Cyberheat, Inc. owner Kevin Ho hit on the idea of affiliate programs pretty early on. "He had a programming background," recounts director of marketing Alison Howarth, "[and], after dabbling a bit in Internet porn himself, put up a site. As we all know, back then, the money just came. When he saw that, he moved into creating affiliate programs."
TopCash (www.topcash.com) was the original program, started in 1997.
Ho's first model was a per-click program, "as that was the most popular," says Howarth. "Since then, he's moved away, grown out. TopBucks [www.topbucks.com], our program offering per-sign-up, rev-share and per-active programs, is probably our most popular program right now."
But TopCash is in its v2.0, much to Webmaster satisfaction, launching, in February 2002, specific per-click categories, and not tying payouts to conversion ratios.
"We did away with them," informs Howarth. "A lot of Webmasters are concerned when they first join up about meeting conversion ratios. [Now] we just make sure that they're using the appropriate program so we can make money off of any type of traffic that they send.
"This has made the program more popular. I think maybe Webmasters are skeptical when they see 'no conversions,' they find it hard to believe; but our program is conversion-free."
Howarth says quality control is maintained by keeping tabs on TopCash traffic; "we check out where traffic comes from, that people are abiding by the terms, like, not popping six exits when they link to our site, things like that. We put in our terms that the traffic does have to remain or maintain a certain amount of quality."
Howarth feels most of the changes undergone by Cyberheat, Inc. were in direct response to customer need. "I think it's all about the feedback. We're very responsive. You especially can see that in TopBucks."
TopBucks consists of over 50 high-converting Websites. A record of regular payments to over 3,000 active Webmasters every two weeks with never a missed payment lends the site its motto "on time, every time."
"Some of the things that we've done with TopBucks recently - in our promotions, we know Webmasters like to see those high payout days, so we're running our third, and we're planning on continuing them."
They're looking at running similar promotions about six times a year.
The general rule of thumb that keeps Cyberheat, Inc. attuned to customer needs, Howarth says, is that for every one Webmaster chiming in with an opinion, there are probably 10 others thinking the same thing.
"We definitely do take every comment into consideration.
"I think we're always striving to lead and to listen to the Webmasters. We do make compromises. We meet the Webmaster halfway. We're not so strict. And we're easy to get in touch with and talk to.
"We have a large Webmaster pool, and we're in contact with them often - we offer polls on our sites, [the results of which] directly affect our future. Even the small suggestions."
For instance, says Howarth, "Webmasters wanted affiliate programs that they could send traffic to that don't have pop-ups or entry consoles or any type of advertising at all. We did create separate pages for them. They agreed that, in order to do that, they obviously would have to take a lesser pay, so we pay $20 per sign-up on a straight affiliate program with no pop-ups.
"We added all of our sites onto our exit consoles, and we give credit to Webmasters for exit console sales on those specific links."
New at Cyberheat, Inc. is AgeVerify (www.ageverify.com), a fast-growing Adult Verification Service (AVS) providing Webmasters with protection and opportunity for profits. Paying Webmasters per signup on free trial memberships to premium sites as a promotion, it also offers a complete system of adult verification and identification number assignment.
"It's unique, paying per free sign-up," Howarth says, "and it's an actual free sign-up. We're giving the members one-year-free access to our regular sites. If they decide to keep [this] Platinum Membership, that's the premium they pay, but even if they cancel, they still get one year's access."
Also, "We've added more gay sites. We've had a bit more demand from Webmasters, and we know that gay sites have better member retention, more loyalty. According to our members' comments, they want specific sites - not just 'gay men,' etc. They have their own niches, just like the straight market does. We know that by getting into specific gay niches, that's going to increase retention, revenue and sales."
Howarth adds that they run a $75 dollar day on the gay sites as a promotion - and for Internext, "we teamed up with Scores Cash to give our clients the Webmaster Love Boat," she says.
This issue of AVN Online should contain their "content CD and a highlights video from our photo shoot in Vegas last year." Something fun for the Webmasters, Howarth adds.
The most effective marketing strategy employed by Cyberheat, Inc., according to Howarth, is "backing up what you say with performance. If we say our program is going to make Webmasters more money, then we're going to work our butts off to make sure that it is. We put our advertising out there, but not until we're confident that our site is going to do well for Webmasters.
"If you don't meet the claims you make, you will get bad publicity."