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Advertiser and Affiliate Program Review for Webmasters

by: Shawn K. Hall

I am frequently asked what website sponsors and advertisers I recommend. Your website or business may enjoy the capacity to obtain direct advertising revenue, in which case you will receive 100% of the income generated by advertisement placement. However, not everybody or every website lends itself to having specific dedicated advertisers. For those there are innumerable affiliate programs, which abound on the internet.

Here you will find a review of my own personal experiences and advice with ad affiliate programs. This list is by no means exhaustive, nor could one ever be.

Kontera

Kontera pays 50% and is a "tolerable" alternative if you don't want to have the ad-looking blocks on your page taking up space. The Kontera contextual placement leaves a lot to be desired, however, so it should only be used on content you are not emotionally involved with.

For example, from a phrase like "Web design services" you could expect to get ads related to housekeeping and bumblebees. When you're emotionally tied to your articles this really rubs you the wrong way.

Well, I don't think there's a better way to say it so I just will: Konteras developers are morons. The way the Kontera advertising script file functions, it downloads over 150kb for every page view. A well-designed and reasonable length page, including graphics, should be, at most, 120kb - so adding this extra 150kb (or more) for every page you've placed ads on your site will increase the load time for all page views to at least double. Probably more. This means that your ads alone will extend the time for a single page to load on dial-up by at least an extra 35 seconds, and as much as 1 minute 15 seconds. For each page.

Kontera, as a contextual advertising system, cannot be used with Adsense.

Chitika

Get Chitika eMiniMalls

Chitika pays 60%, assuming you can somehow convince people to actually waste their time looking at it. The theory behind Chitika's flagship product, "eMiniMalls", is that people will visit your site, look at these obvious advertisements that truly live up to their names, and somehow be enticed to actually interact with them and maybe, just maybe, buy something.

I've been told that if you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all. Along that vein, I'd like to say that, if you're a teenage web neophyte on a broadband connection, or a web developer wanting to play with a "release" level JSON application, you'll want to take a look at Chitika. For the rest of you, think of it as a very busy mall in downtown Chicago where the store you wanted to go to is always at the other end of the mall, and closes before you get there.

Maybe it's just the sites we create and manage, but this hasn't been raising any money for us at all (less than $15 total over more than six months - before we gave up on it), but several weeks after the day we started placing Chitika ads on our sites our Adsense income nearly doubled.

We were hesitant to remove the Chitika eMiniMalls from our sites, in case they were somehow responsible for our Adsense increase, but after removing the Chitika ads we found that our Adsense ads continued to climb. Whew. Leaving them up was a waste of good real estate.

Why bother? Well, I can imagine certain sites doing well with Chitika. If yours is a review site for a specific type of expensive technology product (like cell phones, mp3 players, or HDTV systems), you may do well with their service.

Chitika can be used with Adsense only if you explicitly provide products to advertise in their product array. If you use "Adsense for Search" then you must also disable the search box within Chitika, as Google explicitly forbids use of any other search provider on the same pages as "Adsense for Search". If you do not provide a list of products (or leave autosearch enabled) then it tends to always return technology-related ads - stuff like laptops and iPods, but is still not contractually compatible with Adsense.

Text-Link-Ads

Text-Link-Ads doesn't work the same way as most other ad services. The "ads" themselves are text-based, but are bid-rate and periodic. The interesting difference here is that you essentially go to the site and register an article or other content from your site (entire sites don't sell well), multiple pages are okay. Topical context is the only way to sell.

Included among your competition are sites like Topix and UnixReview, where the content of the site really does drive the ads. And the theory behind TLA, too.

Text-Link-Ads requires server-side scripting of some form to actually download the remote advertisement block for display. It is presented as html only, no images or client-side script. Links are included to the advertisers site which displays as actual html code on your own site, not as a linked javascript or something else. This has the benefit (for the advertiser) of a "real link," which will be counted and incorporated as a link by link-counting search engines and spiders - like Alexa and Google.

If your site, or certain sections of it, have a high PageRank or Alexa Rating then you have a much better chance of selling space on this service since that is how these advertisers place value on the targeted content. And it pays relatively well - at least $50/mo per ad, with the potential for significantly more depending on your traffic and focus.

Text-Link-Ads is compatible with Adsense since the ads themselves are not contextually generated (even if the vendors themselves are appropriate for the content), and Text-Link-Ads are not pay-per-click ads.

Clickbank

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Clickbank pays anywhere from 10% to 99% for the linked materials, all of which are simply affiliate links to products you preselect. These can be used with Adsense. You have to have a certain volume of selling or they will deduct money from your account every couple weeks. And you can "sell" products (like ebooks, code and software) through their interface as well.

Overall, this isn't a bad gig, but many of the products have that "spammy" feel that entice people into buying using FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), instead of any tangible benefits of the product or service. This is definitely an "impulse buy" clearinghouse.

ShareASale, Managed Performance Marketing

ShareASale pays either flat rates or a percentage of the sale for transactions. Like LinkShare and ClickBank, this program provides access to some vendors that are simply not available elsewhere. These can be used with Adsense, too.

We haven't had a lot of luck with ShareASale, but that could be because we just haven't pushed it. There are over 2,000 programs available and over 500 of those are exclusively available on ShareASale, ranging from pay-per-sale to pay-per-lead to pay-per-click. By far the best payouts are percentages from actual sales (of course), which is the highest number of available programs. Payouts are as much as $500 per transaction (yes, seriously) or five times the sale price. It could happen. ;)

LinkShare Referral Program

The LinkShare Referral Program pays anywhere from cents to dollars for product referrals or impressions, and has over 500 advertisers available. If you want to be able to promote specific products or vendors (like LEGO), with much higher margins than Amazon, you probably want to use LinkShare. These can be used with Adsense. While there are no minumums to join the LinkShare network, you do have to apply to each advertiser individually and some of those will have stronger requirements. And since some of them are the actual vendors, they may not have much of an understanding of Internet marketing. For example, one page on one of our sites is in the first position for the related Google search terms, but when we applied for inclusion in their LinkShare program, the vendor refused. Personally, I think they made a huge mistake, but it's not my place to say. Sigh.

Overall, this is pretty good, but their interface is less than perfect (some link-generating tools are buggy) and some of the affiliate systems have very short cookie life. This means that if the user doesn't buy from the vendors' site within a short time (sometimes it's only minutes), you make nothing. The sheer number of categorized affiliate systems is awesome though, and you can market things from here that you can't find anywhere else.

AdBrite

Sign up with AdBrite

Next up is AdBrite, which promises to sell ads on your site keeping only 30% of the fees. Like Text-Link-Ads, you have the option of selecting advertisers' before they display, enabling you to selectively remove those ads which you disagree with or are direct competitors - as opposed to Google, for example, where these types of ads display until you discover and remove them.

Since this is not contextual (instead it is based on keywords you provide) and you have the authority to preapprove every ad for use on your site, this can be used in conjunction with Adsense.

Amazon

Amazon, of course, has a pretty good affiliate thing going on, but they only pay a small fraction of what you can earn by others (it starts at a mere 4%), and it is based on actual conversions, not just click-throughs. The total payout might be more per actual conversion, but you have to have a very high volume to make this worthwhile.

Annette and I have been extending the Amazon links on our sites so we can use the income to support our massive video addiction. The new ad formats are working quite well. The recently released "aStore" feature also provides a very simple storefront for your websites with a mostly simple editor and the same breadth of product selection as the Amazon you know and love.

As long as you link products directly or use the aStore service, you can continue to use Adsense on the same page.

(Refresh this page to view more selections)

CafePress

Design and Sell Merchandise Online for Free

CafePress isn't so much an affiliate program as a custom printing company with a very broad selection of products (from shirts to DVDs to books to teddy bears), but they do, in fact, offer a form of affiliate program for recommending the products of others, in addition to the commissions for sales of your own designs. CafePress pays as much as 20% for affiliate referrals.

Since there is nothing contextual about the CafePress advertisements (in fact, you'll find that you have to make your own banners and product links manually), these are completely compatible with Adsense.

Adsense

Adsense ... Well, duh. Adsense provides a very worthwhile advertising mechanism.

Adsense pays you 50% ad value for legitimate click-throughs and can earn you very good money for sites with a large amount or very well targeted and professionally written content. A site with a dozen pages of quality content can earn as much as a 50,000-page site with ramblings that touch on equally as many topics. And yes, I'm speaking from experience. ;)

Adsense is so effective that people dedicate their entire coding careers to generating content targeted not to users, but to the highest value keywords within this behemoth ad network, with the goal of luring people to their sites for the sole purpose of having the user be so dissatisfied with the content that they quickly leave through an advertisement link. While this type of thing is no doubt "effective" at generating revenue, it will never result in a repeat visitor.

I'm afraid that Google Adsense is going the way of DoubleClick and Commission Junction in their data collection practices. Very invasive. I seem to be the only one that cares much about it on any of the forums I participate in, though. It's as if people don't think Google can do any wrong.

Adsense also has referral programs for themselves and for Firefox, and can provide a revenue-generating search feature for your site (Adsense for Search), which works exceptionally well on sites that are already indexed by Google.

In closing...

These are the affiliate programs I currently use in any fashion from an insiders perspective. There are other vendors (like Commission Junction) who I, as a website visitor, refuse to be involved with, so I would not use or recommend them. Others, like Christian Books and the now defunct Mentura/FamilyPass (I won't waste your time with that story) have affiliate programs, too, but have only very specific vertical markets where they work well. (FamilyPass has gone out of business and is no longer an affiliate option.)

Some things you should be aware of in advance are the linking strategies and cookie durations of affiliate programs you use. For example, Christian Books only includes a 45 minute cookie duration, so it is entirely likely that your visitors will have timed out before they have selected all the items they want to purchase and checkout, invalidating the referral. In those situations you don't get paid. Others, like Clickbank have a "very well known" linking scheme which is blocked by many advertisement filters, preventing you from generating revenue from users of those services.

If you are interested in signing up under any of these consider using the affiliate referral programs on a site you like who promotes them (like this one), so we can get the kickback if a vendor provides one. Google, for example, provides a $100 incentive for referring others (if the new site earns $100 within the first 6 months), Chitika offers you 10% of the click value of sub-affiliates for a year, I think. Others do anything from a progressive MLM scheme (Clickbank) to laugh heartily in your face.

Regards,
Shawn K. Hall
http://12PointDesign.com/
http://ReliableAnswers.com/

Money is the root of all evil.
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