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SiteSell's Strange Decision on Affiliate Cookies
Associate Programs Newsletter #522
Ken Evoy has made a surprising, major change to the way SiteSell tracks affiliate cookies.
Now the FIRST AFFILIATE gets the commission, in many cases.
I think it's a bad decision for affiliates.
I'll explain why.
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SiteSell's strange decision on affiliate cookies
I feel I have to say something about SiteSell's policy change because Ken's affiliate program has been my top earner for about 10 years.
I'll explain why I think it's a bad decision.
Remember what it was like when you first joined an affiliate program? If you're like me, you assumed that all you had to do was send visitors to the merchant and you'd make sales.
I recall, back in 1997 I think it was, emailing an affiliate merchant and saying, "I've sent you 103 visitors. Why haven't I made a sale?"
Gradually we learn that "not all traffic is equal", some affiliates have much higher conversion rates than others, we have to gain the trust of our visitors, enthusiasm sells... and so on.
It takes us a while, but we grow to understand that potential buyers often teeter on the edge, ever so close to making a decision to buy - and then don't because of a niggling doubt.
So we spruce up our websites and work harder. We write product reviews and case studies. We publish first-person testimonials based on our own experience with the product. We discover that it's much easier to make a sale from our newsletter than from a website, because our readers have learned to like our recommendations.
We learn how powerful keyword research can be, not just for targeted traffic and PPC marketing, but also to help us contact potential customers late in the buying cycle, when they're not merely seeking information but are on the verge of buying. We learn it's useful to target keywords like "Product XYZ review" and "buy Product XYZ".
In short, we study, we learn, we become more professional and we make more sales.
That's how affiliate marketing works.
Ken is turning that logic on its head.
He's rewarding affiliates who don't know how to achieve a sale.
How should affiliate merchants decide who deserves the commission?
You can come up with many different scenarios. Here's a good one...
A potential customer is considering buying Product XYZ. He visits various affiliate sites, reads articles and clicks on links. He visits the Product XYZ merchant site but doesn't buy.
Some time later, he lands on the site of a professional affiliate who has written an enthusiastic, detailed review or case study. Suitably warmed up and now enthusiastic, he is in a "ready to buy" frame of mind when he lands on the merchant's site. He buys the product.
In this scenario...
WHO DESERVES THE COMMISSION?
No cookie system is perfect. No cookie system is fair for every case you can imagine. So affiliate merchants are forced to choose the system they think is best for most affiliates.
About 99.9% of affiliate merchants have voted by choosing "last affiliate gets the commission". In just about every affiliate program you see, that's how the system works.
It's not perfect for all cases, but it's the best answer, merchants have decided.
The last affiliate did the work that turned a potential customer into a buyer. He or she deserves the sale.
But Ken is doing the opposite.
In many cases, he's now rewarding the FIRST affiliate to get the click.
He says most people take a long time to research and consider before buying SBI. The median time to sale, from first-exposure to SBI purchase, is 9 months. Some convert in days, some take much longer.
Now in Ken's program, the first affiliate's cookie is fixed for 9 months. (After 9 months, the cookie can be overwritten by another affiliate, and then the cookie belongs to the second affiliate for 9 months, and so on.)
If the potential customer buys any time within those first 9 months, the first affiliate to get a click gets the sale.
This means that the experienced affiliate, who has invested considerable time and money into affiliate marketing, gets nothing.
Ken argues that his affiliate program is unlike others. It's composed of two groups - Internet marketers who promote Internet marketing products, and regular folk, SBI owners who promote SBI in a small, casual way on a site which is likely to be about a totally different topic.
Some SBI owners are upset. They imagine "their" potential sales being nabbed by Internet marketers just before the purchase is made. Ken argues that the situation had become lopsided and he's evening things out.
But what exactly has the first affiliate done to deserve a commission?
In Ken's eyes, the first affiliate has "introduced" the potential customer, which is very important, because like any business, SiteSell wants to keep getting more new customers.
However, to the vast majority of affiliate vendors, a mere "introduction" doesn't deserve a commission. It's the persuasive, enthusiastic affiliate - the closer - who encourages someone to buy who deserves the introduction.
[NEXT DAY UPDATE: I should have worded that last sentence better. As we all know, it's the merchant who is the "closer". The professional affiliate makes the closing of the sale easier by warming up the visitor into a ready-to-buy frame of mind.]
If what Ken is doing doesn't seem to make sense, why is he doing it?
To answer that question, you have to ask: Who benefits?
It seems to me that what is happening here is that after 12 years of building SiteSell and SBI by putting his AFFILIATES first - and going to extraordinary lengths to train them, encourage them, provide tools for them and reward them - Ken has switched and is now putting his 40,000 CUSTOMERS first.
That's right. It is SBI owners who are big winners here.
About half of them become SiteSell affiliates. Their main focus is on their SBI sites about candlemaking or forex or vacations in Tuscany or whatever. But they also put "Powered by SBI" affiliate links on their sites, and write "About Us" pages that do a soft sell for SBI.
Then they're disgruntled because usually those techniques don't achieve many sales.
The reason these SBI owners/affiliates don't make many SBI sales is that the people visiting their SBI sites are thinking about candlemaking or forex or taking a vacation, or whatever the topic of the site is. They may be nicely targeted visitors, but they're NOT targeted to buying SBI. However, most people like the idea of owning their own business, so some are tempted to click on an affiliate link and start thinking about buying SBI.
In Ken's world, if that casual introduction results in a sale, it now deserves the commission.
This is a big win for Ken's 40,000 CUSTOMERS - the SBI owners. In exchange for a little one-off work writing "About Us" pages that presell SBI, they're now more likely to achieve sales of SBI because they're introducing it to people who wouldn't otherwise have known about it. These SBI owners may earn enough to pay for their annual subscriptions - or more - making them even happier with their purchase of SBI.
Result: A win-win for Ken and SBI owners.
But if there are winners, there inevitably will be losers. The losers will be the professional affiliates who have been targeting potential buyers when they're almost ready to buy.
They will now have to make sure they're targeting people early in the sales cycle.
HOW TO BE A WINNER...
If you want to be a winner in the SiteSell affiliate program you need to think about who the winners will be.
- SBI owners/affiliates who make first contact with potential customers.
- All affiliates who keep finding brand new potential SBI customers. This is the key. Ken is rewarding affiliates who find new customers. Perhaps you need to create some new pages aimed at people who want to build an online business and work from home. It's a growing niche but it's terribly competitive. If you're already an expert in it, lucky you.
- Persuasive, professional affiliates who achieve sales fast. If they find a brand new potential customer and make a sale immediately, the whole cookie thing won't make any difference to them.
- Affiliates who make repeat contact with potential customers. From the first click, every time an affiliate persuades a potential customer to click on a link, the 9-month cookie is renewed for another 9 months. So you need to promote SBI in different ways. Find new reasons - new angles - to mention different aspects of the product. Send visitors to different landing pages. Persuade your audience to follow you on Twitter, like you on Facebook and read your newsletter. Each exposure pushes the 9 month deadline back again.
- Affiliates who sign up new affiliates. When you encourage another affiliate to join the affiliate program, that affiliate is "locked in", yours for life. If the affiliate buys an annual subscription of SBI next month or in 10 years, you earn a $75 commission.
In summary, I think this change is a bad one because it inevitably rewards affiliates who aren't good at achieving sales. It rewards casual mentions and in some cases won't reward professional, powerful pre-selling. Inevitably, while some affiliates win, others will miss out on commissions they would have earned.
I wouldn't be surprised if this change in policy also encourages unethical affiliates to use inaccurate hype just to get the click. If so, more policing of affiliates will be needed.
I'm guessing here - only Ken knows the figures - many affiliates will be OK. For them, everything will even out. Some affiliates will do better, some will do worse.
We're adaptable. We can cope with this.
What we need to do is study who the winners are and make sure we're among them.
In my case, I've been attracting some potential customers late in the buying cycle but I've also been sending first-time visitors to SiteSell. I should be OK, I THINK. We'll see.
SBI is still a superb product. It keeps getting better year after year. So I'll keep promoting it and see what happens.
DON'T IGNORE THIS
If you're an SBI owner and you haven't joined the affiliate program because you thought SBI was off-topic for your site, you may want to re-think that decision. Ken has just made it much easier for you to earn commissions.
If you're a SiteSell affiliate, DON'T ignore this. Don't treat the SiteSell affiliate program as though it's any other program. It's unique. So you have to adapt what you do accordingly.
Some SBI owners/affiliates are understandably excited by this change. They're excited about the extra sales they see themselves making.
But if there are winners, there HAVE to be losers.
It WON'T all even out in every case.
Ken is pushing you to keep finding new potential customers, and to have repeat contact with the people you find. If you do these things, your commissions should increase.
(That's good advice for ANY affiliate program.)
So login in to the affiliate program, study Ken's whole announcement and his affiliate tips, examine what you're doing and, if necessary, change it so that you're among the winners.
SiteSell still offers a superb product that has changed many thousands of lives for the better, and the company's strong customer loyalty has just become a whole lot stronger.
He's built a multi-million-dollar business by doing things differently.
That's one thing that hasn't changed.
If all this is totally new to you, you can find out more here...
What do think about SiteSell's decision?
I'm keen to know what you think about Ken's policy change on affiliate cookies.
Do you agree with me, or have I got it horribly wrong?
Remember, you can always add your comment to any newsletter at
Joanna keeps telling me I should write some personal stuff in this newsletter, but I don't want to make it too long. Maybe next week.
Note to new subscribers: My newsletters are usually MUCH shorter.
Thought for today: Change
"Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better." - King Whitney Jr.
All the best
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Learn from an affiliate veteran.
Your host, Allan Gardyne, has been earning a good living from affiliate programs since 1998.