We are making a big push around here in 2009 to automate as many things as possible and make life easier. To that end, we have been testing a lot of new tools lately. Not sales letter page things, but actual tools that I think show some promise. Although most end up not working as advertised, some are actually turning out to be worth using.
With all the emphasis we are putting on building our landing sites for SEO as well as PPC, we needed a fast way to build up links. This technique helps with quality score, bid prices, and eventually free traffic to affiliate sites. One tool we tested that does work as promised is Social Submitter. The software automates the submitting of links to social bookmarking sites. It can submit to 160 social bookmarking sites and is a very advanced program. You can create filters for your submissions, use proxies, and see the status of your bookmark submissions all within the program.
I almost hesitate to blog about this one, because I think its a great advantage to have. This could be used to promote straight affiliate sites, or just bookmark your blog entries to get more exposure for your site. But with a price tag of $150, most people will pass this one up. As far as I’m concerned though, any tool that helps make money is always worth the price. They have a demo you can use to try the program to a limited number of sites for 3 days, if you want to test drive it. Is anyone else using this software to boost affiliate sites yet?
I thought I would start a new series of posts to tackle common PPC to affiliate marketing problems. The first one is: not enough traffic to the offer. Many times you set up a great site or landing page, spend hours building a PPC campaign, implement a full tracking system, then launch everything only to find traffic trickling in. What went wrong, and what can you do to build up the traffic?
1. Bid prices. Assuming you have a decent keyword set, if you aren’t getting any traffic your bid prices may be too low. This is by far one of the most common problems I see with campaigns. Its very tempting to try to ease into a niche going after cheap clicks, but its also an biggest way to shoot yourself in the foot. You have to bid enough to get the clicks, no matter what that price may be. If the top ads are bidding $1.75 and you start with $ .85, your campaign might be doomed to never get any impressions. Set your bid aggressively – you have to pay to play.
2. Add Keywords. If you have maxed out the traffic on your current keywords, common sense says its time to add more keywords. There are million keyword tools out there, so finding new keywords is never a problem. Just be sure they are relevant keywords to your adgroups. Adding non-relevant keywords could end up hurting your quality score and actually reducing traffic levels.
3. Increase CTR. Split testing ads is still one of the best ways to increase traffic on current adgroups. You should always be testing new ads no matter how much of a winner you already have. Even small increases in CTR can yield a lot more traffic. If you have an adgroup getting 10,000 impressions a day and were able to increase CTR from 3.5% to just 5.5%, that would be a 57.1% increase in total clicks.
4. Increase Quality. The quality score on your account will affect the amount of traffic you get. Unfortunately this topic alone is so big that full books are written about it. The main things to look at are ad CTRs, keyword relevance, and landing page factors. Different networks weigh the factors differently. A good resource is always Adwords help.
5. Other traffic sources. Once you have everything optimized and running nicely it might be time to add new networks. Adwords, Yahoo, and MSN are all great. Try adding the content networks with all 3 networks (in separate campaigns). There is always second tier PPC networks, some of which do actually work. Social networks like Facebook and Myspace are another option. Media buys at large ad agencies can add lots of traffic volume as well.
Next up: no profit.
This is a pretty obvious technique, but it might help some people starting out.
Sometimes you want to quickly test out a new niche by direct linking, and don’t want to go through all the trouble of setting up your tracking system, placing pixels etc. But you still want to be able to see which keywords convert. So here’s the quick and dirty method.
Just drop each keyword into its own adgroup, and for the ad in that adgroup assign a unique sequential sub id to the destination URL. That’s it. Since each keyword will trigger a unique ad and sub id, when it converts you can see which keyword converted. This takes less that a minute to set up in the Adwords editor. You can also use destination URLs for each keyword with them in the same adgroup, but I like the separate adgroup method.
Once you have tested the niche and want to move forward then you can set up your full keyword and conversion tracking. But you can’t beat the quick method for small scale tests.
One of the most important decisions when you are starting out with PPC is not how much you pay, but how you pay. The key is to pick a credit card that offers cash back on your advertising purchases. These rewards are getting better and better with some cards offering a solid 1%-2% or more. That way even if your campaign only breaks even, you are still making a 1%-2% profit. How much could this decision about how to pay affect the average search marketer? Say you spend $50k/mo on PPC, at the end of the year the credit card will pay you $12,000 just for using their card. You are spending the money anyways, so you might as well get something back.
So what’s my card of choice? I have always used the American Express Platinum rewards card.
You can’t beat the cash back, and the flexible credit limit, which is important for those big PPC spends. Also with AmEx you have have the Open savings which does cool things like automatically refunds your first $500 of spend at Yahoo every year. That benefit alone is worth it. Another benefit, if you want to incorporate or form an LLC, they have 20% off Bizfilings.com. One thing I have found with Amex is that terms are always negotiable so you can usually get better benefits than those listed on the site if you ask. Kind of like bumping your payouts with your affiliate managers.
If you are just starting out and worried about fees, a great choice would be the Blue cash reward card, with annual fee.
Recently, they just upgraded my old Platinum rewards card to a new Plum card. I had not even heard of it, but I was talking to a customer service rep and they sold me on it. It has some cool features like 2% cash back and no limit at all. I’m sure it will work out as great as my old card did.
Do you not read the terms of the offer you are promoting? This is a question that came up one night at affiliate summit. I was shocked to find that a couple people in the group didn’t. There is usually a lot of information in there that it critical, and ignoring it can lead to you not getting paid! That seems like a pretty important “detail” to overlook. When you are an affiliate, you incur the risk of fronting the ad costs. If you are not following the terms of the offer, you are putting your own money at risk. Even if you don’t care about the advertiser, you should read the terms simply to protect your own assets. Reading through a TOS and you might find out things like:
Pretty mission critical stuff to your success or failure. So read those terms before you agree to them!
It’s very tempting when starting out in Pay Per Click to always go for the minimum bids. Some people even avoid Yahoo because of their .10 minimum bids. But there’s a reason people pay $1, $2, or even $3 per click. They make money doing it! Obviously some offers require low bids, but most don’t. If you have a nicely converting offer, try raising your bids up and up. Eventually you will hit a point of diminishing returns where any higher CPCs will not yield any more clicks.
Remember also that the minimum bid is always going to be crowded with people (the bottom feeders) so if you can even bid slightly higher, you will be in a better position (quality score not withstanding). My advice to people starting in PPC to affiliate marketing is to explore some offers that require high click prices. Personally, I like offers that do well with CPCs in the $1-$1.50 range.
A common misconception about sending PPC to traffic to affiliate offer is that its a very high risk activity. Although there are very often large sums of money spent, and many possible things that can go wrong, overall I consider it very low risk. That risk can even approach zero when starting out, and here’s why.
1. Real time tracking eliminates much of the risk. You can monitor your spend and your earnings simultaneously. This way you can see exactly what is happening hour by hour throughout the day, and make adjustments on the fly. There are not many things in business that give you this level of control. You can simplify the whole concept to 2 bars – red and green. As long as the green bar is rising faster than the red, you are making profit. Check with your account manager about any reporting delays before starting an offer, and get to know the update frequency of your PPC service. There might be small delays, but for the most part, tracking is nearly real time. Watch your bars frequently and reduce your risk.
2. To completely eliminate risk, you can use free clicks with new accounts. Most of the big 3 PPC engines have coupons, or links that provide free clicks when opening new accounts. Google and Yahoo always have them, MSN only occasionally. For example, the Yahoo banner on the right of this blog will lead to $50 in free clicks on YSM. (B.t.w. – You can now fund new YSM accounts with Paypal, no credit card needed. 2nd account anyone?) This takes the initial risk of spending money on non converting offers right off the table. If you were to bid .10 clicks that would be 500 clicks to throw at a new offer, which should be more than enough to see if it converts.
Everyone seems to have a pretty rosey view of affiliate marketing. Maybe all the screenshots of huge stats make people think its relatively easy to make a thousands a day. But there are things that no one seems to mention as well. I always like give all angles of the story on my blog, so here are some things you might not have heard about PPC to affiliate marketing.
1. You will pay for clicks you never receive. For a variety of technical reasons that could fill a book, your click count that the PPC networks charge you will never match what you affiliate network shows. I will follow up with another post on how to minimize this, but accept the fact that you will be paying for lost clicks. Don’t forget to factor that into your cost estimates.
2. The hot offer that you have been killing for months, possibly years, will end. It might end on schedule, or it might get pulled. But it will end. So if you aren’t diversified in your offer portfolio, you will be in trouble.
3. Your PPC campaigns will get shut down. No matter how good you are, eventually you will get Google slapped, or keywords pulled, or ads denied. You will need to be nimble and ready with alternatives for when this happens.
These were just a few I thought of. Got any others?