Affiliate Marketing Success Stories — Raising an Affiliate Program Cash Cow

The following interview with Shawn Collins, a prominent expert in theaffiliate marketing field, should prove instructive to the reader. Shawn has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the field and now runs his own affiliate program management and consulting firm. As this interview is inherently limited in scope, one is encouraged to read more about Shawn’s experiences in the field and the advice he dispenses through his books, conferences, blog, articles, reports, and weekly radio show. The reader can also meet Shawn at the Affiliate Summit, a “can’t miss” conference for those interested in excelling in the competitive world of affiliate marketing. — earn money in website

Q. Shawn, how would you describe your initial experiences with affiliatemarketing?
A. It was back in 1997. I had a dial-up account on AOL, a 14.4 modem and a desire to make more money. At the time, I didn’t know a thing about creating websites, marketing, etc. But I went through a tutorial at AOL on writing HTML and picked up the basics. Then, I created a hideous, single page site about New York City and put up some Amazon links. I never earned a cent on that site.

Q. What growing pains did you endure at first? What were the biggest obstacles and challenges from that period of time?
A. Back then, there was a monopoly on registering domains, and it cost $35 a year. At the time, that was a bit prohibitive for me (I didn’t realize what a good investment a short name would be). That was a trend –an unwillingness to invest in my affiliate efforts. I was going the free route with tools, hosting, etc. That definitely delayed my progress.

Q. What was your first “Ah-ha” moment? How did you incorporate the lesson learned into your affiliate marketing business?
A. The first time I got my reporting via email from Amazon with information on commission earned. Back then, there was no option to login to an interface — just a periodic email with affiliate stats. When I realized it was real that I could earn money this way, I was excited and motivated. This persuaded me that I was wasting my time working in magazine publishing — it was time for me to get into a line of work that was stimulating and rewarding. With my limited affiliate marketing experience, I managed to get a job with a start-up in 1997 called, and I bluffed my way into running the affiliate program there. I’ve enjoyed my work ever since.

Q. Without mentioning names, have you joined affiliate programs that did not keep their promises and/or provide appropriate compensation? What measures did you take when confronted with this situation and what advice can you give others to avoid this circumstance?
A. Lots of affiliate programs lie in their recruiting efforts — they talk about how easy it is to earn commission from them. That’s simply nottrue — it’s not easy. I just don’t pay attention to most recruiting efforts from affiliate programs. I would encourage affiliates to ignore proclamations of easy earnings and high EPCs — the most important thing is to test everything yourself and promote what works for you.

Q. How has affiliate marketing changed in the last seven years? What strategies would you implement now that you would not or could not do years ago?
A. The industry has matured greatly. Seven years ago, many affiliate marketers were content sites which relied on 468×60 banners. The analytics were primitive and fewer companies offered affiliate programs. Now, the industry is so diversified. Essentially, any way to market online is being leveraged by affiliates… including comparison shopping, domaining, video, SEO, e-mail, social networks, PPC, rewards programs, etc. If I could turn back time, I would have started up multiple niche community sites back then for popular topics. By now, if nurtured they would have grown nicely and become lucrative affiliate sites.

Q. If one is gifted marketing an affiliate product or service, is it likely that this individual can effectively market his/her own products or services? Should people look into developing their own items while marketing or instead of marketing others’ products/services?
A. I’d say anything that is already selling online can be effectively marketed through an affiliate program. Selling your own products or services can certainly provide more rewards in the best case scenario, but then you’ve got a lot more risk, too. If somebody has the infrastructure and know-how to sell a certain product or service, I’d say to go for it. But don’t take uncalculated risks.

Q. What are crucial mistakes that newbies tend to commit?
A. Lack of investment and understanding. It’s really difficult to succeed in affiliate marketing if you are unwilling to spend the time and money required to develop a long-term strategy. And affiliate marketing is most certainly not a quick endeavor — it takes patience to endure and succeed.

Q. What are some of the creative (perhaps seldom used) strategies to employ in the affiliate marketing field?
A. Simply going beyond the banner. There are a lot of exciting opportunities out there with Web 2.0. It’s just a matter of figuring out a unique angle.

Q. How long does it realistically take to build a full-time income with affiliate marketing, assuming “full-time commitment”? A. I don’t think you can qualify and quantify passion. And to me, passion is an essential ingredient in affiliate marketing success. Also, there are so many variables, like the size of a given vertical, the margins involved, competition, etc.

Q. Is it easier to build income from this type of marketing now or was it easier years ago? (Please consider competition, Internet usage, advent of AdWords and Pay Per Click, etc.)
A. It was never easy. There was certainly less competition in the past, but also less in the way of options of advertisers to choose and methods to promote them. Plus, there is the continuing growth of ecommerce. I think the opportunities for success are just as healthy now as they were years ago.

Q. While I know that you do not recommend any particular affiliate marketing programs, in your estimation, what are the “hottest fields?”
A. The “hottest fields” are a slippery slope. They change over time. I think the hottest field for any given person should be the area that interests them most. You can certainly go out there as a mercenary and promote the most lucrative thing at the moment, like ringtones or debt consolidation, but I suggest going with a long-term plan in an area that interests you.

Q. Is there any affiliate marketing software that is a “must” when one pursues an affiliate marketing venture?
A. This really depends on the type of affiliate. There are software programs that help optimize affiliate efforts for different affiliates. For instance, if you’re working with data feeds, you should check out WebMerge.

Q. What are your views concerning affiliate marketing networks such as LinkShare and Commission Junction?
A. I think they’re the backbone of the industry. The affiliate networks account for the majority of large affiliate programs, and they also provide a level of convenience in that you can consolidate a lot of your activity under a few logins. I would like to see them work together to establish standards. For instance, there is a lack of standards in data feeds, which is a challenge for the folks using them.

Q. Can any absolute statements be made regarding the most lucrative type of affiliate marketing payment system (e.g pay per sale, pay per click, etc.)?
A. In general, CPA seems to be more profitable, especially offers for products and services that are not physical items.

Q. What influence, if any, will blogs make on the affiliate marketing landscape?
A. I think some are influential in the way networks, merchants and affiliates operate. For instance, is considered to havehad an impact in the decision by Commission Junction to change their plans on the Link Management Initiative (LMI).

Q. What are, statistically, the best avenues to market an affiliate program?
A. It depends on the vertical. Email and PPC work well for some CPA offers, while an established web presence can be more important for selling goods on a revenue share.

Q. Do you see any future trends in the affiliate marketing field?
A. Smaller affiliate programs. Affiliate managers are focusing on working more closely with fewer affiliates. Also, I think we’ll see an increasing number of affiliates embrace the opportunities out there with Web 2.0 and innovate with the new tools that roll out.

Q. What current projects are you undertaking in affiliate marketing, including your work with the Affiliate Summit?
A. My main focus is Affiliate Summit, the largest affiliate marketing conference. Our last show had over 2,000 this past January in Las Vegas. We also have events scheduled in Miami (July 8–10) and London (September 28) this year. Additionally, I provide affiliate management and consulting services as Shawn Collins Consulting, and I publish an annual report on affiliate marketing benchmarks called AffStat. I also have a blog at where I post daily about issues in affiliate marketing. And I’m the co-host with Lisa Picarille, Editor-in-Chief at Revenue Magazine, for the weekly show, Affiliate Thing, on WebmasterRadio.FM.

Q. What do you attribute your affiliate marketing success to (e.g., building content, writing articles, following footsteps of a mentor, forum
participation, etc.)? Please include any last words of advice for one who aspires to succeed/excel in the affiliate marketing field.
A. It’s all about dedication, tenacity, and relationships. I don’t look at my affiliate marketing activity as a job, but rather a fun, profitable hobby. Over the decade I’ve been involved in the industry, there are way too many factors to list that have contributed to my success. But I’d say the most important of all is to constantly endeavor to learn from others.


Conclusion — Do’s and Don’ts of successful affiliates Analyzing the success stories, we may conclude the following do’s and don’ts of being a successful affiliate: Do’s
Build a useful website. Visitors must gain some benefit by visiting your site. Retain visitors through unique content or adding your “personal touch.” Provide something unique / personal on a consistent basis so that visitors will be motivated to revisit your site. Sign up with a known and established affiliate program. They have their tracking systems updated and so you can be rest assured that you will get your payments. Market your affiliate program so that you can increase the number of visitors who see your affiliate offering. Optimize your website so that you get a high ranking in natural search engines. Know your competition. You have to provide something better than them. Choose the advertisement model that is in line with your overall business model. Launch your site for some time, before joining any program. Good affiliate programs may like to see your site and study the traffic before enrolling you. Look for outside help. You may employ skilled people. Use blogs and RSS feeds for promotion. Remain active in your industry. You must know the latest trends and needs of visitors. Don’ts Join just any affiliate program. Many affiliate programs are outright frauds. Ignore your competition. They are the best evaluators of your products/services. Get obsolete. Update your content regularly. Rely only on banner ads. Experiment with all types of advertisements. Waste time. Be the first to capture any new opportunity. Encourage spamming. You will get blacklisted. With successful identification of customer needs, providing a way to fulfill those needs, and collaborating with established affiliate programs, it is possible to create your own affiliate success story. You just need to manifest a methodical, patient approach and perform lots of hard work. But raising an affiliate program cash cow is certainly worth the effort!

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