What is Affiliate Marketing – and do I need it?

What is Affiliate Marketing

What is Affiliate Marketing

You have probably heard about affiliate marketing, you may even have an idea of what you think affiliate marketing is, but is it something that you should investigate further?

Firstly, the definition. Affiliate marketing can be defined as a situation where your business rewards another for a visitor or customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts. If you think about this definition, affiliate marketing can include a lot of your marketing efforts: Google is likely to be an important affiliate for organic SEO and paid advertising.

However, for the purposes of this blog, we will focus on the area of affiliate marketing where someone is selling your product and will receive a commission for doing so. For example, if you own a website which sells car parts, it would make sense to pick up with someone who owns a website whose content is all about cars and car maintenance to see if they can drive traffic to your website – you will receive relevant traffic and they will receive a small commission for any sales.

So if you are thinking about employing an affiliate marketing programme for your company, what are the benefits and challenges that you should consider?


  • The affiliate has invested time and money building up their audience to match a particular profile – if this matches the profile you are looking for, a lot of hard work has been done for you
  • It beats traditional outbound marketing – firing your message out to a wide audience in the hope that some of them will be interested in your product or service is hugely inefficient: when done well, affiliate marketing is the ultimate in inbound marketing
  • Someone else is using their marketing budget to sell your product or service – nice!
  • Payments are performance-based, so you only pay if you receive a sale or other type of conversion
  • The program is fairly low risk: if the affiliate programme doesn’t work, the financial cost from your perspective shouldn’t be too high (although you may have invested a lot of time)


  • How relevant is the traffic to your ideal audience? If it is a perfect match, it will work well, but a small deviation can have a big impact on the success of the program
  • You need to have a good measurement system to be able to run an affiliate scheme – you may need to invest in one (although it is money well spent)
  • You lose control of the content – yes, it’s in the best interests of the affiliate to drive traffic, but their methods of maximising this may not match yours
  • Its hard work – anyone who has worked in affiliate marketing will know how tough it
  • Affiliate marketing is not a silver bullet: it should be part of a multi-channel approach as per any other marketing activity

Do you have any experiences or thoughts on affiliate marketing? If so, leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Contact Form Best Practice

Contact Form Best Practice

Contact Form Best Practice

Contact forms are a very important part of your website.

All of your marketing efforts are ultimately designed to drive contact with your business: this may take the form of a purchase for B2C marketers or the completion of a contact form if your purchase cannot be fulfilled online.

So, imagine that you are spending a lot of money driving people to the contact form on your website, but after all of that effort only 10% of people who see the form actually complete it. Now imagine if that number moved from 10% to 20%.

The impact of contact forms on the bottom line of the business is crucial and small changes can have big impacts. However, not every contact form feels the love from their owner, so check out these contact form best practices to get your form working hard for you.

Get Attention

It is possible that your contact form will not be a stand-alone page – it may appear in a side-bar, or it may be sharing its page with other content. If this is the case, then you need to draw attention to the form. This could take the form of less than subtle arrows, or may be as discrete as a sub-heading. Both are correct in the right environment, but it will depend on your business, your product / service and your marketplace.

Don’t Always Ask

It seems like an obvious point, but you should not ask questions unless you really need the answer. Despite this common sense, there are a lot of contact forms on the web with too many questions – it does feel good building up a picture of an enquirer, but remember that the more questions you ask, the more likely someone will think ‘why are they asking me this, this is not relevant’: and before you know it, they have abandoned the form.

The End in Sight

If your business does require a number of questions to process the enquiry, then you should ensure that the user can see all of the form where possible. People who can see the submit button for the form will have a perception that they will know when the form will end – which should make it feel shorter. So if your contact form is a long portrait, see how it can be displayed landscape with the submit button always visible.


Contact form validation will save you a lot of hassle in the future. It is a feature of contact forms where an answer to a question will need to have particular characteristics to be accepted – for example, every email has a ‘@’ symbol and a full stop in it: if you try to enter an email address without these characters then you will be politely reminded that the email address is not valid. This will help you out as you (should) have a genuine email or phone number with which to contact the user.

Keep Testing

Multivariate testing, like marketing in the 21st century, is a combination of art and science. You need a structured approach to begin testing, and should only amend one feature of the contact form at any one time – that way, if the conversion rate goes up or down, you can pin-point which feature is making the impact. There are a wide variety of elements you can test for your contact form, so you should keep testing and most importantly, measuring.

Do you have any contact form best practice? If so, leave a comment and share your knowledge!

10 Top Ecommerce Tips

Ecommerce Best Practice

Ecommerce Best Practice

So, you have negotiated all of your stock with your suppliers, worked out your pricing, and are ready to start trading – so, you will need an ecommerce website.

But how are you going to take on the giants of ecommerce like Amazon, eBay, Marks and Spencer or Tesco?  Well, big budgets obviously helps with ecommerce development, but there are a lot of basics that if you get right, you can start to level the playing field.

Here are ten top tips for your ecommerce website:

1) Mobile is the norm: With the tremendous rise of shopping on mobile devices, if your site is a miserable experience on a mobile device, then you are missing out on a lot of revenue.  Your site should be responsive and still offer the key features that your desktop website offers, but not all of the detail to present a clear and usable experience – this is a basic customer expectation, don’t disappoint.

2) Build Trust: Even though ecommerce has grown dramatically over the last decade, people are still concerned about trusting a website before they commit to a purchase.  Make sure that you have customer reviews (one of the key success factors in Amazon’s success), customer testimonials and details about your payment security and encryption certificates.

3) Be Transparent: Your website needs to have the content on it to convince the consumer to make a purchase.  With some purchases come issues of exchange, delivery costs, etc.  Your policies for these and your contact information should be clear and accessible on every page, possibly in the page footer.

4) Encourage the Purchase: By the simple use of cookies or a secure log-in, when a consumer returns to your site, you can show them what they ordered previously to help encourage repeat purchases.  Seriously consider showing which products are popular right now, and ‘when people bought x, they also bought y’ which should boost your average basket size.

5) Don’t get in the Way: There are a lot of websites which I have been on which have so much going on that it’s almost like the website wants to get in the way of a purchase.  To prevent this, have clear call to actions and a very simple product selection and checkout process – the more steps in this process, the more likely you will lose consumers along the way.

6) Display in the Best Light: With the rise of the smartphone came the rise of the amateur photographer, just look at Instagram!  However, not everyone is great at photography, particularly product photography and especially video.  You want your product to be viewed in the best possible way, so money spent making your product more attractive is an investment – scrimp here and you undersell your products.

7) Sell Your Products: This sounds like a simple one, but there are a lot of sites who use functional language to describe their products.  You should instead use more persuasive language, lead with the benefits of the product and how it can contribute towards the happiness of the consumer.  Most purchases are not needed for human survival, so your copy needs to create need.

8) Have a Smart Filtering System: You should spend some time thinking about how your customer segment your products – is it by size, colour, price, brand, etc.?  If you have a filer system for your products, along with how many product falls into each filter, you will make your customer’s life easier and they will reward you.

9) Landing Pages: You should have a thorough inbound marketing strategy – how are you going to get people to come to your website as opposed to your competition?  The pages that they land on when they visit your site are critical to your success – spend time working on these pages, if they are not right, you will have blown your chance (and the money spent getting them to your site).

10) Keep Testing: There is one factor that all successful ecommerce sites have in common – they all test and make changes to their websites.  With access to analytics packages being low / no cost, there is no excuse not to do this.  Change the layout of a handful of pages, change the colours, change the copy style and see what effect this has on consumer engagement and purchase levels.  Fact-based is the best way of making decisions.

Please remember that these are just ten tips – they don’t include getting your website seen by search engines, promoting your site, linking to social media channels and a host of other areas.  There is a lot to ecommerce, but just implementing the above will put you ahead of most ecommerce sites!  Good luck!

Image via ventureburn.com

What You Can Learn From Amazon

What You Can Learn From Amazon

What You Can Learn From Amazon

Amazon is one of the (many!) Marmites of the internet age – for some people, it is a pioneer of ecommerce and a ground-breaker of modern retail, but for others, it is a corporate animal which destroys traditional industries. Maybe it’s because of the industry that I work in, but I tend to lean towards the former – as a digital marketer, it is difficult to be too critical of such a commercially successful website.

So what can every website learn from such an institution?  Here are 4 elements that you can learn and implement fairly easily.

Navigation: This can make or break a website.  When using the search bar, the navigation will offer the likely departments where that keyword would appear as well as a list of 5 popular items.  This is really smart and makes finding your product as easy as typing the name of it.  You might not be able to stretch to this, but think about how your customer categorise your products – not how you categorise them.  If you are unsure, ask a sample of customers to tell you how they think the products should be structured.

Suggestions: This is all about linking the CRM system up to your customer-facing website.  For Amazon, this is a complex algorithmic process, but for your company it might not need to be so complex.  Imagine the way that you would segment your email database when you are running an email campaign – you will filter it so that your audience is relevant to your message, and this is the first stage of suggestions.  It may be beyond your current IT capability but if you don’t look at it, you’ll never know!

Easy add to basket: It really is very simple, with as little as one click ordering.  What Amazon do really well is not get in the way of the customer – they let the customer add it to their basket, suggest any other items that you might be interested in as you are clearly in the buying mood, choose an address, shipping speed, payment and done.  Although I think Amazon could be more transparent about their shipping prices – you don’t find out the cost until the payment screen (Jeff Bezos – don’t worry about thanking me for the feedback!).

Customer reviews: Perhaps the most powerful tool that Amazon has is the scale of the customer reviews of the products that it sells.  Naturally this scale is going to be difficult to build, but you should ask for reviews of your product.  Seeing someone else who has bought it and had a positive experience will influence your prospective buyer positively – and yes, you need to accept the negative feedback too, but that is how you learn.  Adding reviews takes nerve, but it works.

There are lots of areas which you can ‘borrow’ from massive websites – remember they are pumping millions of pounds of research into their websites, so why not learn the lessons from one of the best?

Building Trust Online

Building Trust

Building Trust

It is an old cliché that people buy from people.

It’s true because it’s easy to make a judgement about the trustworthiness of a person. In the offline world, if you walk into a shop, you can quickly make the judgement about whether you trust the place or not (e.g. décor in the shop, professionalism of staff, etc.), but it’s not quite as easy online. People don’t physically buy from people online, but they want to be able to make a quick judgement about trust.

So, here are my 5 tips to drive trust via your online presence.

Check your search results:
A big proportion of your audience will use a search engine to your website, and in the UK, over 90% will use Google. So, search your brand name: if your website or associated social networks rank highly, great! If the results are negative, then pick up with the webmasters for those sites, or use Google Webmaster Tools as a last resort. If applicable, it is worth searching for ‘*your company name* reviews’ – and engage with those site owners.

You should also invest some time (money not always necessary) in a monitoring tool – Google Alerts is an OK place to start, but search round for the tool that works for your requirements.

Social Media:
Social media has been embraced by many businesses, and a lot of CEOs have asked the question ‘how many sales is it generating’ – a tricky questions to answer without a great ROI tool. But arguably the biggest benefit that social media can offer a business is showing the human side of the business. Social is a great chance for a company to show its personality, sense of humour and voice. So, when you interact with people on social media, always think that a prospective customer might read your response – I always look at social media to get a ‘feel’ for a company.

Depending on the product or service that you sell, a testimonial can be a great way of showing prospective customers that your existing customers love what your company does. This is particularly important for Business to Business (B2B) companies. Your testimonials should reflect your full range of products or services, and a wide range of different customers – you want the prospect to think ‘that customer is just like me’

Professional and Easy to Navigate Page:
This should be a standard for every website because it makes the online experience more pleasant and engaging! But, you should keep your website design / navigation simple and clean, with the emphasis on the needs of the visitor, not necessarily what you want sell them. And make sure that your site is responsive – if not, check how good a mobile experience you are offering. Also, think about including a blog – it is another opportunity to show the person behind the website, as well as demonstrating your expertise and credibility.

Meet the Team:
A criticism of online commerce is that it can be impersonal – so, you should add the personal touch by introducing the team to your prospective customers. A photo and something about the employees helps break this barrier down, and is especially useful when trying to encourage high value non-regular purchases.

Image via jillkonrath.com

The Perfect Marketing Email

Email Marketing

Email Marketing

In reviews of marketing campaigns, there is one tool which is consistently used by marketers because it is cheap and effective: email marketing.

However, in my experience, little time is spent working out what makes an effective email campaign – and given the amount of flexibility you can have and how measurable your changes are, I find this crazy!  So, here are the 5 features that the perfect marketing email should have:

Visibility:  Like any marketing, unless it is experienced by the target audience, it is a waste of money.  So, make sure that it gets through Spam filters, and remember that different email providers will have different triggers for dumping your masterpiece in Spam.

Great subject line:  This is a cliché, but I receive so many marketing emails with the subject line ‘Latest News from……’.  So what?!  I don’t care what your latest news is, I want to know what you can do for me!  Simply thinking about the email from the recipient’s perspective can boost your open rate.

Content that means something:  This is a delicate balance…  It kind of depends on the objective of your email, but a mix of words and images is good.  100% words is pretty dry (and does feel a lot like a work email), but 100% pictures would mean that you are more likely to be categorised spam, and what if the pictures are blocked?  I saw a nice trick a while ago where the sender has coded their email pictures to say ‘you are missing out on a great picture of a beautiful guitar’ when the pictures were blocked – highly recommended!

Call to Action:  This may seem obvious, but I have just opened up the last 10 marketing emails that I have received, and 4 didn’t have a call to action.  Let the recipient know what you would like them to do!

Tracking:  If you have segmented your audience (and you should have to know what content the recipient would like to see), you should track which type of recipients have interacted with the email.  Simple custom URLs will track people when they get to your site, and ideally you would have something in place to track them while they are on your site – then you can start linking email with conversions and ROI!

What are your email tips?  Leave and comment and let me know!

Image via harrisonamy.com

8 Conversion Rate Tips

conversion rate optimisation

conversion rate optimisation

Conversion rate is one of the few metrics which has a direct impact on your bottom line – the more users you convert, the more sales, and the more profit.  So, here are 8 tips to maximising your conversion rate:

1) First things first – Your traffic should be of a high quality and of a reasonable volume to help your conversion rate.  This is the first step.  If your traffic is poor, you won’t see the benefits of your optimisation!

2) Where is the traffic – You should spend some time knowing where your traffic comes from – if it is from a particular referrer, then your content should be tailored to the tone of that referrer.  If its too different, the user will be put off.

3) The path to conversion – Imagine that you are sat over the shoulder of the user and you are telling them where they should click.  This is the path that you want the user to take, so make navigation through the path simple (Amazon do this well) – and don’t get in their way!

4) Know the best pages – Spend some time analysing which pages people spend time on, and which are the most popular pages on your website.  If you optimise the most visited pages, the increase in your conversions will be greater.

5) Know the worst pages – Which are the pages which users dislike?  Check out the pages with the worst bounce rate and exit rates.  This is where potential customers are dropping through the net (pun intended), and often small changes can have a big impact on poorly performing pages

6) The tipping point – There will be a point where the user will want to get in contact or make a sale.  Its tough to work out which page will be the one that convinces the user to act, so give the user as many opportunities as possible to convert – e.g. put a small contact form on every page.

7) Colour Clarity – Do green buttons or red buttons work best?  I have read cases for both, but bear in mind the colour scheme of your site.  If your site is predominantly red, a red call to action may get lost – so do some testing!

8) Borrow with pride – Your competition is probably focused on improving their conversion rate too, so take a look to see what they are doing.  Their audience is likely to be similar to yours, so feel free to borrow their techniques and see if they work

There are lots of other tips, but implementing just these will put you further ahead than the vast majority of other website.  Happy optimising!

Internet and the High Street

high street empty shops

The Centre for Retail Research released an alarming statistic in the UK earlier this week – one in five high street shops could close by 2018 due to online shopping.  In the UK, we are a nation of shop-keepers, so I thought I should pose the question of whether the high street and the internet can flourish together.

I hate to say it, but I feel like I am part of the problem – if I am able to get something online, then I will do so because unfortunately I don’t have the time to go to my local high street when the shops are open.

The issues facing retail (particularly independent retail) are well documented – excessive council parking charges, restrictive planning regulations and the rise of e-commerce.  But the high street needs to sweat the benefits that the internet cannot bring.  Personalised service is something that the internet lacks, and retail has a leisure experience should be a focus – tying in events and entertainment will drive footfall, and increase business.

And of course, high street outlets of any size should have an integrated approach.  John Lewis offers a service where you can order the night before and pick up your order at noon the following day (even on a Sunday), a turn around that the internet alone would struggle to beat.  KFC offered an online coupon that could be used in store and trended on Twitter all day.

But what about small businesses?  Email and social media do cost time, but not money (for small audiences anyway), and bigger stores should develop highly polished ecommerce channels – failure to do so will put them in the same category as HMV and Jessops.

The high street has thrived for years because it focused on the needs of their consumers, and the internet has done exactly that by saving people time and money – all high street needs to do is focus on what the internet cannot deliver and its future will be rosy.