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Online Ads 101: Affiliates

The last few weeks, we’ve talked about a few different ways to make money online with your website: PPC (pay per click) ads, display ads, and ad networks. The idea, of course, is not to overwhelm but show you how some of your favorite people online make money when you visit their website. This post is the last in our series.

Affiliate ads, or basically selling a product or service for a commission, is not a new idea. Many people do this in real life (think of any sort of party at which you could also buy things: cookware, jewelry, adult toys, etc.)

Online affiliates are even easier as you don’t have to clean your house or have suitcases of product to do them. Sometimes an affiliate will pay when someone clicks on a link to their site from your website, sometimes only when a purchase is made. Fees paid out can be a commission (percentage of total) or a flat fee per customer, depending on the service. There are literally thousands of affiliate programs (and if you have a unique product or service, you can set one up. More info on setting up an affiliate program here: http://lkrsocialmedia.com/2011/09/how-to-create-an-affiliate-program-that-doesnt-suck/)



The most popular online affiliate program is Amazon. When you sign up, they give you a way to make special links to products on Amazon.com. Like the new desk chair you bought? Make an affiliate link. Like the sweet and spicy tea you keep in your office? Make an affiliate link. Then you post these links places: social media, blog, website, email newsletter, etc. If someone follows your link and buys your product, you get 2-3% commission (up to 10% if you sell more).

For fun once, I made an Amazon Affiliate account and shared a couple links on Facebook (to my personal profile) over the course of a few weeks. You know, I never did get that $1 and change from Amazon…

I made $1 as an Amazon Affiliate. Stop being jealous.

I made $1 as an Amazon Affiliate. Stop being jealous.

(I guess I just felt slimy doing this, which is why it ended up being a three day experiment without much thought put into it and yielded such unimpressive results.)

But I do know plenty of bloggers who post, say, links where you can buy books they are reading or write ‘affiliate’ blog posts linking to products. It’s possible, especially if the thing you want to sell isn’t made by you (ex: You want to recommend people buy a Seth Godin book but aren’t a bookstore or Seth Godin.)



Amazon doesn’t have high profit margins so they can’t give you, say, 50% commission. But that’s where working directly with a smaller distributor makes sense. The more directly you work with the company selling the product, the higher your commission.

Let’s take another affiliate example. I am a pretty big Rupaul fan but I also know that Rupaul mentions sponsors, etc. on his/her/not-sure-the-proper-pronoun podcast. So I went to the Shop portion of the Rupaul website:

rupaulaffiliate

I know the writing is tiny on my screenshot but you’ll see the ‘Glamazon’ shirt can be purchased on Rupaul.com but The other items (ex: action figure) can be purchased from other websites. Tell tale sign of an affiliate, you get redirected to another website (note the URL and website design change when I click on the action figure):

Love Rupaul but not sure my love is $199 of love.

Love Rupaul but not sure my love is $199 of love.

Point is, affiliates let you recommend stuff and get paid, without having to process the payment, ship it, or really do any kind of customer service. You are middle manning it. That said, if you have an audience and that audience trusts you to recommend products, your middle manning is worth something.

If you want to see if a product you like has an affiliate program, simply type in “company name affiliate” into Google. Typing “Constant Contact affiliate” into Google got me to the CC affiliate page:

constantcontactaffilate

Affiliate marketing, when done by those who genuinely enjoy a product and want others to experience its benefits (and, let’s face it, make a buck or two in the process), is a useful marketing tool. That said, there can also be a dark side. For example, if I am a financial advisor and I sell you the IRA plan where I make commission on but there is another IRA in the world that I know is actually better for you, that’s conflict of interest territory to me. I couldn’t sleep at night doing that. But as long as you’re straight-forward about what you make money on, I think affiliates can be perfectly ethical and potentially profitable.



Online Ads 101: Ad Networks

Our previous posts about online advertising have covered pay per click and display ads. As discussed in those posts, PPC and display ads are different options in terms of types of ads (PPC means you pay when someone clicks your ad and hopefully makes a purchase, display ads offer general awareness and cost per 1000 or so impressions). This week is about ad networks, which offer a convenient method of getting your ad to a publisher. In other words, it’s less about display and more about the transaction between publisher and advertiser.



What is an ad network? An ad network is a solution to supply-demand in the world of online advertising. Ad Networks act as matchmakers that fill in the gaps for those trying to sell ads and those looking to display ads. So, you sell custom llama hats, and this llama farm is looking for advertisements, you have a 83% compatibility match! (Note: this is not literally how ad networks operate, and probably not how matchmaking works, either).

Ad networks, much like matchmakers, come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, some ad networks work specifically within certain niches (i.e. technology, home improvement, outdoor apparel, that sort of thing). Other, much larger networks are more concerned with “blanket coverage” (or, the leave no stone unturned model). There are also, as you may imagine, different options in terms of pricing and the amount of say you have about where your ad goes. Three common types of ad networks include:

Vertical/Representative: With this type of ad network, you’re allowed full control over what website(s) your ad goes on. You also might even be able to choose the position of your ad on any given website (while this sounds exhausting, it could make all the difference in avoiding unfortunate ad placements).
Blind: This is a riskier model, but they’re usually pretty cheap. As the name suggests, you have NO idea where your ad is going. This type of ad network would work for the light of budget, but not the faint of heart.
Targeted: This type of ad network uses data from a person’s browsing history and makes assumptions (age, sex, location, interests) in order to determine which ads to serve. (This article has more information on targeted ad networks and how they work).



Why would anyone be interested in ad networks?

As with anything, there are some pros and cons to explore. Perhaps the best thing about ad networks is that you don’t have to hustle your ad. It eliminates the whole door to door “Hey, can I put my ad in your window?” element to online advertising, which saves a lot of time and energy (and is great for those who hate doing this sort of sales thing in the first place). Working with an ad network may also get you in touch with businesses you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise (i.e. you’re an actor and the ad network is your agent who helps get your foot in the door with big production companies). You also don’t have to haggle over pricing with a publisher, the ad network does all of that for you.

The biggest con to using an ad network is probably the gamble. While you’re likely to save money by sending your ads to a network, you could also end up paying quite a bit. Another potential issue to watch out for is where your ads are actually going. Like I said before, some networks will let you control where your ad gets displayed, other networks won’t. If you like to have control over that sort of thing, then maybe ad networks aren’t the way to go.



 Examples of Ad Networks:

YouTube Partners: If you’re a YouTube sensation, like Dom Mazzetti or Justin Bieber, you can enable your channel for monetization. This means that your video will display relevant ads “either inside or near the video” who will pay you to display on your video(s). Of course, there are some strict rules about what videos are eligible for monetization (the good news is, if you’ve filmed your cat and there is no background music, you  could be in line to make some money). The amount you can make by becoming a YouTube partner depends on the ads that get displayed (which you don’t have any control over, but hey- money!).

YouTube_Partner

 

BlogHer: Another real life example of ad networks in action is BlogHer. As the name suggests, this is primarily geared toward women bloggers, but it isn’t a “no boys allowed” situation. How does it work? Well, BlogHer has a vast network of writers (called Influencers) and certain marketers are encouraged to join in and have their products/services/brand talked about (or maybe just featured in some sort of ad. In the description of their services, BlogHer says: “Our Influencers share your brand with their readers- in the context of their lives.” So, someone might approach BlogHer with a new celebrity product launch or a custom video recipe series, and say “Make this popular” (but more eloquent and professional). BlogHer then connects the product or service with different writers in their network, and away they go.

logo

 

There are hundreds of other ad networks out there, of all sizes, service and variety. Stay tuned next week for a post on Affiliate Ads!



Online Ads: Display Ads

onlineadsdisplayadsSo last week, we discussed PPC (or Pay Per Click) ads. Many networks have these now but the idea is you pay when people click.

But what if you don’t have an online store where people can make a purchase? What if general awareness is what you are after? What if you want the ads you serve up on your site to display depending on what people have been looking at. (Don’t act like you’ve never been freaked out where, after browsing for shoes, you’re on some complete other website and you see an ad for the very shoes you were looking at!)

Display ads started out as banner ads and they were typically wide (you know, like actual banners are). I remember when I too added my first banner ad on top of my Geocities website (if I could remember the URL of my site, I’d so go to the Wayback Machine and get the screenshot but alas, this one will have to do):

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue--net-7393

If you are also slightly nostalgic for Geocities websites, please visit this lovely blog: http://code.tutsplus.com/articles/top-10-reasons-why-the-closing-of-geocities-is-long-overdue–net-7393

Got to love the Yahoo Geocities display ad!

Now, display ads are much more comprehensive. They can be videos, animations, pictures, etc. and they can be everywhere on a website, from pop ups to sidebar items.

For display ads, you pay a certain amount of money per 1,000 impressions. (I’m over generalizing clearly.) Up until relatively recently, like the newspapers of today, you put your display ad on a website and hoped people saw it/remembered it, as you paid whether they clicked on it or not. So these ads were being served up to a wide variety of people.



Google, however, has changed all this again with a concept called ‘remarketing’. The idea is displaying these ads to people who have already been to your website. (You setup a way to collect cookies from people who have visited your site, creating what Google calls a ‘remarketing list’.) It’s definitely sneaky but you can see where it would be more effective to display an ad to someone who has been to your site than someone who has never heard of you.

Just for fun, I went to Mashable.com and took a screenshot (I am a 33 year old woman):

My Mashable experience includes a 'website in 3 minutes' post (I've been doing research on a blog post about these 'automatic' website builders) and one for Old Navy (I've been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

My Mashable experience includes a ‘website in 3 minutes’ post (I’ve been doing research on a blog post about these ‘automatic’ website builders) and one for Old Navy (I’ve been looking for some staple clothing items to fill in gaps in my closet).

I asked Kassie for fun to screenshot what she sees when she goes to Mashable.com:
kassiesmashableexperience

The takeaway, besides the fact that Kassie is way more intellectual than I seem to be, is that display ads can now be different for different website visitors. And that’s pretty cool.

So display ads are just another way to do online ads. Many of the sites that have them (like Mashable) are quite large (they have pretty detailed specs for ads for example but since they don’t have pricing, I’m guessing you have to have pretty deep pockets to play with them).

Next week, we’ll talk about a solution to this problem of not having, say, multiple ad agencies and your own sales people to sell ads on your website: ad networks.

More on display advertising on Wikipedia (of course) and Google has documentation on remarketing. If you want someone to set this up for you, our friend Colin at Root Deeper Marketing is a Google certified specialist and could totally do it for you.



Day 4: New Online Friends Research

Now that you’ve found some cool people, we’re going to take a look at how they’re using your chosen social media website.

If you go to each website, using the attached questions as a guide, you’ll make some observations. You may find a lively Twitter discussion every Tuesday morning with the hashtag #crazyaboutoils. You may see that the pictures your favorite sculptor posts on Instagram shows progressions of her work over time.

Take some notes as you look over each social media profile you followed yesterday, asking yourself the attached questions while making any other observations that stand out. Write your three takeaways which will help you hit the ground running with your social media postings.

Social Media Friends Research Notes Sheet (PDF)

My Attempt at Giving Up Online Shopping

This winter, I thought I’d try to give up online shopping for 40 days. I don’t think I spend too much money online, most of what I get is stuff I need- and I’m actually part of the 8 out of 10 Americans that participates in ecommerce (source). I even started writing this post about the experience 2 weeks in. I had to change the title of the post, though, because…well, I didn’t make it through the whole 40 days. Instead of writing about my successful endeavor, I get to write about how and why this experiment was a glorious failure.

Convenience

Perhaps the biggest hurdle going into this experiment was the knowledge that everything I needed/wanted wasn’t exactly right at my fingertips for 40 days. Instead, I’d have to be a little more thoughtful about upcoming purchases (especially since we live in a place where geographically you might have to drive a bit for certain things). This isn’t impossible, just inconvenient at times.



Mindful Internet Browsing

The thing that was surprisingly hard was how much more of a conscious effort I had to make whenever I was online. It was actually a bit jarring to realize how complacent I’ve become in my internet browsing. For instance, I’d go on Facebook and an ad for a dress or something baby related would appear in my newsfeed, so I’d usually just click on it and see what there was to see, whether or not I was planning on making a purchase. During this experiment, “window shopping” also wasn’t allowed (meaning I couldn’t just go to Amazon and put stuff in my cart to save for later)- which made things a little trickier.

Scarcity Mindset

Another thing I had to battle was a scarcity mindset. When I got emails with subject lines like “You’ll never see deals like these again,” a very small part of me almost went into panic mode. It was like hitting a tripwire in my brain and suddenly I was like, “Wait, I should probably check and see, just to be sure.” The rational part of my brain knows that next month, I’ll still be getting emails from the same companies with the same message. The irrational part of my brain desperately wanted to see what these deals were, just in case. It doesn’t sound like it should be that hard, but I was fighting against some brain wiring.



Exclusivity

The other thing that was hard to work around was making purchases on registries. Around the one-month mark for this experiment, my cousin shared her Amazon Baby Registry with the family for her upcoming baby shower. Then, we got the registry information for my brother and future SIL’s registry for their wedding this fall.  Sure, worst case I could’ve waited until the last minute to buy something, or just gone rogue and purchased some things off-registry, but as someone who just went through the whole birth thing, I understand that registry stuff can be based on needs so I try to be sensitive to that. Point is, there are a lot of things that you can only find online (some stores will even have certain products listed as “online only,” for instance).

Overall, this was a pretty interesting learning experience, even if I ultimately failed.

  1. I’m not as impervious to marketing messages as I thought. And it turns out, 71% of people believe they’ll find a better deal online than in stores (source), and it might have something to do with really good marketing.
  2. I’ve gotten used to the convenience of online shopping. It’s so easy to “just order it online” when I’m getting low on something…and it’ll just come right to wherever I am, no driving or having to deal with crowds (ok, that part isn’t as much of a concern).
  3. It might actually be really hard for me to give up online shopping. Not in a way that I think I’m overspending or anything like that, but in the case of online registries, it’s a part of the lifestyle I’m used to having. I remember the days when you would have to go into a store (like Filene’s) and find someone’s registry. It’s a lot of effort compared to what you can just do from your couch these days.

I do recommend this experiment to anyone who might want to get control of their budget or anyone who wants to understand what kinds of online marketing they are most susceptible too. It’s one thing to buy things because you like them but knowing why could help you find awareness, discipline, and intention in other parts of your life, too. In the meantime, if you have a business, think about what kind of business you could be doing online (our course might help). 

Now please excuse me while I run three errands at once from my web browser.



Be Kind Online: The New Year Edition

It’s a new year, and you may be making resolutions to improve your self/life in 2018. If you’re struggling with an idea, I can help you out- and the good news is, it’s actually really easy to do!

Here it is: Be a little nicer online.

It may sound totally simple, but hey, there’s always room for improvement. After all, we aren’t all at Thumper’s level of self-editing, myself included:

via GIPHY

The internet has become a pretty open arena for sharing experiences and opinions, especially social media. It’s also become fairly common for people to put each other down (okay, that’s probably a euphemism).

Without getting sucked into a conversation about online shaming (which these days is less of a blog post and more of a book), smaller scale shaming like a comment on a Facebook post can still be really hurtful. In honor of the new year, here are some ideas for being nice(r) online:

Before you comment, realize that you may not have all the context. When I was pregnant, I had someone comment on a photo of me on a hike that I was reckless/careless to do something like that by myself (paraphrasing). I instantly felt ashamed of something I’d formerly been proud of- I took the picture down and didn’t post any of my hikes for the rest of the summer (note: my response is on me, not the commenter). Here’s the thing: this person (and everyone else who saw the picture) didn’t have the full context- I was actually not alone on the hike. The person I was with is much more private and I was simply being respectful of his desire not to be on Facebook, so I just shared a picture of myself. Which brings me to the next point…

Be respectful of others “space.” Nicole talked about the questions she asks herself before posting something online in a blog post “Manners on the Move.” One of her “rules” is not tagging photos or checking in somewhere without a person’s consent. Everyone has their own gut checks for social media, which is fine, just remember to be respectful of how others choose to be present online. It’s easy to ask for permission if you’re going to write about someone on a Facebook post, even if they don’t have Facebook. Recently someone wrote a post about my 80 year old grandmother on Facebook, and she found out through one of us grandkids. It wasn’t negative, but she wasn’t really thrilled about being written about by a close friend of hers without knowing about it.



In the below Instagram post, Whole-30 founder Melissa Hartwig explains her personal metrics for sharing on her personal social media accounts: “Does it feel gross?” We all have our own views on what feels “gross” to post, so it’s a fairly universal metric.

A post shared by Melissa Hartwig (@melissa_hartwig) on



Think of ways to be helpful instead. One example I can think of is mom’s shaming other moms on baby/kid pictures. Unless someone is clearly putting their child in danger, it’s probably more helpful to keep opinions to yourself. If you want to be helpful to say, a mom who is maybe a little off in how she straps her kid in a car seat, consider sending a private message that offers actual helpful tips for correct practices. Commenting with a threat to call DHHS and have the child taken away, for example, is pretty unhelpful (and yes, this is an example I have actually seen).

Quietly remove yourself from negativity. Let’s face it, we all have a friend or two on Facebook that is a total negative Nancy. You are only ever in control of your own actions and responses, so if there’s a person or group online that rubs you the wrong way, you can always remove their stories from your newsfeed. It’s basically just passive resistance- instead of getting involved in a back and forth on social media, it’s like just quietly receding into the background.

via GIPHY

Overall, I think the world, online and off, could benefit from trying to understand each other before jumping to judgments. While Facebook and other social networks allow us to connect in a more widespread way, sometimes we lose sight of what it means to connect in a meaningful, kind way.