Affiliate Programs and the merchandising failure

How poor merchandising effects the conversion rates of online store affiliates sales
I used to do a lot of affiliate programs in the 90's. It was easy back then. The major search engines where Yahoo, Excite, Lycos, HotBot and InfoSeek. As now, the search engines could make or break you, especially Yahoo. There were no paid express submissions, keyword buys, adware or adsense programs. You could make an affiliate mall or even a copy of an product page and index it on the search engines. You could use redirects so the finder didn't even know. You could make a pointer page with just the store's name and nothing else, get a number one and siphon off the stores traffic for yourself. Those days are gone, but the affiliate opportunities still exist. What we were all looking for was passive income. Make a website, sit back and do nothing but count the money. I think its still possible, but a lot more difficult.


Why do I bring all of this up? Because I learned a lot in the nineties and took a job teaching. No more long hours on my computer worrying about whether I made enough money to pay the bills this month. The steady paycheck was nice. But what I missed was the opportunity to be creative. I still had big internet ideas that needed to be fulfilled. So I left the school several months ago and decided to try my luck at the internet again. I knew about search engine optimization and affiliate programs, so there was half the battle, or so I thought. I have spent hours everyday for the last 2 months learning about all of the changes. I think I'm pretty much there. So now I have a plan, and that plan includes Affiliate Programs, SEO and eCommerce. No, I'm not going to tell you the plan, but I'm going to relate to you some of my research.

I think some of the new technology is very good. Now anyone can get a CSV or XML data feed of product to manipulate any way they want. You have RSS and Rich Dynamic Media which changes the content of your page on the fly. These are great. There are also more rules which make it more difficult. No pointer pages, restricted keyword buys, I can't link to product pages on some sites, and I may need email and newsletter campaign approvals, etc. I found that unless I have my own community to market to, I'm dead in the water. I do think that social networking and crowdsourcing has made community building easier for the lucky few who have found something that the general population wants. So I did come up with my plan to build community, but that's not what I'm writing about either.

I started checking out Linkshare and Commission Junction as well as different forums to see what was happening with the Passive Income Affiliate Marketing world. In so doing I checked out the stores that were offering affiliate programs and creating the restrictive rules for the players. These companies are supposed to be the professionals of the ecommerce world. What I found was quite disappointing and at times appalling. I'm not going to mention any company names, as that is not my goal. What want to do is share some marketing faux pax with you. (faux pax is the plural of faux pax)

I looked at 54 companies promoting affiliate programs and ended up reviewing their sites. Four websites were so bad that I couldn't find the products they were selling. There was a picture of a smiling man or woman and some block text about how great they were. Pictures and product descriptions were not on the main page and I found no links to the catalog. I left those sites confused. What if your customers couldn't find your product?

On a few websites, I did find the products laid out on the main page, that's on track, but they didn't have buy buttons or prices. I looked everywhere. It took time but I found them 3 levels down under some sub category heading. People, Put the buy button right with the product and put your product where I can find it. If your in commerce, your content is the product itself.

One group of stores is owned by a prominent search engine company. These sites had a big search box on the main page THAT LED THE CUSTOMERS OFF SITE and had nothing to do with the theme or content of the site. I know the glass office guys who don't understand ecommerce had the search boxes put on. But you don't give your visitors an exit. Can you see the backdoor at Wal-Mart from the front door? Has anyone ever gone out the back door? Let your customers in the store, don't let them leave. The way out is when they get the order confirmation. Why does Wal-Mart put the cash register by the exit. Do the same on your website.

This one was so appallingly STUPID that I have to speak in generalities so as not to blatantly identify this company. Lets say this store sold music and videos. They have a great selection of products and they are merchandised appropriately. It is really a great site...., except for the 600px skyscraper ad for a competing store that sold the same product line for HALF the price. Yes, really!! Again, the site was owned by a network of unrelated websites. Someone in a glass office sold advertising space across the network. They probably don't even realize that all the customers followed that "half off" banner and left the site never to return. Its probably the only skyscraper that ever got a click. The guy in the office is probably thinking how great it is to get the $20k a month fro the advertising company, but to what end did it damage the real revenue.

Which brings me to Ads by Google. Why are stores putting these on there pages. Are they in pay per click or ecommerce. Don't they believe in their products. These ads populate a field with related websites. If I'm on a music website, I'm going to see links to competing websites and I will probably leave. Don't give your customers a click of the site.

One more to share. On some of the sites I had to log in or join before I could buy. Now these are items I could get anywhere without giving away my email addy. How many sales do you think they lost. Argh, all of this makes smoke come out my ears and my hair is almost on fire. These are simple mistakes that can be avoided with a little common sense.

Then I see the affiliate program rules, some are telling me that basically I can only have a text link or a banner/button on my web site. That's not very effective, even if I had traffic. Now, if I can't merchandize to my traffic before it goes to the stores website, and they aren't maximizing their product merchandizing, how is my traffic to convert to a sale. The traffic I do send can't find the product, can't find the prices, can't find the buy buttons, have to register before buying, or are leaving the site for cheaper items on other sites. Some just get confused trying to navigate the store and leave frustrated and misled. If my customer buys from someone else, I don't get the commission. At least if I made my own products page, the onus is on me to convert the visitor to a sale. I can bypass the store's ineptitude with marketing and merchandising by sending the sale directly to their shopping cart. The better sites are willing to give me a data feed and the ability to populate a page with products. I can then control the merchandising and marketing on my website. Those stores get my respect, even if they can't merchandise properly to convert the customers to a sale on their site, I can now do it on mine. I can make sure there are prices, buy buttons, pictures and descriptions, and layout the products on my site so they can convert to a sale. I've now got a fighting chance as I ve taken the onus of conversion and put it all on me.

Its all about product marketing and merchandising on a website. Not all the players have this figured out and are missing the mark. They can't understand why the conversion rate to a sale is so low. Why does one site have a 10 percent conversion rate and another can barely do 1 percent. Why do some affiliates convert sales at one store and not another. Its all in the stores presentation. It's important, and it will make you or break you. For the affiliates, your poor conversion may not be your fault. You send your traffic to the store, but its up to THEM to convert your customer to a sale. Its up to THEM once the customer leaves your site.! If you can only link and nothing else, the responsibility is on them.

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