Good stuff today everybody! I had the opportunity to interview Brad Geddes of CertifiedKnowledge.org about affiliate marketing on Google Adwords. If you don’t know Brad, he is the author of my all-time favorite PPC book, Advanced Google Adwords.
Brad doesn’t work directly for Google, but he teaches at the official Adwords Seminar for Success program. I chose to interview him because he’s as close as you could get to talking with someone who actually works in the Adwords department, yet still remain being completely open about the questions asked. Hope you enjoy this one!
For those who may not know you already, what’s your background and how did you fall into online marketing and PPC?
Years ago, I often call this my ‘preweb’ life; I use to work in the mental health/mental retardation industry helping people to become productive members of society; including transitioning people from institutional life to community living programs. While its a rewarding industry; its also a burnout one as there’s only so many hours you can spend inside an institution. Eventually I quit and had no idea what I was going to do.
I was surfing the web one day and came across ‘affiliate marketing’. It seemed so easy: drive traffic and make money. I already knew site design from creating hobby sites and just playing around online; so I gave it a try and it worked well (and it was easy in the 90s). Then Overture launched (the first PPC platform), and it gave me an opportunity to be on a search page twice, which was great: more real estate – more money. Then AdWords launched, and it gave me an opportunity to be on another search engine multiple times; and I started working on blending SEO and PPC, increasing my conversion rates, and all the fun testing that comes with being a good marketer.
My marketing life spiraled out of control as other companies wanted me to run their accounts so after telling them no for years, I finally created an agency in 2001, then we sold another agency a few years later; and yet more happened, such as working with resellers, consulting for some of the engines, building a company that managed 42,000 PPC accounts and 110,000 SEO clients, published Advanced Google AdWords, etc – and I’ve been happily working on paid search ever since.
What particular skills do you consider to be crucial for PPC success and where do you see newer PPC advertisers going wrong and making mistakes?
This is where PPC marketing can be difficult. You need:
- Solid foundation in math
- Excel skills
- Creative writing skills
- A bit of technical know-how
- A willingness to experiment
Most people are good at either math or writing – very few people are really good at both. So a common mistake is to not recognize the shortcoming and fix it. ‘Fixing it’ could be as easy as watching algebra videos or taking a creating writing class; or it could be as complex as splitting up the PPC duties in the company based upon the available skill sets.
Google has been banning affiliates (and other advertisers) for years now. Do you think these people simply didn’t go far enough in creating a good site and providing real value? I think a lot of people are hesitant to put a lot of time and energy into a site just to end up getting their accounts banned anyway for being an affiliate. Are there any things that most people miss and flat-out forget to include that leads to bans?
I have yet to see a ban where there was not some cause. The cause could be a site that just serves as a bridge page and offers no real value. This cause might not be noticed by the affiliate unless they understand Google’s T&Cs. In other cases, affiliates are getting ads approved with one URL and then redirecting the link to another URL (often the merchant) or breaking back buttons, selling something that isn’t legal or is on Google’s banned list, etc.
Affiliates can be very successful using AdWords if they follow the rules. For the most part, if the affiliate builds a good site that enhances the search experience (provides value) than they can advertise without a problem on Google. If you look at a site like hotels.com, expedia, etc – they are affiliate sites. They might be big affiliate sites; but every travel agent is just an affiliate.
I work with two affiliates (non-travel space; the more traditional affiliate model) that combined spend more than five million dollars each month. Their marketing spends do not get them special treatment from Google; however, their great landing page experiences and websites along with their spends get them nice rep support. Google supports legitimate companies with good sites and business models. Affiliates can be legitimate companies; just make sure the website and user experience is great and don’t follow the latest ‘get rich quick and spammy advice’ floating around. If you put users first; you can usually have a good experience advertising with AdWords.
I think a lot of people get banned from Adwords because they submit landing pages like this over and over…
While it’s great from a conversion standpoint and works just fine on other traffic sources, I can’t imagine this page passing the Adwords sniff test because it’s pretty flat and ultimately designed to do 1 thing… send visitors to the merchant site… which is a bridge page violation. What kinds of things can an affiliate do to “beef up” this page and improve it so it provides more value? I think adding functionality so real people can rate and comment is pretty huge, and of course increasing the overall navigability of it.
Making a page useful goes beyond just a basic review (especially if the reviews don’t seem legit) to add:
- Comparison charts
- Reviews pulled from multiple sources
- In-depth product reviews and comparisons (this takes some work, but the content is also wonderful on the SEO side)
- Realtime prices from multiple merchants
- Use-case scenarios
In the end, its all about making the user experience on the site good enough that a user makes a better decision about what product to buy or service to use because of the affiliates website. If the user is just funneled through a bridge page designed so that the top payout is the top reviewed item and the worst payout is the worst reviewed item – then the reviews aren’t honest and the page is really just funneling someone towards a single experience. If the page instead easily compares product specs, does in-depth reviews of why this product is better than this one, etc – then its helping the user to make better decisions and those pages usually pass a hand review by Google.
It’s no secret that many affiliate offers (especially in the CPA networks) don’t provide any value and are therefore not allowed to run on Google. Do you have any advice when it comes to choosing affiliate offers to promote? What does Google especially hate and what should people know?
Any offer that violates the user’s privacy, had too many loopholes to jump through, bills a user against their knowledge, or isn’t really related to the keywords and ads are usually banned.
For instance, for a while you’d see offers such as ‘win a free iPad’ running on any keyword; and the user had to fill out 20 offers and then get 3 friends to fill out 20 offers and then they would be eligible to win an iPad. The odds of winning were very low, the amount of work was high, and the user didn’t really know what was happening to their information. With a lot of the product supplements, the user wasn’t actually buying a free trial, they were enrolling in an autobill membership where it was almost impossible to cancel. Any offer that is meant to deceive the user is going to be banned.
If you think about this from Google’s perspective, their overall goal is to have someone find relevant results and answers to their search question. They want these sites to help the user so much that the user wants to find their next answer from Google again because Google gave the user a good recommendation. It’s a give and take between websites and Google. Someone has a good experience on a website Google recommended, so they search on Google again to find yet another good experience. If the user searches on Google and keeps having bad experiences, then they are going to start searching on Yahoo or Bing. Google wants to ensure you don’t have such a bad experience that you lose faith in Google’s ability to send you to relevant pages that provide a good experience.
So it’d be accurate to say that Google doesn’t hate affiliates, they just hate crappy affiliates? Besides misleading ads, thin landing pages and crappy offers, is there anything else that Google doesn’t like which people should be aware of? Are there any industries you recommend just avoiding altogether?
I think so. If its a good business model that helps searchers; then Google doesn’t hate it – they just don’t like the stuff that wastes someone’s time or doesn’t add any value.
There are industries that are highly regulated online – either by governments or Google, such as alcohol, gambling, firearms, etc so you’ll want to be careful with those areas. Other areas to avoid are anything that seems ‘too good to be true’. The supplement market has been hit hard by Google (and in some cases, other government organizations), get-rich-quick schemes, high product return areas, high rates of chargebacks or dissatisfied customers, etc – are areas to generally be avoided.
If its a business that you aren’t embarrassed to explain to your grandmother – then you’re often OK. In the end, if you: add value, deliver value, and create happy customers then you’re usually in good shape.
When did PPC really start to click in your mind for you? Is there anything you learned that made all the difference? I know a lot of people try their hand at PPC and fail, but sometimes a certain way of thinking about it makes it all so simple. Are there any basic fundamentals that people should force themselves to always remember?
My background is in Psychology; so when I put myself into a searcher’s shoes – PPC just makes sense. A good PPC marketer just makes it easy for a searcher to connect the dots. The searcher has a need expressed in a search query, and the marketer has to guess that query (keywords) and connect them to what they need (landing page) and show them how to solve their need (copy/call to action), and then the checkout process has to be easy (path of least resistance). I wrote about what I call the Psychology of Search several years ago, and I still believe in this concept today.
Do you have any tips on compliance, specifically for people who run affiliate campaigns? I know in my particular market, and it took me quite a long time to really understand this, is that Google really wants transparency. Are their any mistakes you see people making frequently?
I think the most common mistake is people buying an ebook about how to make lots of money on the web, or buying some pre-built website template that is guaranteed to work and then then assume its all easy without actually understanding what they are doing. There’s a lot of advice on the web, not all of it is good or even accurate. Understanding the affiliate business model, the AdWords model, and customer’s needs and wants essential to doing well in this space. If you can build a nice connection point between the three three points, then you’ll usually do well.
Thanks so much for allowing me to interview ya, Brad! Lastly, for people who don’t know, what kinds of things do you offer at Certified Knowledge for PPC marketers? Tell us a bit about your book, Advanced Google Adwords.
Certified Knowledge is a combination of PPC tools, video training, and a community site. The videos are designed for beginners to experts to learn how to do better with AdWords. The tools are designed to save you time. The community is there for support with unique issues that arise.
Advanced Google AdWords, now in its second edition, is one of the best selling books on everything you need to know to succeed with AdWords. It is geared towards an intermediate to advanced audience who already has a basic understanding of AdWords. Most people call it the next step in training after you’ve gotten everything you can out of the free AdWords learning center videos.
My overall goal is to make sure everyone has access to excellent PPC content so they can improve their PPC success regardless of their learning style. If you like videos on demand, there’s Certified Knowledge. If you prefer to read, there’s Advanced Google AdWords. If you prefer in-person seminars, I provide those as well through AdWords Seminars for Success (officially supported by Google) and Advanced AdWords Workshops, which is a partnership with SMX.