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Affiliate Marketing and Spam: The New Realities

By Christopher Greig
Posted Thursday, December 9, 2004

The growing backlash against spam is changing the way affiliates need to run their business.

With all the tools available to affiliate marketers, nothing quite compares to a well-written email that that introduces you, explains your affiliate's benefits, and piques the prospect's interest. The path to marketing success is then relatively straightforward - you create a killer letter and get it to as many prospects as possible. Simple, isn't it?

Not any more.

Over the past year there has been a shift in the online environment's view of unsolicited email so pervasive that affiliate marketers cannot afford to ignore it. The movement has made changes in the structural relationship between a company and its affiliate marketers, and has even moved offline into the hands of lawmakers (for better or worse).

Three realties stand out:

- A Spam complaint you are unprepared for can cause significant disruption to your business.

Spam is, to a great degree, still in the eye of the beholder. Someone who doesn't remember opting in to your program and claims your email to be Spam has an unfortunate degree of credibility from square one. ISP's are so intent on shutting down possible Spam sources, that you can quickly find yourself without an account or with a suspended account "pending investigation". The potential disruption - from advertising being spoiled, to confusion on the part of customers, to even loss of access to database information on the ISP's site, can be enormous.

Further, it's hard to envision doing large-scale advertising without sending one email that upsets someone, so this situation is a virtual certainty for marketers at some point.

- The company you are affiliated with has less incentive to back you than you might realize

How many people remember the old Mission Impossible series on TV? The agent always received a tape that explained the mission, wished him luck and by the way..if any of you are caught we will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Companies offering affiliate programs are playing a version of that tape now when they tell you they have a "Zero Tolerance" policy for Spam. It sounds noble, but what it means is that unless you are one of their top super affiliates they'd rather dump you than get themselves caught up in a Spam issue. You are guilty until you prove yourself innocent.

- You can make changes to react to this new environment and emerge a stronger marketer.

Change 1 - Understand Your Sources

Instead of simply mailing to opt in and safe lists on a whim, get to know the people producing these lists. Send a personal email to the list owner and mention how concerned you are about unintentionally spamming anyone. If your source is a quality company you will probably get a personal response back reassuring you that this particular list really is opt in. Keep a file of all these responses so that when you do get named in a Spam complaint you can, as a first step, show this ISP that you have been concerned about acting properly for a long time.

Change 2 - Build Your List Yourself

No tools are safer (or more effective) than opt in lists you build yourself. This is certainly the slowest and most difficult of all methods of marketing but is by far the most rewarding. There is virtually no successful online marketer who does not believe that your personal opt in list isn't the most important asset you have. Why? Because it takes a number of contacts to get most people to buy something online. Selling to people on a first contact, cold call basis is strictly hit and miss.

Change 3 - Become a More Systematic Marketer

Take this time to institute systematic evaluation of all your advertising. There are many tools available to evaluate each mailing you do and each ad you place. Marketers who begin this analysis often find that 50% of their business comes from half the ad sources they use. Cut the dead half and reevaluate regularly. You will find that this will cut the chances that you market to a bad list.

Preparing yourself for this new environment can be an opportunity to make yourself a better marketer while protecting your business from serious disruption.

About the Author
Christopher Greig writes on a variety of marketing topics and helps people develop both active and passive income online at (


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