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Social Extensions Introduced Into Adwords Ads

Earlier this year Google introduced the +1 Button for Google Plus and 3rd party website to implement. It is their answer to the controversial Facebook Like button which is now firmly entrenched across the net. It behaves in a similar way allowing users to indicate that they found something engaging or useful. Of interest to search marketers and SEO’s is that +1’s are shown in organic results and ads. A page with more +1’s can improve ranking and click throughs both algorithmically and because of Social Proof.

Back in March when +1’s were first introduced into organic search and ads they only applied to single page/ ads, meaning that it was unlikely those advertising across many niches/ product lines would be able to build up a significant number. Further hampering reach, they only appeared when a user had a connection to another user through Google Plus.

This week though they added Business Pages to Google Plus. These pages are very similar to Facebook Pages. They are another place for businesses to build up a social presence and connect with customers. The big difference though is that through social extensions you can connect all your ads to a single Google Plus business page and the +1’s gained through this page will be shown across all your ads. The other big change is the distinction between personal and basic annotations. Before only the personal annotations, where an ad would show +1’s if they were from a users connections applied. Now basic annotations will give a count of the total number of users that have +1’d your page.

Building a following on Google Plus is potentially far more rewarding if you primarily rely on search marketing for new customers rather than social presence/ community building and the curation that goes with it. This is especially true of smaller Affiliate Marketing operations who just don’t have the resources to make a big impact in social media.

Will this have a big impact on click through rates and get your ads standing out? I think that the social proof of knowing that others have visited a site/ business page and found it to be useful is a big deal. There are so many scammy or just low quality pages on the net that users are always going to be wary of new small operations and any promises that they make. Displaying trusted badges from popular shopping networks has been shown to dramatically increase conversions as the user trust the shopping network and by proxy trusts your site as part of that network. This should provide a similar effect when it comes to a user deciding what ad or organic result, if any, they wish to click on.

All this just provides the framework though, in order to leverage it your going to need to build up a decent number of +1′s, this involves ideally having a web site that people are happy enough with to want to recommend  to others, and once they do decide this, an easy way for them to do so. This is where a yet to be released badge from Google will come into play. I think from the choices of badge available the only badge will really be effective as is the which includes the +1 button (shown below). Asking your users to click through to Google Plus or add you to their circles is asking a lot and will lower the amount of +1 recommendations you can collect. Once this badge is available I would put it in prominent places and encouraging people to use it or add to their circles to say up to date on your latest offers. It also requires users to have a Google Plus account, numbers will vary depending on your nice but it is growing fast.

Google has also added segmentation for both personal and basic social annotations so you will easily be able to see the impact the extensions are having on your Adwords metrics.

Unfortunately currently not all users may be able to get the social extensions as it currently requires a verified page (“If you haven’t already verified with Google that your Page actually belongs to you, you’ll need to complete this step first. If you skip this step, you’ll be able to link a Page to your campaign, but your ads will not include this feature until this step is completed.” [http://adwords.google.com/support/aw/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=1645035]) and Google states “Since this is primarily a security mechanism, there’s no way to apply for a verification badge. If we think you or your page might benefit from a badge, we’ll reach out to manually verify you.” [http://www.google.com/support/plus/bin/answer.py?hl=en&p=plus_page_verification&answer=1620074] Hopefully this restrictive use won’t prevail for long and we can all start experimenting with incorporating social signal into search ads.

The Future of Affiliate Marketing – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 2 part series we are doing on the future of affiliate marketing to coincide with our panel at Affili@Syd on the same topic. Unfortunately now that we are unable to make the panel these posts can now be taken as a summarization of our views.  I (Rob) will be taking a look at the progression of the technical side of Affiliate Marketing while Murray will take a closer look at the business side of it.

The way the future will affect your affiliate business is probably strongly tied to the model you are using. I identify 2 main models: those in which your product is presenting affiliate products in a way which you consider to be more useful to the end user than them going directly to the merchant and those in which your main product is some other form of content or user interactions which you are using affiliate marketing as a way of monetizing a user base.

One of the key drivers of change in affiliate marketing is Google. Google makes up the vast majority of search traffic that most sites receive (dwarfing it’s nearest rivals Bing/Yahoo), it has the power to both build and break vast content networks as sites like Mahalo have found out. In the past, when Google was just beginning search advertising, the restrictions on what you could advertise were weak, placing down a single landing page with a few links could produce a large return for affiliate marketers. Of course in many cases this wasn’t overly useful to end users, as with most platforms (Facebook, Apple app store etc) there is a gold mine for early adopters before things settle down and quality rises to the top. A large portion of Google’s revenue, 96% in 2010 in fact, relies on users continuing to find Google ads to be useful enough to click on.

The result is new rules which effect the way affiliates advertise, a couple of instances which can results in bans are made for Adsense arbitrage and bridging pages. Made for ad sense pages are ones which have been created with the primary purpose of getting the user to click on the Adsense ads to drive profit to the publisher. The arbitrage component is when the publisher is bidding on Adwords with the intent of making more money per click through Adsense than it is costing them in Adwords. A bridge page is when Google considers that the primary purpose on the landing page you are advertising is to drive traffic to another page, in this case products on a merchant’s site. Bridging pages are a little harder to avoid, especially when your main product is presenting merchants products.   Google expects each site to value add around the products being presented. Stuff like comparisons to the same product at different merchants, user reviews and ratings, professional reviews and additional descriptions. This is driving a lot of change in affiliate websites as what was once thriving, profitable campaigns are now no longer being allowed onto Adwords, the time of a one page affiliate site is coming to a close.

Those publishers using affiliate marketing to monetize their original content are also facing hard times and a changing landscape courtesy of Google. Recently Google introduced the Panda search update, aimed ranking content lower which was deemed to be from low quality content farms or taken from other online sources. This has had the unintended side   effect of making it harder for legitimate to rank above those either outright taking or rehashing their content. Google search results is mostly a winner take all game, with around 50% of searches resulting in the first result being clicked on. Having this converted first position for the keywords relevant to your business can easily be the difference between turning a decent profit and making a loss. You may ask, why isn’t site the that has invested the time in creating relevant and useful content being rewarded with the best results? This is mostly due to an arms race between Google those working on search engine optimization. Many of those creating spam sites using other content are also well honed at optimizing their websites to be exactly what the Google algorithms are looking for, leaving the smaller operators coming off second best despite investing in producing content.

 

Example Click Rankings : Taken From A Leak Of AOL Search Data in 2006, read more: http://www.agent-seo.com/seo/click-distribution-percentages-by-serp-rank/

 

Despite the hype around social networking being a saviour for those sick of having to deal with Google’s effective search monopoly I don’t think search marketing is going away any time soon. While social will work for certain affiliates, those that can cultivate an audience around their offering and engage them regularly (similar to those that have successfully ran discussion forums in the past), those looking to acquire users and push them quickly to convert won’t see a great deal of help from social ads of a basic social presence. The motivations behind the users that is seeing your ad on a social networking website are very different. With search they are actively seeking out the product that your keyword is matching for, on a social network they are generally conversing with friends and aren’t in a buying frame of mind. Ad’s that attract their interest and send them to a Facebook page based around it rather than trying to directly convert will see far better click through rates. It is possible social sites such as Facebook may eventually take hold with enhanced search engines drive be social recommendations rather than algorithms but this is still in the distant future. It is more likely we will see search engines like Google leverage social recommendations to aid algorithms rather than replace them as we are seeing emerge with the +1 button.

In addition to Google creating a need for more complex websites consumers are pushing in this direction to. Consumers have progressively grown more tech savvy and have placed more importance on the online medium as a primary method for both product research and purchase. While I don’t agree with needing a full blown system of product comparison, searching, sorting and user reviews around every affiliate site consumers are certainly demanding more of the sites which they visit. For those interested in attracting repeat customers much though must be put into creating unique value over the merchant sites you are linking to.

Unfortunately all signs are pointing towards the future becoming increasingly difficult for newcomers to affiliate marketing. Becoming established though is becoming ever more valuable as increasing amounts of consumer purchasing is done online. This is driving more merchants to consider opening up their businesses to affiliates as a new revenue stream. Merchant uptake of affiliate programs, especially in Australia has been fairly slow, many of the established retail brands like Harvey Norman, Kmart, Target and Myer are only now realizing that online is quickly becoming consumers preferred way to purchase.

As affiliate marketing grows the technology powering it becomes more important. Many affiliate networks currently have out of date software that make it hard for the affiliate marketer to get all the information they need to run their business. The more progressive networks though are moving towards things like cookie-less tracking to ensure affiliate based sales aren’t missed, comprehensive reporting, prompt payments and API’s which allow users to both retrieve performance data and access product feeds to automatically update their websites. On the Australian front I look forward to the launch of Commission Factory which appears to be a network that will embrace these technology changes needed to support the increased sophistication of affiliate marketing into the future.

Networks are also turning an eye towards mobile, the new boom area in computing. While mobile can be similar to traditional online experiences there are tighter restrictions because of screen size and the intermittent/ slower nature of connections. A very recent movement in mobile is known as responsive design, basically this means using media queries in CSS3 to apply different types depending on the screen dimensions of the viewing device. I think as there is support from more devices for this standard it will be used more and more to manage a single presence across the normal web and mobile without having to maintain individual projects.

Mobile also allows for location based services, which depending on your site/ app can be used to choose what to present to a user. An example of that is only showing content relevant to local merchants to a user when they view your page, this especially works well when it’s services that you are selling. Many are seeing the value, despite the extra effort required, in building native apps for platforms such as iOS and Android. Caution must be shown here though, as building native apps generally requires a separate technology stack for each platform, resulting in either a steep learning curve and maintenance for affiliates building these apps themselves or a hefty bill to outsource quality the building of quality apps which pass Apple’s and other review processes. I would recommend, if going down the app path as an addition to your current offering to build a html app first to test the waters before investing in platform specific apps.

As affiliate marketing gets more complex it is important to track as much data as possible, even if the data may not be able to be used now. An example with Affclicks is that I was recently thinking about tracking amount of sales that come x number of days after a click through to a merchant to determine things such as is a 10% commission with 60 day cookie deal better than a 12% commission with 45 days cookie deal. While that currently isn’t a feature, having the data there allows these future inferences to be made. Another few areas of tracking which may be on the rise is A/B testing, heat mapping mouse movement and also heat mapping eye tracking. A/B testing is when a the same page is displayed to users with different small variations in order to measure which variation has the most positive impact. In terms of affiliate marketing this may be measured on either click throughs to merchants or commissionable sales/lead from the merchant. Tracking mouse movement with a heat map can show what is grabbing users attention and what is confusing them, leading them to click away from your page rather than convert. Similarly eye tracking tests are easier than ever to conduct with companies such as GazeHawk using webcams to conduct them.

A example of what a mouse tracking heat map looks like, identifying where the most attention is given on the page. Source: clicktale.com

Affiliate networks exist to serve the interests of both the merchants and the publishers/marketers, Google serves their own interests and those of their end users both in advertising and organic search results. This means that they both aren’t always serving the affiliate marketers best interests. That’s where Affclicks comes into the equation, built from the ground up by affiliate marketers for affiliate marketers specific to their needs across both the search marketing side and the

Increasingly, having the best offering means joining programs across multiple affiliate networks, without good aggregation software though this has meant a large increase in the affiliates workload to monitor these efforts through different reporting interfaces. Also even with mastering these offerings reconciling commission with organic and paid search efforts has been a challenge. Going forward software like Affclicks a similar will be key to maintaining increasingly complex affiliate marketing efforts.

Affclicks makes it easy to manage the many networks a modern affiliate business may use.

Changes have and will continue to present challenges for affiliate marketers, the barrier to entry has increased in recent times and looks set to continue to do so. For affiliate marketers that can overcome this barrier though there is a wealth of new opportunities, both now and into the future. Having the right tools to navigate the affiliate landscape and ensure that your effort is being placed in the right areas has never been more important.

 

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