Easier Money with eBay Links

Last month changes to the eBay Partner Network’s policy on referring domains took effect.  If you blog from WordPress,  Type Pad or Blogger this change means you can now earn revenue from links to eBay auctions posted on your site.

eBay Partner Network is a program to allow web publishers to earn revenue from referring traffic to eBay auctions.
eBay Partner Network is a program to allow web publishers to earn revenue from referring traffic to eBay auctions.

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Common Threads: What’s in it for me?

Sometimes nothing can be a very real something.

Patagonia is a well known maker of outdoor gear and clothing. They’re also renowned for their commitment to making products from sustainable materials and keeping the cast-offs out of landfills. To further the latter goal company executives recently launched a new section of their website devoted to used clothing. The storefront is connected to eBay auctions and displays Patgonia items posted by individual sellers.

Used gear is displayed alongside their own online store. Yet they derive no revenue from customers who opt for a pre-owned hoodie instead of a new one.

So what’s in it for Patagonia?

Not a thing. Well, not money anyway.

The program is part of Common Threads- a campaign that encourages customers to respect their Patagonia products, repair them if possible and recycle the old ones instead of just tossing them out. Conventional wisdom would dictate such antics would cannibalize sales. For Patagonia the effort is an exercise in building brand loyalty.

So far it appears to be working. In the first 3 months after rolling out the eBay portal for used clothing over 25,000 visitors had signed up for the Common Threads campaign.

Used Patgonia Gear powered by eBay


Optimal Search Engine Optimization

How Your Images Can Attract a Crowd

Getting more people to visit your website or blog is a universal goal for most anyone. I mean, anyone that has a website or blog. Once you scrape the surface of that topic you will immediately run into the phrase Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.

SEO is simply making your pages and content as friendly as possible to search engines like Bling and Google. The ins and outs of SEO are complicated. There are tons of books written on the subject and I have no intention of delving into the complexities of all that. But one little snippet I recently discovered is worth sharing.

Webmaster Tools by GoogleIf you’re working on increasing traffic to your site you’re probably familiar with Google’s Webmaster Tools. If you aren’t you probably should be. Google’s toolbox allows you to see how the search engine is indexing your site (or not) and report on how your site fares in particular search results. The main page (right) display the performance of your site based on how many searches your site showed up on. The values are given as Impressions (showed up on the search results) and Clicks (someone actually clicked to visit your site).

A couple of weeks ago I happened to notice that little button on the left of the graph that says Filters.

Filters allow you to zero in on certain types of searches- mobile, image, web, etc. I was amazed to learn that the majority of search traffic being reported was from image searches. When I filtered the graph to display web searches the numbers plummeted. I was reduced from thousands of search hits to a handful.

Obviously your mileage will vary. If your site has more images you will probably see more search traffic from images searches. This can also increase by optimizing your images. Many bloggers overlook this simple but effective step- here’s how to do it…

  • Name Your Image
    Don’t use the lame file name your camera coughs up. Nobody will be excited by DSC00913.jpg (well, not many people anyway). But if you named it las-vegas-casino.jpg it will have much more relevance.Try to use simple words and avoid using slashes, dots or spaces.
  • Keep It Relevant
    Speaking of relevance- make sure the image name matches the content where it appears. Consider our above example: If your blog is about a cool casino you discovered in Las Vegas, you’re done.However, let’s say you’re writing about data backup and using a casino image to illustrate gambling with your precious data (okay, you pick the examples next time). In this case a better file name would be best-bet-backup.jpg or backup-gambler.jpg.
  • The ALT & Title Tags
    The HTML lingo that runs the web has a couple of image-specific tags to help with this endeavor. Most people will be familiar with these tags as “hover text.” If you hold your cursor over my screenshot above you should see “Webmaster Tools by Google” pop up.  That happens because I defined the ALT tag for the image and the TITLE tag for the hyperlink.The instructions for adding these vary wildly depending on your blogging platform or content management system. WordPress makes it very easy, but Blogger makes you dip into the HTML view.

Any or all of these suggestions will make your images more friendly to the robots that constantly troll the Web on behalf of search engines. Once they find and index them you should see an increase in visits to your site from image searches. Then all we have to do is entice those visitors to stay for a while.

But that’s a story for another day.





Browser Hijackers Arrested

Chalk one up for the good guys.

Operation Ghost Click is being hailed by the FBI as the “biggest cybercriminal takedown in history.” A group of scumbags in Estonia using malicious software (or malware) called DNS Changer were arrested. They supposedly had control of more than four million computers worldwide!

The DNS Changer, as the name suggests, redirects the domain name system server settings on a computer to those of a bogus server. So your search in Google returns valid results, but when you click on Pepsi.com you get Perestroika.

Oh, and it’s a real PITA to uninstall.

The scammers made money by redirecting the Web browsers of infected computers, then hijacking revenue clicks and replacing legitimate advertisements with their own. American authorities estimate that the criminal take was over $14 million, all of it from online advertisers and publishers.

The company name used by the gang was Rove Digital, which was also one of the early investors in ChronoPay, a Russian payment processor whose principal founder is also in prison currently on cybercriminal charges.

Mobile Devices: Back to the Future

Remember the Nineties?

Remember Netscape Navigator and Eudora Mail and Compuserve? If you were trying to create web pages back then you’ll probably remember dealing with different web browsers and versions and plug-ins. I remember avoiding the use of tables because there were still browsers in use that didn’t support tables. Yes, tables. Like rows and columns.

All those heady memories have came rushing back to me as I delved into the wild and wacky world of the mobile web. Also know as WAP (wireless application protocol). Otherwise known as cell phones. With web browsers.

Most people my age can’t understand why anyone would voluntarily surf the web using a cell phone. That’s another discussion- all I know is what my web stats tell me. And they say people are hitting Places 2 Ride using mobile devices. Which made me wonder, “Just what the hell does it look like?”

Turns out it didn’t look like much.

My cell phone, a Motorola C261(far from a high tech piece), displayed certain parts of the site. The majority of it appeared to have slipped off the right side of the screen. Some images were visible, others were not. Columns were shown in a random order, seemingly picked from some celestial wi-fi soup. It needed work if several hundred people were going to insist on looking at it on a two-inch screen.

Anywho, back to the stroll down memory lane.

Turns out that delivering content to these mobile surfers is quite similar to those carefree days back in the Nineties. You’re dealing with limited bandwidth, tiny screens and a variety of browsers. Some phones do amazing things, many do very little. Some actually use the same web browser as a desktop computer. You may have a final product. But you don’t really know what it looks like to everyone.

Here are some links and tips I have found helpful in my WAP endeavors:

  • devMobi portion of the dotMobi website with reference, forums and tools for developers- including their handy…
  • Emulator at dotMobi here’s what Places2ride.com supposedly looks like on a Sony/Ericcson K750 cell phone.
  • Blogger Mobile this article explains how to create a Blogger template that will play for mobile devices and desktop machine alike.
  • Tips just my own observations…

    • Don’t mess with WML (wireless markup language). This technology appears to have either never taken off or died prematurely. XHTML is where it’s at.
    • Learn a scripting lingo, or at least learn how to copy-n-paste it. Find a “browser sniffer” like a PHP or ASP script and use it to identify whether to show your visitor the normal website or the mobile site.
    • Minimize. You can’t display very much information to mobile users, so you’ll need to identify the most basic content and show only that.
    • Sign up for Ad Sense. Unless you plan to promote porn or gambling you don’t have many options for generating revenue from a mobile site. Google can supply relevant ads based on the content of your pages. When a visitor clicks, you earn revenue.

Need a phone that surfs? Check out Tracfone for the cheapest wireless in America.

High tech phones for cheap and pay-as-you-go wireless from Tracfone.

Ditch the Banner Ads

I’ve used affiliate programs on my websites for many years. I saw only meager earnings until we signed up with the eBay program and started displaying “dynamic” content. Eventually I started working with product datafeeds, and that’s when it all became worthwhile. We now manage about a dozen datafeeds from various merchants (most through Commission Junction) and earn a decent amount each month.

Banners and buttons are not very effective. If you have the opportunity to earn from displaying banner ads then do so. But don’t expect to earn from pay-per-sale programs using banners. We tried it for years with pretty lame results. I still display banner ads but it’s more for their “aesthetic value” than revenue. Here’s my quick tips for increasing your earnings:

Link Deep send the user right to the page they need- not the front door or a nearby page. How many times have you been frustrated by “Click here for yada yada” only to find that yada yada is still three more clicks away? I usually leave.

Relevant Content generic content or “pretty close” content isn’t good enough. If a visitor was searching for “chrome plated bolts” when they found your page you need to show them exactly that- just “bolts” won’t do.

Use Text Links ad graphics are virtually invisible to the average web surfer nowadays. The common 468 x 60 banner at the top of a page is not even noticed. Look at Google Ad Sense- the most successful campaigns are usually boxes in the middle of the page or lists embedded in the navigation menu.

Learn a Script dynamic content requires some sort of scripting language. No matter whether it’s ASP, PHP, Perl or whatever- learn some basics or find a tool that that coughs it up for you.

See also: Can I Really Make Money with my Web Site?

Can I Really Make Money with My Web Site?

If you have a web site or blog, even though you may not know it, you are a publisher. And your “publication” has the potential to refer or inform somebody’s potential customer.

The answer is yes.
About ten years ago I began experimenting with what was then a fledgling industry: affiliate marketing. The concept is simple and predates the New World of cyberspace: I’ll pay you to send me a customer.

The basic idea falls into three main categories:
Pay per Click paid when someone clicks the link
Pay per Action paid when someone clicks link and does something
Pay per View (or impression) paid when the ad is viewed or displayed
You’ll sometimes see acronyms like CPA, this describes “cost per action” which is the same thing as “pay per action” but from the merchant or advertiser’s point of view. In other words, to pay you it will cost him. These all relate back to the basic concept of paying you to send someone a customer.

Worthy Links to Revenue
Here is a list of the most reputable affiliate providers and my less-than-scientific observations on each.

  • Share a Sale
    Combined payments and easy access to product datafeeds are a big plus for this up-and-comer. Don’t expect to find the Fortune 500 here, their specialty is smaller retailers that can’t afford the huge up-front costs of the larger services. If you’re looking for niche markets this is great place to start.
  • Link Share
    Ever-improving network of advertisers make this provider a must see. A wide variety of companies in all sizes work with Link Share. Linking interface is a little clumsy and doesn’t allow for much flexibility. Datafeeds are only available if you pay for them. WTF?!?
  • Clix Galore
    These folks are heavy on the Aussie merchants, although U.S. companies are also players. They combine payments too which is nice. Managing links is a little clunky but the reporting interface is good.
  • Commission Junction
    The biggest player in the affiliate marketing game. CJ combines payments and offers one of the most elite advertiser lists out there. Their “Smart Zone” feature is still the best in the biz and works with advertiser’s product datafeeds.
  • Google Ad Sense
    As usual Google is a new arrival on the scene and has taken a novel approach. It’s basically a pay-per-click program but with a twist. The ads displayed on your site are based on the content of your page. Advertisers bid on keywords and Google shares the revenue with you if a visitor clicks the link.
  • Valueclick
    If you have a high-traffic site you should consider visiting these folks. They are biggies in the pay-per-impression and pay-per-click advertising. Their advanced user interface allows you setup defaults and alternate network ads as you see fit.
  • Burst Media
    Burst is another CPM network and they specialize in working with niche publishers. This is a good fit if you have a forum or blog.

This is only a partial list of course, and it’s growing all the time.

How it WorksSpeaking of Pixels
The size of computer monitors vary greatly. Measurements on the web aren’t stated in inches because computer monitors, like most of the world, doesn’t know what an inch is. While I surf along with a 15″ CRT you may be staring at a 30″ plasma flat panel, and then you have the guy who looks at a web page using a cell phone. All three of these screens have different ideas of what an “inch” is. However, they all have pixels.

That’s why you see banner ads described as 468 x 60 as opposed to something you’d find on a ruler. The dimension is always width first, then height. Common sizes of web site ads these days include 468×60, 728×90, 120×60, 120×600, 160×600, 300×250, 125×125 and 250×250.

You join an affiliate program and they provide you a blob of script or a special code. You paste this special link on your web site– it may take the form of a graphic or plain text. The important thing is when someone clicks on this link it identifies you to the advertiser or merchant as the source or referrer. Sort of a 21st century version of, “Who sent ya’?” Then, depending on the payment terms, you get credited for sending the visitor.

In the early days affiliate marketing was more or less based on the venerable banner ad. Most any site worth a GIF sprouted advertising across the top of the page in the form of the now familiar rectangle measuring 468 pixels wide and 60 pixels tall. Today affiliate marketing includes rotating banners, product datafeeds, contextual text ads, keyword searches and search engine marketing.

Getting Beyond Basics
Before you can make any money you’ll need to sign up with an affiliate program. These come in many different shapes and sizes, but fall into two main categories: program providers and merchant program.

Providers are companies that offer merchants/advertisers a way to manage their affiliate program without actually having to “manage” it. The provider handles all the record-keeping, serving up the links and paying the affiliates. You’ll find a list of the most popular affiliate program providers below.

Merchant programs are simply affiliate systems that are not managed by a third party. In other words, the advertiser themselves take care of the bookkeeping and link management. Most of the time this method is used by smaller organizations, but not always.

Affiliate network providers offer you one-stop access to many advertisers. They usually have the horsepower to serve up links and banner ads without a glitch. Some of them combine payments, which can speed things up and reduce the chance of small amounts being trapped in limbo. On the other hand, most self-managed programs offer higher commissions. This is simply because they don’t have to pay a third party.

I hope this article was helpful for those of you considering the possibilities.