Affiliate University – How to Succeed as a Publisher Online Is Contextual Advertising About to Rock your World Wide Web?

    September 26, 2003

The role of a trusted third party to handle the complexities of affiliate marketing is a hotly contested market niche on the web. The players range from very large and complex (like LinkShare and beFree) to small programs for small business like & even affiliate tracking built into simple shopping cart software such as

Commission Junction is an affiliate program administrator that operates on a complex business model acting as a middleman between advertisers and web site publishers in the affiliate marketing arena on the web. They most like to refer to them- selves in this scenario as a Pay-For-Performance company.

Regardless of how you define CJ in this role, they feel it’s important to teach everyone who works with them, in either of these capacities, how best to use the CJ system to make more money with their web site. Commission Junction University 2003 last week was the fourth annual event held near company head- quarters in Santa Barbara, California September 21-23.

CJ mediates between 1200 Advertisers and 100,000 publishers to collect commissions for sales generated through links FROM the publishers TO represented advertisers. CJ then pays affiliates for the advertiser sales that are tracked to affiliate links from the publisher web sites.

Companies from large to small, eBay to contract with CJ and others like them, to manage payment, track clicks, serve ads to affiliate publisher web sites. Commission Junction sees the players in this scenario as “Advertisers” and “Publishers” where eBay would be an advertiser and a small collectible doll web site that carries ads for eBay would be known as publisher.

The CJU is very clearly divided into “Publisher and Advertiser” tracks to train representatives of either camp in effective methods of dealing with the other group. Publishers are taught how to increase visibility of their web sites, how to use the Commission Junction tools available throught CJ’s complex web interface and how to choose and promote the best programs that are available from among those 1200 advertisers in the program.

Advertisers are taught how to recruit effective publishers, how to maximize returns from their own affiliates and get the opportunity to hear from the big boys of affiliate marketing.

Speakers at CJU 2003 included Jeff Housenbold, VP of Business development at eBay and Paul Schulz, Senior VP of Marketing at Overture. Tiffany Shlain, founder and director of the well known “Webby Awards” spoke on the broader topic of “Blueprint for a Better Web” with a fast paced view of the short history of the web seen through the lens of Webby Award winners.

CJU was attended by fewer publishers than advertisers due to the disproportionate number of representatives sent by large advertiser companies. Publishers are often small businesses and most often have single representatives, even the company owners attending the event. Total attendance was given as 260.

CJU also offers a popular “Lab” where either advertisers or publishers have the opportunity to meet CJ representatives one to one in an on site computer lab where their questions and/or problems could be addressed.

Much of the discussion at Commission Junction University 2003 focused on search engine marketing, the portion of the industry that use pay-per-click advertising to drive pay-for-performance results in a rather incestous circle where ebay might outbid their own affiliates using Google Adwords and Overture ads to drive traffic to specific auction categories. The rather odd way that affiliates end up bidding through PPC search engines both against each other and against the advertisers they are representing seems awkward and ineffective for publishers, but a goldmine for advertisers.

Search engine marketing, both Pay-Per-Click and organic search engine positioning play a vital role in the affiliate marketing industry. In fact, many search engine specialists and SEO firms are active players in pay-for-performance marketing as both affiliate publishers AND consultants to this niche market that has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.

SEO firms know how to rank well in search engines through optimization of their clients web sites (or their own sites) for search phrases that can be very competitive in pay-for- performance marketing.

One CJU session was entitled “Search Marketing and Affiliates Unite” in a panel format where Jupiter Research Analyst Gary Stein quizzed panelists including Noel McMichael, CEO of SEM firm Marketleap and Mondy Beller of on issues only advertisers could love. Branding, affiliate terms of service and the above mentioned PPC bidding wars between advertisers and their affiliates were batted about. These concerns relate almost not at all to publishers except those who run afoul of advertisers stated policies. Advertisers fretted about lost income due to overly restrictive manufacturer limitations on the use of trademarked terms in search marketing campaigns.

Publishers concentrated on more practical matters however in a session called “Live Message Board” where pre-submitted audience questions were answered by Commission Junction reps.

One interesting question submitted included the following:

“When will CJ be able to automate the entire process of affiliate marketing in a contextual manner? Ebay has a product that does this, so does Google and Overture. If I give CJ complete run of my site – Put Content relevant ads from relevant advertisers on my site.”

The moderator of the session, Todd Crawford, VP of Sales and Business Development grinned while reading this volatile question and asked a couple of panelists, both CJ staffers, “That sounds interesting, what do you think?” Both of them grinned in return and one answered, “Hmmmm, we’ll have to consider that and get back to you on it.”

Asked directly about the possibility of contextual ad placements in affiliate publisher sites, Elizabeth Cholawsky, CJ’s VP of Product Development answered in much the same way, “Give me a call in a couple of months.”

This sounds to me like a potentially huge announcement is looming on the affiliate marketing horizon by the end of the year. Contextual advertising products from Google and from Overture are currently rocking the online advertising industry. In a recent article, I addressed the possibility of Google Adsense killing affiliate programs. Now it seems another shot is about to be fired across the bow in online advertising, this time from the affiliate marketing ship.

Contextual affiliate links vs contextual advertising would be an odd kind of competition for publishers choosing which of these teams to support on their sites. Adsense pays its publishers for clicks generated from Google ads, CJ affiliate links pay for “sales”. While the two products seek different end goals, the winner will be the team that produces the highest publisher income.

Mike Banks Valentine operates SEOptimism, Offering SEO training of
in-house content managers
as well as the Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial at and blogs about SEO at
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