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Kieron Donoghue has been involved in Affiliate Marketing for the last nine years and is the Director of UK Offer Media. He operates a network of affiliate sites ranging from sectors as diverse as bingo to broadband and patio heaters to poker.
He is the winner of the prestigious A4U Award for "Affiliate Marketing Blog Of The Year" for the last 2 years in a row, for his blog at www.here.org.uk. Kieron also consults on affiliate strategies and marketing and currently manages the affiliate marketing programme for www.secretsales.com, the largest "private online club" in the competitive clothing sector in the UK.
Growing frustrated with the lack of quality and ethical content writing and link building services in the UK, Kieron has also recently launched www.contentnow.co.uk to meet the demands for two of the most important factors in off-page SEO, namely original content and link building. We asked him about his current ventures.
How has UKOffer.com evolved over the last eight years? Can you tell us a bit about the thinking behind your re-design?
UKOffer.com started life back around eight years or so ago as a very basic shopping directory. To be honest it was awful, not much more than a banner farm really. Over the years it has mainly served its purpose as a home for landing pages.
Let's say I was running a PPC campaign on a certain product / service; I would build a landing page within UKOffer.com so that Google wouldn't class it just as a 'thin' site of 'bridge page'. Then a couple of years ago I decided that UKOffer.com was getting quite well known on the web so I should really think of it as more of a brand and work to establish it even more.
The current design adheres to a standard blog format which I think is ideal for delivering the latest discount codes, special offers and promotions to my users in a quick and user friendly manner.
Do you think there has been a radical change in the affiliate landscape in recent months, owing to the rise in discount and cashback sites?
Yes, first of all there was an explosion of cashback sites going back a year or two now. Part of this "epidemic" was the fact that a few white label cashback site operators started to appear making it very easy for even the most inexperienced affiliate to launch their own cashback site. What a lot of them failed to understand that getting a site up and running is only a tiny fraction of what you need to do to be successful online.
Many affiliates failed to market these sites and build up a brand, and failed miserably. In 2008 we've started to see the same pattern emerge with discount code sites. Everyone seems to have jumped on the bandwagon and we're seeing new sites spring up every week in this sector.
Compared to five years ago, are there still significant opportunities for smaller, individual affiliates or is it now all about a few super-affiliates and a handful of key relationships for merchants?
Yes I still think there are huge opportunities for the smaller affiliates, if they are clever about it. What a lot of would-be-affiliates seem to do is try to target the mass markets like car insurance, loans, cashback sites etc. There is no point whatsoever in doing this, you won't stand a chance.
Instead I always suggest that new affiliates start a site or a blog about something that they have an interest in and a passion. That way they can work hard to create the best site ever about that given subject. We all know that Google loves fresh content so just work hard and imagine what you would want to know if you were a visitor coming to your site and then deliver that. Trust me - I'm finding new niches and opportunities on a weekly basis, so there are still plenty out there.
Can you tell us about your new venture ContentNow.co.uk and the business model for this?
ContentNow.co.uk was set up to cater for the two most important off-site factors in SEO. Namely supplying unique content for sites and inbound links.
These are the two things that you can do that will have a positive effect on your search engine rankings. They are also the two most tedious and boring items on many site owners to-do lists! So we set the business up with that in mind and we offer a service to cater for both needs.
We're different to other content and link building suppliers in that all of our staff (researchers, writers and link building managers) are based here in the UK, nothing is sourced offshore and we are 100% committed to providing excellent customer service. We're also continuously looking to launch new products to meet market demand and in the next few weeks will be launching a "news" service, so exciting times ahead!
One of the things you talk about is 'ethical link-building'. What advice would you give to companies trying to work out what is acceptable and what could get them barred by Google?
Don't buy links, ever. It's that simple really. We know that Google is aggressively penalising sites that buy links so in my view it's simply not worth the risk. Some SEOs recommend that as long as you keep your link-buying down to a minimum and complement it with some natural links then it's a 'safe bet'. Problem is, it just takes one person to report you or one of the sites that you buy links from to get blacklisted and you are in trouble.
Why take the risk? I can tell you from first hand experience, as we are working with a client who fell foul of this, that it's not worth it. They are now spending a lot of time and money to get out of the ban, it can be a really long uphill struggle.
It's my opinion that the only way to gain links to your site ethically is to do it the old fashioned way and write good content that people will want to link to, or find other sites in your sector and ask them to trade links. It's not as fast as buying links but will work out better in the long term and you won't run the risk of being banned.
What has prompted your move away from affiliate marketing towards something more agency-focused?
Two things. A need to try something new and what I believe is a very strong business model. I've been involved in affiliate marketing for nine years now and although I still enjoy it, I got to the point where I wanted to try something else. When the idea for ContentNow.co.uk came about I was so convinced that there would be a huge demand for this service that I couldn't pass it up.
Do you agree there is a trend towards affiliates diversifying into other areas such as agency services and consultancy? If so, what is driving that trend?
Yes, and I think its just the natural progression for the super affiliates. Some of these affiliates are so successful in driving traffic to merchants that of course the affiliate networks and the digital agencies start to take notice of them. This leads to a closer working relationship and more opportunities for both parties. Before you know it the super affiliates are such a huge traffic driver that they have in fact become a mini-agency.
Then there is the fact that in general affiliates are the most entrepreneurial spirits you will find. Think about it. You have to be in order to make a living on a paid-on-performance model. So many affiliates like myself are always looking for the next opportunity and other revenue streams. Hence side projects, consultancy deals and so on.
What the main changes you've witnessed in affiliate marketing since you've been an affiliate? Are the salad days over?
Thankfully, I've seen affiliate marketing mature over the years and some level of policing and guidelines are now adopted by many agencies and networks. It's not the Wild West that we had nine or ten years ago, although we still have a way to go before we get rid of all the bad apples.
In some regards, yes the salad days are over. Some sectors are so crowded that it's very, very hard to compete. This is a result of not necessarily more affiliates operating in the space but more of the merchants allocating funds to online advertising.
If you're an affiliate trying to compete in the loans sector via PPC for example then you need to make a return on every click. However, you're up against the merchants themselves who are now allocating some of their overall ad spend via PPC "branding". It's very difficult to compete with that. It's much better to think outside the box a little and work smarter, as I mentioned above there are still opportunities out there.
What are the main differences you've experienced between the UK and the US in the way that merchants, networks and publishers approach affiliate marketing?
A lot of what I see in the US market tends to be lead generation based and a big focus seems to be on gathering email lists and then marketing one-time deals to them.
Then there is the whole 'guru' culture over there where a lot of people try to make money from affiliate marketing by telling other people how to make money from affiliate marketing. With one or two notable exceptions I haven't seen that much innovation or creativity if I'm honest. It used to be the case that the UK was perceived to be a year or two behind the US but I don't think that's the case at all these days.
Kieron was interviewed by Linus Gregoriadis, Econsultancy's Research Director.