Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Four Most Common Missing Pieces on Affiliate Sites

by Matt McWilliams

There are approximately four gazillion (unofficially) web sites in the world. Every teenager, mother, businessman, well pretty much everyone has a web site.

But you are different. You are monetizing your site, not trying to find a soul mate or post pictures of your latest fishing expedition. Your site should be clean, professional, and instill confidence in the buyer.

In finance and insurance, more than anything, you must gain the customer's trust and confidence in your service. Unlike retail, flashy sites with bright colors and animation don't work. Most of my suggestions below will apply mostly to the finance and insurance sectors, but lessons can be learned by all affiliates.

I have found that most affiliates (at least in the finance and insurance vertical) tend to leave the following four necessities off of their sites. Is your web site missing any of these important components?

1. Informational content. Conventional wisdom in the online world tells you to get to the point, to make the sale, and eliminate the clutter and slew of links that were so prominent five years ago. In the financial world, however, you need informational content to help convert the less knowledgeable visitors that may find your site.

The ability to educate your visitors serves a dual purpose on your web site. First, it is a great service to them and one they will not likely forget or fail to reward you for (read: convert into a lead). Secondly, educational tips and articles are chock-full of keyword rich content.

A well-written article can vault your site to the top of the search engines for many long-tail keywords and drive a substantial amount of traffic, as it is likely to be linked to from other sites. Plus, it will help convert the often confused customer into a ready-to-buy machine.

2. "Contact Us" Page. The hardest obstacle to overcome in the online world, especially in finance/insurance is customer trust. These people are about to give you (or your affiliated company) some pretty serious information: phone number, email, etc. You must do everything you can to earn their trust!

One of the easiest ways to gain their trust is to let them know you are real and legitimate, not just some information gathering scheme. Granted, you probably don't have a fancy windowed office with 90 employees, but you cannot afford to look small-time or sketchy to your customers. So make sure that your site has a prominent "Contact Us" page, with at LEAST a contact form, phone number, and street address or P.O. Box.

If you can, get a dedicated toll-free number from your merchant that will track to your affiliate ID. Our studies have shown that online conversions go up almost 2% with the addition of a toll-free number. It shows the customer you are not afraid to have them contact you (even if that "you" is your merchant's call center).

3. Privacy Policy. Will my information be protected? What data are you collecting about me? Will I get spammed by you after this?

These are all questions that your site's visitors are asking themselves as they decide whether or not to trust you. Like the above omissions, not having a clearly written privacy policy that answers the important questions a visitor has can cost you their business. In their eyes, you are hiding something and must be some sort of a scam, no matter how legitimate you truly are.

Your site should have a well-written, easy to read privacy policy that lets customers know about things such as cookies, your anti-spam policy, form encryption, etc. Like the above suggestions, this page should be linked to and from every single page on your site.

If you are doing nothing more than referring them to your merchant's site, ask the affiliate manager if you can list their privacy policy on your site and make it clear to the customer that you are sending them out of your site.

4. Customer Testimonials. I doubt that you get a flood of emails each day thanking you for your service. Heck, we barely get three or four a month out of a couple hundred thousand visitors. But what happens when you DO get a thank you message from one of your visitors? Do you just file it away and think "that was nice of them" or do you make use of this testimonial?

Testimonials are nearly priceless advertisements and, like the three items above, can make the difference between gaining a customer's trust (and therefore their business) and having them immediately click the back button to go back to the search results.

The first thing you should do is thank them and show genuine joy that you were able to help them. Then ask them for their permission to use their testimonial on your site. In our experience, about 50% of the people will be more than happy to let you do this. Two or three well-crafted testimonials are worth as much as anything else you will have on your site, so make sure you take advantage of any and all thank you notes. Place them on your home page, landing pages, and on each internal page that you can, and if you get enough of them (more than five or so), create a "Testimonials Page" and link to it from each page.

If you do not have any, the easiest way to get testimonials of course is to use merchant testimonials when you refer the customer to the merchant's site. Ask your affiliate manager if you can use these on your pages. Like your own testimonials, these quotes will give your visitors a trust of your referral and will significantly increase conversions!

Any one of these missing components can cost you conversions and ultimately a lot of money. Double check your site and make sure that you have all of these important pieces. If you do have them, make sure they are fully developed and geared to assist your customers in making the right decision (choosing YOUR site!)

Best of luck!

About the Author

Matt McWilliams is the Affiliate Manager for Franklin, Tennessee based HometownQuotes.com. He began his career with HometownQuotes in 2003 as the technology and design consultant. He moved to the affiliate department in 2006 and manages more than 150 active affiliates.

1 comment:

Matt McWilliams said...

Nicholas, thanks for adding this to your blog. I hope it truly helps your readers improve their sites!