Note from Geno Prussakov: I am excited to welcome our newest guest blogger, UK-based Pete Campbell. Enjoy his first AM Navigator post below.
Very few things in life are black and white (zebras and pianos are notable exceptions) and, more often than not, things fall into that difficult and morally ambiguous “grey area”. This is just as true for affiliate and SEO marketers as it is for everyone else.
If you’ve come across the terms black hat and white hat in an online marketing context before, you’ll know precisely what I’m talking about. In highly competitive niches such as gambling (bingo and poker), law (personal injury claims) and finance (payday loans), it can be difficult to choose between doing your online marketing the “right” way (according to Google), and doing things the “wrong” way in order to gain the upper hand.
What colour is your hat?
The problem is, no matter how tough Google is getting with black hatted online marketers who engage in spammy techniques, doing the dirty is still paying off. You only need to type a highly competitive gambling search term such as “bingo sites” (which has 18,000 monthly searches in UK) into Google and although it might not be obvious, most of the websites on Page 1 engage in spammy black hat techniques. The use of paid link networks and link farms is still rife and still generating search result rewards – for now.
Yet, by all accounts, the days of paid link building are over. Google may not have managed to banish every trace of SEO spam from the SERPs, but the search engine certainly means business. While black hat techniques may inflate your rank over the short term, if you have long term ambitions online, they’re not likely to go the distance.
Google get serious about spam-laden queries
You only need to look at Google’s clamp down on payday loan search terms to see this in action. In tandem with Panda 2.0 (which was updated to get even tougher with low-quality sites with crummy duplicate content and spammy back links), Google released a Payday Loan Algorithm update in May 2014. Designed to target “very spammy queries”, particularly in those competitive niches I listed earlier, the update was launched to start getting rid of the spammiest offenders who target these competitive terms.
While the Payday Loan Algorithm update will affect a small 0.2% of English search queries, it’s a clear signal of intent from Google. The search engine have also claimed that they plan to start proactively penalising and even banning affiliate sites which fail to add value for visitors.
And if you think Google are calling spammy webmasters’ bluffs, think again. Back in January 2014, gambling giant William Hill was hammered with a serious penalty thanks to its spammy backlink practices. The penalties sent the gambling site hurtling down the SERPs costing them what must have been hundreds of thousands of pounds in revenue.
How to keep your nose clean and win big
If you’re keen to avoid a future without penalties and want to do things right, it might feel like you’re fighting a losing battle against your less scrupulous contemporaries right now. But the truth is, you don’t have to play dirty to win big. Google may be slowly starting to punish black hat behaviour, but they’re also in the habit of rewarding websites which play by the rules. Increasingly, websites who focus on producing awesome, hyper-relevant content, great user experience and high-quality editorially earned links are starting to win on page one.
I’ve been running content strategy over at Two Little Fleas (a UK based bingo portal) throughout this period and, thanks to some concerted effort and creativity, great content has helped Two Little Fleas make page one for highly competitive terms including the aforementioned “bingo sites”, 100% paid link free.
But cracking content only is not the be all and end all to page one rankings. One of our most successful strategies has been reaching out to affiliate partners to collaborate on and distribute content has been a big contributing factor. We’ve explored ways to work with affiliates, leveraging these relationships to build great, relevant links and some pretty cool stuff.
3 ways you can leverage your affiliate relationships too
Interviews & “Ego Bait”
Everyone’s a little bit susceptible to flattery and, if asked, we’re all pretty keen to share our wisdom and opinions a lot of the time. It’s normal. But it’s also very helpful if you want to generate content that’s interesting to your readers and highly sharable within your niche. Take some time to build relationships, reach out and ask industry experts and influencers about a topic you’re writing about. When you come to set keyboard to paper, make sure you reference them by name, then let them know once your content is live.
Example: For Two Little Fleas, we’re currently running a series of interviews with organisations like The UK Bingo Association & Marie Curie Cancer Care who run Tickety Boo Games on their thoughts about the decline & comeback of the Bingo industry.
Just as we all like flattery, we all like to compete and win. Look into setting up your own awards for your affiliates, rewarding them for providing great user experience for their (and your!) players. This will win you plenty of social media attention and will generate links from all sorts of sources within your niche.
Example: WhichBingo run an annual awards ceremony for their affiliates – well worth checking out for some inspiration. Their awards event has won them tons of great quality links from affiliates including Gala Bingo.
Build an “operator” review section into your website and hire a journalist quality writer to independently and transparently review site operators. Make sure you also include key facts about each site, alone with the pros and cons to ensure your readers find the reviews really, really helpful. Then take things a step further by encouraging users to add their own reviews and comments into the mix.
Once you’ve collected all of your reviews, you could even consider designing an “Approved by *YOUR NAME*” badge which you can then offer to operators. In many cases these badges will give their brand extra credibility and boost their conversion rate. That makes them even more likely to display your badge along with a link back to – you guessed it – you!
Example: This is exactly what we did for Two Little Fleas. Take a look for yourself at the bottom of this operator http://www.paddybingo.com/
Have you tried leveraging affiliate relationships to create amazing content and win powerful, natural links? What has worked for you? Where do you stand on the black hat/white hat divide? Share your views, tips and experiences below.
Affiliate managers focus on affiliate recruitment, and then sweat over affiliate activation; but do you realize that when you, finally, get affiliates to put up your links on their website(s) your conversion is then under scrutiny — their extremely critical scrutiny?
There are very few affiliate programs that I promote on my blog, and when one is yielding a higher-than-average click-through rate it quickly stands out. Then, however, if it yields low or (worse yet) no conversions, it stand out even more! Such has been the case in the situation exemplified by the below-shown donut chart:
Yes, 2,427 clicks (or 91 percent of all clicks sent to the merchants on this network) were generated since getting active with the program, and… zero of them converted.
I took their links down replacing them with another merchant; yet couldn’t help but wonder how patient affiliates normally are with their non-converting merchants. So, I put together a poll asking affiliates how many no-conversion clicks makes them give up on a merchant. Here are the results so far:
How Many Non-Converting Clicks Are Too Many?
It turns out that very few affiliates will patiently wait on merchants to straighten out their conversion rate issues. Seven out of ten won’t refer more than 500 clicks, and three out ten will give up on a merchant (taking down or swapping their links) within the 100-300 clicks range.
Sobering? It should be.
It is also 100% natural. After all, the rule of this affiliate game is “get paid for each conversion.” Affiliates are rarely being compensated for traffic, “eyeballs,” branding, or anything that cannot be directly expressed in a conversion (most frequently a sale, or a lead). And they will take your links down if you don’t convert. Some earlier, other later… So if, as an affiliate manager, you see clicks but no conversions (or conversion rates substantially lower than the averages), look for an internal problem, and fix it before your affiliates give up on you.
Earlier this month The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article where Miriam Gottfried drew an analogy between a coupon affiliate and a sandwich shop assistant compensated on performance basis. Here’s how the reporter’s illustration went:
Imagine you own a sandwich shop and want to bring in new customers. You recruit five assistants and give them coupons to distribute, promising to give each credit for sales they generate. Four patrol the neighborhood, distributing coupons door to door. The fifth sits right outside the store, handing them to customers as they walk in.
Predicting who will get the most sales isn’t rocket science. But how much value is that fifth assistant actually providing?
The article then went on into analyzing RetailMeNot, a famous coupon affiliate who went public on July 18 2013 “at $21 per share” and “in its first day of trading its stock gained 32%” [source]. On February 27-28 2014 the price was at its peak ~$47 a share. In early July 2014, however, RMN’s share prices dropped to its lowest point in 12 months [details here]. Hence, the WSJ’s look into the company, and what may have affected the drop.
You may read the full article here, but in my today’s post I’d like to touch upon a few important areas brought up in this article.
Last Click Rule / Attribution
The article described RetailMeNot as an affiliate that “generates the vast majority of its sales from commissions on online transactions on which it receives ‘last-click attribution’” which is “when its site is the last place a shopper clicks before making a purchase.” They are right on the money here.
The “last-click” model which is currently the prevalent rule around the industry is indeed a foundational element which allows coupon affiliates to take advantage of the “last minute coupon search” customer behavior. However, it is important to understand that advertisers do not have to have their affiliate program structured in a way where they would just pay any affiliate that drives that last click. To avoid the above-referenced last-minute coupon search problem, merchants can set attribution rules of their own, whereby affiliates who drive the customer “back” to the shopping cart after he/she has gone to a search engine to look for a coupon, do not get credit (or get only a portion of the full commission, whereas the rest goes to affiliate who originally influenced the buying decision, or introduced the customer to the brand). If you are not familiar with how this works, take a couple of minutes to view ShareASale’s video on their “Tags & Rules” solution which allows advertisers to tie affiliate commissions to time-frames as well as click behaviors and patterns (pay special attention to the “1 Minute Rule” described there).
Many of the larger (and smaller but sophisticated) advertisers with affiliate programs are already also employing other technologies to avoid the “assistant outside the store handing coupons to customers as they walk in” situation described by The Wall Street Journal.
Some suppress the coupon/promo code field altogether (unless the customer originated from a site like RetailMeNot and other coupon affiliate), others display coupons right on their own site (like Macy’s does), others also create dedicated “coupons” pages to outrank coupon affiliates on “TM + coupon” type of search phrases (see JCPenney’s example below), yet others offer no coupons altogether, and/or keep coupon affiliates out of their affiliate programs.
There are also some merchants that would drop coupon affiliates’ commission three- or four-fold. However, this does not really resolve the problem of the last-minute coupon search, as similarly to this situation the affiliate cookie still gets set. And while there may/will be financial benefits for the merchant, it will hurt other affiliates — those who may have influenced the purchaser earlier in the clickstream.
Shopping Cart Abandonment
Finally, I cannot omit this important area which is brought up towards the end of the Wall Street Journal article in question. The “so-called shopping-cart abandonment” is a serious problem faced by every single online merchant. According to today’s Fireclick Index data it exceeds 69% (see the below chart) which matches Vibetrace’s estimates which say that in 2014 the shopping cart abandonment rate reaches 69.50% [source].
This phenomenon is, actually, much more complex than consumers simply giving up “on purchases once they see the total.” Beyond the totals as well as shipping costs and/or taxes, some are comparison shopping, others get uncomfortable with the checkout process, the website’s navigation, or face payment-related difficulties, and then there are also those who find the delivery options unsuitable, or are influenced by one (or several) of the 14 factors ranked on the below-displayed Statistia’s chart:
If and when a coupon affiliate, or a retargeting affiliate, or a remarketing affiliate brings back that customer hours or days later (with a help of a coupon, banner ad, email, or something else), there frequently is value in that, and they are worth compensating.
To make the most of your affiliate program and the different types of affiliates in it, manage it!! Don’t let it fly on its own relying on the last-click-wins or some other preset/default rule. Measure it and manage it. Only then it will yield incremental fruit. If you need external help with it, email me.
So… the time has come for me to announce the winners of the contest for Affiliate Summit East 2014 passes.
We’ve received really thoughtful comments from every entrant (for which I sincerely thank every one of those who took the time to submit them) and instead of picking the winners myself, I simply had no other choice but use a list randomizer instead.
So, I entered the names of all 5 entrants in there:
Hit the button, and got:
Once again, huge thanks to all of you for your comments; and congratulations to the winners (who will receive my emails shortly). In case any one of the three winners cannot take advantage of their free Affiliate Summit pass, it will go to the next in line (as shown above).
This morning as I was reviewing affiliate applications in our clients‘ programs, I had to dig into one specific affiliate’s feedback (it was a ShareASale-based affiliate program, and they equip their advertisers with this great feature). It was their negative score that raised a red flag.
This affiliate positioned himself as a coupon-oriented affiliate, but their simplistic website (with nonexistent Quantcast and Compete.com data, and Alexa rank of 7,371,262) was just a mask for what they really were all about — of course, paid search violations or “trademark bidding” (a very common situation, by the way).
However, as I drilled down into the feedback left for them by other merchants and affiliate managers, I noticed one record (you may see it marked with an arrow on the below screenshot) that prompted me to write this blog post.
Whether the affiliate violator is bidding on your trademarks (or other prohibited terms), harvests the coupons you email to clients, engages in cybersquatting/typosquatting, or any other prohibited behavior, lowering their commissions to zero (or any other low) percentage is not a solution to the problem. Banning them from the affiliate program is a much better route to go in these contexts.
Since most affiliate programs and platforms currently operate on the “last click wins” model, when the violator’s link is clicked – the cookie still gets set (frequently overwriting the previous affiliate referrer’s cookie). And yes, while you will save money on the violator’s “referrals,” you will often hurt the other (good!) affiliates in the process (preventing them from earning their well-deserved full commissions).
You may remember me announcing that these lessons were coming… Well, time flies, and after many hours put in by many people, my two-and-a-half-hours’ video course for aspiring affiliates is now live on Lynda.com!
This video tutorial is split into 27 easily-digestible videos covering four major areas:
(i) Introductory remarks and the fundamental affiliate marketing principles,
(ii) Preparatory considerations,
(iii) Movies on how to roll out your affiliate efforts,
(iv) Videos on how to handle the day-to-day work, interweaving various types of online marketing with(in) your affiliate campaigns.
To get a taste of the tutorial (4 video lessons of which are available for your viewing absolutely free of charge), and/or to view the entire course, click here.
Sit back, relax, and enjoy it! Oh, and don’t forget to leave a review of the course, if you feel like it.
Have you seen Affiliate Summit‘s Tweet yesterday? In case you’ve missed it, it read:
— Affiliate Summit (@affiliatesummit) July 6, 2014
Affiliate Summit is affiliate marketing industry’s largest affiliate conference which is a must-attend due to many benefits, including the amazing networking and educational content it provides. Speaking of the latter, I personally highly enjoy presenting at Affiliate Summits, and it is also the conference where I spoke for the largest number of times. The upcoming Affiliate Summit East 2014 (to be held in New York City on August 10-12) will be my 11th time speaking there.
At the New York conference in August I will be speaking on the 5 Foundational Pillars of Affiliate Program’s Success, covering the five key processes which every affiliate (program) manager must devote their time to: affiliate recruitment, activation, policing, communication, and optimization [see also the video here].
I also have 3 Networking Plus Passes (currently valued at $549.00 each, and giving you access to exhibit hall, Meet Market, keynotes, sessions 1, 5, 9, and all sessions’ videos after the show) to give away.
The idea behind the giveaway is simple — contribute a tip (or case study), and get a chance to be featured in my presentation and/or win one of the Affiliate Summit East 2014 passes that I have.
Task: Share a great example or a brief case study of effective (affiliate manager’s) work in any of the above-quoted 5 areas.
Prizes: 3 Networking Plus Passes and/or visibility in/through my presentation.
Important: To allow the time for your travel/lodging arrangements, the deadline to submit your comment is Monday, July 21 (of course, you’re most welcome to comment after this date too, but those “submissions” won’t qualify you for the prize(s)). I will announce the winners no later than July 22, 2012.
Many thanks in advance for your participation, and looking forward to reading your comments!
Affiliate recruitment may be split into two main types: active and passive recruitment. Simply put, active recruitment is when affiliates find out about your program through your outreach, whereas passive recruitment is when they find you by themselves.
Twenty days ago we “turned off” all active recruitment for a (non-paying) client, but, naturally, affiliates were still finding out about their affiliate program (through a sign-up link on their website, our past announcements, affiliate program directories, and the affiliate network’s own directory of programs run on it). The (past) client wasn’t reviewing them, and feeling bad for these affiliates (the program is still active, operating smoothly on an “auto deposit,” and affiliates can still make money on it) I went in to analyze their applications and approve those who should be approved.
Two pieces of (non-sensitive) info/data I’d like to share with you today:
Volume: roughly 1 application per day.
Distribution of Affiliate Types:
- Coupons/Deals – 53%
- Content affiliates – 17%
- Directories – 12%
- Social – 12%
- Cashback – 6%
So… if you rely on passive affiliate recruitment only, be prepared for the above numbers. I’ve noticed very similar situations in other affiliate programs in the past as well. While the volume may/will differ, the distribution of affiliate types will be very similar to the above.
As many in the marketing industry know, affiliate marketing is one of the most cost-effective techniques for monetizing web site traffic and driving sales. New technologies such as mobile advertising and telemarketing are challenging the established methods. Telemarketing to users of mobile phone via “robocalls” or text messages is just the newest trick in the affiliate marketer’s arsenal.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“Act”) was passed in 1991. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) rules and regulations implementing the Act makes it unlawful to make any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to any telephone number assigned to a cellular telephone service, or any service for which the called party is charged for the call. Recent decisions provide guidance on how affiliate marketers can use text-message marketing without violating the TCPA.
The Act makes it unlawful to make any call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with the prior express consent of the called party) using any automatic telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice … to any telephone number assigned to a … cellular telephone service … or any service for which the called party is charged for the call. [47 U.S.C. § 227(b)(1)(A)(iii)] The prohibition on calls to cell phones applies to text messaging. [Buslepp v. Improve Miami, Inc., No. 60171-CIVCOHN/ SELTZER, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148527 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 16, 2012) (citing Satterfield v. Simon & Schuster, Inc., 569 F. 3d 946, 952-53 (9th Cir. 2009). ]
The cases that have interpreted application of the Act have primarily focused on the issue of whether the recipient of the call had given express consent to receive the call. In addition, the majority of the cases addressing the issue have focused on calls made by a debt collector on behalf of a creditor when the creditor had obtained the cell phone number from debtor as part of the transaction creating the debt.
What does this mean for affiliate marketers that wish to use text-messaging to engage specific consumers? Two things. First, regardless of the purpose, consumers must give prior, express consent to receive text messages. Second, affiliate marketers can respond to via text messages to consumers who have provided cell phone numbers as means of contact.
The FCC has stated that “persons who knowingly release their phone numbers have in effect given their invitation or permission to be called at the number which they have given, absent instructions to the contrary.” [1992 TCPA Order ¶ 31]
Although it is unclear whether there a court has dealt directly with the issue of responding via text message to a cell phone number provided on a web site as a means to contact that cell phone subscriber, two recent cases in other similar contexts, have reiterated that “a consumer who voluntarily provides a cell phone number in the course of a transaction has given “prior express consent” under the Act to receive text messages from the entity to which the number was given.
In Baird v. Sabre, Inc., et al. [U.S. Dist. Ct. For So. Dist. CA, Case No. CV 13-999 SVW], the plaintiff had provided her cell phone number to an airline in booking a flight on the airline’s website. Subsequently, she received a text message from the defendant, the airline’s vendor, offering flight notification services. In Murphy v. DCI Biologicals Orlando, LLC, et al.[U.S. Dist. Ct. For Mid. Dist. FL, Case No. 12-cv-1459-Orl-36KRS], the plaintiff had provided his cell phone number to a blood collection center on a donor information sheet in connection with making a paid blood donation. He later received an initial text message from the defendant, a company with a controlling ownership interest in the center, notifying him that unless he replied to stop them, he would receive further text messages. After the plaintiff allegedly failed to reply, he received a second text message offering him a payment for another blood donation.
Both plaintiffs alleged that the text messages they received violated the TCPA provision that makes it unlawful to make autodialed or prerecorded non-emergency calls to a cell phone number unless the call is made with “the prior express consent of the called party.” In a 1992 order, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled that “persons who knowingly release their phone numbers have in effect given their invitation or permission to be called at the number which they have given, absent instructions to the contrary.” (emphasis added)
In ruling that the text messages did not violate the TCPA, both the California federal court in Baird and the Florida federal court in Murphy deferred to the FCC’s interpretation.
Both courts held that by voluntarily providing their cell phone numbers, the plaintiffs had given “express consent” to be contacted by the defendants on their cell phones. While the court in Baird observed that the defendant who sent the text message was a different company from the airline, it stated that “no reasonable consumer” could believe that consenting to be contacted by an airline about flight-related information did not extend such permission to a vendor for the airline.
In Murphy, the court also rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the defendants had violated the TCPA’s time-of-day and other restrictions on “telephone solicitations.” According to the court, because the text messages sought to buy something from the plaintiff rather than sell something to him, they did not constitute “solicitations” under the TCPA.
Since the text message at issue in Murphy was sent in July 2012, it was not subject to the change in the FCC’s rules that became effective on October 16, 2013, and requires prior express written consent for autodialed or prerecorded telemarketing calls to cell phone numbers. Such consent must be in an agreement that satisfies specified FCC requirements. Although the text message at issue in Baird also would not have been subject to the new FCC rules because it was sent in January 2013, the rules change does not affect autodialed or prerecorded “informational” non-sales calls to cell phone numbers such as the Baird text message. Such calls can still be made with only the consumer’s “prior express consent,” which can be written or oral.
The Act was written to place certain restrictions on telemarketing calls and text messages. The Act exempts telemarketing calls and text messages placed to wireless phones using an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS) and for artificial or prerecorded voice messages where the recipient has given “prior express consent.” Two recent cases have also held that where text messages are sent to recipients for purposes of buying something form, rather than selling something to the recipient, such text messages are not “solicitations” restricted by the Act.
Before conducting an Internet or mobile marketing campaign, make sure to talk to an experienced Internet marketing lawyer. Adler Law Group is here to help.