CJ Analytics Redux

Categories: Internet Marketing
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Published on: June 5, 2006

It has been almost 2 Weeks now since Commission Junction announced on 5/23/2006 their LMI P1 or Link Management Initiative Phase 1 (CJ Account required).

It caused quite an uproar in the Affiliate Marketing Community and a lot of debate and speculation. There are still 2 more weeks before Phase I gets actually launched on 6/23, but a lot of stuff did happen already which made me decide to write a summary and my opinion why CJ is doing this.

I will be proven wrong or right in the months to come. In either case, it will be an interesting time and there is a lot of pain to come. The overall effects of that can not be estimated, but no matter how it develops, it will have a lasting effect for the years to come.

The CJ stated “The Link Management Initiative (LMI) was conceived in response to requests from our employees, advertisers and publishers” (“our (CJ) employees”? Is this a typo? shouldn’t it be spelled employer?). I guess this statement was not entirely correct because people had a hard time to find publishers or advertisers that applauded the announcement as something they were looking for and wanted to have.


Sudden Impact
The strongest and loudest criticism and rant came from the CJ Publishers (Affiliates) , because they are affected the most by CJ’s announcement.

It was not all just screaming and yelling which a lot of marketing professionals consider a common trait of especially smaller publishers, when it comes to changes in this industry. Scott Jangro, a former BeFree Employee who changed sides and became an Affiliate some years ago was the first who posted some constructive concerns and useful information regarding the issue at his blog.

It was not for long that it was picked up by ThreadWatch.com where I learned about it. I commented at Scott’s Blog and wrote about 1 day later a more detailed post at my own blog. My post was quite sarcastic, because I CJ and me have some history together, but also contained technical concerns and speculations about the reason of CJ for this move.

Jeremy Palmer from ReveNews was also one of early Blogger about this topic. His post was simply news correspondence.

He provided a summary of the CJ’s Publisher FAQ that is only accessible to CJ Members to people who had no access to it. His only comment was, that CJ is probably doing this to detect and eliminate “rogue” affiliates from their network. Jeremy, The current links provide CJ already enough access to Information about Publisher activities to detect rogue affiliates. They will not catch more because of the LMI, except the ones that turn involuntarily rogue due to the change.

Also the following Bloggers commented on the issue:
SuperAff Affiliate Marketing Blog 5/26 – Crazy Days Are Upon Us – CJ’s New Javascript Delight
Adventures in Net Marketing: on 5/26 – CJ’s Javascript Links
David Lewis from ReveNews on 5/27 – CJ’s Link Management Initiative: Chill Out, People!

Just a recap for everybody who does not know what CJ’s LMI is all about.
CJ switches the content links that are today normal HTML Text Links or Links and Banner Images to “Google Adsense Like” pieces of JavaScript Code which the publisher inserts into his Website.

The change will be launched on 6/23 and will in Phase one only affect new Affiliate Relationships. Existing Relationships will not be affected in June. The Existing Text and Banner Links remain active as so called “Legacy Links”.

CJ plans to support the legacy links at least until January 2007 and later to avoid negative impact during the holiday season which is crucial to Advertisers and Publishers alike.

Product Datafeed Links as they are today can not be replaced by JavaScript, but CJ plans to make some changes to the Product Catalog during the next months as well. Special Non-JavaScript will be provided to be used for email marketing or Search Engine Marketing where JavaScript Links are also not usable.

The Email and Search Marketing Links are only enabled for publishers that are identifying themselves as such. If no Special Link for SEM or EM was provided by the Advertiser, then it means, that the Advertiser does not allow it’s affiliates to utilize those advertising methods to promote the Advertiser and his products and services. CJ said, that they are going to closely monitor the usage of the links to make sure that publisher are only using them according to each purpose.

The Issue caused by this are very complicated and not easy to understand by a lot of people. Multiple things are affected by this at ones.

Due to the lag of information was there also plenty of room for speculations. Commission Junction had to step forward and answer the most important questions that started piling up.

Advertiser Reaction and Theories
Advertisers (Merchants) were for the most part surprised too. Some started expression their opinion recently in forums, via email and via Tele Conference with Jeff Molander (Summary/Blog Post and Full Audio Download). Jeff Molander was one of the first to comment on CJ’s announcement and believes that CJ’s LMI has the purpose to “regain control” over the affiliates who are doing only PPC Marketing for the most part anyway.

PPC Marketing was embraced by Affiliates years ago and made Google what Google is today and filled the cash register of Yahoo! by spending billions of advertising dollars on the Yahoo Search Marketing Service which is basically Overture.com. Yahoo! purchased Overture.com formerly known as Goto.com, the PPC Search Engine Pioneer in October 2003.

Merchants got a handle on PPC Marketing themselves since only 1-2 years ago and were surprised that Affiliates occupied this space for years already. Partners turned to competitors in some cases. Jeff has a point that is hard to ignore, but I do not believe that this is the main reason for CJ to change it’s linking technique. I will get back to this a bit later again.

Affiliate Marketing Industry Leaders and Spokes Persons Hold Back
There were discussions going on at the various Leading Industry Forums and Blogs. Questions were collected to be addressed by CJ away from the noise..

Scott Jangro provided some good points in his follow up post to his initial comments at his blog, Linda Buquet:aka “Catalyst” from 5 Star Affiliate Programs joined the discussion and the new rising Affiliate Network from Canada, ShareResults.com was the only Network that was taking active part in the discussion. The other networks remained quite, but they also have no blog to join the discussion with.

Wayne Portner from ReveNews provided his opinion to some of the questions and concerns raised by Affiliates and Shawn Collins from AffiliateTip and Affiliate Summit cited Scott Jangro at his blog, who summarized the current debates properly when it reached the peak of the speculations and “conspiracy theories”.

I had some interesting discussions in public and private at the Affiliate Manager Forums which pointed me into a direction to look for answers which remained completely unnoticed until this point.

CJU Online Podcast – Addressing the concern regarding CJ’s LMI
CJ announced a special Podcast for Tuesday 5/30. The created the new CJU Online Podcast Series for this occasion, but plan to continue it in the future as tool to provide Network related Information to their publishers.

Host of the podcast was Brian Caldwell (Commission Junction) who is also the Host of the Radio Show “Affiliate Marketing Today” at WebmasterRadio.FM. His Guest for this special transmission was Frank Gerstenberger, Director of Product Management at CJ.

The people that badmouthed before the transmission that it will be a waste of time seemed to be right, the statements made were ridicules. It was good enough to fool the people that don’t have much industry Background and no technical knowledge.

The first comment from Frank regarding the JavaScript Link was the comparison with Google Adsense. AdSense uses JavaScript and that’s were the similarities between Adsense Ads and the new CJ JavaScript links/ad’s end.

It’s like Google AdSense … Huh?
AdSense is contextual advertising. Google tries to figure out which ads would be the most relevant for visitors to my page where I inserted the Ad. They are doing a decent job although I still see more Blog Ads on my Blog than anything else. I don’t blog much about blogs and the lag of targeting bothers me a bit.

The point is, that I can not choose the Ads myself. I can’t control the Advertised Products and Services and the Ad Copy. I can block certain Advertisers and Advertisers can do campaigns that target my site visitors specifically, if I provide this option to Advertisers. I get in the first case money from Google for every click and the for the impressions in the ladder scenario. My Site is nothing than a virtual Billboard that I hand over to Google to take care of and make them and me good money. This is not Performance Marketing or Affiliate Marketing.

If I enable space on my car for Advertisement and get paid by the Agency for every mile I drive with an advertisement they put on my car thorough the city, then does this not make me an Affiliate Marketer. I am not part of the sales process and have virtually no control over it.
It is funny that CJ mentioned AdSense first (and only) and I will explain a bit later why that is.

Along with the Industry
The next statement was, that CJ is just going along with the Industry, other Networks do already use JavaScript Links or plan to do so in the near Future.

Let’s see, Linkshare has the optional DRM – Dynamic Rich Media Ad’s available for over 4 years now (if not longer). The same is true for beFree dynamic Ads and for CJ’s SmartLinks. Each of those aged features has their practical uses, but they are not a replacement for deliberately placed Text or Banner Links.

The argument how great the JS Links will work to ensure that content is up-to-date is also not as revolutionary as it sounds. Merchants provide today already Banners that change automatically. Dynamic update is good in some places and in others not. It’s very often the case, that I don’t want it to change.

What good does it, if I promote a nice vacation package for Greece and promote a Travel Guide for Greece right next to it, if the merchant changes it to a Travel Guide for Mexico without my knowledge.

But if the Links don’t change, why use JavaScript in the first place? JavaScript as Technology has disadvantages over static HTML (or dynamically server side rendered HTML for that matter).

JavaScript pose a security threat, a major one. Not so long ago was the general recommendation to disable JavaScript and cookies completely in your web browser. cookies for the wrong reasons, but JavaScript for very good ones. A lot of security holes were patched (IE), but IE7 is looming already on the horizon.

Performance is another issue. JavaScript is executed on the clients machine. It’s using up Memory and CPU power and that not just a little. The notorious memory leaks of IE and Firefox add to the problem. After intense internet usage with 3-5 browser windows are 200-300 MB occupied by the Browser.

Did you ever try to use all the nice feature of Google Personalized Homepage? I did. After adding all the stuff I wanted, about 2-3 pages full of stuff, did my computer spend 15 seconds to 3 minutes to update the content on my page. I removed most of the stuff and kept the minimum to make it somewhat worthwhile to use it and it still loads way to long.

Needless to say, it never became my Homepage. The JavaScript Ads are more likely not to be loaded. If you have a few on a page it can cause problems for the visitor. The nasty thing is, that I can not stop the loading and running of the JavaScript as I can stop the loading of a large HTML Page with a lot of images. Hitting Escape does not stop anything, on the contrary, you just increased your chances, that the whole Browser crashes. Frequent experiences like that will certainly help with customer retention, doesn’t it?

See AM:NOT
Future Proof Technology as Frank Gerstenberger said? That remains to be seen. The ability to load Multimedia Ads is an ability that justifies the use of this technology. Support it, great, that does not require to replace the existing one that works better in most other cases.

Going “Along with the industry”… Which Industry? Affiliate Marketing? Did I miss something or did he just confused Affiliate Marketing with Display Advertising?

Is CJ going along with the Ad Space Inventory Buying, Selling, Renting and Managing Display Advertising Industry? Absolutely. Does it make sense, sure.

All this makes one believe, that the Performance Marketing Executives at CJ got either fired or silenced by the Parent Company ValueClick. ValueClick is a leader when it comes to display advertising.

The Sites that provide the Ad Space are content sites that want to monetize their Free content which they were not able to sell successfully (Newspapers for example). Those sites are not actively promoting or selling the services and products advertised on their Website.

It’s managed by companies like ValueClick Media , FastClick (now also ValueClick), Adverting and others. The Ads have to be appropriate and targeted as possible, that’s marketing 101.

Dynamic Rich Media Content does good on a lot of those sites It was booming in 2003 after years of slow growing and almost certain death during the DOT Com crash.-See “The Evolution of Rich Media” at iMedia Connections, written by Russell Shaw 1/2004

It started booming even more since last year. The 2005 eMarketer report “Rich Media — At the Tipping Point” revealed that consumers are more likely to purchase a product after viewing a rich-media ad than a non-rich media ad.

The provided link goes to a form at the eMarketers Website. They send you the Whitepaper for Free, if you fill it out. If you don’t want to fill out their form and provide all your personal information, download it directly here.while its still there.

I found it in Google next to the link to File on another site where it was already removed.

Affiliate Marketing does not work that way. Affiliates don’t want to rent Ad-Space to somebody to manage it, at least not to make it their primary source of income. No Affiliates are active sellers and promoter of specific merchants and their products they have a relationship with.
That’s the reason why Affiliate Content Site are so rare when you look at the total number of Affiliates out there. There are two types of affiliate content sites.

The first type are affiliates that did not start out as affiliates. They had a content site and realized, that they can and should monetize it. Those Affiliates are not marketers. They don’t want to sell and promote your product and think up ways how to increase sales. They care about their site and want the money to pay for it and make a living. Those are sites that are better off with Google AdSense and if they are large enough with a lot of traffic, companies like ValueClick Media will be interested to manage Ad-Space on their Site.

What is Affiliate Marketing?
The Second Type of content site started with thinking about promoting and selling the merchants products first and build the content around that to increase sales.

Affiliates are into it to make their living via selling somebody else’s products or services and getting compensated for it. The better they do that job, the more commission they make.

Smart affiliates are the first to exploit new trends and developments. Most areas are way to risky for an established merchant to explore.

Many Affiliates fail for exactly that reason. Others will find a way and strike it rich. When this frontier becomes at one point in time urban suburbs, Advertisers like to forget, that it became a suburb because of the frontier work of Affiliates and other Entrepreneurs’ that risked everything and proved what works and what does not work.

They become suddenly unwanted and are being forced with brute force to leave the new backyard of the business establishment. They are seen as intruders and scrapers and maggots. Does this description sound familiar? There was something in the history books about that. mmhh.

Trying to make sense
I want to believe, that it is not ValueClick’s Goal to make Display/Content Advertisers out of all the Affiliates at CJ, take over our sites and display our site visitors fancy Rich Media Ads and we stand watching it without being able to do a damn thing about it.

Now after all this Text are we back to square one. Everything so far shows that there are more disadvantages than advantages to switch to JavaScript. Control? Heck no. If they want Affiliates to do Affiliate Marketing, they better not.

Avoid that affiliates do PPC Advertising or have a customer that subscribes to your RSS Feed at Technorati via an Aggregator that converts your Feed to an Email and then clicks on it and get you canned? Hell no! They don’t need JavaScript Links to track that. They can track that today. They can track a lot more about what else goes on your website. Stuff that isn’t their business.

That Idea gave the title for my original blog post “Are you ready for Google Analytics?

Sudden Clarity
I am convinced today, that this was not CJ’s intent and I hope that I did not gave them some wrong Ideas for the future. But the “tracking” Idea does not seem to be completely off. It’s not the same “Stadium”, but at least the same “Ball Game”.

This was what hit me last week, when Wayne Porter from ReveNews pointed me to the Article “Q&A with ValueClick’s General Manager David Yovanno” by Brad Berens at iMedia Connections from 5/18/2006.

They are primarily talking about the state of the (display advertising) industry and the merger with Fastclick. The Article is 5 Pages long and gets really interesting on the last page. Just reading the last page would not have triggered something. It was the whole article that led to the last page.

It made me check further and I did not like what I found. Nothing secret, but something I never spend to much time on to think about it.Since I do not want make any false allegations and get me into potential trouble, am I going to stop here and just say this.

When the new Links get launched, start watching your cookies. If you notice a FastClick.com and/or ValueClick.com on your computer (changes are very good, that you have one today without knowing), check if it changes when you browse your own Website that has new CJ Links on it.

If it changes, bingo.

I will post what I believe (my concerns) then, if I am right. It would be back to square one if I am wrong.

What I am thinking justifies all this crap that goes on today. The some gains for other things is a side affect which could have been done much better. The drawbacks are nothing compared to the potential gain, for ValueClick of course, not the affiliates.

Gee.. this post got long. I will write about what my thoughts are on the practical ramifications, especially for my Websites in a different post.

I planned to blog earlier and should have to break this one up into multiple posts. The gramar is probably very poor. It got very late and I just did a quick spell check. Forgive me the errors, english is my second language afterall. ;).

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