The Great Controversy Over Lists
It would seem there is a strange swarm of controversy around a list of affiliates being sold on the Net. Some affiliates love being on the list- it is a matter of prestige, others detest it and feel it is an invasion of their privacy. Others have critisized it for not having accurate information. Some managers have found it to be a goldmine. I have no real opinion either way because I have only seen an quick excerpt and didn’t get enough time to really study it.
But let me take this opportunity to paint the world of reality for the affiliate population at large.
1) You are not anonymous. Smart analysts, networks, and other affiliates study and scrutinize markets and they know who dominates certain niches. If you think you’re hiding your success you are wrong. There are tons of lists out there today. Affiliate marketing aside people get put on lists all the time- like it or not and nothing stops copy cats or content thieves.
2) Anyone can compile a list of affiliates and call them top producers. I could do it, anyone could do it. Read on and I will shall you how. Top performers is a nebulous classification anyway.
3) Networks and consultants have been trading, or offering lists of affiliates for years and years. Complete with personal contact information. Rumor has it that many managers have passed or swapped these lists around.
Sorry to burst bubbles, I am just telling you the cold, hard truth on how it is. Unless you work one-on-one with someone, there is a good chance you are on a list somewhere or in someone’s notebook. In the past, it has been rumored, some low paying CPA programs were just shams to build affiliate lists for resell.
So let’s look at how you can build your own list cheaply. That is of course if your time is cheap or you have access to an intern. The information is all out there if you know where and how to look but it takes time an effort to put together.
Generic Tips on Creating Your Own Top List on a Budget
1) Monitor Affiliate Newsletters- I have been doing this since 1997 and affiliate managers have given away hundreds of sites in their newletters. Also monitor award sites for names too. For example the Linkshare Golden Links or the CJ Horizon Awards. For that matter some networks used to publish affiliate lists and to this day they can be found on certain sites. BadaBing!
2) Connect The Dots- Now use this master list and run it through a tool like Alexa, and keep digging into those names until the list grows. Trust me it can grow quite large. Then run the list through tools like Marketleap to look for page saturation and inbound links among other metrics. Special attention should be paid to trending traffic. This helps qualify the lists. One can also use retail focused words to classify these affiliates into verticals.
3) Look for High Paying Keywords Bidders- sure fire way to find top performers is to look for elephant words (words with elevated CPCs) and see who ranks highly on these words. Utilize tools like Word Tracker and Overture bid tools to triangulate on this information. If you know the right verticals this is child’s play.
4) Study the written and radio media- Yes there are a number of techniques to do this through automation, but I will let you figure it out. Rest assured if a website is in the media they probably produce significant volume. Rule of thumb if they are in the major media three times you can expect them to be in it more.
5) Go to conferences- A lot of affiliates pride themselves on being anonymous but going to conferences is important. The panels are ok, but it is what you learn and who you meet in person that changes your perpective. I have also noted that people who are frequently not civil on message boards are charming at conferences. At any rate this is a great place to get information and make contacts plus you can write it off. I have never,ever heard a manager give out revenue numbers but they do trade names. Of course they do- it only makes business sense. Some people won’t like this but that IS the reality. Beer + People = Information.
6) Analyze Traffic Trends- Page Saturation, inbound linking, even Alexa be can be useful to compile that handy dandy list. There are custom tools you write as well they can perform very complex analysis. I have some custom tools of my own- but I’m not selling them- they are too valuable too me.
7) Use Tools to Analyze Bidding Patterns and Words- Some people will be shocked to know there are tools, some free, some for pay that will show you every keyword an affiliate or a merchant bids on. I use them all the time to study my spyware “pals”. If you don’t like this type of service, I suggest you take it up with them or file a lawsuit. But since bidding is public information it isn’t hard to get. The savvy marketers have known about these methods for months. There isn’t a single domain where I can’t get a good grasp of what they are bidding on. For managers and compliance teams this is a great way to catch naughty affiliates. You would be surprised at what some people think they are getting away with.
8) Financial Data Guestimates- If you are a CJ merchant this is easy to get, you get the same metrics that affiliates get about merchants. At Linkshare this is different as the only traffic data you get is self-reported and often false. You can also estimate ranges if you know the relative scales of payouts, understand search engine frequency and can do simple math. However there is no real way to determine someone’s revenue level, you can only guess that they either produce enough to matter or they don’t. Hint- most do not.
There are a number of other techniques to build prospecting lists, but forgive a guy if he wants to keep a few tricks up his sleeve. However I personally would not sell such a list because knowledge is power. Actually knowledge is part of the power, it is the ability to synthesize knowledge and apply that is power.
However let’s say HYPOTHETICALLY I would…(Again I wouldn’t this hypthetical) build and sell such a list.
1) GET PERMISSION: I would get explicit permission from the people on the list. I find this common courtesy and a good way to build fandom. Affiliates would understand that being on such a list should give them benefits too. Like what terms they like to negotiate or that they will not accept network standard offers. Believe it or not many affiliates accept or sign up for programs and never negotiate first. Affiliates GIVE power to the merchants when they don’t have to. Of course most affiliates don’t have media kits- most are opportunistic marketers. Another reason they don’t get the respect they desperately want.
2) ACCURATE INFO: I would verify all contact information and even offer an intermediary communication service so the special offers could go into a special que designed for just such a list. I would also offer to list them sans contact information if they wished.
3) THINK WIN-WIN: I would educate merchants that affiliates on such a list are premium business people and should receive premium treatment. For example, making an appointment before calling and making a pitch is courtesy. I am a busy person, unless someone is in my close circle I expect an appointment. Unfortunately many merchants, not all, lack proper approach skills and do not respect affiliates for legitimate businesses. BTW- I PREFER to get business propositions via snail mail. I hate stupid affiliate e-mail pitches. I want to see real business proposals on real paper with an outline and a plan. Product samples are a big plus to. I DEMAND product samples. Smart affiliates should too.
4) OPT-OUT: First I would obtain people’s pemission and explain the project, but let’s say they that six months later they wanted to opt-out of the list. I would honor that request. No- someone wouldn’t have to do it legally, but it would be the courteous thing to do and courtesy goes a long way when buildling fandom.
The biggest driver for any product is the development of fans. You can’t please everyone, but you should try to please as many as you can and develop the advocates. I suppose controversy helps sell, but in the case of list like the one getting all the controversy it helps if the advocates are on both sides. Let’s face it there is a market demand for such a list because networks in general have done a terrible job of providing good, lengthy and detailed information from both merchant and affiliate so qualified decisions could be made.
It makes me wonder if installment two we will see the Merchant Contact List! Because if I hear the voices of affiliates correctly getting in touch with a merchant is often as hard as getting in touch with an affiliate. With all the green flowing you would think everyone would want to meet face to face. Instead we have fostered a marketplace similiar to McDonald’s. Drive-through and get your cheeseburger…I mean legal contract! Almost sounds like our current adware epidemic problems.
What lesson did this teach me about the state of affiliate marketing? To stop doing it en masse and to be really choosy about partnerships. With options like select sponsorships, Adsense, advertising, blogads, CPC deals, and CPM making a return…who needs fries with that contract?
Lastly if you are really into being anonymous I recommend the revised edition of How To Be Invisible. It is a great read and shows just how anonymous we are not- and ways you can become more anonymous. From The Net to crawl spaces, new innovations in information gathering have left the private life of the average person open to scrutiny, and worse, exploitation. In this revised update his popular guide How to Be Invisible, J.J. Luna shows you how to protect yourself from information predators by securing your vehicle and real estate ownership, your bank accounts, your business dealings, your computer files, your home address, and more.