The Word Bay

EPN accounts – how to get one

People occasionally ask me how to get accepted by EPN (AKA the eBay Partner Network, AKA the eBay affiliate program) – either because they have already been rejected, or because they have heard that it is hard to get into. EPN, for all its faults, IS still a good program and is very easy to start earning from, even for newbies. It was the first online venture that got me to triple-figure monthly earnings. So there is still great demand by would-be affiliates to try to get into the program.

UPDATE, May 2012: there is now a way to promote eBay without actually joining EPN! Get my free ebook here that tells you how, plus gives you a ton of other useful info on how to choose hot eBay niches and build money-making eBay sites (and once you have a successful site it will be a lot easier to get into EPN anyway)! Get the book here!

First off, let me say that I got into EPN a long time ago – actually, I was an eBay affiliate back when they ran their affiliate program through Commission Junction and although you still had to reapply for EPN when they moved over to their in-house program I imagine it was much easier to get in back in those early days.

So I don’t have direct, recent experience of trying to get accepted by EPN. But since I closely follow a lot of what goes on with EPN, I hope I can share some tips about how to get into the eBay Partner Network. If you watch the video I share with you in a minute you will discover a fairly shocking fact: only 10% of applicants get accepted by the eBay Partner Network! Wait, though, don’t let that put you off because we have to see what those 90% might be doing wrong and see if we can do better. I do not actually think EPN is as hard to get into as people believe.

How NOT to get into EPN

Firstly, here is one thing you don’t want to do to get accepted by EPN: buy an account! Yes, just like any other in-demand product, there is a ‘black market’ in EPN accounts out there! Have a look around the black hat forums and you will find plenty of offers. But do you really want to go that route? Do you know who this person is who is selling the EPN account? How did they come by it? And how do you know someone isn’t going to ask questions sometime down the line? Wouldn’t you rather have a ‘clean’ account, registered in your name from the start, that isn’t suddenly going to get banned after all your hard work promoting the program?

Oh, and needless to say, EPN strictly forbids the buying and selling of accounts and will ban you outright if they catch you – so there’s kind of another good reason not to do it!

How to get approved by EPN the right way

The first thing I would do is actually listen to what EPN themselves say on the matter. Maybe you missed this, but EPN have been trying hard lately to put on a more approachable face, and this video they produced is part of that. It is an overview from the horse’s mouth of what EPN are looking for in an application. It really doesn’t seem that difficult, but maybe we have got too used to affiliate programs that auto-accept anybody. As Chad Whermaker, EPN director, points out in this conversation with Paul Seguritan, the main man for processing applications, they are looking to form a business relationship, and obviously some of that has to be on their terms:

What I got out of that was the following ‘hints’:

  1. Make sure your application is complete – the EPN guys suggest that many applications are thin on information – address, business name etc. – and Whermaker says they are hardly going to do business with someone whom they can’t even properly identify. Believe it or not, according to the EPN blog, people often give false contact details! Erm… No comment! From me: Submitting an application without supplying as much information as possible is just sloppy and shows a lack of interest, so this criteria is understandable, especially as the eBay Affiliate Program suffered from MASSIVE fraud in the past. The more info the better, says Paul Seguritan – makes sense really, doesn’t it? Make sure you write a nice business description, explain how you get traffic (if you have stats then certainly provide those), who your site is for, how your visitors behave on your site and what type of products you think (or know!) can be promoted on it. Don’t complicate things when choosing your ‘Business model’ from the dropdown – probably you are just using ‘Editorial content’ on your website, so put that and don’t put anything for the ‘Secondary’ model.
  2. Validate all domains you intend to monetise with eBay – you need to be the owner of the domains you are submitting. From me: You can’t have missed this, but let me explain briefly, you have to submit at least one site as part of your application and you have to validate the domain using a process similar to that in Google’s Webmaster Tools to prove you own it. You HAVE to own the domains you are submitting, i.e. have FTP access in order to upload a validation file. Oh, and very important: you should also make sure your contact name and address and email details match across your account details, PayPal account, and the WHOIS details for the domain/s you submitted! Do you think they will be keen to approve you if these don’t match?! Also, you cannot submit a Blogspot or site or indeed put eBay links on any other property you do not own! No, seriously, you can’t! I nearly lost my account because I had a lot of links on third-party sites (from the ‘old days’).
  3. Make sure you are responsive – they may want to talk to you by phone so make sure you leave a number that you are prepared to answer! From me: if they ask you something via phone or email, for goodness’ sakes, have a normal conversation, tell them who you are, what you are about, if there are any problems just be truthful. Overdeliver on the information so they can see you are someone who is open in their dealings. I have had several close calls with EPN, nearly losing my account a couple of times (through no ill-intent on my part), and I know other people who have too, and I have always got things resolved through communication (good for any aspect of life, by the way!) Many Internet marketers are lacking in basic communication skills and fire off terse, 3-word emails that barely answer the question asked. This is a business in many respects like any other, and you need to apply some basic business and human social skills!
  4. Make sure your site is up to scratch – EPN’s goal (stated several times in this interview) is to find affiliates who can ‘drive quality traffic to eBay’, so the site you submit as part of your application should reflect that. From me: this is probably the one people worry about most, so more about that later (or check out these guys here, who have a successful commercial service building people EPN sites). But obviously submitting some shoddy two-page wonder with nothing on it is not going to get you in.
  5. Make sure you are in compliance with EPN TOS – read the EPN terms of service and make sure everything about your application complies. From me: I know, who can be bothered to read all that? But it would be stupid to get refused just because you didn’t read something obvious in the TOS!

How to make a site that gets you into EPN!

Chas Whermaker admits that the reason so many people get rejected by EPN (90%!) is certainly due to the somewhat stricter criteria in place in comparison to other affiliate programs, but also may be because EPN have failed to educate potential affiliates on what is actually expected of them. There are many programs out there that require nothing more than your email address and a PayPal account – EPN is a little more demanding than that. However, if you are remotely serious about getting into EPN then you will have taken all the above steps to the best of your ability, and have thus increased your chances of getting accepted WELL above the 10% average!

However, the one thing that most would-be EPN affiliates worry about is the quality of the site that they submit as part of their application. I think it is quite likely that if you have gone out of your way to satisfy all the above criteria then the single biggest reason you may get rejected is the quality of your site. This concern is not helped by the fact that there are no firm guidelines from EPN on this subject, they just want sites that will ‘drive quality traffic to eBay’. So what does that mean?

Well, this is what it says on the EPN application page: “[Make sure] the website is functioning, relevant for promoting eBay, and has unique or value-added content or functionality that will drive incremental purchases on eBay“, so let’s break that down:

  1. Your site has to work! Well, obviously the domain has to have something live for the approval team to see! But more than that, your site needs to have complete navigation, no broken links and not take ten minutes to load. And needless to say it should look half-decent. That shouldn’t be a problem these days – with WordPress and all the free themes and plugins out there ANYONE can make a nice-looking site! Don’t overphilosophise with this, just go and look at any successful site and see what elements it has on it that help make it successful – clear navigation, widgets showing content from other parts of the site, areas for displaying eBay products in (in a LOW-KEY manner – see point 3 below!). Alternatively, pay these guys here to do it for you!
  2. Your site has to be relevant for promoting eBay. That means you have picked a niche which has potential for sales via eBay. If your site is about amateur cheese-making, then there is plenty of stuff on eBay that would sell in that niche, and you should explain that in your business description too. If your site is about human rights abuses in Sudan, then it is harder to see how you can monetise that with eBay (though if you have an idea, explain it!)
  3. Your site has to have unique or value-added content! I know for a fact that many people submit a two-page wonder with a few eBay ads on and then wonder why they got rejected! It’s not rocket-science, but many of us have got so carried away with this ‘making money online’ thing that we have pushed quality content to the bottom of our list of priorities, sacrificing it for the latest auto-blogging, scraping, mashup ‘method’ that might get you somewhere in the SERPS for a while, but won’t get you into EPN! I don’t want to get into the whole ‘auto-blogging or not’ debate, and whether that can provide the ‘value-added content’ EPN are looking for. Instead, why don’t we just create a good site with a dozen or so truly helpful, well-researched, 500-word+ unique articles naturally related to the niche that will actually provide value to our visitors and attract the search engines, natural backlinks and ultimately targetted sales? This goes back to my ‘radical suggestion‘ of not even putting eBay ads on your site from the outset, but to put all your initial focus on creating a decent site that actually gets traffic! If you just submit a site full of eBay listings (yes, ‘even’ if they are created with Wordbay:)) you are not going to get far, either with EPN or in the SERPS. If you do put in some eBay ads (to demonstrate the monetisation potential and to show how your template will look to the EPN reviewer) then the ads should not dominate your pages and should be far outweighed (let’s say at least 5 to 1) by your content. If you have a little patience and wait for your site to start ranking and pulling in traffic then you will really have something to bolster your application with (though I do not believe high traffic is necessarily a prerequisite for acceptance). I mean, you should be doing this anyway, right? What’s the point of even being an EPN member if you can’t get any traffic! I know what some of you think, you think that if only you could put eBay listings on your site then the traffic would follow! Well, you’ve got it the wrong way round, trust me on this!
  4. Your site has to drive quality buyers to eBay. This is maybe the most controversial and least transparent aspect of EPN – what for them, constitutes a quality buyer, who will get you a good Earning Per Click under their Quality Click Pricing scheme? Well, here are SOME guidelines that certainly apply, based on various pronouncements from EPN over the last couple of years:
    1. Just sending random clickers (or clicking on your own ads!) will not get any sales for eBay – a quality click comes from someone who is directly interested in the product in question, so that is the kind of traffic your site must attract, or at least potentially attract, and that goes back to relevant content and promoting your site in the right places.
    2. DON’T make a site promoting ‘one-dollar items’ from eBay – that is NOT good value for eBay, nor for you! They don’t want people who just come to buy some trinket worth a few pennies and I know people have lost their accounts for this very reason. Promote higher-priced items, keep eBay happy and you will get yourself higher-earning clicks too, generally speaking.
    3. DON’T send traffic to the eBay homepage, DO link to individual products or search results. Buyers directly purchasing an item you recommended, or at least one from the same category, earn you a higher EPC. Linking to the eBay homepage will earn you next to nothing. Fortunately, Wordbay makes this very easy to do, by listing individual products, and I think this is why my EPC rarely drops below $0.10.
    4. Pick a niche that focuses on a wider interest area, like a hobby. Then there is a good chance you will get the incremental purchases EPN talk about. Take the cheesemaking site – buyers whom you get interested in the area of cheesemaking head to eBay and buy not only the cheese-press you recommended, but the cheesecloths, rennet, thermometers and everything else they need. More, potentially long-term sales for eBay, higher EPC for you – that’s what they are talking about, not just listing a bunch of items and hoping they buy (though this still gets better results than very general linking). This goes back to what I talk about in my article about affiliate marketing models – the best sales are going to come from a site that addresses a market, an interest group, not just specific products, though don’t get me wrong, niche product sites can perform nicely too, they just may not get the repeat buyers EPN is after and which would  get you a better EPC.
  5. READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE!! This is worth repeating – read their terms carefully and make sure your site does not break any of them! The niche you have chosen might be a no-no! Also, and we’ve done this elsewhere, don’t use a trademarked word in your domain name or subdomain!!

The easy way?

Phew, this turned into a maaaassive article, but I really wanted to put down everything I know about getting accepted in the eBay Partner Network in one place. None of this will guarantee you get in, but I am willing to bet it will open the eyes of many to what they may have been doing wrong.

If this is all too much for you, there might be a better way – Rich, over at Syndram Designs, specialises in building sites for the sole purpose of getting accepted by EPN. No, it’s nothing blackhat, on the contrary, Rich has simply perfected the process of building the kind of site that EPN is happy to accept. And though he cannot guarantee you will get accepted (who can?) he promises to build you a decent site and work with you until you DO get accepted (and even if you should not, you will still have a site out of it). He claims a 90% success rate, and judging by the glowing recommendations on his site, his customers are very satisfied. Maybe not the cheapest way to go about it, but think about how much time you spend tinkering with and tweaking your sites and suddenly it doesn’t look so expensive – you can be off doing something else in the meantime.

So if you want some direct help with getting accepted by EPN, go check out Rich’s service.

Either way, you should be better armed now to get accepted in the eBay Partner Network, so good luck and let me know how you get on!