Secrets of Advertising 'In Context'

from The Internet Marketing Chronicles


"Economists have long spoken of land, labor, and capital as the inputs to an economy ... Labor is no longer thought of as of undifferentiated wrench-turning, but as talent, not so much to be hired as to be applied to the issue of the moment. Hence our discussion of people focuses on the nature of the exchanges in which this talent will be the most valued resource." -- Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer

There is a dramatic change happening in affiliate programs, and it all involves selling items within the context of the affiliate's website. Affiliate programs are changing from the original "place my banner ad on your site" branding approach to a new, integrated advertising effort. It is more important to place your content within their website, to empower them to sell, than to simply drive people to your website.

As Affiliate Programs evolve, a separation between pay per sale and pay per traffic is emerging. If the goal of your program is just to generate traffic, then offer a clickthrough or bounty for new customers is the model. If you want to sell products through other sites, the "In Context" selling this article focuses on is the critical factor. Here's how.

1.  Reinvent banner ads into text driven, lead generating tools

Banner ad space is a great place to get your brand out, but if your affiliates do not get clicks or sales your banner will not appear. I know, you have heard that again and again. But the only thing affiliate programs seem to share is their love for the banner ad. Banner ad space is the ad space at other websites, but to improve your clickthrough and sellthrough from banners, and to empower your affiliates, try these.

Here are three rules to follow:

- Use text in your banner ads so they appear to be part of the site. Use only a few sentences with a compelling free offer so you can generate traffic.

- Make your brand a small logo on each banner ad, and write call to action headlines. For example, "Click here to win a $20 gift certificate from XX Company" is much better than trying to sell your value proposition. One example I have seen is a company with the USP "you are not alone" on a banner ad -- this is vague and meaningless.

- Make your offer and ad copy easy to understand; write for a 6-9th grade reading level, and keep it simple.

- Underline your headline text in blue so that it appears to be a hyperlink on the page. This fits in easily to websites without appearing to be a banner ad.

- Keep things familiar. Use Windows-like banners that include the normal commands "Go" and "Click Here" that you see on a Windows interface. When it looks like their computer interfaces, your target customers will be familiar with it.

- Drive your visitors from a banner ad to a form that requests more information. Most affiliate programs drive people to a home page, full of confusing choices. Or they drive people to a one product sale and hope for the impulse buy.

The best approach is to drive them to an email request form; here you can reward your visitors with gift certificates, free reports, and if you have a more considered purchase decision (anything more than $100 on the Internet is not likely an impulse buy -- the comfortable price point for purchases online tends to be between $20-$40), focus on your follow-up. Send them an email, automate your follow-ups, and gradually introduce the sale. Most people won't buy until 3rd or 4th contact, no matter what you do.

2.  Build on your affiliate's "context" to get recommended.

The new mode of affiliate programs is to merge your products into the context of other websites. As noted earlier, context literally means "necessary link," but before we get to how you make your offer "necessary," let's focus on how to understand the context of websites you want to target.

Websites are built around a certain amount of content, community, discussion boards, and communication that weave together to form the "context" of the site. Remember these important points when building your advertising to fit into the context of *their* website:

- Target sites with a buying context. It is easy to fall in love with the allure of millions of impressions at bigger websites. You can pursue these people forever, and they are in love with selling their banner ad space. They should be in love, because selling banner ads, if done frequently, is easy money. But more often than not, the sites with the most banner ad impressions do not yield buyers.

Once again, this is good for branding. But if you want to make sales, the context of the site must be towards buyers. For example, offers automobile info. People look at the info and click onto other sites that sell cars and insurance. People at Edmunds are buyers, and the results they generate show that these buyers are converted to sales. Remember that banner ads rarely convert to sales.

- Beware of "free" sites. The best things in life are free, but the best things in business are not. Most free sites, including all those community sites that offer free home pages, create a bunch of people who are often not willing to pay for a thing. They will post your banner ads everywhere, do little promotion, and expect a lot out of you.

In our own testing, we have found that free sites generate more headaches, questions, and low volume of sales than anywhere else. While there are certainly exceptions, do not target free sites if you really want to make sales.

- The best "context" is a website with a following. Throughout the Internet, websites have sprung up with considerable followings driven by integrity, respect, and a long-term business relationship built on trust. Take it from me: This kind of context is worth its weight in gold.

For example, Jeff Ostroff at offers advice on how to buy cars and save money when doing so. People trust this consumer advocate, and the affiliate programs he recommends by positing prominently on his site. The consumer is there to learn information about a purchase, and Jeff drives the process. His context is a selling context driven by the trust of these visitors.

- Target media sites with a wide variety of content and see if you can get your products featured within pages offering the right content. Newspaper-oriented websites share a wealth of information and will have problems selling ad space. If you are offering a product via an affiliate program, make sure to match your products to their content.

For example, a book about dating would do well within the classified, personals section of a newspaper, or in the entertainment section. It would not do well within world news or sports. Sound obvious? Look around at the next content site that features an ad for furniture on a page about computers; it is amazing how few sites match their content to the products being offered.

- Select your affiliates on the basis of their content and traffic. Traffic alone is not a good judge of effectiveness for selling online. Many of the high traffic sites are unusual or odd in their appeal, and people once again are not in the buying context. The content of a good site has to be updated frequently and fill a need for a specific niche.

For example, many computer programmers repeatedly visit websites for information, because programming information changes frequently. These are great sites for products and services (especially computer-related ones). Other sites, like the joke of the day kind of sites, are good for entertainment value, and maybe branding, but if you want to make sales, it just doesn't make sense. Do you see many ads in the comic section, except for entertainment? 'Nuff said.

3.  Make your affiliate offer a "necessary link" in the best space on their site.

One of the biggest mistakes made by affiliate networks is talking about your offer, like it is the most important thing to your affiliates. What is important to them is to make money, or at least add some value to their website.

The affiliate not only wants to find out what they can earn but also wants to know how your offer can fit into their website. Take the following steps to make sure that your product becomes a necessary link to their website:

- Immediately address the needs of your target affiliates by showing why and how your product will enhance the value of their website. Don't assume they understand, or love your product or service as much as you do. Assume that you love their website as much as you love your own product, and you will have the right approach.

- Teach your affiliates how important it is to feature your product on a prominent spot on their webpages, including the first screen people view (640X480 area they enter on), the left hand and right hand borders, and especially the lower right hand of the first screen they see.

- Get them to feature your offer on a specific page; you can use content drive webpages to promote your product. For example, if you are selling travel to the Caribbean, offer your affiliates a webpage with a special report on the best hotels or best seasons to travel. They incorporate it into the context of their site, and it appears to be another page, not just an advertisement.

- Encourage your affiliates to promote your offer on the top and bottom of their webpages so it doesn't necessarily interrupt the content. If they stick you in the middle, it is likely that your ad will be ignored.

- In your email newsletters or announcements to your affiliates, remind them of the demographic and psychographic makeup of a typical customer. List related products and develop co-promotional opportunities with other affiliate programs. Teach them how to best sell to their visitors by clarifying who you are selling to, and what is the appeal of this product to their specific audience.

- Bundle your affiliate program with other, related products and offer all of these as a necessary link. Like Microsoft created its Office Suite (e.g., Excel, Outlook, Word, etc.) to bundle software, you can offer a bundle that gets featured as an important part of their website.

- Remember, the most necessary link is one that makes sense to the affiliate, and drives traffic and sales for you.

4.  Create residual income opportunities so they keep featuring your affiliate advertising.

At my own site,, we focus on the three R's for our affiliates:

1)  Results:  We want to send our affiliates a check each month.

2)  Relationships:  Give them a reason to keep working with you, even if you don't make them money. Simple respect and responding to your affiliates will build up a long-term referral system that is not based solely on money. Good will is important to anyone in business, and too many affiliate programs treat their people like dirt.

3)  Residual Income:  If you give them just once chance to make money, they will leave. It is that simple.

Before exploring residual income, beware of a trend on the Internet of those "netizens" who frequent discussion boards more than marketing their own business. They insist that they should be paid for every purchase a customer makes, even though they send that customer to you just once.

Residual income is not something earned by forwarding one lead; there are programs, especially those concerning automobiles, that pay commissions on repeat buys. But think of the logic here; I send you a customer once, and do no more work, and get paid every time that person buys.

While it is a nice theory, in application it stinks. Your affiliates will make little effort to sell your products on a regular basis. Obviously there is value in the promotion, but in reality the people who sign up for these programs are not generating repeat income for you. To get them to earn residual income, make sure you give them ways to, such as:

- Build two-tier programs so that any affiliates that sign up from your affiliate network generate sales and commissions to the person who first referred them to you.

- Encourage repeat sales by offering specials pages that you can change, or changing your banner ads regularly to feature new offers. As long as the name and location (URL) of the banner ad graphic remains the same, you can instantly update this at your affiliate's website.

- Encourage your affiliates to generate email inquiries for your program, and place their affiliate code in your follow-up emails. We installed such a program at ActiveMarketplace. It took just a few days, and the results were terrific -- for us and for our affiliates.

- Build on the repeat buying behavior of your customer base. If you know which products they will buy repeatedly, then encourage your affiliates to promote these follow-up products in their ezines and at their sites. Too many programs rely on the sale of only a few, unrelated products.

- While many affiliate programs focus on promoting the lifetime affiliate commission as some sort of annuity, like does, the fact is, your best affiliates will make sales because they work their lists and their websites. Promising lifetime payments is nice public relations technique, but in reality the best salespeople are motivated, not given an easy way to make easy dollars.

5.  Make your affiliate program a value-added service.

Setting up an affiliate program focuses so much on the actual sale of products. If you focus only on the advertising capabilities that your affiliate program provides, you are missing some of the most important uses of your advertising.

Take for example. This site primarily offers easy to use website design and development tools. Major affiliate programs, like and, can be added to any customer's webpages with the mere click of a mouse.

But looking closer you see programs like, who allow users to post their search engine on the site in exchange for a pay per click model. HotBot becomes a value-added service to a website; has also done this with their affiliate program. Let me ask you this: Do you really think it is the money these people are making that keeps them coming back, or the fact that the affiliate program adds value to their site whether they make money or not?

The affiliate program at is another example of a program that is more a value-added service than a way to generate cash. They pay small margins for plane tickets, because there are no margins to really share. What they do so effectively is match people to the plane tickets they are looking for. Affiliates enjoy the fact that the Travelocity brand (soon to become Preview Travel) is on their site, and those visitors can get plane tickets easily.

Making money is not always the best way to present your affiliate program. Often giving people a valuable service is as effective as offering them only a way to make money. Appealing to greed is one thing, but appealing to the value of a website puts you in an easier position. Add value to their site with products and services that they come to rely on, until they can't live without you.

It is that simple.

Article originally published in IMC's Internet Marketing Chronicles, delivered weekly to over 100,000 subscribers. Subscribe FREE and we'll send you other Internet marketing tips, tricks and strategies like this every Wednesday. To join, visit our site at