May 2, 2007, 12:00 AM

Shopzilla launches an affiliate program, with a twist or two

Comparison shopping site Shopzilla has launched an affiliate program for web site owners who want to create shopping links at their sites. The program create links to Shopzilla’s catalog of more than 30 million products from more than 92,000 retailers.

Comparison shopping site Shopzilla has launched an affiliate program for web site owners who want to create shopping links at their sites. But unlike most affiliate programs, by which affiliates link to retail sites, participants in the Shopzilla program create links to Shopzilla’s catalog of more than 30 million products and offers from more than 92,000 retailers. Buyers who click on the link go first to Shopzilla, then to a retail site to buy.

The program targets such web site operators as specialty deal sites, bloggers and product review sites. The program provides self-service advertising options, including text links, display ads and search boxes and allows publishers to customize the ad content at their sites to make the links relevant to each site‘s editorial content, Shopzilla says.

Another twist in the Shopzilla program is that, rather than pay commissions on sales that are completed through a link, as do most affiliate programs, the Shopzilla program pays affiliates on a per-click basis, whether a sale takes place or not, much like the search engine marketing model. The company is not publicly disclosing the amount it pays per click.

Some industry observers point out that the pay-per-click model might be risky for Shopzilla, given the extent of so-called click fraud in search engine marketing, where machines or low-paid workers click repeatedly on links to drive up payment to the site. But David Weinrot, Shopzilla’s vice president of content marketing and operations, says affiliates go through a rigorous screening process and Shopzilla monitors click traffic daily with automated alerts if the number of clicks exceeds a threshold.

The pay-per-click model should be attractive to affiliate sites and in turn should make Shopzilla a more attractive venue for retailers to list their products, says Maris Daugherty, consultant with retail consulting company J. C. Williams Group. “The affiliates will find a way to make money at this and as a retailer, I’d see value in that,” she says.

Another factor that makes the Shopzilla program different from other affiliate programs is participants’ ability to get SKU-level detail and not just links to retailers’ sites for visitors to click on, says Sucharita Mulpuru, analyst with research and advisory company Forrester Research Inc. “This seems more robust for small companies than simply signing up with an affiliate network,” she says.

The Shopzilla program may serve a smaller market of companies than usually participate in affiliate programs, Mulpuru says. “Everything in the affiliate market is the long tail; this is the long, long tail,” she says.

Shopzilla is already considering enhancements to the program, Weinrott says, including allowing affiliate sites to provide sign-up links for Shopzilla’s RSS feed, with the affiliate’s code embedded in the feed so the affiliate earns money every time a reader clicks to a product through the RSS feed.

Shopzilla is rolling the program out this week after beta testing for a month with several hundred sites.

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