Lessons From Affiliate University: Minipages 101

Affiliate marketing has become a game of survival. When last week’s session of Commission Junction University (CJU) challenged us to learn what works on the Net, you listened. Particularly when those classic first-movers — porn, gambling, and spam — are getting results. Love ’em or hate ’em, they’ve always tested new waters for the rest of us.

This year, “performance” was a more common term at CJU than “affiliate,” and with reason. Affiliate programs are surviving by evolving new forms of partnership. These are hybrid performance deals that combine cost per action (CPA) with some form of payment to protect the publisher.

One new trend is “minipages.” Mini pages can be described as direct email postcards. They often contain graphics and forms. All combine a simple message with direct response incentives.

Mini pages can be inserted into newsletters.

Mini pages mix limited graphics with text links to drive response (readers download the email, so graphic size must be kept to a minimum). The bulk of the message appears in the first screen the reader sees, “above the fold.”

Mini pages and HTML email are not always a solution. Test, and remember some people can’t support HTML email. Still, HTML can dramatically outpull text messages. Mini pages can do even better.

The porn, gambling, and spam folks hit the space first, as usual. The real evolution will come in direct marketing, when targeted emails are sent for evaluation by smart affiliate program managers. You can’t target that well on a Web site.

What Minipages Mean

A year ago, affiliate programs noticed hardly any difference in response between HTML and text email. For many programs, HTML email is now making a positive impact on performance — not only in terms of click-throughs but also in sell-through of products and services.

Text email requires good copy, an integral element of minipages or any other campaign. Adding HTML to the message requires giving thought to more than just words. Like classic direct marketers, who know the right mix of headline, color, and stamp, minipage marketers need to think about the design and message of their email “envelope.”

Minipages and HTML email require:

  • A “from” line. Who sent this? The “from” line tells recipients. If you have a brand, use it here. If you don’t, put in a memorable name they will come to know. Let affiliates use this in the “from” lines to improve performance.
  • A subject line. Just like direct marketing and journalism, your headline is the major reason someone opens the email. Include your company name where it is right, and use numbers wherever you can to make it tangible.
  • An open rate. This metric tells you if people are interested in the offer by whether they actually open the email. The less interested they are, the lower the open rate. The open rate means that recipients are looking but not that they’re acting, which is the whole purpose of affiliate programs. Most marketers add a graphic in the HTML. If it is called from the server, the message has been opened. Commercial email providers use other methods, but for beginners this provides basic information.
  • A first link. The first link goes up top. That’s where readers click if they are interested.
  • A simple approach. Email browsers are trickier than Web browsers. Keep colors and text simple and focused.
  • A postcard approach. Pretend the email is a postcard. Put tangible numbers and percentages into the headlines, offer the reader a benefit for contacting you for free, and be sure you have your conversion down on the other end before you try anything.
  • A postscript. Use a P.S. at the end to repeat the special offer. It works.

Smart online marketers scan email and watch the competition. They consider viral applications, short display ads, and direct offers in the never-ending search for the best way to sell via email.

Next time, I’ll discuss a simple testing process that will save you and those you advertise with time and money. Best of all, it’s easy! Until then…

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