John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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December 30th, 2008 by john andrews

What is a Super Affiliate? On the Business of Affiliate Marketing

I’m not much of an affiliate marketer these days but with Affiliate Summit coming up in a few weeks, I’m communicating quite a bit with the affiliate community. I do play in the affiliate game, and as an SEO consultant of course I work closely with affiliates and publishers who work with affiliates. Yes, I have been a “Super Affiliate“, defined as it was defined not by me or some make-money-fast blogger selling Get Rich ebooks, but by the merchants paying the affiliate commissions. So when I saw Jeremy over at Shoemoney try and define Super Affiliate for himself, I read the whole article looking for something close to what I understood Super Affiliate to be. Jeremy did the smart thing - he asked people in the game what was meant by the term “Super Affiliate”. Not too surprisingly, everyone had a different answer. Most were based on some monetary threshold (makes XXX per day/month/whatever). That’s not how I learned it.

So what exactly is a Super Affiliate?

For smaller operations, SEO is Competitive Webmastering. For larger industries/companies, the playing field is more complicated. There are ancillary players (such as SEOs and PPC affiliates) monetizing through mainstream players in that market (the merchants). In larger markets or more competitive niche markets, the merchant may not be ranking competitively or advertising heavily. In those cases merchants may come to rely on affiliates for the Internet marketing (traffic). In a nutshell, that is what Affiliate Marketing is…. online marketing on behalf of someone else, on a commission basis.

So when does an affiliate become a Super Affiliate? The affiliate model works very well as long as the merchant remains the primary industry player for the market. But what if the affiliate controls the market? What happens to the business model of the merchant when the affiliate marketer achieves so much influence over the revenue stream that the merchant has to negotiate with that Super Affiliate directly, in order to keep the traffic?

A Super Affiliate is an affiliate with enough market leverage to warrant significant 1:1 attention from the merchant. A Super Affiliate is a key partner of the merchant. If the Super Affiliate were to pull her traffic from the merchant, the merchant would lose ground in the market, not just referral traffic. Conversely, if a Super Affiliate were to move that traffic to a competing merchant, the market dynamics would shift immediately. This helps explain why Super Affiliates enjoy so much leverage.

I have to admit things have changed quite a bit since I was an active player in the affiliate market.  The threat of Super Affiliates was very real, so naturally the market responded to that threat with risk management. Affiliate Networks evolved to retain more control over the referral process, and merchants worked hard to make sure their businesses could better tolerate the risk. Affiliate managers appeared to help companies survive the whims of the 100% profit-oriented Super Affiliates. Pay per click helped merchants as well, once they understood it enough, and the PPC networks helped by imposing additional “controls”. As the world moved on line, web technologies were institutionalized, leaving less opportunity for Super Affiliates to completely dominate unless they, too, evolved.

As it became clear that risk management tools were moving into the hands of merchants, many of the “older” Super Affiliates bundled up their market-owning networks and sold them out to the dominant industry players for serious money. Some actually bought the merchants out and took complete control of the markets they dominated (moving up the food chain). Others simply adapted to the new rules, moving into PPC and working harder for less money, or researching new “market inefficiencies” to exploit. I think many of the revenue threshold based definitions given to Shoemoney represent a modern acceptance of the new rules of the managed affiliate game. The vendor sets the rules, and the affiliate deliver traffic to earn commissions. Despite making serious money, many of those earners are not Super Affiliates.

So I define a Super Affiliate according to the amount of leverage the affiliate has with the vendor paying the commissions. A vendor will look at it’s sources of revenue and decide for itself who is a Super Affiliate. Maybe the top 5 affiliates produce 80% of the online revenues. Maybe the top 50% produce 80%. Or maybe the top 2 affiliates produce 90% of the revenues. In any case, the vendor needs to manage risk, and often that includes special treatment for the top producers (the Super Affiliates). Even with the complicated multi-tiered commission models in place today, Super Affiliates enjoy better terms than the rest of the affiliates contributing traffic to the stream.

So how do you know if you are a Super Affiliate? Ask your vendor ” Am I a Super Affiliate?”, and listen carefully to the response. You might be surprised at what you can learn (hint hint). And if you can’t ask your vendor directly, then you already have your answer. If you are an affiliate and you think the business of affiliate marketing is traffic, I remind you that the business of business is business.

Updated: I was referring to vendors as “publishers” because initially the web publishers hired on SEOs and made deals with affiliate marketers. Nowadays the affiliate networks provide a means for any merchant to sell on the web, the affiliates are called “publishers”, and the vendors are “merchants”. I updated accordingly.

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December 20th, 2008 by john andrews

Japanese Protest Google Privacy Invasions

Japanese quality of life and humanitarian advocates are referring to Google as that big, bad IT behemoth formerly known as Cyberdyne Systems (Terminator movies).

“It is necessary to warn society that an IT giant is openly violating privacy rights, which are important rights that the citizens have, through this service.”

They are calling for a ban of Google street view for Japanese cities. Google thinks it’s cool to video tape everyone’s neighborhoods and homes and put it onto the Internet for the public to peruse. Not everyone agrees this is a good idea. The question is, does Google need permission? Perhaps a better question is, did Google ever think to ask?

It’s too easy to point to some good that comes from these innovations to justify any objections. History reminds us that major wars have resulted from social blunders and insulting indifference. Just as overly-direct, geeky nerds are often considered abrupt and rude due to their tendency to overlook basic common courtesies, Google has become a humanitarian embarassment. Yes, it’s way cool to do amazing things with public data. No, it’s not cool to force it down our throats.

Here’s to hoping Google gets a clue before someone starts throwing more shoes.

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December 17th, 2008 by john andrews

“no known copyright restrictions” is not FREE

The New York Public Library just contributed 1300 images to the Flickr Commons database. These are scans of photographs from the library’s collection. Flickr has them marked as “no known copyright restrictions“. They are from late 1800’s and early-mid 1900’s from what I have seen. They are attributed to photographers in most cases I reviewed.

Can you use them on your web sites?

Of course not. The rights to photographs usually belong to the photographers, and are licensed to others for specific uses. In cases where the photographer has placed the photographs into the public domain, or otherwise given them away, the people in the photos still retain rights to the use of their image. Even though a photographer owns the copyright of the image, he does not have permission to allow the use the image by others if the image includes something protected (such as a face or building or work of art). A photographer must obtain expressed written permission to use someone’s likeness, often done with a model release agreement. For certain structures and works of art, permission must be obtained from the holder of the rights to publish reproductions of that object. If you publish the image, you need to have proof in hand that  you have permission to use that image commercially.
Flickr has no such permissions to pass along to you. The New York Public Library admits it doesn’t even know if those documents are required for any given image, or if they ever existed. This is explained behind a link on the Flickr site:

Even though the images we have uploaded to The Commons on Flickr are in the ” public domain” and thus not subject to copyright restrictions, these photos may be subject to other third party rights, such as rights of privacy and rights of publicity. In all instances, you are required to obtain all necessary permissions before using our photos. For example, if you find a photo from NYPL’s collections that includes a person, you would be responsible for obtaining the permission of the person in the photo before you use the photo. Please read the Terms and Conditions of our website for more

In short, the risk is yours to assume. If you have a commercial website, you can be sued for the value of the commercial use of an image after the fact. In other words, the person in the photo is entitled at least to the value a model would have received for that use, and possibly more if the use is in conflict with that person’s desired public image.

Be careful about using images commercially (including on sites that draw traffic to AdSense ads). “no known copyright restrictions” does not mean it is free to use.

The most important thing to consider is that your use of images in violation of  copyright laws has been used by corporations to argue that they should be allowed to use someone’s image or likeness in their own advertisements, for free. That’s right - they would love to grab images from the web and use them on their ads without paying any models or photographers. So if you think you are helping to improve the world by ignoring arcane copyright laws, you may discover yourself enabling a whole new world where you find your smiling facebook profile on an ad for the latest herpes creme, or your wedding portrait in an ad for a divorce attorney.

We need to fix and improve our copyright laws, not eliminate them.

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