Publisher Spotlight

Publisher Spotlight: RefrigeratorPro

RefrigeratorProWe recently had the privilege of interviewing Heidi Baker, co-founder of RefrigeratorPro.com for our Publisher Spotlight.  RefrigeratorPro is a leading refrigerator review website and a Dynamic Asset specialist, you may remember them for our Effective Display Tactics post.

Jade: Heidi, you’re a co-founder of RefrigeratorPro. How did the idea of creating the site come about?

Heidi: My partner and I have a long history of working within the home improvement industry. When we started to explore what type of site we should focus on, we realized that kitchen appliances was an arena we didn't feel was being adequately serviced by the internet community. There were a lot of 'consumer review' sites and online stores, but very few sites that went into depth on what was available. As a consumer, it's easy to get lost in the myriad of choices, so the goal of our site was (and still is) to provide our users with as much relevant information as possible to help them make an educated decision. Because it's a staple of most kitchens, we started with refrigerators and are in the process of launching similar sites on other kitchen appliances.

Jade: Why did you decide to use the Shopzilla Publisher Program and how do you implement our content to RefrigeratorPro? How has your total experience with the program been thus far? 

Heidi: Frankly, Shopzilla was something we just stumbled upon. We were looking for a way to enhance the content as well as further monetize the site and found the Shopzilla Publisher Program suited our needs. We had been with other sites that gave us widgets that were intriguing, but that either didn't blend seamlessly into the content or simply didn't pay enough to justify keeping it up on the site.

What has worked best with Shopzilla was using the dynamic assets. We input the topic of the page into the topic of the ads and everything seems to flow seamlessly. The best part is that if our customer finds the information they are looking for on that page then they very well might really need the ad next to it. We've done this with both more broad categories as well as with specific items using the product pod ads.

Other than a few minor hiccups, we've been happily surprised with the program and plan to implement it into our entire network of sites within the next few months. We've been grateful to your support staff (Bryan Byrne in particular) for resolving any issues along the way and we're excited to see what the future holds.

Refrigeratorpro.com

Jade: How do you stay up to date with new refrigerator models and technology?

Heidi: It's definitely tough to keep up to date as there are so many different manufacturers and so many changes made from year to year. We have a relatively small in house staff, but we utilize consultants on the outside who gather information directly from manufacturers, retailers (both online and brick and mortar stores), repairmen and consumers. As we mentioned above, we're in the process of a redesign which will allow us to provide more functionality for our users giving them the ability to see our content on a wide variety of platforms.

Jade: Does traffic ever peak during a certain time of year? If so, why? Do you think traffic peaks for similar niche sites reviewing other kitchen appliances? 

Heidi: We have traffic peaks during the holidays as consumers try to take advantage of holiday sales. Refrigerators are expensive, so consumers try to save what they can, when they can. Regarding other sites, I can't speak on their behalf, but we've seen similar spikes with other 'kitchen appliance' sites within our network.

Jade: Do you have any tips or advice for our affiliates that also run niche or review sites? 

Heidi: The best advice we ever got was don't get hung up on SEO (or as we like to call it, B.S.EO). Users will find you as long as you're providing useful information. If you spend time on gathering accurate, usable content then the traffic will come. Spend too much time on look and feel and SEO and it probably won't.

Heidi, thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions in this Publisher Spotlight!  We strongly recommend any of our publishers using dynamic assets to check out RefrigeratorPro.com.  Their site design, content, and integration of our assets will quickly show why they were an obvious choice for a Shopzilla Publisher Spotlight.

Publisher Spotlight: SmartShopper

SmartShopper is a leading and innovativeSmartShopper force in the comparison shopping world and has been a partner of the Shopzilla Publisher Program for almost four years.  The Publisher Team recently had the opportunity to ask Ziv Gonen, Director of Business Operations at SmartShopper.com, a few questions about his company's experience with the Shopzilla Publisher Program as well as the affiliate marketing/comparison shopping industry in general.

Jade: SmartShopper is a very unique partner. Could you describe your product for those publishers who are unfamiliar with it?

Ziv: SmartShopper’s aim is to be the user’s shopping advisor. Show the right thing at the right place at the right time. It’s added value is convenience and saving time and money. What makes it unique derives from being a client side app. SmartShopper opens up automatically, showing price comparison information, Coupons, Tickets and Travel Deals alongside shopping searches, product pages and checkout pages. The information is presented on the browser’s sidebar, similar to the History and Favorites. This allows users to conveniently browse their favorite shopping sites while receiving valuable advice from SmartShopper.

Jade: Why did you choose to use the Shopzilla Publisher Program?

Ziv: As one of the big and most important Price Comparison engines online, Shopzilla is one of our most important partners. We’ve been part of the publisher program since 2006. The Shopzilla account management team is top notch. Responsive, smart and fun to work with. That makes Shopzilla’s publisher problem highly attractive as well.

Jade: How did you build your users’ trust and loyalty? What was the toughest part of getting your users to download and then use your product rather than buy from the shopping websites they normally use?

Ziv: We gain trust by providing a good service. We also use engagement “notifiers” to connect with our users, mainly explaining what this is about and how to use it to save time and money. Being a browser plug-in also has its difficulties. Scanning aps flag you as dangerous even without inspecting what you do exactly. And users don’t really care, they’ll just do whatever the scanning app tells them. I don’t blame them. This is a constant struggle which makes it hard for us to further develop trust and expand our user base. However, since mid 2007, SmartShopper has been certified as a Trusted Download Application by TRUSTe. This certification makes it easier for us to prove that we are just a great service, a friendly tool that helps people shop.

Jade: What does the future hold for SmartShopper?

Ziv: We have a few plans for the next few quarters. Online shopping today is not just about the price. Buying is an emotional decision. We need to inspire the confidence in users that they can both enjoy what they purchased and get the thrill of scoring a great deal. We are really behind on social features. Simple things like sharing and recommending. This is a big thing in today’s market and one of the most important buying factors according to numerous researches. You’ll definitely see more social features coming this year in SmartShopper. We also want to be more category oriented. Today, we basically give the same experience for all shopping categories. Obviously, shopping for a handbag is different than shopping for a digital camera. When SmartShopper was acquired by blinkx last spring, we started brainstorming how can we benefit from blinkx’s incredible AI engines. We will definitely see the fruits of that very soon.

Ziv, thanks again for your time and your thoughtful insight in this Publisher Spotlight!  We're excited to see SmartShopper's new social features in the near future.

Don't Count on Cupid this Valentine's Day: Check Out the Publisher Team's Recommended Websites!

In the spirit of St. Valentine's Day, we'd like to take the opportunity to highlight some of our favorite websites that could keep our publishers out of the dog house on February 14th. 

totalbeauty.com - A top of the line health and beauty Valentine's daywebsite offering great product reviews.  Whether you're looking for new lip gloss for the big date, or you just want to show your girl you listen when she talks about her favorite hard-to-find products, Total Beauty will be a huge help.

GPSReviews.net - Give your valentine the map to your heart this year.  Not a techie?  Not a problem.  Tim Flight's product reviews will help you choose the best GPS system to keep your valentine on the right path.

winecoolerexpert.com - Trying to impress a wine enthusiast, or chill your wine for a romantic night in?  Check out this website's reviews on everything wine coolers to help guide your purchase.  Even if you don't buy anything, you'll still be able to talk the talk.

DesignerApparel.com - Regardless of whether it's a Valentine's Day breakfast, lunch, brunch, or dinner - do it in style.  Designer Apparel has tons of stylish clothing and accessories - update your wardrobe for the occasion!

dealnews.com - At a loss when it comes to gift ideas?  Why not go with the best deal you can find?! It's going to take a lot of work to find better prices than dealnews in everything from clothing to electronics to home and garden.

Easy-French-Food.com - Not going to Paris?  Bring Paris to you!  Check out Easy French Food for easy, yet tasty French recipes.

HGTV.com - Maybe you're going to pull off the best home or garden project of all time.  HGTV's marketplace will assist you in any project you might attempt.  It doesn't matter if you religiously watch the channel, or just browse it from time to time - you'll find all the tools you need here.

Not only are the above websites great for Valentine's Day - they're great examples of different ways you can implement our content within your website.  We hope you've picked up a couple of tips for Valentine's Day, and, more importantly, your Shopzilla Publisher Program integration!

Publisher Spotlight: pic2shop

Pic2shop With only 2 and a half years on the international market, Apple's iPhone has become one of the largest global smartphone companies, accounting for one fifth of total sales. One of the biggest factors behind this has been a nearly 50% year-over-year growth seen in the third quarter of 2009. With this growth comes huge opportunity in the apps or application sector. Apple’s App Store currently has over 100,000 applications available, showing the popularity and growth in the industry. Latching on to a winning concept can result in windfall earnings for any investor, take for example the iFog app. One application that caught our eye recently, was the pic2shop app. Since we are a comparison shopping engine, we are always interested in seeing how the marketplace is evolving. And, as an added bonus, pic2shop has integrated Shopzilla content to supply shopping options to its user base. We caught up with the creator of pic2shop, Benoit Maison, to find out a little more about the application, and his thoughts on the future of smartphone technology.

Bryan: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Benoit. Tell us a little about pic2shop and exactly what it is.

Benoit: pic2shop is a free iPhone application. It reads barcodes using the iPhone camera, and then looks up and compares prices at online retailers.

Bryan: How did the idea come about?

Benoit: It all started as a technical challenge: reading barcodes with the iPhone was supposed to be impossible because the fixed focus camera made them all blurry (that was before the iphone 3GS). The first working version of pic2shop was released in April'09, and there was a lot of worldwide interest immediately. Since then, we have perfected the barcode scanner, made it work in real-time on the iPhone, and added many retailers and millions of products to our database.

Bryan: The pic2shop team has been working with Shopzilla for several months now. How has the experience been?

Benoit: It has been very rewarding. We chose Shopzilla early on because it was the most expedient. But Shopzilla turned out to have to best product coverage for our purposes (UPC lookup), and to give great affiliate revenue. We are very excited that the program is now available in the UK, France and Germany!

Bryan: You currently use our Catalog API; how has the integration process been?

Benoit: Having an API was more convenient than, say, an FTP feed. As volume increases, we just need to cache results. Integration was very straightforward, and we never had to make any change since then. As a developer, that's the highest praise I can give.

Bryan: Mobile applications are becoming ever more present on the market, where does your application figure in terms of category relevance?

Benoit: Besides games, comparison shopping may be the category with the broadest appeal. Who does not like to get a better deal? We are looking for ways to increase the appeal of pic2shop, so that it is the first place iPhone users and retailers turn when they think of comparison shopping. Many people are not even aware that this stuff is possible, but when they learn about it, the reaction is invariably an enthusiastic "Wow! How do I get it?"

Bryan: What makes pic2shop so unique/important to the market?

Benoit: Well, definitely the real-time barcode scanner. Just point the camera at a barcode, wait a second, click! You get the online prices and links to explore further. There are only three apps (out of 100,000!) on the App Store right now that can do that, and pic2shop is the most flexible of the three. In many ways, it is like a mobile browser with barcode input. It can show prices of course, but also product specifications, user reviews, demonstration videos, coupons, anything you can dream of. Some manufacturers want to build their own iPhone app, and we license the barcode reader to them, but some are just happy to give us material to include in the results.

Bryan: In your own personal opinion, how much success can be achieved with this type of application, and how far can this technology go?

Benoit: I believe that mobile advertising will soon be larger than online advertising. It can reach people wherever they go, not just when they sit at their PC. If it's not intrusive, it can provide tremendous value by being highly relevant and timely. It is not clear how the technology will evolve. For example, will people want dedicated apps, or just mobile web sites better integrated with their phone's camera, GPS, and other capabilities? We will probably see a few iterations before the dust settles. In the meantime, we'll take pic2shop as far as we can.

Thank you for your input Benoit, and we hope to see pic2shop evolve into a leader on the marketplace! For anyone interested in finding out more information or wanting to download the app (it is free to download!), head over to the pic2shop website.

Publisher Total Beauty visits Shopzilla HQ

totalbeauty.com

The Shopzilla Publisher Program recently had the pleasure of welcoming Judy Hsieh of Total Beauty to Shopzilla Inc. headquarters in Los Angeles, California.   Judy Hsieh from totalbeauty.com

Judy, Vice President of Online Business Development, stopped by to participate in our quarterly company meeting. She was one of two guest speakers at the event and spoke about her experiences as a Shopzilla Publisher.  She gave great feedback about the program and explained how Total Beauty implements the Shopzilla Publisher Program on their site.  We should give more credit to Judy as she just didn't speak in front hundreds of Zillans, but hundreds of costumed Zillans, including the Publisher Team. As if we were not intimidating enough, Judy spoke in front of Jason, an Oompa Loompa, Billy Idol, and other various characters...after all, it was the Friday before Halloween.

TotalBeauty.com is a leading beauty website, and has been a Shopzilla affiliate for close to a year and a half.  No matter how many beauty products you use, if you are looking for unbiased product reviews...and great integration of Shopzilla Publisher content...then we recommend checking out Total Beauty!

It was great having you, Judy.  Thank you again for taking the time out of your schedule to visit Shopzilla!

Publisher Affiliate Spotlight: Designer Apparel

Da_logoDesignerApparel.com is one of the web's top designer clothing destinations.  They've been working with the Shopzilla Publisher Program for nearly a year now, and we were fortunate to interview them this past week as part of our regular Publisher Affiliate Spotlight series.  Here's what they had to say:

Shopzilla:  Can you tell us a little about DesignerApparel.com, its history, and its mission?

DesignerApparel.com: DesignerApparel.com is a collection of niche-specific shopping engines that gives users the power to shop all of the stores in a given category all from one place.  DesignerApparel.com is our flagship vertical focused on the high-end designer clothing and accessories space, bringing together stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and more, and brands ranging from the classic Gucci or Prada to the more contemporary like Juicy Couture or Michael Kors, all into one, searchable, interface.  We want to give users the widest possible selection as aggregated from our hundreds of partners, coupled with the convenience of a one-stop-shop.  StylishKids.com is our shopping engine focused on baby and kids clothing.  StreetApparel.com is for the streetwear category.  JewelryFlash.com is probably the largest jewelry site on the web.  DesignerMaternity.com is focused on expecting mothers who (still) want to look stylish throughout their pregnancies.  Lastly, shoppers can also sign-up for members only sale alerts at MyPerfectSale.com, where users can choose the brands that they love and receive alerts whenever they go on sale, thus have the “perfect” sale of just the stuff they love.  Our motto is “All the Sales, All the Stores, All in One Place.” 

Shopzilla:  Why did you decide to partner with the Shopzilla Publisher Program and how do you utilize Shopzilla’s content on DesignerApparel.com?

DesignerApparel.com:  Shopzilla has been a tremendous partner for us.  Through Shopzilla, we have been able to integrate nearly a hundred new partners all in one fell swoop.  Also, usually, adding so many new partners would be overwhelming for us both from a management and technology standpoint.  But since Shopzilla has standardized all of its partners and acts as a management interface between us and partners, we have been able to add these partners without adding new resources.  Instead of dealing with hundreds of new partners, we just deal with one.  Lastly, Shopzilla’s catalog atoms are quite helpful to us when we want to expand into a new vertical.  We can quickly get to a critical mass of partners on any given category whereas it took us much longer before.

Shopzilla:  Do you have any tips that you believe might help other publishers achieve success?

DesignerApparel.com:   In this economy, we think that tools and content that can help shoppers find the best deal in a focused and helpful way will win.  That’s what we are focusing on and will continue to deliver.

Shopzilla:  What’s next for DesignerApparel.com?

DesignerApparel.com:  Our focus will be expanding our targeted niches while building on our strengths.  We will look to build out more categories where we have an edge in partners, technology or customer base.

Shopzilla: We wish you all the best on your expansion plans, and we thank you for participating in this edition of Publisher Spotlight! 

Interview with Tim Flight of GPSReview.net about the FTC Guidelines

Hey Publishers,GPSReview

The Federal Trade Commission's new set of guidelines to protect online consumers is a very hot and controversial topic affecting bloggers of all stripes. The Shopzilla Publisher team was curious about the thoughts of one of our coworkers and top publishers, Tim Flight, and had the pleasure to ask him several questions on the topic. Tim runs GPSReview.net, and has been a Shopzilla Publisher for roughly two and a half years. Tim gave us great insight on his experiences with GPSReview.net and what the new FTC regulations mean for him and other bloggers.

Jade: Would you mind giving a brief description of GPSReview.net for our publishers and blog readers who are unfamiliar with your site?

Tim: I started with GPSReview.net in 2005 and I've been involved with affiliate marketing since that time. I review GPS devices, provide ways for consumers to ask questions and leave their own reviews, as well as operate a large GPS forum. Often manufacturers will send me devices to review (which I send back when I'm done with the product), and I also often purchase GPS devices directly from store shelves for reviews.

Jade: The FTC's goal is to maximize consumer protection. Do you feel there are really that many biased product review blogs that negatively affect consumer decisions?

Tim: I don't believe there are a lot of blogs with a significant bias towards a particular company, although they do exist. However a bigger issue I see is the manufacturers/companies themselves are often out there trying to influence product ratings. For example, I've caught employees of just about every GPS company trying to influence the conversation of various pages of GPSReview.net. They will pose as a consumer and "review" their own product or say something negative about their competitor.

Another tactic I've seen recently is a company offering a discount on their product or future purchases if the consumer writes a positive review of their product on a blog or forum. (Often before a consumer has even used their product).

Jade: What is your biggest concern with the FTC's new set of guidelines?

Tim: I don't have any big concerns with the new guidelines. I hope more bloggers will be open about the relationships they have with companies they talk about. But I think bloggers writing positive reviews of a product as a result of getting free product is just the tip of the iceberg.

As I mentioned above, employees writing about their own products in blog comments, forums, or social media sites is a problem for consumers. The guidelines also hardly scratch the surface surrounding things like "wining and dining" or being offered free show tickets while at a Vegas trade show. There are many other ways a blogger could be influenced by a company beyond just free product.

Jade: Richard Cleland of the FTC stated in an interview with Fast Company that the FTC is more concerned with the advertisers and wants to educate the bloggers. How far do you think the advertisers will pull back?

Tim: Product manufacturers and advertisers understand that bloggers can reach their target audiences, so I don't think they will pull back. Perhaps companies will start being a bit more strict when it comes to setting expectations on having product samples shipped back, etc. As far as "educating bloggers" goes, those that are receiving kick-backs for positive reviews probably won't change much.

Jade: How do you plan on adhering to the new FTC guidelines?

Tim: For a long time I've maintained an Ethics Page where I spell out my relationship with companies I review products from. I also frequently cite within a product review if I purchased the product myself or if the product was on a short-term loan. I plan to continue those practices.

Jade: How do you think your site, GPSReview.net will be affected?

Tim: I don't think I will be affected much at all. From what I've interpreted in the guidelines I've been already meeting or exceeding the FTC guidelines.

Thank you to Tim for taking the time to talk to us about the new FTC regulations and his site GPSReview.net. We'd love to hear our publishers' reactions to the proposed FTC guidelines. How do you expect to be affected in December when these new rules take effect?

Publisher Affiliate Spotlight: Snipi

Snipi 

Continuing our series of Publisher Spotlights, we had the opportunity to talk to Andre Golsorkhi, CEO and Founder of Snipi. Andre shared with us some information about Snipi, his experiences thus far with the Shopzilla Publisher Program and even offers some advice to Publishers. Enjoy the article and feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Bryan: Andre, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First question, what exactly is Snipi?

Andre: Snipi is a new social media platform that provides a smarter way for users to capture, organize, collaborate on, and share their personal interests - products, photos, videos and other content - from anywhere on the Web. It is the first online service of its kind that offers a patent-pending content capturing tool for both self-organization and group collaboration. Snipi's most compelling tool is a free Firefox add-on that enables users to literally drag and drop products, photos, videos and other content from anywhere online. The toolbar enables users to "snip" content directly from any webpage which will automatically save it to their personal profile. Users can share and collaborate through "Snipstreams" or broadcast to Facebook, Twitter, Wordpress and other online destinations.


Bryan: Around the middle of May, Snipi seemed to take off, particularly with a feature article in the Wall Street Journal. What has been the target audience for Snipi, and how have you approached the social network market?

Andre: We have created a place where people can organize their digital lives and collaborate with friends around their interests. We believe other services have major gaps in architecture and functionality, leaving their users disorganized and overwhelmed with information. With Snipi, we looked to create an application that would nail the organizational aspect of content capturing while also offering some of the most powerful group collaboration capabilities on the Web. Alot of credit has to go to our teams on the creative and technical side, coupled with our business development and PR talent that helped us achieve exposure in a very short period of time. We're extremely pleased with the initial coverage but with our newest features being released in the month of July, we're anticipating a real upswing in traction and coverage. It is exciting times!


Bryan: What process/steps did you take before deciding to work with the Shopzilla Publisher Program?

Andre: We were in the early stages of development when we reached out to potential partner CSE's and we needed a team with the understanding and patience to work with an early stage venture. Shopzilla's team took the time to understand our vision and gave us the attention necessary to help us achieve our goals. This level of service was a requirement for us as we were still working out the kinks well before public launch and Shopzilla stepped up to help us through those areas in which they could be involved, and ultimately benefit from our success.


Bryan: What role does the Shopzilla Catalog API feed play in the interactive nature of Snipi?

Andre: As Snipi users drag and drop products from virtually any online store, the Snipi Toolbar immediately and automatically scours the page for product information. While the Snipi Toolbar is very much about organizing products users are researching online, we also wanted to provide other relevant information to the user without having them ever leave the page. Shopzilla's Catalog API allows us to give users price comparison information on-the-fly, along with all the other features Snipi provides (saving, organizing, sharing through social networks, etc). We also use the Shopzilla Catalog API to provide our Snipi users the same price comparison data in the Snipi iPhone app as they have in the Snipi Toolbar. While the Shopzilla API is strongest in the consumer electronics space, we expect that there will be greater precision to other categories as both of our products develop further.

Bryan: You were one of the first Publishers to test our new Catalog API service, how have you found its integration with Snipi?

Andre: We integrated with the new Catalog API almost immediately after its release. Coming from a team developing new technology and services we expect that the first iterations of a product will have a lot of kinks to be worked out. We were pleasantly surprised by how stable the new Catalog API was and how quickly we were able to make the change over. As a failsafe, however, we kept the old Catalog API in place just in case. Fortunately, as a result of the Shopzilla team's clean execution, we never found ourselves in a circumstance where we needed to revert to the old API.


Bryan: Overall, what has your experience been like with Shopzilla?

Andre: So far, so good! We're an early stage company and we still have a lot of our own kinks to work out, so, it is nice to have partners we can rely on and who don’t create more work for us than we already have. We hope that as our product evolves, we can work even more closely with the Shopzilla team to improve both our feature sets.


Bryan: Finally, do you have any tips or comments that you would like to offer any potential Publishers reading this article?

Andre: Publishers looking to build applications with or upon price comparison data should recognize that the gaps in product accuracy are in the CSE's control by only so much. No matter how strong of a search platform it is that they can build, inaccuracy will always fall prey to outside factors: 1) the difficulty in cataloging soft goods and 2) the lack of adherence to a web standard for product display and identification. I would urge publishers who may be working closely with or who have retailer relationships to help give more traction to the implementation of online product standards. This can be done by developing applications using this standard and showing them the benefits or by using your retailer relationships to influence their marketing and technical teams. The single most influential and far reaching development in this space will be the adherence of all stakeholders to an online product publishing standard. With a product catalog backbone, everyone will benefit.


Thanks to Andre for taking the time out to talk to us about Snipi. If you are interested about finding out more, or would like to try the Snipi toolbar, head on over to www.snipi.com. Snipi can also be found on Twitter: @snipi

An Interview with Jeff Jarvis

The Shopzilla Publisher Program had the unexpected pleasure of sitting down with Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do? and who blogs BuzzMachine, at the Aspen Ideas Festival to chat about a couple of timely topics related to online media and advertising.
 
We asked Mr. Jarvis to share his perspective on the affiliate sales tax issue. Mr. Jarvis sees both sides of the issue. On one hand, he appreciates that brick & mortar retailers are disadvantaged by having to collect sales tax from customers. On the other hand, he's concerned about public policies that could hamper the growth of e-commerce. Mr. Jarvis went on to reiterate the viewpoint he laid-out in his book; that manufacturers and retailers are likely to operate "showrooms" for products they sell and that those products will likely be shipped to customers, with the exception of when customers have a time-sensitive need to possess them. (I personally would've appreciated having access to a showroom where I could've previewed some furniture that I recently purchased from Pottery Barn.)
 
In Jarvis' book, he maintains that real-estate agents and car salesman don't necessarily reduce transactional friction. So, Shopzilla was also interested in whether he sees Comparison Shopping Engines (CSEs) and Retail Aggregators as adding value or acting as middlemen. His view was that if CSEs only extract value from the market, then they're not adding value. Certainly, CSEs add value to online retailers insofar as they qualify buyer leads (clicks) to those retailers and drive sales within their allowable ranges. Shopzilla Publisher is extremely focused on ensuring that we create merchant value by vigilantly monitoring the quality of traffic that originates from our network of affiliates. That leaves us with the question of whether we add value for consumers. Some might maintain that the transparency CSEs create around product prices creates value for consumers. Though, this feature is one that is quickly becoming commoditized by the large number of comparison shopping sites that exist today. It made this writer stop and think about what more CSEs need to do to create consumer value beyond price comparison.
 
Jarvis attended the AIF session at which Eric Schmidt spoke. In his post about the session, Mr. Jarvis noted that someone asked Schmidt about Froogle, to which Schmidt apparently responded:
"Why did you remind me". Why didn’t it work? "It didin’t work because it just didn’t work. We celebrate our failure in the company because we want people to take risks."
If it's not working, then why is Google featuring product search results so prominently in its general results? Mr. Jarvis believes it makes Google's results more valuable and relevant; and given that Schmidt acknowledged that 97% of Google's revenue come from advertising, Jarvis believes Google might try to better monetize the product search listings on Google. Shopzilla will certainly be paying close attention.
 
We also discussed a recent post by Jon Fine about Barry Diller's perspective on paid web content. Diller was quoted as saying:

 "People will pay for content. I absolutely believe the internet is passin from its free phase into a paid system."

While Mr. Jarvis is not opposed to publishers charging for content, he believes that a predominantly paid model simply won't work. We believe he shares the Shopzilla Publisher Program's view that "the data yearns to be free". Walling the content takes it out of the conversation, which is where news and journalism is happening today. His belief is that consumers will continue to pay for access to content in cases where an advantage can be had from timely access to that information. For example, Bloomberg can command hefty premiums for its content because the consumers of that content can take advantage of market opportunities from its timely access (even if that window is only 6/10s of a second).
 
We closed our conversation by noting that BuzzMachine has all of two advertisements on its site: 1 AdSense placement and 1 BlogAd placement. So, of course, we wanted to know whether BuzzMachine wants to run Shopzilla Publisher Program ads. Jarvis' answer: Sure. There's nothing wrong with that answer!
 

Jeff Jarvis (L) & David Weinrot, Shopzilla Publisher Program (R) at Aspen Ideas Festival

Publisher Affiliate Spotlight: Strong and Fit

Strong and Fit
In this round of Publisher Spotlight, we had the opportunity to speak to Kevin Sanders and get his feedback about using the Shopzilla Publisher Program on his website http://strongandfit.net.

Kevin, tell us about yourself and your website.
Kevin: My name is Kevin Sanders. I’m a Christian missionary, author, blogger, and fitness enthusiast. Strongandfit.net is a fitness website/blog with special emphasis on building muscle and losing fat. The website also has some brutally honest reviews of fitness products (nutritional supplements, etc).

What got you interested in blogging, and particularly health and fitness?
Kevin: I’ve had at least one personal website since the mid 90’s. I think my first site was one of those free AOL pages. I’ve always enjoyed having my own little space on the Internet (I’m easily amused). I started blogging consistently about three years ago—it seemed like a good way to reach out to students I met in seminars, etc. That first blog (kuyakevin.com) led to the publication of a successful book. Strongandfit.net was my second blog. I’ve been lifting weights for about twenty years, so friends often come to me with workout questions. Writing about fitness kind of came naturally.

What kind of experience have you had using the Shopzilla Publisher program?

Kevin: About a year ago I noticed one of my pages had a decent search engine rank. I added some Shopzilla codes to it (first time I’d tried it) and completely forgot about it. You guys emailed me a few months later and asked where to send the check. That opened my eyes to the earning potential of Shopzilla.

Are there any particular features that you like?
Kevin: One word: control. There’s a whole lot of garbage being sold in the fitness industry. If I personally recommend a specific product, I want to place an ad with only that product

What tips can you offer other Publishers, or potential Publishers?
Kevin: One more word: integrity. Don’t promote a product unless you would recommend it to your best friend. Readers will keep coming back if they know you are trustworthy.

Anything else you would like to add?
Kevin: I encourage bloggers to focus on high quality content. I’m not really a blogging guru, but that’s one thing I’ve learned.

Thank you Kevin for your time on this! Kevin can also be found on Twitter, @KuyaKevin. To any Publishers reading this, if you are interested in participating in our regular Publisher Affiliate Spotlight series, please contact us.

Publisher Affiliate Spotlight: Shoes of the Day

A month ago we interviewed fashion and shoe blogger, Tracie Murphy.  We recently had the opportunity to interview another "shoe blogger," Derek Miner, who uses Shopzilla Publisher on his excellent Shoes of the Day site.  Derek took a moment to speak about his site and why he's using Shopzilla Publisher on it.

Chris:   Please tell us a little about yourself, Shoes of the Day, and how it came to be:

Derek: I am a Scorpio - oops, wrong platform.  I am passionate about shoes and one of the few males that I know who has more shoes than his spouse! Shoes of the Day was created to provide a unique online shoe review experience - real reviews with an occasional random post to mix it up for fun.

Chris:  How do you find your material to blog about?

DerekThanks to the Internet, jet airplanes and public transportation, the possibilities are endless to find good shoe content to see and write about.  I must also give a shout-out to the niche retail shoe stores and shoe companies who send me shoes to test, take pictures of, review and write about. 

Chris:  Why do you use the Shopzilla Publisher Program's ads?

Derek:   We want our users to have a great shoe experience on our site.  One of the main reasons that Shoesoftheday.com uses the Shopzilla publisher ads is that they showcase unique shoes visually - not just text, but a variety of footwear displayed just how we want it on our pages.   Also, knowing that when our users click in the ad on a pair of shoes they are interested in, they are taken to a trusted Shopzilla vendor who will give them the best price for their next pair of shoes.

Chris:  Anything else?

Derek:  Visit ShoesOfTheDay.com to find a review on your next pair of shoes.  Want to promote your shoe brand?  Send us a pair and we'll take it from there.

Chris: Thanks, Derek!  We wish you and Shoes of the Day continued success!  To any Publishers reading this, if you are interested in participating in our regular Publisher Affiliate Spotlight series, please contact us.

Publisher Affiliate Spotlight: Style Bard

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From time to time, we take a moment to aim the spotlight on a Publisher, and ask him or her to share some wisdom with us.  Today we are excited to present a brief Q&A with Tracie of Style Bard Shoes.

Chris:  Tracie, please tell us a little about yourself, Style Bard, and Style Bard Shoes:

Tracie: I'm a girl in her twenties who loves literature, theatre, and fashion. I can be pretty sassy; I'm a bit of a smart mouth. I've lived in Boston and New York, and am currently living in Florida. All three places have a very distinct style! I created Style Bard and Style Bard Shoes as projects to collect my overflowing opinions on fashion, but then I quickly realized that I wanted to share them with others as well.

"Style Bard" comes from the idea that style can be a form of poetry, and that someone who utilizes the aesthetics of style would be the artist---a bard of style. Because I come from a writing and art background, combining the two appealed to me, and that's how the moniker was born. So the Style Bard blog is mostly about fashion and beauty, and then it meanders to books and movies and television as well. It's like looking at the world around me in a more fashionable light.

Chris:  What got you started in blogging about style and fashion?

TracieActually it's funny, because I used to just email my mom at work all the time with items I'd found at my favorite shopping sites, telling her how intriguing they were and how I would wear them. I realized that it would be easier to just put my unsolicited fashion commentary in one central location online. Then I could share my thoughts on fashion and shopping with more than one person---and clear up my mother's work inbox at the same time! That's how Style Bard was born.

After I'd had Style Bard for awhile, I realized that a hefty portion of my commentary focused on shoes. Rather than let shoes dominate the site all the time, I figured I could branch out and create Style Bard Shoes, which completely focuses on current shoe trends and sales and reviews. My favorite recent addition is helping readers find shoes for special occasions, or to match a dress, or to fit in with their wardrobe budget. That's been a lot of fun---it's like virtual personal shopping, but for shoes!

Chris:  Do you ever experience writers block when it comes to blogging?  How do you get around it?

Tracie Yes! I always strive to keep my voice fresh and to present new angles on fashion. But I know that my best writing comes from topics I'm truly passionate about. So now instead of sitting down to write and trying to come up with an article, I've been bookmarking shopping pages and blogs on a daily basis with little articles or pictures that inspire me---kind of like a "look book." Then when I sit down, if I don't have a topic prepared or just want to start over, I can pull up one of those links and it's like, "Oh yeah, I HATE that trend! I should definitely write something about that." On Style Bard Shoes, because there are sometimes SO many great shoe sales going on at one time, in order to write I focus on the best deals, the ones that will excite my readers the most, and then figure out an angle to cover the sale to keep it interesting. Like, how is this shoe sale different from other shoe sales going on right now? What's the hook?

And if I'm ever really stuck, I just go to the mall. There's always inspiration there. Plus I can be shopping for shoes and say, "It's for work!"

Chris:  How do you use Shopzilla Publisher?

Tracie:  Shopzilla has been incredibly easy to use on both of my sites, because it allows me to create banners with multiple links that advertise relevant content. For example, if I know that the readers of Style Bard are interested in Marc Jacobs handbags and J. Jill blouses, Shopzilla provides graphics and links that take them to the products they're looking for. And on Style Bard Shoes, my banners always show the shoe styles and brands that are hot at the time. And it's easy to change them out, which is important to me because every season there are new trends that readers want to follow. Both of my sites have unique looks to them, and I can change the coloring of the ads to blend seamlessly into each my pages. Overall, Shopzilla Publisher lets me easily tailor ads to my different sites, and is always relevant to what my readers are looking for, all without being obvious as advertisements. When I'm trying to manage two blogs at once, working with helpful teams like Shopzilla makes my life a whole lot easier.

Chris:  Anything else?

Tracie:  My most important message is that every person, male and female, needs to find their own personal style and figure out how to best present it through their clothing, accessories, and their daily choices. Adding a sprinkle of cynicism and discerning judgment is often important! Don't just take trends at face value, and embrace the catty attitude of the industry. It makes fashion much more fun.

Chris: Thanks, Tracie!  We here at Shopzilla Publisher are big fans of Style Bard, and encourage any interested Publishers to head on over to Tracie's site to learn more.

Publisher Affiliate Spotlight: Digital Camera Tracker

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In continuing with our Publisher Spotlight series, this week we caught up with Michael Huddleston, owner of Digital Camera Tracker.  We're glad we got the opportunity to speak with him about his immensly popular photography site.

Chris:  Michael, please tell us a little about yourself and Digital Camera Tracker...

Michael: Digital camera tracker was started in 2005 and has been going strong from the onset. I owned a photography studio for many years and because of that close connection to cameras decided a site that acted as an aggregate review site that helped consumers make better buying choices would be a fun and profitable project. I had NO idea is was going to be so much work. :)

Chris:  What goes in to reviewing digital cameras?

MichaelConsumers can spend hours researching digital cameras and trying to figure out how reviewers actually feel about a particular camera. In fact, a lot of camera reviewers don't even provide an overall rating for individual cameras. To make it easier for digital camera tracker visitors, for each camera we present a collection of "review snippets" from reviewers across the Net, star ratings - when a reviewer provides an actual rating and finally, when a reviewer does not provide a rating we give a thumbs up or thumbs down to indicate if the review was favorable or negative overall. Which means we read every camera review across the net.

Chris:  I'm sure the review aggregation at Digital Camera Tracker makes it very easy for the consumer to get to the meat of the reviews.  So i have to ask:  Why do you use the Shopzilla Publisher Program?

Michael Shopzilla quite frankly is one of nicest publisher programs on the market. Using Shopzilla's API lets us present ads that are remarkably relevant to whatever camera review our site visitor is reading.

Chris:  What tips can you share with the owners of other content sites about maximizing ad revenue?

Michael:  Everyone would agree that flying under the consumers ad radar is a key to success. It's not about insulting or badgering site visitors with ho hum obvious ads but it has more to do with blending and incorporating ads that present relevant choices at relevant times. Shopzilla allows us to not only place ads but by using the API we can be much more surgical with placement and presentation.

Chris:  Anything else to discuss before we conclude the interview?

Michael:  YES! I used Google search on my site for a long time and quite frankly the only reason I used it is was because everyone else seemed to have it. Big mistake! Once I dumped the Google search and provided my own site search which had Shopzilla ads integrated into the results my profits went up - way up.

Chris: I've never heard this tip before, but it definitely makes sense, particularly if users are heavily using the search functionality on your site. Thank you for sharing this with us, and hopefully some other folks out there will give this a try and post their results in the comments below.

Thanks again for answering our questions and being our Publisher Spotlight today.

To everyone else, please comment below if you have any other questions, and be sure to check out Digital Camera Tracker for reviews, ratings, and photography tips.

Publisher Affiliate Spotlight: GPS Review

Picture_3 From time to time, we will be featuring Publishers on this blog and trying to get to the bottom of what makes them so awesome.  This week we had the privilege of interviewing Tim Flight of GPS Review.  The aptly named GPS Review is one of the web's top destinations for GPS gear reviews.  Well, let's get the interview started, shall we?

Chris:  Tim, please tell us a little about yourself and GPS Review.  What initially got you passionate about GPS devices, and what lead you to create a site about them?  How old is the site?

Tim: I started GPSReview.net back in July of 2005, so the site is about to enjoy its third birthday and we're moving into the fourth year of fun. I have a passion for outdoor recreation as an avid snowboarder, kayaker, and most every other outdoor activity. I also love gadgets and technology. Those two passions don't intersect all that often, but they do with GPS devices, so it was a natural fit.

Chris:  Was there a moment when it hit you just how popular GPS Review had become?  Any specific breakthroughs?  Or was it a gradual build up?

Tim:  The site did have a fairly gradual buildup of traffic. There were certainly mornings when I'd pull up the statistics and just shake my head in amazement-- the first $100 day, the first day of 10,000 page views, and the first time I was mentioned in the mainstream press.

Chris:  What do you believe are the keys to success for creating and growing a website about product reviews (or just a strong content site, in general)?

Tim: Passion and expertise of the product are critical, but those should be obvious. Understanding that there is a fundamental difference between recommending the products that meet my needs, and finding products that meet the consumer's needs is something I don't see as much of-- and it is important. We all have slightly different goals and uses in mind when it comes to consumer products, and the devices that are "best" for me are not likely the same devices that will be "the best" for you. Early on I had a "eureka!" moment when I realized that the best product for someone I was talking with was actually a product I had written a "bad" review of. The bad elements were not something that would impact this customer and the device had a few unique, but seldom used features this customer was looking for.

I think many product reviewers (and consumers) struggle to understand that while expert opinion is valuable, the ability to break apart that opinion and match it to the actual needs of the specific consumer is even more valuable.

Chris:  What made you think to use the Shopzilla Publisher Program and how long have you been using it?

Tim:  I saw the ads on another gadget site and they looked like they would be a great match for my site. With lots of product images, and updated store pricing information it looked like not only would it provide revenue, but the updated store prices would also provide something the consumers were looking for. I started using the publisher program in April of 2007 and within 30 days I was allocating about 50% of my ad inventory to the Publisher Program. Plus I wanted that cool shopping cart with flames logo on my site. :)

Chris:  The shopping cart with flames logo is the definition of cool, and the main reason I work at Shopzilla.  Do you have any tips or suggestions for current and potential users of the Shopzilla Publisher Program?

Tim:  Integration, integration, integration. (With a hat tip to T.R.) Bite the bullet and take the time to make sure you are getting ads for the correct product on the correct page of your site. If you have a page talking about a MacBook Pro, don't show an ad about a MacBook Air. Even if it means taking the time to hand edit an ad on every page, chances are the efforts will more than pay you back. I also like to display ad units that highlight prices and store names.

[Ed. Note: Tim's following tip should be implemented at your own risk... we can't offer support for it.  If you modify the ads and accidentally break something, or omit an important piece of code, we won't be able to help you out of that pickle.]

For WordPress users, you can automatically use the Page Title as the keyword (or "Search For" as they call it) for Shopzilla ads. These are for the 'Top Search Results' ad type. Create the Top Search Results asset using just the letter "a" in the "Search For" field as the keyword. Pick the banner size, set your colors, etc, and then get the HTML code. Look in the HTML code for the following:

/keyword-a/
Replace that with this:
/keyword-<?php echo(urlencode(strtolower(single_post_title('',FALSE)))); ?>/

That code should take the title of the WordPress post and use it as the keyword for the ad unit.

Chris: Thanks, Tim, that's a really useful tip!  Anything else?

Tim: I'm really excited that stats are now showing up early in the morning! All you Zillans must have been hard at work now that the RPS competition is done. ;)

Chris:  Thanks for all the terrific insight, Tim.  I'm sure this will prove helpful to veteran publishers out there looking for an edge, as well as folks just getting their feet wet.  By the way, I was knocked out of the RPS tournament in the first round, so thanks for opening that old wound (though Rex advanced pretty far). :-)

To everyone else, we hope you enjoyed this conversation and we encourage you to check out GPS Review.  Please drop us a line if you'd like to be considered for the focus of a future Publisher Spotlight.

ProBargainHunter's Shopzilla WordPress Plugin

For API users, Yan Bezugliy of ProBargainHunter.com has created a really useful, free WordPress plugin that simply takes a Shopzilla Product ID as input, and spits out the comparison results into a nice table as shown in the screenshot below:

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As users of the Catalog API know, having a plugin like this really saves a lot of time and lets you focus more on your content, not your advertisements.  To download this free plugin, please head over to ProBargainHunter and follow the installation instructions.

I was able to catch up with the plugin's creator, Yan Bezugliy, and ask him a few questions about his experiences with the Shopzilla Publisher Program and WordPress.

Chris:  Yan, thanks for creating this great WordPress plugin!  What compelled you to make this contribution to the blogging community?

Yan:  It is really a combination of several things that made it happen. First I am a blogger. Since I started in late 2006 I have incorporated more than a couple dozen WordPress plugin's into my blog and I am very grateful to the people who spend time contributing to the community. Second, I run a shopping deals site which uses the Shopzilla API to do product price comparison, and I have had very positive experience with it. Third, I am a software and web developer, so it was a fairly natural decision for me to port the code I use on WiredDeals.com into a WordPress plugin for everyone else's benefit.

Chris:  Have you made any other WordPress plugins?

Yan:  While I have done a lot of other web development work, this has been my first experience with WordPress plugins.

Chris:  I can assure you that this plugin will get a lot of use from Publishers.  What do you like most about the Shopzilla Publisher Program?

Yan:  Again, it is a couple of things. One, I was able to find a key feature in Shopzilla's API that made it possible to integrate the functionality into my site. I refer to the search result relevancy index. Second, I am an entrepreneur myself and I like the feeling of a small company I get when I exchange emails with the team at Shopzilla, the kind of "personal touch" absent with the big guys. Lastly, I just think Shopzilla team is trying very hard to do their best job at it, and I really appreciate that.

Chris:  Thanks for the kind words - our team is working hard to ensure a quality experience for our Publishers.  That being said, do you have any feature requests that you'd like to see implemented in the future?

Yan:  I am not sure if this is a common thing, but I would like to be able to track the level of conversion for my leads so I can tune up my advertisements campaigns. The better the conversion rate is the happier my customers are and the higher the customer retention rate I eventually get. Alternatively, if I see low conversions I will know I need to change something. This also opens a possibility for me to switch from CPC to affiliates commissions as I see fit, which might not sound like a good thing for Shopzilla, but in a long run I believe you would benefit from this kind of transparency, especially if this is not something your competitors normally offer.

Chris:  Yan, traffic quality is our top concern due to our close relationship with merchants paying for placement, and it is very important that affiliate partners send traffic that converts well.  High converting traffic benefits not only the paying merchant, but also signals that the ad campaigns on affiliate sites are not a distraction to users, but an addition of useful content.  While I can’t guarantee that we’ll implement this feature, we will definitely review it and possibly consider it down the line.  Do you have any other comments?

Yan:  Thanks for having me on your blog! You are doing a great job and I wish you guys success with your affiliate program.

Chris:  Thanks, Yan.  We appreciate the feedback as well as the work you put into making a tool that many Publishers benefit from.

To download Yan's Wordpress plugin for use with the Shopzilla Publisher Program Catalog API, please visit the ProBargainHunter site.