Affiliates can win in the media buy game


win1_small.jpgADOTAS — One of the absolute coolest things about affiliate marketing is the fact that a single affiliate can take on a Fortune 500 company for ad space on a site like MSNBC.

In Q2 of this year alone, affiliates inundated this and many other sites with arbitrage media buys. So how does an affiliate start to compete with a Madison avenue agency trained media buyer?

Affiliates actually have a HUGE advantage over agency media buyers – agency media buyers have to buy for their clients, according to their clients specifications. As an affiliate, you make all those decisions. While you are the one taking on all of the risk, this also allows you to reap a greater reward.

Here are some of the steps to get you up and running:

Determining the best offer(s)

Decide on a vertical: What are you passionate about? It will be easier for you to develop a strong landing page and media plan if you are informed on the offer. Is health and beauty something that interests you or are work at home ads more appealing?

Offer Research: This is where a good relationship with your affiliate manager comes into play. They have a birds eye view of statistics on offers across an entire network of publishers. Some networks even A/B/C split test their offers to ensure they are the top converters in the market. Contact your affiliate strategist and let them know what vertical you are interested in and find out what offers they would recommend testing.

Finding the right ad space

Demographics: Once you have settled on the offer or set of offers that you’d like to promote, think about the offer’s demographics. There are several services available that monitor site demographics. Quantcast is one of these services. Check out how much free information they provide on MSNBC:

Volume: The more quality volume you are able to send to an offer, the more money you stand to make. Visit This site ranks websites by traffic. Select the countries you are interested and sort from the top visited.

Who is selling it?

Site Research: Alright, you have determined that MSNBC is a good place for your ads to be, but how do you get placed there? You don’t necessarily contact MSNBC directly. Many large sites have struck deals with other companies to allow them to monetize their traffic. Take a look around the site. Often, there are several companies selling the ad space. Some may sell the banner space, while others sell the text links. Many will include their company name or a link that says “advertise here.”

Company Research: ComScore and ClickZ release monthly rankings of display/text link ad networks. These are great places to look for new media buy sources to test.

All that Paperwork

Offer Specifics: The Insertion Order (IO) is made up of two main components – a piece addressing the specifics of this particular campaign or offer and the terms and conditions that govern the entire relationship. You can either set up an “Open IO” that doesn’t actually detail any of the specifics of the offer or an IO that states the offer(s), CPA goals, creative messaging etc. An “Open IO” allows you to quickly test out new campaigns, without more paperwork each time. Be sure all the details on the offer are correct, as well as all the contact information.

Terms and Conditions: Read these VERY carefully. The three biggest things to look for are the out clause, creative swapping, and how the company plans to deal with down time.

1) An out clause is the amount of time the company you are buying the inventory has to take down your campaign after you have asked them to end the buy. In an out clause, 24-48 hours is ideal. Be sure you note the difference between hours and business days. If you contact your rep at 4pm on Friday and have a 24 hour out clause, your ad can run until 4pm on Saturday. If you have a 1 business day out clause your ad can run until 4pm on Monday. This is a huge difference.

2) How often are you able to change your creatives (banner or text)? Some systems allow you to do this on your own and simply have their approvals team review it. Others require you to send it in so they can traffic it. Know up front what the process is and how often you can change it. Some companies allow you to swap out creatives numerous times a day, while others only let you update your campaign once a week.

3) If a site is physically down, then the worst thing happening here is that you aren’t getting traffic (you shouldn’t be getting charged if you are getting traffic) so this is simply a lost opportunity, but no lost cash. What you need to be careful about is how the company plans to deal with an error on their end. If you give your rep a link and in the process of uploading it they break the link, will you receive a credit? Find out.


Pixel implementation: The source you are buying traffic from likely has a pixel (1×1 piece of code that allows you to track conversions) that they would like placed with the advertiser. Know whether the page you are promoting is an http or https site. Offers that require credit cards are typically https sites, as the “s” stands for secure. Make sure you get the appropriate pixel.
Statistics and Reporting: There are several services available for tracking, some free and some that charge. Watch some of their demos and see which interface makes the most sense to you. Some of the biggest affiliates out there handle their reporting with their own in house program or by simply using excel sheets. The main thing to look for is – how easily does your reporting allow you to compare your earn to your spend, empowering you to make the best decisions for your campaign.

There are of course many other things involved in media buying – designing the appropriate landing page and optimization could be articles all on their own. The last thought I’d like to leave you with is this – Make sure you have good reps! A quality affiliate manager and media seller are essential to your success – they have all the insider info and are your biggest asset when launching new campaigns or scaling old ones. Be sure to utilize them.


  1. You can’t be serious? You think affiliates win because they are good media buyers? They just buy through tier 3 networks, and and create fraudulent creative with Dr Oz and Oprah on the banners, and use misleading landing pages and fake content or blogs. Most real advertisers and media buyers actually have to be accountable and compliant…

  2. Erin,

    Never mind the commenters who can only see the negative side of things.

    I thank you very much for your article!

  3. Very informative article Erin! Media Buying is something I am trying to get into more and more, so I’m always looking for great resources and this is definitely one of them. Thanks for sharing!



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