The following interview with Shawn Collins, a prominent expert in the
affiliate marketing field, should prove instructive to the reader. Shawn
has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the field and now runs his own affiliate
program management and consulting firm. As this interview is inherently
limited in scope, one is encouraged to read more about Shawn’s experiences
in the field and the advice he dispenses through his books, conferences,
blog, articles, reports, and weekly radio show. The reader can also meet
Shawn at the Affiliate Summit, a “can’t miss” conference for those
interested in excelling in the competitive world of affiliate marketing.
Q. Shawn, how would you describe your initial experiences with affiliate
A. It was back in 1997. I had a dial-up account on AOL, a 14.4 modem and
a desire to make more money. At the time, I didn’t know a thing about
creating websites, marketing, etc. But I went through a tutorial at AOL on
writing HTML and picked up the basics. Then, I created a hideous, single
page site about New York City and put up some Amazon links. I never earned
a cent on that site.
Q. What growing pains did you endure at first? What were the biggest
obstacles and challenges from that period of time?
A. Back then, there was a monopoly on registering domains, and it cost
$35 a year. At the time, that was a bit prohibitive for me (I didn’t
realize what a good investment a short name would be). That was a trend –
an unwillingness to invest in my affiliate efforts. I was going the free
route with tools, hosting, etc. That definitely delayed my progress.
Q. What was your first “Ah-ha” moment? How did you incorporate the
lesson learned into your affiliate marketing business?
A. The first time I got my reporting via email from Amazon with
information on commission earned. Back then, there was no option to login
to an interface – just a periodic email with affiliate stats. When I
realized it was real that I could earn money this way, I was excited and
motivated. This persuaded me that I was wasting my time working in
magazine publishing – it was time for me to get into a line of work that
was stimulating and rewarding.
With my limited affiliate marketing experience, I managed to get a job
with a start-up in 1997 called Medsite.com, and I bluffed my way into
running the affiliate program there. I’ve enjoyed my work ever since.
Q. Without mentioning names, have you joined affiliate programs that did
not keep their promises and/or provide appropriate compensation? What
measures did you take when confronted with this situation and what advice
can you give others to avoid this circumstance?
A. Lots of affiliate programs lie in their recruiting efforts – they
talk about how easy it is to earn commission from them. That’s simply not
true – it’s not easy. I just don’t pay attention to most recruiting
efforts from affiliate programs. I would encourage affiliates to ignore
proclamations of easy earnings and high EPCs – the most important thing is
to test everything yourself and promote what works for you.
Q. How has affiliate marketing changed in the last seven years? What
strategies would you implement now that you would not or could not do
A. The industry has matured greatly. Seven years ago, many affiliate
marketers were content sites which relied on 468×60 banners. The analytics
were primitive and fewer companies offered affiliate programs.
Now, the industry is so diversified. Essentially, any way to market online
is being leveraged by affiliates… including comparison shopping,
domaining, video, SEO, e-mail, social networks, PPC, rewards programs,
If I could turn back time, I would have started up multiple niche
community sites back then for popular topics. By now, if nurtured they
would have grown nicely and become lucrative affiliate sites.
Q. If one is gifted marketing an affiliate product or service, is it
likely that this individual can effectively market his/her own products or
services? Should people look into developing their own items while
marketing or instead of marketing others’ products/services?
A. I’d say anything that is already selling online can be effectively
marketed through an affiliate program. Selling your own products or
services can certainly provide more rewards in the best case scenario, but
then you’ve got a lot more risk, too.
If somebody has the infrastructure and know-how to sell a certain product
or service, I’d say to go for it. But don’t take uncalculated risks.
Q. What are crucial mistakes that newbies tend to commit?
A. Lack of investment and understanding. It’s really difficult to
succeed in affiliate marketing if you are unwilling to spend the time and
money required to develop a long-term strategy. And affiliate marketing is
most certainly not a quick endeavor – it takes patience to endure and
Q. What are some of the creative (perhaps seldom used) strategies to
employ in the affiliate marketing field?
A. Simply going beyond the banner. There are a lot of exciting
opportunities out there with Web 2.0. It’s just a matter of figuring out a
Q. How long does it realistically take to build a full-time income with
affiliate marketing, assuming “full-time commitment”?
A. I don’t think you can qualify and quantify passion. And to me,
passion is an essential ingredient in affiliate marketing success. Also,
there are so many variables, like the size of a given vertical, the
margins involved, competition, etc.
Q. Is it easier to build income from this type of marketing now or was
it easier years ago? (Please consider competition, Internet usage, advent
of AdWords and Pay Per Click, etc.)
A. It was never easy. There was certainly less competition in the past,
but also less in the way of options of advertisers to choose and methods
to promote them. Plus, there is the continuing growth of ecommerce. I
think the opportunities for success are just as healthy now as they were
Q. While I know that you do not recommend any particular affiliate
marketing programs, in your estimation, what are the “hottest fields?”
A. The “hottest fields” are a slippery slope. They change over time. I
think the hottest field for any given person should be the area that
interests them most. You can certainly go out there as a mercenary and
promote the most lucrative thing at the moment, like ringtones or debt
consolidation, but I suggest going with a long-term plan in an area that
Q. Is there any affiliate marketing software that is a “must” when one
pursues an affiliate marketing venture?
A. This really depends on the type of affiliate. There are software
programs that help optimize affiliate efforts for different affiliates.
For instance, if you’re working with data feeds, you should check out
Q. What are your views concerning affiliate marketing networks such as
LinkShare and Commission Junction?
A. I think they’re the backbone of the industry. The affiliate networks
account for the majority of large affiliate programs, and they also
provide a level of convenience in that you can consolidate a lot of your
activity under a few logins.
I would like to see them work together to establish standards. For
instance, there is a lack of standards in data feeds, which is a challenge
for the folks using them.
Q. Can any absolute statements be made regarding the most lucrative type
of affiliate marketing payment system (e.g pay per sale, pay per click,
A. In general, CPA seems to be more profitable, especially offers for
products and services that are not physical items.
Q. What influence, if any, will blogs make on the affiliate marketing
A. I think some are influential in the way networks, merchants and
affiliates operate. For instance, Jangro.com is considered to have had an
impact in the decision by Commission Junction to change their plans on the
Link Management Initiative (LMI).
Q. What are, statistically, the best avenues to market an affiliate
A. It depends on the vertical. Email and PPC work well for some CPA
offers, while an established web presence can be more important for
selling goods on a revenue share.
Q. Do you see any future trends in the affiliate marketing field?
A. Smaller affiliate programs. Affiliate managers are focusing on
working more closely with fewer affiliates. Also, I think we’ll see an
increasing number of affiliates embrace the opportunities out there with
Web 2.0 and innovate with the new tools that roll out.
Q. What current projects are you undertaking in affiliate marketing, including
your work with the Affiliate Summit?
A. My main focus is Affiliate Summit, the largest affiliate marketing
conference. Our last show had over 2,000 this past January in Las Vegas.
We also have events scheduled in Miami (July 8-10) and London (September
28) this year.
Additionally, I provide affiliate management and consulting services as
Shawn Collins Consulting, and I publish an annual report on affiliate
marketing benchmarks called AffStat.
I also have a blog at http://blog.affiliatetip.com where I post daily
about issues in affiliate marketing. And I’m the co-host with Lisa
Picarille, Editor-in-Chief at Revenue Magazine, for the weekly show,
Affiliate Thing, on WebmasterRadio.FM.
Q. What do you attribute your affiliate marketing success to (e.g.,
building content, writing articles, following footsteps of a mentor, forum
participation, etc.)? Please include any last words of advice for one who
aspires to succeed/excel in the affiliate marketing field.
A. It’s all about dedication, tenacity, and relationships. I don’t look
at my affiliate marketing activity as a job, but rather a fun, profitable
hobby. Over the decade I’ve been involved in the industry, there are way
too many factors to list that have contributed to my success. But I’d say
the most important of all is to constantly endeavor to learn from others.
Conclusion – Do’s and Don’ts of successful affiliates
Analyzing the success stories, we may conclude the following do’s and
don’ts of being a successful affiliate:
touch.” Provide something unique / personal on a consistent basis so that
visitors will be motivated to revisit your site.
their tracking systems updated and so you can be rest assured that you
will get your payments.
visitors who see your affiliate offering.
affiliate programs may like to see your site and study the traffic before
needs of visitors.
With successful identification of customer needs, providing a way to
fulfill those needs, and collaborating with established affiliate
programs, it is possible to create your own affiliate success story. You
just need to manifest a methodical, patient approach and perform lots of
hard work. But raising an affiliate program cash cow is certainly worth