Evgenii “Geno” Prussakov – A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing for Online Retailers – Interview

On Monday, when I was approving posts to the proimpact7 blog, I came across a post by Mr. Evgenii “Geno” Prussakov, a highly recognized person in affiliate marketing world, whose book “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” I have read. To me this book is a great resource for affiliate managers and merchants who are serious about their website and marketing their online businesses. So I have decided to use this opportunity and contacted Geno to find out what he is working on and to ask him a few questions.

Needless to say, I received an e-mail from him within hours where he agreed and this is the post.

About Geno:front_cover

– In 2007 he released a book “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” – highly recommend as it will open your eyes to affiliate marketing. This book has received a 5 star rating on Amazon.com.
– In 2008 his second book came out. It’s entitled “Online Shopping Through Consumers’ Eyes” and is a must-have for every online marketer.
– Geno was voted “The Best Outsourced Program Manager of the Year” in 2006, 2007 and 2008 by the largest affiliate marketing community, ABestWeb.com

Clearly, this is a person who knows a lot about affiliate marketing in particular, and online marketing in general.

Jan: Geno, can you please tell me when did this all happen? How did you get to affiliate marketing and got to where you are now?

I got into affiliate marketing as a merchant. In 2003 I started my first affiliate program for RussianLegacy.com, an online gift shop I founded back in 2002. The program was initially run on an in-house platform, but in 2004 I decided to switch to an affiliate network, and migrated the affiliate program to ShareASale. In 2005 I learned about ABestWeb.com and Affiliates4U.com, and joined these U.S. and U.K. affiliate marketing forums, both of which greatly contributed to my growth as an affiliate program manager. The RussianLegacy’s affiliate program grew and blossomed, and in 2005 I was approached by an online jewelry merchant with a proposal to manage their affiliate program as well. Time went by, both programs grew, and in 2006 I decided to sell RussianLegacy.com, and became a full-time O(A)PM (outsourced affiliate program manager) and affiliate marketing consultant. Now I spend a lot of time researching, and writing on the topic (both in magazines and in my blog), as well as speak at conferences and consult online businesses on how they can improve their marketing by plugging in the affiliate channel as well.

Jan: Tell us more about AMnavigator.com.

Geno: At AM Navigator — which literally stands for “affiliate marketing navigator” — we provide merchants (and affiliate program managers) with resources to perfect their affiliate program management, and run it in a successful and profitable fashion. I always say that no affiliate program can be run on an autopilot [see this article, for example], or without an affiliate program manager at the helm of it. It is equally important to have an educated affiliate program manager, and both through my book, and my blog I help merchants and affiliate managers learn how to run their programs according to the industry’s best practices.

Jan: Who have been your largest clients so far and the success you are most proud of?

Geno: I have managed Skype’s affiliate program on Commission Junction for quite some time, making it a success. However, the success that I’m most proud of, was that with a much smaller business — my own aforementioned online gift shop. I started it from scratch, and grew it into the largest player in the niche; partly due to my affiliate marketing efforts. Back when I sold three years ago, its affiliate program was driving in anywhere between 40% and 60% of all sales.

Jan: In 2007 you published the book “A Practical Guide to Affiliate Marketing” which I believe every affiliate manager and website owner should have as the guide. How did that happen?

Geno: I wanted to build a handy resource for merchants and affiliate program managers to turn to — one that would have both the basics of affiliate marketing, and the hands-on methods listed all in one place, in a convenient format. That’s how the book was born.

Jan: From your experience, what is the average percentage of sales that good affiliate marketing programs can bring to a website?

Geno: It highly depends on (i) the niche in which the website operates, and (ii) how well-established the website/brand is at the moment of starting the affiliate program. The realistic increase can range from 10% to 60%. See more in this blog post of mine.

Jan: So definitely a good source of sales which if used wisely should bring results.

Geno: Oh, yes!

Jan: What affiliate networks would you recommend for start-ups (retailers and software vendors) with not much money but with big aspirations, and what affiliate networks for those with the money?
Geno: While shopping around and comparing affiliate networks [North American readers can start here], it should never be just the question of investment required to be made in order to start an affiliate program. The answer will always depend on (i) the country predominantly targeted by the merchant, (ii) the specifics of the merchant’s niche (there are networks just for software vendors, and there are those for e-tailers with large data feeds, there are wedding-centered affiliate networks, etc), (iii) how closely the affiliate program will be managed, and other factors. In North America I would recommend to choose between AvantLink, buy.at and ShareASale (in alphabetical order only), while in the UK — between PaidOnResults and buy.at. Commission Junction, Google Affiliate Network and LinkShare are currently the most widely used affiliate networks by larger retailers [see pie chart here].

Jan: Do you recommend in-house affiliate programs for small and large business, or is it a good move to bring your affiliate marketing completely in-house?
Geno: Not necessarily. It wholly depends on the objectives and the of the business. Running an in-house affiliate program involves a lot of hassle that the affiliate networks relieve you of. Additionally, affiliate networks normally provide opportunities for the in-network affiliate recruitment. Everyone’s situation is different. In brief, if the money you’ll save by not running your program on an affiliate network will be sufficient enough to justify an in-house way of doing it (or if there are other significant factors involved), it may be worth it.

Jan: I recently posted an article talking about problems with discount codes for merchants. What percentage of sales come from “discount code” deal websites and do you recommend using discount codes?

Geno: It all depends on the affiliate program. Over the years when I managed various affiliate program, I saw the percentage differ from 5% to 50%. I blog about coupon affiliates every once in a while as well; and I believe that they can both bring in value, and offering coupons to affiliates can help other types of affiliates in closing sales more effectively.

Jan: We all hear about super affiliates. Where and how do you find them?

Geno: I was expecting this question to be among the first ones you’d ask, and I’m surprised it wasn’t as high on the list. You can (i) grow a super affiliate, or (ii) recruit one. Growing regular affiliates into super affiliates is all too often neglected. Of course! It requires work, but we’ve been brought up in a fast-food and fast speed age. We want things fast… Let me disappoint you. Recruiting super affiliates is never a fast process unless you are a huge brand, or an affiliate program manager with the right connections. Recruiting super affiliates takes time, relationship building, and participation in the affiliate marketing industry.

To grow a newly recruited affiliate into a super affiliate, on the other hand, you want to practice highly participative affiliate program management, and coach marketers and webmasters that get aboard your affiliate program into becoming super affiliates. They will also help you in your super affiliate recruitment [see my fishing analogy here].

Jan: Would you agree with me, that it’s easier to bring affiliates and affiliate sales into websites which look professional, are user centered and usable, than to those with poor design and usability?
Geno: Absolutely. While some merchants think that it’s all about making the payout and the cookie life more attractive that those of their competitors, a more professional and user-friendly website will always receive an affiliate’s preference. Why? Because it will convert better.

Jan: Is there any software which helps you to find potential websites where merchants could promote their websites?
Geno: Yes. I have personally used Arelis, and know that some other affiliate program managers use LinkCapture. Any tool traditionally used for link-building purposes can be used to find potential affiliates. If you do decide to use one, I must give you a word of warning. Make sure you do not spam those that can become your most valued partners. It can ruin not only one given affiliate recruitment campaign, but also cause major damage to your brand, and the future of your business.

Jan: Do you recommend using forums for your own affiliates where they can talk to each other?
Geno: Definitely use forums, blogs and any other means of communication available to you to communicate with your affiliates. Will creating a new forum just for your affiliates to “talk to each other” help the growth of your affiliate program? I am not entirely sure. After all, your affiliates are competing with each other.

Jan: What’s the final advice for websites owners trying to improve their affiliate marketing?

Geno: My advice is to keep self-educating and improving your affiliate program based on your affiliates’ feedback, as well as on the newest industry’s developments. There’s a plethora of online resources out there that will help you stay on top of the most current news, developments, and threats. Make it your daily routine to learn, striving to become a better affiliate program manager, and you will inevitably succeed.

Jan Petrovic
I have 9 Years of Tremendous Experience as web analyst and Senior Conversion Specialist. I have worked on optimisation project for the second-largest store retailer in the USA (the company is also a component of the S&P 500 Index), as well as for a well-known USA fashion retailer with over 380 stores nationwide. Over the course of my career I have achieved many INSANE improvements on our client’s websites, sometimes by applying best practices, another time from findings I made during conversion audits and sometimes thinking out of the box. For one of them I have even received an award in 2012 from WhichTestOne, where after testing different emails and parts of email message we increased revenue by 303.08%. What might also interest you is the fact that my average conversion improvement is 19% and my success rate is 70%. Basically, I’m VERY GOOD at what I do thanks to my Can Do Attitude to find solutions to given problems & Experience in this field.
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