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Finding Affiliate Partners for Websites

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One of the primary reasons I chose to re-design Lowell.com was to change my approach to advertising sales. At the moment, the sales process is manual, and advertisers cannot sign up without contacting me. Big mistake. I am not a great sales person when it comes to advertising, and I don’t like making cold calls or sending emails. As a result, I only have a few advertisers on the site.

With the new site (which I hope to launch within 2 weeks), advertisers will be able to create and pay for directory listings manually in the Yellow Pages, although the more expensive banners will still be generated by me. I’ve had considerable interest in Yellow Pages listings, and I expect the revenue from listings to pay for the re-design within just a few months.

Although I have a few local advertisers (including the Courtyard by Marriott), I want to add some affiliate banners as well (including a new prominent 728×90 spot and 250×250 spot). Finding appropriate affiliate programs is a bit of a challenge because of the broad nature of Lowell.com, but I want to share a few things that I am doing, hopefully starting a bit of a discussion.

Here are a few things I am considering when selecting affiliates from Linkshare:

  • Does the affiliate compete with current local advertisers (like hotels or photography)?
  • What companies are running advertisements on competing websites?
  • What is the commission rate and length of time for cookies?
  • Is there local brand recognition?
  • Will the banners look good on the site?

I think the biggest thing for me will be testing. Since Lowell.com gets between 15,000 – 20,000 unique visitors a month now (despite not being updated in 2 months), there is enough traffic to test different banners. I plan to rotate affiliate banners, testing CTR/Revenue with different banner offers, as well as Adsense.

I know Adsense generates revenue as I have it in select spots on the current site, but I also know it leaves money on the table. I want to see if I can find compelling offers that will blow Adsense out of the water. I don’t know if it will be possible, but I am going to test it.

One thing I do know is that direct ad sales will be the most profitable banner advertising. I hope to be able to fully replace affiliate banners and Adsense banners within a few months. However, I am not counting on that since I don’t have a sales representative yet. In the meantime, I will be doing a lot of testing.

Have you run affiliate banners on a general interest website (like Lowell.com), and if so, what has your experience been?

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Please help me raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House


About The Author: Elliot Silver is an Internet entrepreneur and publisher of DomainInvesting.com. Elliot is also the founder and President of Top Notch Domains, LLC, a company that has sold seven figures worth of domain names in the last five years. Please read the DomainInvesting.com Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest.


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Comments (21)

    Dan

    Elliot,

    Your adserver should be able to optimise over time, I’ve also been testing adsense optimsation services like yieldbuild.com which I’d definitely recommend trying.

    My general experience with affiliate offers that are not closely tied to the theme of the site is very poor. It succeeds in offering a nice bit of free branding for the merchant, but very little for me.

    You had any success with the jobs board?

    March 27th, 2010 at 11:36 am

    Elliot

    @ Dan

    Yes – have had pretty good success with the jobs board. I make money from listings AND clicks. It’s also one of the more sticky areas of the website, bringing and keeping traffic.

    March 27th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    David J Castello

    Elliot:
    The bottom line is that, at this present time, the public is not going to auto-advertise worth a dime. After trying it for a year with Nashville.com we finally assigned a full time sales rep in Nashville last week.

    March 27th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Elliot

    @ David

    My 150 dog walking advertisers would disagree :)

    March 27th, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    Greg

    When I look to beat my adsense performance, the first place I look is the advertisers/affiliates showing in my adsense ads. On some of my sites, the same people are always advertising through adsense. Since I know what Google pays me, I have some general idea of what the advertisers are paying per click. Then I find out how much they make per lead/click. From there I might join an affiliate or go for a direct deal per lead, per month, or whatever makes sense.

    March 27th, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Fred Mercaldo

    We are deep into testing various methods of email marketing and directory upgrades/exclusive partnerships. We are getting an incredible response…anywhere from 15% to 30% depending upon the category, and price seems to be the factor in getting the proper results. I will have more to share soon…and also at the upcoming GeoDomain Expo in New Orleans. These results are all from Geo sites…we will be initiating a direct aggressive telemarketing effort in the coming weeks on our Manicure.com and 215 CityNailSalons.com project, and will report back with the results.

    March 27th, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    David J Castello

    Elliot:
    If you’re seriously going for big bucks advertisers (for a city site that’s anything from $100-$5,000 a month) you have to do it one-on-one. It will change someday, but we’re not there yet.

    March 27th, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    Kevin

    I agree with David. If you want the ultra lucrative display ad sales you’ve got to connect 1 on 1 with advertisers and agencies.

    March 27th, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    Steve

    Elliot,

    Even though you have 150 advertisers with dogwalker.com already and that is fantastic but that’s on a national level. David is right, one to one is the best method and this is the method that we including both Tony K. and Tony C. are pursuing. My biggest problem is getting the site to look the way i want it to. But I believe my answers should be answered in New Orleans(hopefully). With my local city sites I plan to definitely put together a sales team and even do some sales myself. We are also integrating all the city sites together that we own into a network. we are local and we own local city domains. and probably will not make money from national advertisers. all our income will come from local advertisers. And you are,it is important for advertisers to be able to create and pay for directory listings manually in the Yellow Pages, and is something that a directory site must have. After I’m satisfied with the look of ParkSlope.com I would feel comfortable selling and branding the site. As David C. said “your city domain name is your brand”. That opened up a whole new meaning for me, all thanks to David C. Great topic….BTW

    March 27th, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Mark

    Hi Folks:

    Can anyone give me an idea of how much ads cost on GEO web sites? For instance, how much is a banner ad on a mid size city site go for? How much for one of those one inch square ads?

    Just curious,
    Thanks.

    March 27th, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    don

    Selling advertising on geo sites is likely to remain a challenge for some time… coming from the perspective of someone who purchases a lot of online marketing for a service based company, I looks at every angle online, but I would be reluctant to dive into a geo portal without structuring the ad purchase in a very controlled manner….there is simply a ton of competition locally for us to target our ad dollars and a bunch of free sites that also help us online, we have pulled back a lot of the paid yellowpage type of traffic as well as more companies move o a pay per call platform, paying to advertise online in a directory seems more and more like a waste….If I were to give you one recomendation it would be to find out who the top dog local advertiser is in the market you are covering, I can think of 5 or 10 in our market and approach them about the opportunity of being the presenting sponsor of your site with prominent positioning…generally companies that are agressive in there present spend are willing to be more agressive in new endeavors and locking up this real estate could be advantageous for their biz, ast least that is how I would try selling it to them,.,but have to agree with your other comments, advertisers are not likely to find your site, you will need to look into hiring some ad reps, I would look into setting up a network of independent contractors that soliticit all of your get sites for advertisers, with a 10% unemployment rate there are a lot of people sitting home everyday that would like to make some extra money

    March 27th, 2010 at 9:20 pm

    David J Castello

    @don
    I can give you one major reason why you should be buying advertising on a Geo site: Brand Traffic, However, the only Geo sites that receive significant Brand Traffic are dotCom. Our Nashville.com does about 30% pure Brand Traffic and has excellent search engine rankings to boot.

    One of our WestPalmBeach.com advertisers just sent me the traffic they received last month. WestPalmBeach.com was #2 and sent them more traffic then anyone except their Google organic traffic listings combined. Sending them less traffic than WestPalmBeach.com were local media web sites, Yahoo and MSN. After they saw those stats they immediately signed up for another year. It is also interesting to note that their Google Adwords campaign was #7 – and they pay Google more than they pay WestPalmBeach.com

    The bottom line is that not all traffic is equal and most advertisers are drinking from the same well. Wiith city.com brand traffic we bring to the table a new traffic stream and once the advertisers see that in their stats they become converts.

    March 27th, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Kevin

    @ David

    Out of all your city domains,

    which one is your favorite?

    which one do you think is the most valuable?

    Kevin

    March 27th, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    David J Castello

    @Kevin
    Whew, that’s a tough one. The most obvious valuable Geo brand we own is Nashville.com. However, Nashville.com makes us less than PalmSprings.com, LagunaBeach.com, WestPalmBeach.com and Acapulco.com for the sole reason that we’ve had no one on the ground selling advertising in the Nashville area. But as I posted earlier, we are now training someone in Nashville and look for Nashville.com’s revenue to spike soon.

    On the other hand, PalmSprings.com is a revenue monster. It’s a Geo Rolls-Royce. There are multiple reasons for that, but if I’ve ever had to label a Geo brand as “magical” it would be PalmSprings.com. Running that site is sheer delight and it would be tough to put a price on it.

    March 27th, 2010 at 11:42 pm

    JJ

    @David

    That’s interesting information regarding the traffic you send to your westpalmbeach.com advertiser – thank you for sharing.
    Are you able to give us an idea how much your average advertiser would be paying per click for the westpalmbeach.com traffic compared to the cpc for their Google Adwords traffic?
    I realize you charge a fixed rate, but from what you said, I’m guessing the CPC with you is 25-50% of what they pay Google, and from personal experience I’m sure your traffic converts better than Google Adwords traffic.

    March 28th, 2010 at 12:35 am

    David J Castello

    @JJ
    I would say that, over their year contract, it rounds out to about 50%-75% of what Google charges for their Adword traffic. And, yes, it converts better than Google Adword traffic.

    March 28th, 2010 at 2:30 am

    don

    Agree with the comments of building a brand, but it also depends on the business you have and the strength of the local geo site, in my case…the major site in detroit lacks much name recognition…I am sure in nashville or palm springs there is a better brand awareness for you geo sites and stronger search traffic by direct visitors and organic exposure

    March 28th, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Jesse

    I have spent considerable time researching geo development and formulating a “best practices” check list to properly leverage a geo brand to gain the most traction in the local search market.

    THE MOST IMPORTANT item for any monetized geo site is to attract highly targeted traffic from the local market and 90% of the time sites that I see are not optimized how they should be, a simple 5 minute fix can boost local search relevance and results by as much as 70%, even palmsprings.com isn’t doing it.

    I have a post on one of my blogs that outlines how to complete this simple task, if you have a geo site and aren’t doing this your competitors who are will walk all over you. If you want to check it out, here is a link Increase Search Engine Ranking Easily Using Geo Tags

    Another issue I often see that troubles me are high profile sites that were either developed 10 years ago that have not kept up with modern development/coding methods or sites that were made yesterday but were built by someone using design techniques from 1995. If your site starts off at the top with you need an update. The general consensus is that tables should only be used for tabular data, so if you have a chart to include on the page that’s fine but it is not file to have your entire page as a table.

    The game is competitive enough, no sense it taking a baseball bat to your own knee right before you step up to the plate.

    March 28th, 2010 at 9:58 am

    steve c

    Go Elliott Go.

    March 28th, 2010 at 11:17 am

    James

    Hi Elliot,
    Congrats on the site, already looking impressive, I’ll be looking out for the new redesign.

    Have you built that site on wordpress, or a custom script?

    Also, what methods did you use to promote your site to get to 15k visits a month? Was it purely seo, or offline marketing like flyers too?

    March 28th, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Alex

    Very informative thread. I just concluded my first direct advertising contract, and it sure beats the hell out of adsense.

    March 28th, 2010 at 12:49 pm

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