Mar 30 2008

Affiliate Seo 101

How many of you make a living off Affiliate commissions? Now, how many of you are trying to make a living off Affiliates but have been unsuccessful? If this were a public seminar I would imagine the latter question would bring the hands of nearly the entire room high into the air. You likely have either tried or would like to make a living with affiliate marketing yet there is so much competition, it seems almost impossible. I hope to show in this article how that very problem can be used to your benefit.Don’t miss this article, tell your friends, your boss, your clients… anybody and everybody can benefit from this article and I am sure those of you just starting in Affiliate marketing can really find some gems(hopefully :P )

I am writing this article for I see very few people giving detailed articles on this subject, usually we discuss seo or affiliate management but hardly ever do we include both as an item… affiliate marketing is by far my favorite form of marketing, I prefer it over any other form of advertising or marketing however, sadly many do it all wrong. Many affiliate marketers do one of two things, they advertise using PPC or else they tend to use grey hat spam techniques because their site isn’t rich enough in itselft to achieve “success” any other way. In this article I am going to present the third and in my mind most successful method of affiliate marketing and one which very few affiliate marketers ever truly reach.

The first thing you need to learn when beginning affiliate seo in any area or niche is: always create your site and content with the user in mind, forget the affiliate programs and forget the search engines… design and cater to the user, think like the user… then and only then will you be able to truly become successful and conquer the search engines for your niche…

That may sound like an oxi-moron… – “forget about the affiliate programs” – but believe me it isn’t. Many new affiliate marketers go through affiliate promotional sites such as ClickBank or CJ looking for the highest payout programs. They select the ones with the highest commissions even if they know very little to nothing about the tool/service or product they are promoting… this is one of the downfalls of many affiliate marketers. Why? Because while you will be able to sell nearly anything to some people you will lose a large portion of people who will see right through your gimpy marketing ploys, many people can tell when a site is promoting a product/service based on their knowledge and experience or when they are promoting a product or service they know nothing about. This detracts greatly from your conversions… “but don’t black hat guys do this and make a killing?” Yes many black hat guys do, they setup sites and promote products they probably never even heard of or at best know very little about, and many of them make tons of money… however nothing near what they could make if they took this white hate approach, believe me its true.

Don’t promote affiliate links, promote the subject – When I am looking for a specific type of product or service I will at times find an affiliate site and whether I stay or whether I go through their system and buy that product or service depends greatly on how well they present themselves, what claims they make and if and how they attempt to back up those claims, the profossionalism of the site and what the actual webmaster knows about the product/service and the topic in general. For instance I was looking for some software a while back, I ended up going through someones affiliate url because the guy wasn’t promoting an affiliate link he was promoting a product from experience and promoting it based on his knowledge of the subject. He was no amatuer and I could tell right off that he knew not only the product but he also knew the subject and was an expert of his niche and that is why I bought the product, the only reason I bought it and the only reason why he got the commission. So the difference between promoting a product and promoting a affiliate link is whether or not you know your stuff. This probably seems elementary to you but it is a step in a process which will bring you success… fail this area and you will lose a huge portion of conversions you could have easily made.

Perhaps the most successful ploy in this area is not just convincing the user of their need for a specific service or product but getting them excited and interested in the subject and niche as a whole… you may get visitors who are semi-interested or who think they may be interested in buying a product but they may need some nudging and some encouragement. This kind of coincides with step #4 which we will discuss later in this article but more importantly here is the aspect of creating an interest in the area you are promoting and then it will be easier to create such an interest in the actual product your promoting. Do you want to convert a few sales or do you want success? I am sorry that was a dumb question wasn’t it :P

I will tell you the secret to the success of a good affiliate marketer and how they can convert so well… it is very simple, they place themselves in the position of the user, they tend to promote services and products which they can honestly recommend and which they are familiar with and then they convince the user of their need of that product or service, whatever it may be. This last part of the equation is very important, you can provide information but unless you convince the user that they need what you are promoting you will not have as high conversions as you could have.

So lets take a look at the steps to affiliate success… these are the steps I use and I can guarantee they will make you successful if you follow them faithfuly.

1.) Find your niche… – many webmasters have their hands in so many cookie jars they are not truly successful in any of them. Sometimes and I would venture to say nearly all the time those who focus on one niche will become the most successful. There are many advantages to such a deployment of your resources and time. Find what your good at and what you know and begin there.

2.) Place yourself in the position of the user… if you were the user would you be sold? Many times even affiliaters(sounds like a good work to me :P ) who make alot of money, once they take this step find their conversions rising 10-75% – that is amazing!

3.) Promote tools, services and products which you are familiar with, which you use or would use(if you needed what you were trying to sell) and which you can honestly recommend based on your knowledge and experience with the site and service and the subject matter.

4.) Convince the user he or she needs what you are promoting, convince them that the product or service you are promoting is much better than any other service on the web… show them why they need it.
Before you can convince them of their need of the product or service it is recommended that you excite their interest in the overall subject matter… once you get them excited in the topic at large you can easily sell them on an actual product.

5.) Make it easy to buy on impulse… – many people now days buy on impulse, they see something they think they want and they buy it. Make it easy for this group of people to buy on their impulse. Make things simple, concise and easy to navigate. Get straight to the point in your articles and reviews, don’t waste 20 hours going nowheres.

6.) Stay away from alternative forms of advertising – One thing I find so counter productive is using multiple forms of advertising on top of affiliate marketing… many times webmasters will promote a product and then add adsense or other advertisements on the page which not only cluttersthe page,  but can present a less-than-professional atmosphere and will also deter the visitor from completing your goal: converting into a sale. I would rather lose 50 potential clicks by removing the adsense and have one of those 50 convert into a affiliate sale then to possibly lose an affiliate sale cause the advertisment was more appealing than the content of my site.

7.) Create a professional atmosphere… – not only should your site be clean, neat, tidy and easy to navigate but it should also appear authoritative, resourceful and less like a traditional affiliate site. There are some affiliate marketers who believe that webmasters should not do anything to make the affiliate link look any less than well… an affiliate link. I disagree, while I am honest and straight-forward I believe webmasters should do their best to hide the fact that they are promoting a service or product for which they will get a commission. I will explain more later.

8.) Learn your trade, become an authority in your niche… – I cannot possibly overstress the importance of knowing your niche, knowing your product and gaining a reputation for it. It can take time but isn’t rocket science… one of the easiest forms is by frequenting forums, blogs and networking sites related to your interest. Answer questions, become known for good quality information and people will not only begin to visit your site via your sig but they will also tell others…

9. Analytical research and implementation – Analytical data is so important and can tell you why a user is bouncing, what pages/affiliates are performing best and where your weak points are. Below I will go into a little more detail and make some recomendations on this area.

You may have noticed these steps are not strictly in order… however you should get the general idea. Many of these steps will need to be done many times over and will take time to master.

Okay I did this  a bit backwards, I gave the overall steps first and then go into the detailed analysis of each… please bear with me.

#1 Finding your niche
This is a step that will vary greatly depending on the webmaster and situation… of course your the only one who really knows what your good at, what you love to do and where your knowledge lies. Perhaps you are not very experienced in a certain niche but you are very interested in it. Spend some time acquainting yourself with the different aspects of the niche, frequent forums and blogs related to it and learn as much as you can. Don’t try and become an “expert” overnight, take time and learn. You will eventually build your experience to a point where you can give back in the same way you have learned… this is where the reputation begins.

You might want to do some number punching on a specific niche which is perhaps less competitive and yet is well trafficked. I find a tool called Keyword Elite very very helpful in such research, you would be surprised how many true gold mines I have found using this tool. Its high point is that it eliminates all that manual work and can compile large lists of keywords in minutes. If your like me you don’t have alot of time to spend in manual digging so a tool like this is essential.

Lastly stick with your niche… don’t give up if it takes a while to build up traffic and start making decent conversions, given time and adhering to the above steps you will get there if you only stick with it.
It can also be good to partner with a friend or fellow-enthusiast, you will be able to get twice as much done and you will be able to come up with more innovative strategies. But make sure you get the revenue agreement figured out first or it can lead to issues later on.
#2 – Place yourself in the shoes of your users
There is a saying that goes something like “don’t judge a man till you have walked a mile in his shoes” – you need to turn this into action, you need to mentally place yourself in the position of the user. Would you as the shopper be sold on the product or service or would you be disgusted with the setup, the annoying ads/pop-ups and the inconsistency of the content? Once you can relate to the users you have broken down one of the most challenging walls because once you know why or what makes a user leave out of dis-interest there is a very good chance you can fix or atleast improve the situation greatly.

Many webmasters have a hard time understanding how to take this step and turn it into action… its almost illusive to them. That is why it is really helpful if you are a native to your niche, it is really helpful if you are well-versed and very experienced in your niche. If so, you can use your personal experiences and can also take a look at competing sites and find out what annoys or dis-interests you and use this to better improve your site.

A less effective, but a method none the less is to have a site feedback link prominently placed on each page of the site which gives the user an opportunity to voice their opinion about your site and why they are leaving. Some sites implement a pop-up which appears when the user attempts to leave the site, while most dis-interested users will immediately click out there are a select few who may give their opinion and it could be their voices which echo the reasoning behind the mass departure of those who never responded. How you word your pop-up or site feedback page and the layout of each will determine greatly whether or not they will bring in feedback and be successful. Stick to short, straight-to-the-point forms which first and fore-most apologize for not being perfect and then ask politely for the valuable input of the user so as to improve the site. Simplicity wins everytime…

I believe webmasters should use any avenues at their disposal. I think the reason why some webmasters fail is that they are too narrow minded and insist on strictly adhering to one or two avenues when they could see far greater success if they only broadened their scope. Since the user is already leaving your site I don’t see how a pop-up is really going to effect anything however I would set it up so that returning users do not see the pop-up again… this is VERY annoying.

Lastly there is a tool I really love which will be so very beneficial in attempting to place yourself in the shoes of your users… that tool is called CrazyEgg – this kind of fits in with my Analytical step but it can be useful in determining what users are doing on your site which can give you an idea of why your visitors may be leaving.

If your still wondering “how can you place yourself in the position of the user?” Then maybe an illustration will help… This can be a hard thing to learn if you aren’t personally interested in the niche you are competing for. For instance if I were to start a affiliate site promoting cosmetics I would be lost, I wouldn’t know what to promote and I wouldn’t know how to sell them cause I don’t use them… however if I started an affiliate site for guitars or guitar accessories I would be at home… I play guitar and I love guitar. I have a good understanding of what styles are popular now days, what types of guitars would sell well in certain situations and what the better brands are. I can use this information to start a successful guitar site for my users will begin to see that I am not just a webmaster looking for a affiliate payout but I am actually infatuated with the subject I am promoting. Does that make sense?

Being an avid guitarist I find myself browsing the web often for music… if I were starting a site how could I use this potential demand and twist it into a means of converting more sales and actually gaining traffic to convert into sales? Because I may someday start a guitar site I won’t publicly share all my linkbait ideas and thoughts on this, but I am just trying to give you some ideas from which you can spin your own.
#3 Become familiar with what you are promoting
Know the pros and cons to the product you are promoting, understand what it can and cannot do and understand how it can benefit the group of people you are targeting. Use all of this information to promote the product. It may surprise you but a few negative comments can actually increase conversions. There is a saying which goes “if it appears too good to be true it probably is” – well many have that mind set and if you present an unbiased picture of why a user should buy the product as well as some of its minor faults it gives the user the idea you are being honest with them.

For instance you might list all the positives – you always list the positives and pros first – and then list a minor fault which is not likely to be that important to the user, a fault which all or most competitors share. You need to be very careful here as you can hinder your sale by saying the wrong thing but honesty truly is the best policy and you can use it to turn over more conversions if you do it right.

#4 Sell the user on your product, convince them why they need it
Of course as you probably already know this is a very very important step, if the user isn’t convinced they need the product your conversions will be low. Again there are no magic words to say that will convince the user of their absolute need for what you are offering. If however, you have followed step #3 you will be so acquainted with what you are trying to sell that you will know the points that will sell your product, what will make it stand out and what to say to convince the user to buy it. That is why it is so important to follow all these steps, many are dependant on each other for true success.

#5 – Ease of purchase, don’t let them think
I am just kidding but it is advantageous for you as a webmaster to give the user the easiest trip through your site and through the purchase, get them there easily and don’t throw rocks in the road. While most affiliate programs do not give you access to the actual checkout, you can control most of what goes on uptill this point. Take advantage of that, don’t make them wade through your 50 wonderful offers, sign-up for 25 newsletters and 10 recommendations on other software to buy. Cut out the nonesense and let them get to what they really want, you can always bug them after the purchase ;-)

#6 – Cut the extensive supply of advertising
In this day and age we are bombarded with advertising from tv, radio, internet, billboards and everywhere else imaginable. The last thing most of us want to see is more advertising, it has gotten so bad that certain forms of ads have declined greatly in conversion because the mass majority of people are becoming blinded to them. But not only is it a turn-off but it can also detract from your affiliate conversions and many times you will be losing sales from $10-200 each time a user picks a advertisement over converting into a affiliate sale.

So if at all possible keep strictly to affiliate and I also recommend you use links and informative reviews over banners and small snippets of text. The former tends to convert better from my experience. An article recommending a product or service converts quite well while banners for the same product and service can perform very poorly on the same site. Bombarding your users from all sides will lessen the effectiveness of ALL your revenue streams.

#7 – Create a professional, simple and inviting environment
I find myself more likely to buy from a site with a professional yet simple atmosphere over a site which looks like it was started by a 10 year old on a weekend. This step builds upon the last step in that we are presenting the user with convenience, an inviting and professional atmosphere conduisive to converting sales.

Keep things simple, learn from the Google example. People love simplicity and are attracted to it, don’t throw the user through hoops or present a situation where the information the user is looking for is always a “step a way” – you know what I mean, you have been in a situation like that before and you know how irritating it can be.

Provide the user with unique articles and content, don’t copy other peoples work, re-wording it so the search engines supposedly will rank it. Write your own stuff, bring innovation to your niche, build a tool or two. Whatever will enhance the user experience should be done… many times implementation of free tools will result in linkbaits which will help you achieve search engine success faster.

Back to that point I made on hiding the fact that you are affiliated… many people have given affiliate sites a bad name, there are also FireFox plugins and other software embedded on computers which converts affiliate links such as ClickBank urls from your aff id to theirs so you never get the commission. Not only for those reasons, but you also want to get the user to the affiliate page which will be much harder to do if you present yourself openly as an affiliate.  I use 301 redirects, I create a page and then use a 301 redirect to redirect it to the affiliate url. That way nobody can steal my commission, I won’t lose a conversion because a biased user doesn’t like affiliate urls and I get the user to my destination goal.

#8 – Become an authority in your niche
Webmasters are always quoting and linking to authority sites, so it is obviously something any webmaster would want to attain to. It is not however as hard as one might think to actually become an authority. It will take time to build trust and reputation and become that authority but it will indeed come if you are patient.

You should spend time at forums, answering questions, getting acquinted with prominent members and authorities in your niche. Don’t spam your url, if you are allowed add it to your signature but don’t try and promote yourself on these forums.

Spend time at the authority blogs and sites in your niche, comment on their posts, try and add new insight and think out of the box when commenting and replieing. Remember your comments will either build your reputation or disgrace it.

Social bookmarking sites are popular now days, they can be a useful means of quickly getting the word out about your site or a new feature/tool you have implemented. Don’t overuse or abuse them however.

The major thing is that you are authority material… I know a guy who doesn’t know the first thing about seo, affiliate marketing or building links. I would rank him as a newbie in those areas yet he runs a successful poker blog, he is competing in a very very competitive field without any experience in seo or marketing… how can he be successful? He has learned this step, he is an authority and people have come to respect him for it. BTW it is a hobby for him, he doesn’t have any ads or affiliates… he is only successful because it is a hobby, had he instead started as many webmasters do, with the intention of making big bucks with affiliate commissions, I doubt he would have been successful.

If you believe you have the experience and knowledge it takes to become an authority perhaps all you need is the spotlight turned on you for a short while to expose that to the world. To do this you could implement a linkbait, do or say something which is out of the norm(it is best if you can back it up) or in other words be contrary to popular opinion – this of course can go both ways – or you might discover some new earth-shaking revelation. Basically anything which gets you under the spotlight, you can use to benefit your acclaim to become an authority. You can do many things to get your name out there but once your under the spotlight, many times you need to make the best of it right away or you will lose that chance.  Also agreeing with everyone is not always the best way to become an authority, most people like independent thinkers and ideas. You should agree on proven facts but where there is doubt, try and find the truth and present it, don’t be afraid to do that.

#9 Analytical research and its effects
This is a step which you will be repeating over and over as your site grows. You will not only want to build more traffic but you will want to ensure that your current traffic is at high conversion rates and if not you of course need to answer the question, why not. Using analytical data you can determine where your weak points are, what your doing right and where you can improve. You can figure out what affiliates are performing the best and which get the highest traffic but lowest conversions… maybe your copy needs tweaking. All of this data is important and a affiliate marketer who fails to use it will never truly fulfill his or her true potential.

I have used many tools through the years. I really liked Google Analytics, it had tons of useful information but after we completed the Bounce Facter Research I quit using it. I wasn’t sure the pros out-weighed the cons so I stopped using it. I now use AwStats, Clicky Analytics, CrazyEgg, and have tried various other tools. I find that these three along with the raw logs provide me with most of my data I need. If you are willing to brave Google Analytics user behavior factoring I would recommend it, it is a very good tool and 100% free.
But how do I get traffic? How do I start ranking in Google for an Affiliate site?
A good seo will not stick to only one method but will implement multiple methods to gain wider exposure. Having said that there are methods which you will find work best for you or for certain types of sites. You should always focus most of your attention on those as they will bring the highest return on investment. My favorite are linkbaits… they tend to be the highest return on investment of any seo methods I have ever tried, they also tend to continue to attract links long after the initial launch which means it is a one-time fee with long-term benefits which pay for themselves ten times over.Many people however come to me because they can’t brainstorm any linkbait ideas for their sites and/or are unsure of implementation of those linkbaits once they are done. [plug: if you send an email to randy[at]1st-rankings[dot]com and ask for pricing and details on link bait development I will see what we can’t brainstorm for you.]
This is a very very very important aspect of linkbaiting. A poorly planned out linkbait may only work to half or sometimes less than 10% of its potential… that means if you do it wrong you could potentially be losing 90% of the effectiveness of your tool/service. Thats a huge loss! Make sure you think out each feature, each aspect of the tool, get feedback from the community, get beta-testers to test your tool and make suggestions. Do all in your power to implement their suggestions(unless they are outrageous). You will find by consulting the people you will be selling to that you can create a tool tailored to their exact needs, it will be truly effective and will be a linkbait which will continue to grow for years to come.

I am not going to mention the site or the keyword in this article but you can use the same principle to create your own linkbaits… there was a guy who created a site, from all outward appearances it was not very much different from most of his competitors… but in fact it was different. While his competitors were paying per month for links and seo(some were paying from 100-500K for seo) this guy was putting his money into a linkbait, a linkbait which just over a year later landed him at the top of a multi-million dollar industry term. If this sounds like a fairy-tale it isn’t, this is a true story and believe it or not it happens more than you may think and a year may be all a well planned affiliate marketer will need to conquer the industrys most competitive terms.

What made his site stand out, how did he acquire such a heavily targeted and heavily competed industry? It is quite simple really, everyone was competing in the same way… few were using inovative seo, most of them were just paying for links. This guy however was building a linkbait, it was a free service, a service which literally hundreds of his competitors had already tried… “Hold it… I thought you said it was an innovative idea” – I did indeed. Remember this, an idea can either be inovative in and of itself or it can be implemented in an inovative way. There are many people who have used the idea of webmasters before them and yet they alone were successful… it is not only the idea but how its implemented and how it is promoted that will truly create success. History bears record to this.
I truly hope I did not overwhelm you with information but did indeed provide you with some steps to take to better your affiliate seo and have helped place you on the road to success.I am more than willing to help you if you have questions… while I am very busy and my fees are generally not cheap I will do my best to setup a consultation, help you build a linkbait or whatever you may need.

Because of time constraints I could not write this all in one sitting so it is logical to assume I forgot something… if that is the case feel free to drop me a comment and let me know when I was sleeping and i’ll do my best to update it ;-)
I also wrote this article with the hope to rekindle a lost interest in webmasters, help them get back to affiliate marketing and give them steps to achieve success. My goal was not to map out a complete system but to give them the steps by which they can create goals, goals which they will over time complete all of.  I have no doubt theses steps will work for anyone in any niche… I hope they have been helpful to you.

Again drop a line or comment and let me know what you thought of the article… also drop me a line requesting a certain topic if you’d like.

Copyright © 2008, 1st-rankings Co.
This article may NOT be redistributed in any way, shape or form. If you would like to link to the article we would appreciate it.

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5 Comments on this post

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  1. Bobbink SEO Blog said:

    Very nice and extensive article!

    Can I translate it into Dutch and publish it on my own, Dutch, weblog?

    April 1st, 2008 at 1:29 am
  2. visio said:

    Be my guest, as long as you give credit thats all that matters to me… you can translate any of my other articles if you like as well. I have Portuguese and Spanish blogs translating my work but haven’t seen any Dutch translations yet so yeah that would be great.

    Good luck with your blog!

    April 1st, 2008 at 1:40 am
  3. Pagi said:

    Hi Visio,

    Pagi here from SEOChat/MSN :) , great article I must say, I’m just putting the finishing touches to my first ever website and this info will definately point me in the right direction if/when I look at getting involved with affiliates.

    KUTGW!

    April 9th, 2008 at 9:45 pm
  4. Daniel Tetreault said:

    Wow. That was one of the most informative AND comprehensive blog posts on Affiliate Marketing I have ever come accross. Great!

    Sincerely,

    Daniel.

    July 25th, 2008 at 5:48 pm
  5. sam23 said:

    Thanks for sharing the tips on affiliate marketing — I think, however, it’s easier to get traffic through social media marketing these days. For example, if you post a video you’ve made and ask viewers to check out your business’s website, it could have an immediate effect, especially if you post to not only YouTube, but sites like Vimeo, AdWido, and Veoh as well.

    July 30th, 2009 at 11:51 pm

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