The Sticky Question of the Results Page

In the mid-to-late ’90s, none of the search engines wanted to be mere search engines, because searchers quickly left their sites. Instead, they largely ignored search to create portals – those sticky sites they hoped would show more advertising to each visitor by catering to all of their information needs.

Then Google came along. Google gained prominence as an unvarnished search engine that got searchers off the search page to where they really wanted to go, and did it faster than the rest. Over time, Google’s search emphasis has made it a far more profitable company than those sticky portals, and Microsoft, Yahoo and the other portals have been forced to refocus on search in recent years.

Well, everything old is new again. Led by Google, everyone is trying to be sticky again. As with the original portal mania, it’s all about advertising. It’s different this time, however, because instead of ignoring search, they are making search itself sticky. Let’s look at what’s happening and what search marketers can do about it.

The New Search Results Page

As you might expect, with multiple search engines out there, we can never talk about the new results page – these changes are being seen in various degrees with each search engine’s results pages. So what’s happening?

From time immemorial (around 1998), the main results page for each search engine has contained a list of 10 organic links to Web pages – period. Each showed paid search ads around those organic links, but those organic results pointed to pages on vanilla websites. If searchers wanted images, or videos, or news, they needed to use more specific searches devoted to those kinds of content.

A few years ago, Google began offering its OneBox capability (such as showing movie times and weather forecasts at the top of its results pages). But that was a small step compared with what the search engines are doing now. The new search results pages break the content type barrier.

Google now offers Universal Search, where all of these content types are blended together on the page. The top search result might be a video or an image, or even a news story, rather than a standard Web page. Yahoo and Microsoft have followed suit. Similarly, Ask.com has unveiled Ask3D, which stacks the search results so that different content types are shown in separate areas on the same results page. Try typing “darth vader” into each of the engines to see what you get.

These newfangled search results pages have been much ballyhooed, but so far, relatively few keywords get the Darth Vader treatment. Search marketers should expect that these blended and stacked results will affect more and more keywords over time, however, for two reasons:

The search results are better. Google and friends believe that their new approaches serve more searchers than their plain Web results predecessors. It does make sense that searchers are looking for more than just Web pages.

Search engines sell more advertising. Some search engines don’t like to talk about their monetary motives for new search results pages, but Yahoo’s Tim Mayer has been refreshingly open about their goal: to keep searchers on their results pages for as long as possible.

Similarly, these new search result pages often highlight Web properties owned by their parent company. Google shows its YouTube videos, Yahoo shows its Flickr photos, Ask.com shows its CitySearch results, each of which shows more of their advertising.

What Search Marketers Can Do

As a search marketer, you can’t control which results the search engines decide to display, but you can provide the kinds of content that the engines are looking for. As these new search results pages begin to be seen for more and more searches, search marketers should:

Use what you have. You might feel as though you don’t have any of these new content types. But you have press releases that could show up in news searches. You might have TV commercials and other videos that you can post on YouTube and on your own website. Don’t overlook the existing content assets you can start with.

Create new content. If Google wants new kinds of content, then feed the beast. Start a blog. Take photos of your products, your customers, your employees – whatever you think people want to see – and post them on Flickr and on your website. Put some interviews on video, or tape live product demonstrations. Provide opportunities for customers to create content for you, such as message boards, product reviews and wikis. All of this content is the new fodder for search engines.

Optimize your content. For the content that you create, continue using your target keywords in titles and elsewhere, just as you always have for old-fashioned Web pages. For non-text content – such as photos and videos – titles and descriptions are especially important. Submit your content to as many aggregators as you have time for, not just YouTube and Flickr, for example. Claim your blog in Technorati (and in other blog search engines and directories). And place social bookmarking buttons on your pages for Digg, del.icio.us and other sites, so your readers can bookmark your content for other social bookmarking users to see.

Although designing your content with interesting titles and descriptions is timeworn advice, it still works. Applying this technique to new content types, such as blog posts and videos, is a great way to start.

Make compelling content. Your Web pages have always needed to be interesting to attract the links critical for high search rankings. These new content types are no different. Moreover, some experts believe that search engines are looking beyond links to other indicators of intriguing content.

No one knows exactly what search engines consider in their ranking algorithms, but speculation abounds that relevance ranking for blogs is based partially on subscriber counts. Videos may get a boost based on how many times they’ve been viewed on YouTube, or on the number of viewer comments posted. Expect search engines to continue to use whatever data is available to determine the popularity of each new kind of content – it’s not just inbound links anymore.

What’s most striking is that marketers who’ve created the most interesting content are beginning to be rewarded for it by the search engines. For those search marketers that were optimizing only Web pages because that’s all the search engines rewarded, they’re getting left in the dust by those marketers that have provided the new content types their customers are looking for.

Video Validation

All of the predictions that 2007 would be the year of online video came true in spades – it rapidly gained in popularity as a medium last year and its momentum continues today.

The long-lasting Hollywood writers’ strike possibly hastened the migration of people to pass their time visiting online video sites due to the lack of television programming. It’s not just old episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” they are watching online, but all sorts of content.

A Horowitz study found that news segments and nonprofessional online videos are among the most viewed programming (see bar chart on page 036).

A December study conducted by BurstMedia, a provider of advertising representation, found that approximately seven out of 10 respondents (72.1 percent) have viewed online video content. Although young people represent the largest segment of video watchers, a majority of all age segments have watched it – including over half (58.6 percent) of respondents 65 years and older.

To capitalize on the opportunity, new video offerings are popping up all the time that provide innovative twists on everything from programming to platforms. In March, FastCompany.TV, an online video network that covers technology trends and products, launched. Renowned blogger Robert Scoble serves as managing director, and his popular daily video series, ScobleTV, is one of its several programs.

Seesmic, a platform that uploads more than 4,000 videos per day, has Flash-based social features aimed to enable conversations between users. Participants record short videos in which they ask a question or express their opinion. Other users then record and upload replies to the videos, facilitating a back-and-forth exchange.

Video Revolution

Online marketers were quick to join the video revolution – eager to try out the best ways to leverage its versatility to enhance their interactive efforts. These marketers are moving quickly with good reason – a February 2007 study by The Kelsey Group found that online video converts well. Of the 501 adults asked about whether they had viewed a video ad on the Internet, among the 59 percent who said yes, 43 percent checked out a website, 22 percent requested information, 18 percent went to a store and 15 percent made a purchase.

Jim Kukral, an online marketing consultant, explains that people watch online video because they want to absorb information in the least taxing format possible.

He believes that the easier things are for consumers, the better conversions will be, which is why he thinks online marketers should not just be taking advantage of video, “they should be leading the charge.” Kukral himself is so bullish on video that he has vowed to only create video or audio content as opposed to text posts for his blog in 2008.

Mark Wielgus, founder of the site 45n5, is another online marketer pleased with his foray into video. Beginning on January 1, 2008, he pledged to create a video every day for 365 days in a row – even weekends – with the intention of gaining a voice and being a personality on the Web. The videos, like his site, offer guidance and chronicle his own quest to make money online.

Wielgus has different theme days; for example, The Road to Affiliate Summit Sundays, and ShowYourAdHere Mondays. Of the approximately 100 videos he has up on YouTube, he gets about 300 to 400 views per day. One of the lessons he has learned is to include an overlay of 45n5.com at the bottom of each of his videos so that he doesn’t miss out on the branding opportunity when they get distributed.

Promoting Products

Buy.com was an early adopter of online video and has seen tremendous results from its video program, BuyTV. The half-hour on-demand weekly show launched in May 2006 on its site and through distribution partners like iTunes and YouTube, and is also available on broadcast television.

BuyTV showcases the latest in high tech gadgets and Buy.com’s most popular shopping categories. While viewers watch a segment, they are able to make a purchase by clicking a button next to the video.

Buy.com’s vice president of marketing, Jeff Wiscot, and Marketing Director Melissa Salas, who is one of BuyTV’s hosts, say video is effective for selling to people who are not particularly tech-savvy – because they can see an explanation of a product’s features and how the product works. Salas notes that it’s a good tool for electronics, which sometimes require longer purchasing decisions.

Although Buy.com can’t release specific metrics, the company says video has helped conversion rates drastically – in some cases up to a multiple of seven. As an example, Wiscot says that if the company were running an MP3 player promotion with a 2 percent conversion, it could go up to 14 percent on the high end if BuyTV put up a video about it.

Last fall, Affiliate Summit co-founders Shawn Collins and Missy Ward launched WeViews.tv, a video reviews site of products and services that range from the Garmin Street Pilot to iTunes.

In addition to making videos for the site, Collins and Ward ask users to be “consumer reporters” and contribute their own video reviews, which Ward thinks enables affiliates to get their feet wet in video without the trouble of building and marketing their own site. If WeViews.tv accepts and publishes the video, the submitter receives $10, a model similar to Nuuvy.com’s.

WeViews.tv videos feature what Collins calls a “subliminal call to action” by including the URL for the product at the bottom of each video. For example, the video that reviews Sirius Stiletto portable satellite radio has the URL, www.weviews.tv/stiletto.

Collins says the overall typical conversion rate for products is about 10 percent. Ward has had good experience with shoes; noting that both the Chinese Laundry and Ugg Slippers videos have been the biggest – converting at nearly 16 percent in December, and the Oakley Thumps sunglasses converted at 12.5 percent the same month.

On the WeViews.tv site, transcriptions of the videos are posted with product specifi cations added to the text to provide more details. Collins explains the text is keyword-rich and therefore gets indexed in Google fairly high.

In the future, WeViews.tv might make the videos clickable, and Collins says he could use a vendor like WebVideoZone or Bubble- PLY to do that. Currently the videos are powered by Revver – a service Collins likes because of the quality and because it syncs in well with WordPress blogs.

Revver’s senior vice president of business development, Brian McCarthy, explains that Collins and Ward upload their reviews to Revver and then post them on the WeViews.tv site. Revver delivers ads within the player and shares that revenue with them. Any revenue WeViews.tv makes through ads on the browser page they keep for themselves. Because the WeViews videos are in the Revver library, they are syndicated out to the Revver network for additional distribution.

Video Is Versatile

A different type of product that Collins promotes through video is the conference he co-founded, The Affiliate Summit. Because conference registration isn’t an impulse purchase, Collins says he works on numerous touch points to sell people.

Users who want to watch sessions from the Affiliate Summit are required to double opt-in to the weekly Affiliate Summit newsletter, where content supplements the videos in an effort to sell the prospects.

Viewers can then watch full sessions from the conference at the Affiliate Summit site, which is hosted by Fliqz.com. Each video includes an Affiliate Summit logo in the bottom right that’s clickable to the registration page. But because there is no indication that the video is clickable, Collins does not have specific conversion information.

Kukral also makes promotional videos. In 2007, he made five simple videos to promote his online marketing consulting business and uploaded them to YouTube. Kukral now gets three to five calls a week from people who say they found the videos by searching for the terms “online marketing” on YouTube.

In January, Kukral launched The Daily Flip, a show about online entrepreneurism and marketing that features tips, tools and reviews of products. Kukral films each show using a Pure Digital Technologies Flip video camera, which he says proves the point that anyone can make good video with inexpensive equipment.

Pure Digital gave Kukral a Flip camera to create a promotion, which Kukral set up for the day of the Super Bowl. During half time, he posted a video on his blog with a phone number and the first person who called won the camera. The promotion’s goal was to drive people to his site and subscribe to his videos.

Kukral says there is a number of ways to monetize The Daily Flip, including sponsorships, partnerships with networks, commercials and pre- and post-roll ads in the videos. If the site gets enough traffic, he could become a YouTube Partner and YouTube would sell ads for the site that are contextual and give him a cut.

Like his consulting business, Kukral promotes the program through video-sharing sites. He recommends TubeMogul.com as a quick way to upload videos to several sites at one time. Although there are more than 100 video-sharing sites, Kukral pays the most attention to YouTube because of its 31 percent market share of all video sites on the Web.

Although entertaining videos have been among the most popular ones on the Internet, videos that solve problems are also sought after. For this reason, Kukral recommends VideoJug.com, which is an instructional site that teaches people how to do things such as how to use a Pilates balance ball. Many of the videos featured on VideoJug are professionally made and don’t credit the creators, but there are some user-generated areas on the site that give producers an opportunity to brand themselves.

In February, three ex-Googlers launched Howcast, a site that features both professionally shot and user-generated instructional videos. The video ads are in the form of clickable overlays that pop up in the bottom part of the screen. Each video is tagged by topic and each one has a visible script, which make them searchable. A cookware company could purchase spots in the how-to-fry-an-egg video, for instance, or buy paid links in the list of necessary equipment that is part of the video.

Adding Existing Video

Online marketers don’t need to create video to promote their products; they can add merchant videos to their sites to enhance their site’s content, give it a more professional appearance and potentially push it up in the search engine rankings.

James Nardell, an affiliate manager for AMWSO, an affiliate marketing and affiliate program management company, says that he has seen video help with conversion for programs such as Gaiam, an organic and green-living lifestyles company; and Panda Security SA, an antivirus software company, which has cartoon videos that explain how viruses work.

Nardell, Gaiam’s affiliate manager, says that Gaiam has affiliates who have added videos to their sites and the conversion rates have increased by a staggering 80 percent, according to tracking through LinkShare. Gaiam realized that the affiliate channel was a great way to utilize their extensive inventory of video content.

Dori Schwaiger is a Gaiam affiliate who, with her daughter, runs TopHealthSpot.com, a coupon site that focuses on wellness and health. When she built the site in late 2006, she began integrating video and, with the help of Nardell, designed a “health videos” tab at the top of her site, which she says people go to directly.

Schwaiger attributes the approximately 46 percent improvement in sales of health videos during 2007 to the “health videos” tab as well as to the Gaiam product name – users find her site because they optimize the site for those keywords.

In the “health videos” section, there are previews for each video so people know what they are buying, which Schwaiger believes is important for conversions. Nardell agrees that video works best when it is preselling content – it provides a brief example of why they should buy the product.

Schwaiger uses it as much as she can on her site, including video from Drugstore.com and Mochila. Even though it eats up her bandwidth, she says it’s a wonderful tool.

She says it is easy to add video to her site through the WebVideoZone system. It hosts videos and makes it simple to customize the video files by adding text links to the video player, graphics that get displayed on the video player and URLs that redirect when the video has finished playing.

With WebVideoZone, affiliates add their unique affiliate ID code via a form, and cut and paste the resulting HTML code into their website. Once the code is added, the video is available on demand on the site as a stand-alone video player, all of which is an affiliate link.

Gaiam’s Nardell says that once affiliate managers come up with video creative for their affiliates, they can change the video via the WebVideoZone control panel at any time and the video automatically updates on each affiliate site.

Video Widgets

Qoof, a video commerce platform that matches e-tailer videos with Web publishing channels, enables the affiliate community to leverage video widgets. Qoof offers a rich media video widget that is Flash-based and focuses on on-site sales. Product information is available through the widget, and embedded video shopping functions like price comparisons reduce the chance for a potential buyer to leave the site in search of more information.

Jonathan Stefansky, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Qoof, says that it’s easy for affiliate managers to create different widgets tailored for specific programs. They can make changes on the back end with the latest data, which auto-updates affiliates’ widgets so they can offer the newest promotions. Although he can’t share specific numbers of his clients, he generally sees five to 15x higher clickthrough rates than banners or text-based affiliate links.

Qoof has integrated its widget as a Flex Link in LinkShare, which makes it easier for affiliates to grab the widget code to embed in their websites or blogs the same way they would grab code for banners and text-based links.

Video-Sharing Sites

Another way that publishers can monetize video is to add videos from video-sharing sites like Adotube.com, Blinkx, Magnify.net and Revver to their own site.

For example, affiliates can post a video from Revver on their site or social network page, or promote it through email, sneakernet or peer-to-peer sharing.

Revver earns revenue from selling pre- and post-roll advertisements within videos.

For sharing videos, Revver affiliates earn 20 percent of the advertising revenue – the remaining revenue for each video is split 50/50 between the video creator and Revver. It is made possible by a RevTag, a video file that is promoted by an affiliate that contains information about the video being played and about the affiliate.

In addition to the commission-earning possibilities, adding video from a video-sharing site can help publishers add relevant information to their site. If a publisher has a home improvement site, they could choose video from the Ask- Builder.com channel on YouTube where Tim Carter, a You- Tube partner, offers his videos.

With Google AdSense Video units, affiliates can add video from YouTube Partners to their sites and earn revenue on the ads. The ads are paid on either a CPC or CPM impressions basis. Publishers can choose the type of ads in video units – they can be contextually targeted or they can choose from a list of categories like music or technology, or choose to serve content from a specific YouTube partner.

Affiliates install an AdSense player in their site and customize its size, theme and layout. They can choose to have Google/You- Tube determine the best type of videos to show on their site by analyzing the content, or affiliates can choose individual content providers or select categories of content.

Video’s Future

While 2007 is being called the year of online video, industry watchers say it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Revver’s McCarthy lists some of the reasons he thinks it’s just getting started: bandwidth is coming down in cost, more content is coming online and being indexed well, and video quality and advertising continue to improve.

There’s more than one way to cash in on the video revolution. Online marketers are creating their own video as well as leveraging existing video to enhance their programs and improve conversions. And like all uncharted territory, there is much trial and error. Still, it’s clear that video is not going away and marketers that incorporate the medium are benefiting.

Get Inspired

Has this ever happened to you?

It’s late evening and your weekly newsletter, which would normally be queued for delivery on your autoresponder and blog by this time, is still nothing more than the vast white expanse of a blank Word document. Not only haven’t you written a word, you also don’t have the first clue what to write about, or which product you should try to sell.

Although you are usually passionate about your topic – organic vegetable gardening – you begin to wonder what the heck you were thinking when you chose to build a site around a seasonal niche.

Throughout the spring and summer, your income spiked nicely every time you sent out your weekly newsletter. As temperatures started to drop however, so did your subscribers’ interest, sales revenue and the better part of your motivation.

A vision of the repo man coming to get your new truck convinces you to persevere into the wee hours if necessary – but before long, the thought occurs that you simply have nothing to say on the subject and now you’re paralyzed with fear.

Well, fear not. Inability to select a topic, last-minute crisis writing and paralysis are all symptoms of writer’s block; something most writers experience at some time or another. With some strategic planning, you can prevent writer’s block, spark your imagination and earn commissions in any niche – at any time of year.

The first step is to build a “swipe” file that is chock-full of ideas for future articles and which you can access whenever you are in need of inspiration – and contrary to what the name may imply, a swipe file is not for copying other authors’ content to publish later, a.k.a “plagiarizing.” We just want to collect ideas from their work, such as headlines that grab your attention or unique topic ideas, and then create our own work based on the concept.

You can build a swipe file using an Excel spreadsheet with columns named for primary topic categories, suggested article titles, notes, relevant products and proposed publishing dates. If you have a number of sites on different subjects, create a new worksheet within the file for each topic.

Another method is to draft a post on your blog whenever you get an idea for an article. The post may consist of as little as a title and a few bullet points, but each time you log in to your blog’s interface, the draft titles will jog your memory about topics you can develop.

One of my swipe files currently holds 672 entries of both “swiped” titles and a number of fill-in-the-blank title suggestions such as “5 Quick Ways to ________,” “5 Brilliant Strategies for ________” and “How to Conquer _________.” There’s also a long list of emotional trigger words within the workbook. I find both the trigger words and the fill-in-the-blank titles are especially helpful when I already have a topic idea, but need some help crafting a catchy headline.

To start building your own swipe file, consider the following suggestions.

Although organic gardening is used as an example, the suggestions apply to any mainstream niche.

Search article directories

Article directories such as EzineArticles. com, GoArticles.com and ArticleCity. com are idea gold mines. My search for “organic gardening” at EzineArticles.com resulted in 1,540 articles targeted to people of different regions, skill levels and interests. From the results, you could quickly build a list of generic titles such as “Organic Gardening Supplies to Help You Get Started,” “Organic Weed Control” and “How to Grow Organic Tomatoes.”

Visit Amazon

At Earth’s Biggest Bookstore, I dug deeper into the topic and found Mike McGrath’s book, “You Bet Your Tomatoes! Fun Facts, Tall Tales, and a Handful of Useful Gardening Tips” at the top of the search results. Key phrases under the main title included “compost tea,” “sunny windowsill,” “Georgia Streak” and “Tomato Head.” If “Sunny windowsill” sparks an idea for an article about indoor tomato gardening, put it directly into your swipe file along with a link to the book.

Use the “Search Inside” feature to scan tables of contents. Sometimes an interesting chapter title will present a unique perspective on a topic. In this case, the first chapter is titled “Picking Your Tomatoes: Do all of these things have funny, rude, mysterious names?” which prompts an idea for an article about the best types of tomatoes to grow indoors.

While you’re at it, swipe the “Listmania!” title “The Dirt Diva’s Picks: A List of ‘Green’ Books to Save the Earth!” as a reminder to put your own Top 5 or 10 list of recommended books together.

Items such as the AeroGarden Indoor Gardening Kit and Felknor’s Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Tomato Planter can be added to the file as potential products to sell.

Visit relevant forums

Dig up what gardeners are saying right now at forums such as GardenWeb. com and HelpfulGardener. com. The latest posts with the most replies are a good indicator of hot topics.

Set up Google Alerts

To get the latest scoop on tomato hybrids, Google will send you email updates of its latest relevant search results. You can elect to receive Alerts once a day, as it happens or once a week from news sources, the Web, blogs, video or groups; or receive a comprehensive Alert with news from all five sources. Sign up at Google.com/alerts.

Read trade publications

Now you can finally put those stacks of old magazines to really good use! Subscribe to publications to stay current, and don’t forget to check whether your favorite magazine publishes an online version.

Poll your readers

Create a weekly survey and ask your readers what topics they would like you to cover. Regularly invite your readers to leave a comment on your blog by asking a question at the end of your post. Answers to such questions as “What’s your biggest gardening challenge?” will provide you with plenty of grist for the mill. The free Democracy polling plug-in can be downloaded at http://blog.jalenack.com/archives/ democracy/ or use the service at SurveyMonkey.com.

Use merchant resources

Review your merchants’ sites and recent newsletters to find out on which topics and products they are currently focusing. And although I usually advise against using merchant copy – because it is so overused by affiliates that your subscribers will question your credibility as an expert when they see it for the 10th time in your newsletter – in a real pinch, you could check a merchant’s affiliate interface for a well-written advertorial to publish on your blog. Better yet, use it as a basis to write your own product review.

Repurpose your content

If you wrote “Organic Garden To- Do List: March” in 2007, republish the piece in 2008 and incorporate any new tips you’ve picked up during the year.

Share your experience

What’s happening in your garden right now? Get out there, take some pictures, share your news and don’t forget to throw in some emotion! People are far more likely to respond to “Yikes! Giant green-horned caterpillars are eating my tomato plants!” than to yet another “Tomato Pest Management” article.

Those are but a few suggestions to get your swipe file started. Try to add to it frequently so that you always have fresh article ideas at hand.

Ideally, it’s best to create a publishing plan and work at least two to three months in advance. For example, you should be planning for Christmas in September and writing your spring articles in the dead of winter.

Not only does having a swipe file with a plan completely remove the stress of “crisis writing,” but it frees you up to react swiftly when there is breaking news within your industry. Best of all, advance planning and preparation give you the freedom to get out in the garden without looming deadlines to spoil your fun.

Eastern Promises

Japan’s had it hard. After nearly a decade of stock market doldrums and an economy on the brink of disaster – just as the rest of Asia struggled too – Japan bounced back. Growth happened. Its economy is still a tad slow, but there are many industries looking way up. Online marketing is one of them.

Of Japan’s 130 million people, about 88 million are online. That’s about 68 percent of the population, according to Internet World Stats (Asia), compared with 210 million of the U.S.’s 300 million and 137 million of China’s 1.4 billion residents. Japan’s may seem like small numbers, but the momentum of online marketing and the ever-growing popularity of affiliate marketing in Japan make it a region everyone’s talking about.

Blogging, for example, in Japan is a popular way of getting products in front of the masses. Technorati Japan says that more than 85 percent of Japan’s bloggers write about companies and their products – and that over half of these bloggers have been contacted by companies to extol their wares. Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications says that bloggers totaled about 8 million in that country, making for an in-blog ad market of about $60 million last year.

Expansion on the Way

In the 1990s, the Japanese did not use credit cards much for online purchases, as bank transfers and postal transfers made e-commerce slow and a waiting game. But by 1999, a tech-hungry culture emerged and online spending came with it. Pay-per-performance business models were not far behind.

A leader in this space is online retailer Rakuten and its affiliates – managed through LinkShare Japan, a U.S.-led affiliate company acquired by Rakuten in 2005. Rakuten is the leader in online shopping destinations in Japan, so their penetration made them a default major player. In fact, Rakuten plans to be in about 27 more markets by 2012, according to Atsushi Kunishige, a vice president at Rakuten. He says they will use LinkShare, for example, as a way to "expand our business into the international market. We want to open a full-fledged Internet mall [abroad]."

Rakuten’s 20,000-plus online stores and merchants did about $66 million in operating profit in the second quarter of 2007. With the company traded publicly on the Japanese stock market, that’s a market capitalization of more than $5 billion.

LinkShare Japan has about 68 percent of the top-selling merchants in Japan and is the leader in customer satisfaction, according to a survey by Japan’s Affiliate Marketing Association. Atsuko Umemura, director, corporate planning, of LinkShare Japan, says that their focus on per-sales kinds of merchants has helped make them a leader. "Affiliate marketing has proven to have the best ROI for us," she says.

Late Bloomers

While the U.S. affiliate industry can trace its beginnings to the mid-1990s, the first affiliate providers in Japan didn’t start up until 1999. The U.S. market has had a few years to evolve and grow, whereas the Japanese affiliate space is still considered a "juvenile." There are more than 80 affiliate networks in Japan that cover both Web and mobile platforms. Some of the more high-profile affiliate networks include Adways, Access Trade, LinkShare Japan, Fan Communications (A8), TrafficGate, ValueCommerce and Zanox Japan.

Anthony Torres, president of affiliate marketing program management company MetaFlo Marketing, which is based in Japan, points out that the key difference between the U.S. market and the Japanese market is that the "Japanese affiliate networks can service only Japanese sites. U.S. networks such as Commission Junction operate worldwide due to English being the most popular language for Web content. So, no matter how large the Japanese affiliate industry gets, it will never be as big as the English-speaking networks," Torres says.

He also notes that Japan is still behind the curve in tracking technology and commission sophistication. For example, U.S. advertisers have more choices in how they reward affiliates. Generally, U.S. affiliate networks allow merchants to pay affiliates based on subscription status of digital content and, of course, future sales even if buyer clicks go directly to a merchant store. The U.S. networks also have more payout choices. A small CPA, plus a larger percentage of future sales generated by the lead is a method that hasn’t made it to Japanese network platforms.

Torres notes that the cost of acquisition of a typical online customer is high in Japan. "When you add in customer service and all of the accumulated costs in the sale cycle, you are left with a lower margin per sale," he says. Merchants in Japan are just not used to paying high commissions or lifetime commissions on a customer, he adds. "As the industry matures here and the ability to attract online buyers becomes more challenging, we may see online merchants less reluctant to try more aggressive commission terms." Unique to the Japanese market seems to be the cross-investment of media sites and affiliate networks. In order to increase media coverage, many networks invest in or make their own in-house media sites.

Considered the real pioneer in Japanese affiliate marketing is ValueCommerce (Yahoo Japan took a sizable stake in the company in 2005), started by a New Zealander named Tim Williams. ValueCommerce has more than 50,000 websites and blogs in its network, with about 2,000 advertisers. The company has about $43 million in annual revenue and trades on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Goldman Sachs veteran Brian Nelson is now CEO, having come on in 2000 as COO. Nelson says that "we focused on our strengths, continued to hire great people, and launched new products and services that kept new customers, especially large brand name customers, coming in to work with us."

Consolidation is Coming

Nelson says that a large product database for shopping and their Web 2.0 applications have kept them in the No. 1 spot. It also doesn’t hurt that there is some consolidation going on in the Japan online marketing space now. "I have been telling people in the market for a long time that consolidation is coming " and it is in full swing now," Nelson says. LinkShare’s Umemura says, "It is a very saturated market right now. There is not enough room for everyone to survive."

Online marketing observers in Japan note that there are just too many networks trying to service the same advertisers. With about 1.3 million affiliates registered with the major networks and the majority of transactions driven by a group of search affiliates and "incentive media sites," there are not enough "quality" affiliates to take on all the offers out there. This means the networks are starting to look at new channels for ads.

One of those new channels is mobile, a platform that has performed very well for Japan. Because the Japanese adopted 3G standards fairly early, more than three-quarters of all cell phones in Japan have smooth Internet access. This means delivery of interactive content and ads to about 86 million cell phones (compared with 31 million in the U.S.). There are more than 48 mobile affiliate networks in Japan, with names such as Moba8, Pocket Affiliate and Smart-C. In 2005, the Japanese spent more than $3.8 billion on purchases over cell phones – 57 percent over the previous year. In addition, the CPA-based mobile affiliate provider model does much better in Japan than in the U.S., where CPC or CPM models prevail. It’s been said the culture in Japan plays a role in this since there are so many more commuters in Japan – leaving more travel time for the Japanese to experiment with their cell phones.

And with greater mobile traffic comes the opportunity to serve more Internet phone search advertising. Local search engines like Goo, Nifty and BigGlobe get a share of those eyeballs, but the leaders are Yahoo Japan (with about 63 percent of searches), Google Japan at 23 percent and about 14 percent left to split between MSN and the regional engines. Yahoo Japan is also the biggest local player in Internet auctions, Web email, mobile content and broadband.

Search Challenges

Japanese online marketing agency and search specialist Sozon sees challenges in the search marketing arena. One area in SEO that is unique to Japan culturally speaking, says Andy Radovic, VP of strategy and planning at Sozon, "is its variety in language used. Essentially, there are four methods of writing – kanji, the character system borrowed from China; hiragana, a more simplified form of kanji; katakana, the Japanese expression for foreign words; and romaji, which is the alphabet," he says. "Depending on what you intend to communicate, you may use just one or a combination of these. This greatly impacts the keyword planning stage of your SEO program. Another major difference is Japan’s reliance on Yahoo as the search engine of choice."

Radovic notes that Japanese-run companies are the leaders in services and customized solutions. "There are very few successful, market-leading international companies in the online space," he says. The international companies that operate in Japan tend to do so with a local partner. The exceptions, he says, are technology- dependent products, where some U.S. companies are in the lead, such as in search (Google) and bid management and Web analytics tools (like Omniture). "Some of the Japanese homegrown companies in the mobile, travel and insurance space are getting more sophisticated in their online marketing programs and are tracking to off-line sales," he says.

Scott Neville, COO of Sozon, says that, creatively speaking, ad messages need to really know their audience. "International ad concepts simply will not work most of the time," he says. "Text is definitely king here. More information is better and creative is often very busy with multiple propositions." He says you will need to provide as much detail as possible in your campaigns – that Japanese users will definitely read your privacy policy. He says that text email is the standard and somewhat limiting in terms of email marketing campaigns that may rely on HTML. Flash and graphic-centric sites tend not to work that well at either an advertising or a site-campaign level. He says that Flash campaigns "are not really supported by major portals for media buying and tend to be not that well received." Also, comparison campaigns are not generally used in Japan and "culturally not respectable to run."

While online ad agencies in the U.S. are slowly starting to synergize their off-line traditional ways and the brave new web of interactive display advertising, the Japanese banner ad companies are not doing too well. Two online ad agency leaders, Cyber Communications and D.A. Consortium, actually had negative growth in recent years.

The Network View

Aside from the few U.S. companies acquired or now run by Japanese companies, there are few pure U.S. players in this market and there are not likely to be more anytime soon. Observers note that U.S. networks just don’t have the Japanese-language support. While LinkShare and ValueCommerce have a bilingual platform interface, they are the only two out of dozens. One of the U.S. networks to gain a measurable foothold in Japan is DTI. They host affiliate programs for Japanese adult sites, but since most networks in Japan won’t handle porn ads, DTI has found its niche in this area. Some experts point out that one opportunity for U.S. companies would be to acquire small- to medium-sized networks and re-brand. LinkShare’s Umemura says that in Japan, U.S. companies could have come in at an earlier stage, but that "starting now from scratch would be pretty difficult whether you are a U.S. or European company. There are some smaller U.S. networks that do quite well here."

In terms of what hasn’t been popular in Japan’s affiliate programs are third-party management vendors. Currently, only a handful of the affiliate networks have management services, mainly because they are pushing their own media. However, experts say, tool and service vendors could eventually find a market in Japan. Keywords tools such as Wordtracker, recruiting tools such as Syntryx Executive Solutions and competitive keyword research tools such as the makers of KeyCompete could enter the market fairly easily.

Perhaps the best indicator that the online marketing landscape in Japan is maturing is the formation in May of 2006 of the Japan Affiliate Service Kyokai, an association that started to draw up guidelines, educate the public and monitor ethical behavior in online marketing. The six major networks in Japan founded the association when they felt that "shady affiliates" were starting to encroach on the growth of the business.

A learning curve, however, still applies. Sozon’s Radovic says that "everyone is struggling with how to market in a Web 2.0 environment. The Japanese blog and peer consumer trust are major drivers of consumer purchase. So this is an ongoing challenge." And solutions to the challenge will certainly add up to a better marketing landscape.

Rexanne Mancini: The Free Thinker

Mancini says she thought the Internet was the wave of the future and wanted a way to connect and be part of it. She waited to get on the Internet until after her younger daughter’s third birthday because she had the feeling that once she got on it she would never get off. And she was right.

Although she knew she wanted to sell something online, she had no idea what. She says she just had a feeling that “the Internet was going to be the place to be.”

In the beginning, Mancini wanted to reach out to other parents about her unique parenting philosophy, so she covered topics ranging from spanking to setting limits for children to self-esteem issues. As she built a community with returning visitors, her site gained traffic and she won several awards, including AOL’s Page of the Week.

Early on, she included a link to Amazon as part of their early affiliate program, Amazon Associates, which is how she discovered affiliate marketing. Her first sale was an Amazon book that she recommended, called Parents Please Don’t Sit on Your Kids. Although Amazon helped her figure out the business model of affiliate marketing, her beginning days were filled with trial and error.

She was aware of the wants and needs of parents because she was a stay-at-home mom. Mancini wrote about issues that came up in her day-to-day life and then researched retailers that sold merchandise appropriate to the topic. She tried merchants she thought would make sense for a family-oriented site like hers, such as Disney and Hallmark, but found those did not convert.

“I learned about affiliate marketing by the seat of my pants at first,” Mancini says. She didn’t start to make “real” money until she found and joined the online marketing forum ABestWeb.com. By participating in the various discussions on the forum and reading advice from others, she learned why she wasn’t making money and how “to turn traffic into gold.” In 1998, she built out her website into sections to offer holiday items for Halloween and Christmas.

But then in 2000, Mancini decided to take a full-time job and began working for an online traffic school. After a few months, another Internet company doing online video made her a much better offer. Even though she was managing everything from shipping to customer service, the company allowed her to work from home. That freedom gave her time to build out her own site.

Mancini says that both companies were very successful online, and having the firsthand opportunity to “see the power of Internet marketing from different angles was very exciting.”

Still, Mancini realized if she devoted the huge amount of energy she was putting into the online video company into her own effort, she could really be successful. That’s when she quit her job and jumped into affiliate marketing full time. Leaving her day job wasn’t her goal at the time, but when she began to make more money with affiliate marketing, she knew she had to concentrate on her own business.

Around that time, she decided to get her own domain in order to start a newsletter. Because Mancini had a somewhat unusual first name, she thought that might work well for building a brand. Even though the domain name had nothing in it to indicate that it was a family site, Mancini went with her instincts and bought www.Rexanne.com.

According to Mancini, the newsletter turned out to be an instrumental way for her to build community and keep people coming back. Currently, her site continues to get a surge in traffic when she sends out a newsletter. She says it is a great way to keep her in front of her visitors. One successful tactic she uses is to introduce a theme in the newsletter and then carry that same topic over to the forums on her website for people to debate.

Against the Grain

Not one to shy away from controversy, Mancini writes about topics not typically in line with mainstream thinking, and she’s not afraid to take a strong position on issues. She often ends up being “quite controversial without trying to be.”

When she writes about topics like immunizations, fluoride in toothpaste and talking to your kids about sex, debates among her audience ensue. For example, she was surprised to find out that 64 percent of her audience believes in spanking, because to her it seems so archaic. “It was shocking to be in the minority.”

Mancini also found out that her beliefs about childhood vaccinations and inoculations are the minority. Her father was a holistic doctor who started a movement against the polio vaccine and was instrumental in making sure that parents know their rights regarding mandatory inoculations in schools. She believes that vaccines can damage kids’ immune systems and thinks it’s crazy for infants to be exposed to an onslaught of disease. She feels the same about circumcision – infants should not be exposed to that type of pain when they don’t understand it.

Many of her ideas for what to write about stem from what to her seems like common sense. Mancini says she didn’t know anything about children before having her own – except that she had absolute beliefs about parenting and raising a sane, healthy child. “I found myself wanting to be the type of mother I wish I had had and wanting to protect my kids from a lot of mainstream beliefs and parenting advice that I felt was wrong and dangerous.” Her strongest belief is that children need to be loved and cherished and filled with positive self-images.

La Dolce Vita

Mancini’s own childhood was unique. She was born and raised in Los Angeles and lived there until she was 10 years old when her family moved to Rome, Italy. Mancini stayed in Rome for more than a decade before she returned home to the States at 21. She likes to embrace the spirit of the Roman culture – she loves life and thinks it should be enjoyed. One of Mancini’s mottos is that life is supposed to be fun and she doesn’t like to do something unless it is fun.

Her positive outlook and sunny disposition transcends to all aspects of her life. She lives with her two daughters, Justice, 19 years old, and Liberty, 13; Frankie the dog; and her cats, Holiday and Sage, in Studio City in the San Fernando Valley. She loves living in Los Angeles because of the weather, people and the opportunities that it offers.

Although Mancini loves her affiliate marketing job, she also has a passion for music, and sometimes freelances as a music supervisor for films and television. She’s careful only to take on music jobs that allow her to do some of the work at home so that she can keep up with her sites. It’s the creative process behind fitting the perfect music with a film that she loves and she says her specialty is finding unpublished songs and building a soundtrack of great unknown music. Before she started doing music supervision, she ran a music publishing and production company where she discovered new artists and songs for current recording artists.

In addition, she’s had a small acting role in the 2004 film, “Yard Sale.”

Her love of creativity and freedom makes her well-suited for affiliate marketing. She has also made lots of friends and enjoys the camaraderie of the affiliate marketing community. She’s a vocal and active poster on ABestWeb.com and enjoys friendships with many others involved in the forum. She counts many ABWers as close friends and some she considers her family. She’s also forged relationships through conferences and events like the Affiliate Summit and ShareASale’s annual Think Tank gathering of affiliates and merchants, which she “wouldn’t think about missing.”

Mancini is a big fan of ShareASale because she finds the network to be “honest and honorable.” It doesn’t hurt that ShareASale’s merchants also convert well on her site. She really noticed the difference in her traffic when she switched to ShareASale. Mancini doesn’t work much with LinkShare anymore because she claims she did not have much success with the merchants converting for her. AvantLink is her No. 2 choice in networks.

Secret to Her Success

For Mancini, one of the most important traits needed by an affiliate marketer is the ability to write well. Whether it is ad copy or telling a story – she says marketers need to be able to relay information effectively. She’s been successful at starting and growing a parenting site, even though there is so much competition online, because she has a unique voice. That has earned her a loyal audience that continues to come to her site for advice on issues like baby showers, teacher appreciation, how to care for infants, and birthdays. She matches these pages with affiliate links.

She says the products that sell the best for her today are Halloween costumes and holiday items for Christmas. Although she knows that apparel is a big online seller, she has not yet found a niche that works well for her, and she also has not had much success with learning products. Among her best sellers are Barbies, because they never seem to go out of style and girls love them – and grandparents and parents love to buy them.

Rexanne.com has more than 500 pages, and 10,000 visitors per day. The site gets up to 50,000 page views per day during the height of major holidays. Mancini allows advertising on most pages in the form of text links or buttons and banners. Because she has years of experience with affiliate programs, she understands what works and sells on her site and how and when to best reach visitors, and enjoys working with advertisers to help them achieve success on her site.

Because she loves to help people and finds it very satisfying, her site features parenting articles on topics like school overplacement, sex offender laws, and routines and schedules for children. Two years ago, she added forums to her site and found that they are a great way to build community. Topics include family photo albums, humor, prayer requests, and parenting issues like pregnancy and adolescence.

One area of her website she is building out is devoted to raising young ladies, and it focuses on topics such as how to be articulate, and improve appearance, confidence and grooming. However, Mancini points out that she doesn’t recommend any products or services she doesn’t believe in. For example, she will not promote an acne product if she doesn’t think it works.

Her honesty and straightforward attitude is another reason her site is successful, she believes. It’s a comfortable place for parents because she is a real person and not a corporation that is pushing products or an agenda on them.

Despite her Roman upbringing, Mancini is a Buddhist. The Buddhist philosophy plays a big role in her outlook on raising a child with kindness and compassion. Her signature line in forum postings is “loving everyone’s child creates magic.” She is truly caring about the world’s children and believes that adults should be open and honest with them. She sends her kids to private Catholic high school because it is a blue-ribbon school close to where she lives, but talks with them after school regarding what they learn philosophically to make sure it is in step with her beliefs.

In the future, Mancini plans to follow her heart into one of her other passions – and start a separate food and cooking site. She already has a separate section of her site devoted to recipes and gourmet cooking as well as a forum devoted to topics where users can exchange recipes. Enjoying food as well as family is definitely in step with her life philosophy.

Avoid the Blog Drivel

I degraded myself as a content publisher twice last week. In both cases, after reviewing my Google Alerts and picking the day’s hot news item, I wrote a blog entry that included a quote, a few inane comments about the topic and a link back to the original post.

It’s a technique commonly used by bloggers to drive traffic to their sites through backlinks. Indeed, some bloggers use this pseudo-journalistic technique to play follow-the-leader every day, while others re-post scraped blog content exclusively – without added commentary.

Goodness knows that it would take a partial lobotomy to make me descend to that level, but how much further could I go? Would my compulsion to beat the competition to the punch with a you-heard-it-here second post turn me into yet another crap contributor? Could I sell my soul for a few blessed backlinks? Would I go so far as to risk my reputation in exchange for traffic?

Bar the notion! However, a quick check of my traffic and subscriber stats revealed that I was already sliding down that slippery slope. Although the backlink had produced some modest traffic, a few readers had taken exception to my “Blah, blah, BLAAAAAAH!” and unsubscribed from my feed.

Who could blame them? Just as I do my best to avoid those whose constant chatter gives me nothing but a headache, my now ex-readers clearly expressed what they thought of my drivel. I was grateful to them, actually. The experience reminded me that my success as a publisher depends not on getting eyeballs to the page, but on my ability to reach the hearts and minds of my visitors.

If I kept this up, those “Your conversion rates were through the roof on that latest promo, and you always convert five to 10 times better than our second-best-producing affiliate” notes from affiliate managers would disappear as surely as my commissions.

No longer would I be able to respond “Yes, the site does have a nice following,” and “Nice following” is an understatement. It doesn’t tell of long-term readers who eagerly await each blog post or check in personally when the newsletter doesn’t arrive on schedule. It also avoids speaking to the commitment professed by loyal readers who have “cancelled all but your newsletter” in a particular niche or those who wait to buy a new-to-market product until they’ve read your review.

As a shy person, I sweat great drops of blood while agonizing over every word to connect with those readers – until I realized that all they wanted was help from a real person who understood their problems. Now I was letting them down and ruining my business in the process. Aaargh!

So to help you to turn your visitors into faithful fans (and as a reminder to myself to avoid drivel), keep the following suggestions in mind when you write your blog posts and articles.

Give generously. Create good will by sharing your expertise freely. Give solutions to specific problems or offer a free e-book for download without expecting anything in return. That means posting information that doesn’t contain an affiliate link, a link to a product endorsement elsewhere on your site or requiring an email address in exchange. The only incentive you should have in mind is building loyalty that follows generous advice.

Affiliates who monetize their blogs only with AdSense or other navbar advertising thrive on this model. However, those that promote a variety of products will need to strike a balance between posting information versus promotional messages that keep their readers happy and away from the Unsubscribe button.

Be empathetic. People generally arrive at our sites with questions. When we immediately bowl them over with a laundry list of answers, they may find a solution to their problem, but it’s doubtful that the reader will feel connected to us.

Because we tend to bristle at those who “know it all” and tell us what we should do, it’s important to approach readers in a way that shows you understand and identify with their situation, feelings and motives. To show you clearly understand what it feels like to be in your readers’ shoes and foster a deeper connection, use words that evoke vivid mental images and strong emotions.

For example, “It was me, the cat and Dick Clark AGAIN”” is a better preface to an article about being single at New Year’s than “Here are 10 things you can do to feel less lonely.”

Be yourself. Don’t fake your persona or try to portray yourself as Mr. or Ms. Perfect, because readers won’t be fooled. If you’re Condoleezza Rice and you try to come across like Ellen DeGeneres, you’ll sound phony. Readers follow certain blogs not only because they enjoy the topic, but the blogger’s personality.

Let your readers know that you’re a real person with a family, friends, interests and hobbies off-line. Weave your life experience into your articles where relevant and don’t be afraid to share your joys and frustrations.

For example, after a tractor trailer rammed into a rental car that I was driving last summer, I used the experience to post to my business and travel blogs about bad customer service, a surprisingly great credit card company and an ergonomic chair that helped me cope with my injuries and speed my recovery. What hastened my recovery more however was the care and concern expressed by my wonderful readers.

Post your real photo. Sure, it might be tempting to paste your head shot on a Victoria’s Secret or GQ model’s body, or create a completely different (more favorable) public image of yourself. But do resist the urge, because when you become a famous blogger and get invited to speak at BlogWorld, it might be just a tad embarrassing to explain that the 24-year-old blond bombshell they expected is in fact a pleasantly plump 46-year old matronly mama.

Give hope. To get past the intimidation most people feel around highly successful people, share stories about your failures as well as your success. Exposing your shortcomings makes you “real” and therefore much more approachable. Moreover, talking about how you overcame certain obstacles gives people hope that they too can attain success, and makes them more likely to seek your advice.

Respect your readers’ time. Just because you can write a 3,000-word essay on a topic, doesn’t mean you should. Get to the point and then quit while you’re ahead. Some readers don’t have time or the patience to read lengthy entries, and splitting up a post gives you more fodder for the engines.

Invite reader participation. Allowing users to provide comments at the end of blog entries encourages discussion and helps build site content. If you are worried about inappropriate comments, be sure to moderate for relevancy and spam. But don’t cut out some comments just because they are critical. When you rise respectfully to a debate, or show that you’ve gained a broader perspective on an issue, your readers will respect you even more.

Return the love. Your regular readers will support you through thick and thin, so acknowledge and show your appreciation for their patronage. Where relevant, quote their comments in your posts and link back to articles on their sites. Your gesture might give someone a confidence boost and make their day, or tip the scales just enough to make their business fly ” and what could be more gratifying?

Here’s the bottom line: Treat your readers as you would your friends – with kindness, caring and respect, and they’ll show their appreciation in kind. And, the most important point to remember – no drivel, ever.

Rosalind Gardner is a super-affiliate who’s been in the business since 1998. She’s also the author of The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 in One Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online. Her best-selling book is available on Amazon and www.SuperAffiliate-Handbook.com.

Video Goes Viral

Thanks to social networking sites such as YouTube, online video has quickly become an everyday part of the online experience. While marketers have been slow to capitalize on video so far, the low cost of producing content and potential for increasing reach will make it essential to performance marketing.

The audience that watches Web video skews younger, but nearly everyone online is doing it. According to market research firm comScore, nearly 75 percent of U.S. Internet users watched video during the month of May, viewing more than 8.3 billion video streams. Consumers are interacting with video more frequently in a wide variety of destinations, from “newspaper” websites to social networking to blogs. The most popular viral videos can garner millions of views, and video ads have proven to be more effective than their static counterparts in prompting user actions.

In 2008, more than half of the total U.S. population will be watching video online, according to eMarketer, and advertisers will spend more than $775 million in 2007 on video ads, up 89 percent over the previous year.

Since interactive video will catch and hold viewers’ attention longer, marketers are beginning to use the technology in four ways: on their primary websites; on microsites designed for specific campaigns; syndicating them through advertising networks; and releasing them to video search engines in the hopes that they go viral. The first step is to create professional and compelling content.

The Medium and the Message

Video starts with a camera, and MiniDV (digital video) is the industry-standard format for recording video on tape. MiniDV or hard-drive-based cameras are the best match for transferring video to a PC. To make it easy to transfer the video to a computer for editing, the camera should be able to record in MPEG 2 or 4 format and pass it through a FireWire (also known as IEEE 1394) or USB 2.0 (universal serial bus) connection.

These cameras range in cost from a few hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the features, including optical zoom; size of the LCD panel to preview the video; and the technology used to steady the image. Sony, Panasonic and Canon offer high-quality digital video cameras at a variety of price points and options.

For companies that want to tell a personal story in a vlog style, Jim Kukral, who blogs about using video at HowToDoVideo.com, recommends purchasing a set of lights that cost between $150 and $400 and a photo background (or green screen) that sells for approximately $50. Kukral, who produces videos and distributes them via YouTube, also recommends buying a tripod to provide a steadier image than with handheld shooting.

Kukral says videos about a company provide a more personal experience than blogs, and posting them on YouTube can drive traffic to your website. Publishers can “engage customers and illustrate things with video as opposed to [relying on] bullet points,” he says. Kukral posted videos on YouTube with tips on creating videos that generated new clients, several of whom commented that from his videos they “got the feeling that I knew you.”

Editing software ranges from free to more than $1,000, depending on the sophistication of the special effects. Macs include the intuitive iMovie, which provides basic functions for cutting and splicing together clips, adding titles and controlling sound. Similarly, Windows Vista PCs include a drag-and-drop video-editing application, Windows Movie Maker 6.

QuickTime 7 Pro ($29.99) is available for Mac OS X and for Windows, and includes more sound- and video- editing features, including the ability to export videos to iPhones. SimpleMovieX ($30) from Aero Quartet is a QuickTime competitor for Macs that works with more formats and larger files.

Marketers willing to learn more sophisticated programs so that they can add effects such as modifying the lighting, integrating multiple audio tracks and working with more file formats have several not-so-inexpensive options (see sidebar on page 048). Adobe Flash is becoming ubiquitous as a browser-friendly application that enables publishers to integrate interactive elements into their videos.

Kukral says the biggest mistake companies make in creating videos is insufficient branding. Videos should introduce the company at the beginning and reinforce the brand within the content.

For videos that are distributed outside of a corporate website, adding the URL in a title card at the end of the video is recommended. The videos should also be tagged with the URL and contact information, and keywords should be added to optimize the videos for search engines.

Marketing videos can range from a few seconds to several minutes in length depending on the type of content and target audience. Keeping the message short is essential to retaining the viewer, according to Michael Hines, the U.S. manager for network Zanox. Videos that are to be distributed as ads “can’t be 30 seconds long,” Hines says. He recommends that video ads be no longer than 10-15 seconds in length, while videos that introduce a company or illustrate a technology can be longer.

Publishers looking to create video marketing content without investing in editing software or expertise can refine their videos with a drag-and-drop online tool. Launched in August, Digital Canvas is a Flash-based service from Flimp Media that integrates interactive elements into a marketing microsite, according to company CEO Wayne Wall. These customized pages, also called flimps, can be shared as viral content, and built-in tracking mechanisms enable measuring their effectiveness, Wall says. The videos can tell the story of a company, or be used as an interactive component of marketing collateral, he adds.

Companies that lack video expertise or desire the highest-quality production values should consider using a video production service familiar with the optimizing content for the Web. Many of the companies that produce corporate training videos or video news releases are adding online services, with costs ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the shoot.

Putting Videos Online

Putting videos online that have been created on a website is not difficult, but finding an audience for them often requires manually uploading them to other sites or hiring someone to do so for you. Videos in the most common formats (MPEG, QuickTime and Windows Media) can be embedded on Web pages with a minimum of coding. As a more sophisticated alternative, embedding a Flash player on a site provides access to multiple videos and enables publishers to link to other interactive components or Web content.

For publishers with substantial traffic, adding videos provides an opportunity to retain visitors and to satisfy those who would rather watch than read content. If the videos become a runaway success, however, you may need to purchase additional bandwidth from your Internet service provider. Although the video quality can be compromised, uploading videos to YouTube and embedding their video on your site can reduce Web-hosting costs, according to video guru Kukral.

If you want videos to drive traffic to your website, they need to be optimized for search engines and syndicated through a growing number of video-hosting and search sites. As part of the upload process for submitting videos to search sites such as You- Tube, Revver, DailyMotion and Blip.tv, and syndication sites including Veoh, Brightcove and Maven, publishers fi ll out forms on each site and enter tags, descriptions and keywords. This painstaking process can take hours to reach just the most highly trafficked sites.

Companies such as TurnHere and Medialink work with networks of local video production companies to create the content and will also take care of the upload and submission process to sites including Google, AOL, MSN and Yahoo.

Through a partnership with RSS distribution company Pheedo, Turn- Here distributes content to sites looking to add video, including blogs such as BlogCritics and AlarmClock, and publishers including Slashdot, Red Herring, InformationWeek and ABCNews, according to CEO Brad Inman. Inman says travel, automotive companies and book publishers are among the early adopters marketing through online videos. TurnHere client Simon & Schuster has created hundreds of videos with authors talking about their latest books, and Inman says the top authors’ videos are viewed 50,000 times per month.

Local publishers are beginning to experiment with using video to tell their stories directly to customers. Superpages and CitySearch have recently introduced videos into their local listings. Marketing videos are “… really about long tail – not about a million streams, but [marketers] want 100 relevant streams,” Inman says. He recommends local business owners get in front of the camera because “no one can tell their story better.”

Getting the media and bloggers to write about or incorporate your videos can create signifi cant brand awareness and drive traffic to your website. Medialink, which has more than 20 years of experience in connecting companies with print and broadcast media, has video distribution services that start at $2,500. Medialink will host and present a video online and distribute it to local and national media including bloggers, and will also distribute the videos to aggregation and syndication sites, according to COO Larry Thomas.

In the fall of 2007, Medialink is launching Mediaseed, a Web platform that hosts and optimizes corporate marketing and communications materials for distribution. The platform contains tracking features for measuring a video marketing initiative’s reach online as well as on broadcast TV.

While accurately labeling videos will increase exposure on YouTube and the other top video sites, how to optimize content for video or general search engines remains largely a mystery. Google’s incorporation of video results into its universal search will increase the exposure of videos, but search engine marketers are still catching up.

Browsing videos and referrals from other users remain the most common methods by which people discover new videos. Being found on video search engines is not that easy, according to TurnHere’s Inman. People had a “false sense several months ago that ‘I can create a video and have it go viral on YouTube and it will go big,'” according to Inman. The reality is that most videos submitted to video sites will languish in obscurity. “The key is to start creating and experimenting,” he says. Search engines will take 18 months to catch on to the importance of video and properly index the content, according to Zanox’s Hines.

This fall Zanox will launch Zanox.tv, where publishers can post videos that will be used to attract partners. “The intent is to allow publishers to do an alternative to a text ad to encourage people to join as an affiliate,” says Hines. The video ads will likely pay on a cost-per-action basis, with Zanox and publishers sharing the revenue, according to Hines.

Ad Networks Monetize Video

Advertising networks are matching content companies with publishers large and small who are looking to use video to increase their audience. Startup video ad network Affliated.net is betting on a new video advertisement form opening a door into affiliate marketing. The borderless videos hover next to content and feature an actor or actress pitching a product or service. Since the video ads reside in the pixels along the edges of a Web page, publishers don’t have to give up their existing ads, according to Affiliated.net president Chris Skretvedt.

The videos, which range in length from 30 seconds to 5 minutes and will be paid for by Affiliated.net, are created to prompt user action such as generating leads or making a purchase, Skretvedt says. The ads launched in August and are to be sold on a CPA basis. The company is pursuing relationships with the major affiliate networks.

Tremor Media has combined forces with video distribution company ClipSyndicate to match content with relevant advertising. Tremor Media inserts in-stream ads with videos from sites such as DrPhil.com and making the content available to publishers, according to vice president of publisher relations Daniel Scherer.

Scherer says online video is hampered by a lack of technical standards in how to publish content. De facto standards for formats exist, but there is “no standard that supports integration of in-stream dynamic advertising,” he says. Content owners today are stuck in the struggle between controlling the advertising and monetizing their videos, according to Scherer. “The big puzzle is the upside-down reliance on You- Tube,” he says. If you want a video to be popular, put it on YouTube, but then you can’t monetize it; and if you want to control the ads, then you can’t put it on YouTube, says Scherer. Within the next year, You- Tube parent Google is expected to roll out a new video advertising service to address this problem.

Another opportunity for monetizing videos is to make them interactive so that the products featured within can be highlighted and sold via performance marketing. VideoClix provides technology that makes areas of a video clickable, according to Brent Stafford, the vice president of business development. “If you don’t make [your ads] interactive, you are underutilizing the medium,” he says. VideoClix has created ads for Levi’s and Honda, and shares revenue through CPA, CPC or CPM campaigns.

Once the science of increasing the search rankings of video has been significantly refined, publishers will rapidly increase their efforts to acquire or produce videos to place on their website. This strategy will be similar to how images of celebrities or top search terms are currently used to attract an audience, and will assure video’s place in the spotlight.

John Gartner is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer who contributes to Wired News, Inc., MarketingShift and is the editor of Matter-mag.com.

Marketing Reality: Q & A with Joel Comm

Joel Comm has been building websites for over 12 years. He sold his first business to Yahoo in 1997 and it became Yahoo Games. Comm is the author of several best-selling e-books, as well as The AdSense Code, a New York Times best seller. His next venture is as the creator and producer of the online reality show “The Next Internet Millionaire.” The show, which is an “Apprentice”-type reality show being filmed in Loveland, Co., will air only online. The show features 12 contestants vying for a $25,000 prize and chance to start a business with Comm. It began taping in late July and started airing on the Web in mid-August. There will be 12 episodes and the winner will be announced in November. Comm spoke with Revenue Editor-in-Chief Lisa Picarille about the stigma of e-books, why the time is right for an online-only reality show and why viewers find marketing as compelling as he does.

LISA PICARILLE: Given the success of your books, are you making most of your money as an online marketer or as an author?

JOEL COMM: Many people got caught with their pants down when the bubble burst in 2000. I learned my lesson and have become a believer in multiple revenue streams. I now generate revenue through books, affiliate programs, courses, content sites, public speaking and advertising. The more you can position yourself as an authority, the more options become available for monetizing your brand.

LP: How do you get your books noticed with all the noise out there?

JC: I think it’s important to stand out from the rest of the crowd by creating a product that is more than another “me too” book. You have to give people original content and deliver it in a way that makes it accessible to a larger portion of the population. Of course, it never hurts to have great affiliate partners who believe in you and are eager to promote your products.

LP: Also, there is somewhat of a negative stigma associated with e-books as get-rich-quick schemes. What do you do to combat that image?

JC: There have always been snake-oil salesmen. There will always be snake-oil salesmen. Just like the television preachers who make legitimate evangelists look bad, there are so-called marketers who use legitimate techniques for illegitimate business models. People can frequently see through the game of the charlatans. I would hope the public would not throw out the baby with the bathwater. The best I, and other legitimate infopreneurs, can do is provide quality products that really help people. That’s one reason I post testimonials on my pages with full names, and audio when possible. It lets people know that there are others who are really succeeding with my material.

LP: Just curious ” there are many people who sort of bash the ‘gurus.’ What you think about people out there like RichJerk.com?

JC: It’s all just a show for those guys. I don’t care for RJ’s style of marketing. I guess there is money in condescending to people, but I sure wouldn’t want to have that as my claim to fame. If what I do doesn’t have a positive influence on people’s lives, I should probably be doing something else.

LP: You have a coaching club. Explain exactly how it works and what prompted you to start it.

JC: Once people have my book or course, they sometimes request assistance consuming the material. Having a coaching club where members can receive new material and teaching on an ongoing basis can make a huge difference in whether or not they succeed. It’s one thing to have information that can make you money. It’s another to implement what you have learned and take action on it. The same thing that attracts many people to making money online is the thing that can become one of the biggest obstacles to success. In other words, we want to be able to work at home in our pajamas, but it is difficult to stay motivated and disciplined when you have no one to answer to but yourself … in your pajamas. A coaching club and other continuity programs help people stay on track so they can reach their goals faster and with greater efficiency.

LP: Your newest venture is ‘The Next Internet Millionaire.’ How did the idea come about?

JC: Early this year, I began playing with the concept of producing my own reality show. As a reality TV fan, I realized that no one had attempted to do a competitive show on the Internet. As I spoke with my joint venture partner, Eric Holmlund, I discovered that he had a desire to get into video production. Our discussions led to planning, and here we are with the world’s very first competitive Internet reality show.

LP: Why do you think the time is right for this show right now?

JC: Reality shows are a cultural phenomenon. Video on the Internet is all the rage. And regular people are looking for ways to leverage the power of the Internet to bring in some extra cash. It’s a perfect storm whose time has come.

LP: Do you think that having the show air only online negates some of the legitimacy? If it is a good idea, why not try and get broadcast TV to pick it up?

JC: Broadcast TV is losing viewers faster than you can say dot.com. The Internet is the new medium of choice, and one of my goals is to prove that there is a significant audience who is eager to embrace original programming on the Web, provided it is compelling and professionally produced. I don’t believe that anyone has created a production solely for the Web that is of the scale that this project is. If the TV networks want to pick up the series in syndication, I’d be interested in speaking with them, but I’ve never considered selling the show to a network out of the gate. I guess you could say that I am on a mission to prove that the time is right for this concept.

LP: OK, I hate to admit it but I’m a reality show junkie. I’m also a marketing junkie. Yet I’m not sure that I’ll actually watch this show, because it is only online. What do you say to those who may share my opinion?

JC: You’ll be missing out. Having spent the past two weeks of my life on the set with my guests and crew, I can tell you that this is going to be an incredibly entertaining and educational series. Every speaker and sponsor who has visited the set has been overwhelmed at the scope, uniqueness and professionalism of the production, with several people staying longer than intended just to hang out on the set! We’re breaking new ground, and those who watch will see a historical event online unfold before their eyes. Yes, it’s that cool.

LP: What is the target demographic for the show? Who do you think will be watching it?

JC: Our obvious base is the Internet marketing and affiliate marketing crowd. However, we have designed the show and our promotions to appeal to a more mainstream audience. I have never wanted to spend time in misery on a desert island, but I enjoy “Survivor.” And most people will never be pop icons, but millions watch “American Idol.” In the same way, “The Next Internet Millionaire” will appeal to a broad segment of the population, with the additional benefit of reaching an audience on the other side of the world via the Internet.

LP: You have a group of a dozen well-known marketing folks (teachers) who are working with you on the show. What is their role?

JC: I wanted to expose our contestants and viewers to some of the most successful marketers in the world. Unlike other reality shows, I wanted the content of “The Next Internet Millionaire” to go beyond entertainment into the educational realm. The experts who have been on location have been teaching our contestants about product creation, copywriting, branding, viral marketing and a number of other strategies and techniques for building a successful online business. These contestants must then apply their newfound knowledge to a relevant and entertaining challenge each day. It has been a privilege to work alongside such legends as Mark Joyner, Armand Morin, Marlon Sanders and Perry Marshall. The experts also play a role in the judging of challenges, as well as advising me on who they believe should be eliminated from the competition.

LP: The show runs 12 weeks, but you only spend a little over two weeks to film the entire show. Is that enough time to see the traits you are looking for in a winner?

JC: Yes. In fact, I’ve been amazed at how quickly we’ve been able to observe these traits. The contestants bonded on the very first day and the intensity of the competition has continued to increase. You really get to see what people are made of when put under a strict time crunch to complete a task. There are so many excellent qualities in our contestants, that while I’m certain we will end up with a great joint venture partner for me, each of the contestants will most likely go on to do some very significant things in the future.

LP: The winner of ‘The Next Internet Millionaire’ will receive $25,000 and get to start a business venture with you. Do you have a particular idea in mind already?

JC: No. I went into the audition process and the actual competition looking for a person, not a project. As I got to know the contestants on the set, I began thinking about what kind of project would be the ideal fit for each individual. Marketing is marketing. The key is to have the right partner. Once you’ve got that, there are always more ideas than there is time to execute. So I’m confident that my new partner and I will put together a fantastically successful product.

LP: How much input and financial investment does the winner have in the venture to be launched?

JC: The partner will have significant input in the venture, as well as a time investment. We will work closely together to develop the product concept and execution. It’s going to be very exciting to see it all come together.

LP: The show is called ‘The Next Internet Millionaire.’ That sort of puts the idea out that the winner will make at least a million dollars. But what if the venture doesn’t live up to those expectations?

JC: I’m not concerned about that. We make it clear that the winner will receive $25,000 and an opportunity for a joint venture with me. Certainly, I and my team will do everything in our power to build another success story with our winner. But my very first deal wasn’t a million-dollar deal. It was, however, a step in the direction that led me to where I am today. My goal is to build a success story with our winner. And while there is always the chance that we won’t make a million dollars right away, I’m confident that our work together will set the winner on the path to being the next Internet millionaire.

LP: You’ve enjoyed years of success. Does that make you more or less anxious about how this new show might be received by the public and your peers?

JC: Not at all. Once again, every one of my peers who has visited the set has been completely blown away at the scope and professionalism of this production. Several of them decided to hang around longer after they got a taste for what is happening here. The buzz is just beginning and I’m confident that we have a groundbreaking hit on our hands. How many people will have the opportunity to say that they created the world’s first competitive Internet reality show? Just one. Whether the public accepts it as a pop culture phenomenon or not, I can’t imagine ever regretting this project. If you aren’t willing to take significant risks, you will never reap the significant rewards. Besides, I’m having a blast.

The Affiliate Lifestyle

For many aspiring affiliates, the phrase Affiliate Lifestyle conjures up visions of big beautiful homes and shiny new sports cars. Graphic images on affiliate training sites encourage visitors to imagine themselves at their desk, dressed in pajamas and smiling the big happy smile as hundred-dollar bills miraculously fly from their computer monitor. Those images often include a picture of the loving spouse standing in admiration somewhere in the near background. Another popular image of the “rich affiliate” shows her relaxing in a lounge chair on a long stretch of almost-deserted white sand beach, a laptop perched atop her knees and some tasty tropical drink at hand.

Cynical home-based business opportunists and experienced affiliates alike may snort, snicker or even guffaw at the idyllic portrayal; however, with two exceptions, that is an accurate picture of this affiliate’s lifestyle. The “hundred dollar bills” are in fact four- and five-figure checks delivered by snail mail, and I would never bring my laptop to the beach where it might be exposed to the dangers of sand and water. Actually, I’m reluctant to tote my VAIO with me on vacation as I so rarely use it.

Case in point: I spent the month of March touring Vietnam and Malaysia. Although the resort in Sabah on the island of Borneo, and each hotel in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) provided free or inexpensive access to high-speed Internet, I spent less than three hours at my computer during the entire trip.

I was not working during that time. I spent it uploading vacation pictures to Flickr for my personal travel blog at Roamsters.com and GoogleTalking with family and friends. The few emails and responses I sent to friends in the industry were primarily to feign sympathy for their ugly early-spring weather and to talk about enduring three-and-a-half-hour spa treatments and swims in the 86 degree Fahrenheit (30 C) waters of the South China Sea.

My month-long vacation wasn’t the “once in a lifetime” trip about which many people dream either. It was the trip I take every fall/winter. Moreover, the winter trips represent only a small percentage of my annual vacation time. In 2007, I will spend at least 4 months away from home for pleasure travel and family events – not to confuse the two. Furthermore, to make the best use of our short Canadian summer, I will work only a few hours per week during June, July and August.

Do I tell you this to gloat? Not at all! OK, maybe a little. But what’s really important here is for you to know that, a) the fabulous Affiliate Lifestyle is possible, and b) you need to define your version of the lifestyle and choose to live it before you hamstring yourself with some crazy 24/7 business that won’t allow you the time of day (or night) to enjoy what you achieve.

Take for example my friend Ray (not his real name). Ray earns seven figures a year as a search affiliate. He works with a paid assistant in rented office space where, for eight to 10 hours a day, they scramble to investigate new product offers in a vast array of markets, create static landing pages, write and place ads, and monitor their conversions to sales. His workload doubles during the ramp-up to major holidays. Simply talking to him about his frenzied business at Christmastime left me feeling frazzled and I was in the midst of a three-week break.

Despite all that money, Ray still can’t relax with his family at the cabin for the weekend without working evenings at his laptop. He told me that it was a major effort to ready his business for a week’s absence during a family emergency, and when Ray heard about my latest foray abroad, he replied by saying, “I really wish I had more time to travel.”

Ray would have more time to travel if he made more time to travel, something he could easily do if he adopted a few content publisher strategies. Although I too research new offers, write product endorsements, create landing pages and place PPC ads, I dig much deeper into far fewer markets, which means less email to read and fewer offers to research. Placing 10 to 30 offers that run dynamic ads on one theme site is considerably less time-consuming than placing thousands of individual product ads that must be constantly monitored and revised.

Rather than chasing offers, content affiliates concentrate on building relationships with potential customers through information and entertainment. Delivery is simple and cheap via blogs, email and RSS feeds. Moreover, blogging, podcasting and making videos are way more fun than ad writing. The biggest advantage, however, comes from the ability to plan our publishing schedules well in advance.

So if I suddenly required an uninterrupted month of time to respond to a family emergency or to take advantage of an extraordinary travel opportunity, I would log in to my blog, select four draft articles and queue them up for delivery – one per week. The same articles would be queued in the same order for delivery through my autoresponder. To keep my business humming along for four weeks would take about five minutes per site, or less time than it would take to pack my bags.

Making even a partial switch away from the search affiliate to the content publisher model should be easy for Ray. He could start with an existing niche in which he has had success, preferably one of an evergreen nature such as dating, skin care or weight loss. In as little as a day, he could rework and load seven of his best product reviews into an autoresponder series and put an email capture form on the applicable site. He should also take a minute to install a blog on that site, and spend $20 to $50 to have a designer work his existing template into the blog.

Next, Ray should reallocate just one day per week of his pay-per-click ad writing time and devote that instead to writing articles and product endorsements. By producing just four short articles per week, in three months Ray will have populated his blog and autoresponder with a year’s worth of messages to be published and delivered to his subscribers every week. As the size of his subscriber lists grow, not only will Ray’s income increase, but he will also be able to lower his pay-per-click advertising costs substantially.

And if Ray’s perpetual pay-per-click ad writing has left him short on prose, he could hire a ghostwriter to write those articles. Better yet, he could hire a team of ghostwriters to write articles in a half dozen of his best niche markets and get his affiliate business to the “set it, forget it and go on vacation” stage more quickly.

The last step in the process – taking a vacation – might be the most difficult for workaholic affiliate Ray, as he may be tempted to use his newfound “free” time to build an even bigger empire.

If you’re like Ray, listen up! Whether you are an aspiring affiliate or a seven-figure affiliate, making time to rest and rejuvenate body, mind and soul is the best thing you will ever do for you and your family. When you are refreshed and focused, you become even more efficient and productive in your work. So leave the laptop at home and go have fun. With practice, you’ll soon discover that living the Lifestyle and taking vacations is as easy as FTP.

Oh, and one last thing. When making your travel reservations online, remember to book through your own affiliate link.

Rosalind Gardner is a super-affiliate who’s been in the business since 1998. She’s also the author of The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 in One Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online. Her best-selling book is available on Amazon and www.SuperAffiliateHandbook.com.

Stop the Presses

Extra! Extra! (click here)Prepare the obituary: The era of the daily newspaper as the news source is over. The Daily Tribune, Inquirer and Journals of the world have been recycled, replaced by multi-platform (online and off-line) entities that engage readers and operate around the clock. This rebirth is good news for advertisers big and small who will be able to more effectively target a growing audience.

Newspapers have been increasing their online operations in the past few years in an effort to replace falling revenue from diminishing print subscriptions as more people turn to online news and bloggers for their daily digest. Now they are going on the offense to expand their audience and build loyalty.

Publishers have been hemorrhaging print advertising dollars as retailers have been moving online. Print advertising was down by more than $11 billion (2.6 percent) in the third quarter of 2006 from the previous year. While online advertising on newspaper sites grew by $638 million during the third quarter of 2006, that is less than 6 percent of the print deficit, so the pressure is on to grow online revenue to make up the difference.

Publishers see engaging their audience through community and social collaboration features – which are part of the so-called “Web 2.0” technology wave – as the keys to driving traffic and advertising revenue growth. By incorporating “community” aspects from blogs and websites such as Digg, MySpace, YouTube and del.icio.us, publishers hope to increase reader loyalty and become the epicenter of their online news activities.

COMMUNITY PAYBACK

The Washington Post Newsweek Interactive (WPNI) Company saw this change coming and started to incorporate community participation into its websites two years ago. The company saw online revenue jump 24 percent during the third quarter of 2006, and by more than 31 percent for the year.

WPNI vice president of marketing Tim Ruder says bringing readers into the news process can enhance readership as well as the quality of the editorial. “Publishing is no longer in the realm of the exalted few, and to ignore the potential [of reader contributions] is suicidal,” he says.

Because reporters are generalists it is difficult for them to match the expertise of individuals on all topics, according to Ruder. “There is somebody out there who knows more” about nearly every topic, he says, and publishers can profit from giving them a forum for participation.

During the first quarter of 2007 WashingtonPost.com will introduce social networking, Ruder says. Readers will be able to create personalized Web pages to link to, comment on and share content, including articles, images and video. These new features will enable errors to be corrected and generate comments and new story ideas that can be used in print, he says.

Ruder believes that adding social networking features will increase traffic and give the company more online inventory to monetize through advertising. While adding one social aspect “won’t make us a million dollars,” collectively creating a dialogue with readers “will separate us editorially from others” and greatly increase reader loyalty, Ruder says.

Austin, Texas-based Pluck enables publishers to add social media aspects to their website without requiring programming. Pluck’s “Sitelife,” service includes the ability to attach comments to articles, create forums and blogs, and enables readers to post photos, according to general manager Eric Newman.

Pluck hosts the social areas on its servers, but the content is thoroughly integrated, according to Newman. Social networking elements “promote additional discovery on the website, which equals reader loyalty and page views,” he says.

Brad King, assistant professor of media informatics at Northern Kentucky University, says publishers who create a community by allowing readers to contribute could see “astronomic” growth in Web traffic. King warns, however, that publishers must provide oversight of the comments and user contributions so that advertisers will feel comfortable in having their ads alongside the content.

Publisher Gannett, which prints 98 regional newspapers plus the national paper USA Today, is among the most aggressive when it comes to redesigning its editorial and sales process around its community of readers.

Michael Maness, vice president of strategic planning for Gannett, says all of its newsrooms are being transformed to “information centers” that operate around the clock and will heavily rely on user contributions. “The future is pro-am, as in professional- amateur,” Maness says. Readers are asked to provide assistance in obtaining documents and images relevant to investigations and videos of breaking news events.

Maness says the Ft. Myers, Fla., News- Press got readers involved in investigating sewer utility rates, and the “crowd-sourced” investigation resulted in uncovering price fixing. At Gannett’s NYK.com, readers in the Northern Kentucky metropolitan area post information about local events and community stories, enabling Gannett to connect with a younger demographic of readers who primarily go online for news, according to Maness.

While the morning paper and nightly television news used to be the dominant sources of news, the Internet is becoming the go-to place for news for many Americans. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the majority of people with broadband say the Web is their first choice for science news.

Peter Negulescu serves a technology-savvy readership in his role as the vice president of digital media at the San Francisco Chronicle’s SFGate.com. Inviting readers to contribute will attract a desirable community of participants for advertisers and make the content more valuable, he says. “The role of the new media arm is to aggregate content to tell a more complete story.”

By recruiting “citizen journalists,” publishers can add to the breadth and depth of their content. Publishers most commonly offer fame as compensation, so the major cost is vetting all of the contributions to find those that are newsworthy.

By enticing readers to return to the website consistently and provide demographic information about themselves through the registration process, Negulescu says SFGate is increasing the ability to understand and deliver targeted advertising to its readers. “From a revenue perspective, adding social media engages readers more deeply,” he says.

At the end of 2006 SFGate launched Community Blogs, a section where a select group of readers write about topics of interest, and in early 2007 the website will allow readers to post comments to its news articles. Negulescu says adding reader input to the website “gives advertisers an opportunity to understand what people are talking about and how it fits with the marketing message.”

For example, an advertiser that is included in a restaurant guide or mentioned in a food review could respond to negative or positive comments. Negulescu does not expect that all marketers would want to advertise against user-generated content, so they will be able to specify the pages upon which they appear. Reader participation requires registering and providing some basic demographic information that can be used for target and email marketing.

What used to be considered newspaper websites can become information-based centers of community that provide unique value to advertisers, according to media consultant and blogger Susan Mernit. Readers/contributors can provide first-person accounts of unfolding events that will entice people to become loyal readers.

Posting reader commentary and images from the scene of a natural or man-made disaster can be more compelling than stories composed by professional journalists, Mernit says. Publishers could post pictures similar to the first images that were captured in the aftermath of the London subway bombing, says Mernit. “You want the equivalent of that picture for your audience.”

The plethora of choices for online content makes it a challenge for local advertisers to know where to go to reach potential customers, but newspaper sites are part of the daily reading regimen for many people with Internet access. Publishers that provide a community around local news can capture a loyal audience that makes for an attractive demographic. Adding user ratings of local businesses for entertainment events could enable news sites to best the local search sites such as directory services or CitySearch or Yahoo Local in capturing the community voice and attracting advertisers, according to Mernit.

HITTING LOCAL TARGETS

Advertising in print newspapers provides access to an audience that is generally located in limited geography, but online news sites can reach a wider swath of the population. Publishers that track where their audience lives can provide more targeted advertising to both local and national advertisers.

SFGate’s Negulescu says that 80 percent of his readers are in the Bay Area. The website’s servers automatically check the IP addresses of readers’ computers so that geotargeted ads can be delivered to either national or local audiences as requested by the advertiser, he says.

Gannett’s Maness says buying ads from newspaper publishers now resembles a TV purchase more than it does a print buy. “It used to be ‘How big of an ad do you want, and for how many days?’ Now it is all about audience reach.” Gannett has integrated its print and online sales so that the company can package a demographic of readers to meet advertiser needs. Advertisers who want a younger audience might spend more online, he says.

Now that Gannett has more demographic information in hand, the company can sell to smaller buyers, according to Maness. Local businesses that can’t afford to advertise on TV or radio can buy ads that will be delivered only to a specific demographic, such as middle-aged married women. Gannett uses cookies to track visits and anonymously collects data about who is reading articles about fashions or appliances, he says, and that data is used to deliver targeted ads.

AGGREGATE AND BE AGGREGATED

In addition to allowing readers to contribute on their websites, publishers should allow content to be shared and manipulated on other sites to expand the audience. Publishers can significantly increase traffic by adding tools to their website so that readers can add links to their articles on ratings sites such as Digg or Reddit.

People who add tags (categories used by specialty search engines) to news articles through social websites are enhancing the content with metadata, according to educator King. Readers who interact with news content in this way are assembling personalized archives that create a community that publishers should encourage. “At the end of the day, Web 2.0 is a platform for communication that allows people to build other things upon it,” says King.

Publishers who join with rather than fight against news aggregation sites such as Yahoo News or Topix.net can also expand their ad inventory. Late in 2006, seven publishers, including the Hearst Corporation and Cox Enterprises, agreed to share content, advertising and technology with Yahoo News, the largest news portal. Yahoo News, in partnership with Reuters, has also embraced citizen journalism by creating the You Witness News website that enables readers to post articles and images.

Topix.net, a news aggregation site that organizes news from around the Web by location or by category, has received funding from three publishers – Gannett, the Tribune Company and McClatchy. Topix.net uses an algorithm that identifies the news stories relevant to a region, according to Chris Toiles, vice president of marketing. The company currently places AdSense ads on most of its local pages, but it can offer national advertisers targeted buys based on geography, he says.

Topix.net blends both regional and statewide stories and combines blogs with news stories, according to Toiles. Readers add 18,000 comments per day to articles and then Topix.net funnels that traffic to news publishers, he notes.

Publishers can also enhance their traffic by displaying competing news sources along with their content. Websites including SFGate enable readers to personalize pages by mixing their content with that of other news sites through a custom RSS reader. Readers can add feeds to customize their news-reading experience by category, according to SFGate’s Negulescu. Readers who visit the newspaper site every day can read news from around the Web on a branded SFGate page, which builds loyalty and keeps them on his site longer, he says.

Publishers are also incorporating content from bloggers from around the Web to increase their traffic and stickiness. WashingtonPost.com and others have incorporated Pluck’s syndicated BlogBurst content. Publishers can choose the BlogBurst blogs from dozens of categories, and the advertising revenue is split between Pluck and the publisher. Bloggers get increased traffic from links, and those that generate the most revenue will receive bonuses, according to Pluck’s Newman.

Newspapers that implement “social Web” technologies can learn more about readers and use that information to provide relevant content and targeted advertising. News, and the advertising system that support it, has been irreversibly opened so that more people can participate, and that is good news for all.

JOHN GARTNER is a Portland, Ore.-based freelance writer who contributes to Wired News, Inc., MarketingShift, and is the Editor of Matter-mag.com.