educational

A Look at Biller-based Affiliate Systems

Stephen Yagielowicz

Today’s market leading Internet payment service providers (IPSP) offer integrated affiliate back end systems that not only eliminate the need for additional affiliate tools, but which may provide a competitive distinction for those choosing a primary processor — and with it, the software that will power their adult websites’ affiliate program.

Unlike standalone affiliate marketing systems such as Too Much Media’s NATS or Mansion Productions’ MPA3, the software as a service (SAAS) hosted affiliate systems offered by third-party processors provide an off-the-shelf solution custom integrated with that particular processor’s capabilities — and there is no need to either install, maintain or secure expensive, specialized software on your own server, for added savings.

Don't forget that it’s vital that the program you choose to work with offers the billing choices that you demand ...

Among the main contenders in this arena are CCBILL with its new FlexStats system; EPOCH and its EpochStats software; plus CommerceGate with its CG Affiliate program; along with Verotel and Zombaio with their own unique programs.

It is important to note at the beginning that Mansion Productions’ MPA3 is the basis of both the EpochStats and CG Affiliate systems. Mansion has a reputation for building heavy duty systems with the reliability needed to run these mission-critical applications, so MPA3 forms a trustworthy foundation for its derivative software — while providing an easy entry point into the company’s product line.

As for differences between the two platforms, while they share a common heritage, EpochStats is based on an older version of the MPA3 software that Epoch has improved through its own UI customizations, while CG Affiliate is based on the latest MPA3 v5 technology that naturally offers the advantage of having more current programming. Both perform exceptionally well, however, and compare nicely to their competitors.

According to Epoch, EpochStats allows affiliates to join multiple sponsor programs with only one account, so that they can view all of their stats with one login, and access various marketing tools. Both revenue sharing partnership programs and pay per signup business models are supported.

EpochStats provides cascading billing features to increase revenue and offers state-of-the-art marketing tools, including ads and banners, hosted galleries, pictures and galleries of the day and more. These features are backed by detailed reports revealing stats such as the number of unique hits, conversion ratios, re-bill volume, and the number of new sales, all on a per site basis. Hosted gallery stats such as hits to gallery, hits to site, conversion ratio, plus profit and retention reports, provide valuable insights about traffic and sales.

From its custom welcome emails to its mass mailer for keeping affiliates up to date, EpochStats offers many in-demand features, including the ability to have Epoch pay all affiliate commissions — even from sales processed by a secondary billing company.

EpochStats affiliate admin provides affiliates with valuable traffic and sales statistics, including referring URLs, hosted gallery and picture stats, plus flexible marketing tools such as the ability to set campaigns and retrieve custom exports of linking codes to obtain a selection of galleries in the format that works best for them.

Account information such as payment history and personal settings are also viewable.

There are many other features as well, most of which are echoed within CG Affiliate, which is the hosted affiliate program for merchants of CommerceGate and DHD Media.

Taking the latest version of MPA3 to new levels, CG Affiliate provides an easy way for affiliates to promote numerous programs, obtain marketing tools, monitor real-time statistics, and to track their payouts.

CG Affiliate provides program owners with key stats on a daily basis, segmented by processor, per tour, tier, transaction and more. Profit and retention are tracked as is the performance of marketing tools such as the hosted movie of the day.

CG Affiliate provides a fresh take on a venerable platform and provides another good reason for those considering CommerceGate or DHD Media as a primary processor.

Having laid this foundation, understand that each website operator will have different needs specific to their business and marketing plans, where features that are vital to one operator may be unneeded by another. As one would expect from top-level firms, every one of the SAAS affiliate solutions discussed here has its own unique advantages and is worthy of consideration — one will certainly be the right fit for your plans.

For example, Verotel says its OpenAffiliate system is a risk-free way of marketing a website and raising its revenue. The company notes that it stands apart from competitive affiliate programs that have restrictions on how site owners can relate to their affiliates, and which mandate that affiliate links only point to the site’s home page.

“Verotel OpenAffiliate offers Any Landing Pages so you or your affiliate can choose which page of your site a user will land on when they click your banner ad,” a Verotel rep explains. “This means the affiliate can target to your content to ensure it reaches the most interested people, so you and your affiliate will both benefit from the program.”

Verotel OpenAffiliate offers a customizable affiliate signup procedure that passes user details to Verotel via a simple HTTP POST command. OpenAffiliate also supports dynamic signups, so that affiliates do not even have to go through the signup procedure.

Zombaio’s integrated Affiliate Tracking System allows users to easily create reseller and partnership programs with varying commission rates on both a pay per sign up (PPS) or recurring revenue sharing basis. Zombaio says that its system tracks sales by affiliates linking to specific URLs, which record a visitor’s IP address and browser digest, placing a cookie on the visitor’s browser.

System features include program and tracking statistics for each affiliate; the ability to create marketing tools such as hosted galleries and RSS feeds; as well as program tools and management tools such as the ability to search, approve, decline or pay out affiliates.

Zombaio is also planning a range of upgrades to its platform, including the ability to pay affiliates directly to any Visa or MasterCard in addition to check and wire transfers. Additionally, a solution where Zombaio hosts galleries with features such as automated updates via RSS and a picture, movie or gallery of the day, is also in the works.

Among the most modern affiliate systems is CCBill’s highly anticipated FlexStats — which delivers a significant and timely upgrade to the company’s widely used program.

CCBill says that FlexStats was developed to help merchants and their affiliates better understand business data and consumer purchasing patterns through new reporting tools, covering Merchant Transactions and Affiliate Transactions via the CCBill Admin Portal.

According to a company rep, one of the first things many will notice upon accessing the new reports is the newly designed graphical displays and options for viewing data.

“The at-a-glance display is capable of providing a wide variety of valuable information including the current day’s income, previous day’s income, or weekly, monthly, and year-to-date numbers,” the rep explains. “Whichever date range you select can then be plotted for transaction type, payment type, region, or currency; with a number of criteria under each for additional analysis.”

FlexStats’ robust graphing makes this comprehensive data easy for users to digest.

Other IPSPs may offer their clients affiliate management and tracking tools as well.

For those preparing to start a pay site (or a network of them) and an affiliate program to drive traffic and revenues — or to upgrade an existing one — comparing these systems against each other will help ensure the correct choice for your unique needs.

When comparing what each of these top IPSPs has to offer for affiliate management and tracking, a number of considerations come to mind. For example, how much value does the affiliate system add to each processor’s offer; how easy is the system to setup and use; and what is the extent of the tools available for program owners and affiliates with each system?

Evaluate the user interface: is it modern and easy to navigate; does it offer relevant statistical information and is it easy to find the information you are looking for? What about the availability of membership management features, such as the ability to provide discounts, dynamic memberships, upgrades and more?

Customization and integration are also concerns: are there restrictions to reporting APIs and are membership control APIs available that allow administrators to cancel a membership or to change a member’s username or password, etc.? And what about the level of join page customization that is supported — an often initially overlooked factor that can have a major impact on sales, when the join form matches the paysite’s style.

The robustness of each setup must also be examined, to get a grasp on just how many things can go wrong. For example, some processors will automatically change your API password for better security. However, many clients will not notice this and so they end up without a working setup. Other site owners will change their server’s IP address, and are then not allowed to communicate with the processor anymore.

The best bet is a “hands on” approach.

Before choosing the system that is right for you, obtain access to demos of both the admin and affiliate areas of the respective systems, so that you will understand the way that you will need to work — as well as what affiliates will need to do in order to be a productive part of your team — and be sure to view the system from both perspectives.

When examining IPSP-hosted affiliate systems from the perspective of an affiliate, questions such as “how easy is it to sign up to a program?” and “how easy is it to access and use the program’s promotional tools?” come to mind. Other concerns will focus on the ease of navigation within the affiliate area — is it intuitive and easy on the eyes?

What about the traffic reports and sales statistics: how detailed are they and how easy are they to understand? Are charts, graphs or other visual aids provided? Are there tools to help improve your traffic by identifying your best traffic sources?

Also, will affiliates benefit from integrated cascading billing, with payouts made even if the sale is credited to a different processor? MPA3 was the first to come out with this feature that really boosts affiliate income, but it is not a universal offering on all systems.

Are affiliates able to promote multiple programs with the same affiliate login? This has long been a core benefit of the CCBill program, where affiliates receive a single payout for sales at multiple programs — an important means for reaching minimum sales volumes today — and a feature that many affiliates will value, and other billers adopted.

Then there are the unique needs of the site’s owner to consider. Program operators will initially seek out many of the same features that affiliates do.

For example, in addition to the concerns for affiliates noted above, program owners evaluating a single-biller/SAAS affiliate program solution will want to know if it will cost anything to use the biller’s affiliate backend, as some companies charge merchants added fees in order to use these additional services.

Is the program simple to set up from start to launch and will the billing company give adequate support to help you get started? How intuitive is the backend for the site owner, affiliate managers and techs to operate — and does it look like it was made in the 1990s or does it look like a 2014-era system that works on your favorite mobile device?

Don’t forget that it’s vital that the program you choose to work with offers the billing choices that you demand, since the total equation of how billing and affiliate system work together must be considered.

As from the affiliate perspective, program owners need easy access to promotional tools along with intuitive navigation and detailed but understandable statistics reporting.

The ability to search affiliates and transactions; perform refunds from the admin panel and to customize the overall “look and feel” of your affiliate site to stand out among the slew of programs competing for affiliates is also very important, too.

Finally, how a selected SAAS affiliate system allows site owners to pay out affiliates is a major consideration, especially in regards to the biller’s ability to pay out affiliates on your behalf for transactions made from the cascade with other billers.

Of course there are many factors to consider when making such an important choice as to the foundation of your business, but the points outlined here will give you a place to begin the search. Check out the demos for each of these billers’ back ends and see which of them will suit your operation best — your affiliates, and bottom line, will thank you.

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