Have Time for Affiliate Marketing Programs

Should You Join Affiliate Marketing Programs?

Would affiliate marketing be a good direction for you? Let’s look at some important data and information: statistics from an industry survey; insights from marketers and business management specialists who believe in the technique; and why merchants are onboard with the approach.

 

  • What is the basic structure?
  • Key reports show scope & potential of affiliate marketing
  • Takeaway: Affiliate marketing now more legitimate
  • Content marketing widens to embrace affiliate programs
  • Affiliate marketing appreciated for its simplicity
  • Why do merchants like these programs?
  • Choose a strong merchant for your affiliate partnership

 

What is the basic structure?

 

In an affiliate program, you would be working with a merchant (which would be KnownHost, if you partner with us), an affiliate (that’s you), and a customer (hopefully many); often, an affiliate network is used to connect affiliates with merchants and otherwise streamline the process (as with CJ Network, the one that powers our program). In an affiliate structure, as the affiliate, you would have no direct contact with the customer, only with the merchant and/or network.

 

Key reports show scope & potential of affiliate marketing

 

It is difficult to get to the truth on this topic. There are many people making money from being affiliate experts or running affiliate networks, and they all have a vested interest in convincing you that this method deserves your attention. To get to the reality of the situation, let’s check the findings of two key reports from major business research authorities: Forrester and Business Insider.

 

Forrester – January 2016 figures from Forrester Consulting, in a study conducted for Rakuten Marketing, project that this branch of marketing will grow at a 10.1% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) through 2020, reaching approximately $6.8 billion. Affiliate programs are a key component for the general marketing approach of almost 9 in 10 marketers, with publishers saying that these relationships bring in 20% of their online revenue each year.

 

BI Intelligence – A study released in September 2016 by Business Insider’s research division reveals that affiliate marketing accounts for about 15% of digital media profits. In fact, this method is responsible for as many e-commerce sales as email within the United States, leading to 16% of orders. It is one of the four main channels for online transactions, ahead of both display advertising and social commerce.

 

Takeaway: Affiliate marketing now more legitimate

 

What can we learn from these figures, general growth, and other industry trends? Both Forrester and Business Insider argue that the method is becoming increasingly accepted and credible. Forrester notes that the industry has matured from its early years when it was generally considered a rather unsophisticated tactic geared toward getting people to make an immediate purchase. Today, however, says the report, this marketing angle is respected for empowering consumer discovery and increasing engagement. Case studies with strong ROIs have been established by many brands. Word has gotten around that this strategy works.

 

Similarly, BI Intelligence mentions the issue of credibility – saying that this area of marketing is often associated with teeth whiteners, diet pills, and other (sometimes shoddy) impulse buys. That element of the industry has been joined by the activities of credible brands, with respected and household-name retailers and publishers vigorously adopting the method for its high success rates. Publishers are helping to give credibility to the field while also navigating confusing ethical waters. “In an effort to balance editorial integrity and revenue needs,” says BI Intelligence, “publishers are taking a more native approach to affiliate marketing by embedding product links within organic content.”

 

Content marketing widens to embrace affiliate programs

 

Looking at a bunch of statistics and suggestions on the status of integrity from the field may be compelling. Beyond knowing the money is there and that this business model is respectable, why else might it be a sound direction for you?

 

To understand the value of this approach, it helps to look at how marketers are discussing it. In the digital marketing news blog Marketing Dive, David Kirkpatrick talks about how this strategy is being integrated into mainstream marketing – that it is being reframed as a way to deliver value honestly to the audience as content.

 

Content marketing is now core to marketing, if you have not heard – and it is highly accepted. As a couple rather obvious and straightforward examples, the piece you are now reading is content marketing, and so is the American Express blog Open Forum – a piece from which I use as a source below. Content marketing was essentially a revolution within the marketing industry that recognized the changing needs of people who were consuming media. The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as a method that is used strategically within marketing to create and distribute content to a specifically targeted demographic.

 

How are affiliate programs becoming content marketing? They are transitioning away from couponing and direct response, increasingly providing transparent value and insight to customers that related to their current needs and climate. In the Forrester report that was completed for Rakuten, an anonymous VP of sales at a US digital publisher said that the way that the affiliate sector has been evolving made him feel comfortable entering the space. “The biggest positive change I’ve seen has been the change of perception around affiliate,” says the executive, “from spammy, bottom-feeder sites to ones like ours, where we’re focused on a great user experience.”

 

Affiliate marketing appreciated for its simplicity 

 

This marketing method is, more or less, internet-wide. It is used almost standardly now by online platforms and publishers. The management of it is relatively simple; so it makes sense that AJ Agrawal would promote the tool for that reason in business management blog CustomerThink.

 

Agrawal notes that all a person has to do to get involved with affiliate marketing is to select a product or service they like, market it, and make a portion of the cash from each sale.

 

While Kirkpatrick notes how these programs are becoming more popular because of more valuable content and credibility, Agrawal says that this method is on the rise because it is a preferable means of delivery over traditional advertisements to users who do not want to be interrupted by the latter.

 

Again, though, the ease of this approach is central. Merchants feel affiliate marketing is valuable because it gives them access to broad sales talent that is 100%-commission-based, says Rae Hoffman-Dolan in Open Forum. It also helps boost the visibility of their brand, and they don’t want rivals with programs in place to have an advantage.

 

Choose a strong merchant for your affiliate partnership

 

Affiliate programs are growing and becoming more credible. They have been integrated into content marketing; the structure is easy; and merchants like how commissions are directly tied to revenue. This all sounds great, but Agrawal notes one other key concern: choosing the right merchant.

 

“Aligning yourself with the right companies to partner up with for affiliate marketing can mean the difference between a 2017 business dud and a brand that establishes itself as a leader in its industry,” he says.

 

Since 2005, KnownHost has used state of the art technology and networks to provide a premium hosting service at an affordable price. Our affiliate program is free to join and requires no technical knowledge. How does it work?

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Quickly Grow Your E-Commerce Business

Powerfully Managing Fast E-Commerce Growth – a Short Guide with Actionable Steps

When you look at e-commerce statistics, the most compelling characteristic of this data is how it points to potential. While we may think the market is nearing its peak by seeing that more than half (53%) of web users worldwide purchased something online during 2016, or that the total average spent per e-commerce customer during 2016 was $1800 in the United States and £1600 in the United Kingdom. Despite those impressive figures, though, the potential is still huge: e-commerce is still only currently responsible for 8% of US sales and 14% of UK sales.

 

Recognizing the opportunity of e-commerce, it is clear many companies will benefit from this continuing surge in online activity – both in B2C and B2B (the latter of which is expected to eventually outpace B2C revenue, achieving 6.7 trillion USD by 2020). Since that growth seems to be coming, how can you prepare? After all, scalability is more than a five-syllable word that you need to check off a list when building and developing your e-commerce system; it is a capacity of your business that could make or break its success, that will either fuel your growth when you start to advance or form a hurdle that keeps your company from accomplishing its goals.

 

Actionable steps for successful e-commerce growth

 

Given this rather enormous challenge, you can help your e-commerce business by considering thought-leader advice on how to manage fast e-commerce growth – not just in terms of your IT ecosystem but throughout your company. Let’s look at some ideas from management consultant John Bradberry, along with related information and advice.

 

Step 1: Prioritize your UX or CX.

 

User experience, also called customer experience in the context of commerce, is critical to building trust among people who do or might buy your products. This all relates back to the notion that businesses are smart to prioritize the experience of the brand – the entirety of the way that they interact with a customer, and the foundation of relationship and stories. One way to get a sense of experience as a critical aspect of how to approach the online world is to look back about 20 years to the notion of the experience economy. The experience economy, noted B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore in the Harvard Business Review, began in the 1990s – when people started increasingly opting for the purchase of experiences (all aspects of an event) as opposed to cobbling together different products and services. Looking at experience in this way can be better understood by looking at history, and Pine/Gilmore used birthday cake construction to differentiate the evolution of economic models. During the agrarian economy, mothers would make truly homemade birthday cakes using the basic ingredients, such as flour and eggs, that they could affordably acquire. Next came an industrial economy; in this economy, packaged goods were the point of focus, with people purchasing a Duncan Hines cake mix or similar, the baker in a box. The next part of the evolution was the service economy, during which parents were able to request that a grocery store or bakery grab all the ingredients and bake a cake for them. Finally, as the turn of the millennium neared, more people began skipping both making the cake and even putting the event together. Instead, they had a third party handle the whole party – with a cake often included free.

 

Now, the experience economy and user experience are two different ideas, but there is significant overlap in this sense: when people approach businesses today, they are used to engaging with them at the level of an experience or a relationship as opposed to simply meeting a functional need. Because that’s the case, CX deserves steady investment. When you get a huge amount of new business at once, there may be growing pains. However, if you are sufficiently positioned to deliver a great experience to prospects and customers, you will have more leeway if anything goes amiss (such as the most obvious situation – going out of stock with a particular item or multiple items). If you get slammed, stay focused on that UX. Contain your risk and stay agile by bringing in temp workers or using an outside partner to improve delivery. Get feedback from customers.

 

Step 2 – Put money into tomorrow.

 

Here is the thing about growth: you may be able to handle a spike, but what if the spike is followed by a bigger spike? Often startups will be trying to manage things that are occurring right now or over the next 30 days; you want to make sure that actions to generate long-term growth are not neglected.

 

Are too busy holding your breath to look openly out into the distance? Being at a startup is difficult, that’s for certain. For a poll of 500 British startup entrepreneurs by Streetbees and BGF Ventures, 41% of new startup founders said they felt stressed “pretty much everyday.”

 

Now let out that deep breath. How can you improve what your business looks like in two or three years? Think in terms of three things you can do now, in the current quarter, that will make it easier to succeed in the future. Ask yourself how much time you are spending on long-term tasks today and whether that matches what you think strikes the best balance with day-to-day tasks.

 

Step 3 – Make the books straightforward.

 

In order to grow seamlessly, you want to have a very strong grasp of your financials. As companies grow, business owners will often lose track of key questions: Is the pricing ideal? What is the actual cost per sale? What clients and products are bringing in the most and least revenue? What will an investment today do in terms of revenue in 6 and 12 months? Does the business model use scalability as a core value? Really digging into the money can be challenging and be aided by strong niche skills, so many businesses opt to work with financial advisors. These consultants will often present you with a financial scorecard, says Bradberry.

 

What is that? A financial scorecard is a business rating document that is used each quarter so that you continue to improve your financial stance over time. This document should incorporate elements such as accounting and reporting, accounts receivable, accounts payable, debt management, and tax planning, as indicated by business coach David Finkel in Inc.

 

Step 4 – Look at your culture.

 

The extent to which your employees are engaged is a top indicator of whether or not you grow. Culture will hold your team together as part of a common mission as you grow beyond the intimate seed stage, provided you introduce the right management approach to implementing cultural policies that are long-term-focused. Think culture does not lead to cash? A Gallup poll shows that firms classified as having better-than-average engagement generate 147% higher revenue.

 

Step 5 – Approach acquisition with caution.

 

Acquisition? You are likelier to find people are wanting to buy you when you are growing quickly; so be prepared. It sounds nice when you are concerned about the stresses of running your business and would prefer to have its value in your bank account. However, typically, a look by someone interested in acquisition will not turn into a sale, notes Bradberry. Instead, stay focused on your product, and on your customers. “The way to succeed in a startup is to focus on the goal of getting lots of users, and keep walking swiftly toward it while investors and acquirers scurry alongside trying to wave money in your face,” wrote Paul Graham.

 

Step 6 – Leverage a highly scalable architecture.

 

Finally, you need to make sure that your infrastructure is fully capable of moving in sync with you as you expand. At KnownHost, you are scalable on demand, with no downtime, file or database migration, or settings changes. See our fully managed VPS hosting.

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Developing a Customer-Centric Business

5 Reasons & 7 Ways to Develop a Customer-Centric Business

Arielle is hiring a consultant for her business. She looks into a few different options, skims some reviews, and even calls a few references. One of the options stands out from the others, though. Arielle feels that it is focused on meeting her needs, and seeing the situation from her perspective, to an extent unmatched by the rest. She goes with the one that makes her feel that she will continue to be treated as the central concern.

 

How can you get the business of a customer like Arielle?

 

Naturally, you want a powerful vision and a strong company culture for your company so that you retain employees and your team is coordinated toward common goals. However, Arielle’s scenario is a reminder that these objectives are not always directly focused on the people who are truly your VIPs, whose satisfaction will determine your success and growth: your customers.

 

Just think about it from your own perspective: probably you have found yourself at certain points making purchases for which the deciding factor was customer experience. To look from the opposite side, probably many of the times that you decide not to buy from a business are because you don’t feel that you are valued and are perhaps being treated as a number.

 

Are you indifferent toward your customers? Shockingly, research shows that 68% of customers leave a certain provider because they thought the company was indifferent to their needs.

 

One company that has used the notion of prioritizing the customer for its branding is Salesforce – which offers the following five reasons for customer-centrism:

 

  1. Differentiation

 

Do you want to be memorable, to stand out and come across as the most impressive? A landmark Gartner report from 2014 found that customer experience is now the #1 thing that sets one brand apart from another, more critical than both product and price.

 

  1. Self-reliance

 

When online users set out to find a service to meet an immediate need, they want to be able to find a solution very quickly, as soon as they reasonably can. However, they also want to feel a sense of confidence and trust in the brand before they proceed. Answer customer questions right away on your site. Why? Because even back in 2010, nearly three-quarters of US Internet-connected consumers, 72%, said that they preferred getting answers themselves to contacting a company via email or phone.

 

  1. Prices going up

 

If you feel that you are in the discount barn of your industry, consider that the majority of people will pay more if they perceive that a company has strong corporate citizenship. According to a Nielsen survey, 55% of respondents said that they would pay more for services or products from companies that invest in sustainability or social causes.

 

  1. Retention

 

Make it as simple as possible, and people will return. You probably have websites that you visit to purchase certain household items, office supplies, or whatever else – returning to them because you find their purchase process seamless and straightforward.

 

Indeed, keeping it simple is not just a sales ultimatum but at the core of customer satisfaction. CEB determined that almost all customers, 94%, would return to a vendor if getting service required a minimal amount of effort on their part.

 

  1. Social integration

 

Responding to customers promptly will get their attention, and serving your customers means delivering a strong customer experience through each of your channels. After all, Bain & Company found that the amount a firm will make from a customer, on average, goes up 20-40% when the brand answers their questions on social media.

 

How can you become more customer-centric?

 

Here are ways you can take actions to achieve that customer-centered business that can yield the above results:

 

  1. Encapsulate your customer-centered mission.

 

You want to express your commitment to customers, a theme that you want to permeate your business, briefly but also meaningfully. Micah Solomon of consultancy Four Aces gives the example of Ritz-Carlton, which has the internal central philosophy, “We Are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”

 

  1. Expand on your core operating principle by brainstorming core values.

 

Broaden the sense of customer-centric purpose within your office’s culture by also defining a set of values that guide the way that your company sets about achieving its mission. Values should include the expectations for relationships with customers, employees, affiliates, and suppliers.

 

  1. Keep preaching these values.

 

When you are building a certain culture and want your employees to understand it and take it seriously, reinforcement is powerful. You can go over one value each morning or at least once per week so that this foundation of your company is not neglected.

 

  1. Provide evidence.

 

Now, you aren’t just “preaching” your case (#3), but making a case for it with objective evidence. If you want to motivate your team to care about the customer on a moment-to-moment basis, show them how impactful extraordinary customer service can be.

 

Study your numbers, and however you can, form a connection between a favorable customer experience and metrics such as retention, revenue, and social sharing.

 

Gregory Ciotti of Help Scout stresses that you want any examples and data to come directly from your own customers – so that it’s immediate relevant and clear how your organization has specifically succeeded when you’ve put customers first.

 

  1. Gear your team toward active listening.

 

You always want to perform some creative ideation through your own team, but it’s also crucial to make use of the perspectives of your customers. Their feedback shows you how to create more business.

 

That feedback is a key piece of a customer-centric approach. Peppers & Rogers Group co-founder Don Peppers said that being centered on the customer is essentially about knowing the viewpoint of the customer and looking out for their best interests.

In order to be able to do that, and to successfully problem-solve on their behalf, you need to apply the same basic rule you would to understanding any other relationship: Listen. How?

 

  • Train in active listening
  • Implement a robust feedback system
  • Poll your customers with meaningful questions
  • Speak with customers regularly.

 

  1. Visualize better customer focus.

 

Creating great visuals can drive home your primary concern with the customer and other ideals that underpin your culture. Solomon again uses the example of Ritz-Carlton related to this tactic. Employees are all expected to carry around the company’s “credo cards” (accordion-fold, laminated cards) throughout the work day.

 

Visuals are often text, as also seen with the highlighted Zappos core value that appears on each box. However, this conversion of values to imagery can also be the in-person colors used by the brand. FedEx uses orange shoulder belts in its delivery vans – cuing anyone who looks through the window that the driver is embodying the value of safety.

 

  1. Invest in a customer-centric company culture.

 

A well-run company will invest in recruitment and training, but many don’t actually put money or time toward conscientiously building their company culture.

HubSpot is so dedicated to the idea that customer-focused culture is valuable, it makes its Culture Code manual and manifesto publicly available.

 

Buffer is another company that places its customers at the center of its strategy, acknowledging strong customer service and using it as a source of motivation.

 

*****

 

Do you want to better place the customer at the center of your business? At KnownHost, we have seen our company flourish through a customer-centric culture and brand. Here is one of our customers, Jim Satterfield, President & CEO of Firestorm.com: “If Knownhost’s main goal is to provide customers, small and large, with the highest level of service and support, they have succeeded.” See our customer reviews.

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Good Content for Ecommerce SEO

How to Craft Ecommerce Content for Stronger SEO & Conversions

Kim runs an e-commerce site that sells cubic zirconia, diamond-alternative jewelry. She wants to get better organic search rankings for her company, and she understands that she can improve her search engine optimization through content marketing. Through her blog, social media posts, and other means, she hopes to improve her search visibility and ultimately sell more rings, necklaces, and pendants on her site.

Here are rules that Kim followed to retool her e-commerce content for better SEO and conversions.

 

Research to Narrow in on Titles and Topics

 

Market research has long been used to learn about what type of target demographic interests the people in your target groups. By adding SEO research to the mix, you are able to address more granular, specific concerns – what they want to know when they are searching online.

To really refine the path you take with content, speak with your customer service team to learn more about the types of questions that are asked the most often. The problem-solving that your staff performs every day for your customers should overlap with the ideas you get from search analytics; and when you start answering these questions effectively through your site, fewer people will contact support.

Since Kim’s company is a small startup, she handles the customer service herself with the help of an employee, Dale. Kim and Dale sat down and brainstormed 20 frequently asked questions. Kim then combined these questions with ones that she found from keyword research. These questions were then used for creating titles and generally building ongoing buckets of subject matter through which the blog would be developed.

 

Think Long-Term

 

Content is not so much a get-rich-quick scheme as it is a get-rich-methodically scheme. These articles are about giving people information in order to establish authority, trust, and rapport. Because e-commerce companies often have thin margins, it’s difficult to budget for something that won’t pay off for 6 or 12 months. However, since blogs can help you better connect with your audience, they can also sometimes make it possible to bump up your prices. That’s because people aren’t just price-comparing but are becoming more attached to your brand.

Kim was having trouble building content into her growth plan because she knew it was unlikely to deliver strong immediate returns. As a strategy to make up for the increase in costs represented by content, Kim delivered strong content for two months and then started raising her prices. At six months, the investment in the content started to pay back.

 

Make a Buyer’s Guide

 

The bottom-line rule for content marketing is just the same as it is for other aspects of your site: user experience. In the context of a blog article, the question is how you can make that article captivating and engaging – highly readable. One of the companies that has succeeded to the greatest degree with this tactic is River Pools and Spas. Although the company is fundamentally a brick-and-mortar company, their focus on answering customer questions led them to the top of searches for their industry – especially because they were willing to answer any question a customer might have. Those questions include addressing the price of your product or service, i.e., the question that’s answered by a buyer’s guide.

Using River Pools and Spas as a model, Kim developed a buyer’s guide for her store. Working with the blog on cost of inground pools that drew more traffic to the pool store than any other piece of content, Kim wrote the title, “Cubic Zirconia Jewelry Pricing and Cost Guide.” She then oversaw the writing of the guide to ensure that it was not written as a sales catalog but as a source of unbiased consultative information.

 

Put Up Lists of All Kinds

 

An analysis of 100 top-performing blogs (with great search rankings) found that fully 45% were numbered lists. Clearly, lists are correlated highly with strong SEO, but they are a great way to approach content for other reasons too: they’re relatively straightforward to compile, allow for easier skimming (how most people read blogs) and are readymade for sharing.

Kim wanted a good blend of different title formats, so she rephrased some of the frequently asked questions she had devised with Dale into lists and “how-to” articles (guides/tutorials), leaving some of them as simple questions. The result was a master list of article titles for the next few months.

 

Create a Long-Form Guide

 

Running an e-commerce site is all about balance. When you look at any task, you want to perform it well without overdoing it. However, it is important to realize that there is substantial value to going long with some of your pieces. A guide that is delivered as a blog or an ebook, something in the area of 5000 to 20,000 words, is a way for you to really become the authority figure for your niche. You want to think carefully about how broad or narrow your topic is for maximum impact. Also, don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to come up with all the ideas yourself. These guides are usually best constructed by combining your own perspective with ideas gathered from authority content.

As Kim considered what would make the best long-form guide for her business, she centered on “Everything You Need to Know About Cubic Zirconia Wedding Rings.” She then copy-pasted that title into Google and started to work her way through the results. Her initial research unveiled an article by a gemologist about the history of the compound; using that type of objective content, she would build the skeleton outline for her guide.

 

Use Descriptive Text

 

Search engines are always being improved. However, descriptive text is still a powerful way to let them know what your images and video are. In this way, you are recognizing that your content needs to meet the needs of both your customers and the search engines. Feeding the right information to Google and Bing will help them help you.

Kim started implementing better descriptions site-wide and anywhere else she’d posted content. She transcribed all her videos, wrote out information about all her pictures, and derived talking points from infographics to better explain them.

 

Always Be Closing

 

Selling is a basic aspect of an e-commerce shop that should never be forgotten, even when you are aiming for objectivity and transparency in your content. After all, you won’t just get shoppers to your site but searchers as well. If those searchers find valuable information in your content, they could end up buying as well – as long as you aren’t too salesy. Don’t be aggressively promotional. However, a call to action is necessary to guide searchers from your blog to your shop.

 

Kim started getting great rankings for her content a couple months in, better than she was getting for her e-commerce product and category pages. Luckily, she was well-prepared for that, with a call-to-action at the bottom of each piece. At the end of each blog, after she had talked about care of a cubic zirconia ring or discussed the differences between two types of stone arrangements, she would turn lightly to a short, 2-3-sentence paragraph at the end. This CTA would close with a link to a relevant page of her shop.

 

*****

 

Do you want better SEO and an improved conversion rate for your e-commerce site? Great content is just one piece of the puzzle. For your e-commerce site to deliver the speed and reliability that will keep users enthralled, you need excellent infrastructure. At KnownHost, we custom build all our Managed VPS servers and use only the best components available, to ensure maximum performance and stability. See our managed VPS hosting packages.

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