Affiliate Marketing

Thoughts on Adwords’ Slaps, Bans, & Recovery

12 Comments Written on March 23rd, 2011 by
Categories: Affiliate Marketing, Google Adwords

There are reports lately of a fresh round of “Google Slaps” going around.  It seems like this happens every six months or so, usually in waves.  I’ve heard of quite a few of the latest slaps being tied to accounts that were promoting “counterfeit” goods and knock-offs of designer products and the like.

The following are some of my general thoughts and observations on Google “slaps” and “bans”.

The Difference Between a “Slap” and a Ban

When you hear the term “Google Slap” it’s usually in reference to all of your keywords being “slapped” with a 1/10 Quality Score.  You’ll notice this is a blanket penalty across all keywords that are promoted by one or more domain names within your account.  You won’t see just one or two keywords slapped with a 1/10, with other keywords staying the same at 7/10 or the like for a given domain name.  It’s all or none.

A “ban”, or as Google prefers to call it, having your account “disabled”, is different than a “slap”.  Often, a slap will happen in advance of a complete account ban, with one or more “slaps” culminating in a permanent ban.  Consider a “slap” to be a warning of sorts, and a ban effectively means you’re done with Adwords.  Bans can stretch out to encompass any and all additional Adwords accounts tied to you personally.

When the original group of account bans started going out in the fall of 2009, Google said on their quarterly earnings call that over 30,000 Adwords accounts were ‘disabled’. That was 2009.  Since then the bans have kept rolling, with reports indicating that over 50,000 Adwords accounts have been recently disabled for promoting counterfeit goods.

How does Google know what accounts are tied to you?  Believe me, they know. Everything from IP address triangulation to Google Accounts (Gmail IDs) that have touched a common set of accounts can give you up.   If one of your accounts is disabled, you can safely expect that unless you’ve been phenomenally paranoid and careful in disassociating your accounts from one another, your other accounts will soon be toast.  (If you don’t know what’s required to do this and you have multiple accounts, it’s probably too late.)

Adwords Bans:  Your Past Sins Have Come Back to Haunt You

“My site is totally compliant with the Adwords quality guidelines, and I STILL got banned!”  One of the biggest mysteries to those who have their accounts ‘disabled’ is why it’s happened to them when the site they’re currently promoting is as “white a snow” according to Google’s Adwords quality guidelines.  This might not just be their perception either, their site might indeed be 100% compliant (until Google decides to change the guidelines again of course).

So why are they being disabled?

The most common reason is not what they’re promoting now, it’s what they’ve promoted in the past.

Why would Google hold that against them?  It’s probably because of the way affiliates used to ‘churn and burn’ domains they were promoting in years gone by.  When Google slapped a domain in their account, they just grabbed a new domain, copied and pasted the old Adwords campaign into a new one (using the new domain this time), and started rolling again, with in Google’s view, zero effort to ‘fix’ what Google was objecting to on the old domain.

Google wasn’t stupid, they knew this “loophole” worked, I’m sure it didn’t help when advertisers were advising each other to ‘just grab a new domain and go’ on the Google-monitored WebmasterWorld forums, not to mention the in-house Google Adwords support forums. (Always reminds me of the “Don’t make Google look stupid” advice).

To get around this “loophole” Google now disables accounts that haven’t ‘fixed up’ the sites that were slapped in the past.  It squashes the ‘get a new domain and reload’ tactic quite effectively.  The only problem however was that it took Adwords support a while to let disabled advertisers know that it was sites they’re no longer even promoting that were at fault for their account getting whacked.

Over time however, Google has been more forthcoming with detailed ban reasons in their ‘farewell’ emails to advertisers, even letting them know what it was about that old site you’re no longer promoting that they didn’t like.  That’s little consolation however when you’re being permanently banned anyway.

You Can’t “Fix” a Site You No Longer Have

Lately, Google has been slapping old domains with 1/10′s and sending warning emails to advertisers letting them know what they’re unhappy about on ANY domain in your Adwords account (deleted, paused, or active).  If you’re lucky, you’re often given a certain number of days to update your site to comply with whatever changes they’re requesting.

BTW: Here’s a Pro Tip:  Nothing in Adwords accounts is ever really “Deleted”, it’s just in a deeper state of “Paused” essentially. So when you think you’re golden because you’ve “deleted” that old campaign on the offending domain, you’re still wrong as far as Google is concerned, the site is still very much “alive” to them.

But what if the site Google is mad about wasn’t even “yours” to begin with?  The most common example of this is affiliate campaigns where you were ‘direct-linking’ to a vendor’s site via your affiliate link, not even promoting the offer on a site or domain you control.  So far the answer from Google to this objection is “not our problem, get it fixed or you’re done”.  Good luck with that.  NOTE: If anyone has had an answer from Google about this scenario, please note it in the comments, I haven’t personally heard of one as yet.  As a result you have to be VERY careful who you direct link to via your destination URLs.

What if the site you used to promote was sold, expired, or you simply don’t have access to anymore?  Looks like the answer from Google is pretty much the same, “that’s your problem”.

You might have guessed at this point that Google may not genuinely care if you’re able to ‘fix’ an old site or not to make it compliant, they’re just telling you how things are, and whether you’re able to actually DO anything about it or not is your problem.  As a result, even with a ban warning email with specific remedial steps to carry out, you’re possibly still going to be permanently dumped.

Can’t I Just Close My Adwords Account & Start Over?

This is a pretty common question:  If an old Adwords account is “tainted” by old campaigns and sites you can’t possibly fix anyway, isn’t it better to “close” your Adwords account while it’s still breathing and open a new one?

Short answer: You can try, but go back and read the part above that explains that “nothing is ever really ‘deleted’ in Google’s systems”.  This applies to entire accounts as well. (The folks at Facebook learned this from Google and never really “delete” your Facebook account either, it just lies in wait for you to break down and open it again, ‘reactivating’ it.)

The end result is here is that ‘deleting’ your Adwords account and opening a new one will most likely lead to Google just following your Gmail ID, IP, credit card number, Google analytics ID, Google Docs ID, or some other data point to tie your new account to the old one.  The ‘curse’ follows you to the new account, which will then be a fresh candidate for a ban.  Fun Times.

So What CAN You Do?

Death sentences are rarely overturned when you’re strapped to the electric chair.  The chances of reversal are not good at all, but here’s some things that have worked in the past:

Slaps:

  • As QS slaps often happen without warning or explanation emails from Google, if you notice a domain in  your account (old, paused, deleted, OR active), take a close look at it through the filter of Google’s LATEST ad quality guidelines.  If you notice something obvious (no privacy policy, wouldn’t comply with the new FTC guidelines, no Terms & Conditions clearly marked etc…) fix it ASAP.  Yes it sucks to have to go back and drag old sites you’re no longer using into compliance with the latest guidelines, but it may be your only option if a ban is waiting around the corner.  The onus is on you to keep an eye on the quality score of old campaigns and domains (quickest way is via Adwords Editor).
  • Pro Tip #2: If it’s a site other than your currently-promoted site that suddenly gets a 1/10 slap, you may want to avoid reaching out to Google support to share what you’ve updated and changed on your old site to make it compliant.  New support inquiries can bring new scrutiny on your existing site that you may not really want.  Use your best judgement when deciding to contact Google for anything to do with site reviews.
  • If your currently-promoted site has been slapped with 1/10, submit a support ticket asking for “specific things that you can do to make your site compliant with Google’s current ad quality guidelines”.  DON’T bitch them out explaining why your site shouldn’t have been slapped in the first place, why you’re ‘a long time advertiser and shouldn’t be treated this way’, or argue at all. The bottom line is that they are a monopoly and Larry Page doesn’t believe in customer service. What they say goes. If they think you’re not compliant, that’s all that matters.  If you get bitchy you’re email will go straight to the trash.  It’s obvious that they think something’s not right per their current guidelines, just ask them politely what that might be.
  • Lately, they will usually get back to you with details about the issue: don’t argue about the validity of what they’re asking for.  Just fix it and move on.

Bans (“Account Disabling”):

  • Sacrifice a chicken to the Google gods and then send an email begging for a second chance to make your sites compliant.  If there’s an “appeal” request path offered in the disabling notice, use it.  If not, and Google tells you not to contact them anymore, Google’s system will usually just trash your manual appeal request.
  • If you’re told not to contact them again, you can try sending the most contrite email you’ve ever composed to ‘lpq-support at google.com’, which goes to the ads quality review team at Google.  If your chicken offering has been successful, (again requesting specifics on how you might better comply with Current ad quality guidelines) you may get a second chance.
  • Other than that, enjoy your new-found interest in advertising on Bing.

Note: There are more tips on how to handle these situations in our PPCblog member’s area.  Join now and take advantage of our New Member Promo!

 

 

Did Google Just OK Adwords Arbitrage Again?

I feel like I’m in some kind of dream.

I don’t know how I missed it, but this was posted on the Google Adwords blog just last week:

Using Google Adsense to Complement Your Adwords Account

The post asks how, “since not every visit leads to a sale, wouldn’t it be great to have other ways of making money from those visits?”

Their suggested answer to this conundrum? Put Adsense on your site.

What?

The post continues:

“DesignerApparel.com is an AdWords and AdSense client that has had great success using these two products together. DesignerApparel.com offers premium designer clothes at affordable prices. They implemented AdSense for Content and AdSense for Search and specifically targeted certain pages within their site.”

The “CEO”/Webmaster guy then says, (get this):

“We have come to think of AdSense revenue as a partial but instant rebate on our AdWords investment,” said Dominic Ang, President of MyPerfectSale.com, the owner of DesignerApparel.com. “While we were initially concerned about potential cannibalization, we have found out that using certain spots for AdSense such as the end of a page or in exit pages can drive significant additional revenue with no loss in our core e-commerce revenue.”

You view it as what? “A rebate on your Adwords” clicks?”

But wait – It gets even better…  What kind of site is “DesignerApparel.com”?

It’s a…wait for it….thin affiliate feed site. At least “DecorMyEyes.com” actually sold the products they promoted…

Go to this page on DesignerApparel.com and check out what happens when you click on a product in their “store”.

The entire site is an affiliate ‘doorway’ page to other shops.  A year ago you would have been banished for life from Adwords for promoting a site like this via Google Ads.

Now, not only can you run ads to a door way like this, you can even run Adsense on it and arbitrage your “rebate” on Adwords clicks – And Google is SUGGESTING THAT YOU GO OUT AND DO IT!

In fairness, it doesn’t say they run Adsense ads on their individual Adwords landing pages however it doesn’t say they don’t. Again, I feel like I’m dreaming.  After several years of painfully culling the accounts of arbitragers, affiliates, and price/review aggregators, we have this?  Really?

Maybe now that Google has an affiliate network and their own in-house thin affiliate feed sites (shamelessly ripping off ShoeDazzle’s innovative style configurator), they’re ready to ease up a bit on their guidelines.

It looks like it’s ‘game-on’ again for arbitrage, they just blessed it.

Double Serve Google Ads Like a Boss

When I grow up I want to be a big brand.  You can double-serve Adwords ads to multiple domains and likely get away with techniques smaller advertisers would get insta-banned for:

Even if you eventually get caught double-serving ads, just blame it on your various agencies’ not properly communicating with each other in scheduling campaigns.

But hmmmm: they might just be onto something here if you’re a big-swinging brand: Double-dip your Adwords placements by directing traffic to your Facebook fan page as well.

There you can pitch whatever like and maybe even generate more direct sales than your generalized e-commerce ads:

The Facebook.com domain likely has a nice landing page quality rating, so no need to worry about using it as a bridge…

If you’re a small advertiser trying something like this, enjoy your “account disabled” email from Google.

Leveraging New Keywords & Search Trends for Profit

5 Comments Written on July 8th, 2010 by
Categories: Affiliate Marketing, Keyword Research

Let’s look at a couple of useful tools for predicting fast-growing, lucrative PPC opportunities: Google Insights For Search, and Google Hot Trends.

Insights For Search

Google Insights For Search is a tool that shows you the approximate volume of searches over time. For example, here’s an Insight graph on the term “Halloween”.

As you can see, interest in Halloween is flat for most of the year, except in October, when searches suddenly spike as the celebration draws near. You can use past historical data to plan your PPC campaigns to coincide with the time when most searcher activity is focused on your niche. Whilst Halloween is an extreme example, these trends can be used in a number of ways.

One of the most lucrative ways to use Insight is to find quickly rising areas of interest. Like a bullish stockmarket graph that starts low and heads upward indicates a hot stock, the Insight graph for a hot keyword area is worth spotting early.

Look at the graph for the iphone4, or the ipad. If you can spot fast rising niches before others, by looking for sudden spikes of activity, you stand to benefit from low cost advertising and huge traffic, at least for a while.

How do you find such fast-rising graphs?

Take a look at the bottom right hand corner of the Insight result page. You’ll see a section marked “rising searches”. This section is great for spotting very fast rising trends and breakout terms relating to the keyword term you searched on. Plug these terms into your keyword tools and look for similar associations. Also research trend watching sites, consumer news sites, and newsfeeds for fresh ideas.

Another opportunity is to keep a note of news events relating to your keyword area. You can often spot these in the news headlines appended to the end of the graph.

For example, the term “double dip” – a term relating to a another potential fall in the stockmarket – is a breakout term at the moment. Terms closely related to “double dip” are also all in breakout. If you offered financial services - say stockmarket tutorials – you could advertise against such terms, and rake in the traffic. It’s unlikely you’d stumble across such terms using conventional keyword research tools.

You can also segment by country and region. If you spend a lot of time marketing in one country, you may not be aware that terminology can differ in other countries. This tool is very useful for adapting PPC campaigns to different markets.

Conversely, you can also look at declining searches. If you’re noticing declining performance in some of your campaigns, it might have nothing to do with you. The topic as a whole might show declining interest. The question then becomes: where is that interest moving to!

Google Hot Trends

Google Hot Trends is another tool to help you find rising trends, and compare one trend against another.

For example, say you promoted a celebrity site, and wanted to know which celebrities to focus your marketing around. Here’s a chart plotting the relative interest in Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Justin Bieber.

You can also look for fast trending websites. This is especially useful if you’re using the content network. By targeting fast growing sites, you gain further opportunity to put yourself in front of your audience. Again, this data might be hard to spot otherwise.

Hot Topics can be used as starting points for keyword research. Plug the Hot Topics lists into the Google Wonder Wheel to get some out-of-the-box results in terms of topic associations.

Hot Searches plots the latest hot search keywords. It’s a shame Google doesn’t offer more depth in the hot search categories. Given they only provide 20 for each day, you end up with a lot of US centric celebrity results.

Tying it All Together

Say you are not selling what is hot, how is any of this relevant to you?

Well, if your offer is broad enough (in terms of potential audience) then relevancy (and to some degree, endorsement) can be borrowed from popular people and trending topics in the news.

  • Get Acai – as recommended by Oprah.
  • Submit your information so we know where to mail your free iPad
  • Free Kanye West ringtones* of his not new song (*except not really, as your credit card will get hit for $19.99 every month until you notice)
  • etc.

A lot of affiliates operate wherever there is change in the market because the new market has not yet become efficient enough to drive them out of it. Of course you don’t have to promote the scammiest affiliate offers to make money, but you can still apply some of the same concepts & techniques to other sites in a legitimate way. Some examples:

  • Find a celebrity who endorses your product and include that in the sales copy. Maybe even create the product / service / website by building it around a co-branded strategy. Demand Media has done this with Lance Armstrong and Tyra Banks.
  • Offer a free download or white paper.
  • Be the first to review new products in your market & get some of your new products into the hands of well networked people who have loved them in the past.
  • If you own a trusted brand and give away some iPads then you should be able to come up with some promotional angle where you break even or make money on the exposure. Such strategies can be used for list building, link building, gaining awareness for a new website/product/service, etc. And you can do niche offers in niche markets.

A lot of trends can be seen in advance every year. Next year there will be another Halloween. Is there a way you can incorporate it into your marketing strategy? Other trends also lift up every year seasonally. Looking at past performance gives you a good idea of when it will become popular next year.

Fascinating New Adwords Placement Test

Google announced on their LatLong (Maps) blog today that they’re experimenting with placing pricing for hotels directly next to the hotel listings in Google Maps.

At first glance, it looked like another Google-internal affiliate marketing initiative, but it’s actually quite clever.

Here’s the official sample screenshot – Look closely at the price listing drop-down box in Adwords yellow:

hotelad

If nothing else, it’s an innovative way to roll in Adwords results directly into the organic SERPs.

Paid Placement With a Twist

Interestingly, Google’s post points out explicitly that these listings are not traditional paid placements:

This new feature will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors, regardless of whether there is an associated price.

So the blur between paid and organic continues it’s inevitable march forward.

It’s also of note that Google has chosen affiliate sites like Expedia and Priceline as their preferred advertiser testing partners for this experiment, not the hotels themselves…

It will be interesting to see how this progresses, and what other verticals it shows up in.

The Ultimate Guide to PPC Affiliate Marketing

36 Comments Written on February 16th, 2010 by
Categories: Affiliate Marketing

You may have come across get-rich-quick books telling you how you can make a fortune in affiliate marketing. Hand over $97, and you’ll get “the secrets”.

We’ve decided to give you “the secrets”, and charge you $0 instead. We’re good like that :)

This article is aimed at those who are new to affiliate marketing with PPC.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a sales process.

Like a salesperson working on commission, the affiliate marketer links a prospect with a merchant and receives a commission if the prospect takes a desired action. This typically involves buying something.

The attraction for the affiliate is that they can focus entirely on marketing. Unlike the merchant, the affiliate doesn’t need to hold stock, handle orders, or deal with customer issues and complaints.

Many affiliates are attracted to PPC because it is a channel that allows people to start selling immediately. Set up a few ad groups, direct visitors to the merchant site, and watch the cash roll in.

Sounds easy, right?

Most Affiliate Marketers Don’t Make Money

It’s not as easy as some people, particularly those selling get rich quick schemes, like to make out. Even some of the better affiliate blogs tend to make it sound easier than it is (because they want you to sign up for lots of tools and networks so they get commissions). It is probably one of the hardest markets to get good information in because the answer to every question is on the other side of an affiliate link. Literally. :)

Whilst it is true that top affiliates make a lot of money, there are very few top affiliates. The top affiliates don’t just earn a little more that those people further down the curve, they earn a lot more. The curve falls away very quickly in terms of income.

Why does this happen? Why do most people fail to make money at affiliate marketing, and some people make so much? How can you ensure you succeed where others fail?

How To Do Well At Affiliate Marketing Using PPC

Affiliate marketing requires two key pieces of know-how.

  • Step One: Develop a sound knowledge of PPC technique
  • Step Two: Develop a sound knowledge of the market you’re targeting

If you’re new to PPC, then it is a good idea to split these tasks up. It will make it much easier to isolate and fix problems i.e problems relating to execution, as opposed to your choice of market, and vice-versa.

Step One: Develop A Sound Knowledge Of PPC Technique

Focus on learning these skills:

  • 1. How to use your chosen PPC system
  • 2. Keyword research
  • 3. How to write effective PPC Ads
  • 4. How to construct effective landing pages and sites

How To Use Your Chosen PPC System

For this article, we’ll focus on Google Adwords, the most popular PPC network. Most PPC systems work in a similar way.

If you haven’t already done so, sign up for a Google Adwords account here.

Next, go through the process of becoming Adwords Certified. Even if you don’t need the certification badge, the training process to certification level is excellent.

Best of all, it is free (well everything but the test).

Here is the tricky part: Google is saturated with competition and Google hates most affiliates, so it is typically easier to make money as an affiliate on other ad networks (like Bing or FaceBook).

And even when successful with Google, affiliates tend to have better luck on contextual/AdSense ads than with ads on the search results/AdWords. The Google content network is not policed as heavily (largely because brand advertisers don’t understand it & Google has to show something) AND it is much harder for competitors to clone your campaigns than with search targeted ads.

Keyword Research

Much has been written about keyword research, so rather than re-invent the wheel, here are five top instructional pieces that tell you what you need to know.

You want the quick summary? Put together lists of keywords your prospective audience is likely to use to find your product and service and place them in small, tightly focused ad-groups.

A few more tips:

Pay close attention to the type of query. For example, some queries indicate a person is ready to buy i.e. coupon searches and shipping options queries. Check out this article on the Three types of searches

This is one of the most important points concerning affiliate keyword research. Not all terms relating to your product or service are equal.

For example, you can’t tell much about visitor intent if the keyword is “Paris Hilton”, however “Paris Hilton watches” hints at an intent to purchase, as it directly relates to a product.

Look for keyword terms that reveal an intent to purchase.

How To write effective PPC Ads

Study headlines in magazines and newspapers. Headlines are hooks that entice people to read further, which is exactly what you want people to do when they see your ads.

  • Offer a clear call to action and make the offer compelling.
  • The landing page must closely match the offer in your ad and use similar words and phrases.
  • Differentiate your offer from those of your competitors.
  • Use keywords in Your Ads.
  • Try to use a URL that contains the keyword.
  • Use capital letters in your ad title, and, where permitted, in your ad text. They stand out more.
  • Use an active verb in the title, where possible.

A deeper look into writing effective ads can be found in the members area at SEOBook.com.

How To Build Effective Landing Pages And Sites

Landing pages need to get the message across quickly and effectively.

  • Steal :) Well, not really. Take a look at the top advertisers landing pages. Pay close attention to how the pages are laid out, the wording they use, and how they are presenting the offer. Can you go one better?
  • Remove clutter. If you offer choices, people will get confused. Figure out the one thing you need to say, and stick to it. If you say three things, you say nothing.
  • Bullet lists, headings, subheadings, testimonials, pictures are all good. It’s easy for the eye to scan the information. A big block of dense text, less so
  • Reinforce the idea that visitors have found the right page. Place the words they searched for in large text at the top of the page. This confirms to the searcher they have found what they were looking for

Here are some great landing page resources.

Are you having trouble writing effective landing pages? There’s a book every affiliate marketing should read called “Tested Advertising Methods“. It’s a direct marketing bible about writing sales copy written in the 1930s. It looks at the psychology behind direct response advertising which is still valid today, even if most of the examples are rather outdated.

Part Two: Develop A Sound Knowledge Of The Market You’re Targeting

Understanding The Market

You may have already tried your hand at affiliate marketing using PPC. Were you frustrated by few sales? Did you run well-researched keyword campaigns that you then turned off in order to stop hemorrhaging money?

These are common experiences.

The main skill that separates good affiliate marketers from poor ones is the ability to understand and test a market.

How To Test A Market

Whilst there is a lot of trial and error involved in understanding a market, the good news is that you don’t need to understand all these aspects before you start. By doing, you’ll see things you’ll never see by standing back.

Treat your first few weeks as a training period. Accept that this training period will likely cost you money in the form of bids – but you are buying data cheaply. It need not cost you much, and you may well make a profit, but try not to put pressure on yourself to achieve this goal during the training period. Your first goal is to understand the tool and the PPC environment.

Did you know that a lot of affiliate marketers aim to break even on new campaigns?

Yes, you read that right – break even!

By breaking even, it signals that the area being targeted has potential. Affiliates then refine campaigns until they move from break even to profit. Chances are if a merchant is paying $50 per lead, they know that is costs around $50 for you to get that lead, too.

When choosing a product or service to trial whilst you are learning, look for low payouts – say, $3. Why? It’s far cheaper to make mistakes! Remember, the merchant is signaling that they think they can get the lead for around $3 if they did it themselves.

Your aim is to break even at $3. If you go over – say to $9 – without getting a conversion, you haven’t blown too much money. The same cannot be said if you were targeting a lead that pays out $100!

If you spend $50 on a $3 dollar per lead pay out and have a cost per conversion of $5, you can pause the campaign and examine what went wrong. Were you getting click-thrus, but losing people at the landing page? Your landing page and offer needs work.

Were you receiving few click-thrus? Refine your bidding and ad text. Re-nenable the campaign.

This time around, you may get down to $4 before you get a conversion. Refine, then re-enable.

Down to $3 yet? Great! You’re at break even, and you’ve still spent less than $100 testing a market. Get down below that $3 and you’re making money.

If you can’t get down to break even, even after a lot of tweaking, quit and move on. The market for that product might be so saturated that the margins are virtually non-existent.

Look for sweet spots – areas in which it is easy to break even, and then refine into profit quickly.

Market Knowledge

How well do you know the market for the service or product you are marketing?

Who is the buyer? What are their needs? Why are they buying over the internet rather than from a store? Why are they seeking out an unknown site as opposed to going to a big internet retailer, like Amazon?

These may seem like obvious questions, but the reality is that not everything sells well over the internet.

Any product or service that requires a high level of trust, or high levels of “touch” – a car, for example – will be difficult to sell online. Look through direct marketing trade journals and catalogs for clues. What types of products are services are selling well via mail order? What services and products are telemarketers selling? Chances are these products and services will sell well on the internet, too.

Put yourself in the position of the buyer. What would make you buy from a previously unknown web site? Typically it’s due to reasons such as convenience and scarcity. If your chosen merchant doesn’t meet the criteria, then pass and move onto another who does. If a merchant offers something a buyer can easily get elsewhere, then you’ll be exposed to a great deal of competition.

But Aren’t I Too Late To Do Well At PPC?

You may hear stories about how the market was back in, say, 1999, or 2003, or 2005. Low hanging fruit was everywhere, and the Adwords system -introduced in 2000 and heavily revised in 2002- didn’t have a lot of the complexity and bid competition wasn’t what it is now. People were making a lot of money relatively easily.

Whilst things have changed, it’s never too late to start.

Why?

New opportunities pop-up every day. New markets are emerging continuously. People are heading online to solve more of their problems. Whilst there are problems to be solved, there is money to made.

How do you find new, emerging markets? Top converting offers on affiliate networks and affiliate managers tell you what is working.

Further, Google Trends is a useful tool for predicting rising interest in keyword areas. Google Insights For Search allows you to drill down into the data, including by date, by region, by category and by source.

Microsoft Ad Intelligence and Google Adwords provide seasonal trends.

Paid research tools, such as Keyword Discovery, provide historical data, as do Compete.com and WikiRank.

For a longer article on trend spotting, check out How To Spot Keyword Trends.

The internet is still a baby taking its first steps. PPC is even younger.

Jump in :)

The Importance Of Google’s Rater Document

Google employs teams of quality raters. A quality raters job is to manually review search engine result sets and web sites to ensure the algorithms are selecting the sites Google favors.

Obviously, it pays to have a site that Google favors.

The Google quality raters follow guidelines provided by Google. These secretive guidelines have sometimes found their way onto the web.

Of particular interest to affiliates is Google’s stated dislike of thin affiliate sites. Thin affiliate sites are sites sites that offer no value to the searcher, other than providing another “door” for the merchant site. These types of sites typically replicate the catalog of the merchant site.

Google regards these sites as spam.

From the quality rater document:

State your reason for assigning “Spam”, “Maybe Spam”, and “Malicious” flags. For example,
- Sneaky redirect to eBay
- Amazon thin affiliate”

“Major cosmopolitan cities are preferred targets for spammers, especially hotel affiliates. Such results should be labeled as Spam, even if they have relevance to the query – e.g. a hotel affiliate page with a list of Chicago hotels may be Relevant”.

Whilst this criteria applies mostly to SEO pages, a similar Google philosophy applies to PPC. Google doesn’t want identical, low value PPC pages and will punish them.

To get around this problem, beef up the value of your page and/or site to the user. Provide context and extra information. For example, you could offer side-by-side product reviews.

Become “fat”.

The quality rater document offers the following specific suggestions:

Pages should generally not be marked Spam if they provide added value. Added value refers to original or other useful content on the page, regardless of whether there are PPC ads. Examples of content that provides added value include:

  • Price comparison functionality: Even though the user has to go to another site via the affiliate link to place
    an order, there is value to have price comparisons right there on the page.
  • Product reviews: Pages that provide original reviews offer added value. Items that are commonly reviewed are books, electronics, and hotels.
  • Recipes: Pages that provide recipes offer added value.
  • Lyrics and quotes: Pages that display lyrics or quotes offer added value.
  • Contact information: Pages that provide contact information, especially physical addresses and phone numbers, offer added value.
  • Coupon, discount, and promotion codes: Affiliate pages that provide coupon, promotion, or discount codes for the consumer offer added value.

The Downsides Of Direct Linking And Campaign Cloning

Direct linking is when you place Adwords with links directly to the supplier site. A lot of get-rich-quick schemes recommend you take this approach, because it is “easy”.

You can make a KILLING on the web WITHOUT a website today!!!!!!!!! Wow. Buy my super insider secrets to automated eternal wealth generation system program now.

It’s only easy to set-up. It isn’t easy to execute well.

Direct linking is when the visitor clicks on the ad, is passed through to the sellers site, and if the visitor buys something, or takes a desired action, you receive a commission or payment.

This type of affiliate marketing was common when Adwords started, but Google makes this approach difficult by means of their quality score and internal editorial reviews.

The Google quality score is a metric assigned to each of your keywords. It is calculated using a variety of factors and measures how relevant your keyword is to your ad group and to a user’s search query.

People are still using direct linking, but it’s a hard road battling both established competitors and Google using this approach.

Direct linking campaigns are very easy to clone. Want to see which keywords your competitors are bidding on? Tools such as SEMRush and KeywordSpy reveal competitors bidding patterns.

Some unscrupulous affiliate networks could also steal your data to clone your campaigns. This is particularly true for the affiliate networks that push scams. If their entire business model is based on scamming people with hidden prices, rebilling fraud, and such then why would they treat you any differently?

Check out this illuminating interview in which Jeremy Schoemaker (aka Shoemoney) talks about campaign cloning:

Many affiliate networks are known for spying on their affiliates and cloning their accounts. How do you prevent that from happening?

There is nothing you can do to prevent it. I have seen it happen with my accounts a lot… the funny thing is they still can’t do what I do…. even with all the data right in front of their face. I have had affiliate managers tell me they cloned my exact keyword campaign on Google adwords with same adcopy and everything and got 1/2 the earnings per click.

In the affiliate game lots of people clone each other’s work, causing returns to race toward 0. What do you differently that allows you to see success after success with affiliate marketing?

Great follow up and glad you asked it since I almost went into this in the previous question.

First and formost testing. We spend 10-30k a day on ppc networks (and have for a long time). This testing gives you an education that you need to make it work. I can honestly give you my exact landing page and keywords/adcopy for something that is working for me right now and guarentee you can’t make it work. You don’t know what targeting we are doing… what kind of day parting… etc etc. Its not like it was 7 years ago.

This is why a lot of people are so bitter on forums. They spent a full day copying everybody elses shit and cant make it work so they whine. They dont want to actually do any real work testing stuff on their own or being creative.

It is NEVER a good idea to give your keyword data to affiliate networks. They are higher on the revenue chain than you are and have fatter profit margins, thus they can bid you out of the market. Some tools like Prosper202 allow you to host your own data.

Cost Per Action

Cost per action is when you receive a payment if a visitor takes a specific action i.e. filling out a contact form. CPA is popular because the affiliate doesn’t have to close the deal with a sale.

The problem with CPA offers is that the good ones are tightly controlled and may disappear at any time, and without notice. If a visitor only has to fill out a form, as opposed to hand over a credit card, there is plenty of scope for abuse in the form of junk leads.

Merchants aren’t stupid. When this happens, they will either cut the payout, or more likely pull the offer and work only with a small group of trusted affiliates who have demonstrated they can deliver quality leads.

In addition, some (perhaps most?) of these offers (particularly in weight loss, health, and fitness) are usually for something where the person unknowingly gets billed to their phone, or gets a free trial with a recurring subscription, etc. And eventually the FTC or other organizations step in and close down the offers.

One of the more interesting approaches to pushing legitimate CPA offers was mentioned by ShoeMoney in this interview, where he mentioned how he created a Nebraska Cornhuskers quiz where people who got a high enough score “won” a free trial to Netflix (available through his affiliate link). :)

Selecting Merchants

You can sign up at major affiliate networks, such as Google Affiliate Network, PepperJam and Commission Junction. Or you can scout out individual merchants by typing “[keyword] + affiliate program” (in this case: loans) into a search engine.

One of the biggest problems with affiliate marketing is the low barrier to entry. Because it is easy for anyone to sign up, then the level of competition can be huge, especially if you’re using the same big affiliate networks as everyone else.

All sounds too hard?

Well, that’s a good thing! Because if something is hard to do, it means most people won’t put the effort in that is required to succeed. The difficulty creates a barrier to your competition, too. The winners overcome that barrier to reach the other side. I recommend reading The Dip, by Seth Godin, for a good analysis of this point.

Evaluate the seller as you would any supplier you buy from. What is their position in the market? Is their offering competitive? Would you buy from them? Is their offer compelling and do they execute well? You can tell a lot of this information by looking at their website. And if you buy + test out the product you will have knowledge that 99% of lazy affiliates do not, yielding a real competitive advantage.

If the seller doesn’t look that great, skip them. They aren’t worth your time. There’s not much point advertising a high payout percentage if their offer isn’t competitive.

Affiliate nirvana is when you find a great company that has few other affiliates.

How do you find such companies?

Plenty of these companies exist, but they may not be aware of affiliate marketing, or even internet marketing. They may have a very limited web presence. Perhaps no one has ever approached them. One of the best ways to do this is to help market local businesses online.

If you know of such companies, or you can make an effort to seek them out, this puts you in an excellent position if you can sign them up to an exclusive or semi-exclusive deal. The strongest business case for an affiliate, by far, is this type of white label, exclusive arrangement.

Your protection is that no other affiliate can directly compete with you by offering the exact same products or services.

If the merchant ends the term, you retain the data and knowledge. You can then make similar offers to their competitors.

The next best thing is having a direct relationship with the merchant. Often, the affiliate network forms a barrier between the affiliate and the merchant. However, if you can get a contact at the merchant company, you’re in a better position to negotiate better deals.

Building An Audience

This approach requires the most upfront work, but it’s a model that can pay off well over time.

The affiliate builds a site that attracts a particular audience demographic. The affiliate then picks affiliate programs to suit that demographic.

Whilst this approach fits nicely with SEO, it can also work with PPC. You can use PPC to get visitors to sign up to the site, join your forum, or subscribe to your RSS or e-mail newsletter. Typically, you don’t aim to make a sale at this point as the payoff comes later. These visitors can attract more visitors, especially if you blend in viral marketing techniques i.e. make it easy for them to invite friends.

You may get to a point where you can attract the same audience the top affiliate PPC bidders attract, but at much lower cost as you don’t have to build a new audience each time. You sell different products to the same audience you already have.

Another problem affiliates face is that they do all the marketing work, but the merchant keeps the customer list.

This is why building an email list or a web site is a great approach. You can capture buyers details, as opposed to letting the visitor disappear once you’ve passed the prospect along to the merchant. Once you have these details, you can build up a buyer list that you can leverage to offer related goods and services at a later date.

Also remember that people often do not buy on the first visit, no matter how interested they are in the product or service. They may click through to the merchant – on your dime – then go off and do some price comparison, perhaps leaving their buying decision for a few days, forgot who they went to a few days earlier, and end up buying the product elsewhere.

This is why it is important to capture a prospects details. At least you retain something – the details of an interested buyer.

You can then use auto-responders to keep your name in front of the buyer. People often need to hear your name a number of times before they make a buying decision, especially on big ticket items.

Summary

Learn the PPC environment. Test and learn about the market. Run short, low-cost campaigns to start, and work your way up. Try to discover market trends early to avoid competition. Try to establish close contact with merchants. Try to keep as much visitor data and contact details as possible in order to sell at a later date if an immediate sale doesn’t occur. Make sure your site is adding value, in the true 2010 sense of the word!

This Thin Affiliate is STILL Killing it on AdWords

1 Comment » Written on January 9th, 2010 by
Categories: Affiliate Marketing, Google Adwords

Seth Godin mentioned it is easier to change with the market than it is to change the market:

Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean the market cares any longer.

It’s extremely difficult to repair the market.

It’s a lot easier to find a market that will respect and pay for the work you can do. Technology companies have been running this race for years. Now, all of us must.

With that in mind, Google long ago highlighted that they didn’t like certain advertising arbitrage business models. Last year they went one step further by releasing a video claiming how searchers are demanding more for advertisers.

One of the factors among many that will be key for marketers to be successful moving forward is that they’ll increasingly need to think about acting like a content creator, or thinking like a publisher is a way to think about it.

When you walk into a bookstore, a Borders, there’s 500, a thousand magazines on the shelf, and each of those publishers is thinking about not how to stop, shock, interrupt, or detract that reader. They’re are thinking about “what is that I can say in this moment that will be helpful content to a reader”.

The above such claims were, of course, nonsense. They are not what the marketplace demands, but are just a reflection of Google’s desire to sell more keywords and push advertisers toward buying more along the search cycle. But they have enough search marketshare that in the worst economic climate in nearly 100 years they can chose what money they want to take and what they leave on the table.

Thin affiliates are viewed (at best) as unneeded duplication in the marketplace, and (at worse) purveyors of scams and spreaders of fraudulent offers. Most of the affiliate market could be clean, but the 2% of the market operating at scale with shady practices did enough damage that Google would rather flush the business model than spend time sorting through it.

Perry Marshall tied in recent AdWords marketplace changes for affiliates to the above concept that it is easier to change with the market than it is to change the market:

As of today, in some categories, the number of advertisers has gone from 50 to 5. The land has been cleared for people who create original products. A lucrative opportunity for content creators.

But the only way you can survive as an affiliate on Google now is to have a website with a lot of great, original content, and an email list.

If you’re gonna do that…. you might as well have original products too :^>

It is nice to believe that we have Google’s power to change the market or that we can make the market like it once was, but profit is rarely (never?) created by wishing time goes backwards.

If you know how to do targeted advertising it is not hard to take that knowledge and create a niche vertical product around it. Lower margin and higher maintenance (at least off the start) than slinging bits, but over time as you build brand awareness, social connections, get marketplace feedback, and build organic traffic streams you enjoy margin expansion.

Oh, and that thin affiliate who is killing it on Google AdWords… well you already know who they are. Once you own a big slice of media, you can set the rules as you wish. :)

What Exactly Are You Marketing?

1 Comment » Written on June 28th, 2008 by
Categories: Affiliate Marketing

Do you think it’s possible to sell a product you don’t know about? I guess in the offline world, aggressive salespeople can get away with it but not in the attention starved Internet. It’s important to assume your website visitors as having an extremely short attention span. If they’re not happy with your site-design or if your headline is irrelevant to what they’re looking for, they will leave your site in a heartbeat.

This is why knowing your product plays an important role. If you sincerely understand the problem your product solves, you will understand the mentality and buying behaviors of your target market. You will then customize your landing pages including the headlines and content according to their needs. In addition,  familiarizing yourself with your products will help magnify your keyword list. Knowing your product will open doors and broaden your scope for promotion.