11 Nov 2008

Effective Affiliate Strategies

Hey, hey, crazy kids. It’s time for PubCon and I’m jazzed up on coffee and have been busily working since 7am this morning. Who’s your favorite overworked blogger. ME! :)

It feels good to be back in the liveblogging game and kicking things off with some great folks. Here we have Jim Banks, Elizabeth Archambault and my new friend Dixon Jones (we bonded this morning when we got lost trying to find the conference together. Or at least we bonded in my head.). Aaron Shear has been tasked with moderating duties. God bless him.

Elizabeth Archambault
is up first. She says she pays more in income tax now as a search marketer than she ever got paid as a teacher. That’s sad. We need to pay our teachers better.

The Possible Dream: Affiliate Marketing 101

Affiliate marketing is about promoting other peoples stuff and getting paid for your results. You can earn money through sales commission, lead/referral fees or clickthroughs. The latter doesn’t happen as often today, but if you can establish trust you may be able to work it out.

When you work as an affiliate, you have no boss, you can work anywhere and anytime, there are no guarantees (you can work a lot and make very little) and there are no limits! The merchant handles inventory, fulfillment, customer service, etc. As an affiliate your job is to drive traffic. You must be focused.

One of the biggest mistakes she sees with affiliates is that their attention span is all over the map. She knows someone who’s always buying books by marketing gurus and yet has no active Web sites on the Web. You’ve got to stay focused on what your goal is and keep coming back to it. You need to find and join merchants, you need to promote their products and send users.

You can send users through your Web site, through your newsletter, through ads you set up or through offline promotions. You can also use the social media networks to get exposure.

Merchants will ask:

Why should I pay affiliates for something I can do myself? You bring something new to the party. You have to be able to adapt. Make sure that you’re building your own online presence so that you have something to offer that the merchant can’t easily duplicate.

Skills: page design, site design, graphics, copywriting, usability, promotion, etc.

Any skill you can name, someone out there is succeeding without it. You don’t have to be perfect, but you do need to be good.  You need to balance the goal of striving for quality and avoid paralyzing perfectionism. [Note to self: Stop paralyzing yourself and JUST DO] Something that is second rate but up and running and getting traffic will get more traffic than the perfect idea still on your hard drive.

It’s wise to diversify but don’t spread yourself too thin. If you lose track of what you’re managing, you start to lose your quality edge and it won’t work as well as it should. That balance will come in different places for different people. Figure out where it is for you and the resources you have to work with.

You need to balance doing things with getting things done. You don’t have to do everything yourself. You can hire out certain skills.

When you’re promoting, you can focus on the product or on the demographic.  If you’re focusing on the product, if people are looking for it, that’s ideal because you can put yourself in front of them and show them the product you’ve got. It’s different to promote a bridesmaid dress than it is a tuxedo vest.

Promotional Styles:

Avoid spray and pay. The tighter your targeting, the more effective you’re going to be.

How do you find merchants: Affiliate networks, independent merchants (find them in search engines, mentioned on forums, or they find you).

When you’re promoting a product, make sure there is enough demand. And that market demand also needs to be relevant to the resources you offer. Or you need to create new resources.  Make sure there are no conflicts of interest if you’re building your own sites.

Pick something that you like and will stick with.

How do you get paid:

Will the product sell?
Will the merchant pay?

Look at your commission rate AND your conversion rate. They both matter. Some merchants do a better job of closing the sale than the other guy.

Don’t just assume that the highest commision will put the most money in your pocket.

Know the Mind of your Shopper

Targeting is not as obvious as it sometimes seems. Suppose you’re selling wedding dresses and you want to promote them. Say you find a site that sells expensive wedding hairstyles. Is that a good place to promote? Probably not. Why not? Because by the time someone is at the point where they’re looking for wedding hairstyles, they probably already bought the dress. It’s not just about targeting the right person, it’s hitting them at the right time.

Conversion is key. You want to look for merchants who are commiteed to improving their own conversions. The quality of their site is important. The quality of your pre-sell page is important.

Linking to Merchants

Find the merchant. Apply to the merchant. Get link codes. And then post those links. Nothing will happen if you don’t post the links. That’s the second biggest mistake she sees people make (number one is having too scattered of a focus).

As a merchant you want to find an affiliate with good promotional tools, informational stats, effective communication, earnings potential and committed to best practices.

When you’re looking for merchants to promote, look at what they’ll do for your own management time. Are you going to have to keep an eye on them and fuss with them. You want to find an affiliate that is making money while you’re working on something else.

Dixon Jones
is up next. He says he’s jetlagged and not sure where he is. He’s tired. Poor Dixon. I’d be snarky here but he was so nice to me this morning. :)

Hee, he now welcomes us to this farming conference. He means link farming conference. Aw, he’s delirious.

His first affiliate deal came out of audacity and arrogance in 1999. In 1999 I was 17. I’m just saying.

[Dixon's rambling a bit so I'm chatting with Marty Weintraub. It's a bit of a love fest between me and Marty. In other news, Dixon can get away with the rambling because he has such a pretty accent.]

Why does one affilate site do better than another? The size.  It may have obvious affiliate links. It could be a thin affiliate site that doesn’t add much use to the user, at which cause Google will just show the “real” Web site.

Lessons:

  • Hide affiliate links
  • Add value to the user
  • Create unique content

Useful WordPress Plugin: Redirection by John Godley — Pulls all your affiliate links together.

Lessons from a family site he worked on:

  • Product Feed content has many links to it for users, but they’re taken out of the main search friendly pages on the site — hence affiliate links are off the main page.
  • Adding Value
  • Get a merchant to subsidize the build.

Dixon took those lesson and created another Web site. There he learned that you can own the user. You don’t need an affiliate network. Being the only affiliate has upsides. You can provide phone support where merchants offering can’t or wont, which adds value. The client learned that proper consultancy is way better in the long run than just collecting leads.

If you want to keep the user: you can use your own form to capture the user data. If it isn’t leadgen, use widgets if you can, to keep the user on your site longer. If you can’t do that, use iframes.

Dixon says that cash-back sites will be effective in the recession.

  • Vouchers are the network way, but think outside the box.
  • Doesn’t need affiliate tracking…just a merchant deal
  • Get the users to come back to get their reward from you.

Lessons:

  • Don’t lie down and accept an afiliate’s law.
  • Try to own the relationship with the users.
  • Own the merchant
  • Own the Web sites
  • Own the tracking
  • Then you’ll find you have something worth selling.

Don’t build an affiliate Web site. Build an affiliate Web site.

Up next is Jim Banks.

He’s going to offer a balanced opinion based on:

  • Email affiliates
  • Search PPC affiliates
  • Contextual/Social Media affiliates
  • Display affiliates
  • Their own efforts as a affiliate in all of the above.

Email: Don’t burn your list on an untested offer, no mater how nice your affiliate manager is. Do tell your friends if you get an offer to fly. Plan for seasonality — Christmas/Fathers Day, Valentines Day, Thanksgiving.

Search: Dare to be different — PPC is not just Google. Anticipate demand. Don’t wait for demand to be there. Calculate a desired profit margin and work your strategy based on that. He talks about Jon Kelly and Search Hits.

Contextual/Social Media: Make sure you are allowed to run this type of traffic. Expect your network to support with creatives.

Display: Now is a good time to be buying display. Don’t be suckered by por media buys. Know your break even point. Don’t sign up to long term contracts (red flag). Look for niche buys.

Effective Tactics for PPC: dayparting, split-testing, pixel placement, rate negotiation, bespoke creative, sharing of information with your network partners.

Ineffective Tactics: Hiding what you’re ding. Being fickle. Emotional attachment to a network or offer.

What to look for in a good network: Proactive, Flexible, pay quickly, be creative, be assertive, generous and accessible.

Awesome session! Time to run to the next one. Bye speakers. Bye Marty!