Jackie Bates from LinkConnector “sat” down with me and answered ten questions. I’ve been an affiliate for over a decade now and it’s been many years since I’ve worked with an affiliate network. For this piece I “re-signed” up with five of the top networks, and all five agreed to do an interview, however, LinkConnector was the only network to follow through.
Regardless if you are new in the business or you’re a veteran like me, the insights Jackie shares are well worth reading. I give my commentary throughout to give you my view points of Jackie’s answers.
Q: What benefits does an affiliate receive by working with a network vs. working straight with the merchant?
By working with an Affiliate Marketing Network, an affiliate will reap many benefits:
- The affiliate will not have to negotiate individual merchant contracts. Instead, they will benefit from having access to a large and diverse group of merchant programs with pre-negotiated terms and payouts.
JW: This is more important than you may realize. I’ve negotiated my fair share of contracts with merchants and most of them have not only been painful, but expensive. Often, you’ll incur thousands of dollars in legal fees before you even start to market the product.
- The network typically organizes its merchant programs by industry category and makes them searchable by keyword. Finding the best-matched programs should be an easy task for the affiliate.
JW: For example, if you were going to put together a review site, because they are organized by category, you can find the 3-4 products you need to fill your review site with all with one network. This makes the “admin” side of affiliate/CPA marketing easier.
- The network provides standardized, reliable tracking across all merchant campaigns. An affiliate can also have custom integration of their tracking system across all campaigns.
JW: Their tracking is good, as long as you use their image pixel tracker. I found in my testing that if you just used the a href string only and did a redirect or a “bounce,” the tracking would be lost. This is most commonly found in their “naked link” technology. It should be noted that while this is a drawback on how I prefer to drive traffic, Tara McCommons and Susan Bridgers, my contacts at LinkConnector, both went out of their way to work on a solution or workaround with what I wanted to accomplish. It is something Commission Junction has never done for me.
- The network provides access to a management console with standardized, consolidated reporting across all merchant campaigns.
- An affiliate receives one convenient check each month for all merchant earnings. The affiliate can depend on regular, predictable payments.
JW: Getting paid on-time is a must as an affiliate, as often there is a 30-45 day waiting period from when you make the sale to when you get paid. For example, a few years ago when LinkShare had internal problems and affiliate didn’t get paid for a few months put tremendous stress on affiliates. I’ve never experienced an issue getting paid by LinkConnector.
- The network pushes for fair validation from its merchants and provides fraud control.
- The network chases down payments on behalf of its affiliates.
JW: In other words, if the merchant isn’t paying commissions, LinkConnector steps in and ensures it happens. I still have an ongoing issues with a substantial payment Yahoo! owes me through Commission Junction dating back May of 2007.
Q: What are the main “Points of Difference” that separates LinkConnector from the other networks?
One key way LinkConnector differentiates itself from other networks is through its affiliate support. Affiliates are equal partners in the LinkConnector Network. Unlike most other networks, LinkConnector employs a dedicated Affiliate Relations team that provides steadfast support and representation to its affiliates. They negotiate for higher payouts and more competitive terms and provide technical support. LinkConnector also remains dedicated to developing new tools and technologies that enable affiliates to optimize their campaigns and streamline their workload. These include the Affiliate Widget Builder, Affiliate Connectionsâ„¢, and LinkConnectorâ€™s Promotions Feed.
JW: I can personally attest to this. Of the five networks I “tested” over the last 30 days, one of the things I did was I started at least one campaign with each network, found a problem (or created one), called for resolution, then stopped marketing the campaign. The support at LinkConnector was the only one of the five who returned every call the same business day (often within an hour) and they are the only network who has followed up with me asking what they can do to get the dead campaign active again.
LinkConnector sets itself apart, further, with its base of Internet Retailer Top 500 Merchants and big industry brands, such as Getty Images, Peapod, PRWeb, and Reunion.com (soon to be MyLife.com). Affiliates will find many top-performing and exclusive offers across a multitude of niches that they will not find in other networks.
LinkConnector also sets itself apart with its focus on quality over quantity. With its in-depth fraud protection systems in place and strict policies concerning fraudulent behavior (for both merchants and affiliates), LinkConnector disengages from mainstream thinking. This philosophy enables LinkConnector to place a strong emphasis on long-term, sustainable relationships.
Q: How does LinkConnector handle fraud and have you seen an increase/decrease over the last six months?
LinkConnector employs a zero tolerance fraud policyâ€”a â€œone strike and youâ€™re outâ€ policy. LinkConnector removes any merchant or affiliate deemed to be fraudulent from its network entirely (not just the campaigns they were participating in). LinkConnectorâ€™s fraud policy is backed by several proprietary technologies, including Front Door Fraud Protection, Source Checker, Click Validation, and Data Pattern Matching.
LinkConnector has seen an increase in fraudulent applicants over the last six months and has responded by tightening up its criteria rules for inclusion in the network. LinkConnector manages all the network applications through its Front Door Fraud Protection (FDFP) system, which prevents affiliates that are likely to commit fraud from entering the network. Currently, FDFP rejects about 60% of all affiliate applicants.
JW: One of the biggest issues with fraud right now is using Craig’s List to hire “secret shoppers” with disposable Visa cards to make purchases online and the affiliate getting the lead payout. I’ll stop the example there as I don’t want to give anyone ideas, but it is good to see a company with a zero tolerance policy with fraud … as it is getting worse it seems.
Q: Do you work with new Affiliates/CPA marketers?
Yes. We welcome the opportunity to work with new affiliate partners.
Q: Do you offer online training for new affiliates?
LinkConnector has an Affiliate Relations team in place to support active affiliates. They address affiliatesâ€™ questions and concerns and provide some training on LinkConnectorâ€™s interface and technologies. LinkConnector also provides Help documentation inside the interface as a quick reference for its merchants and affiliates. However, at this time, LinkConnector does not offer in-depth online training.
We plan to create a Resource Center, providing tips and access to trusted vendors for affiliates and merchants. This is still in the development phase.
JW: This is one of the weakest areas in LinkConnector. Their help system needs to be upgraded, and having a Resource Center would be a huge plus.
Q: What are a few resources you would recommend for a new affiliate vs. a veteran affiliate?
New affiliates would benefit from these resources:
Free Tools, Tips & Articles:
Google Webmaster Tools
KeywordSpy – Keyword Research
Market Leap – Search Engine Marketing Tools
Technorati – Blog Tools
Wordtracker – Keyword Research
Affiliate Programs Directory:
Seasoned affiliates would also benefit from these tools and from staying plugged into the Affiliate Marketing forums, such as those listed above.
Q: What three things would you most recommend to someone just breaking into this business?
Be a marketer. Learn about the merchant products and services you are promoting and find out how to pre-qualify your audience. Also, find products and offers you are passionate about and believe in. This will make learning about them and believing in them a much more enjoyable and smoother process. It will also go a long way in preventing burnout.
Affiliates also must work as professionals if they are to have success with merchants and Affiliate Marketing Networks. This is an understanding most Super Affiliates now embrace.
Affiliates who desire success must weather the blows. Rules will change in PPC search engines, merchants will drop their campaigns or restrict new keywords, and organic search engine rules will change. Affiliates must be able to continuously stay abreast of the latest trends in search engine marketing and affiliate marketing. They must constantly learn, grow, and ride through the bumps.
JW: Great advice. For some reason, CPA and Affiliate marketing at the rep of “just throw up a site, send traffic and make money.” It’s like any other business. It takes skill, perseverance and common sense. Appeal to the prospect with a solution that makes sense to them with an offer they can understand and more often than not, you’ll be successful.
Q: Do you offer exclusive offers or increased incentives for top-tier (5-star) affiliates?
Yes. While LinkConnector does not require exclusivity of its merchants, many merchants do choose to work exclusively with LinkConnector, or run exclusive campaigns, coupons, or payouts with LinkConnector. While these campaigns are open to all affiliates, LinkConnector Affiliates that earn in the top percentage will have their own personal affiliate managers. These dedicated managers will advocate on behalf of their affiliates and negotiate for increased payouts and improved terms. Top performing affiliates may also benefit from more frequent payments and exclusive tools like the real-time reporting console.
JW: Take it from me, when you are testing, having real-time reporting is a must.
Q: What, in your opinion, are the top 2-3 reasons affiliates fail?
Affiliates that try to game the system will ensure they are not long term players. By not adhering to merchant search engine marketing guidelines (e.g., bidding on restricted keywords), or generating fraudulent lead traffic, for example, affiliates will find themselves ousted out of merchant programs and affiliate networks.
Affiliates also must treat their affiliate programs as they would a â€˜real jobâ€™. They must do extensive research, learning all caveats of the industry, and continue to do so. Without this constantly refreshing knowledge base to draw on, affiliates will be defenseless in a quickly evolving industry.
Also, affiliates must put their affiliate managers to work for them. By not doing so, they will leave opportunities on the table and will work harder for fewer results.
Q: Have you seen any notable changes with the current recession in the CPA space?
CPA, in terms of lead generation, is only one portion of our business, and recent changes have not been significant. The effect of the recession on CPA in terms of Pay-for-Performance Marketing or Affiliate Marketing, has also been small from what we have observed. While some merchants have been forced to place more stringent budget caps on their affiliate efforts, for the most part, we have found that the Pay-for-Performance model has effectively safeguarded against the poor economy.
Also, with a volatile economy, more consumers may be going online to shop around and seek out coupons and better deals. This market has created an exceptional opportunity for couponing affiliate marketers. Coupons are essential marketing tools for merchants to provide their affiliates with in this economy.
To mitigate risk in this economic climate, it is also important to establish high quality, trusted partnerships between merchants, affiliates, and the network. This in turn establishes sustainable relationshipsâ€”the type that will last through any economic condition.
JW: Personally, I have seen a SIGNIFICANT difference in conversion rates over the last three months, but mostly in the month of February. Any product over $79.00 had taken a HUGE hit in terms of conversion – even with “no risk” offers or coupons. Prospects are clicking, but they aren’t buying. Many affiliates are seeing their margins getting squeezed. If the trend continues in March, there could be a huge change in the market as many affiliates will drop out.
I want to personally thank Jackie from LinkConnector for taking the time and giving us more insight in the CPA/Affiliate space from the Network’s perspective. I highly recommend joining the LinkConnector network by clicking the link below. Yes, it is an affiliate link and any money made from this Blog post will be donated to charity.