The Early Days of Affiliate Networks

Written by Zac Johnson
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As the internet has rapidly changed over the years, so has the way we do affiliate marketing. In the early days (1997-2001 era) of online marketing, it wasn’t so easy to start up an affiliate network, and DirectTrack tracking systems weren’t yet available, so most networks needed to create their own tracking, which cost a lot of time and money. Though it wasn’t easy, it was the networks that strived to succeed in the beginning, that put us where we are today.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at a few of my first affiliate networks I worked with, and where they are today.

WebSponsors.com (WebClients)
WebSponsors was one of the main starting points for where I saw the potential in affiliate marketing. I had already been making money with the Amazon.com Associates Program, but that was on a percentage basis from sales. Once I came across WebSponsors, I found a whole new set of offers where I could start making money. I no longer had to make a sale to receive a commission, but instead could have someone join the MyPoints.com mailing list and earn .50. Through the offers on WebSponsors, I would go on to create several large free stuff sites and mailing lists.

Where are they now? While in their prime, WebSponsors seemed to be everywhere. I also met up with them occasionally at events like AffiliateForce. In 2005, ValueClick acquired WebSponsors for $141 million.

OnResponse (formerly Bach Systems)
One of my first and most successful affiliate networks was OnResponse. I was able to quickly generate some high numbers for the company on new lead/survey offers with the site, which then lead to meeting and becoming a good friend with the founder, Joe Auerbach. The company was started by Joe and his brother, then sold to ValueClick a couple years later.

Where are they now? I’m sure Joe and his brother are enjoying the good life, after selling to ValueClick. As for the site and domain, it’s just a redirect to ValueClick Media now. In 2000, ValueClick aquired OnResponse for $800,000 and 750,000 shares of VCLK for the company.

FineClicks & Shareasale
Two smaller networks that really helped me branch out in affiliate marketing were FineClicks and Shareasale. In addition to using both of these networks for CPA offers, I was also an advertiser on both networks with several offers. Both of these networks were new and came out at roughly the same time, and because affiliate marketing was so new, I was able to generate full demographic and geographic form leads for less than .15 each. I was then able to mail to these opt-in subscribers and manage their data for several years after.

Where are they now? Shareasale is now one of the largest and most successful networks around. Brian Littleton started the company and still has only a handful of employees running the company, which has thousands of merchants and affiliates. FineClicks was a fun network while it was around, but the founder of the company didn’t stick around too long, and sold the company to Shareasale.

CommissionJunction (CJ)
I always like to refer to CJ as my “turning point” company. Along with having offers and sites running on FineClicks and Sharesale, I also had them placed on CJ. While running as a merchant at CJ, I had paid out over $250,000 in commissions in less than two years. In 2000, CommissionJunction held their first conference, which was called CJU (Commission Junction University). Just a few days before the event, my father and I decided to fly across the country and see what happened. It was my first (and most memorable) internet marketing event. All of the big web site names were there, and for an internet marketer, it was like being at the Oscars in Hollywood. I went on to make some amazing contacts that helped me along the way, and the decision to attend that first CJU event jumpstared hundreds of new ideas and the dedication and inspiration that got me to where I am today.

Where are they now? Whenever I came across a successful affiliate networks, there was almost always a common tread… the company would get bought up by ValueClick. That is also what happened to CJ in 2003, when ValueClick bought he company for $58 million in cash. CJ still remains the same company and network site it was before the purchase.

With the ease of DirectTrack and new tracking solutions becoming available often, we are seeing new affiliate networks popup every week. It no longer takes investment money and a custom backend to build a network, but instead the ability to run a trusted network that makes money for affiliates and builds up a reputation to fly above the competition.

Did you get a chance to work with any of these networks in the early days? If not, what was the first affiliate network you signed up to?

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25 Replies to “The Early Days of Affiliate Networks”

  1. I was part of the early team at OnResponse. At the time, I didn't realize that I was part of a marketing revolution – I didn't know how long I'd be in the industry either, since it was my first taste of not only affiliate marketing, but internet marketing as a whole. After ValueClick aquired us, a year or two went by until I heard from another ex-OnResponse coworker, and with help from our founder and another partner, Vayan was born.

  2. I am currently a user of Justhost affiliet and They are very impressive for each affiliet you get $60. That's a big amount u get for each refferal.

    <abbr>Aditya SEO’s last blog post..How to check for No-Follow and Do-Follow blog</abbr>

  3. I'm a relative newcomer, so the first network I joined was NeverblueAds based on a recommendation from one of your posts I think Zac.

    <abbr>Chris’s last blog post..Market Samurai Rank Tracker Released</abbr>

  4. WOW … onResponse … I remember those days !!! Warren got hired and all hell broke loose … LOL … J/K Warren … It was a great time and lots of FUN!

    Lets just say Joe is Enjoying Life right now !!!

    ha ha ha ha ha 🙂

    <abbr>Darin Carter’s last blog post..Microsoft Bing a Hit</abbr>

  5. Ah, what a nice stroll down memory lane! 🙂 I was the 2nd employee @ onResponse and eventually became ValueClick's corporate webmaster. I think you and Spamford Wallace were our biggest affiliates. We might have even met if you visited the West Palm Beach office. BTW- I believe Scott was the founder and not Joe. Joe came into the picture later down the line. Also, their last name is Averbach – it's misspelled in the article. Cheers!

  6. Very informative post!

    Thank you for posting!

    <abbr>breaking news’s last blog post..Watch the Lakers Parade Live from Los Angeles</abbr>

  7. I'm looking to get started in the affiliate marketing business, but there are so many choices out there. I'm looking to find one that is easy to work with, but yet provides a good compensation agreement. Also, I'm asking this question to avoid the "get rich quick" schemes and scams that are prevalent online. My hope is that this business will provide an extra income as I start out, and eventually build it to replace my current income.

  8. Although there were rough time for technology but I am sure those were days when you can had cream of this industry. As now there are so many competitors involved and hence made it bit difficult as well.

  9. Wow, great to hear how you got started with affiliates, Zac. It is always great to read about the history of how successful people got to where they are today. Thanks for the informative post, I will definitely check out CJ per your recommendation!

  10. Lol the logos look really old school..

    <abbr>Ben Pei’s last blog post..Giving Your Home Based Business a Boost With Blogging</abbr>

  11. I am not even familiar with most of the affiliate networks that you have mentioned here in your post.

    <abbr>Diabetis’s last blog post..A healthy tea for diabetis</abbr>

  12. The only affiliate network i know there is CJ! CJ is probably one of the best affiliate networks.

  13. I’ve tried everything listed on John Chow’s site… TTZ, Azoogle ads, pepperjam, kontera (none of those worked for me by the way) I got denied from mediafastclick. So the first I signed up with was adsense, and after I had my account closed, I switched to Adbrite. They really don’t pay that well, but until I find another that pays better or doesn’t ad a bunch of clutter and underlined links, I’ll switch.

  14. hey zac, I enjoyed the post, cool piece on some of the history which isn't talked about much. Yes sure seems like value click was taking everyone over.

    <abbr>Wes Mahler’s last blog post..Our 4th of July Revolution202 Launch</abbr>

  15. Thanks! This was really a helpful post. It's good to see how things evolve in IM… In general, if I may ask, do you thing CPA is now the "hot" thing of the moment or PPC still is a viable way of monetize a website?

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