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, and ArticleCity. com are idea gold mines. My search for “organic gardening” at 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

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 democracy/ or use the service at

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.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Forrester’s March report, “Email Marketing Comes of Age,” finds that clickthrough rates have remained steady since 2003, at an average of 5 percent, and that email is the No. 1 activity on the Web.

And Datran Media’s December 2006 annual email study found that 83.2 percent of respondents picked email marketing as the most important advertising tactic they planned to use in 2007. British Columbia-based super-affiliate Colin McDougall claims that email marketing is his most powerful marketing channel and it accounts for approximately half of his business earning. He thinks that relying on natural search rankings is a “fool’s game” and considers his email list to be his customer base. McDougall says that when he sends an email to his list, the response is immediate, with most of the sales flooding in on mailing day, and then a trickle of sales ongoing as a result. The Forrester report finds that when email solicitations work, they work quickly: 29 percent of all online consumers buy immediately following an offer. And consumers who buy products advertised in emails spend 138 percent more online than peers who do not.

Email 2.0

Email marketing has been around for more than 10 years, but lately it’s been going through a renaissance as marketers experiment with integrating new innovations into email to make it more effective and useful. Web 2.0 has been defined as the more interactive iteration of the Web – the participatory Web, which involves user action. That’s what today’s email campaigns are designed to do – reach out to potential customers and get them involved.

Email newsletters comprised of user-generated content (UGC) are one example. Tara Lamberson, vice president of marketing and solutions for interactive agency MindComet Corporation, says that its client, Daucourt Martin Imports, has a newsletter called the Drink Pink Weekly for its brand XRated Fusion Liqueur. The newsletter, targeted at professional women, highlights UGC-like consumer-submitted recipes and drinks collected by bartenders.

Lamberson says the campaign’s results are measured by viral pass-alongs and the tone and spirit of the user feedback, and that the campaign is effective in nurturing brand evangelists.

A newsletter called the Daily Shoe Digest, by the shoe e-tailer, is constructed only of UGC. The newsletter, which has links to Zappos but does not appear promotional, has a moderator who edits the content. Chad White, director of retail insights and editor-at-large at the Email Experience Council (EEC) and editor of the RetailEmail Blogspot, points out that if references to other retailers were deleted, the forum would seem artificial and overly managed.

White explains that Zappos is trying to build a community of passionate shoe buyers and bask in the halo that it generates. “UGC is all predicated on the success of product reviews – and products that have received good reviews sell much better.” He also notes that allowing contributors to mention other outlets builds credibility for Zappos as a trusted source of information.

UGC in email newsletters works best for narrower categories. White says there needs to be a “niche to grab on to,” so a company like Macy’s would be too broad. AbeBooks newsletters are effective at creating a sense of community because when consumers subscribe, they choose an area like cooking or science fiction, and then are sent relevant content related to that interest and asked to contribute book reviews and participate in poetry contests.

Another popular form of UGC is blogs. Companies are establishing blogs to nurture ties with customers – and retailers are promoting their blogs in their email newsletters. In January, PETCO launched its blog and alerted subscribers to its presence in a PETCO Post newsletter the following month. PETCO has been using its email newsletter and blog in tandem to keep people updated on the pet food recall and has directed subscribers to its blog for updates.

Marketers also are promoting their RSS feeds through email newsletters. Retailer eBags entices email recipients to subscribe to its brand-alert RSS feeds, which tends to be very frequent, so consumers can see new styles as inventory is updated. Jeanne Jennings, an email marketing strategy consultant, explains that some prospects want email, others like RSS and others prefer direct mail. “Consumers can choose – they are more likely to read the information if you’re catering to their preferences.”

RSS feeds can be delivered in email form to their subscribers. Rosalind Gardner plugs her blog’s RSS feed URL into AWeber’s Blog Broadcast and it takes her blog’s content and automatically creates an email newsletter. Affiliate consultant Shawn Collins also uses Blog Broadcast – he has it set up so that when he posts two entries to his Affiliate Tip blog, the entry is sent to subscribers’ email boxes.

Going Viral

eMarketer analyst David Hallerman says that email remains the primary way people tell other people about an ad or marketing website that’s funny or fascinating or in some way cool. “Although some people communicate via community postings or IM, the “Did you see this?” kind of email message still rules.

Greg Cangialosi, president and CEO of Blue Sky Factory, says he has clients who use email to drive their audience to blog posts, online videos and wikis and from there, the dialogue continues and the message is extended. Cangialosi predicts that out of all the elements that are highlighted in email, he thinks that blog posts and video will be the most widely used and will generate the most interest.

Marketers are also leveraging video in their email campaigns. As of June, EEC’s White found that 18 percent of the 100 major online retailers tracked via RetailEmail Blogspot have included a link to video in at least one email in recent months. White suspects this number will grow rapidly and that the frequency of use will increase.

White points out that links to video can be useful for a lot of different types of marketers. Barnes & Noble uses video for book readings and author interviews, and Bass Pro Shops has video tutorials on fishing advice and trips.

Executive director and senior partner of Worldwide Email Marketing of OgilvyOne, Jeanniey Mullen says that based on case studies of Ogilvy clients over a 60-day period in the spring of 2007, response rates for emails with video links are three to 10 times higher than those for static email. More important, these email messages tend to drive even higher increases in landing-page traffic and conversion. White explains that in 99 percent of cases, email newsletters have included a link to the Web-hosted video because there can be problems with embedded video – many email clients either don’t support it or block it by default.

But Mullen says that most of the problems with video-embedded email such as spam filters stripping JavaScript from emails and lack of broadband penetration have been overcome. She says that email service providers, such as VIZmail and AviMail, are able to deliver emails with video and flash inside.

But others find there are frequently rendering issues with video inside of email. Founder of the Affiliate Summit, Shawn Collins, says that a lot of email clients don’t allow video to be played with video in email – it doesn’t work right – it gets stripped out and “comes up blank in the email.” Most experts agree the best practice for right now is to link to Web-hosted videos so the user experience will not be degraded.

Mullen agrees that the best practice is to link to Web-hosted video for other reasons: Video that opens up in emails can be wasted on a recipient who does not have the volume up, or the recipient might not want to disturb office neighbors and quickly close the email – causing the message to be lost.

One of the solutions for distributing video via email is through, which allows website creators to create a branded site to showcase their videos. Through an embedding option, lets email marketers use plain HTML to insert a static image of the video player. When it’s clicked, email recipients are taken to the page where they can view the video. Collins explains that Magnify has AdSense built in to the landing pages and they share the revenue with the community owner.

Social Media Tools

In addition to users generating and sharing content, Web 2.0 innovations also look at how users can promote and rate content that is important and relevant to them. Marketers can leverage this trend in their email campaigns to incentivize consumers to indicate what is important to them.

When subscribers receive Shawn Collin’s Affiliate Tip blog RSS in their email, they have options as to what they can do with each post. They can use “Email This,” “Digg This” or “Add to” Collins explains that these methods are a way that The Affiliate Tip gets more exposure in top Web properties. This past spring experim ented with Digg and Delicious links alongside its products in one of its newsletters so that subscribers could click on the links to recommend products to those communities.

Craig Swerdloff is the vice president and general manager of Postmaster Network, part of Return Path, which offers email deliverability solutions. He explains that for Dell’s campaign to drive customer acquisitions, they sent an email that had a four-point rating system along the side that asked the recipient how relevant the offer was to them (on a scale from “highly valuable” to “no value”).

Swerdloff describes this type of a campaign as a “win-win” – the recipient gets to provide feedback and the marketer can gather data that over time improves their ad targeting, which eventually helps to fine-tune an appropriate offer. But marketers sometimes stay away from email because of the problem of unwanted email, Swerdloff says. However, ISPs are coming up with solutions that distinguish between wanted and unwanted email and some experts predict that deliverability issues will improve in the short term.

This is good news for marketers who are experimenting with new elements to use in email to engage potential customers. White says that all the improvements we’re seeing in the Web world will be translated into the email world and that email is benefiting from the growth in content on the Web such as video and UGC. Affiliates should keep in mind that they can have an advantage over merchants that are sometimes apprehensive to try new marketing techniques.

Sweet Charity

If you think getting people to shop online is tough, consider the plight of nonprofit organizations. They ask people for their time and/or money, but instead of receiving goods, these donors simply get the satisfaction of doing good.

Although nonprofit organizations may have a different agenda from the for-profit online marketers, many of the goals (building relationships, income, brand awareness, etc.) are the same.

During the early part of the Internet era, many charitable organizations limited their Web activities to maintaining a website that accepted donations and member registrations, but over the past few years these groups have expanded to leverage many of the leading marketing tools.

Donations to nonprofit organizations are growing but remain only a small part of overall giving. Online donations in the U.S. doubled between 2003 and 2005 to $4.5 billion, but that is just 1.7 percent of the $260 billion in total donations, according to the GivingUSA Foundation.

Most people prefer to give off-line, so organizations establish different objectives for online activities and combine their direct marketing initiatives. In addition to getting people to donate, nonprofit online marketing goals also include increasing membership, encouraging activism, making resources available to those in need, issue awareness, building community and promoting word of mouth marketing. However, nonprofits typically operate under tight budgets where success is measured in lives affected and their experiences can offer useful lessons to all marketers.

Tools of the Trade

Employing search engine marketing and banner ads may be critical for many businesses, but nonprofits are selective if they choose to participate at all. Todd Whitley, vice president of e-marketing for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, is a proponent of SEM and display ads if the right audience segment is targeted. Whitley focuses his group’s search marketing plans on reaching caregivers who might need the organization’s services and “to find people who have relevancy to your mission.” Purchased keywords should be as specific to the target audience (such as “treatment”) as possible, Whitley says.

Joel Bartlett, marketing manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, bought banner ads on social networking sites such as MySpace but wasn’t satisfied with the traffic generated. However, when the group made its display available for posting on individuals’ personal pages and encouraged members to share them with their friends, traffic greatly increased. “The value of word of mouth goes further than any banner ad we could afford,” Bartlett says. As with commercial enterprises, customers (in this case organization members) are the best salespeople, and giving them the tools to increase brand awareness online can be very successful.

PETA is selective in its search marketing spending, limiting the scope to the related terms that have proven to be cost-effective. The PETA website has high natural search rankings for many of the terms related to protecting animals because of the abundance of links to the site, so Bartlett doesn’t see a need to participate in SEM for obvious keywords. “We’re already the No. 1 search term [for animal rights] so we don’t need to buy ads.”

Bartlett says that instead of using contextual or display ads on general interest sites, PETA advertises with advertising service to reach influential Web participants. Blogads works with bloggers who have loyal readership and are more likely to get involved and to spread the message to others, enabling PETA to reach a smaller but more receptive audience than mass media sites.

While search is not a major component of many nonprofits’ online marketing strategy, another performance marketing staple has proven successful – email marketing. Through newsletters and issue-specific alerts, PETA encourages people to forward the information from its website (including images of animal abuse) to their friends that will prompt action.

When it’s an email from a trusted friend, “people get outraged” about how animals are treated, Bartlett says. During PETA’s offline events, the organization collects email addresses to expand the audience of its newsletter and outreach activities.

Habitat for Humanity purchased Google AdWords for a time but cut back on online advertising recently, according to Senior Director of Direct Marketing Timothy Daugherty. The best-performing words were derivations of the organization’s name, and since the website could be found with natural search, search marketing was deemed unnecessary.

The group, which builds affordable housing for lower-income families, now focuses on increasing communications with people who have previously donated to maximize their marketing dollars, Daugherty says. Habitat for Humanity received about 10 percent ($8 million of the $80 million) of its total 2006 donations online, according to Daugherty.

The group has been successful in increasing awareness by getting list appends (email addresses for previous donors) for their direct marketing databases to reduce costs and open another line of communications, says Daugherty. Contacting donors via email is also effective in stimulating activism online and off-line, and is part of the organization’s effort to integrate marketing efforts, he notes. For issue-oriented campaigns, email works well in getting people to write letters and emails to public officials, he adds.

The National Council of Churches has collected more than 100,000 email addresses by getting members to forward information to friends and by requesting addresses on donation forms. “We ask people to share our email blasts with their friends,” and those who respond to forwarded emails are automatically added to the distribution list, says Daniel Webster, the organization’s director of media relations. The frequent communications about issues in the news help to build a virtual community and enable two-way communication, according to Webster.

In addition to most donations being made off-line, most word of mouth marketing occurs off-line as well, but email can be effective in spurring people to talk off-line with friends about an organization or contributions. Nearly 90 percent of people who have donated to a charity say they have urged others to give in person, but just 19 percent had done so by email, according to a 2005 Donor Trends survey by Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company and The Prime Group. Email has proven successful in promoting off-line activism that inspires people to attend and volunteer at events that are an important component of nonprofit activities.

Creativity Key for Tight Budgets

Operating within tight marketing budgets forces many nonprofits to be creative in their programs and partnerships, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Whitley.

While working for the American Lung Association, his group created a significant revenue stream by connecting for-profits to its members who voluntarily participate, according to Whitley. The organization created a campaign that asked members with asthma to provide input about how they managed their illness. Glaxo-Smith-Kline offered information about its related pharmaceutical products and gained valuable information by collecting data from the campaign, Whitley says. “[For-profit companies] don’t have access to live communities, so we provided a benefit to them.”

Whitley says nonprofits can also maximize their resources by collaborating with peer organizations with related goals. The American Lung Association joined with the Centers for Disease Control on an online campaign to publicize public flu clinics. By sharing the costs and their collective memberships, the two groups were able to reach a wider audience more quickly than acting individually. Companies with complementary products or services can likewise team up for their mutual benefit in marketing efforts.

The American Red Cross is using online communications tools and commerce to help replace its aging membership with a younger demographic, according to Darren Irby, the group’s vice president of communications. Irby says the base of its donors is over 65 and since “those people are dying off” and are less likely to be online, the Red Cross is targeting a younger generation with its online marketing efforts.

Since the under-40 crowd spends ample time chatting online, the group is generating revenue by piggybacking on advertising delivered via instant messaging (IM) software. The Red Cross teamed up with Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger advertising program. To encourage people to use the IM software, Microsoft is donating part of the revenue from the ads that appear during an IM conversation to the charity of the participants’ choice. Red Cross members feel good about encouraging others to use the software, and the organization gets exposure and extra income.

The Red Cross is increasing brand awareness by going retro with the branded merchandise on sale at its online store. To celebrate the 125th anniversary of the group last year, the Red Cross began selling T-shirts, coffee mugs and hats emblazoned with a vintage World War II logo. The garb, which has sold well beyond expectations, “is a way to link the older and younger generations,” Irby says.

Instead of buying banners on social networking sites, the Red Cross makes tools available so that members can provide free exposure by promoting the organization on their personal pages. The Red Cross has set up groups on MySpace and LinkedIn, and has created banners, logos and promotional widgets to spread the word.

Irby recognizes that younger people like the immediacy of being able to support the Red Cross’ response efforts to a national disaster, but so far the group has not produced any viral videos for sites such as YouTube. He says workers in the field are too busy helping to film their activities, and he doesn’t encourage people to film relief efforts for fear of “losing control of the messaging,” he says. Instead, the Red Cross has created videos and posted them on an FTP site that is accessible by the media.

The Red Cross is also reaching out to bloggers to make the blood donation process less intimidating. The organization is requesting that bloggers write about the music that they listen to while giving blood. “Charities need to engage in two-way communication” if they want to develop a meaningful relationship with members and volunteers, says Irby.

Most nonprofits do not utilize formal affiliate programs, but PETA provides merchandise as incentives for people to promote its organization online and off-line, according to Bartlett. Through the “PETA2 Street Team” initiative, the group gives volunteers missions to accomplish, such as contacting people via email, adding links to PETA on their websites, or off-line activities, and volunteers earn points that can be redeemed for merchandise from the group’s online store. By offering “posters, CDs and autographed stuff from a band,” PETA is connecting with the young volunteers’ interests through relevant rewards, Bartlett says.

PETA also employs viral marketing to increase awareness online. The group has set up a website protesting Kentucky Fried Chicken’s animal handling and created an automatic sign generator that enables people to create virtual billboards about the restaurant chain and post them on personal websites. The group created an area on the photo-sharing website Flickr for volunteers to post images. Creating tools for people to generate their own content around the group’s messaging is “part of the strategy of empowering users and encouraging word of mouth” that is highly effective marketing, says Bartlett.

Coordinating the online activities of the groups within a national organization can maximize resources and create a more cohesive strategy, according to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Whitley. Nonprofit departments (like their commercial counterparts) can be territorial at times, but sharing the online successes and collaborating on projects will unify the organization. Whitley says the Web group can break down barriers and it “is critical [for the online group] to become a leader for interfacing cross-divisionally within an organization.” Similarly, online marketing initiatives can unify the divisions within a company by sharing their experiences and using the collective intelligence to optimize campaigns.

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

The Art of Wooing Affiliates

“You spammed me,” I said with a smile to the affiliate network manager standing next to me as we posed for a picture together at the last Affiliate Summit. Her smile suddenly disappeared.

Kind, compassionate and understanding person that I am, I fervently hoped to hear an honest, if not apologetic reply that would give me the slightest reason to consider ever doing business with her network’s merchants.

Despite tripping over herself with admissions of having been “horrified” when she realized that she’d spammed me, she left me in the dark as to why she would try to solicit my attention through the email address that I use only for domain registrations.

Here’s a tip for affiliates: Creating a unique email address for individual functions such as domain registrations is an effective way to ferret out spammers. Filter email sent to that address into a separate folder and check it occasionally to see who is operating on the dark side. Delete the address to which the spam was sent and make a note never to do business with that company.

OK, it should be fairly obvious that I have almost no compassion for spammers. I was simply curious to see what excuse she could come up with on the fly. However, there was no excuse because there simply is no excuse.

First of all, spamming is illegal, which makes it a lousy way to try and recruit super-affiliates for anyone who cares about their reputation as a trustworthy business partner.

Secondly, I am hardly an under-the-radar affiliate. My contact information is almost too easy to find. Google my name with or without quotes and my affiliate marketing “how-to” site floats to the top of the natural search results. In the upper right-hand corner of every page on that site there is a link to my Support Desk, at which my virtual assistant, Joel, is eagerly standing by to field questions from affiliates, managers and merchants alike. Our Support Desk is open to anyone and everyone. No proof of purchase is necessary and the only skill required is the ability to correctly enter an email address.

If a not-so-savvy surfer somehow misses the listing for that site in the search results, the vast majority of the other 999 results which Google serves on a query for my name are affiliates who link to another of my sites, which also includes a clearly labeled link to my Support Desk.

Regardless of how one chooses to get to the Support Desk, the manner in which a solicitation is worded determines the response (or lack thereof) that it receives.

Authors of generic blasts that do not include my name or are addressed to some variation of “Dear Affiliate” or “Future JV Partner” are sent a canned but friendly TYBNTY (Thank-You-But-NO-Thank-You) note. And they should consider themselves lucky that we take the time to do them the courtesy of a reply.

Those who address their request appropriately but then hype the offer receive the same note, as do merchants and managers who provide insufficient or incomplete details.

The number of correspondents that fail to show basic courtesy by including their real name and full contact details is staggering. I used to try making the point by addressing replies to “Dear ___” or “Dear Your Affiliate Team,” but I am not in the business of teaching basic email etiquette, so they too now get a canned TYBNTY.

I’m also not in business to research offers that are not only unsolicited, but which are also apparently a secret. I don’t really care if you have a “ground-breaking opportunity which will make affiliates a lot of money.” So does every other merchant, and Sherlock Holmes I am not.

Tell me what the product is, and include a link to the specific offer’s sales page. Also, if the offer is restricted to a U.S. audience, please provide a link that does not redirect my Canadian IP address to Please apply the same technology within your network interface so that non-U.S. affiliates can view all merchant landing pages. I asked for that feature at MaxBounty and they were only too happy to oblige, so we know it’s doable.

Then there are those pitches for products that are completely irrelevant to my audience. If I find those before Joel has a chance to send a TYBNTY reply, they are summarily deleted. Seriously, why waste your time trying to get me to promote George Foreman grills on my dating service review site?

Do your homework and check out my sites before you contact me with your offer. Find the page on my site where your offer should be placed for the greatest impact and don’t bother to suggest that it should be placed on my home page.

Answer the question, “What’s in it for Ros?” If the offer is available on several other networks or directly through the merchant’s own affiliate program, the commission rate you offer has to beat them all, or any chance of further discussion will stop right there. Furthermore, be specific about how much more you can offer than each of the other guys.

Better yet, if the product is an online service or piece of software, kindly provide me with a username and password so that I can assess the product for review purposes. Doing so costs next to nothing, and if I really like the product and continue to use it, your product will receive a stellar review and subsequently many more sales. On the other hand, you could provide me with time-limited access, but then there is no guarantee that I will make time to review the product by your deadline.

Best of all, if you have a real product and are inclined to send samples, hit me up for my mailing address. It’s unlikely that such a request will be denied. You can be sure that affiliate Colin Mc- Dougall promoted the heck out of the inflatable boat that he was paddling around Vaseux Lake last summer.

We super-affiliates also work harder for merchants and managers who go the extra mile to get to know their affiliates. For example, while attending a conference in Los Angeles, two of my Australian- based merchants went 1,568 miles out of their way just to take me out for dinner. By result, I have been promoting their product for almost nine years and don’t intend to stop anytime soon.

If you’re not inclined to visit Beautiful British Columbia, then chat me up at a conference. Make it your job to learn that the super-affiliate you wish to recruit prefers beer over wine and dark beer over light. Super-affiliates eat too; so an invitation to lunch is always a good segue to doing business.

Having shared a belly laugh or two over lunch, you by now have my business card and telephone number. Do a follow-up call. Propose your best offer and have the name or number handy of the offer that you want me to look at.

Next, follow the call up with an email (yes, by now you also have my private email address) and include a link to the offer along with a list of keyword suggestions. Consider sending unique copy targeted to my audience and which I am allowed to edit. Barring long copy, a bullet list of product benefits and features is also very much appreciated. At this point, your job is done. Now just sit back, relax and watch for the sales spike.

There are many ways to get my attention and me working for you as a super-affiliate. Plaguing me with spam, however, is not one of them – especially when I’m already affiliated with your network!

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

Asking Permission

One of the biggest problems of mass-market advertising is that it vies for the attention of prospects by interrupting them. That’s why TV commercials have long been called "dream interrupters," because that’s exactly what they are. The TV show is your dream. The TV commercial interrupts that dream. Not good.

Of course, if nobody else is interrupting the audience, the interruption will be effective for you. But everyone and their second cousins are interrupting the audience to the point that there’s an interruption overflow. And that’s why guerrillas one and all are rapidly warming up to permission marketing.

The name of this game is to get your prospects to point to themselves as hot prospects. They literally agree to learn more about your company and its benefits. Permission marketing can transform strangers into friends and friends into loyal customers. The first and main rule in permission marketing is that it truly is based on selfishness: Prospects will grant you permission to market to them only if they know exactly how they’ll benefit.

Seth Godin, with whom I’ve coauthored The Guerrilla Marketing Handbook, Guerrilla Marketing for the Home-Based Business and Get What You Deserve! How to Guerrilla Market Yourself, admits that mass media advertising will remain a potent weapon.

"Winston tastes good… ." Can you complete that sentence? Of course you can. It’s "… like a cigarette should." And yet nearly three decades have passed since that slogan was advertised. It would cost far beyond your budget to implant such a slogan in the minds of consumers today. Maybe Nike can afford it. And Budweiser. But the list is very tiny, indeed. It does not include many affiliate marketers.

I agree with Godin when he says that marketing is a contest for people’s attention. There is so much interrupting these days that people have learned to ignore interruptions. TV is cluttered with commercial messages beyond belief, and the Web is even worse.

That means that the challenge of the day is to persuade consumers to volunteer their attention.

Tell them a bit about your company and how your offerings benefit them. Then let them tell you a bit about themselves. Then tell them some more about your company. They’ll tell you some more about themselves. Over time you create a beneficial learning relationship. They want to know what you have to say. That’s why permission marketing is marketing without any interruptions.

Of course, you’ve still got to flag the attention of your prospects, but once you have it, you can turn it into permission, then turn that into learning, then turn that into trust. Once they trust you, they can buy what you sell.

Godin says there are four rules of permission:

  1. Permission must be granted. If it isn’t, you can’t assume you have permission to market. Buying names and addresses, then sending direct mail, is not permission. It’s spamming. And guerrillas do not spam. They know spamming litters the marketing scene and is usually ignored.
  2. Permission is selfish. Your prospects will grant permission to you only if they see clearly that there’s something in it for them. You’ve got about two or three seconds to communicate what that something is.
  3. Permission can be revoked. As easily as permission is granted, it can be withdrawn. On the other hand, it can intensify over time. The intensity depends upon the quality of interaction between you and your customers.
  4. Permission can’t be transferred. Think of marketing as dating. You just can’t give a friend the authority to go out on a date in your place.

Once people give you permission to market to them – then what? Then they want to get to know you better. They want you to solve their problems. They want you to improve their lives.

Why does permission marketing make sense? These days, people have the money to spend on products or services, but they don’t have the time to evaluate your offerings and learn why you are trustworthy. That’s why online marketing is so powerful. You can use email to communicate with people frequently, quickly and unobtrusively – if they have given you permission. Get it at your website. If you list yours, be prepared for a barrage of permissions.

To get these permissions, you’ve got to remember that the Internet is not television. It is direct mail with free stamps. It allows you to create rich relationships. Web banners will wither on the online vine while email marketing becomes the real killer application of online marketing.

Interruption marketing is coming to a dead end in the road, and the future will belong only to those companies that have embarked upon a permission marketing campaign. Will yours be one of them? I hope so.


JAY CONRAD LEVINSON is the acknowledged father of guerrilla marketing with more than 14 million books sold in his Guerrilla Marketing series, now in 41 languages. His website is

Sell Green to Make Green

For online marketers, green could be the new gold. The events of the past year opened the eyes of many consumers to the importance of being Earth-friendly, which in turn has created an unprecedented opportunity for the sellers of green goods.

Hurricane Katrina, the popularity of the global warming documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" and President Bush’s epiphany about alternative fuels have collectively vaulted caring for the planet from being the grist of environmentalists to the forefront of consumer consciousness.

"There is no better time than right now to talk about [green] products and services," Cheryl Roth, co-founder of marketing and public relations firm OrganicWorks Marketing, says. Consumer receptiveness to the green message is at the highest point since Roth began promoting healthy living products six years ago, she says.

However, many green companies are just that in their know-how of connecting with customers on the Web. Several companies offering environmentally friendly products online contacted for this article have never engaged in online marketing beyond creating a website. When asked about affiliate programs and search marketing, many company executives openly admitted that they were unfamiliar with search engine optimization, affiliate networks and RSS feeds.

The challenge for online marketers is to assist green companies in learning to master the tools of the trade before the green wave loses its appeal to fickle consumers.


Marketers of environmentally friendly products are spending big bucks to deliver the message through old media, but have done comparatively little online. During the past year General Electric (with its Ecomagination campaign), General Motors and BP (now Beyond Petroleum) gave the green movement national exposure through multi-million-dollar advertising campaigns through broadcast and print media. Hybrid vehicle makers including Toyota, Honda and Ford continued successful marketing campaigns of the past few years as a receptive public snapped up twice as many of the air-sparing vehicles in 2005.

The biggest green marketing campaign of 2006 demonstrated the effectiveness of simultaneously advertising online and with broadcast media. General Motors’ "Live Green Go Yellow" marketing effort explained the benefits of ethanol and promoted the company’s 12 flex-fuel vehicles that can use the fuel derived from corn.

The campaign included extensive TV, radio and print ads and coincided with extensive banner advertising and search marketing. Display ads on AOL generated 336 million impressions as "one of the most successful campaigns in AOL history," according to Bob Kraut, the director of brand marketing at General Motors.

GM launched the TV campaign during the Super Bowl and at the same time bought key search terms including E85 and ethanol to drive traffic to the website GM also drove ads to the website by buying banner ads on environmentally themed sites including, and MSNBC News Environment.

Kraut says the bounce rate (people leaving a website after visiting the first page) during the campaign was half of GM’s usual percentage, indicating that general consumers were receptive to its Earth-friendly message. Later this year GM will reinforce the green message by emailing registered flex-fuel owners to remind them that they can use E85, Kraut says.

"Buying green has become part of the American vernacular," he says.


While GM had a substantial budget for interactive advertising, many green companies’ online efforts are as lively as a wind farm on a breeze-free day.

Lawrence Comras, president of e-commerce company, estimates that 30 percent of consumers would buy green if they knew that products comparable in performance to what they currently purchase were available.

While the market may be ripe, green companies have a threefold marketing challenge: 1) They must differentiate their products versus conventional competitors for quality; 2) Explain their environmental benefits; and 3) Justify why consumers may be expected to pay a premium, as is often the case.

Since the definition of green can be subjective and varies from category to category, the messaging can be complex, according to Comras. For some products, conserving energy is the goal. Other products are considered green because they are made from recycled materials, while using non-toxic chemicals defines others.

"How do you know what’s really green?" asks Comras. Also, chemicals that would be permissible in paint would not be allowed in green soap products, which requires additional education, he says.

"There must be more emphasis on education [than with traditional marketing]," agrees OrganicWorks’ Roth. Consumers previously may not have considered the environmental and health impact of their everyday purchases, so websites need to explain how their products are planet-friendly.

Finding green products within the comparison shopping portals (such as and can also be a challenge, as they do not flag their environmentally friendly products, according to Marty Coleman, the president of marketing and public relations firm Green Communications Group.


For many green companies who are passionate about their cause, marketing is not second nature. The lexicon of online marketing is as unfamiliar to many green entrepreneurs as the chemical composition of the greenhouse gases is to most consumers. Marketing companies that partner with green companies should expect to do extensive hand holding throughout the process.

For example, Green Mountain Energy, a clean-electricity company that was founded in 1997, has advertised for several years on TV and radio, but the company doesn’t advertise online. The company’s website is an informational and commerce site that allows customers to order renewable energy power, but the company does not market the website online. We are "using the Web primarily as a response vehicle," says Gillan Taddune, Green Mountain’s chief environmental officer.

The Austin, Texas, company has not pursued affiliate relationships or marketing through blogs or RSS feeds, says Taddune. "The Web is not a leading part of the business," she says. That may change later this year as the company is considering expanding its online profile through marketing initiatives, according to Taddune.

Limited financial resources prevent some smaller green companies from aggressively pursuing online marketing. "Many of them don’t have the dollars to do advertising," OrganicWorks’ Roth says. Several for-profit green companies also donate a portion of their revenue to environmental causes, further reducing the amount of money that can be reinvested in the company.

David R. Kaufer, the president of shopping site GreenForGood, says that when he experimented with search engine marketing last year, he did not purchase category words such as "household cleaner" because the big brands put the price out of reach.

Instead, Kaufer focused on purchasing eco-friendly terms, but ended the program because of poor conversion rates due to his admitted inexperience with online marketing. His ads linked to GreenForGood’s index page rather than specific items for sale, which made them ineffective, he says. He plans on resuming a Google Adwords program soon, but this time with landing pages optimized to promote purchases.

While GreenForGood does not have an affiliate program, the company created a store within the environmental group Sierra Club’s website, with the nonprofit receiving a share of the revenue, according to Kaufer. The company prefers to partner with like-minded environmental websites rather than advertising on general-interest publishers or having its products listed on shopping engines. Kaufer believes he’ll get the greatest return by targeting readers predisposed to his message.


The demographic of consumers interested in environmentally friendly products is appealing to online marketers. Consumers of green products are more likely than the average consumer to shop online, according to Green Communications Group’s Coleman. A 25-year veteran of marketing research, Coleman says green consumers are more technology- savvy and "are more comfortable with buying online," than the general population.

Green shoppers often go online out of frustration in attempting to shop locally, Coleman says. "Green products are not easy to find in brick-and-mortar stores," she says, as they are often not clearly labeled as such and are mixed in among the rest of the items on store shelves.

For several years Minneapolis-based Caldrea used the Web solely as an information resource to support the retail sales of its luxury home-cleaning products, according to founder and president Monica Nassif. The biodegradable products, which are sold under the Mrs. Meyers and Caldrea brands, are available at Whole Foods, Fred Meyers and other supermarket chains.

Nassif said Caldrea’s website was managed from 2000 to 2005 by an outside organization that had restrictive policies limiting design, which prevented her from optimizing the content for search engines. To enhance the company’s online marketing and sales, she hired Andrew Janis as e-commerce manager and brought management of the website in-house in January of this year.

Caldrea is participating in search marketing with several search engines, and Janis says Google provides the best return for green companies. "We get the majority of traffic from Google," he says. Keyword purchases that focus on "environmental" or green tend to outperform more generic terms, according to Janis.

Caldrea sells its products and advertises through several shopping search engines, and Janis says Froogle "outclasses everything out there." The clickthrough and conversion rates are terrible on other shopping sites, he says.

Janis says the company recently made small advertising buys of banner ads on environmental websites, and Caldrea has contacted a few bloggers and lifestyle publishers to spread the word. The company has not joined any affiliate networks as yet, but Janis may pursue a relationship in the near future.


Communicating with customers through email marketing is part of Caldrea’s strategy, as the company prominently displays a form to sign up for special offers on the home page. The company does not have a blog, according to Janis.

Consultant Coleman doesn’t recommend corporate blogs. "You should go to the places where the community already is," she says noting that one of the most effective methods of organically growing traffic is to get a positive buzz about your business in the blogosphere. "Community blogs are powerful tools if you can get customers to post good experiences [with products]," according to Coleman.

Coleman says encouraging visitors to become members of a website can be successful because "people who buy green products enjoy being part of a community." Once they join, continual communications from the publisher through email newsletters and promotions will drive traffic to the website, she says.

GreenHome’s Comras says affiliates are helping to grow his business, which has doubled sales for each of the last four years. GreenHome’s 50 affiliates receive a share of the revenue for promoting the company’s products, which include appliances, furniture and clothing.

The retailer has not advertised online because Comras views promoting its products to the general public as not being cost-effective. "It’s tough when you break out of the green bubble because you are probably scattering your seed to the wind," he says.

Comras believes that intelligently partnering with like-minded publishers and nonprofit groups can attract the target audience. "We have to equal the clout of mainstream companies to get [the green] word out."

Green marketers have years of catching up if they want their fledgling online efforts to take root while environmental concerns are still top of mind with consumers. This newfound interest in environmentalism may not last forever, so they must be quick studies in mastering the art that online marketers take for granted.

Many green companies also have a global reason to quickly succeed online. As GreenHome’s Comras says, "the planet can no longer afford for [green] companies not to have online stores."

JOHN GARTNER is a freelance writer in Portland, Ore. He is a former editor at Wired News and CMP. His articles regularly appear on, and in MIT’s

Follow Up or Fall on Your Face

Guerrilla affiliates know well the importance of customer followup and prospect follow-up because they know what it takes to succeed in business.

Why do most businesses lose customers? Poor service? Nope. Poor quality? Nope. Well, then why? I say, it’s apathy after the sale. Most businesses lose customers by ignoring them to death. A numbing 68 percent of all business lost in America is lost due to apathy after the sale.

Misguided business owners and affiliates think that marketing is over once they’ve made the sale. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Marketing begins once you’ve made the sale. It’s of momentous importance to you and your company that you understand this. I’m sure you will by the time you’ve come to the end of this article.

The Guerrilla Way to Follow Up

First of all, you need to understand how guerrilla affiliates view follow-up. Although, affiliates are not actually making the sale, the merchant they promote is; often the customer doesn’t really understand that. So, a good affiliate makes it part of their DNA to have good follow-up because they know it costs 10 times more to sell something to a new customer than to an existing customer.

They have a follow-up strategy, just as they have a marketing strategy. That follow-up strategy dictates what they’ll do in the way of follow-up and how often they’ll do it. It helps them stay on track. It helps them remember that follow-up is part of their day-to-day business.

When a guerrilla affiliate makes a sale, the customer receives a followup thank-you note within 48 hours. When’s the last time a business sent you a thank-you note within 48 hours? Maybe once? Maybe never? Probably never. Now that email is part of business, the answer should be “always” because email follow-up is so easy. I buy things online and usually get a thank-you email not in two days, not in one day, not even in two hours, but often in two minutes. Technology makes that possible. Your customers know it, so they’re learning to expect it.

The guerrilla affiliate sends another note or email or perhaps makes a phone call 30 days after the sale. This contact is to see if everything is going well with the purchase and if the customer has any questions. It is also to help solidify the relationship. Guerrillas know that the way to develop relationships – the key to survival in an increasingly entrepreneurial society – is through tenacious customer follow-up (and prospect follow-up, which we haven’t even addressed yet).

Guerrilla affiliates send their customers another note within 90 days, this time informing them of a new and related product or service. Possibly it’s a new offering that the guerrilla business now provides. And maybe it’s a product or service offered by one of the guerrilla’s fusion marketing partners (those who enter into business agreements such as mutual links and advertisements).

Guerrilla affiliates are very big on forging marketing alliances with businesses throughout the community and – using the Internet – throughout the world. These tie-ins enable them to increase their marketing exposure while reducing their marketing costs, a noble goal. More marketing, less expense. That’s a pretty healthy formula to follow.

After six months, the customer hears from the guerrilla again, this time with the preview announcement of an upcoming sale. Nine months after the sale, the guerrilla sends a note asking the customer for the names of three people who might benefit from being included on the guerrilla’s mailing list. If the company chooses to use surface mail for this, a postpaid envelope is provided. Because the guerrilla has been keeping in touch with the customer – and because only three names are requested – the customer often supplies the names.

After one year, the customer receives an anniversary card celebrating the one-year anniversary of the first sale. Perhaps a coupon for a discount is snuggled in the envelope or attached to the email.

Fifteen months after the sale, the guerrilla sends the customer a questionnaire, filled with questions designed to provide insights into the customer. The questionnaire has a paragraph at the start that reads, “We know your time is valuable, but the reason we’re asking so many questions is because the more we know about you, the better service we can provide you.” This makes sense. The customer completes and returns the questionnaire.

Perhaps after 18 months, the customer receives an announcement of still more new products and services that tie in with the original purchase. And the beat goes on. The customer, rather than being a one-time buyer, becomes a repeat buyer – the kind of person who refers others to the guerrilla’s business. A bond is formed. The bond intensifies with time and follow-up.

Let me put this in numeric terms to burn it into your mind. Let’s say you earn a $200 profit every time you send a customer to a merchant and they make a big sale. If you send the customer a thank-you note, the one-month note, the three-month note, the six-month note, the nine-month note, the anniversary card, the questionnaire, the constant alerting of new offerings, the customer, instead of making one purchase during the course of a year, might make three purchases. That same customer refers your business to four other people. Your bond is not merely for the length of the transaction but for as long as say, 20 years.

Because of your follow-up, that one customer is worth $400,000 to you (assuming three purchases per year and the referred sales, both initial and repeat). So that’s your choice: $200 with no follow-up or $400,000 with follow-up. And the cost of follow-up is not high because you already have the name of the people with whom you’ll be following up.

Following Up With Prospects

Some wise affiliates have already figured out the crucial importance of customer follow-up but still haven’t got a clue about prospect follow-up. Heed the words of author Harvey Mackay, who wrote, Swim with The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. At a 1992 presentation in Calgary, Harvey faced the audience of more than 1,000 people and claimed, “We have never failed to close the sale with a person we have identified as a prospect.”

I admit that I was shocked to hear that. A 100 percent close rate. I knew that Harvey was a great closer, but 100 percent? Then I heard what he said next: “Sometimes, we close that prospect within two weeks. Other times, it may take as long as seven years.” Seven years?

Prospect follow-up is not a single act, but a process that goes on and on. That proves to prospects that you really care, that you really will work hard satisfying them because you’re working so darned hard to get their business. The truth is that prospect follow-up is lush terrain for guerrilla affiliates. Prospects who have been contacted by others and then ignored are ripe and ready for the company that will contact them and stay in touch. They know when they are being ignored and they know when their favor is being curried.

The cost of prospect follow-up is also not high – for the same reason as with customers. Prospect follow- up, however, is different from customer followup. For one thing, you can’t send a thank-you note – yet. But you can consistently follow up, never giving up and realizing that if you’re second in line, you’ll get the business when the business that’s first in line messes up. And they will foul up. Know how? Of course you do. They’ll fail to follow up enough.

JAY CONRAD LEVINSON is the acknowledged father of guerrilla marketing with more than 14 million books sold in his Guerrilla Marketing series, now in 41 languages. His website is

Mistakes Lead to Success

Learn from your missteps and the path to affiliate success will be paved with opportunity.

Lurk around any affiliate marketing forum for more than a few minutes, and you will surely encounter a post that reads much like this: “Affiliate marketing sucks! I’m not making ANY money and I’ve tried EVERYTHING – Google AdWords, AdSense and affiliate programs. NOTHING works. My sites have loads of content and I even started a blog. I get a ton of traffic, but for every dime I spend on PPC, I’m lucky if I make a penny. More often than not I earn squat.

I followed the advice of those so-called affiliate marketing ‘gurus’ and coaches, but at this point I don’t believe ANYONE is really making money as an affiliate. Those success stories are a total scam. ~Disgruntled FORMER Affiliate”

Affiliate marketing success stories are a “total scam”? No one is making money? Our disgruntled former affiliate must have missed the keynote address at Affiliate Summit 2006 West last January by Anne Holland of Marketing Sherpa, and failed to get the information from any one of about 100 blog entries.

Here’s a brief recap. Ms. Holland said affiliate marketing bounties and commissions will reach $6.5 billion in 2006 – and that figure didn’t include projected earnings from contextual ad networks such as Google AdSense.

Although it may be hard to believe that thousands of affiliates will share $6.5 billion dollars in earnings when your ROI is in the red – believe it. The affiliate commissions’ pie gets bigger every year and anyone who is willing to learn what it takes to be a professional affiliate can take a slice.

If you really want a piece of that pie, review your site and ask yourself the following questions. Determine whether your site needs improvement. Success could be as simple as making one or two of the changes recommended below.

Do you lack knowledge or experience in your niche market?

Just because your auntie had a double hip replacement 10 years ago does not qualify you to give advice on that topic, unless you are an orthopedic surgeon.

Anyone searching for “hip replacement surgery” on Google wants and deserves information published by medical professionals. If your credibility isn’t immediately shot by that domain address, it will be as soon as your visitor attempts to confirm your identity and credentials on your “About Us” page.

People buy from people they like and trust. Build credibility with your visitors by working with topics about which you are knowledgeable, or about which you are willing to gain expertise.

Does your site’s appearance or lack of order turn people away?

Does that olive-on-pink color scheme really appeal to the Prada crowd? If visitors can look beyond the amateur “look and feel,” will they find what they want easily from amongst the 50 banner ads on your home page?

You have approximately three seconds to engage your visitor. Greet them with a pleasing appearance. Also make sure that your site’s theme and objective are congruent and immediately apparent. Navigation should be categorical and consistent throughout your site.

If you find it difficult to make an objective assessment, ask for a brutally honest review of your site from an experienced webmaster, preferably a super-affiliate.

Do you rely on a single source of income?

Affiliate programs can and do change their terms of agreement. I’ve seen commission rates cut in half and some affiliate programs shut down with no advance warning. “Google AdSensers” should also beware. Many experienced surfers now click Back buttons rather than support sites whose only purpose is to promote Google’s advertisers.

Hedge your bets. Successful affiliates build comparison or review sites that help visitors make informed choices about a variety of products offered by different merchants.

Do you sell rather than endorse products?

“ABC Widget is the BEST-ever widget in the whole history of widgets! No other widget even comes close. Buy ABC Widget NOW!!!!!”

You wouldn’t buy in to that kind of hype and neither will your visitors. Give your visitors credit for knowing that no product or service is ever perfect. Be honest. Endorse your merchants’ products with informative and balanced product reviews.

Do you waste time promoting two-tier programs to other affiliates?

For every $1,000 dollars I earn promoting a merchant’s products as an affiliate, I may earn a buck through the efforts of webmasters I referred to the program.

Invest your time and effort relative to your earnings. Promote those products and services that make you money and let other affiliates find their own programs.

Are you burning up rent or grocery money on pay-per-click campaigns?

The fastest way to the PPC poorhouse is to use generic ad copy that sends all traffic to your home page.

Prequalify visitors by mentioning a specific product or type of product in your ad title, then send them to a landing page that promotes that product. Test your campaigns by sending 250 to 1,000 clicks to the page. Determine your conversion rate then, set your maximum cost per click. Control advertising expenditures by setting daily budget, keyword targeting and negative keywords options.

Are you wasting good traffic?

Do you want to quintuple your earnings and your conversion rate? Then build a list.

Create an auto-responder series and encourage visitors to sign up for a free downloadable report or weekly tips. Invite subscribers to revisit your site by following up with topical information, new product and discount offers.

Invest an hour or two each week to communicate with your current subscribers. It is cheaper, more valuable and more fun than building new PPC campaigns to attract more nameless traffic.

Does your site fail to stack up against the competition?

What sets super-affiliates – the 5 percent of affiliates who sell 95 percent of a program’s products – apart from their peers?

Low-earning affiliates use the same old merchant copy or private-label rights articles to save time and energy; super-affiliates write their own articles, reviews and endorsements. Super-affiliates provide contact information and answer visitors’ questions. They create forums to build community and improve visitor retention rates. Super-affiliates survey their visitors and then give them what they want.

Give your visitors more than they expect and they’ll return the favor.

Do your visitors know you? Although your site may be hugely informative, it may lack repeat visitors because it fails to entertain or provoke curiosity.

The remedy is simple: Brand yourself. Stand apart from the vast majority of sites on the Web, which are completely boring and anonymous. Inject your humorous, witty or even curmudgeonly personality.

Are you working from a plan? Are you patient and persistent?

As the old saying goes, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” Plan your site from the ground up before registering a domain or opening your HTML editor. Act on and stick with your plan.

Also, when you give up on a project too soon, you guarantee failure. So, put any unrealistic expectations of overnight riches aside, accept that there is work to do and stay with your project for the long haul.

Use the points above to determine whether your site hits or misses the mark. Implement the recommended solutions if required.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s a safe bet that you will make some along the way. It’s not likely that any one mistake will kill your affiliate business. Simply correct the error and go on. The worst mistake a new affiliate can make is not to learn from their mistakes. The best thing that you can do, however, is to learn from the mistakes of others.

All mistakes are just opportunities in disguise.

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

The Passion of the Site

All the planning in the world won’t make up for a lack of interest.

My financial services affiliate site has hit the skids. Let’s take stock and I’ll show you how it ended up in the poorhouse.

Before I launched the site, I did my research. I discovered that the highestpaying merchants in Commission Junction’s Financial Services category rose to the top when results were sorted by sale. In early February of this year, for example, E-Loan paid a hefty $150 commission per funded motorcycle loan and $60 to $90 per funded auto purchase loan. Commissions for a qualified mortgage refinance application were between $50 and $75.

E-Loan defines a “qualified application” as one with “all necessary fields filled in, including a valid name and social security number for a loan product that can be offered by E-Loan or one of its partner lenders.”

Talk about easy money! Referred visitors to the E-Loan site don’t have to buy a thing. As long as they can type their information correctly into the application form blanks, you could be raking in the big bucks.

In addition, I found that Google AdSensor did especially well with financial sites. When Google AdWords recommends that advertisers place a minimum bid of $5 for keywords like “credit card” and “loans” just to get their ads displayed, AdSense revenues on the same terms are rich and rewarding.

And goodness knows there was no shortage of credit demand. According to Overture’s Keyword Selector Tool, almost 900,000 surfers searched for terms including the phrase “credit card” in December 2005. About the same number searched for “loan,” while the keyword “mortgage” topped the charts with 1,317,728 queries in the same month. One might conclude that the number of credit seekers is inflated during the Christmas spending frenzy. But how many more people need credit solutions when the bills arrive in January?

Furthermore, the market for credit certainly showed no sign of decline. According to an ACNielsen survey released on Jan. 24, Americans are among the world’s most cash-strapped people. After basic living expenses are paid and discretionary items bought, nearly a quarter of Americans (22 percent) have no money left at the end of the month. At 19 percent, Canadians came in a close third behind Portugal, which tied the U.S. for first place.

Let’s review: high commissions and a huge, hungry market – that should have been a one-way ticket to Easy Street. Maybe the site was the problem.

The Right Stuff

When you visit the site, you see a nice design that includes the requisite number of pictures of people jumping for joy.

Site navigation is consistent throughout and the categorical structure is simple, limiting a visitor’s choice to credit cards, credit repair, credit reports, debt consolidation and loans on the first tier. Specific credit card and loan types are made available on the second tier.

Because we didn’t want to overwhelm visitors with too many complicated options, an Editor’s Top Pick is included at the top of every product page, and the number of choices per category is limited.

Informative articles including “What To Consider Before Approaching Lenders” and “5 Killer Steps to Avoid Credit Card SCAMS” are posted to educate and motivate users to visit merchants who will help ease their financial burden. Credit card and savings calculators are available to figure out how long it will take to pay off loans and how much interest can be earned from saving. A glossary defines unsecured credit card, balance transfers and more than 35 other important financial terms and concepts. Contact, Privacy Policy, Disclaimer and About Us pages are all in place.

Last but not least, there is an opt-in form on every page that offers a chance to sign up for my newsletter, “FREE Money-Saving Tips & Credit Advice.” Subscribers receive an eight-part e-course delivered over a period of three weeks. The e-course covers topics such as applying for credit, mortgage lending and debt consolidation. It also goes into moneysaving hints and tips, how to repair bad credit, and saving for retirement.

So far, so good. The site is rich in information and other incentives to keep visitors interested. After receiving the last installment of the e-course, however, subscribers never hear from me again.

What a mistake! Especially since building relationships by regularly communicating with my subscribers has always been the lifeblood of my affiliate marketing business. Even my merchant partners confirm that my lists are some of the most productive they’ve ever seen.

Readers of my affiliate marketing newsletter or book will attest to the fact that I harp constantly about the need to establish a trust relationship with their audiences. During site reviews, I tell webmasters who haven’t placed a lead-capture form on their site to either build a list or go out of business. Those who act on the warning see their conversion rates soar. For example, one webmaster whom I convinced to install a lead-capture form later remarked, “Holy cow dung! I’ve already got 1,000 subscribers and make $2,500 whenever I send a broadcast. Thank you, Ros!”

OK, he didn’t say “cow dung,” but the rest of the message is verbatim.

The Root of the Problem

So, why didn’t I follow my own advice and write a regular newsletter for my credit and loan site?

Well, I discovered that chasing the almighty dollar doesn’t work. When I ignored my first rule of business, “follow your passion,” the second rule, “build relationships,” was impossible to follow without unacceptable compromise.

Although I am passionate about helping people improve their financial situation and can write all day long about wealth-building strategies and techniques, the dry-as-toast subject of credit and loans doesn’t exactly fuel my fire. Call me Pollyanna, but the thought of encouraging debt just feels wrong.

While I could hire a ghostwriter to write a year-long broadcast series, proofreading the material would be a huge yawn, and this Pollyanna would balk at the sham. Worse, I’d live in perpetual dread of having to research and answer subscribers’ questions.

Boredom, drudge work and dread. My goodness, but doesn’t that sound exactly like a J-O-B? What a foolish choice to make when I already had a proven formula for highly profitable affiliate sites.

Learn from my mistake. Pick a topic you love, chat with newsletter subscribers who share your interests, and then say, “Goodbye debt, hello AAA credit ratings!”

By the way, if you are passionate about the credit and loan niche, I know of a slightly-used website in which you might be interested.

ROSALIND GARDNER is a super-affiliate who’s been in the business since 1998. She’s also the author of The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 in One Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online.

Four Ways to Make More Money

Have you ever wondered why big Web sites like AOL, Yahoo and MSN don’t run many cost-per-action (CPA) deals in their ad spaces?

It’s simple: They don’t have to. They make much more money selling ads based on impressions rather than the number of customers or leads generated. Who wouldn’t prefer to get paid for just showing the ad instead of having to rely on it really performing?

If a large property can’t sell all its ad space, even at discounted remnant ad rates, it might throw in a CPA deal here and there, but that’s a rare exception.

On the other hand, the most common way to compensate an affiliate is through a CPA deal. A merchant who runs an affiliate program can pretty much choose its own acquisition cost because it only pays for results. It’s rare that an advertiser’s affiliate program has the highest acquisition cost of all its channels. Instead, affiliate programs are seen as a way of acquiring customers at the lowest possible cost. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But the same company might be willing to spend two to three times the fixed CPA acquisition cost to acquire the same customer from CPM-based (cost per thousand viewers) ads on large Internet properties. Why? Because low-cost affiliate programs offset the costs of higher CPM campaigns and offline channels. Together, they result in an acceptable overall acquisition cost.

I’m not saying that you should start hiring sales reps and putting together a media kit for your sites. But you might be very well served by looking at additional revenue streams such as CPM and CPC income, or something called coregistrations.

Here are four potential additional revenue streams for your site.

Use An Ad Network

It makes all the sense in the world for a smaller site to outsource ad sales. There are a lot of advertising networks out there that will sell your ad space for you for a cut. If they have good advertisers, your smaller site may become part of large ad buy by a well-known brand.

Of course, there are some downsides. You might have to give up as much as 50 percent of the ad revenue. And it can take forever to get paid, because you get paid after the ad network gets paid. But, all in all, joining an ad network might be very worthwhile if you can get accepted.

How do you qualify for that? Well, requirements vary. It helps if you can show you have relevant traffic, focused content, high traffic and a professional look and feel.

Pay-Per-Click Search

Another way to generate income is to get accepted in a content network for contextual advertising. You drop a piece of code onto your pages, and the advertising network will serve to your site text-based ads that are relevant to your content. Take a look at pay-per-click engines such as Google, Overture, Kanoodle and FindWhat.

You will then tap into a pool of advertisers who might not even have a standard affiliate program, but who are willing to pay a premium to get the clicks your pages have to offer.

Most pay-per-click networks only display the top three to four bids on a specific keyword on syndicated sites like yours. This ensures that you always get the highest earnings per click that the search engines have to offer for a specific keyword.

Even after you split the revenue, it can turn out to be a very good deal.

Also, the classified ad format that pay-per-click engines uses tends to work very well. Why? Users like them. They have blue links. And blue hyperlinks are the only ad formats that have consistently worked since the early days of the Web.

Sometimes you might make more from the revenue from the contextual text links than the main offer you’re promoting on the page. You need to test and watch your numbers carefully though.

Build A Quality Email List

If you only make money by driving traffic to advertisers who pay you on performance, then why not get some repeat revenue from them?

Build an email address list to make repeat offers. Good email is not dead. If you have a visitor to one of your sites, you should provide them with enough value so they give you their email address to stay in touch. Make sure your visitors opt in, so that you’re not contributing to the notorious spam problem.

Think about what would appeal enough to your visitors to make them want to hear from you again. Is it content on a particular topic? A special report featuring a buyer’s guide of the top 10 gadgets in your particular space? Special offers or coupons from your advertisers? Getting names and addresses for snail mail is even better.

Add Quality Coregistrations

What are coregistrations? Basically it means that you’re adding a number of checkboxes to your email form so that partners or advertisers can feature their offers. You get paid for every name your form generates for your advertisers.

There has been quite a bit of trading and selling of names with coregistrations that has diluted the quality of coregistration data and has sometimes given coregistrations a bad reputation. But the basic concept works as long as you don’t abuse it with 15 or 20 prechecked boxes on your form like many sweepstakes sites did in the past.

The best route to go is probably outsourcing. A number of companies let you add coregistrations to your registration path that completely blend into your own design.

That means your visitors will both sign up for your list and be added to a number of other lists through a third-party-hosted registration script. You’re basically outsourcing the whole management of coregistrations on your site to a company that will get advertisers and manage the data for you.

Bottom Line

You deserve to get paid as much as possible, don’t you? Try adding these other revenue streams in addition to the standard CPA ad. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.

OLA EDVARDSSON has extensive experience as an affiliate. He is also CEO of the Internet marketing agency Performancy Inc.