Chitika Talks to Performancing – Interview with Venkat Kolluri

I first spoke to Venkat Kolluri, CEO at Chitika when together with Alden Rosario, their CTO, they walked me though the concept of eMiniMalls early this summer. I’ll admit to liking the product, but not being overly optimistic that they’d succeed in gaining critical mass on the publisher side.

Im happy to be proven wrong. Chitika have gone from strength to strength these last few months, and with the announcement of new products due this week, I hope you’ll enjoy this interview with Venkat that we did a few days ago. In it he tackles the “curiosity clicks” issue, Chitika’s rise to fame and those forthcoming products.

Q. Chitika’s rise in fame througout the commercial blogosphere was fast paced and presumably very lucrative in regards to gaining new publishers. How did you go about getting news of the eMiniMalls product into the blogosphere, and are you targeting blogs specifically?

The success of our eMiniMalls program can be attributed to the following factors:

  1. Our innovative “impulse merchandising” based product promotions model was designed to complement, but not cannibalize, revenue from existing traditional advertisements and contextual text ads channels.
  2. We recognized that at the end of the day, publishers know what works best on their sites so we decided to adopt a flexible model giving our clients the “freedom of choice” to either use the program in a) the “full-service” mode and let our targeting system automatically select the best products to promote, or b) the “self-service” mode (where our clients, i.e., publishers can choose to override the system selections and hand pick keywords/products.
  3. Rather than taking a brute forced marketing and sales approach we decided to adopt an open ended “take it for a spin and let the numbers speak for themselves” approach.
  4. We listened to the feedback that we received from early adopters and launched a “referral” program based on terms that work best for our affiliates.

And, no. We are not just targeting the blogs. eMiniMalls is best suited for any website where “impulse merchandising” makes sense.

Q. You recently had to take steps to eliminate “curiosity clicks”, by de-linking some of the text in the eMiniMalls ad units. This has had some bloggers complaining of course, has the emphasis now shifted toward advertisers over publishers, or is this just a necessary step that needed to be taken?

I want to clarify a couple of issues and put to rest some of the false alarms regarding these changes.

First, publishers seem to be under the impression that we suddenly decided to reject certain types of clicks that get flagged as “curiosity clicks” . In fact we did not make any changes in our policies as to what sort of clicks will be rejected after users click on the links. Initial data on the resulting sales conversions suggested that clicks on product titles and product images are leading to very low sales conversions when compared to the clicks on the merchant listings. We wanted to explore how best we can revise the user interface to only display those links that seem to be most effective in driving sales. So we removed the link to the product name and decided to mainly promote links to the merchant listings.

Secondly, this does not mean that we decided to shift the service to a CPA based model. It is still based on the cost per click model and we are keen on further enhancing this program to make into one of the most valuable sources of revenue for publishers interested in monetizing the traffic to their respective websites. eMiniMalls is still a relatively new program. We are the first to introduce this novel “impulse merchandising” concept based on cost per click model, and we are constantly exploring various ways in which we can further optimize the service and the user interface to make the program work for both our publisher clients and our merchant partners. We are basically trying to explore the right combination of links and placement optimizations within eMiniMalls such that both publishers and participating merchants can see the benefits.

We posted a more detailed blog post on our blog to explain this issue and clarify and put to rest some of the concerns.

Q. How has this affected bloggers CTR since it kicked in?

On day 1, after we completed removing the link from the product title, we noticed a significant dip in the CTR. The following day we released another update to the interface promoting the top merchant listing more prominently within the units. This resulted in an increase in the CTR across the board.

Q. Does Chitika have plans for any other products in the near future, and if so, can we get details?

Yes. eMiniMalls UK version. We just completed expanding our database to also include merchant listings from UK and we are planning on introducing UK merchant feeds into our network as early as next week. You can expect to see eMiniMalls UK service to be released very soon. Visitors from UK will see promotions and offers from UK merchants. And as a direct result we can expect to see significant increase in CTR and hence revenue to our publisher clients. We are planning on continuing to expand the service to several other European countries.

We are also going to release special versions of eMiniMalls, such as eMiniMalls|Books etc.

Q. The Performancing blog is getting a lot of good reviews in the blogosphere, how about mention in the Chitika blog? 🙂

U bet !