Defining the terms, roles of Interactive lead generation

One of the most common questions we get on the Interactive side of the business lately is about the different roles that companies play in Interactive lead generation. There is an unclear definition of different terms, mostly revolving around affiliates versus aggregators versus agencies. What are they? What is the difference? What are the right ones to use? While there is no clear industry consensus, I think there are some general guidelines with these definitions and I will share some of my thoughts on the discussion.


  • defines an affiliate as “the publisher/salesperson in an affiliate marketing relationship…The affiliate gives wider distribution to the affiliate merchant’s products in return for compensation based on performance. The affiliate’s source of distribution usually comes in the form of Web site traffic or e-mail list subscribers.” This typically is a company with a web site that is a step removed from the client, meaning that they get their education offerings from another company that is working with the client. Usually they are getting several different campaigns from this same company that aggregates all of them together.
  • This brings us to aggregators. This has become a popular term used to describe companies that aggregate or bring together a variety of schools looking for leads and affiliates looking to produce leads. The aggregator provides a marketing and technology solution to bring these different parties together in a way that they could not without an intermediary.
  • Finally there is the role of agency. Advertising agencies have been present in the education industry for a long time. Just as clients hire an agency to negotiate and place buys with the FOX, NBC and CBS stations, interactive agencies negotiate and place buys for web inventory or leads with other companies for clients. Only recently have clients looked to hire one company to handle all of their aggregators and affiliates. The growth of aggregators and affiliates is essentially what has created the need for clients to consolidate their maintenance with one company instead of handling all of it themselves.

So how do you decide what you need and who to hire from these different companies?

Well, I obviously have my thoughts. I will try to keep it pretty general though and give some suggestions of what to look for and what to ask.

First off, determine what level of internal control versus outsourcing you are looking for. What level of technology do you have? If you are getting to the point of working with several aggregators, you probably need to look at a technology solution to manage those lead sources and different prices. The beauty of agencies is that they can spread the cost across a variety of clients to make it much less expensive to track this information than building or buying a system on your own.

Look for experience and results with fulfilling your area of need. Generating leads is not as easy as it seems and aligning your company with others that are strong at it is important. Likewise, if you have a surplus of leads but need help sorting the good from the bad, your selection of partners will be affected.

Whether you just use aggregators, set up direct affiliate relationships, or go the pure agency route, the key is to make sure you understand what you are getting and are paying a fair price for the service. Most of the larger companies in this sector have similar technology infrastructures, and many fulfill multiple roles in the relationship (affiliate vs. aggregator vs. agency). I’ve seen clients paying as high as $9-$10 per lead for management and others as low as $.50-$1.00, and all for similar service. Look for what makes sense for you and your needs, and you should come out ahead.

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