The traditional route into affiliate marketing was always via the creation of a blog, gaining experience in growing and converting an audience, and then perhaps learning how to buy traffic. Does that approach still work?

Blogging is here to stay. The blogosphere continues to evolve, for over two decades now, as a key platform for content origination, distribution and monetization. However, since the first blogs appeared in the late 1990s, things have dramatically changed.

In 2016, engagement is everything. Simple traffic numbers and page views are no longer enough to monetize a blog—people have to interact, care and share. Can the blog attract and retain readers? Does the blog create a community and give readers a reason to return? Does the blog earn enough rapport to ignite Twitter shares, Facebook posts, and social media discussion? Strong engagement rates also equate to SEO value, lending to greater natural traffic, a sense of authority, and further engagement.

In 2016, we also see more high-quality visual content (including video blogging, infographics and social sharing images). Bloggers are using less text and more imagery to boost engagement, find greater performance in Facebook’s ever-evolving newsfeed algorithms and meet audience expectation. We see this trend more broadly within the social space—think of the billion-dollar businesses built on image sharing alone, such as Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest.

In 2016, we also see the rise of the influencer. With a blogger’s territory today being one of outreach—building engagement through adding authentic value—a diverse skillset is needed that brings value to both audiences and advertisers. Influencers spin together content and imagery, video and pop culture trends and feed this into a powerful backend of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram followers, elevating their art through extensive social networking. Influencers drum up engagement, increase authority value and the viral nature of the blog.

Thought leader, @BryanKramer tells us that every second two new blogs are created. The boom of online content and social connectivity has forced blogs today to deliver real value and engagement—to do this by leveraging those that can inspire and influence—if they are to cut through the noise and be heard.

The FTC seems to have been more aggressively enforcing their rules over the last couple of years. How has that affected affiliate marketing?

First of all, thank you FTC. The FTC is not only keeping the digital marketing industry honest and protecting consumers—it is protecting the credibility and reputation of the affiliate marketing industry.

The FTC prohibits unfair or deceptive advertising, inclusive of digital. Simply put, advertising must tell the truth. It must not mislead and must not omit relevant information or imply something is true when it is not. Advertising must be evidence-based.

Things get a bit bumpy where FTC policies evolve to hold all partners accountable that are involved in a fraudulent advertising campaign. For example, if an advertiser is accused of making false claims to a consumer, affiliates promoting that advertiser could also be implicated in a prosecution.

Beyond disclosure, honesty, and generally doing the right thing, the bottom line for affiliate marketers is to be informed. Know who you are partnering with. Understand their business, their business claims and their reputation—particularly if their business pertains to health or children (areas the FTC focuses on).

Disclosure statements are a must. They can be serious or funny. John Chow shows us how to do funny. The Performance Marketing Association (PMA) also provides a wealth of up to date, informative whitepapers and information and any updates from the FTC on the PMA’s website.

We have seen a number of networks introduce new platform features or interfaces recently. Is technology investment by networks increasing? If so, why?

Yes, as our industry evolves, so do the technologies and philosophies that support it.

The affiliate marketing industry has needed better solutions for customizable partner attribution, cross-device and platform tracking, mobile, merchant brand control and coupon compliance. Greater transparency and out-of-the-box thinking—within partnerships and promotional methods—has also been an important and evolving trend networks have needed to step up and support.

For some networks (such as LinkConnector), progressive technological development has been a driving force since inception; for others, it has been a more recent phenomenon of keeping up (either by innovating or consolidating into or acquiring innovative partners). Merchants and affiliates are expecting more when seeking a network partner. Marketplace opportunities will diminish for those networks offering simple last-click-only attribution, or a merchant guessing game as to where their brand is being seen and represented.

Jackie Bates is a zealous marketer with nine years of marketing leadership experience at LinkConnector. She’s been with the company since they opened doors in 2004, loyal to the power of LC’s visionary technology like online attribution and coupon compliance capabilities. As Director of Marketing, she drives PR and marketing strategy for new LC technologies and features and also works directly with key LC customers to maximize their growth using LC’s platform. Jackie has a background and love of all things content, search and social. Offline, she teaches Hot Hatha yoga and loves rough-housing with her two sons.