Affiliate Marketing Success Stories – Raising an Affiliate Program Cash Cow (Part 2)

Affiliate Marketing Success Stories – Raising an Affiliate Program Cash Cow (Part 2)


The following interview with Shawn Collins, a prominent expert in the

affiliate marketing field, should prove instructive to the reader. Shawn

has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the field and now runs his own affiliate

program management and consulting firm. As this interview is inherently

limited in scope, one is encouraged to read more about Shawn’s experiences

in the field and the advice he dispenses through his books, conferences,

blog, articles, reports, and weekly radio show. The reader can also meet

Shawn at the Affiliate Summit, a “can’t miss” conference for those

interested in excelling in the competitive world of affiliate marketing.

Q. Shawn, how would you describe your initial experiences with affiliate


A. It was back in 1997. I had a dial-up account on AOL, a 14.4 modem and

a desire to make more money. At the time, I didn’t know a thing about

creating websites, marketing, etc. But I went through a tutorial at AOL on

writing HTML and picked up the basics. Then, I created a hideous, single

page site about New York City and put up some Amazon links. I never earned

a cent on that site.

Q. What growing pains did you endure at first? What were the biggest

obstacles and challenges from that period of time?

A. Back then, there was a monopoly on registering domains, and it cost

$35 a year. At the time, that was a bit prohibitive for me (I didn’t

realize what a good investment a short name would be). That was a trend –

an unwillingness to invest in my affiliate efforts. I was going the free

route with tools, hosting, etc. That definitely delayed my progress.

Q. What was your first “Ah-ha” moment? How did you incorporate the

lesson learned into your affiliate marketing business?

A. The first time I got my reporting via email from Amazon with

information on commission earned. Back then, there was no option to login

to an interface – just a periodic email with affiliate stats. When I

realized it was real that I could earn money this way, I was excited and

motivated. This persuaded me that I was wasting my time working in

magazine publishing – it was time for me to get into a line of work that

was stimulating and rewarding.

With my limited affiliate marketing experience, I managed to get a job

with a start-up in 1997 called, and I bluffed my way into

running the affiliate program there. I’ve enjoyed my work ever since.

Q. Without mentioning names, have you joined affiliate programs that did

not keep their promises and/or provide appropriate compensation? What

measures did you take when confronted with this situation and what advice

can you give others to avoid this circumstance?

A. Lots of affiliate programs lie in their recruiting efforts – they

talk about how easy it is to earn commission from them. That’s simply not

true – it’s not easy. I just don’t pay attention to most recruiting

efforts from affiliate programs. I would encourage affiliates to ignore

proclamations of easy earnings and high EPCs – the most important thing is

to test everything yourself and promote what works for you.

Q. How has affiliate marketing changed in the last seven years? What

strategies would you implement now that you would not or could not do

years ago?

A. The industry has matured greatly. Seven years ago, many affiliate

marketers were content sites which relied on 468×60 banners. The analytics

were primitive and fewer companies offered affiliate programs.

Now, the industry is so diversified. Essentially, any way to market online

is being leveraged by affiliates… including comparison shopping,

domaining, video, SEO, e-mail, social networks, PPC, rewards programs,


If I could turn back time, I would have started up multiple niche

community sites back then for popular topics. By now, if nurtured they

would have grown nicely and become lucrative affiliate sites.

Q. If one is gifted marketing an affiliate product or service, is it

likely that this individual can effectively market his/her own products or

services? Should people look into developing their own items while

marketing or instead of marketing others’ products/services?

A. I’d say anything that is already selling online can be effectively

marketed through an affiliate program. Selling your own products or

services can certainly provide more rewards in the best case scenario, but

then you’ve got a lot more risk, too.

If somebody has the infrastructure and know-how to sell a certain product

or service, I’d say to go for it. But don’t take uncalculated risks.

Q. What are crucial mistakes that newbies tend to commit?

A. Lack of investment and understanding. It’s really difficult to

succeed in affiliate marketing if you are unwilling to spend the time and

money required to develop a long-term strategy. And affiliate marketing is

most certainly not a quick endeavor – it takes patience to endure and


Q. What are some of the creative (perhaps seldom used) strategies to

employ in the affiliate marketing field?

A. Simply going beyond the banner. There are a lot of exciting

opportunities out there with Web 2.0. It’s just a matter of figuring out a

unique angle.

Q. How long does it realistically take to build a full-time income with

affiliate marketing, assuming “full-time commitment”?

A. I don’t think you can qualify and quantify passion. And to me,

passion is an essential ingredient in affiliate marketing success. Also,

there are so many variables, like the size of a given vertical, the

margins involved, competition, etc.

Q. Is it easier to build income from this type of marketing now or was

it easier years ago? (Please consider competition, Internet usage, advent

of AdWords and Pay Per Click, etc.)

A. It was never easy. There was certainly less competition in the past,

but also less in the way of options of advertisers to choose and methods

to promote them. Plus, there is the continuing growth of ecommerce. I

think the opportunities for success are just as healthy now as they were

years ago.

Q. While I know that you do not recommend any particular affiliate

marketing programs, in your estimation, what are the “hottest fields?”

A. The “hottest fields” are a slippery slope. They change over time. I

think the hottest field for any given person should be the area that

interests them most. You can certainly go out there as a mercenary and

promote the most lucrative thing at the moment, like ringtones or debt

consolidation, but I suggest going with a long-term plan in an area that

interests you.

Q. Is there any affiliate marketing software that is a “must” when one

pursues an affiliate marketing venture?

A. This really depends on the type of affiliate. There are software

programs that help optimize affiliate efforts for different affiliates.

For instance, if you’re working with data feeds, you should check out


Q. What are your views concerning affiliate marketing networks such as

LinkShare and Commission Junction?

A. I think they’re the backbone of the industry. The affiliate networks

account for the majority of large affiliate programs, and they also

provide a level of convenience in that you can consolidate a lot of your

activity under a few logins.

I would like to see them work together to establish standards. For

instance, there is a lack of standards in data feeds, which is a challenge

for the folks using them.

Q. Can any absolute statements be made regarding the most lucrative type

of affiliate marketing payment system (e.g pay per sale, pay per click,


A. In general, CPA seems to be more profitable, especially offers for

products and services that are not physical items.

Q. What influence, if any, will blogs make on the affiliate marketing


A. I think some are influential in the way networks, merchants and

affiliates operate. For instance, is considered to have had an

impact in the decision by Commission Junction to change their plans on the

Link Management Initiative (LMI).

Q. What are, statistically, the best avenues to market an affiliate


A. It depends on the vertical. Email and PPC work well for some CPA

offers, while an established web presence can be more important for

selling goods on a revenue share.

Q. Do you see any future trends in the affiliate marketing field?

A. Smaller affiliate programs. Affiliate managers are focusing on

working more closely with fewer affiliates. Also, I think we’ll see an

increasing number of affiliates embrace the opportunities out there with

Web 2.0 and innovate with the new tools that roll out.

Q. What current projects are you undertaking in affiliate marketing, including

your work with the Affiliate Summit?

A. My main focus is Affiliate Summit, the largest affiliate marketing

conference. Our last show had over 2,000 this past January in Las Vegas.

We also have events scheduled in Miami (July 8-10) and London (September

28) this year.

Additionally, I provide affiliate management and consulting services as

Shawn Collins Consulting, and I publish an annual report on affiliate

marketing benchmarks called AffStat.

I also have a blog at where I post daily

about issues in affiliate marketing. And I’m the co-host with Lisa

Picarille, Editor-in-Chief at Revenue Magazine, for the weekly show,

Affiliate Thing, on WebmasterRadio.FM.

Q. What do you attribute your affiliate marketing success to (e.g.,

building content, writing articles, following footsteps of a mentor, forum

participation, etc.)? Please include any last words of advice for one who

aspires to succeed/excel in the affiliate marketing field.

A. It’s all about dedication, tenacity, and relationships. I don’t look

at my affiliate marketing activity as a job, but rather a fun, profitable

hobby. Over the decade I’ve been involved in the industry, there are way

too many factors to list that have contributed to my success. But I’d say

the most important of all is to constantly endeavor to learn from others.


Conclusion – Do’s and Don’ts of successful affiliates

Analyzing the success stories, we may conclude the following do’s and

don’ts of being a successful affiliate:


  • Build a useful website. Visitors must gain some benefit by visiting

    your site.
  • Retain visitors through unique content or adding your “personal

    touch.” Provide something unique / personal on a consistent basis so that

    visitors will be motivated to revisit your site.
  • Sign up with a known and established affiliate program. They have

    their tracking systems updated and so you can be rest assured that you

    will get your payments.
  • Market your affiliate program so that you can increase the number of

    visitors who see your affiliate offering.
  • Optimize your website so that you get a high ranking in natural search

  • Know your competition. You have to provide something better than

  • Choose the advertisement model that is in line with your overall

    business model.
  • Launch your site for some time, before joining any program. Good

    affiliate programs may like to see your site and study the traffic before

    enrolling you.
  • Look for outside help. You may employ skilled people.
  • Use blogs and RSS feeds for promotion.
  • Remain active in your industry. You must know the latest trends and

    needs of visitors.
  • Don’ts

  • Join just any affiliate program. Many affiliate programs are outright

  • Ignore your competition. They are the best evaluators of your

  • Get obsolete. Update your content regularly.
  • Rely only on banner ads. Experiment with all types of

  • Waste time. Be the first to capture any new opportunity.
  • Encourage spamming. You will get blacklisted.
  • With successful identification of customer needs, providing a way to

    fulfill those needs, and collaborating with established affiliate

    programs, it is possible to create your own affiliate success story. You

    just need to manifest a methodical, patient approach and perform lots of

    hard work. But raising an affiliate program cash cow is certainly worth

    the effort!


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