Questions for eBay Affiliate Program Manager Lily Shen

Lily ShenSince eBay established its affiliate marketing program in 2001, its network has grown to 50,000 affiliates worldwide, with eBay employees dedicated to managing specific geographic regions and paying out millions a month in rewards for driving eBay sales.

Recently, ClickZ sat down with Lily Shen, senior manager of the program, to discuss its inner workings and the company’s plans to drive affiliate sales via phones and even television.

Q. What’s the standard profile of an eBay affiliate?

A. It really runs the gamut. We have portals like EarthLink, and one man shops [that] develop application tools or widgets solely focused on driving traffic back to eBay. We have folks who are e-mail affiliates. We have folks that do just paid search; they are bidding on keywords on the major search engines or some of the tier-two search engines, driving traffic back to eBay. We have content sites — thousands on thousands of sites across various categories and keywords.

The affiliates that are the most successful in our program are the most innovative and the most entrepreneurial. They are at the cutting edge… always looking at how eBay’s market has evolved.

Q. How much money can an affiliate make in the program?

A. In terms of payouts, we don’t provide specific numbers in terms of commission these guys generate. But some of our top affiliates make north of $500,000 to even a million dollars a month. It’s $12 million a year for certain affiliates.

Q. Besides driving traffic, does the affiliate program help eBay in other ways?

A. It’s a good way for advertisers to try out other marketing vehicles. Obviously, at eBay we do our own paid search and direct marketing, but some of our affiliates are the most innovative guys out there, [including] mobile applications.

Q. As eBay is an auction site, the listings expire regularly, so what exactly are affiliates linking to?

A. A lot of affiliates and developers will use search results. They will say “click here for our PS3s” or something, and instead of linking to one specific item, they can link to an entire search result. They can optimize on soonest ending [auctions] or the cheapest or refine it to keywords that do very well.

We provide them information about products that are selling really well on the site to inform our affiliates about other things that can be driving sales for them. In most cases affiliates are linking to search results and not specific items, but we also have products and tools that provide real-time information and are serving up listings that are live at any point in time.

Q. What’s upcoming for eBay’s affiliate program?

A. We’re coming out with an exciting product in 2007, called AdContext. It’s a contextual advertising tool. What it will essentially do is automatically cull the content on any site, and using all the back end transaction data that we have, it will serve up the most relevant listings. We believe that what is most relevant for the end user is going to be the best for the affiliate and best for eBay.

Look out for PlaceOffer API. That’s the API that we would use to enable folks to reach eBay [via non-Internet channels]. Affiliates are interested in developing mobile applications, partnering with TIVO, things like that. And PlaceOffer API would be the means to do that. Where we are headed is more around mobile and what we’re calling the digital living room. There are a lot of people online on the Internet; we are trying to figure out ways we can tap into other consumers. So we sit back and think, “Where are people and where do they spend their time?” And it’s on the phone and TV, so we are figuring out ways that we can enable affiliates to drive traffic via those methods.

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