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.

Kristopher B. Jones: The Small-Town Big Man

His speech is peppered with “awesome” and “ready to rock and roll,” as if he were fresh out of high school. He’s only 32 but he feels luck has a lot to do with his good fortune. He took what was basically an idea to sell jam and turned it into a successful online marketing company.

But we’re jumping ahead. Jones is a small-town fellow. He grew up around the quiet northeastern Scranton, Pa., region – in towns with quaint names like Forty Fort and Wilkes-Barre. He still lives in basically the same area where he was raised and headquarters his business not far from those same stomping grounds.

He knew early on that he wanted to be in public service – drawn to the tantalizing returns of politics. After graduating high school in 1994, he got a full scholarship to Villanova University to study experimental psychology in 1998 after graduating from Penn State, but questioned whether he really wanted to be a clinical psychologist.

During that period, his brother Rick called and asked, “What do you think about selling grandma’s Mississippi mud over the Internet?” Jones says while he was the resident computer guru in school and was sitting on a lot of school and credit card debt, he was pretty committed to going to law school. He decided he would finish out his law degree and start this gourmet food business.

Grandma’s Mississippi mud was actually a kind of jelly he had eaten as a kid. He calls it a kind of gourmet dip. He typed the ingredients into the Web and out came the popular Northeast dip called pepper jelly. But Jones didn’t want to sell just another pepper jelly. In the end – and after consulting a friend in the food business – they decided on “Grandma Jones’ Originals Pepper Jam.”

It Started With the Jam

That, Jones says, was when his entrepreneurial spirit came out. He could point to other adventures in his business past – the lawn business he had in school and the 1-900 psychic service he started, even day trading – but they never really made any money.

The pepper jam, on the other hand, had legs. Through contacts in the gourmet food business, it started to get some traction. The business was started in 1999. “My brother was the creative side and he had all these flavors he wanted to do,” Jones says. “It all happened pretty quickly. I was going to do all the marketing. I drove the branding and launched the website called pepperjam.com. We personalized it with pictures and stories.”

Soon they realized in order to get traffic and sales, they needed to rank higher in the search engines. The most obvious way at the time was to cycle in fresh content. So, they then came up with the idea to interview famous chefs and put those up on the site. In the end, they posted interviews with the likes of Paul Prudhomme, Emeril Lagasse and Jorge Bruce, to name just a few.

Bruce sampled the product and loved it. At the time Bruce was looking to hire a consultant to get his brand and other chefs online, Jones said. “I will try to cook with this product,” he told Jones. “He may have thought we had offices when we were really operating out of a kitchen,” said Jones. Bruce suggested QVC. “I went into shock,” says Jones, “and had to put the phone on the bed and take a breath a minute. At the time, he was the highest-grossing chef on QVC.”

The chef interviews were getting a lot of traffic now and the question of how to monetize it all became important. That’s when Jones joined LinkShare and started adding affiliate links (his first check from ValueClick was for something like $37). He was just about to leave for law school and was trying to make money through affiliate marketing when in early 2000, he says he began his marketing journey in earnest. “I still own 50 percent of the gourmet food business,” he said. His brother told him to take the marketing business and he’d handle the product. “I knew that the Net marketing side of this requires work. I just started to build out websites – build out content based on a theme. My first was cookware.”

Also in 2000, he adds, Google came out with AdWords. “I was generating close to $100,000 per month in affiliate profits,” he said. He was doing this while doing his consulting work and serving as law school class president two years in a row.

“Once I had money, I wanted to do something with it,” he says. He put all the cash he had been earning while in school into this single idea – to turn his super-affiliate status into a new kind of marketing business – pepperjam.com. “We got an office. I hired my best friend as COO. We knew we could hire smart, young professionals and could help these businesses that were coming online and had no clue what affiliate marketing was,” Jones says.

Getting Into the Affiliate Game

2003 was the breakout year. Jones didn’t realize the impact his company was having until he went to his first LinkShare symposium (they got invited through Overstock.com). “We went to this event not knowing anybody and thought no one knew who we were,” he says. “My attitude was, ‘I’m a super-affiliate, let me manage your affiliate program.’ We were blown away.” When a merchant rep found out who he was, she hugged him. “You’ve been making us so much money,” she told him and introduced him to a whole bunch of merchants. “We were very well received,” he says.

With that boost in his pocket, Jones parlayed that excitement into a new small office and started to hire employees. From 2003 to 2005 he built his client list. From 2005 on, he says, it took on a life of its own. In 2006, the company was about 28 employees. Then pepperjam made Inc. magazine’s list of the 500 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. It was the only affiliate marketing company on the list. “As a search engine marketing agency, we were one of three with iCrossing and MoreVisibility.” All he could say was, “It was just a big party. We’re pepperjam, we’re in the black and we’re an Inc. 500 company.”

While still nurturing a desire to serve in a public way, he was invited to speak at a conference for the first time in 2004. He’s been hooked ever since and speaks quite often all over the country. It kind of feels like he’s class president all over again.

Somewhere amid all this work, he did manage to get married – to someone who works for the company. He said while his wife, Robyn, and he did attend the same high school, they weren’t pals. One night when home from school for a spell, his COO and he went out for a drink and spied her. They remembered her from high school. Jones sat back and watched his COO walk over and try to flirt with her. Finally, Jones joined them and he said they hit it off right away.

“She kind of asked me out after 60 seconds,” he says, “and here she was talking to my friend for the last 15 minutes; but we’ve pretty much been together ever since.” She wasn’t happy at her other job and Jones asked her to work for Pepperjam.

“I know you don’t want to work for your boyfriend, but I’ll have you work from home and write an employee manual or something. We can have you write out some client case studies,” he remembers telling her. After about a month, she began to come into the office and has been with the company for two years.

Growth Spurt

Jones says there has been a lot of interest to be acquired and from venture capital money. Last year, with about 50 employees “we had to think about crossroads – and decided to focus on our own technology,” he says. The company decided communication in this industry was the problem. “It is difficult to get in touch with your affiliates to admonish or to praise them,” he says. There was a lack of affiliate transparency. “We said, ‘We will tell you who are the key affiliates and can protect your brand.'”

This led to the notion of launching a Pepperjam network. Jones worked and consulted with hundreds of affiliates and merchants to preview the network – robust players such as Affiliate Classroom’s Anik Singal, and super-affiliates Lee Dodd and Jeremy Schoemaker, to name a few.

In January 2008, he launched pepperjamNETWORK. This essentially turns Pepperjam.com into a technology company with exclusive merchants such as luxury brand Judith Leiber, clothier Ben Sherman and Jelly Belly. Jones sees this as a super-transparent network that can be an alternative to the big three – LinkShare, Commission Junction and Performics – as well as an alternative to ShareASale. “We are not going up against the big three networks,” he added. “They are much better financed than us and bigger. There is still only one investor in pepperjam and that is me.”

Jones proudly says pepperjam.com now has about 105 employees in a 13,000 square foot floor of a building in Wilkes-Barre. He has five executives and 15 senior-management-level people. He has divisions now – online media planning and buying, search engine marketing, pepperjamNETWORK and full-time salespeople – their first. In the next 18 months, he predicts 300 employees. But he thinks of everyone as family. His wife is director of affiliate marketing; his bulldog is in the office every day. He doesn’t want it to be a corporate environment – there’s Free-Pizza Fridays, ping pong and “Guitar Hero” on the floor. In early 2007, they launched a corporate blog where a randomly chosen employee is given less than 30 seconds’ advance notice to come up with a presentation to be videoed and then posted to the site (some can be found on YouTube; some featuring Roxy the bulldog).

Amid all this success, Jones was approached in the early summer of 2007 by publisher Wiley to write a book on SEO and search marketing. “Search Engine Optimization: Your Visual Blueprintâ„¢ to Effective Internet Marketing” will be published this spring. “In fact,” he said, “I had always dreamed of writing a book in college. I always thought, how can you make a difference? I can join the clergy, be a great father or write a book.”

If that isn’t enough on his plate, Jones and his wife are expecting their first child in August. That’s not going to slow him down. “We are very focused on building out what we are creating,” he says. “We have a bunch of families now; we’re not just a small family anymore. I’ve always been the kind of person that believes that my time hasn’t come yet. I want to focus on being a great father, and from a business standpoint we want to become a great affiliate network. I want to see where we take it.”

While the future seems like a busy one, Jones notes that “pepperjam has just started.”

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.

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.

Harrison Gevirtz: The Yearling

This sounds like any hard worker in the performance marketing space, you think. The only difference is that Gevirtz is a freshman. No, he is not a freshman in college, not the next Shawn Fanning (of Napster fame) working out of a dorm room. Gevirtz is a freshman in high school – a 15- year-old wunderkind.

Gevirtz first got exposed to the world of online commerce by selling diamonds and stamps through eBay auctions and Overstock Auctions when he was 12 years old. Mostly he sold items in the hundred-dollar range but once he sold a $4,000 diamond. The experiences were exhilarating but he was not so thrilled with the shipping process – packing material filled his bedroom and the every-other-day trips to the post office were a drag.

Next, Gevirtz built a MySpace help site through a turnkey solution that cost him $12 on the Digital Points forum. He promoted the site through “basic marketing initiatives like directory submissions” and uploaded ads and also created ads that were his own but looked like AdSense ones.

He says it was his “first gallop into affiliate marketing” and he began to bring in some bucks. But because Gevirtz was on a “crummy ad network” he was getting 1/10 of a click and giving them thousands of clicks for $50-60 a day. “It was terrible but I did not know any better.”

His interest now piqued, Gevirtz started another resource site that provides code generators like profile tracker and layout generators for users to put graphics on their MySpace pages. He moved to Yahoo Publisher Networks and the ValueClick Networks and started to make a lot more money.

By July and August of 2006, Gevirtz was looking into ways that he could make money off of CPA instead of CPC because he prefers the feeling of fulfilling an acquisition – he doesn’t like taking money for a click. Gevirtz says that he once was accused of clicking on his own ads and notes that “you can’t be held liable for click fraud if you are doing CPA stuff.”

Although he does not want to reveal the specifics, Gevirtz says that nowadays he runs a few interactive websites, including graphic sites, which have thousands of pages of content, and says he specializes in things that target a younger audience. Because he is a teen, he knows what teens find appealing, such as ringtones and clothes.

He makes most of his income from CPA nowadays and he focuses on landing pages, noting that in a few years, “landing pages might be on phones.” He says he makes money with paid search and would like to leverage mailing lists to promote offers but acknowledges, “There are so many people like that already.”

Last summer, Gevirtz hired developers to work on his next big project, the details of which he is keeping under wraps. He says the site is based on the idea that “content is king” and it will be focused on getting users to create the content. He hopes to have the main version of the site done by this summer. He has a company with 38 employees in India working on it – a company he found “after hours and hours of Googling.”

Gevirtz’s experience with outsourcing work to a company in India has been very positive – he describes these Indian workers as the most trustworthy people that he has ever worked with – he continually is impressed by their eagerness and how hard they labor to get a job done correctly. He feels good about working with them – not just because they are “respectful and honorable” – but because he literally is “helping them eat.” No doubt there have been “minor problems with the language barrier” but they work through it – by communicating both on the phone and through instant messenger.

Gevirtz blogs at his site, CPAShare.com, which he started this past January, but acknowledges that he struggles to come up with topics. He says that one of his goals is to get a user base going and to get a site where other people are blogging so that he can have mixed opinions – “it would be a portal for e-marketers.” He would like to drive more traffic to his site and in fact, entitles one of his blog entries “Nobody Reads This F—ing Thing.”

A Day in the Life

Not surprisingly, Gevirtz lives at home with his family, in Santa Barbara. He has an older sister, Eloise, who is 22; a little brother, Harland, who’s 10; and a 3-year-old sister name Madeline. His California-born father is in finance and his French-born mother is a part-time yoga teacher and full-time mom.

A typical day starts with Gevirtz “waking up 20 minutes later than he should” – he has to get to school by 8:00 a.m. and his mom takes him on the 20-minute drive. His first class is science, followed by a class entitled “careers,” then a graphic design class, followed by English. He breaks for lunch, and then it’s on to math and the last class of the day, which is “stagecraft.” School ends at 2:49 p.m. – “not that [he is] watching the clock,” he jokes.

He says he does “pretty well” in school, noting that he doesn’t skip class. He says he can’t help but feel like he is rotting away and wasting time during the school day because he would rather be uploading his sites, emailing with affiliate managers or working on some aspect of his business. He says he has a pretty good relationship with most of his teachers, although his math teacher does not like the fact that he text-messages in class.

At school, Gevirtz tries to keep his business endeavors on the down-low – he believes his teachers would get irritated and suspicious if they found out about his online dealings. He recalls a time when teachers were annoyed that a student was selling shirts online and attributes their irritation to two reasons: 1) teachers think there could be a shady aspect to it, like drugs, and 2) the kid was making approximately $50,000 a year and Gevirtz thinks that’s possibly more than the teachers were making and that could rub them the wrong way.

Gevirtz jokes that his favorite class “aside from lunch,” is graphic design, which allows him to get a little bit of work done because he can check email. Recently his parents “flipped a lid” when he told them he was getting a ‘B’ in his graphic design class. They thought he should get an ‘A’ because that’s what he does for a living. He says the class doesn’t really help him because they teach Dreamweaver and he doesn’t use an application to build his sites – he writes code by hand.

He likes math, because he does well in it, and likes the writing and the vocabulary part (it’s easy to memorize) of English class, but he does not like all of the required reading. Even the class’ current read, Lord of the Flies, doesn’t appeal to him. He “hates” science, dismisses stagecraft as “a joke” and does not have a very high opinion of his career class, which is designed to expose students to a variety of future occupations. This type of class is probably the last thing Gevirtz needs; he seems to have a clear understanding of what he will do next.

When he gets home from school around 3:30, Gevirtz sometimes works until midnight or later and says he gets most of his schoolwork done during classes. Gevirtz doesn’t sound that interested in spending a lot of time at the beach (the Pacific Ocean is cold, he explains) or engaging in sports, although he does like to watch college football and root for his father’s alma mater, the USC Trojans. But he says he is not missing out on his teen years – he goes out with his friends and does all the normal things that high school students do – especially now that he has a Treo that makes him mobile.

Kidding Around

His mother tells him that when he was 3 or 4 years old, he was playing around on his family’s Macintosh and broke it. The repairman told his mother that her son had somehow tried to access the hard drive and did some serious damage to the $2,000 machine. “After that, I was banned from the family computer for awhile,” he laments.

Gevirtz says he always liked computers – he knew how to save something on the hard drive by the time he was in first grade. He says they teach kids how to type in third grade and he was recognized by his eighth grade class to be the fastest typist – approximately 100 words per minute.

Gevirtz seems to be a natural born entrepreneur and exhibited the opportunistic traits at an early age. When he was in sixth grade, he had a teacher whose friend had a supply of plastic wristbands. Gevirtz agreed to buy them from him for 50 cents each and then sold them to “drunken college kids” for $2. He says he made enough of a profit for souvenir money for his trip to France that summer.

Learning the Business

Gevirtz says that he learns the business by communicating with his affiliate managers, emailing and instant messaging with industry folks whom he meets online and keeps in touch with by talking on the phone. He keeps up with the industry from reading other people’s blogs, like Shawn Collins’ and Jeremy Schoemaker’s ShoeMoney and laments that he does not have the time to read “the thousands of blogs on Technorati.” He also learns from listening to the Affiliate Thing and other WebmasterRadio Shows and “pestering people at Ad:Tech.” He plans to go to more shows in the future because he “likes to be connected” and says that he has a mountain of business cards that he goes through when he needs “to meet new advertisers and stuff like that.”

One observation that Gevirtz has about the industry is that there are a lot of click fraud companies out there “which is kind of sad that the world has come to that.” He says that there is an overabundance of affiliate networks and says some of the networks just piggyback off of other ones – which is bad because it makes it difficult to find a direct offer.

Gevirtz says that his parents are OK with his online endeavors despite not really understanding what he was doing until fairly recently. In April, Gevirtz and his father attended Ad:Tech in San Francisco and one of the affiliate managers from NeverblueAds took the time to explain to him how the system worked and how they worked together.

He says that for the most part, being 15 has not been a disadvantage in the industry. He thinks that people have helped him a bit because of his age and that he should use that wisely because he “only has three years left.” He has had a problem with one affiliate network for not being 18 but he would rather not use them than get his parents involved, saying that he wants to keep things separate from his parents because “there are liabilities even if you are not doing anything wrong.”

Setting Goals

Gevirtz has lots of aspirations – one of which is to continue to make money. He enjoys the fruits of his labor; he owns lots of gadgets – including a $3,000 laptop and several servers – is putting his money into a savings account, buys airline tickets (which he says are expensive from Santa Barbara) and treats himself to sushi.

His short-term goal is to buy a BMW m6 10- cylinder vehicle and his longer-term one is to be the next powerhouse. “Google’s becoming a beast; I want to be the beast,” he jokes. He doesn’t feel the need to go to college and would like to continue what he is doing but increase the volume – saying he’d like to “add a couple of zeros” to what he brings in on a monthly basis.

He is ambivalent about wanting to go to college and says he has to be careful about what he says about this issue because his parents are going to read the article and says he likes to tease his parents that he is going to drop out of high school.

Despite his success and business acumen, it’s clear that Gevirtz is not an adult trapped in a teen body – or any of the other Doogie Howser cliches that are used when talking about mature teenagers. Gevirtz is definitely a teenager who complains about having to take the trash out and walking his dog – a task he sometimes outsources to his brother by paying him $10. Given his drive and ingenuity, it will be interesting to see what Gevirtz does next – that is, when he is a high school sophomore.

Leading the Way

Online lead generation gets no respect. Online lead generation affiliates less so. While the sector is growing by leaps and bounds – 290 percent over 2005, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau – people like Peter Martin and Robert Jewell just seem to drag its reputation through the mud. These guys had the honor of being sued by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in March for selling the private details of up to 7 million customers to marketers when they said they wouldn’t. Spitzer called it the “largest deliberate breach of privacy in Internet history.”

“There are people that don’t do things on the up and up,” Dan Felter, chairman of the recently formed Online Lead Generation Association (OLGA), says. “Online lead generation, when done properly, can be done well,” says Felter, who is also CEO of Opt-Intelligence, a lead generation firm.

High-profile busts like Spitzer’s only give a black eye to an industry trying to police itself and keep undue regulation at the door. Last year the online lead generation machine brought in $753 million, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB), which predicts over $1 billion for the lead gen space in 2006.

Revenue for online lead gen made a healthy gain to reach 6 percent of all Internet advertising spending during the first half of 2005, according to the IAB. That’s $347 million. Go back to 2002 and it was only 2 percent of Internet advertising spending in the first half of that year, or $114 million. But that is a year-to-year increase of 204 percent, IAB figures show.

DEFINING THE SPACE

Just the phrase “lead generation” also means different things depending on who you’re talking to.

When an advertiser needs new potential customers to sell to, one method of getting names and ways to contact these people is to buy a list. This list of people is called the leads. Generally these people have already expressed an interest in the product – be it iPods, real estate, cars, mortgages or other retail goods – and have agreed to be contacted by the advertiser. This is also known as permission-based marketing and in some cases it is called co-registration.

The most popular online lead gen technique is the “opt in.” This is where a customer registers online to join a free newsletter or newspaper or social network and sees a page where he can request to receive additional newsletters or marketing from third-party companies. Generally, you check a box to say it’s okay. Interaction with that page is sometimes required to complete your registration.

Some companies also practice “double opt in,” where you check a box but also must follow a link in an email as a way to confirm your email address but also, in essence, asking you twice that you really meant to opt in. Popular opt-in trends include an effort not to ruin your surfing experience by serving you multiple pages of opt-in options and by allowing you to bypass offer pages.

Suspect practices that used to be commonplace but are now considered intolerable are “opt out,” where you are automatically signed up for other offers and you must uncheck the boxes to refuse; pages where offers outweigh content; offers of free products for forwarding the offer to others; free offers that still involve a fee; offers that require the downloading of adware or spyware; and, of course, offers that do not explicitly say they will not sell or give your private information to other advertisers.

Since there is a commission for every lead generated, it becomes attractive to enter a pay-per-lead or pay-per-sale contract with an advertiser. And with that model being very much like the affiliate marketing model, affiliates have flocked to lead gen. The flood of lead gen affiliates in the online world – like anything – breeds bad eggs and good.

POLICING LEAD GEN

Enter OLGA. Chairman Felter helped start the trade group when he realized what a stench surrounded the word co-registration, or co-reg. When describing what his company, Opt-Intelligence, does he tries to avoid the word co-reg. “If you could see the people’s faces at conferences when they finally got what I did,” he recalls.

OLGA currently has more than 25 lead gen companies as members and considers its mission to define best practices and champion transparency in the industry. Felter boasts that lead gen could become “almost as valuable as search.” However, he adds, “barriers to enter the market are pretty low.” Hence, the surge in online lead gen affiliates operating in a sometimes-ethical vacuum. “It’s the cutting corners that give lead gen affiliates a bad name.”

Felter says, early on, when opt-out was more common ,”advertisers all got burned by co-reg.”

The offers would end up on disreputable sites – such as porn – and the advertiser would essentially receive a “data dump”: raw lead information with no indication if the leads were from opt-in or opt-out and no way to measure the quality of the lead. That’s why Felter hates using the word co-reg, but also why the industry is poised to explode as burned advertisers come back to the well.

And as they return, now is the opportunity to prove that this time around advertisers, publishers and lead gen companies can all get along and share the wealth. “There is something called common sense,” Shai Pritz, CEO of Unique Leads, says. “If somebody is doing shortcuts, it will come back to bite them.”

Jim Vines, CEO of LeaderMarkets.com, agrees that it isn’t really very hard to figure out when someone on your network is doing wrong. “Having been an affiliate myself, I know the way traffic should look.” He claims to know when something doesn’t look right. Usually it is too many leads over a short period of time coming from a single affiliate. Vines says he goes the extra yard by talking to all their affiliates on the phone before sending any offers. “I have to personally see if they know what they are talking about before I send them anything.”

It might stand to reason that an industry that requires so much policing is inherently ineffective. “There is nothing wrong with the tool but how you use the tool,” Vines says. He adds that policing just comes with the territory. At least to Vines, the fun of it all is the personalization. “Leads are just the icing on the cake,” he says. “Whenever an affiliate calls, we know them. Our job is to help our affiliates find the campaign that is working the best for them. We can help them figure out what list is best for them.”

GOOD LEADS

Matt Hill, CEO of eForce Media, says they apply technology and science to matching leads to clients. Others, he says, create leads by traffic driving – but so many requests go unanswered because there is no matching. A guy looking for a mortgage deal ends up getting a thousand calls by mortgage brokers, Hill says. Or leads come but no calls are made because the company can only afford to buy so many leads per day. “Most companies in this space only sell about 50 or 60 percent of their inventory,” he says, “so it doesn’t matter if leads fall on the floor.”

Pritz at Unique Leads also aims high, which is why he runs a closed network. “The affiliate managers will say what offers they want and we create the links for them,” he says. “The control is better that way. There are human beings involved; we do what we can to make sure the system works.” Unique Leads likes to see website screenshots and have an understanding of UI experience of each site they sign and they always make the users sign privacy policy forms.

“Like every industry on the Internet there are black hats and white hats,” says Hill. “It’s a business that’s been around longer than the Internet. But since the Internet, it is becoming more sophisticated.” He says his lead gen company’s mission is to find the most perfect match between leads and clients. He says there are still some big companies who do opt-out co-reg because the volume they get is so big it cannot be ignored – but in the end, he says, “those companies will weed themselves out.”

“Some websites say, if I throw a few opt-outs on my page I make 20 cents more,” says Felter, adding that the websites figure a few opt-outs won’t be noticed. And some companies will turn a blind eye to it all because the sheer numbers of leads (regardless of their quality) are meeting their quotas.

Chris Jeffers does B2B lead generation as CEO of netFactor and says that his buyer is a marketing executive. “They are frustrated because less than 2 percent are converting and completing online registration,” he says. “This is critical for sales – sales says, ‘give me quality’ but marketing is rewarded for providing tonnage.” This means sales and marketing are effectively operating against each other. Quality leads can help close the gap.

GUIDELINES AND BEST PRACTICES

That is another aim of OLGA: to define the best practices for the whole industry. The founding members of OLGA include Felter; Stephan Pretorius of Acceleration eMarketing; president of Feedster, Chris Redlitz; and Kitt Collier Odukoya, director of marketing at EarthLink. Member companies include Active Response Group, CoReg Media, eForce Media, Flatiron Media, Innovation Ads, LeadVerifier, MediaWhiz, Monster Worldwide, ON24, SendTec, Unique Leads and WiseClick Media.

Initial guidelines that OLGA endorses include that advertisers always know where their offer is being placed; that advertisers clarify that they are buying an opt-in only; that the leads did not come from offers “forced” onto customers via opt-out or opting in as a requirement of registration; that it is easy for customers to bypass all offers if they prefer; that the registration process in general is about the content and not all about signing up for offers; that an auto-respond email include opt-out and unsubscribe links; and that it is always clear what exactly the customer is signing up for.

If trade associations and policing succeed there is no doubt the industry will grow even more than it has already, provided there are no more high-profile debacles that could trigger a call for federal regulation. No one wants that. “We need to keep rules flexible so that people can operate their businesses,” says Sujay Jhaveri, CEO of Flatiron Media. He says “pro-business people in the business world” will take care of tempering regulation. He notes that the CAN-spam legislation passed in California was much stricter than a version that went federal. Testing the limits of regulation will probably continue. “You are dealing with a marketplace that is very profitable,” Jhaveri adds. “Online multilevel marketing will mimic off-line eventually.”

Other events to look forward to in online lead generation will be consolidation. Hill of eForce says there are many lead gen companies that have maybe 10 employees who are operating in niche areas that are ripe for acquisition. In fact, eForce just completed funding for that very purpose, he says: to add companies’ expertise to what they do. And, he adds, the transitions are very easy since the employee counts are so low; you see an immediate profit increase by applying the traffic you acquired.

Vines of Leader Markets says being a former lead gen affiliate helped him be a better president of a lead gen network; that is, he wants to remain small. “Some affiliates can do six figures of traffic per month,” he says. “They don’t want to feel like they have come to a cattle call.” That’s why he wants to keep it personal with his network. “I’m not looking to become the next CJ or LinkShare,” adding that while the challenges are many, so are the rewards. “If someone is gun-shy, they probably shouldn’t be in it,” he says.

OLGA’s Felter says the key terms are transparency and awareness. “You’ve got to watch your metrics. What are you getting and is it valuable?”

It’s Just Direct Marketing

As I go around the country teaching workshops on pay per click (PPC) I get asked many varied questions on search engine marketing (SEM), depending on which city I happen to be in. Larger marketers seem to have more sophisticated questions; smaller marketers tend to focus on subsistence tactics. However, one theme seems to reoccur frequently: the myth that SEM is some kind of rocket science.

Smaller businesses and many members of marketing departments at large and even Fortune 1000 companies have bought into the idea that SEM is something that can only be properly utilized by those who know the correct “voodoo” to make it work.

But really, SEM is just another form of direct response marketing and many of the same principles apply. Why else do you think those nasty 24-page sales letters work so well at driving conversions from search engine traffic? Personally, I hate those letters, but I am not their targeted audience.

The marketers who write long sales letters typically have years of experience in direct response marketing and have figured out how to use search to reach the same customers that they would target with any other marketing vehicle. They are successful because their message resonates with their intended customers (mostly Internet newbies) and they apply the same controls to their search marketing campaign as they do to any other campaign.

So how can you apply the same tactics? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating the use of long-winded sales letters with 15 calls to action set in strategically placed buttons. They may or may not work for your product – depending on your offer – whether your consumer is educated in your marketplace and your price point. What I am saying is that you too can adapt their techniques to reach your intended goal.

Here are some direct response marketing principles that should also apply to your SEM campaigns:

  • It takes work. In order to truly be successful at search engine marketing you have to constantly test your response rates. Those who throw up a campaign and expect to just sit and watch the dollars roll in without any labor investment are just wasting their time. Successful marketers test copy, keywords, placement, pricing, messages, landing pages, etc.
  • You have to test. In direct response marketing, testing rules is never-ending. Just like testing in direct mail, the cost of the campaign can be justified if the lift in the conversion rate is enough to offset the expense. To measure the effect, you have to A/B split-test your traffic, testing new landing pages against the old. For retail sites with thousands of products, you can minimize the expense by testing just the product pages driving the most sales. If the lift in conversion offsets the cost of optimizing the pages, keep testing and roll out new ones.
  • You have to track results. Just as savvy offline marketers can tell which piece of mail and from which specific message a customer converted, you have to be able to tell which keyword, message and referrer drove your sale. Tracking is easy to do on PPC, harder on search engine optimization, but critical on both.
  • Creative is key. Google rewards those with high click-through rates (CTR) on PPC by better placement, and the way to get high CTRs is to write great copy that resonates with your audience. A good copywriter can make the difference between a successful PPC campaign and one that bleeds cash. Similar to an offline campaign, online creative (i.e., your search listings) should be tested frequently because even a small lift in conversion can affect profitability.
  • It’s all about the benefit. Successful marketers remember that the customers’ needs are paramount at all times. They sell on benefits, not features, and look for the messages that play on their customers’ emotional responses to their product or service. Include in your creative the things that work best such as your unique sales proposition, calls to action, list of benefits, money-back guarantees, etc. Never test more than one element at a time, or you won’t know which one contributed to the lift or falloff. Over time, you will discover offers that work only online, but like offline marketing, it comes through the same test-and-learn discipline.
  • The “Lead to Sale” conversion rate is important. Just as in the offline world the key to conversions from search is providing the right hook in your listing at the right phase of the buying cycle, and then converting that lead into a paying customer with the right offer on your landing page.
  • Analysis is your friend. Like any good offline campaign, you learn a great deal from analyzing your testing and conversions. Sometimes, new search engine marketers make the mistake of analyzing all their online test campaigns as one big program. This can really skew your testing as the set of results from one search engine campaign can vary dramatically from another. Likewise one set of keywords can perform significantly better than the rest; but because even changing a keyword from singular to plural can have dramatically different results, you have to test and analyze each variable separately.
  • It’s all about CPA or CPL. All search engine marketing campaigns need to be analyzed in just the way you would analyze your efforts in the offline world. Cost per acquisition (CPA) or cost per lead (CPL) is your common denominator and the only number that really counts in the long term.
  • Create customer loyalty.Search engines are looking more and more at how many websites link to yours. But a bunch of links from high-traffic sites are worthless unless those links drive sales. Link campaigns are too time-consuming to do them just for the sake of getting higher search engine ranking. You need customer evangelists driving more sales, and links can provide that.

Not all traffic is created equal. Just as in the offline direct response world, the 80/20 rule applies. In that world we know that 80 percent of your profits come from 20 percent of your sales. The same thing applies in SEM: 20 percent of your keywords will drive 80 percent of your sales. Obviously those are the keywords you will focus 80 percent of your attention on but you can’t discover those drivers unless you test constantly. Some keywords will bring you more traffic, but fewer conversions on the back end. Other keywords may bring you no sales, but be effective in driving branding or eliminating a stumbling block in the buying cycle.

Direct response marketing skills and experience are some of the key drivers in SEM campaigns. There are some nuances of SEM that you can only learn by experience, but if you go into it with the mindset that these rules apply you will demystify the whole experience. Regardless of the source or channel this mindset is what makes the difference between success and failure.

MARY O’BRIEN is a partner at Telic Media. She was formerly senior director of sales at Yahoo Search Marketing and is currently presenting their advertiser workshops around the country.

Affliates Wanted

With 8.2 million Americans looking for jobs, Jeff Testerman isn’t worried about losing his. He’s co-founder of brokerhunter.com, a job site for the insurance and securities industries that features affiliate links to everything from resume writing to trade journals.

“Hiring started to pick back up in the last quarter. ” Hiring is definitely in the forefront now and in the future,” Testerman says with confidence, and he may be right. Analysts predict the first quarter of 2005 will be the best time for job-related Web sites, with some predicting growth of up to 15 percent.

Jupiter Research found that online job postings accounted for $923 million in revenue in 2003, and it expects revenue will climb to $1.1 billion for 2004. And a wide variety of job sites are offering affiliate programs, including the big three: Monster, CareerBuilder and HotJobs.

In the struggle to be No. 1, both CareerBuilder and HotJobs are revamping their affiliate programs, adding new benefits and promotions for affiliates to drive traffic their way instead. It’s a good move, considering the underlying level of power that affiliates – a virtual salesforce of thousands – can have on a company’s bottom line. To compete, less recognized sites are strengthening the additional services they provide to job seekers, most of which offer additional commissions back to affiliates.

Beneath it all, a new type of online job search strategy is emerging. A few sites are offering all-in-one service: Job seekers post their resumes there, and the site will use its advanced technology to almost instantly repost the resumes, in correct format, to every related job site, corporate recruiting site or job board out there. Consequently, it’s never been a better time to be a job-search-site affiliate.

“I’ve seen our network grow from 60 partners in February 2000 to more than 1,500 Web sites that drive traffic through Commission Junction (CJ) and another 400 integrated partners that we have today,” says Amado Izaguirre, CareerBuilder’s vice president of affiliate partners. Some of those 1,500, he said, are making more than $10,000 per month. “We have created an environment on CareerBuilder .com and all our affiliate sites that encourage users to search for jobs and apply online without having to register on the site or deposit a resume into a database,” Izaguirre says. “We want users to concentrate on finding the best jobs. In turn, our affiliates benefit because CareerBuilder users are encouraged to perform the activities that they are compensated on.”

Through CJ, CareerBuilder pays 50 cents on applications rather than resumes; job seekers can send as many applications, for free, as they like. Affiliates are paid $1 for job alert sign-ups, $50 for one job posting and $175 for four. They can also post any article the company owns, like ones on writing great resumes, top interview mistakes, coping with a bad boss, starting a job search or managing your career. CareerBuilder also occasionally runs special affiliate promotions.

HotJobs, meanwhile, has seen double-digit percentage increases in resume postings each year. “I think we’re going to be the big one when the dust settles, because we’re the only one that is wholly owned by one of the biggest brands in the country and one of the leaders in search,” says Marc Karasu, HotJobs’ vice president of marketing. Its new union with Yahoo gives it a big leg up in the name recognition department: HotJobs is featured in an “Inside Yahoo” box above the paid listings on a job-related Yahoo search.

Ads Trumped

HotJobs is also doing a lot of conventional advertising these days: from TV ads to billboards. In September it launched a two-season co-branding campaign with The Apprentice, the hit career television show featuring Donald Trump. Applications and behind-the-scenes footage can be found at the HotJobs site, and fired contestants get into a HotJobs-branded cab at the end of each episode. Cabs sporting HotJobs toppers have also rolled into service in eight urban areas: New York, Miami, Washington, Boston, LA, San Francisco, Atlanta and Philadelphia.

“We’re thinking of ways to pull parts of our affiliate program into The Apprentice promotion,” Karasu says. HotJobs pays $1 for resume postings and pays $50 for employer job postings. It’s now focusing on building strategic affiliate relationships with sites that are focused on health care, information technology and human resources.

Despite losing its planned purchase of HotJobs to Yahoo, Monster.com has retained the top position among job search sites. It offers worldwide job search capabilities, centered around Asia/Pacific, Europe and North America, and boasts more than 490 of the Fortune 500 companies as clients. Of the big three, Monster.com has the most commissionable items. It pays $50 for job postings, $1 for resume postings, 70 cents for Monster Networking Accounts and $15 for Networking VIP membership, all through CJ.

Then there are those sites that aren’t yet a household name but provide solid services and have good affiliate programs. There’s FlipDog (encroaching on the big three), SoloGig, Brass Ring, Jobvertise, Job.com, Vault, Freelance Work Exchange, The Ad Net, Employment911 and many others with products and commissions across the board. FlipDog, which searches corporate sites and claims it has “five times more employers each week than other job sources do in a year,” pays 50 cents only for visitors creating a FlipDog.com membership.

Jobvertise.com, on the other hand, focuses on employer listings. “Turn your Web site into an instant community jobs board and charge others to post jobs to it!” it pushes on its site. “Anyone browsing your Web site can enter job and credit card information for instant authorization – the jobs are automatically posted on your Web site.” Affiliates decide how much they will charge users. Jobvertise handles the entire transaction and, once total commissions top $50, cuts quarterly checks for 50 percent of the total revenue.

Employment911 has perhaps the widest selection of commissionable career-related services. It started as a small, 5,000-circulation magazine for employers in 1997 and moved to the Web later that year. Today it’s still a homespun site, but its internal software gives Employment911 the searching and resume posting capability to make it one of the largest job posting networks online, pooling from 7,000 employer Web sites and employer-industry-specific news groups. So, although it’s not a Monster, it does provide strong services for job seekers and employers. Affiliates are paid between 12.5 and 25 percent, based on volume, for job seekers buying its resume writing services, resume distribution service or resume blasting tool. They also receive a payment per job posting and 25 to 50 cents per resume posting lead. “Web people are earning substantial revenues just by promoting our resume posting,” says owner Jake Fannin. Employment911 also has free job search articles for posting and an HTML job search box that can be put right on an affiliate’s site. Searches not only cover Employment911, but also 21 other sites, including the big three.

“Anyone who has a small amount of traffic, of any type of targeted market, should receive at least $100,” Fannin says. Employment911 has 5,000 affiliates and counting. Its top affiliates have earned more than $5,000 a month, and up to $9,000. “Those are people that have a real targeted audience, they have prominent links or they’re in a co-branded relationship with us.” Employment911 affiliate BrokerHunter.com, for instance, generally pulls 30 cents or more per click.

Job Securities

Recently voted by TopJobSite.com as the No. 1 securities industry job site in the US, BrokerHunter.com runs its own insurance and security industry job list with 40,000 job seekers and a couple of thousand job postings from security and insurance companies all over the US. Its affiliate income then, comes from auxiliary services, like Employment911’s resume writing. It promotes resume writing in a banner at the bottom of its home page, and includes a pitch for the service in its monthly newsletter to 70,000 insurance industry job seekers (its 40,000 members plus 30,000 more that have come to the site and opted in). “The services go hand in hand,” says Testerman, from BrokerHunter. “We’re such a niche job board, that it’s really of benefit to the job seekers out there. Being able to put their skills effectively in a resume is why this is such a good fit.”

There’s also the new breed of job search sites that don’t post jobs at all. Instead, they send users’ resumes to the sites that do. “ResumeRabbit will post your resume to over 100 job boards,” says Lee Marc, president of ResumeRabbit parent company eDirect Publishing. “If you’re looking for a job, you probably should put your resume on Monster.com, HotJobs, CareerBuilder and a hundred other Web sites that employers and recruiters search every day to find candidates. What ResumeRabbit does is one-stop resume posting to 100 career sites.” ResumeRabbit.com pays $20 for every order.

What sites benefit most from this type of service? “Clearly sites that are catering to job seekers are a natural fit,” Marc says. “However, we find that there are a lot of sites on a variety of topics that seem to promote ResumeRabbit solely because there are a lot of people in the world that are looking for a job or are unhappy with their current one.” It’s posted more than 1 million resumes for more than 100,000 time-crunched job seekers since 1999. “And they’re all real happy,” Marc says. Interested in email or longer copy? Just ask for it. ResumeRabbit has 3,000 affiliates through CJ, and consistently ranks in the top three for CJ’s career category commission in terms of revenue per click.

Insiders say that it’s fairly easy to make the most of job site affiliate programs. After all, nearly everyone who visits any Web site is a potential user. CareerBuilder’s stats show that 2 percent of a site’s front door traffic will engage in some sort of career activity, if it’s offered and if the banner is at “the top of the fold.” “Above the fold” was once a newspaper-only term, describing the part of the first page that’s seen at newsstands. It now holds true online as well. If you want conversions, make the job search option one of the first things site visitors see. HotJobs even suggests an L rack or “monster-sized” banner.

Productive affiliates send confirmation emails to job seekers, outlining merchant offerings they may have missed at the site. And they have a dedicated following of visitors loyal to their cause, employment related or not. “The more niche you can carve out for yourself, the more successful you become,” Testerman says. The best sites are industry-specific sites, focused on nursing, accounting, IT or any variety of professional topics. Those easily convert, say insiders, with just the addition of a “Career” page with an article on finding careers in that profession and a link to a tracking merchant site. But even general sites can tap into the 2 percent conversions by adding a career section.

When it comes to creatives in this industry, “banners alone don’t work,” Fannin says. Instead, draw users in with articles provided by merchants or job seeker testimonials, and convert using text links. “This provides content for search engine optimization and provides the best possible method for sales and conversion rates,” Fannin says. Affiliates who do the best take the time to study their merchant’s sites to really understand the product – it doesn’t take much time – and find a way to describe it in their own words for their own audience.

While many people are looking for jobs around the country, many people are also looking for a job around the block. Research from Belden Associates found that 65 percent of job seekers check their local newspaper sites, while only 55 percent hit Monster.com. Hence, the industry is responding by “going local.” Yahoo’s new Local product, in beta testing, will roll out HotJobs postings specific to a city or region. Other programs are expected to follow.

The online market for job-related services is going strong, and some would say it’s booming. Merchants and affiliates are starting to think long term. Rather than focusing solely on short-term metrics such as clickthroughs, registrations and purchases, they’re tracking long-term metrics such as predictive behavior, referrals and branding. This should play out as increased traffic and better conversions for affiliates. In the interim, the big three – Monster, HotJobs, CareerBuilder – will continue to fight it out to be the biggest job site out there. With Yahoo’s HotJobs scooping up top search engine placements, one might ask if there will be room for new entrants. “There is absolutely room for new entrants,” says Karasu at HotJobs, which doesn’t prohibit its affiliates from buying search words in its category.

And analysts predict further consolidation among the second-tier sites. “In the meantime,” says Fannin at Employment911, “we’ll just continue to try to produce good results.” It’s a motto echoed throughout the burgeoning online job search market, and one that will serve affiliates well.

JENNIFER MEACHAM is a freelance writer who has worked for The Seattle Times, The Columbian, Vancouver Business Journal and Emerging Business magazine. She lives in Portland, Ore.

The Best Paid Places

If you currently have a Web site, then I’m sure you are inundated with spam offering “guaranteed placement on more than 5,000 search engines.”

Before we go any further, let me just make something very clear. Yes, there may be 5,000 search engines out there – heck, at this point there may be as many as 50,000 – but there are only four that really matter. If you have your Web site listed highly on Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL, then you have pretty much covered most of the search engine marketing you will ever need, because those four engines account for 90 percent of all daily searches.

Your first job as a Web site marketer is to get the best placement you can on the Big Four, and the only way to benefit from these listings is to rank highly. If you are listed in the top three pages on these search engines you will definitely get a lot of traffic. Recent studies have shown that 80 percent of Web users don’t search beyond the first three pages on most engines.

But what if you can’t optimize your site well enough to rank highly? Maybe you don’t have the time or don’t know how to create pages that are attractive to search engine spiders. Or maybe your industry is just too competitive. Don’t worry. You can still grab your share of search engine traffic by paying for placement.

Paid placement is generally divided into fixed placement and pay-for-placement (P4P), which sound alike but are actually a bit different from one another. With both of these methods you choose keywords you wish to target and the maximum price you are willing to pay, and then you submit your listings and wait for them to go live. The biggest difference between the two products is the length of placement and ranking control. With fixed placement, your listing will stay in the position for the price per keyword you choose, but with P4P you are part of a dynamic auction bidding system that will only guarantee your placement until someone outbids you. Fixed placement is currently available on only a few engines. However, pay-for-placement listings are available on all of the major engines listed above. So, depending on your budget, you too can buy your way to the top of these search engines.

In fixed placement, the price may be set on a cost-per-click (CPC), cost-per-impression (CPM) or cost-per-action (CPA) basis depending on the deal you are able to strike with the search engine. These listings generally guarantee you a ranking at the top of the search results page either as a “featured site” (on MSN) or a “recommended site” (on AOL). This is very attractive to larger advertisers as the campaign is fairly easy to manage, but requires a large budget commitment up front before you can even tell what your results might be from that particular engine.

Test the Waters

An easier way to test the waters before committing to a large fixed placement campaign is to pay for placement using one of the many CPC opportunities currently available. By listing your site on Google’s Adwords program, or Overture through Precision Match, you will gain top placement on Google and AOL (through Adwords) and MSN and Yahoo (through Precision Match).

With these programs, you choose the keywords you want to submit, write your ad copy (title and description) and submit it to the search engines using their submission forms. If you are struggling to write the copy, you can use Overture’s Fast Track program, where for $199 a member of the Overture team will select keywords and write the listings for you. Your placement on Google is determined by a combination of the amount you are willing to pay-per-keyword (maximum bid) and your ad’s clickthrough rate. With Overture your placement is determined by your maximum bid. Both of these campaigns will place you within the “Sponsored Listings” section of results on the larger search engines, and both require your listing to comply with their editorial guidelines.

There’s a few more things you need to know about buying listings. Before determining how much you can pay per click you need to figure out your marketing plan. Set your maximum bids based on your profit margin, the return on investment you seek, and the maximum CPA you can afford. An easy way to kill your business is to assume that because your competitor can afford a certain maximum bid you can too. The leaders in paid placement marketing set their bids based on their own metrics, not their competitors’.

Tracking your results helps you determine where the qualified buyers are coming from. At the very least, use the free tools offered by Overture and Google when setting up P4P campaigns to track conversions from these engines. And if you plan to make paid placement a long-term part of your marketing strategy, buy a good tracking solution. Add tracking URLs to every paid search campaign you run, and religiously review the reports generated by the tracking software, adjusting your bids based on your results (for a quick tutorial on tracking URLs, check out the Overture advertiser center).

The way you write your copy for your paid search listings can have a huge impact on the success of your campaign. The most effective way to write your listings is to keep in mind the following:

  • 1. Appeal to your customers;
  • 2. State your value proposition;
  • 3. Use a “call to action”; and
  • 4. Include your keywords.
  • If you keep these basic rules in mind, you too can get your business top ranking on the engines without all the time-consuming tactics that search engine optimization requires. There are other ways in which you can buy placement that we will cover in future columns, and we’ll also dive into the tactics that can give you a competitive edge in search engine marketing. See you at the top!

    MARY O’BRIEN is a partner at Traffic Mentor.net. She has worked in Internet marketing for the past five years and was formerly senior director of sales at Overture.com.