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Affiliate Manager Interview: Jennifer O`Neal, StubHub.com

07/21/04

1) Jennifer, can you please tell our readers a bit more about yourself and your role in the organization of StubHub.com?

The dotcom boom hit during my last year at Berkeley and, thinking it would be interesting to tap into this new Internet culture (rumored to be laden with foosball tables & catered lunches), I applied for a job at a brand-new startup called StubHub.com.

If you've ever worked at a startup, then you know job descriptions should be taken with a hunk of salt. Mine was no exception: 'Marketing - Get customers to StubHub'. Along with our affiliate program, I've managed our radio campaigns, handled email marketing, run Charity Auctions, written site copy, created our brand's style guidelines, negotiated with media companies, designed online & offline advertisements, written PR articles, taken customer service calls, and built cubicles.

In other words, I've been busy the past 4 years.

2) Can you describe StubHub.com's identity and reputation?

Started by 2 season ticket holders, StubHub.com is a marketplace where fans can buy & sell tickets for sporting events, concerts, & theater performances nationwide.

For example: if you're a Boston Red Sox season ticket holder, you just paid a lot of money for your package…but can you make all 81 home games? On StubHub, you can resell your extras to recoup your initial costs while giving other fans access to your seats. (Think: an eBay for Tickets, except fully guaranteed.)

StubHub is returning the ticket market to the fans, who have traditionally been at the mercy of Ticketmaster's availability or scalper negotiations. As StubHub grows, the increased ticket supply is resulting in a reflection of market value prices…so ticket prices are dropping and more fans can see their favorite artists or take their kids to a game.

Our partners include teams in the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, & NCAA, performing artists such as The Eagles & Britney Spears, and media companies including AOL & USAToday. So yep, we're legit.

3) As a dot-com organization, how much emphasis is placed on search engine marketing (SEM) compared to other avenues of marketing and sales?

As an online company, we are just 1 click away from any potential customer…so SEM is a strong component of our marketing plan. The overall success of PPC advertising shows that consumers are becoming more proactive in their product searches: if they want what you're selling, you'd better be there when they ask for it.

While other companies may turn over SEM to their affiliates, it's smart to maintain a PPC division in-house. This allows you to stay aware of conversion rates, run keyword & ad-copy tests, understand this dynamic industry, and basically cover yourself if those SEM affiliates ever disappear.

4) How many active affiliates help to grow your business?

Though our program is just over a year old, we have several thousand affiliates. Of these, about 18% are active and driving considerable volume. (In case you're worried about the non-performers in your program, know that the 80/20 rule is pretty standard in affiliate marketing.)

5) Of the three forms of SEM (Pay per click advertising, Search Engine Optimization & Paid Inclusion), which methods prove to be the most effective for your top earning affiliates?

Our top affiliates use a combination of PPC & SEO to generate sales.

The key to success with these methods, however, is frequent communication. Because we know this stuff best, we will share SEO tips, PPC formulas, & top performing keywords with our qualified affiliates. This information acts to incentivize, reward, & help them…which ultimately translates into sales & growth for StubHub.

There is considerable debate about whether this is a good idea - sharing such valuable data with affiliates who could increase your internal PPC bids or who could switch to your competitor's program. For now, we would rather see our top keyword search results flooded with affiliates than flooded with links to our competitors. So choose your qualified affiliates carefully & work hard to develop a level of trust that will bring you both success.

6) Late in 2003, Google had made significant changes in what is now referred to as the "Florida Update". Can you describe for us the impact the Florida update had on your web site as well as the performance of your affiliate network?

Because we only recently jumped into the SEO game, the Florida update did little to hurt us. In fact, our program experienced over 20% growth during November '03…so our affiliates seemed to weather the storm just fine (so to speak).

7) What types benefits should affiliates look for when reviewing an affiliate program?

When reviewing a program, affiliates should look at both the commission structure and the sales potential. (I mean, it's great if you could earn $100 for every gold-plated toilet sold through your links…but how many are you going to sell?) Look for a fair commission rate coupled with high potential for consistent sales.

The action referral period (ARP) is another metric to consider, as you'll want to receive commission for sales that occur after your links were first clicked. The standard ARP seems to be 30 days, so anything more than that should be pretty good. (The StubHub program actually offers 60 days, which is attractive to affiliates who go after repeat purchases during sports seasons.)

As an affiliate, you're pretty much on your own…so having the support of a conscientious Affiliate Manager & having access to tools (eg. an XML feed) are huge benefits to any program. A good AM will tell you how to drive sales and the tools will enable you to do it.

And more than anything, an affiliate should believe in the product being sold. Trust your instinct and promote companies that you like…because if you don't believe in what you're selling, how likely are other people to buy it? It's easier and more fun to promote products you would actually use.

8) Would you be willing to share with us some of the best growth-models for affiliates working in your program?

While there is no silver bullet or singular solution to creating a successful program, the following elements are key for growth:

- Run Tests - Whether you are running PPC campaigns or building content pages, you should be testing creative, content, keyterms (and everything else) by running A/B splits and tracking your results on a daily basis. Find what works…and keep testing until you find something that works even better. And then keep testing.

- Know the Industry - Pay attention your merchant's industry so that you can effectively market to their target demographic. Seasonality is also important: for example, "Lakers Tickets" may be a profitable keyterm, but only during basketball season. Ask your AM for advice about what to promote & when to promote it.

- Stay in Touch - Your Affiliate Manager is the #1 expert on how to drive sales for that brand. Use your AM as a resource and establish a relationship based on consistent communication. I make myself available via phone, email, & instant messaging: the affiliates who take advantage of this are rewarded with additional help, exclusive bonuses, and more. In short, I'm here to make money for my affiliates…but they must first introduce themselves or respond to my emails.

9) What major challenges have you helped StubHub.com to overcome as the affiliate program manager?

The main challenge was starting our programs from scratch: with no prior affiliate experience, the learning curve was pretty steep. One of my college friends (Brook Schaaf, AM for Shoes.com) kindly answered my many questions & introduced me to the world of Affiliate Marketing, which helped get us started.

A more consistent challenge is maintaining our EPC on the Commission Junction network. We've held the #1 spot in our category this entire year: our 3month EPC is $22 and our 7day EPC is currently $36. (While EPC is only relevant within CJ, it allows us to attract new affiliates.)

10) For those who are interested in working with you and your affiliate program - what options exist and where can they learn more about your program?

To learn more about our program, you may apply directly via Commission Junction (cj.com) or read more about us.

If you have any questions about our program or anything mentioned in this interview, you are also welcome to contact me directly at 415-644-0810 x 212 or via email at jen@stubhub.com.

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