Affiliate Marketing 101: Driving Traffic to Your Site
This is part three of my multipart Affiliate Marketing 101 series. The first part, Affiliate Marketing 101: 4 Steps for Beginners, explained the different types of sites that affiliate marketers create, as well as general information on how they monetize their content. The second part, Affiliate Marketing 101: SEO Foundations, explained how to set up your affiliate site so that it receives a high quality score from search engines.
It's been often said that opening up a business is easy; keeping it from failing is the hard part. That's not to say that real work isn't involved in starting a business, even an online one. Before the doors of your business even open, a lot of time, effort and money has already been invested in making sure things can go smoothly.
But now that you've gone through all the necessary steps to establish your online presence (i.e., your affiliate website), the hard work of building your business begins — driving traffic to your site, achieving and maintaining your search engine rankings, and, ultimately, making money. The steps to achieving that return on investment on all your preparations, however, suddenly become very unclear.
At that point, the consequences of not converting high-quality traffic is dire. According to many respected financial news and analysis sources, the failure rate of small businesses can reach as high as 80 percent within the first 18 months. It doesn't necessarily get any easier with time. Statistics show that even if a business survives four years, the failure rate can still be as high as 50 percent — and actually goes up with each passing year.
Faced with all this uncertainty, what are some of the strategies and tools you can use to improve your chances of success? As a new affiliate marketer, one of the most important things you'll need to understand is traffic: how to get it, how to keep it, and how to convert it.
Traffic is king ... kinda
You'll often hear that "traffic is king" and to a certain degree that's true. But just as a traditional shopkeeper doesn't automatically post a profit simply because people walk through the door, your web earnings aren't guaranteed simply because your site receives a lot of visitors.
No matter what type of affiliate site you have, you don't just want the most visitors as possible — you want the most qualified traffic as possible. That means visitors who are looking for what your site has to offer (e.g., coupons, free downloads) and are ready to convert.
Identifying and attracting quality traffic is a key strategy toward affiliate marketing success. So how do you do that?
The use of a properly written title tag will help search engines locate your site and qualify traffic, while an incorrectly or deceptively written tag may penalize your ranking. Using keywords in your title tags and content, even if it's just in picture captions, can be an effective way to filter visitors by alerting them to the information they're likely to find on your site.
Know your audience
The value of knowing your audience may seem obvious, but in the words of Bill Cosby, " ... the key to failure is trying to please everybody." You'll want to focus on topics that matter to your visitors. If you drive affiliate revenue through a coupon site, your visitors will expect to find discount codes, not software reviews or editorials.
The hot buzzword lately is "relevance." Make sure your site is relevant to your audience. This means not only having quality content, but also keeping that content updated. In other words, give your visitors a reason to come back by providing fresh and expanded content that continually reinforces your focus and their interest. No one wants to see expired coupons on your coupon site.
Monitor your traffic
Once you've set in motion the strategies to qualify your traffic, the next step is to find out if those strategies are working. If your site isn't getting the traffic you hope or need, you'll want to know why and what you can do about it. Even if you're getting lots of visitors, you'll still want to know why and how to keep that traffic coming.
There are a variety of tools that are available to you (e.g., Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools) that can help you monitor and understand your site traffic, giving you data about who your visitors are and why and how they found your site.
Google Analytics gives you information on how individual users interact with your site, reporting on the number of visitors your site receives, how many of them are unique, how many are repeats, how much time they spend on your site or on an individual page, and, most important, conversion rate of those visitors to your offerings.
Google Webmaster Tools, on the other hand, gives you data on how your site is seen by the search engines. Equally important as visitors to your site is how your site is seen and thus ranked by the search engines. Webmaster Tools will report back on problems with your site such as detecting malware, broken links or HTML errors. In addition, you can get data on how many times your site was viewed in search results, the top search queries that returned pages, and how your site is linked to other websites.
Understanding the importance of analyzing your traffic is vital to the success of your site as it provides hard data on what is and isn't working to attract quality traffic, but sometimes knowing the next steps to take is something best left to a professional.
Hiring a SEO consultant who can provide you with a variety of strategies for maximizing your presence is an expense worth considering. Not only do they bring a vast amount of experience to the table, but they're well positioned to keep abreast of the constantly changing world of online marketing.
As with the hiring of any third party, however, do your research and know and understand what results you can expect from their work before signing a contract.
In summary, after deciding what kind of affiliate site you want and structuring your content, your next job is to drive traffic to your site and make sure you're receiving quality traffic. Use analytics and webmaster tools regularly to make sure you're driving the kind of traffic that results in conversion.
John Hernandez is an affiliate marketing manager at cleverbridge, a global, full-service e-commerce provider for international software and cloud corporations.
Related story: Affiliate Marketing 101: SEO Foundations