Ben Moskel: The Rebirth of Affiliate Marketing?

This outstanding guest editorial is from Ben Moskel. In December I spoke at Ben’s Affiliate Marketing Seminar in Chicago. He sent me an outstanding rebuttal to last week’s “Death of Affiliate Marketing” teleconference. Here’s Ben…

benmoskel Ben Moskel: The Rebirth of Affiliate Marketing?Last week Perry Marshall hosted a teleconference with Super-Affiliate Amit Mehta. Perry and Amit discussed how Google recently banned dozens of affiliate marketers from using Adwords.

Perry titled the call: The Death of Affiliate Marketing on Google and you can find the corresponding blog post here.

Amit stated that in some industries the number of advertisers has been slashed from 50 to 5 as the result of the Adwords bans.

There were other comments made that gave me the impression that Google is or will be banning any and all affiliate marketers from using its advertising service.

Frankly, I think it’s a bit premature to think that Google’s goal is to rid the World of Affiliate Marketers. My observations indicate that Affiliate Marketing still continues to thrive on Google.

I do know several advertisers who are now banned for life. However, all of the objective evidence indicates that Google is targeting a very narrow category of advertisers – not just people who are doing Affiliate Marketing.

Specifically, all the banned advertisers who I know personally had one thing in common:

They promoted (or were suspected of promoting) a business opportunity (biz-opp) product. Even more specifically, they promoted a biz-opp product which used Google’s brand in the product name, e.g. Google Money Tree, Google Profits, Google PayDay, etc.

Google Money Tree could be especially problematic and perhaps the catalyst of the recent activity. A close friend of mine was banned by Google because he used “Google Money Tree” as a keyword.

His training material had nothing to do with Google Money Tree. However, he could not convince Google of his innocence. In other words, a single offensive keyword led to his demise!

bizopp 300x161 Ben Moskel: The Rebirth of Affiliate Marketing?

Most affiliates were banned for promoting biz-opp deals which used the Google brand name

Perhaps it is not a coincidence that the owners of Google Money Tree were sued just a few months before Google went on its Adwords ban rampage?

My legal background reminds me of the mindset of plaintiff’s lawyers. When I worked as an attorney in a civil litigation law firm I quickly learned that plaintiff’s lawyers always look for the deepest pockets.

In other words, if there is any way to name the deep pocket as a defendant, a plaintiff’s lawyer will figure it out. If I am the plaintiff’s lawyer for the consumers who were wronged by the Google Money Tree product, and I know that they used Adwords as a vehicle to promote the product, then I’m going to do all I can to get the $153 Billion Dollar Gorilla on the other side of the table.

As a lawyer advising your client, the primarily mindset is cover-your-ass. I would be shocked if Google’s attorneys didn’t warn the Adwords department of a potential messy lawsuit if they continued to allow advertisers to promote Google type biz opp products.

I’m aware of other non-affiliate advertisers who were banned too. I can only guess that they were unfortunately caught in a wide over-zealous net to catch the real targets.

(This all goes without mentioning how Google probably does not want their brand equity to be used to promote a hyped up biz-opp program).

Otherwise, my own experience as well as conversations with affiliates and account managers tells me that Google still is happy to accept money from Affiliate Marketers in most industries outside of the business opportunity space.

You can see this for yourself. Do a search for just about any product outside of the business opportunity/work from home market and add the word “reviews”. You will see that Google is often selling most of this space to affiliate marketers.

For instance, take a look at “web hosting reviews.” Five of the top six spots are affiliates.

 Ben Moskel: The Rebirth of Affiliate Marketing?

Google still sells space to affiliates in other markets

This isn’t to say that you need a product review website to use Adwords. It is just one of the many obvious examples where Affiliates continue to thrive with Adwords.

In fact, Google is actively building its own Affiliate Network – recruiting super-affiliates and new advertisers. (And no, all of this is not part of a big conspiracy to monopolize the Affiliate World.)

The bottom line is that it’s a little premature to announce of “Death” of Affiliate Marketing on Google because a narrow slice of affiliates are no longer allowed to use Adwords to promote business opportunity products.

I believe that people are quick to over generalize Affiliate Marketing and throw Affiliates into the same bucket with shoddy products and price gouging continuity programs.

In fact, I was at a marketing conference a few weeks back when a very well known Internet Marketer walked up to me and said that he would never do Affiliate Marketing because his conscience would not allow him to fool consumers into singing up for a crappy weight loss continuity program.

I wasn’t sure whether to be more shocked or angry at his ignorance.

Being an Affiliate isn’t about fooling consumers into signing up for the latest “flavor of the month” continuity product.

Put simply, Affiliate Marketing is selling without the face-to-face aspect of sales.

Remember too that Affiliates were originally called Publishers because they had already published tons of content on a topic before they became affiliates. In other words, there are many affiliates who own websites containing a mountain of content on a particular topic. These affiliates also use Adwords.

What reason would Google have in banning such websites from using Adwords?

On that same topic, there are literally thousands of legitimate well-established bricks and mortar businesses with robust affiliate programs. Dozens of affiliates make damn good livings selling reputable products and services.

Here are just a few examples of products I’ve promoted as an Affiliate:

  • Zappos Shoes
  • Turbo Tax
  • Web hosting
  • Norton Anti-virus
  • 123 Inkjets
  • Travelocity
  • Automobile parts
  • Lawn and Garden products
  • Weight Watchers
  • Pet prescriptions and pet products
  • Sporting goods and equipment
  • Rosetta stone language learning

The list goes on and on and there are thousands more offers just like them.

Indeed, the Affiliate industry is very much alive and well on Google.

With that said, I did agree with Perry and Amit on how affiliates need to provide content in order to survive. I didn’t recall that any concrete examples on how to add value as an affiliate. So I decided to list the two most effective approaches that work for my affiliate sites:

  1. Product Review/Testimonial – what I mean here is a real testimonial. My best advice to new affiliates is to USE a product or service before you promote it.In fact, most of the products I promote I have bought for myself, my relatives, and my closest friends. I use their feedback in my sales message.As a consumer you get the inside perspective of how a product works, the sales process, etc. In other words, you get the exact EXPERIENCE that your website visitors are looking for. Plus, you will notice the downsides of the product or service which are actually a great addition to your sales copy.For instance, if I were to promote the Kindle as an affiliate I would write about how the battery life stinks if you accidentally leave the wifi enabled.These sorts of things give your sales letter authenticity and creates a stronger sales message to a potential buyer.
  2. Use the “Super-Sub-Niche Angle” – You’ll discover that many products and services solve a host of totally different problems. You can really differentiate yourself by segmenting your sales message and tailoring your sales page entirely towards just one of the problems.Let’s take the Weight Watchers example. Everybody knows that Weight Watchers is for people looking to lose weight. How about if you design your affiliate website around one of the many REASONS a person is trying to lose weight like:- They want to look good for an upcoming high school reunion
    - They want to get in shape for an upcoming beach vacation
    - They are recently divorced/separated and need to make themselves “marketable” for the dating scene

    I guarantee that if you dedicate your website to one of these super-sub-niche categories, your visitors will be 100% more satisfied than if they went directly to the Weight Watchers website.

    These are just a couple of ways to be an Affiliate who adds value.

    In other words, this is a way to find your USP as an Affiliate Marketer.

In closing, I totally disagree with anybody who claims that Affiliate Marketing is now “dead” on Google or any other online advertising platform. My experience has proven just the opposite.

However, I do appreciate anyone who warns me against getting comfortable with relying upon any single advertising medium as a reliable traffic source. I believe you should constantly test out alternative traffic methods as well as alternative affiliate offers. (I’ve had $50K per year affiliate offers die overnight!)

The days of easy profits from affiliate offers are long gone. The only security in this business is to hone your craft and get really, really good at copywriting, buying traffic, negotiation/joint venturing, and any other direct marketing skill.

Ben Moskel

Ben Moskel is a former attorney and professional practitioner and teacher of affiliate marketing. He lives in New York.

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Comments on Ben Moskel: The Rebirth of Affiliate Marketing? »

  • Kevin says:

    I am TOTALLY pleased with this post. Nothing like balance. I am Sooo glad I studied copy-writing.

    As to the comment about testimonials with regard to the FTC… as someone with a weight loss product (original content – real-easy-weight-loss.org) the FTC is very clear about how you can use testimonials, but I will ALWAYS use them when ever I have them, because they ARE POWERFUL.

  • Howie Jacobson and I had what started off as a 15 minute chat about AdWords account banning last Wednesday, which turned into a 57 minute tele-seminar.

    He’d found my article “Google AdWords Account Suspended – Is this the end of Direct Linking?” written last december at

    http://www.davidnrothwell.com/2009/12/13/google-adwords-account-suspended-is-this-the-end-of-direct-linking/

    As Ben rightly asserts, the affiliate marketing business model cannot be totally dead.

    There’s too much money in it, and too many huge players — the burgeoning Google affiliate network included.

    However the “delivery mechanism” whereby affiliates promote merchant offers is definitely becoming de facto much more strictly
    regulated.

    For example, As I mention in my article, last April Amazon.com in North America closed down one aspect of its affiliate marketing network with very short notice — that of direct linking.

    And there are clearly very good reasons why they would do this, including poor conversion rates, channel conflict, and cost of their resources.

    I only heard Perry’s call with Amit after my own with Howie, and it’s interesting how we independently reach some of the same
    conclusions — namely that of the value-add.

    Although Google is quite overdue in taking strong action against some organisations which are clearly violating their brand, that time has now arrived with the involvement of the FTC. Now they’re taking no prisoners.

    And I believe that Google has a wider Agenda that it’s conveniently able to use to broaden the “collateral damage” inflicted by the likes of googlemoneytree and other such egregious (to use their own term) types of marketing (the dictionary defines this as meaning “offensive”).

    It’s been reported to me that new affiliates simply opening a direct linking campaign for amazon products in the uk are immediately detected and shut down.

    Why should this be?

    Read the full post at
    http://www.davidnrothwell.com/2009/12/13/google-adwords-account-suspended-is-this-the-end-of-direct-linking/

  • Larry says:

    I have to congratulate Google for doing “something” about the Affiliates issue, probably in part of a response from the FTC, who was getting hammered with on-line related complaints.

    No, Ben, Google is not trying to rid the world of Affiliate Marketers, they just happen to be the biggest – as a group – offenders.

    I think the Biz Op affiliates marketing field has become a “me too” product dump, with small innovations spurring huge new product launches. It’s become kind of an oligopoly of the top 20 to 30 marketers who cross breed sales till they have become in-bred.

    I only wish Google would seek to do more to monitor other categories as well.

  • Elvin says:

    Thanks to Perry and Ben

    I’m about to learn adwords and it’s really helpful for the information provided in this blog.

    A true review of a product is very important for a customer. So, I think google is trying to help her customers to get the correct website when customers are searching for certain product. Or else, no one will like to use google search engine again.

    Elvin

  • Matt says:

    Amit was right – affiliate marketing is dead. You all should quit now & pull your ads ;)

  • Graeme says:

    I was making a few hundred a month as an affiliate for gambling products until google changed the rules, so stopped using adwords. 6 months later I get a phone call from google ” Why am I no longer using adwords?” when I gave them a honest but unPC answer my account was shut down the next day. At no time had I used the word google in any ad or product.
    I’m happy that the guys behind money tree got sued as they ripped me off enough times.

  • Thanks Perry

    Times are indeed a little rocky online. This morning I read how VISA was starting to ban setting up merchant account for $1 free trials and free CD/DVD offers that have continuity components tied to the trial or freebie.

    You can read the quick video explanation and post here

    http://www.ryanlee.com/make-more-money/forced-continuity-and-free-trials-are-almost-over-read-this-now/

    Thanks
    Jonathan

  • Dror says:

    Hi Ben,

    “(And no, all of this is not part of a big conspiracy to monopolize the Affiliate World.)”

    Do you know that for sure?
    What is your source?

    All the moves Google is doing indicate that they are going to be the biggest player in the Affiliate world,
    I trully believe they are going to rule the.

    You see,
    They have all the information (keywords, ads, statistics, etc) to run the best campaigns, they learnt us for years,
    This up coming decade will go to social media with twitter and facebook,
    Google sees that and they are almost ready to double its income from the affiliate world.

    • Ben Moskel says:

      Well no I don’t know that for sure, but I suspect that Google is not trying to monopolize the affiliate industry.

      Here are a few reasons why I feel that way:

      1. Google banned very few affiliates in comparison to the entire pool of affiliate marketers out there.

      Google continues to allow most affiliates access to Adwords even if those affiliates promote offers via other networks.

      2. After acquiring Performics Google has not made any significant moves to acquire other affiliate networks.

      There are literally hundreds of affiliate networks which operate totally independent of Google. If Google was trying to monopolize the affiliate industry I would expect a move towards acquiring other networks because, by doing so, they would simultaneously acquire the advertisers, affiliates, and relationships between them.

      Admittedly Google is continuously adding new advertisers. However, they predominantly operate in the retail vertical and apparently seem content to operate without going to far outside that particular vertical.

      3. Finally, I recall when Google launched conversion optimizer and lots of people in the industry declared the end of affiliate marketing.

      I don’t know if conversion optimizer made even a ripple for affiliates. Personally, for our company, it has only helped us spend less money on our affiliate campaigns.

      One last thing to note is that there are some relationships that are seemingly immune from Google’s grip. For instance, consider the example that Perry provided involving the local business who is not doing any search marketing. In my experience, those types of clients are easy to please and there is less noise than with national cpa/affiliate offers.

  • Steve Juth says:

    Great post Perry and Ben. I had one of my AdWords accounts banned recently, which was used for testing various CPA offers. I used this account for educational purposes for training various AdWordAccelerator customers who do affiliate marketing with my software.

    However, I never promoted any Google type of products and was pretty selective in terms of what I promoted. I think there are still some unknowns in this area. Some have suggested that email/zip submit offers have also caused bans. (I didn’t promote these either).

    This post reminds me of Scott Boulch’s report years back, “The Death of AdSense”, which was released after Google implemented their smart pricing algorithm. This change definitely thinned the AdSense herd, slashing the number of MFA’s, but people are still making money from AdSense in legitimate ways. And I believe smart affiliate marketers will continue to thrive in Google.

  • Eric Dick says:

    If you are going to have affiliate links from CPA networks on your site you have to use a redirect file. This is probably a short term fix. Affiliate marketing will never die on Google, but advertising fly by night scams will always have a short lifespan.

    Sadly enough there will always be these kinds of offers with people who know the laws well enough so they can “break” them—like deadbeat renters who know every renter/tenant law. Even affiliate managers from very reputable networks tell their affiliate to get in and get out in order to “strike while the iron is hot.”

    But again, affiliate marketing will never die. It is all about value, and creating communities.

  • Great post. I agree that affiliate marketing is not dead for I have had some success in the past few months. I am still new and learned a lot from this post.

    I liked the points you made about finding sub-niches as well as a USP. That will definitely help.

    I agree that the only way to make it is to buckle down and get good at copywriting, knowing your visitors, and adding value. And if you can afford to buy traffic, you have to get good at that too.

    All in all, thanks for the insight Perry.

    Anthony

  • RagsToRich says:

    What I’m getting from this article plus the comments here is that no-one really has a clue what the regulations are re: AdWords and affiliate sites….

    Which seems a poor reflection on google more than anything else.

    • Steve Juth says:

      Well said. I agree. No one outside of Google seems to know all of the parameters involved here. And I’m sure this is often the case within Google.

      Here is an interesting post from someone who had their account banned for doing SEO research via AdWords:

      http://www.dotcult.com/adwords-account-banned-for-keyword-research

      Linking to other sites to test keywords is an interesting and effective practice for testing, but even here one needs to be careful. We have to remember that Google’s human editorial review department is watching things more closely these days. It’s not about trying to get past some bot or algorithm, as many affiliates have tried to do in the past.

      And who knows if this will improve anytime soon. The fact that Google’s phone support will now often send you back to their website for AdWords help and then automatically hang up (which they did not do in the past) is not very encouraging.

  • Zen says:

    My account has been ‘under review’, ‘suspended’, ‘complained’ and whatnot according to G. The funny thing is, the websites of merchants of the products I WAS promoting had at least a PR of 4 and were highly ranked for some very popular keywords.

    They were legitimate products which I have had not one single refund of, and they certainly do not contain any taboo words like ‘Google’ or ‘Cash’.

    I think a big part of what determines if your account is legal(according to the Big G’s law) or not depends greatly on luck and the employee who is reviewing your campaigns.

    My account is currently under suspension (again) and I wonder if miracles will happen like the previous times?

    One question here – Can I track sales conversion using php on Yahoo and Bing if the buy page is on the merchants’ websites and not mine? Do they have a ‘destination url’ and ‘display url’ like adwords?

  • I have found out the hard way about pleasing the Bots for PPC. Some of the content has to be in image format because the bots are not intelligent enough to know what the site is really about. They make calculated guesses and that can put your site into Slap’s ville even when it does not deserve it. The PPC World is evolving and staying on top of all the requirements is almost a full time job.

  • Very nice post : Affiliate marketing is a very important part of internet marketing. Today Internet marketing has become part and the parcel of every business and no one can deny the importance of this new era and good Articles like this are adding a lot in the importance of internet marketing.

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