotes Affiliate Manager. Congratulations to me. Everything from that point forward is a blur and I have loved every minute of it."

Q: What do you like best about the industry?

"First, the growth potential for individuals. Anyone can truly make as much as they want within reason...and "within reason" can have a lot of zeroes. 

Second, the individuals themselves. The people are generally amazing. Some of my most productive and enjoyable relationships are with affiliates and other affiliate managers. I have received so much help from well over 50 people over the past 6 years; affiliate managers and affiliates alike. "

Q: What do you think merchants need the most help with when starting out?

"I still don't feel like I have figured that out yet.

If I have to answer it I would say they absolutely have to understand what affiliates want from them and there is no better way to find out than to ask. If at all possible, they should form an advisory group of 3-5 affiliates on whom they can lean heavily. It's hard to do that without getting started, so if they have the money, get an experienced manager. If they are doing it themselves, they need to reach out to a few, offer something in return, and get their help. It takes a lot of time, but is well worth it.

Also, they need to know the landscape of their industry insanely well. They need to know who has an affiliate program, they need to join it if at all possible, and they need to know every detail about those programs: commissions, products, conversions, features, etc. You cannot lose sight of the fact that often affiliates are a small commission increase or better offer away from bolting for greener pastures.

Too many merchants throw up a link, get a $99 software to run the program, offer a % of the revenue and think it's going to buy them a new house in the country with a well stocked lake and a new Mercedes. The reality, there is so much work before the program even launches."

Q: What do you wish you knew when you first started that you would have done differently?

"The one thing I would have done differently is putting our program on a network. At HometownQuotes, it might not have been a good fit for ShareASale because of the dynamics, but with every other program I have been a part of it is absolutely the right choice. Being on a network has a ton of benefits, from helping recruit affiliates to tons of features that you just cannot get on an in-house program without tons of development time. 

Also, you don't have to worry about paying them. Early on, that is important. You can consolidate your expenses into one payment rather than hundreds."

Q: What do you think needs to be done to help bring a better name to the affiliate marketing industry overall?

"This might be a little controversial...OK probably not, but I wish that about 2% of the people in this industry would get out and do something else, like join the mob or the space program. The 98+% of the people in affiliate marketing are drowned out too often by some of the bad apples. The spammers, the coupon crooks (again a few bad apples within that niche give the rest a bad name), cookie stuffers, and shady review sites make the industry as a whole look like a scam to people who don't know any better.

It begins with merchant education on the problems so they can police their own affiliates. Then the networks have to use information wisely and judiciously. As much money as some affiliates are making some networks and/or merchants, it can be hard to do the right thing, but it must be done for the sake of our industry as a whole."

Matt is an affiliate manager consultant and trainer at Affiliate Management Trainers which offers personalized affiliate management training for internet retailers, and is available along with the rest of the AMT team to help merchants better understand their affiliates needs, how to get them active, how to recruit strong performing partners, how to improve their internal performance based marketing strategy and much more.

Shedding Some Light on the "Dark Side" of Performance Based Marketing

As part of shedding light on the "good" side of affiliate marketing, I think it's important for merchants out there to get a better understanding of the different types of affiliates including who they are, what they do and how they think.

Too many people assume affiliate marketing is about "get rich quick", multilevel marketing, pornography and online gaming, let alone scams, fraud and malicious activity. This is not the case for everyone and there are thousands of good affiliates out there who focus on smart and ethical marketing practices to drive incremental sales and value to a merchant's bottom line.

I recently interviewed Nick Chertock, accountant by day, affiliate marketer by night.  Nick is a video blogger in the golf niche focused on the improvement process.  He promotes high quality golf training and practice related merchandise on a performance basis through blogposts, social media, product reviews, and his own online communities of golf professionals. His website is GolfProgress.net.

Q: Please tell us what you do and your interest in the affiliate marketing world.

"I'm a golf blogger and video blogger focused on the improvement process.  My website is a destination for average golfers who would like to play much better, those who are addicted to the game.  As an affiliate marketer I call attention to products like practice equipment, training aids, dvds, learning software, fitness equipment, and golf related gadgets and unusual merchandise.  

I own about 50 other domain names, mainly in the fields of health, fitness, and back pain.  I've been following affiliate marketing closely since I first heard of Amazon's associate program in 2000, before I even owned my own computer or had been on the internet.  I read about it in Fortune magazine and as someone who had dabbled in "work at home" and direct mail, this seemed like a legitimate way to market other people's products and be compensated well to do it."

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to a new merchant coming into the space, what would it be?

"Establish a real connection with your customer and you will build genuine trust which will allow you to rise above competing on the basis of price alone."

Q: What would you say makes affiliates different from any other group of people you’ve worked with in the past?

"Affiliates are able to identify offers that visitors will be interested in that the visitor themself has never even imagined.  They are compensated only if they generate results for a merchant but at the same time they are free to change direction at any time, so merchants need to be aware that affiliates are not your sales force.  They are not a captive audience who will promote what you tell them to promote.  You must appeal to their desire not just to make money but to impress their own visitors in order to build long term credibility." 

Q: For new people coming into the space, where would you say they should direct most of their time / attention?

"I still consider myself new to affiliate marketing in terms of how long I've actually been putting it into practice, but my recommendation, and what I've done in the last year, is to connect with influential people in your niche, build a sense of community with yourself as the leader, and put out unique and memorable content.  This assumes you are trying to build a long term business and are not attempting to simply broker web traffic.  Social media is a fantastic tool for becoming a thought leader."

Q: Please give us one affiliate marketing prediction you see coming in the next year that you’re excited about and why.

"Interactive video excites me.  I'm talking about having clickable areas on top of a video that allows the visitor to both be led to other video content and to be directed to merchant sites to make purchases.  Think choose your own adventure in an online shopping center."

So as you can see, nick is just a regular guy who loves golf, business strategy and the affiliate marketing industry. Merchants can learn a lot from these guys simply by getting to know them and asking some good questions.

Stay tuned for more interviews of affiliates from different verticals and levels of skill set. Understanding your affiliate groups is one of the best ways to better leverage performance based marketing. Listen to them. Consider their suggestions. They will know how to help you more than you'd ever think possible.



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