Last week, I read David Rodnitzky’s Enterprise SEM column on brand term bidding, and I loved it! Even better, it got me thinking about search and affiliate marketing again. While I think David made some excellent points, as I consumed his endless wit and wisdom, I kept thinking: All that brand keyword goodness, it’s almost too much for one advertiser!
See, I’m a bit unorthodox when it comes to brand terms and their keyword space. I read a lot around here about how search marketers should deal with brand keywords – don’t buy, don’t allow them to be bid on, don’t include brand terms’ PPC data for the purposes of analysis, and so on. As well, I’ve written about how we (and others) have done some basic analyses to determine if it’s worthwhile buying brand terms on top of #1 organic results.
All good advice, mind you, but there seems to be one fact lost in all this. Branded search queries always perform better than any other tactic in the known marketing universe. So why would any marketer willingly turn his back on this ridiculously bountiful inventory and allow nary a brand keyword query go to waste? After all, they’re worth their (digital) weight in gold!
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want everyone bidding on my brand terms, but I do want to capture every user I can who might be searching for me. Believe it or not, affiliate marketing is a great way to capture those ‘lost’ search query impressions.
Don’t take my word for it. Look at your data. What’s your CTR on your brand terms, paid and/or organic? 20%? 30%? Great! But what about the other 70% or 80% of those impressions? Sure, some brand searches are bogus and unintended. But there have to be some valid prospects out there who ended up clicking on some other link, or getting distracted and going away. Go get them now – don’t wait!
I’m not suggesting that we marketers open the brand keyword floodgates and let just anyone reap the rewards of our hard-earned brand equity. So please don’t go out and open up an account on an affiliate network and give everyone free reign on your treasured marks. Rather, plan out an ingenious, elegant set of well-monitored policies and go forth into your keyword space with profitable confidence.
A while ago, I wrote an SEL column on SEM and affiliates, but as a refresher, allow me to summarize:
1. Affiliate Program Design
Know your affiliates, at least the ones you’re granting access to your brand terms. Talk to them. Set policies intended to maximize your yield while protecting your brand. Think about direct linking vs. indirect linking to your site. Let your conversion rates be your guide.
Here is an example of how we use our affiliates to add value to our brand terms. In this example, Yahoo maintains top position on a brand keyword and allows affiliates to capture incremental brand inventory to increase our yield:
2. Use An Affiliate Network
Many big brands want to take this on themselves. Don’t be tempted. Pay the extra cash up front to handle all the administrative details. You can always pull the program in-house down the road if there’s a real business case for this.
3. Monitor What’s Going On
The major affiliate networks partner with service providers who can enforce your policies and automatically notify you of any violations. You’ll need someone dedicated to paying attention to violators and notifying the networks and/or the affiliates directly.
4. Don’t Just Set It & Forget It
Know your data. Analyze the effects of your affiliate policies using real, comprehensive search data. Adjust your policies as needed. Then see how those adjustments affect your metrics. Your affiliates will comply, and your yield will change accordingly. Rinse and repeat.
5. Go Beyond Branded Keywords
Once you have this down, go beyond your branded keyword space and extend your expertise out into the great beyond. For example, we have one SEM campaign where we actually have a PPC affiliate competing directly with our in-house program (shout out to Paul and Dan!). The affiliate is able to focus on a fundamentally different keyword space than our in-house program, truly complementing our in-house efforts – that’s good stuff!
In summary, the age-old question of “wouldn’t those users searching my brand term just find my site anyway?” isn’t really worth asking anymore, because as we now know, that’s not how the math works.
In my opinion, as brand owners, we need to find everyone who’s interested in the brand we’ve worked so hard to build. Affiliate marketing is just one of many ways to extract our brand equity. It’s time to buck the conventional wisdom and test your branded keyword waters.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.