Lisa Picarille: Well, thank you to Scott Hazard with Brightside Media for joining us today. Scott has agreed to let us ask him some fascinating questions about the world of affiliate marketing. And I think Shawn’s going to chime in with some questions specifically about data feeds.
Shawn Collins: Yeah, I’m very curious about Scott’s opinions and experiences since he’s been dealing with the data feeds a lot and he has some great insight.
Lisa: Scott is the long time, what we often call, super affiliate. And back in October he launched a PPC-driven affiliate operation that was funded completely by venture capitalists called Cooperative Affiliates. Scott, I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about Cooperative Affiliates and then how that idea came about.
Scott Hazard: The idea came about by me looking for ways to get capital together to use for affiliate marketing purposes. I actually went and spoke with a banker and after I talked to this banker for about 30 minutes, and he still really didn’t have a grasp on what I did. I just gave up. I didn’t even pursue it any further because I was unable to really get him on level with what I was doing.
At that point, I approached a few people that I know with an idea, we talked a lot about it; had a lot of conference calls about it; and decided to give it a try. We started with a small number of investors and I operate as the manager of the operation. What I’ve done there is create some niche websites and use PPC to drive traffic to them. And it’s working at this point. We are looking to grow a whole lot this year. I’ve got an upcoming move that’s going to set us back just a month or so as far as production goes. But once that’s over we’ve got a lot of plans and we have made pretty good money a pretty good ROI on our spin throughout the holidays. So we’re postured in a way that we can hit the ground running in the second quarter.
Lisa: So the power of this really is that as opposed to being one affiliate, it’s a group of affiliates gathered together to focus on specific niche areas and then they’ve sort of got the power of many as opposed to the power of one?
Scott: Exactly. But it’s not all affiliates. We actually have people that are not really in the affiliate marketing world in our group. And we have people that are in other facets besides being an affiliate in our group. As far as the synergy of ideas and stuff goes, that’s really good and we have, I guess I hate to use the word outsider, but people in the group that could be considered outsiders, that will often say ‘well, why would this work this way’ or whatever. And Shawn can tell you a lot of times when someone asks you a question and you explain your way of thinking to them that often you come up with a better plan just by being able to voice this.
It’s been a big deal for me as a single-soul affiliate for the last several years. I sit hear and I beat on this computer; and I have a few friends that I talk to on the phone and such, but I have not had the benefit of the water cooler, as Lisa, you and I discussed back in the interview in the magazine. This also acts somewhat as a water cooler. But obviously with also the infusion of outside funds.
Lisa: Have there been other ideas that have sprung out of these water cooler, brain-storming sessions that you may be implementing in the future?
Scott: Yes. Ideas and merchants and just general things that I probably wouldn’t be doing if I were doing this completely on my own. I still have my own operation, Brightside Media, that’s completely separate and that’s still completely mine. But as Cooperative Affiliates, the group of us have looked, discussed, researched and see some ways that we’re going to go that I probably wouldn’t have gone on my own.
Lisa: Can you tell me how much time does the Cooperative Affiliates venture take versus your regular affiliate marketing endeavors?
Scott: Probably a third to two-thirds two-thirds of my own and a third of Cooperative Affiliates. It’s really hard for me to measure that because sometimes I do several things. I may work on something of my own for a week and not even hardly touch Cooperative Affiliates other than monitoring it. But if I had to give numbers, I’d probably say a third to two-thirds.
Lisa: Do you expect that to continue or do you expect the balance to change as Cooperative Affiliates grows?
Scott: I think that 2007 will see that change. I think 2007 will see me, hopefully, by the end of the third quarter going into Q4, developing a considerably larger infrastructure of sites and such for Cooperative Affiliates and really getting that fired-up into Q4. The available funds will be there for Q4 and I would really like to put myself in a position where we will be able to fully utilize them.
Lisa: Well, that’s great. I hope you will keep us informed about any new ventures that come out of that and things you can talk about that you guys are doing.
Scott: Thank you. I will indeed. It just goes to show you that sometimes we have crazy ideas and some of them work and some of them don’t and this one has.
Shawn: Great. Scott, I have some questions I was curious about. With regards to data feeds, one thing I was wondering from your perspective is what do you see as the biggest problem right now that you experience with data feeds?
Scott: As far as data feeds go, Shawn, what I would really like to see and I guess can consider a public appeal to the networks, are a few things. The first being a little bit more of a common format. The most important thing that I would like to have as an affiliate from the networks is the ability to log into my account, select the data feeds that I want to use, and actually look at them. Download them and take a look at them. Once you look at them, a lot of them are going to be non-usable or not what you wanted or whatever. Not that they’re bad, but that they’re not going to fit in with your plan.
The system we have now requires affiliates to go through CJ personnel, either your account representative if you are a CJP or through their support people, and set a data feed up to be either delivered to your server or for you to ftp in and grab. What I think the networks are missing on here is a) a lot of these data feeds, by the time the affiliate sees it and realizes they can’t use it, they’re still sending it on whatever cycle it is they’re sending it and it’s not being used which is really just somewhat of a waste.
Also, if an affiliate is working on a site at midnight on a Thursday the networks work nine-to-five, affiliates work 24/7. If I were in one of the networks where I’m not able to get data feeds instantly and I was able to reach in and grab something, set it up and it would work, and then set-up a weekly update or a daily update or however it needs to be set-up all within my interface, that would be great. I realize that if this were to ever happen, that it would possibly be very much abused and overused by people that go in and get a lot of data feeds and disseminate them for whatever reasons and such. It would need to be monitored. But I think if the networks went through a fairly close screening process that they could put this together for affiliates that they deem worthy of it I guess. And it would be an invaluable tool to me.
Shawn I sent you an email one time. I believe I replied to one of your emails that I just come in; I think it was the three o’clock in the morning. I mentioned I was out drinking tea and playing cards. I sat down to work and if I had access to certain data feeds at that time they would have gotten integrated into one of my sites. As it is, those data feeds were added. They’re now in the data feed push, but now I am in a position to where my programmer is not available for sometime and it’s going to be probably three weeks or another month before those feeds work their way into my site.
Shawn: So are there any networks that are currently giving that sort of access?
Scott: ShareASale gives you that kind of access. ShareASale allows you to reach in and, once you’re approved for the merchant, I understand that I am not going to be able to log in at three a.m., and get instantly approved and instantly approved for data feed access and get data feeds that way. But if I’m able to be approved for the merchant ahead of time, on ShareASale then I can go in there in the middle of the night and look at a data feed, even determine if it will work or not. If it will work then I can load it in to the mix. Then at that point when I am comparing calendars with my programmer, I don’t really have a regular programmer any more. What I’ve got now is somebody whose kind of working me in, it comes down to a situation where I have to coordinate his schedule with my schedule, and if I have to coordinate that with the networks schedule, well then often that just throws things way off.
Shawn: Give the opinion of should networks or merchants themselves should severely limit the number of people that get access t o data feeds, do you think that they can do some damage?
Scott: I think they can be abused. There’s been some talk on one of the boards that.
A company that has been disseminating data feeds through his company to affiliates who may or may not have been approved for use of that data feed. I think it should be a managed resource. I’ll tell you when I was a brand new affiliate, I applied for a data feed one time with a company with CJ and I received a very nice email back from their program manager. He said we give this out on a small scale, we consider it a managed resource and at this time we just don’t think you are ready for it.
Looking back on that now, to be perfectly honest with you, he was right because I wasn’t ready for it. But if they need to manage it, it doesn’t need to be given out to just everybody, but those people that have proven to be productive and valuable affiliates there’s really no reason that they shouldn’t be made available to that group of people on a 24/7 basis.
Shawn: Sure, and as far as somebody whose capable of using a data feed do you have any tips for how to get started in for people that are totally new to it?
Scott: WebMerge. WebMerge is a great tool, there are a lot of scripts out there, there’s a thread at ABestWeb posted by a member named Dirk Gardner, and if you got to ABestWeb and do a search for Dirk Gardner you can find it. It’s a wonderful thread, it’s got all kind of sample script that you can use, and just enter your information in, it’s a great resource, its very, very, very good. I do a little bit of stuff with PHP but do not consider myself a programmer. It’s not where my strengths are and never spent the time I need to develop that. I really feel that my time is better spent elsewhere. I have used those scripts applied by Dirk, ABestWeb; it’s a wonderful resource for someone to get started with data feeds and databases.
Shawn: So if somebody is even intimidated by using WebMerge, would you recommend trying GoldenCAN or DataFeedFile?
Shawn: That’s all I was wondering, that’s a great education there. I appreciate that.
Scott: There are several other good websites out there that are WebMerge tutorials. Actually some affiliate programs have there own version of WebMerge that they’ll give affiliates or sell affiliates at a very discounted price that’s for use with their data feed and its all set up with templates where you really just plug everything in.
For new affiliates I would also say take a look at the MakeAPage on ShareASale that’s a wonderful resource. Many OPM houses and affiliate management houses kind of have their own version of the MakeAPage. I believe Akiva Bergstrom, was maybe the pioneer of that, and he’s certainly got a nice setup over on his end.
Shawn: a page generator?
Scott: Right and those are generally, those are very effect. They provide a nice table of items, and you can filter the items by what you want to show up in it, and set the number that displays and everything. They are actually very good, I used those quite a bit when I first became an affiliate and had some success with them, and still use them today. I still use them for, mostly for a few related down the right side column on a page or something. You can set it up to show one column with four items in it; it’s a great page dressing.
Lisa: Well, Scott, this has been a great education for people. You spent a lot of your time looking at big picture things as well as getting into the nitty gritty, giving a lot of people some great advice. So why don’t we wrap it up by letting us know what you are going to be talking about at the Affiliate Summit?
Scott: At Affiliate Summit I am going to be talking about marketing your affiliate website outside of the box and I’ll say that outside’ pretty much means outside of your house. These are offline, what we consider today; nontraditional methods of advertising which fifteen years ago people lived and died by. It seems that advertising these days is, in the online world, has gone strictly online which I am a big fan of. I think that’s where your best ROI is, but I think there’s also a lot of opportunity out there on the streets that a lot of affiliates aren’t getting and that’s what my presentation is about.
Lisa: Well that sounds really interesting and I think everybody will benefit from checking that out.
Shawn: Yeah thanks a lot for coming on, Scott. I look forward to seeing you in Vegas.
Scott: All right guys, thanks for having me. I’ll see ya both here in just a few days.
Shawn: Take care. Thank you.
Lisa: OK take care. Bye bye.