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What do you consider some of the most viable avenues for generating an income on the internet i.e. affiliate marketing, selling your own products, retail, selling a service etc.?
Which avenues do you consider just wasted time and money?
Different things work for different people, so what aspects of the big picture do you think determine success or failure?
I know that many of you are making a living off of your online efforts and that makes me very happy, but though we talk about SEO and site design (aren't they the same thing :) ?) We very rarely discuss how to turn those hard won visitors into a paycheck.
Rcjordan was right. The idea of making money online is very alluring if not addictive and where there is an addiction there are abusers. Today, if you search the net for any information regarding an online income you are bludgeoned by marketers who want to sell you their system that teaches you how to sell a system that teaches other people how to make money online. It's a vicious cycle and it's easy for people to get lost in it.
This is a highly respected forum and I'm sure the readers would appreciate a candid conversation about what really works.
Amazon Affiliates = Book worms on crack?
There are other folks who want share ideas with other serious affiliate marketeers, newbies and pros alike. To help foster this, I've suggested to Brett a forum dedicated just to affiliates.
>>I'm a niche person. One site per product / service guy but I read that others seem to do well with malls. I have tried and had no success
Build the affiliate mall as a test bed to see what works for you. Then build additional individual sites that focus on those things that work really well for you.
>> After 3 years, I have come to the conclusion that the programs that work best for me are the ones where I'm considered more of an agent than an affiliate.
Yes, the affilate world is no different that the old brick and mortar world when it comes to business relationships that work. You are a sales agent, and you need to develop one-on-one relationships with your best merchants.
>At first I thought you were ridiculing affiliate programs and it's good to know now that you're actually fond of them.
No, definitely not ridiculing them, though I am a little perturbed by all the "in your face" marketing tactics that so many affiliates are trying. They are hurting the industry.
The underlying question is, I guess, "Can you still make money on the web?" I make the equivalent of a California salary (and spend all my time hanging out here), yet I'm small potatoes when compared to some of our big players here. There's definitely still money to be made, and you don't have to be hawking porn to do it.
>almost taste the beer and smell the cigarette smoke as you all bantered across the bar into the night
It was California... they had to go outside to smoke.
>the whole "faceless" affiliate ID bit has never been a part of the game plan.
You see, we all have different styles. I'm very much into having ZERO contact with the people that are sending me money... it's not because I'm into some shady programs well beyond the bounds of ethics, my merchants are travel-related. I prefer to keep a distance so that I can add or cut at my discretion. As far as I'm concerned everything I need to know about them and everything they need to know about me is on the sign-up form.
I'm not a big affiliate marketer, but I did put Amazon links on one specialty site I work with. Despite vastly lower ad exposures than your site, Boggles, that site sells a lot more books. (Of course, anything is a lot more than zero! ;) )
In this case, the keys to success (using the term "success" loosely!) were highly targeted and relevant links to individual titles, often with commentary and reviews. The revenue is still peanuts - it pays for hosting and part of the monthly Overture bill - but it's growing as site traffic grows.
Of course, this is a lot of work to get right. In the case of this site, the book review content was going to be there anyway. I think the idea of slapping up some banners or skyscrapers and expecting any kind of income stream is a non-starter in most cases.
One other tidbit: I really like the look and flexibility of Amazon's keyword-based ads. These let you put up ads of different sizes with titles (and pics) related to the pages they appears on. Very clever and powerful marketing idea, one might think. In fact, at least on the site I mentioned above, the performance of these ads has been abysmal. I'm not sure why this is, but our link-type analysis shows that these work about one book better than Boggle's ads!
mayor, I'm glad you said it first. I've had exactly that idea and its worked with a very limited test. But it's only in early planning stages for a whole site. I'm a big believer in small mini-sites of 10-15 pages and under, they've proven themselves well..but there are other advantages with a mall situation, and to be honest until now I never thought of setting it up calling it that.
I'm almost afraid to admit it publicly, but I absolutely love Inktomi, particularly for this reason. It takes no time to see what something can do if the keywords are carefully chosen. With legitimate pages, it's a great way to test in a short period of time. With the restriction of not being able to change pages to a different domain, putting products on as part of a larger site is an economically feasible way of knowing what's worth continuing and/or getting a separate domain for.
The only problem I see is that once there's good placement with Google it's hard to give up by moving a site, since the rankings are so dependent on site-wide criteria. If a mini-site is part of a site that's already PR5 and it's got legit linking both internal and inbound, it makes things very simple.
It's all being thought out slowly so that any risk of doing it the wrong way can be avoided. I've seen a number that are well done but also a few that are headed for trouble down the road.
>>I've suggested to Brett a forum dedicated just to affiliates.
mayor, a good place to make such suggestions is right here [webmasterworld.com]. Gets his attention every time. :)
Different things work for different people, so what aspects of the big picture do you think determine success or failure?
I think part of the problem is the slowness of the business industry to pick up on the benefits of affiliate marketing. Here is why most affiliate programs fail miserably:
1) The business does not take care of the referred visitors
2) The product/service stinks in the first place (for only $125 we will give you free dating advice!!!!!)
3) Low commissions are offered and it is hardly worth the effort to promote (a lot of electronics hardware)
4) A few losers abuse the affiliate agreement, give the company a bad rap and they pull the program for PR reasons
5) The company is underhanded and will not pay on time or at all
There are probably more reasons but these are the ones I have heard often. Now, here are the reasons an affiliate program can be killer for any business:
1) You pay NO ADVERTISING COSTS AT ALL! You only need a program manager. All commissions are paid out of a percentage of the profits. A good ROI is guaranteed if you have your numbers straight.
2) You open up a ton of new advertising channels, niches that you never had access to before.
3) With a good program and decent commissions, you attract highly motivated internet marketers that probably know a lot more than you and can make you a heck of a lot of money for free.
4) You extend your customer base very quickly.
5) You can form lasting business relationships and drown your competition.
Therefore, businesses need to ensure that they offer:
1) A healthy commission (affiliate marketers know what they are worth)
2) Understand the value of your web customers and bend over backwards for them. Focus on making them lifetime clients.
3) Pay commissions on time.
4) No underhanded tactics to screw the affiliate guy. Word travels quick and crack heads have little mercy for this kind of thing.
5) Take the affiliate marketer's suggestions on improving the program. Would you listen to your sales rep if he had a solution to double your sales?
If these principles were in place, affiliate marketing would thrive on the net and make a lot of businesses a lot of money.
I certainly agree with you, Marcia.
>>The only problem I see is that once there's good placement with Google it's hard to give up by moving a site, since the rankings are so dependent on site-wide criteria.
So don't move it. Just build a fresh themed site. Of coarse, don't mirror anything from the mall onto the mini-site.
I have heard that called an advertorial and I think the name fits.
Well written advertorials and personal endorsements will almost always outperform plain text links and banner advertisements IMO.
P.S. I think an affiliate marketing forum would be a great idea and I have posted in the webmasterworld community forum accordingly. I really appreciate the response to this thread and it has helped me to focus more clearly on certain ideas I have had. It has also given me some new food for thought. :)
BTW, I was strolling to the BarConference when I first overheard the crack cocaine comment made by rcjordan. He actually said it with tounge in cheek, and we all got some good laughs from it during the conference.
I would certainly like to see an affiliate forum at Webmasterworld with the proviso that anyone trying to promote their affiliate sites would be immediately kicked out.
How about just severly edited :)
IMO I don't think it will be as much of a problem as some people fear. The moderators are good and seldom let an inappropriate link slip by. The regulars know the ropes and new users pick up on the rules real quick. In fact I had a pretty good idea of the terms of service before I even became a member, because I had been lurking for months.
Haha, Go60guy, mind telling us where you came up with that :)
>> the proviso that anyone trying to promote their affiliate sites would be immediately kicked out.
Anyone trying to promote an affiliate site on a webmaster's forum needs immediate help ... that's the work of amateurs ... I know ... when first starting out, I used to drop my URL all over the wrong places. When I dropped it on usenet, my ISP shut me off. When I dropped in on marketing forums, I got spammed to death. When I dropped it in chat rooms, hundreds of surfers trampled my site and bought nothing. If only there had been a good forum I could go to and learn what not to do.
So I'd say give the newbies making a drive-by drop one friendly warning before giving them the boot.
The true drive-bys never come back to read their warnings... ;)
But we always warn new members who may run afoul of the rules, and almost never need to give anyone "the boot" after they've had things explained.
It hasn't been, but as a person adorned with more boots in my behind than you can count, I recommend you put on your flack jacket when entering affiliate airspace. You never know what's going to come up at you. Since you've been hanging out in the SEO business, I'm sure you've already got a few battle scars. So don't worry ... just do your best to stay out of trouble ... and be willing to accept the unavoidable casualties from time to time, especially when the rules change.
Many affilate partners install their links on multiple websites ... it's completely legal as far as the merchants are concerned, but the SE rules about affiliates are evolving and I can't say what they're going to do in the future.
Marcia, I'm going to hop over to the WMW Website Advertising forum and see if I can drum up some conversation for affiliate site advertising.
I think that's what I meant also :) I believe in the end it's no different then two unique websites linking to the same page. But thanks for clearing that up, after rereading the post I definetly didn't make that clear at all... Maybe it's time to go to bed......
>no different then two unique websites linking to the same page
It can be greektomi, if those unique websites are also possibly linking to each other and might also have some other links in common in addition to having the same affiliate ID. Kind of takes some of the uniqueness away.
>what pagerank was all about
It's actually about avoiding qualifying for membership in the Zero Page Rank Club.
I wouldn't crosslink the two sites then. If the purpose was to test a product in a mall and if successful move the product to a minisite there might not be much need to.
As for having other similar links there probably wouldn't be much need for them either but who knows....
One things for sure Google might have allot of people happy but it also has allot of people very scared.
>commissioned sales person
Go60Guy, I've done commission sales and I see it the exact same way, no different from being a sales rep.
For some reason, the term "affiliate" became tainted right from the start. I think early on there was an ivory tower aura to the web not to be sullied by the idea of earning without a huge investment in time and treasure. Affiliate marketing may not require a large monetary investment, but making it work well certainly necessitates a great deal of time and effort.
Don't build a business dependent on one search engine becuase you'll be out of business in no time. Diversify, diversify, diversify.
There's plenty of high quality commercial traffic out there from a multitude of search engines.
If you've got traffic coming from Google, look at is as icing on the cake, but not as your infrastructure. You can lose it in a heartbeat and have no idea why.
1) For a niche site with the right topic, affiliate programs can be much more profitable than banners or skyscrapers from the ad networks. My RPM (revenue per thousand page views) was $7.39 last month, during a traditionally slow time of the year for Europe-related travel sales. It would have been impossible to get nominal CPMs (let alone effective CPMs) in that range from the ad networks.
2) Some topics just don't work with off-the-shelf affiliate programs. If you have a site about seismology, forget Commission Junction or LinkShare--the seismologists who visit your site won't be interested in clicking on banners for home-equity loans, Visa cards, flowers, or gift baskets. Instead, try to sell ads or sponsorships to companies in your industry.
3) Test different types of ads to see what works. On my site, banners and skyscrapers don't pull well enough to justify their space and download time. Most of my clickthroughs and sales come from text links (with short blurbs) in my right-hand page margin under a "Book & Buy" heading. (I get my highest clickthrough rates from text links in related articles--e.g., a link to a Paris vendor in an article on Paris--but on a site with more than 2,500 pages of editorial content, the brute-force approach of text links on every page generates the most impressions and total sales.)
4) Maintain credibility. If people trust you to give them reliable information and advice, they'll be more likely to buy from you. (Example: In my city guides, I link to hotel pages from my booking partner. But I also include links to the hotels' own sites when possible, so that users can learn more about the hotels and compare rates. I might lose an occasional sale from users who book direct, but I also gain credibility by letting readers make their own comparisons--and I probably gain overall because users can learn more about a hotel from its own collection of information and photos than from one page on a booking site.)
5) Give vendors a chance to prove themselves. I'm starting to see action from vendors that I'd almost given up for dead (luggage, travel accessories) just because we're now approaching the season when people are getting ready to travel and are thinking about new suitcases, money belts, etc. And my gallery of travel posters looked very unpromising until Google picked up the pages. Now I'm selling travel posters nearly every day.
5) Beware of affiliate programs that are out to screw you. Amazon.com is a good example: It doesn't plant persistent cookies (which means you get credit only for sales during the current session), and it doesn't pay commissions on used books (which are heavily promoted on every page). Maps.com is another: As I learned from another person on this board, Maps.com recently started selling a variety of goods and services through its own affiliate links, thereby placing itself in competition with its affiliates.
6) Commission Junction is probably the best aggragator of affiliate programs, if only because it pools commissions and provides good statistics. But independent affiliate programs can be excellent, too, *if* they're likely to generate enough sales to produce checks every month or at least every quarter.
This is exactly the arrangement I have with one supplier. They look after customer service and I do the web marketing. It looks good on paper but in my experience the return on the investment of development time is definitely long term. This site has been live for 8 months and is achieving a healthy level of sales (enough to put resource into PPC and network based affiliate schemes). Within 4 more months the site should be generating enough steady revenue to make it worthwhile.
It’s a slightly different model than the affiliate or retailer – it does work my in my experience is not the easy option.
My next attempt would definitely be content based whatever the model.