November 15, 2012

When Is 20 Really 3?

Some sites use lists as a way to highlight products or promotions, such as Travelzoo’s weekly “Top 20 Travel and Entertainment Deals” or the myriad of “Top 10” lists out there.  Other sites, however, really need to rethink the strategy of using lists. is one site that advertises “Top 20 Deals” but most of the product categories on that site display far fewer than twenty product deals.  For instance, the “Top 20 Deals” for’s Makeup Counter category includes only three product deals:

Think about how visitors to your site are going to feel about your company and your site when you set false expectations for visitors.  You’ve had your designer create attention-grabbing “Top 20 Deals” banners, which site visitors click-thru to see the top 20 deals in a specific category, only to see three deals listed.  Do you think visitors might be disappointed?  What does that say about your brand that your site advertises something that doesn’t exist?  What are the chances visitors are going to exit your site from one of these pages?

How can you improve this site experience?  For the example, here are some options:
  • Add more products/deals to the list so there are 20 products displayed per category.
  • Change the “Top 20” list to a more realistic “Top 3” list.
  • Don’t use any “Top” lists.  Use space on your category landing pages to highlight a few products deals.

What strategy does your site currently use to highlight promotions? 

March 29, 2012

16 Tips for Managing Affiliate Marketing Programs

Using an affiliate marketing program to increase your online sales or generate more sales leads is a good idea.  Here are sixteen tips to better manage your affiliate marketing program and improve your ROI:

  1.  Provide banner ads in a variety of sizes.  No one is going to change the layout of their blog to accommodate the one banner ad size you’re offering to affiliates.
  2. Include a good call-to-action in each of your ads.  No call-to-action = no click-thrus.  Your ads might be the most beautiful ever but no affiliate wants to waste space on an ad that won’t generate click-thrus and sales.  Even a simple call-to-action such as “Shop Now” is better than no call-to-action in your ads.
  3. Edit your ad copy.  When you provide a banner ad with copy such as “Save 70% Off Off Retail Sales”, your company looks sloppy.  If you would be embarrassed to use a banner ad with typos in your paid search program, don’t offer banner ads with typos to your affiliates.
  4. Edit your HTML.  When I have to edit your HTML on my site so that your banner ad displays properly, I assume that you don’t bother to test your ads first.  How many affiliates do you think are going to take the time to edit your HTML versus taking the time to delete your ad from their site?
  5. Design banner ads that are easy to read.  While that dark gray copy (perpendicular to your ad layout so that viewers have to turn their heads to read the copy) on a black background might look fashionable to you, it’s hard to read which means that fewer affiliate site visitors will click on your ad.  (It’s also hard to see your dark-colored products when you’ve got a dark-colored background on your ads.)
  6. Update your ads on a regular basis.  Affiliates like to A/B test, too.  If you haven’t updated your ads in over six months and those ads aren’t converting for your affiliates, chances are your affiliates will remove your ads from their site.
  7. Openly share with your affiliates.  Share info such as which ads are the best-converting, exclusive coupons, etc.
  8. Be transparent.  If you don’t offer a commission on certain products, make it easy for your affiliates to find out which products pay no commission.  No affiliate wants to find out after the fact that you aren’t going to pay a commission for traffic and sales that the affiliate generated for you.
  9.  Remember that your competitors offer affiliate programs, too.  If you don’t treat your affiliates well, expect that they’ll jump ship to one of your competitors’ affiliate programs.
  1. Email your affiliate with unprofessional requests.   I received an email asking me to start a blog that states that a specific company is the best in its industry, in exchange for a small increase in the commission rate.
  2. Assume that every affiliate likes or wants rotating banner ads.  Offer static banner ads that won’t distract from your affiliate’s web content.  If you think that you have too many messages to include on a static ad, it’s time to edit your marketing messages – keep it simple.
  3. Skimp on Return Days.  Why should an affiliate display your ads if you’re not willing to pay a commission for return visits resulting from those ads?  Your affiliates aren’t stupid so don’t treat them like they’re ignorant about the fact that it takes multiple visits to your site before a visitor makes a purchase.  (Having your affiliate program Return Days set at 0.1666667 days is really skimping.)
  4. List a phone number on your ads.  Affiliates aren’t willing to devote space to your ads if they’re not going to get a commission.  No affiliate wants one of their site visitors to see your ad, call the number listed and not get credit for the sale.
  5. E-mail affiliates that target consumers that aren’t in your target market.  What are the chances that someone who blogs about “all things Star Wars” will consider displaying an ad that targets Trekkies?  While that’s an extreme example, you’re wasting an affiliate’s time by contacting him/her prior to looking at the affiliate’s site to see if your products are a good fit for that site. 
  6. Make up your program rules as you go.  Example: Changing your program to reverse commissions on affiliate-generated transactions when the transactions included a promo code that you don’t offer through your affiliate program but do offer through your other marketing channels.  Your affiliates don’t have control over what promo codes a site visitor uses to make a purchase but affiliates do have control over continuing to display your ads on their sites.  Nothing burns bridges like making it harder for affiliates to get a commission from your program.
  7. Auto-approve all affiliates.  You have a brand image to maintain.  Does your brand image really match a site for people who write letters to prison convicts?  (Don’t laugh, that happens to companies that don’t want to devote manpower to approving affiliate applications on an individual basis.)

Always remember that affiliates who choose to display your ads on their sites have a vested interest in increasing your site conversions.  If an affiliate asks you for ads for a specific product or category, it’s because the affiliate wants to generate sales on your site.  Other affiliates will simply switch to displaying ads for other sites because it’s not the affiliates’ job to teach you how to create more effective ads.

Any affiliate marketing program tips that you would add to the list?

March 27, 2012

A Tale of Two Free Recipes

It’s starting to get easier to find companies that understand the value of providing free content online.  Some companies, however, do a better job of making their free content easier to share, thus reaching a larger audience.  Here are two companies, competitors in the same industry, which take slightly different approaches to providing free content:

  • Godiva: Godiva products can be found almost everywhere you look – from Godiva’s bricks-and-mortar locations to larger retail chains, such as Walgreens, Barnes and Noble, and Target, to  Godiva does a good job of promoting sales in all channels by providing free recipes, which include Godiva products, on

Godiva makes it easy to sort the free recipes by category and/or ease-of-baking.  Best of all – Godiva does not place any obstacles in the way to accessing the free content/recipes, so it’s easy to share these recipes via all social media platforms.

  • Ghirardelli: Ghirardelli products are also in many of the same large retail locations as Godiva – Target, Walgreens, and grocery store chains – and online at yet Ghirardelli only makes some of its free recipes, which include Ghirardelli products, available on its web site.

If you want to see most of Ghirardelli’s free recipes, you have to "like" the company on facebook. 

Let’s face it, not everyone wants to deal with logging on to facebook to access more free recipes when they can easily find free recipes at other sites.

Why does any of this matter to your company?

  • Providing free content, without any barriers to accessing the content – be it filling out a sales lead form or “liking” your facebook page – allows more potential customers to access and share your free content.  Having worked with B2B and B2C clients, I realize we would all like to have the contact info of every potential customer who views our free content online but at the end of the day, most marketing and sales staff are judged on increased revenue, not increased number of sales leads. (Besides, you can still use software packages like Eloqua to track the site visits from your email list and see what site pages your sales leads are viewing.)
Treat your free content like your checkout process – the fewer steps involved to find and share, the higher the conversion rate.  Godiva really gains the advantage on Ghirardelli by not making site visitors go through the extra steps of logging on to facebook and “liking” the company.  However, both sites take different approaches to design and usability: Godiva at least uses the keyword “recipes” but the link is in the bottom navigation; Ghirardelli opts for the call-to-action phrase of “bake with us” in the top navigation.  What design approach is best for your site?  Take a look at the keyword phrases your site visitors are using to find your site and when searching for content/products on your site.  You make it easier for visitors to access your content when you communicate using the same terminology as your site visitors.

  • Word-of-mouth still carries more influence than paid marketing.  Why not let as many people as possible share your free content on Pinterest, Google+, facebook, Twitter and other social media sites?  It’s free advertising for your company and increases the top-of-mind awareness of your brand.

  • You either gain a competitive advantage or you risk losing market share to your competitors that realize the value of providing free content that can be easily shared by prospective customers.  I recently spoke with a Marketing exec in a retail company who told me that his company is going to focus on social media in 2013 but not this year.  The reality is that his competitors are already using Polyvore, Pinterest, and other sites to push awareness and sales of their products.  If your company is not willing to spend much money on social media, at least make it easy for your customers to freely promote your products via social media. 

What steps are you or your clients taking to provide more free content online to increase sharing, brand awareness and revenue?

In case you now feel like baking:

January 27, 2012

How Are Seller Ratings Affecting Your AdWords ROI?

What happens to your CTR and ROI when you allow your website’s seller ratings to be displayed as an ad extension on your Google AdWords ads?  While you might think it’s great that your seller ratings are now being displayed, you need to view the experience as your potential site visitors do.

Here is what happened when I searched for “silk turtleneck” on
Two of the top three paid search ads have seller ratings of roughly 4.5/5.0 stars.  But, that’s not all.  Here are the remainder of the paid search ads that appeared in the right column (this is just the Page 1 search results):
Half of these ads have seller ratings of roughly 4.5/5.0 stars.  Two ads have seller ratings of 5.0/5.0 stars.  Can we say redundant?

At this point, the ads that stand out are the two ads that don’t display seller ratings.  Is that a good thing?  Not necessarily.  A larger brand with higher levels of recognition, such as Ralph Lauren, can easily get away without having their site’s seller ratings displayed with their AdWords ads without having web surfers question if the lack of the seller ratings means that the site is questionable to shop on.  A smaller, lesser-known brand may run into the issue of web surfers questioning the integrity of shopping on that sight and choosing to click on one of the paid search ads that displays a high seller rating (though they all have high seller ratings).

Before you rush to check if your AdWords ads are displaying your seller ratings, here are a few points to take into consideration:
  1. Google is automatically displaying seller ratings on AdWords accounts for those domains that have at least 30 unique user reviews and a seller rating of at least 4.0 stars on Google Product Search. (This is the point that doesn’t make sense to me.  Most people using Google to search for a product or service are not aware that only the 4.0 or higher ratings are being displayed.  Google really needs to eliminate the minimum 4.0 star rating and display all the ratings.  If a site has a seller rating of 2.0/5.0 stars, display that so anyone who clicks on that paid ad has an expectation that they might have a really bad customer experience if they decide to purchase from that site.)
  2. Google Product Search seller ratings are really an aggregate of ratings from third-party sites, such as BizRate and Epinions, and Google Checkout reviews.  SMBs that don’t want to pay for BizRate, etc., will need to add Google Checkout to their sites in order to build up to the minimum of 30 reviews.
  3. The seller ratings currently are only displayed for searches on the following Google domains: .com,, .de, .fr, and .nl.
Going back to the Page 1 search results that displayed on for “silk turtleneck”, one organic search result demonstrates how to trump the paid search seller ratings:

The listing for displayed the product rating with the number of reviews for that specific product.  When I moused-over the right arrows, I could see in the page preview that the page is for a silk turtleneck (just what I searched for) and that it’s available in four colors.  While 27 product reviews doesn’t sound like very many reviews, do you think your site’s personas would be more likely to click on any link, paid or organic, based on your site’s overall seller ratings or on the product-specific ratings?

Here are the next steps to consider:
  1. If your AdWords ads are displaying your seller ratings, check your AdWords and site stats.  Have the ratings had a positive or negative impact on your conversions, ROI, and CTR?  If you’re seeing a decrease in conversions and ROI, fill out Google’s form to notify them you want the seller ratings removed from your AdWords ad extensions.  If your CTR has decreased but your conversions and ROI have not decreased, you probably want to look at the keywords you’re bidding on and your title and ad copy.  (Take a look at the first image in this post, neither the nor ads contains the keyword “silk” and the ad doesn’t even contain the keyword “turtleneck” yet both of those ads were triggered by my search for “silk turtleneck”.)
  2. If you’re not using the product extension option for your ad extensions, do so.  You just need to link your Google Merchant Center account (free to set up and upload your product info to) to your AdWords account. 
  3. Include product reviews on your product pages.  Look at the advantage Orvis has in the organic results for the search I performed.  Orvis’ product page isn’t first in the organic results, but their product page stands out because it’s the only organic result on this page with the product rating.
  4. Don’t forget SEO on your product and category pages.  No, you’re not going to get into the Page 1 search results overnight, but it’s worth the investment.  (Please use a better description tag than what did.  Blatantly trying to get the keyword twice in your description tag by stating that the turtleneck is a turtleneck makes you look lazy and like you didn’t take the time to identify your primary personas.)

On that note, what do you think of Google displaying the seller ratings on AdWords ads?  Have you, or your clients, seen positive or negative changes to your AdWords account since the seller ratings went live?

January 23, 2012

The Diamond Thief’s Guide to Marketing

As I was reading the book Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History by Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell, I noticed that the diamond thieves used strategies that also make good marketing strategies for all businesses.  Those strategies are:
  • Research Your Target (Market) – The thieves researched their target - the Diamond Center in Antwerp – by having one of the thieves sign a lease and spend time in the building gathering data.  Observing the behavior of your target market members is still a great method for gathering research.  While surveys and focus groups are useful, you shouldn’t forget that your target market consists of human beings (or animals).
  • Communicate in Your Target’s Language – The thief who signed the lease in the Diamond Center already owned jewelry stores and was able to communicate in the language of the diamond community.  You don’t have to have experience in your target market but you do need to communicate to them in their language to effectively market to them.
  • Keep It Simple – The thief assigned to open the vault door always looked for the simple solution to opening safes.  The most effective marketing messages tend to be simple.  For instance, “Where’s the Beef?” was a simple, memorable marketing message that increased sales for Wendy’s restaurants.
  •  Hire the Best – In building the team for this heist, the leader of the group hired thieves who had the knowledge and experience in each specialty field required for the heist to succeed.  If you put an Administrative Assistant in charge of your Web Marketing program, what are the chances your business will generate much new sales through your sites or social media?
  • Don’t Be Greedy – So, the thieves were in the Diamond Center vault and chose to leave behind their empty water bottles (great source of DNA) and some of their equipment in order to fit more loose diamonds and jewelry in their bags.  How does this apply to marketing?  Don’t stretch the truth in your marketing messages in order to generate more revenue.  Once your lies become public, and those always do, you’ll have a difficult time recovering lost sales and your brand’s image and reputation.

Have any examples of non-business books you’ve read that gave you good marketing or business ideas?

July 27, 2011

How to Keep User Reviews from Defeating Your SEO and SEM

You’ve optimized your product pages for SEO - copy on the page targets the primary personas for the product, you’ve improved your site design for usability, meta tags are complete, and you’ve A/B tested the calls-to-action and the product graphic to increase conversions. You’ve even improved your SEM – your ppc ads are optimized to crush the competition, you’ve blogged, tweeted, and posted your facebook updates with links to the product page. Yet the conversion rates on the product page have not increased. If you’ve got user reviews on the product page (and you really should allow your customers to review products on your site), here are the options for preventing bad or irrelevant user reviews from negatively impacting your conversion rate:

Option A: Dealing with Irrelevant User Reviews

• Have an employee monitor your user reviews on all your product pages. For instance, a few days before James Rollins’ latest book was published, I went to to check on the price. Since limits the number of reviews seen per screen to five reviews, the reviews I saw on the product page consisted of two negative reviews complaining about the prices charged for ebooks for the Nook and two counter reviews from individuals explaining that authors have no control over ebook pricing.

Oh, and my favorite, one review for a different book was a link to a competitor’s web site with the coupon code listed in the review.

Who cares? I certainly didn’t consider any of the four reviews to be relevant to the actual book. However, not every visitor to your product page will read the reviews, opting instead to just look at the average rating of all reviews. All irrelevant ratings affect the total average rating so delete the irrelevant reviews.

• Update your site policy to state that all irrelevant reviews will be deleted and include examples of irrelevant reviews. Make certain to include a link to this policy on the form page where your site visitors enter their reviews and prominently list your customer service phone number on both pages so any disgruntled customer can call and complain to a human being.

• In Barnes and Noble’s case, create a call-to-action button for visitors who have “comments” about your Nook and ebook pricing. Include that button on at least the product user review form page and site policy page. Then, link the call-to-action button to a page where you address the issue with ebook pricing (how are the prices determined, why are some prices higher than the paperback version of the book, why do prices differ between ebooks, etc.), the issue with employees overstating the benefits of buying the Nook, what you’re doing to resolve all issues and complaints, and then providing a form for your disgruntled customers to submit their comments and view the comments that other users submitted.

Option B: Dealing with Bad Reviews

• Do not delete the bad product reviews. The last thing you need is for the negative word-of-mouth to spread about how you’re deleting negative reviews and misleading the public.

• Have an employee monitor all product reviews, categorize the negative product reviews (furniture pieces not properly manufactured, sizing is too small or too big, colors of shoes don’t match, etc.) and forward the reviews to the appropriate staff members.

• Send a thank-you to each customer who had a bad experience, apologize for the problem(s), state how your company is resolving the issue and offer an incentive to return to your site and make another purchase.

In the overall scheme of the business world, you can plan ahead all you want but you will never be able to control how your customers or competitors behave. How is your company or client handling negative reviews and irrelevant reviews?

July 12, 2011

Pavlov’s Online Sweepstakes?

If Pavlov were alive today would he be working for the BIC Soleil razor brand? Based on BIC Soleil’s “100 Days of Sunny Moments” online sweepstakes, it’s highly possible.

The “100 Days of Sunny Moments” online sweepstakes contains four main points that not only make it a great example of how to run a sweepstakes, but also improves upon the Pavlovian concept seen in sites such as

1. Daily Drawing with Four-Hour Entry Time Frame – Why condition dogs to drool when you can get humans to rush to your web site everyday from 1:00PM – 5:00PM ET to enter your daily drawing? Unlike most contests that offer a 24 hour entry period, BIC gives registered participants a four hour entry period.

2. Surprise Daily Bonus Prizes- I was pleasantly surprised one day to find that I could enter the bonus prize drawing for that day. BIC doesn’t list when their surprise bonuses will be held, which creates the extra incentive to return to the site each day, even if you’re not interested in the daily prize, so you don’t miss out on entering the drawing for the bonus prize.

3. Voting for Grand Prize as part of Entry – Instead of merely having participants enter the grand prize drawing, BIC has participants vote for one of two vacation spots while entering the grand prize drawing. The vacation destination with the most votes will be the grand prize. (This is also a fantastic way to end internal bickering in your department when it comes to choosing a grand prize.)

4. Transparency – BIC lists the daily prize winners and poll results for Grand Prize voting on the site so site visitors can see that the contest is legitimate.

If you’re going to have an online sweepstakes for a geographical region that only covers a few time zones, using the daily limited time period seems like a good way to increase repeat participation. What do you think?