Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Paid Search: Teaching Affiliates to Play Nice

Affiliates can be invaluable for a paid search program, specifically when used to control the search results page real estate; the caveat, of course, is that you must manage them very closely.

As the WebMama team is very active in managing SEM and affiliates, I’ve decided to turn to our Director of Client Services, Wes Blemker, and our VP of Search Strategy, Amanda Evans, with a few questions about the advantages and disadvantages of affiliates; we’ll end the post with their five top tips for working with affiliates.

Advantages of Affiliates in a Paid Search Program

Affiliates can block competitors effectively, or push them lower on the SERPs, thereby giving more visibility to your brand message, according to Amanda. “They’re a useful tool in controlling search results page real estate – or the ‘virtual shelf life’ - for your brand.”

Wes agrees, adding that it gives your company far more control over the bid marketplace: “Otherwise, competitors will find it cheaper and easier to bid up your top keywords (especially branded) and steal traffic and targeted exposure. With the official site appearing on top and then affiliates dominating the rest of the page one results, it becomes more expensive, and less effective for competitors to enter the fray.”

Disadvantages of Affiliates in a Paid Search Program

“Affiliates make most of their commission off branded keyword conversions, so they will be extremely aggressive in bidding on these terms without guidelines,” Wes explains, “and this will no doubt drive up your company CPC to unacceptable levels on branded terms. Problems can and always do arise with affiliates, especially when they are given free reign to use the trademarked brand term in ads.”

Whether affiliates rank higher, drive up CPC, block your ads, or misrepresent your carefully crafted brand strategy, Amanda points out that you need to remain focused on the end result; especially when “good affiliates go bad.”

5 Tips to keep Affiliates Playing Nicely

1. Create Guidelines for Trademark Usage - Amanda

Communicate clear guidelines for trademark usage and the consequences for violating the guidelines. Typically, this works best with a select group of top affiliates (about five).

Consider crafting guidelines surrounding the use of trademarks in display URLs, titles and description copy, as well as which specific affiliates have the rights to trademarks.

2. Monitor Trademark Usage Closely - Amanda

Don't assume that once the guidelines are in place and clearly communicated, that everything will go smoothly; you will need to closely monitor trademark usage across affiliates and take appropriate action.

Aside from simple searching to police affiliates, be aware of significant changes to impression levels and clicks on brand terms. Significant swings in impression and clicks on brand terms are a key indicator of affiliate issues.

3. Measure, Test, and Measure Again - Amanda

Finally, above all, measure, test, and measure again to ensure that you are leveraging the strength of both your search marketing and affiliate channels.

4. Maintain a list of Trusted Affiliates - Wes

Keep a very tight list of top, trusted affiliates - no more than say 5 - that are allowed to use your brand in ads. Additionally, these trusted partners must be held to a maximum bid that can be determined through testing; keeping the official site ad on top is a must with daily monitoring of your CPC for top branded terms.

5. Ask for Reports - Wes

If it comes to it, to be certain affiliates are following the rules, you can have them send automated reports from Google [for example] weekly, showing their actual bid price for the terms you care most about.

At the end of the day, these rules will help you to have some pricing control over an open marketplace while maintaining excellent coverage across page one of the results. Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments so we can continue learning together.

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posted by Barbara 'webmama' Coll @ 7:51 AM     Permanent Link