The Early Days of Affiliate Networks
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 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.
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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