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.

Whew.
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.

Baby with the Bath Water

“I have a great spam filter.”
At a recent holiday party I asked a friend about an e-mail I had sent him. He pondered for a moment and shook his head. The above was his response, which perplexed me for a moment.

Did he consider my correspondence spam? Was he being facetious?

I grinned and suggested, “Maybe it’s a little too good?”

This scenario is played out every day across America. Consumer confidence in e-mail is in crisis. Our increasing intolerance for unsolicited commercial e-mail has prompted many to launch a diligent attack on spam. Unfortunately are assault is so vicious it risks taking out e-mail as a viable communication tool in the process. If you rely on electronic mail to distribute information this has most likely made your life unpleasant.

User Unfriendly
The biggest problem is the huge number of Internet users who have no idea what may be blocking legitimate messages. Their Internet Service Provider (ISP) has installed some new software they either know nothing about or can’t figure out. While this is troublesome it can be overcome– simple announcements are a great start. The worst part is the bad reflection it casts on parties who have no control over the situation.

When someone visits your web site or contacts your organization they may request information. Many of these requests are transacted via e-mail. Even if they begin as a contact form or blog message, the end result is often in the form of an e-mail message. But let’s suppose a spam filter prevents your acknowledgement or reply from reaching that visitor. Is his first thought to check his “whitelist” or Bulk folder? Does he rush out and call his ISP? Hell no, he’s pissed at you!

Black List, Gray Area

Another trend that really troubles me is the growing number of ISPs and mail administrators that are using Realtime Black Lists to block mail. The idea is to maintain a list of servers and IP addresses that are known to be exploited by spammers. While this is good in theory, it sucks in practice. The problem is, like the Jackson Five song goes, one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl.

Imagine a ne’er-do-well signs up for a Yahoo account and starts blasting out Nigerian spam. He is sending this from Yahoo so his address is most likely going to end with yahoo.com (or something similar). Next a blocking list server sees all this spam being sent and decides to blacklist the yahoo.com domain. See any problem there? Like maybe the millions of legitimate Yahoo Mail users?

Now don’t get me wrong- not all of these blacklist guys are so stupid. But, believe it or not, some of them are! And then an even bigger idiot decides to subscribe to one of these half-baked schemes and implement it on his mail server. So now we have legitimate folks trying to send invoices to customers or proofs to publishers or listings to members or news to subscribers or… whatever, it doesn’t matter because it’s bounced or discarded as spam before it reaches anyone.

The Final Solution
A proper solution to the problem of spam is in the works. It basically involves basic authentication to restore accountability. A treatise from the Email Sender and Provider Coalition offers a detailed explanation of the problem and the solution. This is something anyone who administers an e-mail server should read.

But that doesn’t mean Mr. Average User shouldn’t do your part! The ESPC also offers a great little tool on their web site which allows you to test your own e-mail address to see if it complies with the proposed standards. It’s a simple tool, just send an e-mail to the sample address provided. Give it a minute then click the View Sample button to review the results. If your mail doesn’t pass tell your ISP or network administrator about it. Let them know you’re concerned and you think it’s important to consider improving your e-mail authentication. Suggest they visit this link for more information: www.espcoalition.org

Always Searching

Most of us take simple computer tasks for granted. For instance, like visiting a web site we might read or hear about. You open your favorite web browser and type the ubiquitous dubya-dubya-dubyas in the address bar and hit the enter key. Right? Assuming we typed in the web site’s address correctly it will eventually appear on our screen. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

I found just how wrong I was last week while working on a project that would be promoted through a new sub-directory. The project name would thus be added to our normal domain name. So our usual www.companyname.com would become www.companyname.com/project. There was nothing secret about it, so we decided to publish the test site to the live server (also gives the search engines a chance to find it). Pretty common practice, I thought, so there didn’t seem to be any reason to get alarmed. We send it out to our group of testers and they’ll type it into their address bar and have a look at the project test site. What could be easier?

The next day I found just how wrong I was.

Find and Ye Shall Seek
My boss beeps me and says nobody can “find” the test site. Before I had time to realize who I was talking to I asked, “Whaddya’ mean find it?” Turned out he was just as perplexed as our test group.

After a little digging I found out my boss was typing www.companyname.com/project in to Google. Since the sub-directory was less than a day old it didn’t return any search results. It did provide a simple link to the URL, but he didn’t bother to read that part or click the link. I calmly suggested he enter the web address into the box on the toolbar and see what happened. He was amazed.

I later found out there is a very large percentage of Internet users who “search” for web addresses. If you don’t believe me check your web stats. Look at the referring search terms report for your own domain name. I bet you’ll find some. This is the modern equivelent of dialing the operator to connect you- even though you know the number. Do they even do that anymore?

The lesson I learned from this was to publish new directories for a few days in advance of any public test. That allows the search engines some time to discover the new address, and return some sort of result. Also avoid promotions that use a “pre-domain” in place of the typical WWW. Like project.companyname.com. The problem you’ll run into here is people insist on adding the WWW on the front and it will 404. It’s probably best to stick with the simple www.companyname.com/project instead.