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Editor's Note: This article by Chris Rempel, co-founder of Ukritic.com, addresses the feasibility of a commission-based affiliate marketing model as an incentive strategy for user-generated content sites.
A growing number of user-generated content (UGC) networks and crowdsourced news sites are sharing ad revenues with their content-producing members. This is now becoming a standard practice in the world of UGC, and even a few forums and message boards are adopting similar incentive strategies for their regular posters. Popular examples include sites like Squidoo, HubPages, and Google's BlogSpot network.
Aside from the odd, money-hungry author who's savvy with keyword research and only publishes content according to topics with high-dollar click values (from contextual ads), the revenue-sharing model hasn't negatively impacted content quality in any great capacity on UGC sites using this model.
Sharing ad revenue is one thing, but what about incentivizing content production by facilitating affiliate marketing — a model where members can recommend products in their content, earning commissions from referred sales?
To some extent, a few sites already do this. For example, both Squidoo and HubPages permit affiliate marketing in addition to ad rev-sharing options. While this provides a much higher earning potential for members who have a good handle on effective affiliate promotion, it also attracts a much more aggressive crowd of marketers who only see the site as a traffic outlet, not as a place to share their genuine thoughts.
So why would a site want to facilitate affiliate marketing in the first place? What's the uptake for the network itself?
Affiliate marketing creates far more earning potential for the members, even though there's more of a learning curve involved (for the member) and more educational resources required (from the network) than with traditional ad rev-sharing. It also means that the members have far more “stake” in the property without having to invest near as much time or energy as they would with the ad rev-share model.
There are some significant infrastructure challenges involved with the ad-rev-share model: not only does the site have to build its own tracking system — which usually involves cooperation from the ad networks in question — but it also has to cut checks to thousands of writers each month. Programs like Google's AdSense Host API — which handle all the tracking and member payments for UGC sites — have steep eligibility requirements, effectively shutting the doors to startups and early-stage operations. These newly launched UGC sites can use affiliate facilitation as an initial alternative to ad-rev sharing in order to kick-start growth.
Affiliate marketing as an incentive for member content production works — existing platforms verify that it does — but only in tandem with tight moderation and high-quality standards that encourage objectivity and demand compelling content. The moderation team needs to be just as aggressive as some of the “writers” that your site will attract as an affiliate-friendly platform. Just ask EzineArticles.com, whose search-based traffic plummeted due to Google's recent devaluation of sites it deems “low quality content farms.” But so long as you run a tight ship, creating an affiliate-friendly UGC platform can be a great way to get the ball rolling, generating very loyal members with a real stake in your site that will vigorously promote their own content — and by extension, the site.
Chris Rempel is the co-founder of Ukritic.com, a crowdsourced product review network enabling users to publish professional reviews easily — and build a passive income by doing so.