Affiliate Marketing Blog by Geno Prussakov « Geno talks about affiliate marketing, leadership, etc
Geno Prussakov on April 21st, 2014

When opening up Affiliate Management Days San Francisco 2014 I said: “It seems like it Affiliate Management Days San Francisco 2013was only yesterday that I said ‘Welcome to the first-ever Affiliate Management Days conference!’ but time flies, and I’m excited to welcome you to our fifth show already!!”

The fifth AM Days conference has come and gone last month, but the memories remain [by the way, 500+ photos from it may be found here].

It was our busiest and most fruitful show ever, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Featuring a quick quote from each, today I’d like to highlight a few of AM Days SF 2014 recap posts from its speakers, attendees, and sponsors:

It shocks me to this day that every affiliate manager on the planet is not flocking to Affiliate Management Days first chance they get. Some of the worlds biggest brands and most brilliant minds come together to share their expertise, network in an intimate setting and grow their skill sets together from an affiliate management and growth standpoint.

…In my opinion, this was the best show yet, and if you’re an affiliate manager or marketing manager responsible for your affiliates, do not miss another show.

The food was great, the people even better, and the content was bang on… [more in Sarah Bundy's Affiliate Management Days 2014 A Huge Success post]

Schaaf-PartnerCentric’s post reads:

Affiliate Management Days was two days of great, though-provoking sessions covering hot topics…

It was a good show that highlighted once again the importance of implementing affiliate attribution tracking to ensure affiliate managers have the ability to review sales data and use that data to adjust individual commissions whenever possible.

LinkConnector, the show’s Gold Sponsor, wrote:

This two-day conference is a true gem for Affiliate Marketers on point to accelerate their programs with specific, proven, up-to-the-minute approaches and techniques. The food was great—the people top notch. An intimate setting of 200 or less attendees, AM Days goers network with marketing and program managers for Fortune 500 companies, marketing and technology experts, and some of the founding fathers of the Affiliate Marketing industry.

The homerun quality is clear in both session material and attendees. We cannot recommend this show highly enough for those responsible for and serious about taking their Affiliate Marketing programs to the next level.

BrandVerity’s Mason Smith pinpointed that for him the show stood out for three key things: (i) its “informative content,” (ii) “a focus on education,” and (iii) “meaningful conversations.”

Finally, Acceleration Partners summarized:

The event featured a great mix of industry veterans and new players looking to learn the ins and outs of affiliate marketing.

The content and contributions of everyone at the conference were really strong. Thanks to Geno Prussakov and the rest of the team for a great event that always manages to bring the right people together. AP is already looking forward to participating again in London this May.

Stay tuned for a video montage of the event too!

And yes, as AP have mentioned, Affiliate Management Days London 2014 is just around the corner — coming up in only 3 weeks! Use code GENOSFRIEND while registering here to get your 2-day pass at £545 or 50% of full onsite price. I hope to see you in London on May 13-14, 2014.

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Half an hour ago Skimlinks, a technology provider used by thousands of website owners for monetization of their online properties, unveiled their new Skimlinks Editor. The new version is said to feature the “world’s first intelligent linking technology.”

To dig a little deeper into what it is and how it works, I’ve connected with the company’s CEO and co-founder, Alicia Navarro — who I interviewed here a few years ago after their first acquisition (of Atma Links) — and I would like to bring you this quick interview today:

Alicia Navarro of SkimlinksGP: In a nutshell, how does Skimlinks Editor works?

AN: The Editor empowers publishers to optimize how they monetize their content by providing them with the information and tools they need at the point of content creation. It alerts publishers when they visit the website of a merchant in the Skimlinks network, telling them how much they pay for referrals, and making it easy to share and/or shorten monetizable links directly from the browser.

GP: I see that the Editor allows publishers “to create links that automatically update to reflect destination changes, reader geography, stock availability, price changes, and more.” What happens when a particular merchant runs out of an item? Will the link automatically find the best possible offer at an online store that does have the product in stock?

AN: Skimlinks Editor updates pricing and availability in as close to real-time as the merchant allows (dependant upon their update schedule). If a merchant runs out of an item, Skimlinks-optimized links update automatically to show alternative competitive merchants with availability.

GP: Do you have plans on making the tool available in any other format but the Google Chrome extension (e.g. as a WordPress plugin or other tools/add-ons)?

AN: A majority of Skimlinks users use Google Chrome and we’ve found that Google’s architecture facilitates development of this type of tool. While we can’t comment on future products, we anticipate continuing to build out Skimlinks Editor functionality in a number of ways.

GP: From the press release we learn that Skimlinks “powered more than $500M in e-commerce sales through its platform in 2013.” This is very impressive. Congratulations! What’s our forecast for the volume of online sales Skimlinks’ technologies will drive in 2014?

AN: Historically, we’ve roughly doubled e-commerce sales volume year over year. In 2013, e-commerce sales exceeded $500M and our goal is to hit $1B in e-commerce sales in 2014.

Once again, you may view the official press release here. There is also a video on it here. Good luck playing with the new tool from Skimlinks!

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A recent Nielsen study, commissioned by inPowered, sought to shed light on “the role of content in the consumer decision making process.” Over a period of two months, they conducted in-person controlled lab tests where 900 respondents participated in online surveys. To measure the impact of online content on the respondents the latter had to take a survey before and after being exposed to content. The full results may be found/downloaded here, but here are a few highlights and their implications for affiliate marketers:

Top 3 Information Sources

Content influencing consumer decision making

While in the decision-making phase, consumers are most frequently being influenced by three types of online content: (1) social media, (2) user reviews, and (3) online advertising. All of these must be interwoven in every affiliate’s content marketing strategy.

Most Influential Content Is…

Impact of expert reviews on purchasing decisions

Clearly, not all content types are created equal in terms of magnitude of their impact on consumers’ purchase decisions. Expert reviews win this one hands down. I always say that it is imperative for affiliates to strive to become a top expert in the field/vertical on which they’ve chosen to focus. This data only validates and underscores the importance of such an approach.

Expert Content v User Reviews v Branded Content

Positive lift by content and product type

Here again, regardless of the product type “content written by credible experts” outperformed all other types of content. As the study summarized, “on average, expert content lifted familiarity 88 percent more than branded content and 50 percent more than user reviews; they lifted affinity 50 percent more than branded content and 20 percent more than user reviews; finally, they lifted purchase considerations 38 percent more than branded content and 83 percent more than user reviews.”

Once again, you may download the full report here. It is 100% free and will be worth every online marketer’s time.

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Earlier this week VigLink announced the launch of its quarterly “content commerce reports.” They will be based on the data from the VigLink network of publishers/affiliates, and will be published with the goal of shedding light on key monetization metrics of the content marketing landscape. Here’s just one interesting piece of data from their very first report (which covers Q4 2013 performance):

VigLink Content Marketing EPCs
[Source: Q4 2013 Content-Commerce Report by VigLink]

To dig a little deeper into the things that undergird this report I’ve reached out to Oliver Deighton, VigLink’s VP of Marketing, to ask him a few questions.

Below I bring you my interview with him:

Geno: First of all, congratulations on launching your quarterly “Content-Commerce Reports.” To make sure we read your first report right, could you please clarify if “EPC” in it stands for a true “per click” affiliate earnings, or “EPC” as the KPI is used by most U.S. affiliate networks?

Oliver: Thanks Geno. What we’re reporting in most of these charts is an Indexed EPC. Let’s unpack that. When we say “EPC,” we are referring to a true “per click” metric. We simply divide the total number of clicks into the total earnings to provide an average earnings per click (not per one hundred clicks). When we say “Indexed,” we mean that we’ve normalized the EPCs. Here, that means the average EPC is 100 and everything else is either above or below the average. For example, in the report we see that forum sites enjoy an Indexed EPC of 151. That means they earn 51% more per click than the average across all sites. Blogs, on the other hand, have and Indexed EPC of 72, so they earn 28% less per click compared to the average. We do all this crazy complicated math stuff because we don’t want to mislead anyone. The actual dollars and cents vary for each publisher.

Geno: Do the “300k+ active sites” that were analyzed represent all content publishers that use VigLink?

Oliver: Every publisher site that uses VigLink is eligible to influence this report. In other words, we didn’t take a subset of our network and start there. We started with every click from every site to every merchant. Then, as we analyzed the data, individual sites and merchants would naturally fall out of specific reports if they didn’t send or receive a click. For example, if a publisher didn’t send a click to one of the merchants in the top 50, then they aren’t part of that chart. This is our best effort at a representation of the content-driven commerce flowing through our network.

Geno: What are some of the top content publishers that monetize their properties via VigLink’s solutions?

Oliver: We’re proud to be working with many of the top publishers on the web today. Sites like The Huffington Post, PC World, Mac World, Daily Candy, Design Sponge, Complex, and many more represent niche communities, expert content, and enthusiast discussions that help readers discover new products and research their next purchase.

Geno: What is “exchange pricing” and/or “VigLink Exchange” to which you refer in the report?

Oliver: Within our network, every day more and more clicks from publishers to merchants are priced, bought, and sold through the VigLink Exchange. In our exchange, clicks are put up for auction and won by the highest bidding merchant. For instance, some publishers have opted into our link optimization technology. This technology takes advantage of the fact that multiple retailers sell the same product. When we find an existing link pointing to one of these products we can change that link to point to the highest bidding retailer. We determine the highest bidding retailer via the VigLink Exchange. In Q4, our Exchange technology lifted EPCs by 2x-3x.

Geno: You’ve concluded that “mobile EPCs” were roughly “half that of desktop” (or for every $1.00 paid out for desktop referrals, about $0.53 were paid for mobile). Do you have any insight into how CRs (conversion rates) and AOVs compared between the two?

Oliver: This is a great question and one we want to explore further. In our initial look into this, we found that when a merchant pays more for their desktop clicks, it was generally because their desktop clicks converted better than their mobile clicks (mobile taps?). When a merchant pays more for mobile clicks (yes, that actually does happen!) it’s usually because mobile clicks converted better than desktop clicks. Average order values tended to play a less significant role in determining EPC. We hope to provide more insight into m-commerce in future reports.

 

Looking forward to future VigLink reports then. In the meantime, enjoy this one.

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Geno Prussakov on March 12th, 2014

Yes, we are only about one-third into March, but there are already some notable news to report. Much is happening in the overall affiliate marketing sphere, but today I’d like to draw your attention to five news that relate specifically to affiliate managers and advertisers/merchants that reply on affiliate programs for business. Here they are in a chronological order:

1. Top Industry Influencers Announced

Shawn Collins announced the news a week ago. “Using various tools including Twitter, Traackr, Little Bird, Group High, and Google” Impact Radius identified the top performance marketing leaders of 2014, publishing the results in a nice graphic which you may find here. They put together a similar list in 2011 [see my blog post about it here] which raised a lively discussion [here and here]. However you may treat lists like these, one thing is indisputable: it is important for affiliate managers to know who the movers and shakers are and where to find them.

Affiliate marketing influencers

2. Affiliate Management in 2013 Compared to 2014

David Iwanow of Lost Press Marketing interviewed me asking a number of really good questions including the “biggest change in affiliate management in 2013″ (which I believe was top brands shifting from networks to in-house solutions) as well as challenges and opportunities in 2014. You may find the full interview by clicking the image below:

Prussakov interviewed

3. LinkedIn Group Reached 2,500 members

I run a closed (by approval only) Affiliate Program Management group on LinkedIn and yesterday we’ve reached a milestone – 2,500 members. It is a very targeted group (for affiliate managers, digital marketing professionals and advertisers with affiliate programs). So, the number is truly impressive to me.

Affiliate management group LinkedIn

4. Report on CPA Marketing in Russia Published

This is the fourth year that they are running the survey, and the results of the newest one have been published just yesterday. If you are interested in this emerging market and speak/read Russian, I do recommend studying this one carefully. It is by far the most thorough one they’ve done to date.

5. Affiliate Management Days Show Beats the Records

As blogged earlier this morning, the upcoming U.S. Affiliate Management Days (which will take place in San Francisco on March 19-20, 2014) is already set to beat its previous records — as far as the number of exhibitors, attendee count, and the numbers of prominent brands go — becoming the busiest show we have ever had in the affiliate management space specifically. I, therefore, especially hope to see you in San Francisco in a week!

 

It’s that time of the year when Affiliate Summit is looking for your help in compiling the speaker roster for its upcoming show — the one set to take place in New York City on August 10-13, 2014.

I have applied to speak too. If accepted, this will be my eleventh time speaking at Affiliate Summits. However, for any speaker to be selected they want to see people voting for the proposed session(s).

Vote for Affiliate Summit sessionsIn a nutshell, when Affiliate Summit’s speaking proposals are reviewed and decided on, besides the founders of the conference and its advisory board, prospective attendees of the conference also have a vote on the session topics.

Today Shawn Collins has announced the voting for the 2014 New York show. The “voting will be open through March 14, 2014″ and I would highly appreciate your support there. Below you may find links to the two sessions that I’ve proposed (they will choose only one, but you may vote for as many as you wish). Registration is required, but between the registration and the voting, all of this shouldn’t take longer than 2 minutes of your time.

Vote on ASE14 proposals

Many thanks in advance for your support. I will only go if I’m chosen/invited to speak. So, if you want to see me there, you do want to vote.

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Geno Prussakov on March 3rd, 2014

[The purpose of this post is to demonstrate a poor backlink "strategy" without bringing any particular brand into the spotlight. Therefore, all sensitive information is omitted.]

Twelve days ago I received the following email:

I am contacting on behalf of [hosting company's name here] and firstly would like to thank you for the link from your site.

We have noticed that your site does comply with Google quality guidelines. However, we are in the process of backlink clean up and want to get all the backlinks removed.

Due to which we request you to take down all links pointing to our website from your domain. Following are the details of the backlink:

http://www.amnavigator.com/blog/2013/01/30/found-a-good-affiliate-look-for-similar-websites-free-tool/

This action is being taken to protect us from impending Google updates.

I checked the page they referenced, which happened to be my post on looking for similar sites as an affiliate recruitment technique, and having found no links to them I didn’t even bother replying.

This morning I’ve heard from them again — in an ultimatum manner this time:

I am contacting on behalf of [hosting company's name here] and this e-mail is the follow up for the previous e-mail which I had sent on 19th Feb 2014 regarding removal of links pointing to our site. I still haven’t received any reply from your end yet.

Please consider my request for link removal otherwise I will have to resort to Disavow Tool for the said removal of links which in turn may take a toll on your website’s positioning.

From thanks (first line of the first message) to threat (last line of the latest message)? Well, that certainly got my attention. So, I checked again… And again I’ve found no link to them in my post. So I went ahead and checked all comments under the post… and bingo! On February 8, 2013 they posted the following comment under that post of mine:

Blog comment

I do not remember what anchor text they used when originally posting the above comment. Chances are that Rahul did not use his real name, but something along the lines of “Reseller Web Hosting” instead. I don’t remember as for quite some time I’ve been manually changing “over-optimized” anchor texts to the real names of the people who submit comments. By now, we all know that we want to link to our blog comments to names instead of keywords, don’t we? But it seems that this hosting company may have been employing the technique of posting (thoughtful, I’ll give them that!) blog comments as an SEO strategy. And it may be so that not all bloggers were fixing their anchor texts like I did… So now (possibly after receiving an unnatural link warning from Google), they are working on removing these (and possibly other) inbound links.

Muhammad Ali vs Brian LondonGreat. But if your approach to “link building” didn’t work out and now you need to remove these potentially “spammy” comments from the blogs where you posted them, don’t threaten the bloggers by disavowing links “which in turn may take a toll on [their] website’s positioning.” Some will not be as patient as I am, and will not remove your company’s name from posts like these. Then poor backlink strategy will inevitably lead to brand damage. And there is no asset more valuable to a company than its brand. Think twice before you threaten a blogger (especially when there is no fault of his in the situation). It may turn ugly.

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Geno Prussakov on February 27th, 2014

An interesting situation was described to me by a merchant/advertiser the other day. They run an affiliate program where a specific type of affiliates is being paid lower-than-default commissions. However, there are ways for these affiliates to disguise themselves in order to receive the full commission.

Challenge

MaskAffiliates who (due to the promotional methods used on their websites) are entitled to lower commission rate join sub-affiliate networks to get paid at a higher rate, instead. How can an affiliate manager police this?

Solutions

While you could choose not to work with sub-affiliate networks and platforms altogether (this would, certainly, be one solution), declining them from joining your affiliate program, you don’t have to do so missing other opportunities that these relationships may bring about.

Rather than cutting them off entirely, you could work with cooperative sub-affiliate platforms, provided they agree to disclose where specific traffic has come from.

There will be non-collaborative sub-affiliate networks and platforms, but it is best to stay away from these, anyway.

When approached about the subject of this post, David Naffziger of BrandVerity (a company that already offers a coupon policing tool for affiliate managers) said:

David NaffzigerYes, I’ve heard of this a bunch. I believe most sub-affiliate platforms would be responsive to a query on the topic, and will make available detailed source reporting if the advertiser presses them for it.  I would ensure someone has a regular process (monthly? quarterly?)  to request these sources, and then compare the list of sites to their own affiliate list (active and historic).

Obviously that only helps if the affiliate isn’t trying to deceive the sub-affiliate network which does happen. In that case, a solution such as our coupon monitoring service could be used to monitor coupon sites in their program.  A user, for example, can pull a report of both VigLink and Skimlinks IDs to see what sites are using them.

I also asked Lori Weiman of The Search Monitor (who also now does coupon policing) the same question, and her reply was:

The Search Monitor has a list of coupon sites and all of their network affiliations.

Someone could do a lookup of their sub-affiliates against our list to see all of the network affiliations that the sub-affiliate has.

Opportunity?

Having said all of the above, there still seems to be room for an additional tool here. A third-party solution (based on technologies similar to the ones used by BrandVerity and The Search Monitor) which would strip down the link, showing both the actual source and the tool used to monetize the source (be it Skimlinks, VigLink, FlexOffers, MediaWhiz, or any other sub-affiliate platform) would be of tremendous help.

Naturally, the tool would not be able to support the reporting side of things (as it won’t be able to track the conversions), but the merchant/affiliate manager does not even need it for the policing. Knowing how the link strips down would be sufficient enough to know whether a specific affiliates disguises or not.

What do you think?

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Geno Prussakov on February 19th, 2014

Exactly one month before the U.S. Affiliate Management Days 2014 show, I’ve decided to poll speakers asking them to pick 3 sessions they want to attend, or are looking at attending.

Today I bring you their responses (with special thanks to those who have provided additional comments/rationale as to why exactly they have picked these particular sessions):

Wesley Brandi selected:

  1. 10 Things New Affiliate Managers Should Know by Martin Marion (Deluxe Corp)
  2. Hiring, Firing, and Compensating Affiliate Managers by Brook Schaaf (Schaaf-PartnerCentric) and CC Mullen (Compensation & Organization Solutions)
  3. Using Affiliate Forums and Blogs to Create an Online Reputation by Chuck Hamrick (Hamrick.biz)

Todd Crawford wrote:

  1. Performance Secrets of Amazon’s Success by Bryan Eisenberg — Every retailer competes with Amazon and I think it will be interesting to get more insights into how Amazon does what it does.
  2. The Value of Working with Different Affiliate Types, the Need to Diversify by Choots Humphries (LinkConnector) — This is a common concern among advertisers and will be interesting to see what Choots presents.
  3. Hiring, Firing, and Compensating Affiliate Managers by Brook Schaaf (Schaaf-PartnerCentric) and CC Mullen (Compensation & Organization Solutions) — “I do not think enough people in our industry understand how best to compensate a program manager and it is important information that doesn’t get discussed very often.”

Sarah Bundy picked:

  1. Performance Secrets of Amazon’s Success by Bryan Eisenberg — Everyone wants to understand Amazon’s secrets to success and I believe this session will have some great tips that will showcase some new opportunities yet to be explored by most merchants.
  2. The Development & Use of APIs for Affiliate Marketing by Ryan Hudgins and Sanarr McLaughlin (InterContinental Hotels Group) — APIs create incredible opportunities for affiliates and brands alike and this is still an area many people do not understand. I’d be interested to see how a hotel group uses theirs for ongoing success for themselves and their affiliate team.
  3. Turn Up the Heat: Engage & Activate Affiliates Who’ve Since Gone Cold by Jon Levine (All Inclusive Marketing) — One of the major challenges brands face is keeping activity rates high. An even greater challenge is how to get affiliates active if they have lost interest and have gone cold. A lot of effort goes into recruitment, so keeping those guys alive is key to ongoing success. I’m interested to see what strategies Jon recommends in this particular presentation.

Jennifer Myers Ward wrote:

  1. Affiliate Management: Grab Your Buckets & Let’s Go! by Jennifer Myers Ward (ebove & beyond) — I know it’s mine, but I honestly believe there is not only some valuable, actionable material that will be shared … it will be fun & memorable! Heck, what’s the point of doing it if I don’t think it’s something I would want to attend myself.
  2. The Value of Working with Different Affiliate Types, the Need to Diversify by Choots Humphries (LinkConnector) — This one did catch my eye as I think much of the time merchants focus too heavily on “couponers” or traffic volume affiliates and do not always even understand the various types of affiliates out there. I mean, if managed correctly, they can leverage content sites, review sites, bloggers, PPC, social media, email affiliates and even cart abandonment. Nice to hear this being brought to the forefront!
  3. 10 Affiliate Recruitment Strategies that Work (and a Few Bonus Ones Too!) by Sarah Bundy (All Inclusive Marketing) — I think this is a key subject as I think both merchants and even some novice affiliate managers lose creativity sometimes when it comes to recruiting. They stick with what they know and swim in a “shallow” pool of options, thus limiting the program and its success. Plus, Sarah always has juicy info to share.

The 3 sessions that have been mentioned most frequently were: (1) Bryan Eisenberg’s Performance Secrets of Amazon’s Success keynote, (2) Brook Schaaf’s and CC Mullen’s Hiring, Firing, and Compensating Affiliate Managers, and (3) The Value of Working with Different Affiliate Types, the Need to Diversify by Choots Humphries.

Which sessions would make your Top 3 List and why?

AMDSF14_GENOsBy the way, if you haven’t yet registered, there is still time!! The show takes place in San Francisco on March 19-20, 2014. If you register using the coupon code shown on the image (to the right of this paragraph) you will receive $500.00 OFF two-day and all-access passes to the show. Looking forward to meeting you there next month!

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Geno Prussakov on February 17th, 2014

Not all affiliate marketing conferences are created equal. No, not in the “quality” or even the “quantity” sense of the word. “Equal” as in “identical” or “same in nature.”

Prussakov at Affiliate Summit West 2014If you carefully look through the list of the 2014 industry conferences to consider attending, you will notice that all of them can be roughly split into three groups: geography-specific conferences, topic- or subject-specific, and platform-specific ones.

To make the most of each type, you want to align your goals and expectations in accordance with the specificity of the conference.

Geography-Specific Conferences

While there are some conferences that are as close to being “transnational” as a conference can be (Affiliate Summit is a great example) even they tend to lean more towards the geography where they are being held.

Additionally, with the rapid worldwide growth of the industry, we have a seen quite a number of new countries get their own affiliate marketing conferences. Russia, for example, which in 2011 had no industry conferences at all, had two in 2012, and five in 2013. Also, in 2013 we’ve seen new affiliate marketing shows spring up in China, Brazil, Greece, Czech Republic, and Spain. Naturally, if you have interest in geography-specific affiliate marketing you want to consider attending conferences held in respective geographies. Here are just a few 2014 examples (including a brand-new one in the Ukraine) the dates of which are already known:

Subject-Specific Conferences

It is also important to understand that some of the affiliate marketing conferences are either narrowly thematic (or centered around a specific niche), focused on a specific marketing service (e.g.: lead generation) or targeting a specific subject (e.g.: affiliate program management). Needless to emphasize that if a specific topic or subject is of interest/important to your business you do want to put these on your calendar.

Here are some 2014 examples of such conferences:

Platform-Specific Conferences

Finally, there is a separate group of affiliate platform- or/and network-specific conferences. Unfortunately, the 2014 dates for many of these aren’t known yet, but below you will be able to find their names and links to their websites (I’ve arranged them in the chronological order based on what we’ve seen in the previous years):

Since 2009 I have been keeping a close eye on the industry’s conferences (even more so now that I’m running my own show). In the beginning of each year I am putting together a list of conferences to consider, and I am constantly updating it throughout the year. The list of 2014 may be found (and followed) here.

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