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  1. #1
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    Smile Affiliate Networks vs. Individual Merchants???
    Hi there everyone,

    Thank you very much in advance for considering my inquiry...

    I've heard that if a person deals with a private vendor, that you put yourself at risk for a potential 'non-payment' on any commissions made from their product (of course, depending on who it is), as opposed to merchants that are associated with networks such as Clickbank and Commission Junction, as examples.

    Would this mean that it is best to try and stay away from a merchant who is NOT associated with a network to avoid such a possible risk? If this is the case, I would think it would be a shame, as I'm sure there may be some very reputable companies out there who offer affiliate opportunites, but just don't happen to be on the any major network. What would be the signs to look out for?

    Also, is there any major difference in profitability between trying to promote hard products as opposed to digital products? I seem to be gravitating towards hard products myself, but hoping it will not be in vain.

    Thanks again so much everybody, as any and all of your insights and advice will be gratefully welcomed. I really appreciate your time indeed

    Mark

  2. #2
    2005 Linkshare Golden Link Award Winner  ecomcity's Avatar
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    Advantages of working with non-network merchants are numerious. Only pitfalls are usually the payment risk factor and lack in variety of creatives. These 2 can be eliminate if you follow smart business practices for 1099 sales agents. Contact the actual merchant by phone and e-mail to make sure they're responsive, service oriented and committed to making online sales through referrals. At same time get permission to hot link images, have deep link landing pages, and allow you to make your own banners as their's usually suck.

    A good Indy merchant will bypass all the evils of network merchants from cookie stuffers, white noise SERP spammers, Network BHO partnerships, and Brand/Trademark over exposure
    Webmaster's... Mike and Charlie

    "What have you done today to put real value into a referral click...from a shoppers viewpoint!"

  3. #3
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    Dear Mike and Charlie,

    Thank you for your recent reply and that's encouraging info. I had this gut feeling that might be the case, but was still somewhat apprehensive due to some things I've been told regarding individual merchants.

    Please forgive me for my complete naivety, as you can tell I'm still learning, but I'm not sure what you mean about getting permission to hot link images and have deep link landing pages?

    I really appreciate your reply and was wondering why it doesn't show up on the 'replies' column...it still shows '0' ? hmmmm...

    Thanks a bunch guys!
    Mark

  4. #4
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    I like Indy merchants myself and over 80% of my business is done with Indies. Like Mike said most networks promote unethical business practices and can't be trusted. If you're new to affiliate marketing and have little traffic the big problem will be to collect small checks. Networks offer aggregated payment and it's a big plus. Go with Indies if you are a significant part of their business and can pressure them to get paid. I don't work with Indies for less than $1K a month.

  5. #5
    2005 Linkshare Golden Link Award Winner  ecomcity's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by AffilMarx
    Dear Mike and Charlie,

    Thank you for your recent reply and that's encouraging info. I had this gut feeling that might be the case, but was still somewhat apprehensive due to some things I've been told regarding individual merchants.

    Please forgive me for my complete naivety, as you can tell I'm still learning, but I'm not sure what you mean about getting permission to hot link images and have deep link landing pages?

    I really appreciate your reply and was wondering why it doesn't show up on the 'replies' column...it still shows '0' ? hmmmm...

    Thanks a bunch guys!
    Mark
    Hot linking to images allows you to to use the Indy merchant's product images from their website onto your page. Then embed your affiliate tracking code into that image as a trackable hyperlink. Alternative is to download and host the image yourself, or create your own banner or product images.

    Overcome the lazy homepage syndrome of small merchants and take that first time referral shopper directly to the interior page your want to promote in your presell spin. That's where deep linking comes in as it eliminates requiring your shopper to learn how to navigate a new merchants site.

    Just the effort to find promotible products within a Indy Merchants site educates you as to what the shopper's experience. Then consider what else the merchant has to offer which might snag a referral commission from your deep linked landing page. Factor in product quality -price -service more when choosing a Indy.

    As Zeus says the Indy opportunity offers you to shine in referral sales if you go beyond just throwing up a home page banner and/or text link. The small time merchant loves your efforts if you can send targeted buying traffic as they enjoy seeing their potential Brand showup on a 3rd party site and in the natural SERPs.

    Sample Hotlinked Image/Banner

    deep link landing page http://www.suspenders.com/thin-suspenders.htm

    Overall ABW view that this Indy merchant, and their AM sucks, can be overcome with a little creativity by a smart affiliate when the sales just keep on happening.
    Webmaster's... Mike and Charlie

    "What have you done today to put real value into a referral click...from a shoppers viewpoint!"

  6. #6
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    Dear Mike and Charlie,

    I really appreciate you clarifying that for me and from what you said, it all really makes sense and I can't thank you enough for your authoritive persepectives.

    I did notice however, that a couple of times you mentioned in your last post - 'small merchant/s'. Is this typical of Indy's, that they are usually 'small' per se, (your Mom and Pop vendors), as opposed to more well established companies? And if that's the case, I'm assuming one will definitely have to do their homework to find the ones who will pay a reasonable commission, or am I falling off the mark with the aforementioned?

    I'm very willing to to try and weed out any potential 'non-paying' Indy's with THOROUGH research and correspondence, plus with a little luck I guess, and pursue this avenue, thus my inquiries regarding this issue.

    Thanks again guys for your input and helping a guy who wishes to do this methodically and right the first time, rather than back-peddling afterwards.

    Kind regards,
    Mark

  7. #7
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    I almost forgot .......

    Thanks very much indeed guys, for taking the time to place those pix on your reply as an example to supplement your answer!

    Regards,
    Mark

  8. #8
    2005 Linkshare Golden Link Award Winner  ecomcity's Avatar
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    Overall you'll learn that the one controlling the shopping cart is the only one you'll need to place with your trust. Good rule of thumb is to checkout when the merchants domain was created and populated with a shopping cart via Whois. The longer they've been online the more trustworthy they are... having assumed the responsibilities of a fulfillment merchant to customers. The newer the domain the more they'll need your targeted referral traffic.

    Believe it or not every worthy network enabled merchant should have a seperate Indy run domain site where only trusted value add physical click affiliates could be invited to send targeted traffic. This concept I spelled out at www.ecomcity.com/safehaven-network.htm and would revolutionalize pay-per-performance marketing. The key differenciator is the Network is the bullet proof Shopping Cart.... eliminating all the wasted time whining over "does the merchant report all referral sales".

    I've never met Zeus but I'll assume he also factors in the quality of the Indy Merchant's shopping cart program when choosing worthy targets for promotion. I know I would as most smaller merchants might need some help setting up proper referral tracking... and it all starts with cart options.
    Webmaster's... Mike and Charlie

    "What have you done today to put real value into a referral click...from a shoppers viewpoint!"

  9. #9
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    Responding to a few points:

    No, "indy" programs are not always "small" -- the largest affiliate program in the world is Amazon.com, which runs an in-house program. Some of my best-performing merchants, historically, have used only in-house affiliate programs.

    And no, using an "affiliate network" does not guarantee payment -- there have been some very public defaults and non-payment by some merchants at large networks. Too often, the network conspires with the merchant to conceal a cash-flow problem. I believe that SAS is the only "top-tier" merchant that actually seems to enforce its commission pre-payment rules 100% of the time.

    Some merchants who participate in networks also offer "direct" affiliate programs to selected (larger) affiliates, and can thus pay a higher commission since they don't have to pay the network fees.

    I have discovered "tracking problems" with both 'network' and 'independent' merchant programs. Usually this happens when a merchant's staff makes an update to their web site and unintentionally "breaks" the affiliate tracking code. This is one reason why most affiliates avoid network merchants whose reported EPC is $0.00, and avoid non-network merchants who have not been endorsed by another affiliate here at ABW. (There is a special forum here for "Test Purchase Reports," so we can exchange information about transactions that were tracked or which failed to track.)

    Another issue: within ANY system, merchants can "extend" or "reverse" transactions to delay or cancel commissions. Some "network" merchants have been accused of using these features to cheat affiliates AND to distort their EPC figures.

    On the issue of "tangible" versus "intangible" products: my personal focus has always been primarily on promoting sales of tangible goods, and this has historically been more than 99% of my income, but in the past two years I've worked successfully with several merchants who offer downloadable products. During this summer, "intangible goods" merchants have represented the majority of my income. Some affiliates work extensively with downloadable products, while others avoid them entirely. "Your mileage will vary."

  10. #10
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    Mike- he also factors in the quality of the Indy Merchant's shopping cart program when choosing worthy targets for promotion.
    Yep, I check not only the shopping cart but also all the shopping process by placing an order myself with a special email to be sure to discover any hidden "rewards", "reminder emails erasing my cookie", side offers and many other tricks used by merchants. It's also a good way to test the quality of the service. It helps to promote a merchant if you're pleased with the product.
    markwelch- And no, using an "affiliate network" does not guarantee payment -- there have been some very public defaults and non-payment by some merchants at large networks.
    A crooked merchant will be a crooked merchant either or a network or as an indy. The only way to protect affiliates is to use an escrow account but no major merchant is going to accept it. It could be a problem with SaS to attract big brands. (I like to be protected, too). Even with the risk to don't be paid, I still appreciate the networks to collect my money for the merchants I promote with them.

  11. #11
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    I prefer indies for a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is I've never been burned by an indie yet I've been burned by a few merchants working through networks. I don't trust networks, except for SAS.

  12. #12
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    Even if you're careful you can get burned by both. I had limited damages with indies. Quite often because I gave up collecting my money. But I had a real bad experience with several merchants at LinkShare during the 1999/2000 period. I had to hire lawyers, go to bankrupcy courts... and lost a bundle anyway. Not fun.

  13. #13
    ABW Ambassador Amy Ely's Avatar
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    I think part of the decision depends upon the number of relationships you're willing to maintain. If you plan on working with several different merchants/advertisers, then a network might be a better option because you can manage several advertisers through one network account representative.

    However, if you plan to develop close relationships with a few merchants/advertisers, then it might be best to partner with them directly.

  14. #14
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    Hi there guys,

    Thank you once again very much for your detailed answer and taking the time to write....and just that bit of information can help me greatly with Indy's. I guess alot of it is common sense, but it sure helps to have other people 'broaden' that common sense when sometimes you start to draw blanks

    It'll be interesting to see where this particular paths leads - shopping carts and all.

    Thanks so much!
    Mark

  15. #15
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    Hi everybody,

    I would just like to thank all of you for providing me with both your opinions and experiences. Zeus, I'm so sorry that it took you to have to go to court in an attempt to get your money - yikes! I hope your recovery was not too lengthy.

    And to all the other posters - a very big thanks for taking the time to reply and I'll be applying various bits of info from people who have been there and hopefully won't ever have end up being too much in the red from any deceitful Indy/s - God willing.

    Mark

  16. #16
    Affiliate Manager BeachBDM's Avatar
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    By the way Mark...Welcome to ABW!

    Sandee
    Sandra Martin
    sandeebottom at hotmail.com

  17. #17
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    To Mark Welch,

    Thanks alot Mark for your informative response and I will heed very carefully the factors that can turn your hard earned marketing into thin air from crooked merchants.

    I appreciate your advice on finding out about 'endorsed' merchants here on this site with-Test Purchase Reports, which I can imagine can be quite invaluable. Interesting to hear about your tanglibles and intangibles...I just hope that I can keep the red ink from not appearing too many times on my sheets at the end of the day - however, I can only imagine that especially in the beginning - the old addage of 'trial and error' comes into play quite a few times - Indy or Non-Indy.

    Thanks again Mark!!
    Regards,
    Mark

  18. #18
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    Thanks alot Sandee for the thought. Being way over here in Southeast Asia, I sometimes feel on a deserted island, as I don't have the close contact with my fellow country-people back in the west.

    I realize that anybody can be involved in this biz from virutally anywhere in the world, so that's a huge plus, but sometimes it's nice to be able to call up fellow marketers to discuss things at length without worrying about expensive phone bills

    Thank you again for welcoming me to the forum - great people!

    Kind regards,
    Mark

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