Affiliate Marketing is Bullshit. Jason Calacanis Affiliate Summit speech Las Vegas February 2008


I couldn't attend Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas this week as I was (finally) getting my thyroid gland removed. Anyway, the op went well and I arrived back home Wednesday evening to recover. So why am I sat at my PC writing this blog post at 1.30am Friday morning when I should be tucked up in bed? Well, I've just listened to the keynote speech by Jason Calacanis that he gave at the Affiliate Summit and was inspired to post my thoughts. First of all, who is Jason Calacanis? He's best known for co-founding and was the CEO of Weblogs Inc., a network of blogs that was sold to AOL in November 2005 for around $25m. More recently he created Mahalo.com, the human-powered search engine. He's also known for being outspoken and of strong opinion. So what was his speech about? Well, I suggest you listen for yourself here. In a nutshell he spoke at length about how we as affiliates are "polluting the river" by creating "thin" affiliates sites that have absolutely no value other than to make money for ourselves. When I say "thin" sites I mean sites that have little or no original content and are there for no other purpose than intercepting a visitor who wants to find a service/product in a search engine. Other examples of "thin" sites are landing pages, bridge pages and basically the type of sites that you see appearing for brand bidding paid search groups. Do a Google search for "Sky" or "BT Broadband" and you will see exactly what I mean. Lets face it, if a user types "BT Broadband" into Google then they want to find the BT Broadband site don't they? Let's be honest, the affiliate landing page adds zero value to the user. Why else do Google "slap" affiliate sites more and more frequently? Because they're crap, that's why. I wrote about this last June and offered some advice on how to build a substantial site of higher quality. In my opinion Google did us a huge favour when they made their changes last year as they got rid of some (but not all, by a long shot) of rubbish sites. Jason talks about sites like Squidoo which are full of pages of unoriginal (and stolen) content and affiliate links, offering nothing unique or actually useful. In fact search the various search engine/affiliate forums and you will find loads of articles about affiliates who have "gamed" Squidoo and gained good search engine rankings from it. Some are boastful about how much they can earn from it via affiliate links and how easy it is. Jason also comments on the likes of PayPerPost with stuff like: "Anyone here from PayPerPost? You need to kill yourself. I’m kidding. Well, I wouldn’t mind it if you did.” - I think his opinions on paid review sites are quite clear :-) Not only that but he also poked fun at certain web gurus who post pictures of their large cheques and commission statements online (ahem). His point was that while its all well and good to earn $600k a month from "thin" sites and by gaming social networks etc. its not a long term viable business and isn't anything to be proud of. Words like "pathetic" and "sad" were mentioned liberally. Slow, steady growth is the way forward Throughout his speech Jason talks about how the key to his success of building up a quality blog network is simple. Build good quality original content. It's that simple and its something that I've been banging on about for ages too. Take two of my long term projects, UKOffer.com and Bingo.org.uk. Both sites have nothing but original content on them, are updated regularly (not as much as I'd like, before you point that out) and are there for the long term. Both sites make a moderate amount of money but nothing to really shout about and I'm happy with that. For now. Why am I happy? Well over the months and years I've watched them slowly get ranked better in the search engines, slowly grow in terms of visitors and popularity and slowly earn more and more revenue. By going the "slow and sure" route I'm building up a more substantial business that will hopefully stand the test of time and weather the Google "slaps", "dances" and general wobbles that our favourite search engine bestows upon us. That way, in a couple of years time when both sites are in the top 3 of the search engines for my targeted search terms (and they will be) then I will be in the position to sell the sites on at a premium due to the fact that they have solid rankings and a well established user base and consistent source of traffic. In the meantime there will undoubtedly be a load of "thin" affiliate sites which will most probably get to the top of the search engines by grey/black hat methods and earn loads more money than my sites. But Google will catch up, push them out and in time put my sites back at the top of the pile. Don't be offended As a full time Affiliate Marketeer who has been in this industry for 8 years or so it would have easy to be offended by someone giving a keynote speech that seems at first listen to slate the industry I know and love. The problem is that I agree with pretty much everything he said. There are a lot of absolutely terrible affiliate sites out there, I know as I used to have some! Yes I participated in brand name bidding groups and built landing pages a while ago, and yes the money was good. But then Google forced me to rethink my ways and I'm glad they did. I realised the hard way that there is absolutely no future to be had by operating pure landing page type sites. In fact I went one step further and started to look for ways to make money online without using paid search at all. It was then that things clicked into place and I started to build new strategies for long term sites that I could be proud of and that would stand up on their own as portals/communities. People often ask me what advice I would give to newbies getting involved in Affiliate Marketing and in summary this is all you need to know: "Build original sites with unique content that is updated regularly. Work hard on them and be patient." That's it, that's the secret of my success and all you will ever need to know in order to build a successful affiliate site. More links and comment on the Jason Calacanis affiliate speech: Jason Calacanis Blog - More feedback on my talk at Affiliate Summit Thankyou Jason Calacanis Jason Calacanis Insults Affiliate Summit Attendees, Says They Pollute The Internet Live Blogging the Jason Calacanis Keynote at Affiliate Summit Calacanis and the Real Hurdles for Affiliate Marketing You’re Not the Boss of Me What I'm listening to right now: Usher – "Moving mountains"

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26 Responses to Affiliate Marketing is Bullshit. Jason Calacanis Affiliate Summit speech Las Vegas February 2008

  1. Gyutae Park says:

    Hey Kieron,
    Hope you’re feeling better after the opp… It would have been great to meet you at ASW08.

    Anyway, you offer some good thoughts on the keynote here. Everyone expects there to be some sort of big secret but it’s really about hard work.

    Here are my thoughts on the keynote: http://www.winningtheweb.com/asw08-calacanis-keynote.php

    Will you be in Boston for the next Affiliate Summit?

  2. Keith says:

    Regarding your “Slow, steady growth is the way forward” approach, you have just made something click that should have been ‘clicked’ years ago, that’s all I will say, thanks!

  3. Michelle says:

    I’ve not listened to Jason’s speech in full but have read snippets (and promise to listen to it). I think whilst some affiliates may not be too happy with some of what he said it is still that needs to be recognised.

    Compared to you Kieron I am right at the beginning of my affiliate marketing career having only been full time for just under a year but even I’ve seen what is perceived as important to Google change and to be successful in this sector I think that’s what we’re always going to have to do.

  4. Elaine says:

    Fantastic post Kieron, couldn’t agree more. Getting to the top is one long hard slog – staying there is even harder when faced with all the added obstacles of others vying for ‘your’ space – but it is worth it :)

  5. Ralph says:

    Slow, steady growth is the way forward – couldn’t agreee more. It’s not instant earnings that build a business, its long term, sustainable growth.

  6. gadget says:

    Kieron – I think this late night stuff suits you. This is probably your best post of the year. I totally agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve spent the past few years doing all the newbie stuff and made some money. However, around Christmas I came to the same realisation as you and have just launched a new site.

    Its exactly what you’ve said – good quality, in-depth, unique content that adds value to the internet and ultimately to the people searching for information on my subject matter.

    I’m in this for the long run and want people to recognise my ‘brand’ (site) for what its worth. After all, how many people could recall the affiliate site they used just an hour ago?

  7. Monty says:

    I think Jason’s got some valid points and I think the reaction of some US bloggers shows just how different the industry is over there. I’ve always felt that the “super affiliate” industry seems to be one step away from scamming – dubious Clickbank ebooks being a particular favourite.

    Of course, Jason was only copying his ideas from a couple of my own recent blog posts :)

  8. Lammo says:

    Agree with Gadget – this is easily your best post of the year mate. I’ve been banging on about unique content being the way forward for what seems like forever, yet most people still don’t look beyond PPC or Cashback.

    Suits me fine, as I know I’m building a sustainable, ever-growing business – A Tortoise to other affiliates Hares if you like!

  9. bwb says:

    great post, I agree completely!!! Building sites that help people is what the net is about and anything else is eventually going to get knocked out, I’m so tired of searching for something and finding a site that has no info.

  10. Jason Dale says:

    Build a site, develop a brand, concerned about user experience, not liking pictures of cheques…. must be a ‘Jason’ thing as I totally agree with those aspects of his talk.

    On the other hand, if I was being given cheques for $600k on a regular basis, I’d not be overly worried about the comments Calcanis has made (provided the cheques had been used wisely).

    And that’s the key here… there is big money to be made down ‘thin’ routes and whilst long term small/medium sized affiliates can do well with content (or ‘fat’ sites) the lure of the wonga is tempting – especially if you see AM as a means to an end as opposed to a long term business proposition as Calcanis does.

    Because the content arena is tougher (time, effort, copying issues, 100% cashback affiliates, not always a level playing field etc) – affiliates are going to be tempted to the thin side.

    Jason

  11. Moose says:

    Does one buy milk from the supermarket? … or does one buy a cow & milk the cow whilst it’s fat for oneself.

  12. I think ultimately it comes down to copyright, if you own your original articles that are unique and helpful to readers they can continue to earn today, tomorrow and in years to come.

    Your work will then be recognised by search engines, but more importantly be placed by readers in front of their friends, be that on their own blogs, MySpace pages or Facebook profiles.

    And not a penny is spent on AdWords.

  13. Neil says:

    Great piece Kieron.

    Content rich sites add more value to the whole chain, and in doing so they will support the affiliate industry in the longer term.

    Thin site vs Thick site traffic light system anyone?

  14. ian-d says:

    I actually really enjoyed listening to that, he speaks a lot of sense, although i’m sure some affilites won’t like it. I didn’t take offence, he’s right, when good quality content sites start getting replaced with spammy sites, where’s the enjoyment for the end user, especially those that we all aim at, those that don’t spend as much time as us on the web and can’t go straight to source. Whilst very opinionated, he commands my respect for the work done on engadget, which is an excellent blog, albeit mainly focused around the US market, and i do think Mahalo will do really well, although only if he keeps the same level of discipline over it being human controlled.
    All this would actually make a really interesting topic on a4u , anyone fancy starting it?
    Kieron, did you take offense at the ‘posting pictures of cheques etc’ ;) I hope not, as although i can’t see myself doing the same thing, i do think it might help inspire greats of the future into the industry based on the hope of earning good money, which although isn’t that easy, does draw ppl in and they might be really good at it.

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  16. Eric says:

    Jason is only saying this because it backs up his current position in Mahalo: slow and steady growth. Unfortunately, his Mahalo is doing far worse than some of the “trash” sites that are focusing on the cutting-edge.

    What Jason fails to realize is that marketing will never go away and a large portion of the money to be made on the web is made in capitalizing on cutting-edge trends.

    Slow and steady growth is good, yes, but by no means does it guarantee success. The web changes so quickly that the best business strategy is to capitalize on BOTH solid, reputable businesses (the models of which may go way of the dinosaurs) and also cutting-edge trends (which have less hope for the future).

    Quite frankly, a large portion of affiliates simply market better than their affiliate company. Nothing wrong with this. Just because they aren’t employees of the affiliate company doesn’t mean they aren’t providing a more persuasive or further reach value. Google also fails to realize this.

    As Larry Page said several years back, there is no such thing as spam. Marketing is marketing. In this world, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  17. PPC Coach says:

    Remember this guy is known for being the godfather of link baiting and will say anything he can to get exposure. He’s a great marketer that way because there is no such thing as bad publicity. Keep that in mind when listening to his speech, the bottomline is he got exactly what he wanted, thousands of bloggers blogging away discussing either how stupid he is or how brilliant he is for “taking a stand”.

    I admire his PR skills.

    :)

  18. Kieron says:

    Ian – no, I have much thicker skin than that :)

    PPC Coach – yes he is known for having strong opinion, but in my book thats a good thing. I blogged about his speech because I thought it was really good, and I support most of what he said.

  19. Keith says:

    100% agree with you Kieron.

    I have long argued against the view that Google ‘hates’ affiliates – it’s just not true – what is true is that Google ‘hates’ crap and a lot of affiliate sites (yes including some of mine before anyone throws that back at me) are crap.

    We’ve been building on slow steady growth for the last 6 years and it is now really starting to show big results (when one of my sites appears above the BBC and Yahoo for current results or is the only affiliate site on a page of Google results otherwise dominated by the broadsheet newspapers then I know I’ve got it right :-) )

    The gravy train may have slowed down but the slower it goes the longer it can last before it runs out of steam.

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  21. blair says:

    A brilliant post Kieron. You have made the point perfectly about high quality, unique, content driven sites being the way forward. And I tend to agree with you and Jason, there are far to many crap affiliate sites out there. People just need to get back to basics and build sites that people actually want to visit and use. It ain’t rocket science!

  22. Tara says:

    Your advice for high quality sites isn’t just what Google is looking for (and visitors for that matter!) – it’s what merchants are looking for too. I’ve seen things move along the years from merchants being happy to just reap in the sales, to becoming more demanding of quality sites to partner with. It’s the right way forward for all parties! That said, its difficult to turn a cheek at the easy moolah – for both affiliates and merchants.

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  24. Evan W says:

    Just found your site and its great! I concur completely with the organic strategy. Its very hard to maintain but worth it if you are willing to write like an animal. Hope to work with you in some capacity in the future.

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