I was recently involved in a debate at ABestWeb.com involving the value of new customers vs. returning customers. The debate itself had good points by a bunch of different people, but I thought I’d go into a little more detail about some ideas I think might help you (an Affiliate) focus on bringing in new customers – is that is what you so decided to do.
(In the debate, I argued that 2009 will be a huge opportunity for Affiliates to focus specifically on bringing in new customers and that if one did so, it would bring greater financial return.)
1. Get off (redirected) search.
Search makes up an enormous percentage of traffic generated – and thus we all love it. However, as Merchants become more sophisticated in their own search efforts, they will likely de-value Affiliates who work in that arena. This has already happened with Paid Search in the area of brand terms, trademarks, etc… and will continue into natural results. The most common reason that I hear Merchants changing and enforcing policy on this is that they feel the majority of customers who have searched for their “Company Name” are repeat customers or those customers who would have ended up at their store without the assistance of an Affiliate.
So – as an Affiliate, a new source of traffic – and one that belongs all to you should be a goal.
Which brings me to….
2. Build a Community
There is no greater source of traffic than the one that you build yourself. Going back to point 1 above, I think the better use of search would not be to simply rank highly for terms and pass that traffic along to Merchants… but instead use search as a way to build up your own site. In the past, Affiliates have been successful (going way back) with gateway pages or reviews that have ranked highly for keywords… but were essentially traffic redirection to a Merchant of their choice. The visitor came thru an Affiliate site but really had no compelling reason to stay (or come back at a later date).
Use your skills at search to bring traffic to your site, and then build a community around that traffic. Use small things like polls, questions, games, prizes, discussion, comments – all these things can bring people into your community. Communities feed on themselves – and bring the kind of organic growth to your affiliate business that can’t be obtained thru search alone.
Be a traffic source, not solely a redirector of traffic.
3. Go Smaller
This entails a few things… a) I believe that working with emerging Merchants in markets brings you greater odds in working with new customers and b) I believe some of you should be working with less Merchants. Less Merchants… more focus.
To fully focus on, and master a particular niche requires an obvious great investment in time. One of the common techniques in Affiliate Marketing today is to apply to as many programs as possible and see which one performs the best. A large number of Affiliates see success with this, which is great. However, if you were to focus specifically on bringing new customers to a Merchant, I don’t think this technique would work as well.
Pick a niche and master it. Within an individual niche there are likely several Merchants who are suitable, thus giving you the opportunity to test individual conversion. Newer (sometimes smaller) Merchants with less overall market reach will bring you the best opportunity – as the likelihood of bringing in a new customer (vs. a returning customer) will be much higher. One possible way to go smaller is to target local markets. This is something that requires a blog post of it’s own though so I’ll leave that till later. :)
As I stated in the debate – it is my opinion that in 2009, this issue will become more important. I also believe that Merchants will be willing to pay a premium commission to Affiliates who can prove a track record of bringing in new customers. I hope some of the thoughts above help some of you to do so – and look forward to further conversations!