The most exciting times in affiliate marketing for me were 1999 to 2002, mirroring the peak of the dotcom boom, and I thought those frenzied days might not return, but 2007 was the year when the music blared out with more tempo and people started jiving with increased vigour once again.
UK sales from affiliate marketing rose from £1.35 billion in 2005 to £2.16 billion in 2006 and the meteoric growth of the channel lead to investors and entrepreneurs taking note of the industry and significant sums of money pouring in. In 2007, much-needed talent from outside the field began to impose discipline, structure and planning to a sometimes amateurishly-run industry.
Before you could say Boom 2.0, affiliates were setting up fancy offices with 10 or 20 staff, media agencies began to create affiliate marketing divisions, networks were blowing £20,000 on lavish parties, and every Tom, Dick and Harry was setting up an affiliate network.
So what were the seven best and worst things about 2007?
1. Cool tools and widgets were created by affiliate networks to integrate products to their websites. New tools like Affiliate Window’s ShopWindow, Buy.at’s Content Engine and Paid on Result’s Content Creator made life a lot easier for affiliates and I’d like to thank the networks for devoting resources to these innovations.
2. Faster and more reliable payments from merchants. Affiliates enjoyed quicker payments than ever before and less merchants went bankrupt than in previous years leaving affiliates without their commissions.
3. There were many affiliate marketing events and they were more professionally run. I attended so many gatherings that somebody started calling me affiliate marketing’s Paris Hilton, but still did not go to most of the dos: there was barely a week in the year when there was not some event, exhibition, pub gathering or advisory panel meeting. Old timers will remember there being only one gathering a year not so long ago!
4. With affiliate marketing in the UK being so dependent on PPC, I would have to mark the release of Yahoo Panama as a landmark event. For years the second biggest search engine in the English-speaking world had a paid search interface that affiliates could not use without their foreheads reaching for the wall within 15 seconds of logging in and wanting to disappear to… Panama. Yahoo Search Marketing‘s interface is far from perfect, but a squillion times better.
5. The new Affiliates4U forums launched in May and wowed everybody. The various other forums I belong to rarely go much beyond customising vBulletin with CSS colour changes, but Affiliates4U is arguably one the most clever developments of vBulletin in the world, integrating the previous forums with a whole array of social networking features.
6. The first steps were taken to make the allocation of brand name bidding contracts fairer. While some continue to dish out these lucrative paid search contracts secretly to those who they are buddies with rather than those who may be the best, in 2007 there were a few RFP processes which were publically advertised and any affiliate could participate. Buy.at and DGM, for instance, who have been criticised more than most for their clandestine closed groups, had RFPs for The AA and Club 18-30 respectively, so hats off to them.
7. There have been so many affiliate networks launching in 2007 that the most common reaction I witness when I inform somebody about a new one is a groan followed by the utterance “oh no, not another one,” but I do believe competition is a healthy thing. Some of the new players like Linkshare UK have a lot to bring to the table. There has been some complacency from a couple of the established networks over the last couple of years and having incumbent businesses snapping at their heals may force them out of their rut. UK affiliate networks like Magic Button and YourCheque have long since been consigned to the history books and, with 50 networks now in the country, everyone is going to have to work even harder and smarter next year. Otherwise we could see our first UK affiliate network in many years leave the dotcom high street in 2008.
Part II of this piece, with the Bad and the Ugly, follows here!
In the meanwhile, did you think it was a good or bad year for affiliate marketing? What were the highs and lows for you?