This month I"€™m pleased to interview Richard Kershaw who is an active affiliate who uses paid and organic search to drive sales through his clients"€™ affiliates programmes.
Q1. How do you see the balance between the importance of SEO and PPC focused affiliates changing in the future? (With merchants getting more refined in paid search and putting more attention into SEO plus the search engines apparently trying to exclude affiliates, will this make life too difficult for small-to-mid size affiliates?)
[Richard Kershaw]: As far as PPC is concerned, there"€™s a pincer movement between Google and merchants. The AdWords platform is getting more complex, while traffic prices are on the up thanks to increased competition, big brands with deep pockets and Google"€™s "€˜Quality Score"€™ updates.
Many merchants, meanwhile, are using closed PPC groups, introducing strict rules (eg, no direct to merchant traffic) or even banning PPC affiliates completely.
So the game is certainly changing for small affiliates. I know many experienced PPC affiliates who are looking to diversify with content sites, mailing lists, social media etc.
I think much of what is handled by solo PPC affiliates now will end up managed by a smaller number of super-affiliate companies or agencies in the coming years.
Q2. Having experienced many affiliate programmes from the affiliate / publisher side, what would you say are the biggest mistakes clients make in (mis)-managing their affiliate programmes?
[Richard Kershaw]: Poor communication ranks pretty high. Forgetting to announce site downtime, late payments, tracking problems "€“ affiliates need to know ASAP, just like in-house staff.
Misunderstanding the nature of affiliate marketing comes a close second. Last year, one electrical merchant was adding a 2.5% surcharge at checkout for affiliate traffic. Surprise, surprise, users chose not to pay extra, and bought elsewhere.
[Richard Kershaw]: How well do you think brands are protecting their brand search terms these days? Have most now wised up to their being exploited in the paid and natural listings?*
[Richard Kershaw]: The arguments for and against PPC brand bidding have been aired at length elsewhere. The question of ranking for brand terms on organic search results is a more interesting question.
I think the idea that brands are being exploited by affiliates ranking for brand names is misguided. Let"€™s compare Tesco.com with a major competitor, Ocado.
Google "€˜Tesco"€™, and they dominate the SERPs. Every one of the top 10 results is a site owned or controlled by Tesco, offering users top entry points to Tesco sites. Compare that with Ocado. Only three of top 10 results offer an entry point to Ocado sites.
Most big brands are not in a position to rank for every permutation of their brand name. Why not let affiliates provide the backfill?
Q4. What new opportunities do social media sites give for affiliate marketing? Or are they mostly over-hyped?
[Richard Kershaw]: The social media naysayers remind me of people who compared the internet to CB radio. The question "€œis social media all hype"€ is verifiably false, since social media sites are already driving a stack of traffic. Any competent marketer ought to be considering how best to use that to gain a competitive advantage.
The rules are wildly different from "€˜traditional"€™ marketing and you can count on old ideas falling flat. Will customers watch your tired TV ads on YouTube? Forget it. Will they watch a 90 second video of a gorilla playing drums to Phil Collins? Ask Cadbury. Their ad has had several million views on YouTube and spawned a string of remixes and pastiches.
The bottom line, as ever, is evolve or die.
For an affiliate case study, one of my current projects had 55,000 visits in the second week of October from a few big US social media sites. I"€™d never even heard of some of the major referrers, yet these niche sites send serious traffic. The visitors weren"€™t buyers, but the exercise generated dozens of quality backlinks for organic SEO, not to mention huge exposure to help establish a new site.
*Q5. You call your company Quality Nonsense "€“ why? It does seem to sum up a lot of online marketing?*
[Richard Kershaw]: The name was an in-joke in an old job. Try explaining what working as a PPC affiliate involves to elderly family members!