The affiliate marketplace is brutally competitive. There are well-aged, trusted domains with dominant positions in many niches. Direct competition with these goliaths for affiliate sales is frequently futile. However, creative, competitive webmasters can make a significant affiliate income if they can identify niche opportunities and execute effective SEM strategies to exploit them.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers to affiliate sales is having a mindset that is locked into routine and closed to possibility—a sin of which I have been (and probably will continue to be) guilty. Fortunately, there are many Search Engine Experts that I read regularly in my feed reader who inspire me to break out of any temporary rut that I might be in. Their regular postings push me to experiment, innovate and strategize. Each time I’m truly attuned to their wise counsel and put their advice into action, I always end up making more sales.
Jeremy Schoemaker aka ShoeMoney is one such expert who I read on a regular basis. ShoeMoney is best known in the SEM community for his ability to hyper-monetize websites through large volume affiliate sales funded by PPC minimum bids. I’ve been reading his blog for about 9 months, initially more for entertainment than education. I was hooked by his engaging writing style and his ability to come across as both a normal guy and a tremendous entrepreneur. By contrast, my “much more modest” personal affiliate marketing successes have been through natural search—I had never paid for ads to make affiliate sales.
However, I’d been working with some consumer products that had a solid 3-4 month “natural” run in search engine results before falling off due to increasing competition. I didn’t think that I would be able to regain that revenue stream naturally; hence, I turned to the “ShoeMoney Method” as a last chance effort to preserve what revenue stream I had. I figured that I’d invest a couple hundred bucks in low-bid PPC to see what would happen.
I am still kicking myself that I hadn’t tried this sooner. Almost every day, I’ve been making four to six times what I spent. I’ve been making way more money selling these products through PPC than I ever did through natural search and the basics of the process were so easy to set up. While I attribute part of my success to the narrowness of my keyword niche and the timeliness of my campaign, I believe that I’ve distilled some easy to follow rules that replicate the ShoeMoney method and will allow anyone to dabble in this exciting methodology of product sales.
Effective Low-Bid PPC Tactics
Target Minimum Bids (with exceptions). The core ShoeMoney philosophy is to bid the minimum for each of your campaign keywords. I’ll add some caveats: When setting up the campaign initially, make sure that the expected sales commission is at least 100 times the maximum starting bid(s). At the “100″ level, the break-even point is 1% conversion which is a reasonable initial benchmark conversion goal when sending the traffic directly to the merchant’s site (which is what most beginners should do). So, as an example, if the affiliate sales commission is $10, the initial bid should not exceed 10 cents. Once a baseline of earnings and conversion is established, adjust the bids in order to optimize revenue.
When setting up campaigns, make sure you have strict budget and performance requirements. If your campaign has 300-500+ visitors without any sales, consider making modifications or perhaps killing it and starting over. Several “failures” might be necessary before success happens.
Without straying too far from the minimum bid theory, try to get the core keyword(s) onto the first page of search results. It’s difficult to analyze results unless the campaign is generating a large enough volume of searches.
Max-Out On Misspellings. Aaron Wall’s Typo Generator is awesome and essential for any serious PPC effort. As an example, I can generate 158 misspellings of “widgets” that can be used for a “widgets” PPC campaign and my experience has been that just about any core keyword targeted will have several misspellings that will draw traffic. Bids on almost all misspelled words will be at or near the minimum for top placement.
Use The “Sideways Arrow” PPC Ad. On the ShoeMoney blog, Jeremy wrote that if the keywords in his PPC ads formed a “sideways arrow” (see the picture below), the ad CTR increased 25% regardless of the position of the ad. Read ShoeMoney’s post on the subject and follow what he says. This is tremendously powerful advice and, when combined with dynamic keyword insertion, should lead to higher CTR, lower minimum bids (for AdWords), and higher ROI.
Look to Europe. The European Union offers affiliate marketers tremendous opportunities to earn money, a fact often overlooked by North American search marketers. One of the principal reasons behind the formation of the European Union was the facilitation of commerce. I suggest that the profit potential is much greater in Europe or Asia where the bids are much lower, the marketplace is less saturated with affiliate programs and affiliate marketers, and the demand for products sold by affiliates is still quite high. If you work with an affiliate program in another country, make sure they are reliable, because you’re likely screwed if they refuse to pay you.
One more added benefit… many Europeans will search the web in English even if English isn’t their primary language. Logically, they will be more likely to misspell their search terms and if you are bidding on misspellings, you will be more likely to catch the traffic and make the sale.
I turned off my North American Google, Yahoo & MSN ads since I got little traffic from minimum bids and when I increased the bids high enough to draw traffic, my ROI was only a fraction of what I earned in Europe. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to sell my products into Asia. Asian affiliate programs seem to be the least developed… however, I think it’s just a matter of time before that changes.
Initially, all my ads have been in English no matter where in Europe the customer has been located. The vendors I’ve been working with have multiple languages on their website, which seems to be commonplace for European programs. I’ve just started testing non-English ads, using a combination of machine translation & lifting obvious phrases (e.g. “buy widgets”) from the product pages. So far, the CTR is super-excellent in some languages and terrible in others, though I don’t know yet if non-English ads will generate more revenue for me.
Advanced Topics ShoeMoney also is a big proponent of custom-developed product landing pages and he recommends Crazyegg’s page testing product to optimize their effectiveness. Also, day-parting, A/B Testing & Negative Keywords monitored closely by advanced web analytics are all absolutely necessary for any sophisticated PPC effort.
You can still be very successful at low-bid PPC without considering the advanced topics. If you just follow my Minimum Bid & Misspelling ideas + ShoeMoney’s Ad Creation advice, you can make excellent money if you are working with the right products at the right margins. You need not worry about the shifting natural search algorithms again.
Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon’s Search Engine Marketing Association.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.