Slam The Thins, The Latest Hive Mind

Wikipedia: Hive Mind

One personal goal of mine is to be more of a Critical Thinker, rather than just nod and accept what people around me say and pronounce and announce as truth and all things good. I’m not very dedicated to it yet, but I figure it’s more of a life change rather than something that just happens overnight.

Before I start accepting all the groupthink going on out there that some pros and Google want everyone to believe about thin affiliates providing zero to no value online, I ponder this:

Google itself is a type of doorway or ‘thin’ page. A doorway page is basically a page where the sole purpose is to drive traffic to another website. It has little to no original or unique content. We go to a search engine to find a variety of results it has ‘scraped’ or ‘copied’ from other websites and we click off from those results to a ‘real’ website.

This very same thing is what a ‘thin affiliate’ site is. It lists products and descriptions found on other websites (merchants) with links pointing offsite (to those merchants).

The reason why Google and Yahoo! and MSN are so successful is because they’re wrapping and bundling other websites content and organizing and displaying it in such a way that it’s fast and easy AND SIMPLE for searchers to find what they want.

Again–sounds pretty thin affiliate to me.

I have one particular affiliate website that is so thin, I’m jealous. It would fit size zero jeans! Yet it converts like nobody’s business. It’s probably in the most competitive market I’m involved with, yet it’s the most successful site I have.

Why? because the *visitors* find value with it. They’re finding all the resources they want on one highly targeted website. Google doesn’t see the value. The pros won’t see it. But the visitors do. And with my thin affiliate sites, everyone wins. The visitors win (they find what they were looking for), the merchant wins (sales, catalog subs and new customers) and I win (commissions).

Sounds like a good example of value to me.

So as affiliate marketers, we have choices to make. If your online business is wrapped around Google/search engine success, or getting a thumbs up from whatever the marketing pro flavour of the moment decides is best, you’ll need to move away from a thin affiliate template, move away from what your shoppers are responding to, and move towards adding orginal content so that you can hoodwink value. You need to move into the direction of building your websites to what Google wants, not what your shoppers want.

Some ideas:

You can pay people to write shopping reviews for your items and your displayed merchants. I *personally* think that’s a load of bloat and has zero value–but gotta show ‘value’ even if it’s pretend nonsense. Think you won’t need to pay people and that your visitors will just naturally provide reviews on their own? Try it. And see.

You can write and write and write (or pay to write) content that your visitors don’t want to read (they’re not researching–they’re looking to buy what they want to buy already). Again–I don’t see the value in that (to your visitors) since all that content just gets in their way, but–nonsense gives the cotton candy boss what he wants.

You can add a shopping forum. Not hard to pay a bunch of posers to get the thing rolling. If perfect english isn’t a must-have, you can get it unbelievably cheap too. Not something I see value in…but…you know.

The line has been drawn. You either build a website for search engines (which Google itself advises against, but…well…you know), or you build your websites for users.

You add bloat so you float in the SERPs, or you sink.

We’re coming to a cross roads as affiliates. I’m not saying adding original content is a bad idea, or that the ideas above are the only options. I’m just wondering why I need to mess around with a website that is appealing to and serving a certain type of shopper?

For me I’ll probably just end up heading in a whole nother direction. If google and the engines trash me, I’ll still survive. And let’s face it. Google decrees rules and regulations on thin affiliate sites today, tomorrow will be something else wrong with aff sites.

There are other ways to get traffic–granted I’m still figuring that part out ;). But I do have somewhat of a following on some razor thin sites that will keep me going even if I end up DOA in the engines tomorrow.

I know what I like when I’m shopping and I know I just want the stuff right there, organized well, pictures big enough to see, a few different shops and brands displayed and fairly decent load times.

Oh me oh my, flash thought: That sounds exactly like Google’s Froogle! I wonder what the value add is for this particular datafeed driven site?

Tip number 4 for added content: Not only use the merchant’s descriptions and pics and full datafeeds, pull the customer reviews from the merchant’s site as well just like Froogle! Voila! No need to pay for fake ones :).

From Google’s quality guidelines:

If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first.

What if the reason the visitors want to shop on your site is because it isn’t bogged down with verbosity, distraction and bloat, and simply provides good, clean targeted options for what they’re looking for? It’s a great model that Google itself uses.

I hope you enjoyed my Critical Thought of the Day ::wink wink::

Crazy Days Are Upon Us – CJ’s New Javascript Delight

Since this blog covers affiliate marketing, I guess I should write something up about this latest move from Commission Junction. I’m overwhelmed offline right now so this will be quick.

As someone who surfs online with javascript disabled, and is employed by a workplace that has javascript disabled (hundreds–if not thousands–of computers), I’m pretty shocked by this move. But who am I to question. I’m sure CJ has big big brainpower on their payroll that knows best.

My plans?

mmmm nothing really earth shattering. I’m already in the midst of a slow move away from CJ, and I’m seeing better results because of it. So I’ll just continue moving where I can and as I can.

I’m not going to quit CJ altogether because heck, this could be something really outstanding once we get a look see and try it out. Although I have strong suspicions, I can’t judge the craptastic factor on something until I get my hands on it to test.

One thing that I think is a great bonus is that links will automatically update themselves. I think? Hello people! That’s awesome. However, if my pages won’t load or my shoppers can’t view products or I lose my search traffic because of all the javascript…nevermind.

I will say that CJ was gracious this time around and gave us puh-lenty of notice before the changes will be made. Kudos to CJ for that!

The best case scenario from what I see at this point: I’ll be using very limited amounts of CJ products on pages. And side pages at that, not main pages.

For one thing I don’t want to bog my load times. For another thing, I don’t like the fact that a percentage of my shoppers will be shut out with blank pages (no javascript enabled). I figure I can combat that a bit by keeping the javascript links off my main trafficked pages. Show visitors that yes there’s stuff here, and no the site doesn’t load funky, maybe a side page or two will be slow or blank (:lol:).

The worst case scenario: I’ll be 100% CJ free by year end. It’s no biggy to me what network or merchant cuts me a cheque. If they perform, great. If CJ can’t provide what I’m looking for, SAS will. Or another network or another indie.

I have this love/hate relationship with CJ. I love the merchant quality they have. It’s truly head and shoulders above everyone else IMO. CJ’s in the position they’re in, has the affiliate power that it has – because of their merchant quality.

However CJ has never been a steady performer for me. Some months move great, odd months stand still. While everyone else on the same page keeps performing at a steady clip. I have no explanation or reasoning or thought other than: I hate CJ during those commish constipated times.

If you haven’t already, check your CJ account as there’s a FAQ posted regarding the link changes. It’s pretty much confirming worst fears. ALL links will be changed at some point (datafeeds included). And nope – the html email links will not be allowed on web pages.

Start covering your bases folks, crazy crazy times ahead.

I have a feeling non-CJ merchants are going to see a power surge in interest ;).

Speed Up Your Affiliate Sites

One of the pitfalls of building websites full of affiliate product listings is the website load time. What is the latest recommended load time? Five or ten seconds to keep your visitor? They’re impatient you know! I know I am when surfing.

That timeline goal is not gonna happen when the page has to load product images and tracking pixels. And when the network itself is loading sloooower than usual, our websites chug even slower trying to load.

Here are a few tips to help with that:

  • Use clean code where possible. First of all you’re not going to have a fully valid site anytime you place an affiliate link on the page. The links themselves just don’t validate! But if you try to keep things clean where possible, it does help with load time.
  • Use an external css file instead of having it coded at the top of every page. I recently went through my affiliate sites that didn’t have an external css file and it seemed to make a difference
  • No brainer, but it’s the most important: Good Hosting. If you’re on a host that just doesn’t have the speed–move to another host as quickly as you can.
  • Use templates and header graphics that are appealing, but lean and mean. SEO friendly designs are a big bonus too ;).

I wasn’t all-that-concerned before about valid pages and external css files. If the templates I used had that–great. If not, I wasn’t too bothered. But since I’ve been making a real effort lately with my affiliate sites, I made the changes where I could and I have to say–the load speed has improved. Even on pages that are product heavy!

Faster loading pages give you a better chance to tempt a shopper’s eye, and that means one thing: more sales!

Enjoy your day today đŸ™‚

Staying The Course When You’re Not Inspired

One of the things I completed the Big Productive Night I mentioned in yesterday’s post was going through a 50+ page aff site checking each and every link, coupon and yada yada.

I was so disappointed in myself when I saw how many of those links were pointing to “Item Sold Out” pages or redirects to a merchant’s home page because the item was no longer available.

I hadn’t looked at a thing for that affiliate site in about 3 months (guess/timate). Half decent traffic too. If my goal is to earn money online with affiliate marketing, how do I expect to do that when my product pages are garbage? Garbage may be a harsh word, but directing cookied traffic to nowheresville really has no value that I can see.

I’m not a lazy person. I can be near-manic creating and building new ideas and websites when I’m inspired or if it’s something I enjoy. Miles a Minute this girl. But I’m being energized by that creative spirit/energy we all have. I’m moving, acting on inspiration. That’s great!

But there’s more to affiliate marketing and earning online than always building and creating new things. That isn’t what’s going to pay the bills. What I’m finally starting to realize is that there is a real commitment and dedication involved if I’m serious about making money online.

I thought I was committed. But it can’t just be for things that I’m happy, content and motivated to do, there also has to be commitment for the tedious maintenance things that I must do to keep my sites as fresh and as highly monetized and as highly trafficked as possible.

Some of that means keeping on top of product links. Even if there are 1000s of pages involved.

Also link building. Every link out there on the web is an invitation for a click and visit to your site. No links. No clicks and no visits.

Advertising. Marketing. Anything involved to get your site in front of eyeballs.

Creating and continuously adding content and/or resources that people want to bookmark and use.

Some of those things really aren’t all that fun or glamorous or inspiring or motivating. At least on a consistent basis for me.

I have a job offline that I’m pretty much happy with. There is a part of my day though that involves a monotonous task or two. And I take time to do it as well as I can without even thinking or moaning and groaning about it. It’s part of my job and I accept it as a must-do.

So why can’t I do that for myself when it comes to my online work? ESPECIALLY since it means progress and increased income for myself?

My husband is self employed and there is work that he relies on me to help with. That involves some discipline on my part. The bills have to reviewed and paid weekly. The deposits made up. The banking done. The books done. Filing. Errands. All these things I’m not all-that-excited-about doing. Yet I do them without thinking because those things are vital–they need to be done on a regular basis or we’re up the creek.

Again: So why can’t I do that for myself when it comes to my online work?

This week I learned something about myself. I had a lot of talk and self-perception about how I looked at my online work as a serious business endeavor. And that was sincere. But I’m now questioning that and realizing my actions were more like Happy Hobby Time (swear word). Just doing the fun stuff, some monotonous necessary stuff peppered in too, but not hardcore and regular like I am in other priority areas (my job and my husband’s work).

I think I’m finally getting it. Why run around in circles, all excited and happy to be here and part of it all, when I haven’t learned or achieved traffic and sales numbers with what I currently have?

What’s going to change by me using my precious time building piles all over the net when I haven’t figured out how to draw good amounts of traffic or clicks or customers to my current properties?

Because once I figure that out–targeted traffic, customers, sales–I can achieve ANYTHING online. It’s a simple replication game after that and I can build away to my heart’s content.

I have so many good ideas and good plans and great directions to move into. But realistically I can expect the same results as what I have now. It’s that whole definition of crazy thing: Keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

I’ve already been there-done that. Created and acted on good ideas. It’s the part that comes after that where I’m faltering and need to get a good handle on if I really want to achieve my goals.

Sorry for the long ramble, but I figure there’s a person or two reading this that may have their own aha! like the one I’ve finally looked at and paid attention to.

Kick butt today ;).

Last Month’s Affiliate Site Focus Update

Last month I mentioned that I was going to just cut out all the running around building new and just focus on building up what I have currently (see Building One Small Chunk At A Time). Here’s a refresher:

Affiliate Site #1: I’ve bumped up traffic a bit, added a few more merchants to work with, cleaned things up, built some inbounds and wrote and submitted a couple new *original* articles. Sales and commissions for last month (March) were the highest that they’ve been (keep in mind I’m not talking thousands though). But over $350 in commissions for that one site. From free traffic. Unique visitor amount was 3,500.

April’s update:

My traffic stayed the same (3,500 and change). I was shuffled a bit in Yahoo’s SERPs and my hosting was somewhat funky for the month. So I’m pleased to see that I hadn’t dropped in uniques at all. However, my money increased:

March this site made me $350. April’s numbers:

$8023.79 Total Product Sales
$485.29 Commissions earned

3507 Unique Visitors

$0.138 cents per visitor

What I did was shuffle the performers and non-performers around. This pushed me from earning $0.10 per visitor to just under $0.14. I also tried out some new merchants, one which kicks butt and makes those sales happen.

However, the commission rates of the Performers aren’t all that great (5%-7%) and it’s showing in my commissions earned. I think it’s shameful that over $8,000 in product sales only netted me what it did. But it is what it is.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do as much work in April that I hoped to do, so my plans for this month are still the same. I’m not building anything new. I’m hooked on this site and want to push it higher, double would be *great*. Only way to get that is to continue on.

I think that building an affiliate site with 3,500 monthly visitors is very doable for everyone here who is still struggling online. It’s a realistic number that can be accomplished and I hope it’s encouraging to those of you who are still trying to find some money for your efforts.

It just takes time to get your domains settled in and some traffic happening. The key for me is building inbounds, building links and hopefully striking it rich with at least a few of those.

It’s not hard to see the math here. If you can build one aff site that earns just under $500 a month in commissions, what happens if you have just 10 of them? Or 20? If I can build up 3,500 unique visitors, why not 7,000?

For Aff Site #2 (the one that I converted to WordPress), the traffic numbers are the same–but I jumped a bit in sales. The commissions were small (around $10 average) so it’s on the back burner. I haven’t attempted to build on and push any of my other sites yet.

This month I’m looking at doing:

  • More article writing
  • More link development

I’d *love* to update the blah look of Aff Site #1, but I’m scared to touch it in case I drop in Yahoo and MSN. That’s one thing about having some traffic. You don’t feel as comfortable tweaking the place up.

Also FYI: I did meet and beat March’s total numbers in April. The bar’s been raised by $100. Gotta love it ;).

I Know Where Those Former CJ Employees Are

Take a look at the new advertisers in your Commission Junction panel.

CoutureCandy.com

The whois shows the domain was registered a year ago January and Blaine Elliott as the contact.

Here’s some info found on ABW: CoutureCandy.com – women’s high fashion

Even if you do not have an existing website targeting CoutureCandy’s typical user, our industry is very untouched by affiliate marketers. Current SEO & PPC publishers are hardly tapping into this market. CoutureCandy is also the first to offer product catalog support for our products so there is a lot of untapped potential.

Considering the data they had at their fingertips while working for CJ, I suspect they know what they’re talking about ;).

Looks like you can work through ForwardNetwork as well:

ForwardNetwork.com was built by former employees of Fastclick, Commission Junction and ValueClick specifically to handle CoutureCandy.com as an affiliate. Our tracking and reporting platform includes all the best features that you would find at a major affiliate network. We’re a small enough company to give you personal advice and suggestions on how to grow you program…the many years working at the affiliate networks listed above affords us that ability and we want to help you grow your program.

The question I have is where was CoutureCandy.com 20 years ago when I had the kick ass bod to slide into those bikinis?