For many SEO affiliates, the last year was very tough, especially because of two Google algorithmic updates – Panda and Penguin.
Panda aimed to devalue mediocre content, and, unfortunately, many SEO affiliates had historically invested too little in that field. The number of big affiliates who gained the majority of their traffic through SEO saw traffic decrease significantly.
Penguin was aimed at aggressive off-page strategies, and here, too, SEO affiliates have always decided for the easy way in favor of the rocky one.
No Google update, regardless of how revolutionary it may be, will keep affiliates from doing SEO. However, SEO affiliates who want to sustain success in 2013 and the following years need to re-think their strategies.
This article will present two strategies that affiliates can use to implement future-proof SEO.
Recalling the AIDA Funnel and Applying it to Search Marketing
To explain the sustainable SEO affiliate strategies, let's recall the AIDA funnel. The model essentially divides the buying processes into four steps:
- Attention or Awareness
Often, this process is displayed as a funnel. Why a model for buying processes? Well, affiliates are paid for sales or for intermediating contacts that can lead to sales. Affiliates assist in the sales process of advertisers and get a share of the revenue generated.
The following figure displays the purchase as a process, and below it matched the three different search types (that are informational, transactional and navigational search) as well as the aims of an advertiser who is active during this phase.
AIDA funnel with different search types and advertiser aims.
To identify and explain future-proof SEO strategies for affiliates, it is important to classify in which fields affiliates have been active by the majority until recently.
Historically, affiliates have always had a strong focus on clearly transactional searches. An affiliate ideally wanted to rank for terms for which a lead or a sale was within close reach. These are, for example, keywords like "buy washing machine", "rent pallet transporter", or "register online dating service".
This, however, is exactly where Google has succeeded in giving affiliates a really hard time through algorithmic changes since 2011. Google is increasingly trying to list actual retailers in transactional search queries that represent the "destinations" of the query of the searcher, and at the same time display less affiliates in the good SERP positions which in the end only serve as “channeling and pushing searchers through to advertisers”.
In the model established above “old” affiliate strategies would be illustrated in the following way.
Affiliate SEO strategies used to focus on the last two steps of the AIDA funnel.
Now let's look at two SEO strategies for affiliates that have something important in common: they represent a move upward in the AIDA funnel.
Strategy 1: Reviewing, Testing, Consulting
A very sustainable strategy for affiliates is to lay their focus on informational searches / keywords that are "close to transactional" but not purely transactional yet. Examples of such searches / keywords are “comparison iPhone Samsung Galaxy” or “reviews Siemens washing machine”. In the established model this strategy can illustrated like this:
Focusing on keywords that are searched for in the interest phase.
For the affiliate, such an approach is very close to their classic strategy that aims very much at transactional searches due to two aspects: acquisition of traffic and monetization.
First let’s take a look at the acquisition of traffic: For one part, there is even less competition between the organic results in the SERPs, but what is even more remarkable is the small number of AdWords ads in informational searches. What that means is clear: More of the people who type in those terms at Google are in fact led to the websites that rank well in the organic results.
When it comes to highly competitive transactional terms, it is clearly always the case that there aren’t only AdWords ads on the right hand side that “distract” from the SEO results, but additionally there are often up to three “high-performing ads” above the SEO results which take away potential visitors from every SEO positioning.
Furthermore, in a shopping context there are not only the classic AdWords ads but also the very strongly attention dragging PLAs (product listing ads).
Additionally, such an SEO strategy as the proposed has another very important advantage: If a user enters a mere transactional keyword in Google, for example “buy monitor”, and an affiliate succeeds to get the user to his website through good SEO, the user basically will nearly always be disappointed. Most of the time, the user will find a text about buying monitors and a couple of neatly integrated means of advertising, but he won’t be given the possibility to directly do what he wants to do – buying a monitor.
It is here that, as an affiliate, one produces some disappointment to the user. Here, one should remember why Google mainly changes its algorithms: Google wants to give the user the best search experience and lead the most direct way to what he is looking for.
To connect this to the alignment on informational searches as an affiliate SEO strategy, one needs to keep in mind what a user expects from such a search. The affiliate offers exactly what the user is looking for.
As can be expected from the term “informational” the user wants information – and this is exactly what the affiliate offers him. Therefore, he offers exactly what is in the interest of Google, and if this is the case, there is no need to worry about any soon-to-be Google updates.
As can be seen, an alignment on transactional searches offers distinctive advantages in regard to the acquisition of traffic. But what about the monetization?
It has to be clearly stated that users who are gained through informational keywords show distinctively worse conversion rates than users that are gained through mere transactional search terms. This is a little weakness of this strategy.
However, one needs to be clear about the fact that gaining heavily converting traffic is going to be more and more difficult. Consequently, the “old” strategy is not a real option anymore.
Strategy 2: Become a Brand
Another approach can quite rightly be entitled as old news. Years ago, following Google's lead, online marketing veterans started recommending sites should become a brand. In order to grasp the core idea of this strategy, one has to take a close look at the goals of advertisers during different phases of the buying process.
Affiliates should consider building a brand with their SEO efforts.
Affiliate that want to become a brand can neither focus on many conversions nor huge amounts of traffic and impressions. Instead, the main focus is on developing a good image and on building a brand.
Well-known affiliates who chose such an approach are bargain blogs like retailmenot.com or moneysavingexpert.com. If one takes a look at the search volumes of these domain names in the keyword tool, one will understand that it is really brands that were created. These players have been in the market for a long time, and you definitely won't quickly or easily achieve the same success.
Nonetheless, you should get some inspiration from their promising strategy and begin to create thematically specialized portals. The goal will always be the same: the website/product has to be so convincing that, in the end, the user will really start to search for the brand of the affiliate.
Moving Upward in the AIDA Funnel
As recommended and suggested the path to sustainable strategies SEO strategies for affiliates will focus on the additional benefit for the searcher and are consequently appreciated by Google. The following graphic illustrates both strategies within the introduced model.
Sustainable SEO strategies for affiliates are an upward move in the AIDA funnel.
Think about a testing portal for a specific niche that doesn't use a generic domain name, but instead tries to establish a brand and tries to become the leading testing reference for this topic – maybe even establishing a topical quality seal.
No matter if the above strategies are applied separately or in combination, it's vital to focus on keywords that a user would search for in an early stage of the AIDA funnel.