5 Lessons Affiliates Can Learn From SEOs

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I’ve known Jeremy long enough to know that he’s not necessarily a raging fan of SEOs. And if you’re a fan of Jeremy’s, you may not be either. And that’s cool. But just because you’re not an SEO BFF, doesn’t mean you can’t steal some important lessons from them to use in your own business. By keeping an eye out and understanding the evolution SEOs have had to undergo over the last 18 months, you’ll find ways to strengthen your own sites and affiliate business. And who’s not a fan of that? I mean, Jeremy’s great and all, but I wouldn’t expect him to come over and pay your electric bill for you. He’s not Oprah.

As the co-founder of an SEO consulting company named Outspoken Media (a company on Jeremy’s short list of Internet marketing companies he trusts, BTW), I live my life in the SEO world. Today I thought I’d break out and share some lessons I think affiliates can take from SEOs to help build their own businesses and rake in more cash.

I should note that the advice listed below is aimed at affiliates looking to create (and profit from) long-term sites and niche sites in non-competitive industries. If you’re trying to make money off burning and churning, then I’ve got nothing for you. Except maybe that you should change your business model to be less douchey.

All good? Let’s carry on.

Five Lessons Affiliate Marketers Can Learn From SEOs

1. Brands Survive

A little over a year ago Google let loose its Vince Update, a Google tweak that gave brands a boost in the search engines simply for being “a brand.” Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt has put his foot in his mouth several times saying that brands will clean up the cesspool of the Web, and Google is now pushing brands directly from its search engine result pages by encouraging users to refine searches based on brand.

While Google can’t outright say they’re giving preferential treatment to brands, they will say that they’re valuing high-quality sites with trust, authority, and reputation. So, you know, brands. As an affiliate marketer, this is important information. It means that if you’re going into the game hawking nothing but a thin affiliate site, you may as well get out of the water now because you’re not going to rank and you’re definitely not going to convert. The reason I have the obnoxious title of Chief Branding Officer at Outspoken Media is because we understand that companies live and die by brand. If you’re not creating a site that a customer will want to engage with and become loyal to, you’re creating something to be ignored. Remember, it’s not just Google who loves brands, users do too.

2. Invest in Content

If you’ve been watching the SEO sphere over the past year, you may have noticed a shift to investing in real content. And frankly, as a content producer, nothing makes my heart swell more. As an affiliate, you also need to be hopping on this bandwagon. And when I say you need to invest in content, I don’t mean simply writing your own product descriptions instead of swiping them from the manufacturer. That’s not content, it’s just not being outright lazy. I mean using tools like Quarkbase to identify the content your customer base is seeking out, and then finding a way to give them that. Stay away from all-the-rage infographics and other link bait gimmicks that will be out of style in six months, and invest in evergreen content that will help you to become THE authority on your niche. Make your site a resource by writing how tos, by providing answers, and by giving your audience a place to connect around a certain topic. You know, the type of content that helps to build a brand.

3. Have a Plan for Tomorrow

If you’re just starting out, beware of buying a domain that is too keyword-focused or of locking yourself too tightly into a specific corner. Just because you’re an affiliate site selling knee socks today (yeah, I did that), doesn’t mean tomorrow you won’t want to expand to sell shoes, other women’s accessories or women’s clothing in general. Yes, you need to start small and grow out from there, but have an idea of where you want to grow to so that you can work on getting your ducks in a row. Who are you today and who do you want to be in five years? How about ten years? Make sure you have a growth plan figured out so that you’re not shooting yourself in the foot with an iPad-specific domain name that will be too faddish to be useful in two years.

4. You Can’t Rely on Google

One reason SEOs have been jumping head over heels into social media is because we’ve seen Google begin to incorporate social signals into its secret sauce ranking algorithm. However, that’s not the only reason social has become attractive to marketers. By going above Google’s head and connecting directly with our audience, it helps lessen our reliance on Google by creating alternative sources of traffic. As an affiliate marketer, you want to be doing the same for your own sites. Google’s sudden mood swings ranking changes become a lot less scary when you’re creating a defensible site. One that will continue to attract users, convert and engage whether or not it stays in Google’s good graces because it genuinely connects with its audience. Get involved in social, create your own relationships with those influential to your business, and always have your eyes open for new sources of traffic. That’s how you Google-proof your Web site and survive in today’s more competitive era.

5. Sometimes Street Smarts Make All the Difference

The one thing that separates the good SEOs from the bad is the same thing that separates the good affiliates from the bad – street smarts. You can be marketing book smart all you want, but if you don’t have that gut feeling that tells you when it’s time to jump, to launch and to go in for the kill, you’ll probably always be one step behind your biggest competitor. And, unfortunately, that’s something no blog post is going to be able to teach. While some degree of street smarts can be learned through past experience and watching the game, the bulk you’re either born with or you’re not. If you’re in the game and you’re noticing that you just don’t have a “feel” for it the way everyone else seems to, maybe it’s time to get out. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but without street smarts, your site is deemed to life a mediocrity. You don’t get rich on mediocre.

Those are five ways I think affiliate marketers can prosper by watching the evolution SEOs have been forced to undergo over the past couple of years. What are you doing to give your site the best chance it can to compete in today’s market? Or what do you think SEOs can learn from their affiliate cousins?

About lisabarone

Lisa Barone is Co-Founder and Chief Branding Officer of SEO consulting firm Outspoken Media. You can find her blogging daily on the Outspoken Media blog or causing trouble on Twitter at @lisabarone.

92 thoughts on “5 Lessons Affiliates Can Learn From SEOs

    1. Mark Dee

      Hmmm…Is it too late to have an SEO change of heart after all these years? You had me when you related that Google is now pushing brands directly from its search engine result pages by encouraging users to refine searches based on brand. When you keep your patrons fully engaged then you’re definitely good to go.

    2. E. Langdon

      I completely agree that this is a superb post, Lisa, but the real question of the day is in terms of web marketing, what really is king? SEO or PPC? Hope you could enlighten me on this one. Thanks in advance.

  1. Miguel Salcido

    Great first Shoemoney post Lisa! Great to see you extending the olive branch to the affiliate world on behalf of SEOs. :-)

    I wanted to add a thought on a valuable lesson affiliates can take away from SEOs. And that is to not let the hype or the next greatest thing get your panties all in a ruffle. Every time there is a change at Google or a PageRank update SEOs freak out. The old “SEO is dead” game became so popular that it has become its own category of link bait. It is the equivalent of a soap opera on day time TV. Drama. And most good SEOs have by now learned to just brush these things off and realize that things are never as big of a deal as everyone makes them out to be.

    Affiliates can fall victim to this with all of the new software, plugins, themes, etc come out. Each one is backed by a powerful, persuasive, and experienced affiliate so they are very enticing and hyped. But as an affiliate you can get easily distracted by all of this stuff, taking your eye off of the prize and derailiing your primary goals. Stay on track and realize that the flavor of the month tool is almost always just that. And the really good, groundbreaking, stuff will get fleshed out by everyone anyways. Stay focused on your goal and stick with it.

    1. Heinrich Sture

      This is Lisa’s first ever contribution to the Shoemoney blog? Cat got my tongue on this one. Unlike “other” first times — that are simply forgettable like that date I had with a Surrey gal way back in middle school — this post is just something I’d love to bookmark on my browser and read over and over again.

    2. F2Xsites

      SEO can only go as far as making a brand visible. Conversions would ultimately depend on the quality of information, product, or service offered.

    1. Kevin A

      One thing I hate about the Big G’s role in SEO is depending on the brand, it may take weeks, months or even years for a web site to obtain good organic ranking. This fact makes it nearly impossible to execute quick marketing campaigns with search engine optimization.

  2. Nathalie Lussier

    Hey Lisa, I think you’ve shared some great tips on SEO… and I think it’s one thing to have “quick cash” strategy, but I love your approach to building for the long term.

    I hadn’t heard about the google/brand favoring thing, so thank you for highlighting that. It actually makes sense, and it’s a great insight to have. Branding, baby, branding. :)

    1. Dmitrii Anastas

      Thanks for the emphasis on establishing long-term brands rather than focusing on half-baked fads that will inevitably die out in the playing field in the next 6 months or so. Two thumbs up!

    1. AnnieP78

      I’m just starting out in affiliate marketing so this post is very timely. I’ve created content solely with Google rankings in mind. It’s high time I explore other sources of traffic. Thanks for the tips!

    2. David R

      While Google’s starting to dabble into the beginnings of a social media-esque platform, I still think it won’t be beating Facebook in terms of audience and fan base combined. Although they may be the current authority in everything SEO, social media management is still far-fetched for this web titan, if you ask me.

  3. Dan @ Wealth Management Gazette

    “Invest in content” is 100% right. This is what I’m trying to do at the moment across several blogs and websites. Link-building is secondary but necessary. However, I find it hard not to rely on G. Unfortunately, on most of my sites it’s bringing 60-80% of visitors and I’m having a hard time reducing this proportion.

    1. Screechy Rich

      In most cases, a proper SEO campaign comes with much lower costs than a PPC campaign. Search engine optimization ranking is also long lasting and dependable as well as customizable for diverse audience.

    2. internetFTW

      People search for valuable and useful content. Providing those can increase the popularity and trustworthiness of any website.

    3. GQmeansGeek

      Great advice by Google CEO Eric Schmidt — “The fundamental way to increase your rank is to increase your relevance.”

      1. Hollaback Will

        Totally true. Nonetheless, how would you increase audience relevance if you’re not that exposed? Perhaps boosting your SERP’s is the top priority of all?

  4. Jack

    bla bla bla bla
    bla bla bla bla bla bla bla… bla
    bla bla ? bla bla

    bla bla bla ! bla bla — > bla bla bla!!
    bla bla.

    Come on…. Where are those interesting posts that worth reading ?

    1. Heinrich Sture

      In the first place, nobody’s forcing you to monitor this blog, my good man. Perhaps you’re better off trolling off 4chan or some other useless crap. Have a nice day!

    2. Runs With Scissors

      Nobody’s forcing you to check out this blog in the first place. Why not sling crap on some other site, heckler?

    1. Almira Keefe

      Why is it when Shoe writes about the evils of SEO, people hate the subject as if it were the vilest of all vile but when Lisa here posted something positive about search engine optimization, almost everybody gives in and becomes an SEO convert? Just thinking aloud. :)

    2. BigMoneyBrooklyn

      This is what I love about the Shoemoney blog. You never know what you’re in for everyday and this is what makes me a loyal follower. Hey, Lisa. Have you got any updates on the ER7 preparations?

  5. TYCP Magazine

    Good tips. I especially agree about Google. Some people act like they’re the holy grail of the internet. Yes, they have some power, but they’re not gods. No one is.

    1. TheSandMan5050

      It never hurts to leverage on alternative platforms to promote your business. Focusing on just one can box you in and lower your chances to reach a wider audience.

  6. spameater

    Great read! I agree with what you said about being street smart. There are many successful marketers out there who learned everything they know in the process of building and growing their business.

    1. Jason S.

      It’s intellectually interesting to know that there are 917,846,342 different websites that are relevant to the search query, but really, if your website doesn’t appear in the first 10 pages (or first 100 results), it’s invisible to the world. Touche!

    2. James Is (Not Working)

      Partly correct. There are marketers out there who seem to thrive almost instantly in their niche without the least effort. “Natural marketers” as I’d like to call them.

  7. Rod S. Lee

    I still can’t stop laughing from “I mean, Jeremy’s great and all, but I wouldn’t expect him to come over and pay your electric bill for you. He’s not Oprah.” Thanks for this insightful and entertaining post, Lisa. Hope to catch more articles from you in the next few days.

    1. Farzad H.

      I still couldn’t quite forget when the so-called Queen of Talk surprised her studio audience on the premiere of her 25th season by giving some 300 guests a trip to Australia. Perhaps Jeremy is about to give free passes to his most loyal fans to the next Playboy Mansion soiree?

    2. Creative Marketer

      You know what entices me to check out Shoe’s blog daily apart from the breaking articles and useful pointers? Feisty female contributors and commentators!

  8. WhoisDoyle

    It’s smarter to work on building your brand through multiple channels. Much easier to reach a greater number of audience that way.

    1. Roshaun Philips

      Although SEO undoubtedly has long term results — and benefits remain after the campaign is over — as well as high ROI if done correctly, it is tough to determine the value of high organic ranking, prior to putting in the effort and money. Care to expound on this one, Lisa?

      1. Fiona Wong

        Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite SEO articles from Wisegeek.com: “Since SEO relies so heavily on keywords, the most important keywords and keyphrases should be used liberally in the first two paragraphs of the content of each page, then sprinkled throughout the body. The last paragraph of every page should also be keyword rich. A suggested rule of thumb is to reach for keyword density between 5-15%. Judgment must be used to invoke keywords liberally without getting too repetitive. It may also help to use bold or italics on a keyword or two, but avoid doing this to excess.”

  9. Nicholas Oli

    A company or a specific brand may put a lot of effort and money into search engine optimization (SEO) but may or not receive no return of investment because there is no guaranteed method to get to the top of the natural results. Nonetheless, this is one rocking post, Lisa. Best wishes from Alabama! :)

    1. Gabby Dell from SC

      I learned from the Top Rank blog that the situation is largely dependent on the type of SEO services needed and the size of the project involved. I don’t think there is any hard and fast rule that would apply to all situations since there are so many variables at play: SEO or PPC, budget, time frame, client internal resources, etc.

      1. Benito Salvatore

        Some of us do marketing (whether online or offline) solely based on the content of the site. Knowing the context helps me land hits, potential customers and, of course, as the final goal, sales.

  10. Patrick R

    Although I am a Shoemoney fan, I still am a follower of SEO. Search engine optimization may be the most cost-efficient marketing method for some companies and increase sales tremendously. Plus, it can be done either in-house or it can be outsourced to a specialized company.

    1. Hans Anders

      My best reason why I am a fan of SEO more than PPC? People trust SEO rankings more than PPC rankings. More than twice as many people will click on an organic search engine optimized listing than a PPC listing.

  11. Husher50

    Brand recall doesn’t happen overnight. Many think that having an online presence is enough. But a business website is of no use if people don’t get to see it. Building an online brand without SEO may be possible but it’ll take a longer amount of time to accomplish it.

    1. Baseer Hannan

      Come to think of it, there are cons to even pure white hat SEO, and that is time investment. If you plan and research the wrong keywords, you’ll eventually spend months of vague ranking movements to see it is not bringing in any money.

    2. Go Harry Go

      I don’t believe you can pull off a successful search engine optimization campaign unless you have the determination and patience to finish it with flying colors. That’s why the best SEO campaigns for me are the ones existing (not mentioning thriving) until now.

  12. AnnieLouJ12860

    Vince Update giving big brands a push seems to make SEO even more necessary for small businesses.

    1. Almira Keefe

      Brands can attract quality, natural links. Even if the inbound links use anchors that are not 100% keyword rich I certainly believe they can be very full of action-inducing impact provided the inbound link has a good deal of quality and trust passed over. I believe the best brands can survive with or without the Vince Update. What do you think, Lisa?

    2. Chris Green

      I don’t intend to sound cynical but if Vince Update and/or Google is automatically giving a boost to established brands, how about the small to medium players who are just starting out?

    3. Bryan Jake T

      Sounds like little-known businesses have their work cut out for them. It’s hard to compete with well-established brands who occupy the top slots in search engines’ rankings without a solid SEM/SEO strategy.

    1. Manisha Sithembile

      I agree with your idea. After all the campaign you’ve drummed up for your SEO blast, you can use your money for different things and the optimized site will still run.

  13. Yes2Freebies

    If there’s one thing good SEO techniques can guarantee it’s making a website more visible to the public. People won’t remember what they don’t see.

    1. socialanim00

      Search engines’ listings frequently change and the algorithms used are often the wild cards. You need to consistently work at both the content and SEO methods used to leverage on the opportunities those they present.

    2. RedBlack88

      Good point. That’s why the advertising business continues to thrive. Visibility is critical in generating leads. You can’t sell anything if people don’t even know that such a product exists.

  14. Raul Lago

    Lisa, here are the factors why I don’t like delving into SEO when it comes to web marketing initiatives: 1. In most cases, can’t guarantee exact results (like first position for a keyword) 2. requires programming skills — sometimes over the top too technical — in order to modify the code of your site 3. even if you admit it or not, SEO is a long term process and you only get middle to long time results.

    1. Lola Dee

      Have you ever heard about “asking help from others?” Apart from being a very valuable part of web marketing, it is also a requirement to make a search engine optimization project run smoothly as possible. SEO campaigns end up in disaster sans teamwork. :(

      1. ILoveMemes

        Many who are just starting out don’t have a team working with them. That’s probably why it usually takes longer to establish and grow a business alone.

  15. WhoSaysWhat01

    SEO is a much cheaper way to promote a business so I don’t see why some hesitate to invest on it.

  16. MVZP_01

    There are many ways to promote a business. The real challenge is how to get people to trust the brand. It’s not enough to invest on SEO or whatever ad campaigns you’re running. You need to focus on continually improving your product or service to make it more relevant and useful to your target market.

  17. Guy Cleveland

    I learned from a John Chow post that potential customers won’t find you if you’re not standing out in your designated niche. The best choice to shine among your competitors? SEO. Enough said. Time for a beer.

  18. Jason S.

    With so many components to keep a close eye on during an SEO campaign, pulling off a single successful initiative requires a lot of thinking heads. This is the only exception to the rule that too many cooks spoil the broth.

    1. SmallBiz Sue

      I usually do a lot of research and collect resources that could prove useful in running my SEO campaign. I manage both the content and promotions of the business so my hands are full.

    1. PokeYerFace

      I use analytics to measure the effectiveness of my SEO campaigns. There are free programs that you can use if you don’t know how to set up one.

  19. Andrew Says So

    A solid content development plan is equally important as your SEO strategy. SEO may improve rankings and thus drive traffic but it can’t engage site visitors. You need content that would capture and hold their attention long enough to persuade them to buy whatever it is you’re offering.

  20. Get That Ball

    Awesome post! Some say that SEO is no longer relevant. But for as long as millions of people continue to use search engines to look for information online then it is a viable strategy to promote your business.

    1. Jim Petersen

      I’m one of those people who rely on search engines every time I need to find something. I rarely venture to the next page since I can almost always get the information I need from the top results. Placement does matter in search results.

  21. Big Al

    Apart from content, user experience is also important. Speed and simple navigation are just some of the things you should look at.

  22. Feeding Frenzy

    I enjoyed reading your article as well as some of the comments posted by the others. Looking for your next post.

  23. Kevin

    I’m not a fan of SEO either…Mr Shoe made a great point before. Write your content for your readers not SEO and that’s how I started my blog and will keep it that way.

    I’m definitely investing my time into my content.

    Great post Ms. Lisa!

  24. Deck Jets

    Really great post, very informative and interesting.
    I was looking for this kind of information and enjoyed reading this one. Keep posting. Thanks for sharing.

  25. Pete Carr

    Hi Lisa,
    For me a mistake that some affiliates make is going after the product name in their url, yes sometimes this can pay off, but if nobody is searching for that term you are dead in the water.
    Also I would like to see less “scam” “review” extensions to url’s, come on think of something a bit more original.


  26. Jason

    lisa – Nicely done, I agree with all five of your lessons. Especially number 5, if you don’t have some kind of street smarts/common sense you can never be better than average.

    You definitely need to have a certain feel for it and this is something that can’t be taught but you can definitely develop it over time and through experience if you weren’t naturally born with it.

    Building a brand is something I am definitely interested in, but it can also be intimidating if you don’t really know how to go about building a brand. Maybe you can write an article on building a brand, that would be a great read.

  27. Eric Itzkowitz

    Most of the affiliate marketers I know and speak with are really beginning to build more long-term focused sites and businesses. As such, I am getting a ton of questions about SEO and how properly optimized and linked to websites and content can help them increase their organic traffic, views and ultimately conversions.

    I personally believe affiliate marketers and SEOs need each other to reach new success; our somewhat unique skill sets and focus when fused together… man that’s just powerful stuff!

    Gobble Gobble…

  28. Brian

    Good read, but as someone fairly new to IM, I’m a little perplexed about the idea of creating a brand as an affiliate who mainly just hawks others’ goods.

  29. Honest Jay

    #3 – I see many affiliates doing that and its mainly the fault of gurus who tell them to narrow down to a specific niche. Nothing wrong with that but definitely have a plan in place to allow for growth. Think big.

    1. Carmen Karma

      I agrees with going over Google’s heads. I try to practice not allowing Google to be the primary source of traffic. I attempt to keep them at 40% or lower by increasing other efforts. It’s a balancing act though, since the other efforts increase the Google traffic as well.

      As long as the traffic is going up!

  30. Rahul

    You had listed some great tips for affiliate’s and I fully agree with you that to invest in content. Because content should be unique and good to get the traffic.

  31. Richard

    Hi there,

    Thanks your great tips. Especially I like the brands survive.

    Content is king that’s truth, but nobody said your content, can not be optimised for the good use of SEO.
    I got articles from all around the world from affiliate marketers to put them to my 52 blog.
    Most of them are well written, with keywords in it.
    Is that a good way of SEO?
    I have never make an effort to get traffic to my blogs, somehow they are all have some hundred people daily.

    So I think it is about SEO with a blog. An avalanche of content with keywords. Some SEO friendly plugin. And viral marketing plugins. Plus Pinging at least 100 other sites like technocrati and such. All that is needed.
    Then people (mostly from google) will come to your blog.

    The other IDEA I will use thanks to this post is branding. I don’t know how yet. But figuring out (Right now I am going to search in google for articles in the topic. :) )

    So SEO is good = free traffic on a very long time.

    Thank you again.

  32. Deb

    I think we should be thankful for this new mood of Google. Google has recognized the momentous shift in web traffic which will magnify the relevant sites. That is really what its all about, Google wants to satisfy the traffic.
    Rather than trying to satisfy Google maybe we all should focus on satisfying our own visitors by producing the information they are looking for.
    Just like in the real world, the customer is always right. Right?

  33. mayline olidan

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