Moderated by Jon Kelly
We are live blogging this session from Salon D @ the Las Vegas Convention Center, PubCon 2008. PPC and affiliate marketing make amazing bedfellows, but present a number of classic challenges. This session presented "issues" facing campaign managers and affiliates from both points of view.
Adam Jewell, Search Engine Marketing Specialist, NetPlus Marketing Inc. calls his .ppt deck, "How to Work In Harmony With Your affiliates." He is talking about making campaigns as relevant as possible to create a really "nice conversation." The website's goal is singular: to make as much money as possible. The affiliate and merchants' needs converge in this respect.
Is your paid search program really that good?
Is the cost of marketing from PPC less than your affiliate program? Try moving dollars around. Do you have a traditional agency that puts up a few keywords and calls it a day? Test an affiliate network. [Marty note: and tell your agency to grow up!] Is the emphasis of your PPC program on managing bids or selling more stuff? Try thinking from the users's perspective and fix the site. Do you use different match types? Grow, be better...Do you have regulatory issues that dictate specific ad copy must be used? Do you have a strong brand? How in touch is your affiliate/merchant relationship with realities of these issues?
Why Affiliate Marketing
Because the economy is "in the tank," virtually everyone is concerned and cutting back on spending. Your budget may get cut. That said, it's hard to find talented and affordable search talent. Vendors understand that affiliate marketing can be a great way to get good search talent at a reasonable cost. You need to be able to trust affiliates and know that they adhere to bidding rules on brand terms and any restrictions on 3rd party terms. Focus should not be solely on bid management or creating a conversation with your customers.
As a merchant, stay tuned to the perspective of the affiliate: There's time and money to put in up front and no guaranteed payoff. The affiliate wants to be reasonably sure it will be a profitable endeavor. Affiliates are looking for consistency so, as a merchant, watch out for fast or frequent changes in program terms (lowering payout percentage, major site redesigns, change in cookie length) because they can cause problems. Both merchant and affiliate alike are invested in the ability of the site to convert traffic. Ask if consumers easily find exactly what they seek?
High return rates can be OK, so long as they are disclosed up front. This is a big deal because the affiliates can get bitten by high return of goods, cutting into the profit. Affiliates should ask merchants to disclose up front what the return rate is. Ask whether the first or last click gets credit for the sale in case of users who come back by different referral methods.
Adam is big on using ads to having a "conversation" with the user. Essentially, he's talking all about relevance. The fundamentals of search marketing remain timeless and true: greet the user with the answer to their questions. Follow up by solving their inquiries, in specificity and with great usability and straight up pitches, reflecting the true value of the product. He stressed that the Ad headline is much more important than it's location on an affiliates page or SERP.
Maximize Revenue and Minimize Heartaches
Do the math, PPC vs Affiliate. What generates sales at a lower total cost. Take brand terms out of that calculation. If the affiliate is lower, consider opening up use of your display URL to affiliates. If necessary, file trademark papers and work with a few affiliates for direct linking. Try giving the affiliate manager and the affiliates some respect in the organization. Test, test, test and get the website conversion rates up. Work towards consistent policies and payouts, because affiliates need to plan for their businesses too. Bonuses and tiers can result in less promotion of your program.
Consider the "reality of search." Affiliates have lots of choices. If your terms restrict how high they can bid with their sites, someone else's ad will show up on their site in the spot instead. Put politics aside, focus on the bottom line and take the steps that are most profitable for your business. Your affiliate investment should have no budget cap. You're buying money.
David Naffziger, President & CEO, BrandVerity, Inc.is speaking about "Proven Strategies for Managing Affiliate PPC." He says PPC is universal. As an ecommerce site, the question is not IF, but HOW you should manage affiliate PPC. He says Google Analytics doesn't cut it. It's important to understand the contribution of all channels to a sale. Successful merchants measure and value the steps in the purchase process including first click, intermediate clicks and the final click. "Bucket" affiliates by contribution share and reward those processes that contribute the most to the bottom line.
For merchants, best practices are to create clear policies that are simple and clear to foster lower rates of abuse. Make them easy to understand, communicate, work verbally and send email backup. There is no room for misinterpretation. Make it simple. David shows a number of examples of overly complicated policies. Put the policy on the website, affiliate newsletter and other marketing materials and strive for consistency through all channels. Carefully document any exceptions you allow.
Merchants should not expect to know the details of an affiliate's PPC campaign because affiliates invest significant time creating and managing their campaigns. Remember that, in some instances, your affiliates actually compete against your in-house PPC.
Keep a Clean Program
Dirty programs attract abusers, deter super-affiliates and cost money. That said, not all abuse is intentional. Respond quickly to discourage further abuse and, no, you cannot detect most abuse manually.
Marty Weintraub is President of aimClear, publisher of aimClear, a Minnesota, Duluth Blog.