5 Lessons Affiliates Can Learn From SEOs

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?