According to several notable bloggers, I am now hitting the traffic milestones necessary to place affiliate advertising on my blog. As most newbie affiliate advertisers do, I experimented with multiple programs before I settled on my ‘ideal’ combination of placements. Although it is too early to financially evaluate all of the programs, I believe there is value in passing on my experience with four of the more popular ones—Google Adsense, WidgetBucks, Commission Junction and Amazon.com. My hope is that bloggers who are about to walk the Affiliate Advertiser path can benefit from the things I have discovered and the mistakes I have made with these programs thus far.
Google Adsense (www.google.com/AdSense)
Of the four programs reviewed for this article, it was no surprise that Google Adsense was by far the easiest to set up and administer. After completing a short registration form and downloading the Adsense plugin for WordPress, I was up and running in minutes. Their code generator for ads is simple and customizable in terms of look and feel, which made it easy to create ads (at least text-based ones) that matched the colors and fonts used in my blog.
In terms of negatives, I was almost immediately frustrated by the lack of variety in Google’s image (graphic-based) ad library, as they seem to be cycling the same three to five windows and banners on every page of my blog. Another negative was the fact that I had very little control over which ads appear. All decisions are made by various Google algorithms, which ‘read’ your pages and decide which ads best fit your content. Case in point: a few months ago I wrote and posted an article called The Real Reason Banks Won’t Lend Any Money. In this case, Google’s Adsense algorithm was smart enough to figure out the article was about banks, but too unsophisticated to determine that the article paints them in a negative light. So predictably, all of the ads being placed into this article by Google are positive ads about . . . banks. For a great example of Google’s inability to distinguish a positive post from a negative one, feel free to follow the link above and evaluate their ad selections on your own.
After I was able to get a few Google Adsense placements up and running, I turned my attention to Widgetbucks—a service that came highly recommended by Darrin Rowse, the owner of ProBlogger.net and arguably one of the most famous bloggers on the planet. Because the program came with such a heavy endorsement (WidgetBucks is one of Darrin’s Top 4 “Recommended Money Makers”) I gave it numerous chances to occupy a few slots on my blog. But as hard as I tried to make it work, I was eventually forced to give up on the program and moved on.
For starters, the ads from WidgetBucks are the perfect combination of intrusive, obnoxious, and cheesy, pushing the limits of outdatedness to rarely seen levels. I’m not exactly sure how, but it seems the owners of WidgetBucks figured out a way to return to the early 1990s and hire an ad designer—a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Eddie Bauer Stores hired its last Marketing person. The WidgetBucks placements not only scream “look at me!” but also incorporate unimaginative and attention-seeking techniques like blinking, message scrolling, image dissolve and overuse of exclamation points. Anyone who is trying to run a credible blog will have a great deal of trouble making even one WidgetBucks placement work for their site; and based on my experience with the program, I do not plan on going back any time soon. I hate to say it, but any recommendation of this affiliate program needs to come with a great big asterisk.
Commission Junction (www.cj.com)
Commission Junction is a website I found on my own, doing general web searches for ‘Affiliate Programs.’ After the negative experience with WidgetBucks, it didn’t take me long to realize that Commission Junction was much closer to what I (the newbie) was expecting from an Affiliate Program. Not only do their ad placements have a clean and updated look, but Commission Junction works directly with thousands of high-profile advertisers—companies like Dell, EA Sports, Best Buy, PR Web, GoToMeeting and many, many more. This abundance of variety not only gives me more control over the look and feel of my site, but allows me to display ads that I know (or at least believe) visitors will be interested in. Also, during the ad selection process their easy-to-use interface told me exactly which partner ads were hot, and which individual ad sizes and products were generating real revenue for advertisers.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to point out that with the exception of one, all of the 125 x 125 ads to the top right of this article are from Commission Junction. The non-CJ ad is for SocialOomph (formerly TweetLater), a site I approached on my own because I subscribed to their product after a 6-Day Free Trial and really liked the tool. Eventually, I see myself doing more of this—approaching individual companies instead of signing up with massive ad networks. But it’s still early, and my long-term strategy remains to be seen.
If there is a down side to working with Commission Junction, it is that not every decision is within your control. Sadly, GoToMeeting, GoToMyPC, Dell and LegalZoom all rejected me as an advertiser, stating that my site was “not a good fit” for their products and services. Once I’m closer to the top of the blogging food chain, I’ll probably have more appreciation for the concept of advertiser vetting. But for now, it frustrates me to know that I’m sitting at the bottom looking up at everyone else.
Much like Google Adsense, the Amazon.com Affiliate Program has been around a long time, which can be both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, years of operation have made this program easy to register for and easy to implement. But on the negative side, most of the ad formats and widgets feel like the Year 2001 is trying to make an early comeback. Overall, the focus of the Amazon.com affiliate program is pretty simple: if I drive someone to the Amazon site and they buy something—anything—I get a small percentage of the sale (about 4%).
Unfortunately, after beginning this article I have come to the conclusion that my site simply isn’t a good fit for the Amazon program. If I owned a product-specific blog site that regularly reviewed music, books, video games or other categorically-matched products, this program could easily be the ultimate impulse-buy opportunity for my visitors (e.g. I could cross-sell a book at the end of a positive review for said book). But going forward, most of the value for me within the Amazon program will be to use their ads to increase the general visual appeal of my site . . . which I have yet to figure out how to do.
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