According to Google “Whether we're shopping for corn flakes, concert tickets or a honeymoon in Paris, the Internet has changed how we decide what to buy. We call this online decision-making moment the Zero Moment of Truth -- or simply ZMOT.” (Source)
In essence we are talking about the internet having created an additional moment of influence between a consumer recognising the need for something and them actually making the purchase.
The Zero Moment of Truth is when consumers are online research their potential purchases, looking for reviews, looking for discounts and in many cases justifying their decision (to themselves or a partner).
In fact, according to Google’s ZMOT survey over 84% of respondents said that online feedback and research helped to influence their purchase decisions.
For your affiliate business, this creates an immense opportunity.
Many affiliates are already taking advantage of the ZMOT without really thinking of it as this i.e. if you run a coupon site or a product review site then you are trying to target customers at the Zero Moment of Truth.
Today though I want to talk about some techniques that you can deploy that go beyond generic advice like “start a review site”! :-)
#1 - Understand your value add
“The art of good business is being a good middleman” the immortal words of mob kingpin Eddie Temple in the superb Brit-gangster film Layer Cake. This epitomizes my feelings on what affiliate marketing is all about - yes, we are middlemen (and women) but we need to be good ones if we want to operate a strong business and be around for years to come.
Understanding where you add value is going to be critical particularly if you are in the business of benefiting from organic traffic. Google in my opinion will continue its work of changing the face of the industry by weeding out the kinds of sites that merely act as an extra step between the SERPs and what the consumer actually wants.
Whether you offer a detailed guide to a topic, an impartial comparison of multiple products or you provide something else that is useful to the customer in need, it doesn’t really matter “what” it is as long as there is something there beyond earning you a quick buck in commission.
Understanding why you exist and focusing on communicating that is how you’ll grow your affiliate business long term.
#2 - Target your content
The large part of the industry isn’t “there” yet when it comes to quality content.
There is a mistaken belief that ‘quality’ simply means legible and free from spelling, grammatical and syntax errors... whilst these are obviously important factors for quality content, the importance of usefulness to the reader is often overlooked.
Effective keyword research and matching the content to the query is the route to generating useful content. If a consumer is looking to open a merchant account for their new eCommerce venture, and has searched for “how to accept credit cards” they probably don’t need information about credit cards from a consumer’s perspective, they want to know about the process involved with opening a merchant account like what paperwork they need to fill out, how much it is going to cost etc.
It is nuances like this, which make it a costly mistake to entirely automate your keyword research efforts.
If a prospect is in their ZMOT looking for information then inadequate content is likely to destroy your chance of a conversion. “Just about readable” isn’t going to cut it when it comes to content creation. Whereas if you are offering deeply valuable content then you can de-rail a prospects purchase path in a good way (i.e. bring them to you before they make a purchasing decision).
In addition to answering the query you should also consider the type of content and what audience it is likely to attract. Many affiliate marketers for example need to reach consumers who are brand new to a market if they are trying to get them to open a forex trading account perhaps so think carefully about the actual type of content you invest in and the audience this will bring. Investing in content that is somewhat relevant to the query is unlikely to bring you the commissions you desire.
I would go so far as to say you should always be focusing on education - that's how you build long-term value in the affiliate space.
Your competitors may be able to outspend you on PPC or buying links but you can attract a following and grow a much stronger brand by teaching people and positioning yourself as the expert. This audience can be leveraged for commissions time and time again.
There are exceptions to this rule naturally as some affiliates value add will be the ability to deliver a discount but there again it could be argued that if most integrated some form of education they could offer visitors a reason to return rather than merely pass through.
#3 - Think off-site
The Zero Moment of Truth is all about the consumer digging around for information, comparing various sources from review sites, independent blogs, social media and so on. If you can control or influence as many sources in an authentic manner then you are dramatically increasing the chances of a conversion.
It is certainly challenging to understand the best way of influencing off-site activity as an affiliate (since you don’t want to go to all that effort only for the consumer to make a direct purchase from the merchant) and this is why you need to add value somewhere in the path to purchase to give the consumer a reason to visit before they are referred to the merchant.
Developing hubs, relevance structures around your site and investing time in interacting in communities in your market are effective ways to reach consumers in their ZMOT.
- Microsite development - are microsites a credible link building strategy?
- Blogs - guest posting puts you on an influential blog and can give you the opportunity to effectively reach ‘ZMOT consumers’ with your message. That’s why a relevant guest post is much more than just another link.
- Yahoo Answers - this may sound low-rent but in a number of markets, we have found it an incredible way of generating highly responsive traffic long-term.
- Quora - similarly to Yahoo Answers except we haven’t seen quite as much success with this.
- Independent sites - including List.ly, Squidoo, Tumblr, Dribble etc. This isn’t just about scoring some low-value links by the way. Turning each of these hubs into an off-site outpost for your main site as a way of dominating more of the path to purchase for consumers and keeping you in the front of their mind.
#4 - Promote (and acquire links) intelligently
Content & query mis-match can be one of the biggest destroyers of conversion for affiliates and indeed any kind of business selling online.
If you find that you have a page that is ranking for a keyword but is perhaps less targeted than another page on your site then look at how you can push the visibility of the correct page. This may be a simple redirect if you are lucky. In most cases though, it is a more complicated exercise as it is likely to be your homepage ranking for a keyword for example when in fact you have a deep page which would be far better suited to that query - you probably won’t be redirecting your homepage anywhere!
In line with improving a user’s experience, you need to help Google present the right page for that query. The homepage probably ranks because it is more authoritative than the deep page so more often than not these are the first pages we will focus any link building campaign around as these offer the greatest opportunities for traffic and conversion boosts.
It isn’t just links that help to nudge the right page into the right spot in the SERPs, site structure plays a big part and ensuring the deep page isn’t orphaned somewhere in the depths of your site for example. This guide to information architecture gives a lot of the best practices that you need to ensure are covered.
CTR from the SERPs to an obviously relevant deep page in our experience (on information-search type keywords) is much higher versus a listing just for a homepage where the user feels they are likely to have to perform the search again.
#5 - Take control of comments
Over 30% of respondents in Google’s survey said that they look at the reviews below blog posts about products and services when they are trying to find out information in their ZMOT.
This makes complete sense because the general feeling is that the writer of the piece may well have an ‘interest’ in being positive about product X or service Y whereas the people writing the comments are just like you or I (in the sense that they are consumers looking for information).
Responding to comments, offering resolutions where you can and attempting to clarify any confusion can ensure that consumers in their ZMOT aren’t presented with negative publicity about a product you are promoting or your website itself.
I’m not suggesting whitewashing the comments section of your site and deleting anything resembling less than positive feedback because this will more than likely destroy the effectiveness of a page since it loses all feel of authenticity. However if the consumer comes across a criticism of the thing they are searching for information about followed by a well-crafted response which answers the query then they are likely to feel more confident about continuing down their path to purchase.
Any thoughts or questions? Add them in the comments section below and I will happily get back to you.