Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Good Small Business Book

During the past week or so I've been reading a very interesting book called The E Myth Revisited, Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It. The author is Michael E. Gerber.

The book begins by explaining some common mistakes and misconceptions that account for the fact that most small businesses in the US fail. For example, Gerber observes that most people who start businesses are good at some specialized task. They are technicians, and they believe that if they just work hard enough at what they're good at, they'll make it. Turns out, that's wishful thinking.

Gerber describes the model of the franchise in order to illustrate the way in which thorough organization can free up the owner to focus on the most important parts of the business (the upper-level, creative parts). From there it gets into the details of proper business organization, delegation and planning.

Basically, the book moves from the fledgling business to the fully functioning, "mature" business. At the same time, it provides some inspirational content to help get you there. The book does wax a bit philosophical at times, which weirded me out a little. However, the overall tone is light and it is certainly an easy read.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in starting a business (any kind of business, even an affiliate marketing one). I would also recommend it to anyone who already has a small business and is looking for help.

The E Myth Revisited can be purchased at

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

For Marketers

If you are a marketer, affiliate or otherwise, I would highly recommend this article from

The article discusses a recent study done by Yankelovich Partners, Inc. Which found that consumers are becoming increasingly negative about and resistant to advertising. I was not surprised because I'm pretty much on that bandwagon.

Most of the advertising I see is not even meant for me. When I watch the news I see ads for several types of insurance, tons of drugs, and dial-up internet services. I already have the insurance I need (which isn't much), I am young and healthy and do not need any type of pharmaceutical, and I deeply despise dial-up internet with all my soul. I would sign up for PeoplePC Online only at gunpoint (and I would cancel it as soon as the gunman, or gunperson if you like, left).

Let's face it, TV and print publications are not yet advanced enough to properly target each of their viewers so I end up being bored to death by thousands of ads that I don't care about. However, there are plenty of products that I am interested in and would like to know more about.

That's where the internet beats (can beat) all other media. Proper search engine marketing, for example, delivers targeted advertising to people who are looking specifically for the product advertised. That is beautiful. Here's a supporting article (also from to back that up.

Moral of the story: Target your marketing. Take the time and effort to research your market, survey your customers, and implement any systems that you might need to take advantage of the customizability of the internet.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Busy times make short posts...

Well, most people agree that Google is still on top of the Search Engine Heap, but if we're talking in terms of baby names, Yahoo is the winner. EDIT: This story was faked. It isn't true.

Ever wonder why your brand new, perfectly optimized site is not on top of Google yet? If this newsletter is correct, it's because Google makes you wait. The author, Scottie Claiborne, calls it "aging delay" and speculates that the "aging filter" behind it was designed to combat "mini-networks and other multi-site strategies intended to artificially inflate link popularity". Sounds reasonable to me.

Anyone know any better?

EDIT: Most people call this Google's 'Sandbox' and it's been ruffling feathers all over the place.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Link of the Day

An interesting little keyword tool. It's free to mess with as you see fit. Who knows, maybe you'll find a "Golden Niche" and become wealthy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Text Link Tweaks

"Creative tests on portals have shown that text-link copywriting tweaks you might consider inconsequential can have profound impact on clicks and click-value. The team has also learned to vary their copy every day on portal pages that get heavy repeat visitors. A line that works well one day may not catch attention when repeat visitors see it for the second day in a row."

The above quote is from a Marketing Sherpa report on The article is titled: "How to Make Millions in Eretail Sales During a Short Window of Opportunity: 5 Tactics".

The above quote confirms the advice of several search engine marketing gurus. I have read similar things before. The experts agree that a tiny tweak can make a surprisingly large difference in the performance of a text ad.

This conclusion is based on testing. For you to be truly successful as an affiliate marketer you need to do your own testing. No matter what you write, from little Google Ads to text-link ads on your site, you should be testing.

Adwords will actually let you create multiple ads for the same group of search terms. Right next to your current ad there is a link that says, "Create new Text Ad". If you create a second ad, Google will split your impressions between the two and, I am fairly certain, start using the better one of the two all on its own.

You should also test on your own site. If you have a fairly steady flow of traffic it should be easy to test things. If they provide the links, choose two that you think will be successful. If you make your own links, make two. Use one for a week (or for a set number of impressions, like 500 or 1,000) and then switch. May the best link win. If you have a lot of traffic you could do like and switch ads every day. The ad with the highest click-through rate is probably the best.

Of course, the paragraph I quoted also brings up the fact that if you have a lot of repeat visitors (and frequently updated content sites most likely will), you should probably change up your ads from time to time. People may be interested in them on day 1, but after that they'll probably start ignoring them. You want your visitors to be saying, "Ooh, what's this new attraction?! I shall click it!"

Monday, January 10, 2005

E-Commerce News

Good news for online retailers. Online sales are growing. According to an InternetNews article, 2004 Holiday sales beat 2003 by $4.7 billion. Another article, from Internet Retailer, reports an increase of $3.5 billion (and smaller numbers overall). I guess it depends on when "the Holidays" start, when they end, and what counts as "Holiday shopping". Either way, money is being made online in ever increasing amounts.

And I did not get nearly enough of that pie...

However, there is hope for the future. Take, for example, this heart-warming story about Joint Ventures and Advertising costs from E-Commerce Guide. If you're looking for ways to stretch your advertising dollars you will like this article. Very creative, yet simple and do-able.

Much better than those scammy traffic schemes you see everywhere.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Consumer Review Sites

Aside from this site I run a small consumer-review type site (among other things). Anyway, this type of site seems to be a popular one among affiliates. I assume that this is because you one can review several, or many, products and get paid no matter what your visitors choose.

Sadly, it isn't really as simple as that. Getting people to actually click through and buy the stuff you review takes a certain amount of work, luck, and careful strategy.

After reading through those credibility reports, I realize more fully the importance of that "careful strategy" part. The report (PDF) shows that opinion or review web sites depend less on their design for credibility than do other sites. At least, people commented less about that for those sites.

What they did talk about was "information bias", "information accuracy", and "to a lesser extent, underlying company motive".

Here's a list of the sites that people rated so you can do your own comparisons:

  1. (Most credible; High positive score)
  5. (Barely positive)
  6. (Barely negative)
  10. (Least credible; Big negative)

Personally, I was surprised to see Bizrate were it is. They're all over Google Adwords and they seem to have a pretty robust system. Perhaps they aren't quite as impressive if you start out at their homepage instead of coming to a product page through a search.

Anyway, it appears that people like unbiased and accurate reviews (surprise). They don't like sneaky attempts to get them to buy stuff (darn).

I think that a product-review-affiliate-site that does away with the hype and sticks to the facts can be succesful. Tell people what you know in a straightforward manner and they may just believe you. If you tell the truth, what should they care that you get paid for it? It doesn't cost them anything. You took the time to write an honest review and that's worth something isn't it?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Affiliates and Google

The affiliate game on Google has changed. New rules about affiliate marketers using Adwords to advertise other people's sites have been enacted. There were rumors circulating the forums that something like this was in the works. Today my Inbox confirmed them. Here is the e-mail:

Hello from the Google AdWords Team:

In January 2005, Google will incorporate a new affiliate advertising policy that is designed to provide a better user and advertiser experience.

What is changing:

With this new affiliate policy, we'll only display one ad per search query for affiliates and parent companies sharing the same URL. This way, users will have a more diverse sampling of advertisements to choose from. As always, your ad will be displayed based on its Ad Rank for given searches, which is determined by a combination of your ad's maximum cost-per-click (price) and clickthrough rate (performance).

For instance, if a user searches for books on or anywhere on the Google search and content networks, Google will take an inventory of ads running for the keyword books. If we find that two or more ads compete under the same URL, we'll display the ad with the highest Ad Rank.

How this will affect you:

If you're an affiliate, this means that you no longer need to identify yourself as an affiliate in your ad text. However, your current ad text will continue to display your affiliate status until you change it.

Affiliates or advertisers using unique URLs in their ads will not be affected by this change. Please note that your Display URL must match the URL of your landing page, and you may not simply frame another site.

What you should do:

We recommend that you continue to monitor your ads' performance and optimize your ads as needed to ensure they're bringing you the best results. Please visit our Optimization Tips page for more information.

By improving our ad relevancy, we believe that users will have a better search experience, which will help you reach more potential clients in the future. We'll continue to make improvements to AdWords over time to further improve the user experience and help increase the performance of your ads.

We look forward to continue providing you with the most effective advertising available.

The Google AdWords Team

So there you have it. Only one affiliate per URL. In case this news causes you to weep and wail, I will give you two suggestions to keep your earnings going:

1. Get a generic domain name and cheap hosting. For each site you advertise on Google, build a landing page with your new domain. Use that page to do a little bit of pre-selling and then link to the affiliated site. Adding this step may actually improve your conversions if you work at it.

2. Look harder for good niches. If no other affiliates are advertising with Adwords, you get the Golden Ticket.

To us all, good luck.

More Credibility Stuff

Last post I discussed a survey done by Stanford's, Web Credibility Project. Also listed on their site is another interesting study about web site credibility they did in conjunction with Consumer Webwatch.

This study was run a little bit differently than the last one I discussed. Instead of asking certain questions, it allowed respondents to make their own comments. Each person was shown two live web sites which they ranked according to credibility. They were then asked to comment on the credibility of the sites they saw. 2,440 comments were recorded in all.

Here's what's important:

Appearance was the most commonly mentioned aspect of a site. 46.1% of all the comments had something to do with "Design Look" (these comments were about the "visual design, including layout, typography, white space, images, color schemes, and so on"). That is to say, the way a site looks can make or break its credibility.

It is common knowledge that people browse the web quickly, moving from one site to another until we find what we want. As we go, we pass judgment, almost instantly, on the sites that we visit. We may say things just like the respondents said: "Not very professional looking. Don't like the cheesy graphics." Or, "This site is more credible. I find it to be much more professional looking."

The study also highlights the fact that having a professional looking site is even more important for financial (54.6%), search engine (52.6%), and travel sites (50.5%). E-Commerce sites came in at 46.2%, barely over the average for all sites.

This study is rather huge, so I will be discussing more of it later.

You can read the entire study online at Consumer Webwatch's Research Page. There is an HTML and PDF version.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Web Site Credibility

Today, I found a great web site for anyone interested in doing business online. It is called "The Web Credibility Project" and is part of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University.

This is an ongoing project that is doing the following:

"Performing quantitative research on Web credibility.
Collecting all public information on Web credibility.
Acting as a clearinghouse for this information.
Facilitating research and discussion about Web credibility.
Helping designers create credible Web sites."

At the bottom of the home page (which I linked to above), you will find a red box containing a list of reports and other such useful things. One of those reports is titled, "What Makes Web Sites Credible? A Report on a Large Quantitative Study" (this link goes directly to the PDF file). That report contains some very important information for anyone who has, or will have, a web site.

Listed below you will find the results of the survey in order of their score (highest to lowest). The survey allowed people to rate each aspect of a site on a scale from -3 to 3. A score of 3 would mean that having that aspect would make your site "much more believable". A negative score, of course, means the opposite. The scores listed are the average of the rankings given by the 1410 people included in the survey.
  • The site provides a quick response to your customer service questions. (2.02)
  • The site represents an organization you respect. (1.93)
  • The site is by a news organization that is well respected outside of the Internet. (1.91)
  • The site lists the organization's physical address. (1.86)
  • The site gives a contact phone number. (1.71)
  • The site lets you search past content (i.e. archives). (1.57)
  • The site looks professionally designed. (1.55)
  • The site has been updated since your last visit. (1.55)
  • The site gives a contact email address. (1.53)
  • The site lists authors' credentials for each article. (1.49)
  • The site has articles that list citations and references. (1.49)
  • The site is arranged in a way that makes sense to you. (1.48)
  • The site sends emails confirming transactions you make. (1.41)
  • The site is linked to by a site you think is believable. (1.29)
  • The site states its policy on content. (1.26)
  • The site links to outside materials and sources. (1.25)
  • The site provides links to its competitors sites. (1.11)
  • The site has few news stories but gives detailed information for each. (1.10)
  • The site was recommended to you by a friend. (1.07)
  • The site offers information in more than one language. (1.04)
  • The site represents a nonprofit organization. (0.93)
  • The site says it is the official site for a specific topic. (0.85)
  • The site has ratings or reviews of its content. (0.79)
  • The site shows photos of the organization's members. (0.69)
  • The site lists well-known corporate customers. (0.62)
  • The URL for the site ends with ".org" (0.58)
  • The site is advertised on the radio or on billboards. (0.57)
  • The site selects news stories according to your preferences. (0.57)
  • The site provides financial news at no charge. (0.53)
  • The site displays an award it has won. (0.45)
  • The site recognizes that you have been there before. (0.37)
  • The site has ads that match the topic you are reading about. (0.21)
  • The site is designed for e-commerce transactions. (0.17)
  • The site requires you to register or log in. (0.07)
The above list shows things that, if you can do them, will positively affect your site's credibility with your visitors. Of course, not all of them will apply to your site and not all of them can be done by just anyone. For example, this blog is not done by a news organization that is well respected outside of the internet (maybe someday...). However, I could probably up my credibility by providing an e-mail address. Perhaps I will, though I fear spam.

I will now list the no-no's in reverse order (lowest score to highest).
  • The site makes it hard to distinguish ads from content. (-2.08)
  • The site is rarely updated with new content. (-1.67)
  • The site automatically pops up new windows with ads. (-1.56)
  • The site links to a site you think is not credible. (-1.53)
  • The site has a link that doesn't work. (-1.45)
  • The site is difficult to navigate. (-1.30)
  • The site is sometimes unexpectedly unavailable. (-1.28)
  • The site has a typographical error. (-1.28)
  • The site's domain name does not match the company's name. (-1.06)
  • The site takes a long time to download. (-0.94)
  • The site has lots of news stories without giving detailed information. (-0.89)
  • The site contains information that doesn't match what you think. (-0.77)
  • The site has one or more ads on each page. (-0.77)
  • The site requires a paid subscription to gain access. (-0.71)
  • The site has a commercial purpose (as opposed to academic purpose). (-0.63)
  • The site is hosted by a third party (e.g. AOL, Geocities). (-0.44)
  • The site is small (e.g. less than 5 pages). (-0.28)

So, there are some things that you might consider avoiding in your site. It should be clear that no site needs to adhere to all of these findings (which are exactly that, findings, not laws) in order to be profitable. Most commercial sites do at least a couple of the things that reduce credibility, such as display ads, and do not do all of the things that increase it.

It seems that a certain balance must be reached in order to gain a visitor's confidence. If your company has a trusted name outside the internet, perhaps you can afford to have a pop-up without destroying your credibility. If your site requires a paid subscription, you might get more sing-ups if your address, phone number, and e-mail are available.

So, if your site is not converting visitors into customers, take a minute to consider its credibility. Correct those typos. Check your links. Update frequently. Also, read the rest of the report because there's some great analysis that I'm not covering here (such as age and gender related stuff).

Hope this is helpful to you.