I once read some very simple yet very powerful advice in a marketing book.
I've forgotten which book I read this advice in, but I will never forget the advice itself. The advice was, “Direct all your efforts towards producing a world class service. Everything else will flow from this.”
I have been applying this advice to the affiliate programs I promote through my websites. I have been continuously improving my sites with the sole aim of “providing a world class service.” I wouldn't say that I've achieved this goal yet. Providing a world class service is not a destination, it is a process of continuous improvement.
As I've steadily applied techniques to come closer to providing “a world class service” for my visitors I've also seen a steady improvement in my affiliate conversion rates.
So how do we provide “a world class service” at your websites while promoting somebody else's products and services via affiliate programs? And what has all this got to do with affiliate search boxes?
One key to achieving a perception of a “world class service” (and thereby better affiliate conversion results) is branding.
Your brand instead of theirs
Branding can be very difficult to achieve when promoting affiliate programs. The link code provided, whether it be banners, text links or search boxes, generally directs visitors to the affiliate program's brand and away from yours.
One solution is to open affiliate links within frames if this is allowed by your affiliate program. This achieves a perception of “co-branding”, although frames can have their disadvantages, too.
Another “co-branding” solution, which can me used either in combination with frames or on its own, is to cloak your affiliate links with your own URL as explained in my previous article Smarter Affiliate Links. Unfortunately this does not help much when it comes to affiliate search boxes placed on no-frame sites.
Many affiliate programs offer snippets of code for search boxes which allow your visitors to search directly from your website. Most of the high-paying dating affiliate programs offer this feature as does Amazon and many other programs.
Affiliate search boxes can add interactivity to your site and usually have relatively high conversion rates compared to banners.
Unfortunately, unless your main site is within a frame the search results will obviously redirect your visitors directly to the affiliate program's pages and you lose your branding. If you open the search in a new frame by simply inserting the code “target=”_blank” in the link code, this means visitors will still have your site in a browser window behind the search results when they search, but it will be very obvious that the search is a standard affiliate program search. Again, you the Affiliate have just undermined your own “brand” while promoting the affiliate program's “brand.” Not what a “world class service” would do.
Case Study – NZFriendFinder branded search boxes on websites.co.nz using modified Form2Mail
One of my main sites is at http://www.websites.co.nz. This site is not within frames. Many of my visitors are looking for New Zealand websites offering New Zealand products and services.
Branding is very important in this niche. There are only 4 million New Zealanders and they are fiercely patriotic. As an affiliate, to provide a world class service to this niche I need to offer something different from the standard type of linking available at other global affiliate sites. My New Zealand visitors need (and deserve) to feel special. They came to websites.co.nz looking for websites created for New Zealanders by New Zealanders. And that is what I aim to give to them.
I have set up multiple domain names to promote various affiliate programs to New Zealanders. One of those domains is NZFriendFinder.com.
The example I am going to use here is the search box for NZFriendFinder.com, which promotes a popular global dating affliate program, Passion.com.
What I tried first
Originally I placed a standard affiliate search box on to websites.co.nz and was telling my visitors to sign up at www.nzfriendfinder.com
Of course, when they used the search box the visitors were sent directly to Passion.com's standard search results page. At this point my NZFriendFinder branding was lost. All my visitors could see that I was merely placing a global dating service's standard affiliate search box on my site and the results were not for “NZFriendFinder” at all. I was in danger of losing my branding amongst my visitors. By losing my branding I risked losing credibility, destroying the perception of a service aimed primarily for New Zealanders and not achieving my goal of providing a “world class service” to this niche.
So what was the solution? Many affiliate programs provide affiliates with multiple ways to link into their search results pages. This generally includes standard text links and banners as well as search boxes.
A search box is basically a form which submits data from fields to a web server and returns results from a database based upon the input. A web page is then created “on the fly” based upon the data returned from the search result.
Similar results can be achieved to a certain extent with standard text links. Forms are also used to provide feedback/contact at websites which submit the inputted data from the form to the website owner using Form2Mail scripts or similar. The data is emailed to the website's owner and can specify another URL for the visitor to be redirected to once the form is submitted (usually a “Success” or “Thank you for your Feedback”-type page. But the visitor could be redirected to any URL the webmaster specifies when the form is submitted).
This got me to thinking. If I created a modified Form2Mail form which looked like a search box for the dating service I was promoting, set up NZFriendFinder links within frames for the standard html affiliate links (for example, for males seeking females in New Zealand the link would be http://guest.search.females.nzfriendfinder.com, females seeking males in New Zealand would be http://guest.search.males.nzfriendfinder.com, etc.) as options in a drop-down menu I could create the perception and functionality of an NZFriendFinder-branded search box. If I opened the links in a new window within a frame at NZFriendFinder.com I could retain the perception of my branding, because the NZFriendFinder logo and links would appear at the top of the page while the affiliate program's links loaded below – something impossible to achieve with the standard search box provided by the affiliate program.
To see this in action go to Websites.co.nz and use the NZFriendFinder search box.
You will see that the search results appear within an NZFriendFinder frame in a new window.[Editor's Note: If you wish to do something similar, be sure to read each merchant's affiliate agreement carefully. Some affiliate merchants actively encourage affiliates to “brand” their products under different domain names. However, some affiliate merchants specifically ban it, because they feel it weakens their brand.]
Not really a search box
In fact this is not really a search box at all – it is a modified Form2Mail form. But it looks like a search box and functions like one.
The search box allows visitors to choose whether they are seeking males or females. The field for “seeking” in the example is the one which really does all the work. If the visitor selects “Seeking males” they will be taken to the NZFriendFinder page for search results for New Zealand males when the form is submitted. If the visitor selects “Seeking women” they will be taken to the NZFriendFinder page for search results for New Zealand females when the form is submitted. I achieved this by, within the drop-down box for “seeking”, specifying the destination URL that the visitor will be taken to when the modfied Form2Mail form is submitted.
If the visitor selects “Seeking males” they are taken to a different URL when the form is submitted to if they select “Seeking women.”
Emails provide useful data
Because this is really a Form2Mail script and not a search script, an email is also sent to me each time the NZFriendFinder search box is used at websites.co.nz. Rather than being annoying, these emails, which I send to a special separate email account I set up for this purpose, are absolute marketing gold.
I can now tell exactly how many times the NZFriendfinder search box has been used, whether it was males seeking females or vice versa.
For each page I include the NZFriendFinder search box on I have set up a different subject line to tell me which page it comes from.
This way I can easily track which of my pages are performing best for searches and try different techniques to encourage visitors to search.
For example, I can now tell whether visitors have used the NZFriendFinder search box from www.websites.co.nz or www.websites.co.nz/freestuff.htm or even within my CoolKiwi.com Everyone.net hosted webmail service at http://newzealand.mail.everyone.net. My ISP's Form2Mail script informs me via the emails of the date and times of the searches, what type of searches were conducted (males or females), and even the IP addresses, countries, browser types, screen resolutions etc. of the vistors who have conducted the individual searches. This is a much higher level of information than is normally available to an affiliate on the performance of their search box links, and is another step towards creating a truly “world class service”.
I appreciate this article is somewhat technical. If you have any questions on how to achieve smarter affiliate searches please feel free to contact me at http://contact.coolkiwi.co.nz