Sam Harrelson

Sam Harrelson

ShelfJoy: Clever use of messaging and affiliate marketing


We are the place for book lovers to discover amazing books from a wide variety of topics. All lovingly hand-curated by people who know and love reading.

Source: ShelfJoy

Interesting messaging bot for Facebook Messenger that was just released today. Once you add Shelfjoy to Messenger, you “chat” with it to discover books in various categories (or “shelves” as they call them). If you find something you like, you click “Buy” and you’re handed off to Amazon to complete the purchase with the Shelfjoy affiliate code.


We’ve been doing this sort of thing for a while with affiliate marketing and niche recommendations. I had a friend who developed a chat bot for AIM (remember that?) back in 2003 that gave you suggestions about products based on your chats. What we haven’t had is the ability to do so in format like Facebook Messenger that already has all of your social graph data (friends, likes, credit card etc) already tied in.

I expect to see more of these and more intelligent versions of these as Messenger and Google’s upcoming Allo and Siri / iMessage continue to become more “intelligent” and tied into our existing data profiles.

Pretty soon, you’ll be paying your bills and ordering your pizza via voice with your messaging platform of choice (while forgetting how to type on a physical keyboard).

Google’s Affiliate Program for Play Store

Google is working on launching an affiliate program for Google Play similar to the one Apple runs for its own digital content stores, a source briefed on the matter has told 9to5Google. The affiliate program, which is said to still be in its early stages of development and could get called off or change significantly between now and its time of launch, is said to be powered by Performance Horizon Group, the same company which in 2013 began supporting Apple’s affiliate program.

Source: Exclusive: Google planning an affiliate program for Google Play, starting with Movies & Music | 9to5Google

Apple’s affiliate program for iTunes content has had some success for larger publishers I’ve talked to (who deal in media and music categories). However, they weren’t blown away by the results. I wonder how much Apple is seeing from the program?

It will be interesting to see if Google can make a significant push by leveraging the affiliate space. There’s so much competition now with Apple, Amazon, Spotify etc that partnerships via an affiliate program might be the way to go to increase market share.

Google has been doing lots of hiring for their physical products category on the Play Store, so maybe this is in conjunction with that effort as well.

Undervaluing The Click and Mobile’s Importance in Conversions

Mobile advertising is worth ten times the amount marketers think because it drives more offline sales than marketers are able to measure, according to Google’s Matt Bush.

Source: Google: mobile is ten times more valuable than marketers think

Part of me (the marketing consultant part) wants to jump up and down and say “YES! SEE! READ THIS, SKEPTICAL CLIENT!”

Another part of me (the cynical online marketing veteran part) looks at this relatively cynically since it is coming from Google. Google is making intentional moves to distance its majority of revenue from cost per click actions on desktops and laptops and focus on transitioning its largest advertisers to mobile, contextual, and video (YouTube) ads. The average Cost Per Click revenue is down 11% this past quarter from a year ago and will continue to plummet as advertisers continue to realize that clicks aren’t a scarce commodity. That would fall in line with this statement from last week:

According to Bush, marketers are underestimating the value of clicks on desktop by about four times and clicks on mobile by as much as ten times. “You can see if someone had clicked on an ad or visited store, we need to start thinking about the creative we put in place.”

So which part of me is right? As with most things (especially in advertising / marketing), it’s not a black-and-white issue. Yes, Google is right to encourage advertisers and marketers to realize that clicks are undervalued when it comes to the conversion process. However, that realization would serve Google well.

For over 10 years, I’ve been arguing that marketers need to get beyond the old metrics we were and have been using for evaluating click effectiveness (whether in a CPC mode or in actually clicking on a link).

We’ll see if mobile finally delivers on that promise.


You Won’t Make Money with Your Website

“The future for most publishers is likely that of pure content production only, save for the few — like Gruber — who are destination sites capable of selling native advertising in stream (or selling subscriptions, like this site). What is very much in question is exactly how users will feel when they finally get what they claim they wish for.”

Source: Why Web Pages Suck – Stratechery by Ben Thompson

Ben is mostly right with his analysis here – the only point I’d include is that there are possibilities (still) for small and niche sites to utilize affiliate marketing for profits. Even better are sites that are shaped around podcasts (*cough* Thinking.FM *cough*) or video etc.

If you’re looking to start a site, grow a large readership, and make money from advertising… that ship has sailed.

As I told a client this morning, websites and podcasts and YouTube channels aren’t direct money makers… they are marketing channels.

Google Affiliate Network 3.0


“To be clear, the merchants will still handle the actual product fulfillment, although the pages will be hosted by Google. The company emphasized that it’s trying to reduce the friction in mobile purchases without interfering in the relationship between merchants and consumers. That’s why the purchase page will carry the merchant’s branding, and if the product isn’t exactly what the shopper is looking for, they’ll even be able to search for other products.”

Source: Google Unveils “Purchases On Google,” Which Are Basically Buy Buttons In Mobile Ads

Sounds a lot like affiliate marketing to me.

Ah, the good ole days.

Affiliate marketing always was a good system in theory, but I’m always a little sad its promise of a democratized marketing industry never really materialized. Like our social interactions, I guess it’s up to the large silos to run the show.

Nice rundown of “Purchases on Google” over at Marketing Land.

How is GMail’s Promotion Tab Affecting Your Email Marketing?

How are things going with your email newsletter as we head into the all-important holiday season?

Trends don’t look good if you’re doing your email marketing the same way you did things in 2004…

Before the tabbed layout, open rates to Gmail had been above 13% for 15 weeks. They never dipped below that threshold unless there was a specific holiday. For instance, weekday opens for Gmail fell to 12.5% on the week of Valentine’s day. Open rates between Christmas and New Years are an abysmal 10.5%. Something about spending time with loved ones just isn’t conducive to combing through your inbox. Weird, right?

What bothers me in this case is that open rates stayed down for 3 consecutive weeks. From looking at a year and half’s worth of data, I can say that kind of behavior isn’t normal. I’m not willing to declare an emergency just yet. After all, I don’t even know what the adoption rate is on Gmail’s side. However, I would say this is an early indicator, and we’re definitely keeping our eye on it.

via How Gmail’s New Inbox Is Affecting Open Rates | MailChimp Email Marketing Blog.

Of course, GMail isn’t the only email provider but you’d be downright ignorant if you chose to ignore the new tabbed interface of the service. Since the changes started rolling out earlier this summer there have been handy “how to survive” guides that you should read (such as this one). Whether this is anti-competitive or helpful to users (or somewhere in the middle), the reality now exists and marketers must deal with it.

While it may only be Labor Day, you should be in full swing of planning out your holiday season promotions. There’s a very specific calendar mindset that successful email marketers use (you should read that), so it’s time to dive into your email marketing provider analytics (we love MailChimp but affiliates and marketers should be careful when using the service and look to others like AWeber) and see what kinds of trends you can spot from the data over the summer.

One of the most helpful things you can do for your own lists and subscribers is education. Even outlets such as No Agenda, one of my favorite podcasts, is relying on user education to make sure their email newsletter (via MailChimp) gets delivered to listeners’ inboxes after seeing a dismal drop in user contributions (they don’t run ads) since the GMail changes.

Email marketing is just as important, if not more so, than ever as we enter into the 2013 holiday season. Make sure you’re doing your homework before things really heat up and plan for success.

Affiliate Summit East Returns to NYC

I was hoping for Charlotte, but the “wisdom of the crowd” makes it otherwise…

After conducting a poll of over a dozen cities in the U.S. and Canada, we found that the most popular city for next year is New York City.

via Affiliate Summit East Will Return to NYC in 2014

Tim Storm on Building a Team

Good read from industry legend Tim Storm on the ShareASale blog…

FatWallet started when there were already a number of coupon sites to be found on the internet (and hundreds more yet to be started).  One of the great differentiators early on was that I hired employees to help build and operate the site, where many of my competitors clung fiercely to going it alone.

via #Lessons Learned: A Guest Post from Legend Award Winner Tim Storm | ShareASale Blog.

Tim is one of those people that I’ve always looked up to. Reading his thoughts about building a great team and finding the right people is so important for the affiliate industry. Let’s face it, we’re a group of hard-nosed folks who do like to go it alone. That works sometimes, but often you need a team around you to challenge and compliment your talents.

Affiliate Marketing’s Bad Rap

From VentureBeat courtesy of Scott Jangro on FB:

“Be very careful when you sign up to affiliate networks. Do all your analysis. Profile the traffic, and then make an educated decision for yourself. Even though we were managing to get $200,000 a week of sales for all but nothing, this is not a sustainable business model.

Read more at”

To be honest, I can’t blame the guy. Despite the correct admonitions by affiliate marketing heavyweights in the comments, it’s a shame that an industry with so much promise continues to field a bad reputation from large scale brands (and state governments looking to make tax revenue from affiliate sales).

I love and believe in the affiliate channel, especially when it is “democratized,” but it only takes a few bad actors and not enough storytelling to ruin the message.

Taking Up the Challenge


This week, MarketingTrends is turning into a group blog focused on the always fascinating space of online marketing, analytics, trends and thought development. If you’re interested in blogging regularly about this space and want to be a part of something special, email me or @samharrelson on Twitter.

I plan on operating much the same way the old ReveNews did with no editorial approval process, comments wide open and actual pay for bloggers (see below for more on that).

MarketingTrends will look different as we move into Phase 2 this week so stay tuned for the new theme and features.

This is something I’ve had planned for a while, but a conversation about ReveNews tonight made me speed up the process.

When Affiliate Summit acquired ReveNews in February of this year, I was elated. As a former editor and publisher of ReveNews (and the one that ushered us through the incredible process of moving from MovableType to WordPress with an updated look/feel in 2008-2009), I have a deep love for the community and ecosystem of thoughtful bloggers and commenters that once made the site a mandatory read for folks in the online marketing industry.

I can even say that it was ReveNews that launched my career in 2002-2003 as I was reading insights from people like Wayne Porter, Jim Kukral, Brian Clark or Jeff Molander and pondering what I could contribute to this industry. They took me in and made me a part of the ReveNews family in 2006.

However, watching ReveNews become just a press release outlet for Affiliate Summit since February has been sad to say the least. This once proud banner stood for insight and thought provocation and real dialogue in an industry still trying to find its own identity (and identities).

While I can’t purchase ReveNews and right that ship, I can take up Shawn’s challenge after I posted my own thoughts about ReveNews’ direction this afternoon.

Here’s the whole Twitter convo:


To which Shawn replied:



Good point by Shawn on the previously dwindling but still salvageable content being produced by bloggers there:



And that’s where things turned. Shawn thinks that “print > group blog” but I find this sort of coasting to be the antithesis of what ReveNews once meant to lots of folks in our industry.

Not to mention that a healthy group blog is, in my mind, needed and required in an industry where the main group voice is behind an editorially produced dead-tree printing that serves as an advertising platform for the main conference of an industry and itself makes its owners money (with a traditional 20th century ad model) without paying its writers.


I was ready to leave things there and move on agreeing to disagree. Shawn wasn’t ready for that just yet.


To which I responded with a tongue-in-cheek:




Which earned this:


So, we’re taking the challenge.

Moving MarketingTrends to a group blog paradigm is something I’ve had planned for a while, but Shawn’s tweets tonight reinforced my realization that something akin to what ReveNews was in years past is not only needed but required in the online performance marketing space.

Group blogging means turning over some aspects of control, such as in the editorial space. I’ve never liked the idea of a editor to correct grammar or thoughts on something like a blog and our bloggers will have the freedom to post when the spirit moves them, whether on the floor of a trade show with their mobile device or after carefully plotting out a detailed thought piece over a long weekend.

The look and feel of MarketingTrends will reflect its group blog nature and that new theme should be live this week. I’ve got experience doing this and I’m excited about how things are shaping up.

Our revenue model is not just based in a mid-20th century banner display ad model. There will be a few of those ads, but the majority of the revenue to pay bloggers will come from a content-specific marketplace, newsletter placements and micro-transactions. You’ll see what we mean when we roll out the redesign this week.

In many ways, what I wanted to do with ReveNews in 2008 is finally coming to fruition with MarketingTrends in 2013. I’m excited.

I hope you’ll stick around and participate.