My primary function here at Expedia EAN is to provide marketing support to our partners – whether that be in SEO/PPC/Social, to drive our partners business forward and build a better business for everyone. As such, I get to see and study most of our major partners on a day to day basis. That combined with a wealth of experience in ultra competitive niche’s have lead to me putting together this post which I hope will help most affiliates.
The five problems I have listed below seem to affect most sites, some more than others, but it is rare to see any web property get all of these right so take the time to have a look through and see what applies to you and your business!
1) Poor Merchandising
The number one reason why partners leave money on the table is not displaying the kind of deal or product that each individual customer is searching for at that point in time. Naturally, without perfect customisation its impossible to get this right every time, but because the data seems difficult to obtain most affiliates simply ignore what is available or worse, make wild assumptions as to what the answer should be.
You should be responsible for knowing what works on your site with your visitors – it might be primarily business hotels in major cities for short stays, it might equally be package deals at holiday destinations. The kind of traffic you get obviously is a by-product of the kind of keywords that your site is ranking for or you are targeting in PPC – but do you actually *know* what is selling?
If you don’t already know, we provide this data through our API on a per partner basis. EAN also provides merchandising feeds sorted by hotel popularity and likelihood to sell – using data from tens of millions of transactions over the last decade. If you are not already using our merchandising sort order then its likely you are missing out on transactions.
Not displaying the hotels that stand the best chance of converting for you is the easiest way to waste your marketing spend. Know what your customers are looking for, and make it obvious to them where to get it!
2) Lack of Real Content
This is a real bug to me – a conversation like this happens pretty much everyday:
Partner: “Why doesn’t my site rank any more for any hotel or destination terms?“
Me: “Have you got anything unique on your website?”
Partner: “yeah, sure – we use all your hotel descriptions from the CSV files”
Me: “No – UNIQUE content. Unique to your site”
Lets make this perfectly clear: Google doesnt want to index lots of affiliate sites that individually add nothing to their results. Why would they? Every extra site adds precisely zero to the quality of those listings. Does your site add something (anything) unique? If the answer to that is ‘no’ then that’s where you need to start. If the answer is a yes, but you still have lost all the traffic to your site that converts, it would help to take a look at where you have your content on-site.
A few weeks ago at A4U I ran a “penguin & panda recovery clinic” where I met with a number of online marketers who had been impacted by recent updates. One of those sites was as luck would have it a hotel affiliate based in Europe. This particular site had actually done a fantastic job of gathering UGC in the form of hotel reviews (150k of them), and had some great location and map content on each one of the hotels. The problem was, that this information was not displayed on the main hotel page, it was all displayed on a number of sub pages that were unlikely to appear in search. Even if they did, those pages are not setup with CRO in mind.
Look in depth at what content assets you have. Look and see if they are “working” for you at the moment. If they are not for whatever reason apply the following logic: Could this content serve my pages that I want to rank better? If I received no more visits to this page
would it make an impact to my business? If the answers to those questions are correct, move the content!
To sum this point up in one phrase: Without unique content, you will NOT get free traffic. Without free traffic, your marketing is much more expensive.
3) Inefficiencies in Paid Search
Most of us maintain paid search accounts. Thanks to a fantastic PR job by Google over the past decade, to a lot of people PPC simply “is” online marketing.
The problem is, most of us run massively inefficient accounts with large percentages of wasted clicks and spend. Its not unusual to sit down with a partner and identify tens of thousands of dollars of wasted money per month – this level of spend correctly appropriated into keywords and landing pages that do convert can make a massive difference to most partners businesses.
Lets assume that you are only working with Google Adwords at the moment (although the same logic applies also to MSN Adcenter). Do you have eComm tracking setup with Adwords? If not, that is absolutely the first priority. Without correct tracking we never stand a chance of optimising your campaigns, there is plenty of information online about how to set this up, but the execution will depend on your sites architecture so I wont go into too much detail.
The information that you absolutely need however is: Which keywords result in sales (conv.rate), what is the CPC for those keywords, what is the value per visitor for those keywords (generally, average CPA*conv.rate). This is easy to analyse in excel using the Adwords Offline Editor downloading your accounts statistics and opening them in Excel.
Once you have the data available, try modelling how your spend would have been reduced by:
stopping spend on any keywords that have not converted in ((average conversion rate)*200) clicks.
if something hasnt converted in twice the average number of clicks, stop it
increase bid on keywords with good conversion rate, but average position +4
if a keyword consistently performs, but your bid price only allows it to appear low down the results, try increasing the bid
ensuring that spend is on exact match only
this is a classic example of where companies spend far too much on their cost of sale through PPC. Broad and Phrase matches are great, for finding new keywords. They are not great however at delivering a well optimised ad copy or landing page for specific queries that trigger sales. In adwords, run a search query report and add ANY keywords that are actually converting well with specific ad text and calls to action on a custom landing page. Over time this should become your #1 source of new keywords.
4) insufficient visitor tracking
there really is no excuse for this, but again, you wouldn’t believe just how often this happens.
Tracking your website does not end with counting visitors. It hardly even starts with counting visitors these days – and the beauty of marketing online is that we can quantify almost every action and interaction with credible data.
Basically, pretty much every other thing that we can do to improve the marketing efficiency of your site depends fully on well implemented analytics – there is nothing more important that this in online marketing so there is zero excuse for this to not be implemented faultlessly.
At a more advanced level – correctly installed analytics gives you the flexibility to not only record how many people saw your site, but also segregate them to accurately predict the visitors intent and desire, then customise your sites experience to suit the kind of visitors that you are attracting, providing new content where applicable and streamlining the user experience elsewhere.
5) Thinking Social, not Doing Social
Another bugbear of mine: we all know that social is increasingly important, not only as a traffic generator and PR tool, but as a search signal. We all (mainly) have registered a twitter handle, a facebook page, a linkedin group, a google plus page, even a presence on one of the niche networks. A lot of us stop at that point though. Heck, I’ve “done” the social media integration, why do I need to engage?”.
Well, Social Media is all about the engagement, its not about the number of likes, tweets, shares, follows, plus one’s or whatever other measurement you can throw at social media. The true value in social is getting other people to follow your links and share your content with their social circles.
Nothing screams “untrustworthy” or “thin affiliate” as an empty profile on any of the social networks, or even worse – a social group with dozens of unanswered comments or questions. Simply being in the mix isn’t enough, you need to position yourself or your company as a leader in your niche.
Doing this right again, takes effort and energy. There is no real short cut in the world of social – its all about effort in == value and benefit to your site.
Try and cultivate a following on facebook or twitter – make sure you engage on those platforms, run specific promotions just for people that follow you or are connected in some other way, try incentivising people to share your site (see our SEO eBook post for an example of how we achieved that by leveraging some of our content).
These five things by no mean constitute an exhaustive list as to what people do wrong, or don’t apply enough effort to, but they are consistently in almost every site audit work that I carry out for major partners.
It is likely that you aren’t doing at least one of these things, but if you can achieve the best you can in all of the above facets of online marketing, your business will benefit. Holistic is a term that is overused these days, but it does apply perfectly here – you should be engaging in ALL of these practices, not just the ones that you are comfortable with or the ones that require the minimum effort.