10 Commandments of Affiliate Web Design

Advanced SEO Book coverThis is a guest post by Gab Goldenberg, author of the advanced SEO book. Get a free chapter on link building here and check out his book affiliate program – the site boasts a 5.5% conversion rate to sale!

Affiliate web design is not only unique because it’s purpose is to generate conversions – in contrast to providing an outlet for frustrated artists – but it has to do so in a limited environment where the conversion has to happen on a third party site. Here are the 10 key web design rules for affiliates.

10. Problem: You need to send the traffic onwards, with minimal bounce rate on the merchant site.

Solution: Therefore, prepare your traffic by including visual elements of the merchant’s landing page on your own site.

Logos are a minimum, but try cropping the hero shot and using that or some stock photo face that’s on the lander… use things people will recognize after clicking through and reassure them this is what they clicked through to see. Only using text links is lazy and less likely to work.

Similarly, either repeat or paraphrase the merchant’s headline with your headline and call to action.

9. Problem: Merchant sites don’t show shipping costs [or other costs, ex.: book clubs, hidden fees] easily. This means people will abandon the cart in higher rates.

Solution: Gather the info yourself and inform your visitors exactly of all charges ahead of time.

8. Problem: Visitors care about the merchant/ the merchant’s product. Not you.

Solution: Provide a value add that encourages people to refer their friends to you. Are your reviews updated periodically? Do they get a bonus if they buy through your affiliate link? (E.g. similar to cashback affs, but you can offer bonuses like info products, tools, stickers, support etc) Do you have some unique value add like BBGeeks.com’s reviews of network coverage organized by geography?
7. Problem: Your design is intended to yield a sale, once, and once-only.  

Solution: It’s OK to start with pushing your traffic to convert right away, you’re only ever going to get value from that customer once… so you should figure out how to get that traffic into an email (or phone, direct mail, personal contact) list you can monetize repeatedly. Generating leads for the aerospace field? Why not invite leads to your aerospace summer retreat?

6. Problem: Your claims aren’t credible.

Solution: Substantiate them with pics and video. Did you really buy that top fom the Gap? Show a picture of yourself in it with the matching bag. Weight-loss product really work? Show before/after or record yourself doing it, and prove the dates are real with newspapers in your vid.

5. Problem: You’re too enthusiastic about the affiliate product. Every reference to it on your site is linked, the “negatives” in your review are that the merchant is too helpful and generous etc… skeptical consumers don’t click.

Solution: Use one call to action above the fold, and one for every scroll of screen real estate downwards. How many pixels to a scroll? Check your analytics for visitors’ most common screen resolutions.

4. Problem: You overestimate how much persuasion people need and have too much copy.

Solution: Short copy vs long copy depends on several factors, chief amongst which is price and second degree of need. You can get names and emails with a title, picture and 2-3 bulleted benefits. (I once wrote a sales letter with 20 reasons to subscribe to my free RSS feed. Ooops.)

Note: Price includes total price, because people aren’t stupid and get that a $50 monthly subscription is a helluva lot more than a one-time $50 purchase.

3. Problem: You’re starting with visuals/templates as opposed to copy.

Solution: Form serves function. Figure out what you want to do, and create a page (or find a template) that matches that. Don’t start with visuals and then try to fit your copy/ purpose into it. For example, I’ve seen complicated SaaS software trying to sell me on a $50 subscription with hardly any copy on the landing page, because the lander featured a big spot for a hero image / video (which was meant for newbies very unfamiliar with the category of product, and thus didn’t help me) and then some horizontally aligned features with 3 lines of adwords-length copy each.

2. Problem: Your blog posts lack email subscription forms. I don’t mean in the sidebar or in a dhtml overlay-popup. I mean in the post.

Solution: Scott Brinker from IonInteractive.com (no association, though I did get a free review copy of their CRO book Honest Seduction) showed a brilliant type of landing page at Pubcon 2010. He featured a full length article featuring X ways to do Y… and then there was an opt-in form above the fold embedded in the copy, right-aligned, saying “Get 10 more ways to do Y”…

Obviously you can’t do that for every blog post, but your popular posts should have that sort of integration so you get max value out of each post. On the backend, you can need to figure out how to send a custom initial autoresponder if you want all these people on the same list, or you can create multiple duplicate lists.

Another more general way to do this is to have your forms tied to your blog post’s category or tag, in which case you have a general free report for the “seo” category” and another for the “affiliate” category.

1. Problem: Your landing page is leaky. Yes, affiliates have leaks too, not just merchants.

Solution: Get rid of all the extra junk on your landing page. Standard navigation on your product review blog post? Use a WP custom post type with a blank sidebar or comment it out for that page. Use Google Website Optimizer to test the two and watch CTR soar on the nav-free page.

p.p.s. Problem #11: WordPress is your default landing page creation/testing engine. Even using something like Thesis or Affiliate Theme, you’re strongly limiting your ability to test graphics, in terms of layout, hero shots, and more. Either use purpose built testing software that has a built-in landing page creation/editing, or get some graphics and html. I use Bharce for graphics and PSD to HTML/CSS for slicing.

photo credit: Shutterstock/SSGuy

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