Sam Harrelson



Sam Harrelson

Back to Podcasting

I’m so excited to be back into podcasting on my own turf. This episode mentions a number of affiliate marketing related topics, so I don’t mind posting here as well:

ThinkingDaily: I Am a Breathing Time Machine: Thinking.FM

Exciting (for me at least)!

Here’s the mp3 or click above to listen to the stream (and/or subscribe in iTunes).

Now go and make your own affiliate podcast.




Should Your Affiliate Blog Have Comments?

It seems like a no-brainer that blogs should have comments. Blogs, by their nature, are spaces of dialogue and personal viewpoints. However, Daring Fireball and platforms like Tumblr have paved the way for an acceptance of blogs sans-comments.

During my first attempt to reboot CostPerNews with the ill-fated adverbs.FM, I had a “no commenting” policy because I was so burned from the long epistles that would erupt on CPN from time-to-time (there’s nothing like friends asking you to look up an I.P. address of a commenter because they were upset someone would post something so hurtful under an anonymous guise). That blog failed due in no small part to its absences of comments.

However, the issue of whether to include comments on a blog (especially niche blogs like we have in the affiliate industry) reared its hydra head again this week.

Affiliate folks like Scott Jangro (who chastised me for not having comments on adverbs.FM) have been weighing in with salient thoughts…

Turning Blog Comments Off – a Short Case Study by @mattgemmell: “There are many times that I’ve also questioned the value and benefits of blog comments.  They tend to be a flash in the pan, and depending on the platform the blog is hosted on, it can be difficult to keep tabs on posts that you’ve commented on in various places.

But there are also some blogs that are a pleasure to read, due in no small part to the comments.”

I chose to go with Disqus here on PPT mostly because I’ve seen how well the platform works on my affiliate blogs that are so super niche that they typically don’t see the type of trolling that gets under the skin of most bloggers. Plus, Disqus is super easy to regulate, which is another reason I love/trust it with my precious commenting content.

However, Matthew Ingram has a great post on GigaOM this afternoon on the debate and he adequately sums up why your affiliate blog (whatever niche you happen to be covering) should have comments…

Yes, blog comments are still worth the effort — Tech News and Analysis: “A blog without comments is a soap-box, plain and simple. Not having comments says you are only interested in passing on your wisdom, without testing it against any external source (at least not where others can watch you do so) or leaving open the opportunity to actually learn something from those who don’t have their own blogs, or aren’t on Twitter or Google+. That may make for a nicer experience for you the blogger, and it may make your blog load faster, but it is still a loss — for you, and for your readers.”

Commenting on blogs opens the writer up to the type of frustrations and frictions that many affiliates would rather avoid if they are spending the bulk of their time on making their sites super optimized with loads of keywords and content that is sure to have them “rank” high artificially.

Yet, if you’re interested in long term organic growth, commenting allows for affiliates to present their sites/blogs as an opportunity to perform a job for its visitors.

Yes, commenting can cause friction, but friction should be a part of your affiliate strategy. This is the real growth potential for affiliate sites as people normally find your content because they want to do something. Limit their choices by providing a full service of doing the job they are searching to have fulfilled, but give people the option to provide a level of feedback that ensures for authentic engagement.




Piezo for Podcasting

I frequently use and love Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro app for recording audio from Skype or my Mac to use on my podcasts.

However, Rogue Amoeba has a great new “lightweight” app for folks that don’t need the full power (or cost) of Audio Hijack Pro called Piezo ($10)…

Mac App Store – Piezo: “Piezo now offers full support for recording from VoIP apps like Skype, iChat, and FaceTime. Local audio is recorded to the left channel, while the remote caller is recorded to the right.”

Looks pretty straightforward and sweet to me.

I’ll be giving this a whirl tonight. If you have a Mac and do (or are interested in) podcasting (as you should be), go pick up Piezo.




More on Like-Jacking and Quality Traffic

Last week I posted about the rise of “Like-Jacking” on Facebook and why digital literacy is so important. The WSJ covers the issue this morning as well…

Spam Finds a New Target – WSJ.com: “A common social-spam attack on Facebook, known as “like-jacking,” involves duping users into clicking on an image that looks as if a friend has clicked the “Like” button, recommending it.”

When I first got my start in the online marketing world, I worked at an email marketing firm that helped spark the “Free iPod” phenomenon in exchange for just an email address and zip code. It was amazingly profitable and I soon learned why. People want freebies.

However, the quality of traffic was terrible and the lists were sold and resold so many times that any value they might have had were soon distilled into the ether.

The same holds true for Facebook Likes and retweets today and the growing realization that all traffic is not good traffic (especially traffic derived from passive social traffic that is unqualified and not valuable).




Geek Dads Weekly 106

I was on this week’s show and had a blast reminiscing with Daniel and Drew and looking ahead to what’s around the corner for affiliate marketing, gaming and social media…

Always Made My Jumps – Geek Dads Weekly #106: “In which Daniel and Drew welcome Sam Harrelson back to the show for our New Year’s Special. Topics include spotty resolutions, video games, social media, Shoemoney, affiliate marketing and more.”

The show runs about an hour and is a fun listen.

Here’s the mp3 or click the link above to hear the stream.




RSS is Still Important for Marketers

I love my RSS feeds that I’ve been curating over the last six or so years. I still think that as a delivery medium RSS is part of the future of the web.

However, RSS has always taken a back seat to other ways of capturing and engaging visitors to other tactics such as email. As Scott Jangro wrote in a recent comment here:

All Traffic is Not Good Traffic | Discussion: “But can you do something to capture them as your own?  That should be the primary focus on that traffic. Give them something that will get them to give you their email address, or sign up and get involved in a website.  The latter is harder than the former.

So regardless of the traffic source, who are these users that are coming by, and what can you do to make them *yours*?”

There’s a mighty good reason that RSS takes a back seat to email or some other “capture” mechanism… RSS is insanely nerdy and grows more so every day/month/year. There was a great hope of people like me who saw RSS as a very viable platform that could transform the way the web delivers content and news to most individuals and we’d all be running around reading our feeds on browsers or our devices to our whims (instead of turning to mediated sources like cable news or heavens forbid network news).

That didn’t happen.

For sure, RSS is alive via platforms like the awesome Flipboard app, which is much more “user friendly” than NetNewsWire or Google Reader will ever be (though much less satisfying if you ask me).

RSS is still very much alive as a pure web medium as well. So why should marketers care about RSS subscriptions?

Because all traffic is not good traffic. The traffic you should be concerned about as a marketer is the highly qualified traffic that has the potential to not only convert into some action but become a part of the actual community that will grow and build a site over the long run (if you care about such things, which you should).

Yes, that can be accomplished via email newsletters and lists. However, email lists and RSS subscribers are almost apples and oranges in terms of comparison when considering how they interact with a site and what type of user community can be built with their help and engagement.

RSS subscribers are by nature a nerdy and dedicated bunch… don’t count them out in your efforts. Their numbers may be small (and growing smaller all the time in your Feedburner etc stats) but their power is mighty as I consistently encounter.




Why Freemiums Aren’t the Future Path

Interesting piece by Tac Anderson on the concept of Path as an Upstream Social Network (USN below) compared to traditional networks like Twitter and Facebook which he terms Downstream Social Networks (DSN below) and how USN’s could affect the engagement of marketers with lucrative data-rich networks:

What Path Teaches Us About The Future of Social Networks | @NewCommBiz: “Lets assume for a minute that as social networking evolves the social graph is filled with private USN and more open, commercial DSN. And what if most of those USN didn’t allow brands and advertising in? (Most of them will but humor me for a minute.) If marketeers and brands want to reach people inside their private USN, they need to be brought in by the members of those networks. Brands need to create experiences worth talking and sharing. A small example is when I shared my new Star Wars Moleskine I was going to be using on Path. You can see the reactions I got on Path as well as those I got on Instagram. Both of those went to Twitter and received their own reactions there.”

Basically, he ponders what if these Downstream Social Networks could thrive with a fermium model where brands and ads weren’t allowed to participate.

I’m not certain this will ever happen for a couple of reasons.

1) Social networks, unlike apps, don’t necessarily proliferate based on individual user experiences. Freemiums work on iPhone apps or even cloud based services that are more single user in nature. Social networks are, by their nature, commons that we don’t have complete control over and we’re more willing to make compromises on design, ads and privacy (hence Facebook).

2) The data-based nature of social networks is so lucrative that even new networks that are beautifully designed and based on the idea of limits (150 friends only, limited sharing etc) will certainly find more and better funding by relying on brands and marketers to subsidize the costs of running a network.

Path (and Facebook) can and should do all they can to encourage marketers to think above the “All Traffic is Good Traffic” blasting approach that many marketers use to get passive and relatively unqualified (and thereby low quality) traffic to their sites/offers/links and think towards better engagement based on some qualitative value in the exchange.

However, freemiums aren’t in our future for social networking.

This may all sound like it has more to do with brand advertisers than direct or affiliate marketers, but I’d argue affiliate marketing has the most to gain from the idea of interacting in these rich spaces of real human interactions and frictionless sharing.




Mobile, Social Media and Curation Marketing

Marshall Kirkpatrick has a nice retort to a thought piece published in the Washington Post today proclaiming social media’s growth over…

Dead? Social Media’s Explosive Growth is Only Beginning: “Social media in the age of instrumentation and connected devices may be more about aggregate social activity than about the long voice blogging and Tweeting.

The intersection of people, machines and passively monitored objects (the cheapest input of all!) all combine to form an entirely new world of opportunity.

That may be the biggest opportunity yet.”

There’s a fascinating conversation going on in the comments section of a post here yesterday about my idea that all traffic is not good traffic. Scott Jangro adequately summarizes the point that Marshall is making above about in-and-out traffic through various spaces in relation to online marketing. His comment could easily be unpacked into a book or treatise about marketing in 2012.

For our purposes here, if you take what Scott wrote and combine that with what he, Damien and the team are doing with Shareist or what affiliates are doing with Pinterest, it becomes very interesting to ponder the conjunction of mobile traffic with aggregation and curation services on the web and their impact on affiliate marketing.

At least I think so.

The idea that curation will become a hot talent in the coming years as frictionless sharing and more aggregate traffic becomes ubiquitous is nothing new, especially in the world of education (part of the “Essential Skills” for our Middle School is curation).

However, wrap curation and its rapidly apparent place in the affiliate marketing industry and a particularly interesting new niche becomes a very viable space for hyper-targeted affiliates to explore.




All Traffic is Not Good Traffic

Affiliate Summit published its latest webinar today on the topic of traffic generation. Evan speaks for an hour about how he generates traffic and “fans” organically through search, via social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook, with email and paid search…

10 Proven Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Affiliate Website: “Affiliate Summit ran a free webinar featuring Evan Weber, of online marketing agency Experience Advertising, on 10 Proven Ways to Drive Traffic to Your Affiliate Website, and it’s now available to watch on demand.”

It’s an interesting video for people new to the area of affiliate marketing and Evan does a good job of showing how to get traffic via tried and true techniques that do increase page views.

However, my reminder to advertisers and publishers I work with (especially folks new to the industry) is that not all traffic is good traffic.

For instance, ping.fm is spam (still waiting for the mud fight, Kim). It’s a fantastic tool if you’re looking to broadcast like you’re Dan Rather, but that’s not what the effective media tactic of 2011 looks like and you’re not CBS.

In Evan’s webinar, he makes great use of tools like ping.fm, a Chrome extension for blasting out links to Digg, LinkedIn, Reddit, Delicious, Facebook, Twitter, Status.net, Plurk and God knows what else, but most, if not all, of the traffic gained from such blasting will do little to help you conversion numbers and in fact drive the type of dilution that could lead you to make poor choices about ad placements, keyword buys etc.

In other words, this type of traffic generation is great if you’re doing CPM advertising, but CPA and PayPerSale in 2011 requires different strategies based on community growth in the long term.

A much more realistic strategy for effective and sustained traffic and conversions generation is to hyper-focus. Build out the profile of your ideal user. What networks do they use? What things do they search for? What will lead them to your site, make an action on your site and then refer your site to others and come back at least once in the coming three months? What do they look like? Where do they live (don’t be creepy)? What do they wear? What kind of pets do they have? What games do they play? What do they drive? Be obsessive. Sweat the details and do your research.

Take the portfolio of that person you create and work incessantly to sell your story to that person. It’s not easy, but it will pay off. If you get that one person to your site, you’ve made it.

Stop reaching for millions of page views via artificial keyword buys and blasted out social media messages and thousands of indexed pages with forums that no one uses and work to convert that one person that you’ve created.

At least that’s what works for me and why you’re reading this now.




Facebook Like-Jacking and Need for Digital Literacy

Interesting:

Criminals Used Affiliate Marketing Sites in Majority of Facebook Scams in 2011: The vast majority, or nearly 74 percent, of Facebook attacks in 2011 were designed to lead users to fraudulent marketing affiliate and survey sites, the report found.

Affiliate marketing was a “rich source” of income for scammers, according to Amir Lev, CTO of Commtouch.

First, it’s interesting to me that the writer focuses so much on how easy it is for scammers and “criminals” (a conviction is needed to be a criminal… just saying) to use the medium of what he broadly labels as affiliate marketing. The piece focuses more on survey type deals that were so popular with the “free iPod” craze of 2003-4 in the pre-CANSPAM era.

It’s pretty easy for the legitimate businesses he sources as being defrauded to check their logs and any affiliate manager or OPM worth their salt will catch this kind of scam traffic, especially if they are dealing with the lead based side of things in the CPA and lead gen areas.

The real heart of the piece should be about the need for better digital literacy among users of spaces like Facebook (especially if they are browsing on a Windows machine with IE6 or 7).

Cue Wayne Porter

“For criminals, it was not enough to just trick users, as criminals need to make sure the attacks spread and continue to trap other people, Commtouch said. They were most likely to trick users into sharing the links almost half the time, but also tricked users into copy-pasting malicious code to trigger a cross-site scripting attack or downloading malware. Rogue applications and “like-jacking”—which employs a malicious script on the page to convert any mouse clicks on the page as a “like” that is also visible to other users—were employed in about a third of the scams.

“In 48 percent of the cases, unwitting users themselves are responsible for distributing the undesirable content by clicking on ‘like’ or ‘share’ buttons,” according to Commtouch.”

It’s fascinating to me that many of the conversations Wayne and I were having back in 2008 about a future of social-engineered badware that would find virility through good-willed sharing are coming true in 2011 and even more so into 2012.

At the root of the issue isn’t affiliate marketing or how easy it is to scam businesses. Businesses have failsafes and checks in place to catch these things (ideally). Instead, we need to have more savvy users who realize the implications of sharing or liking a suspect link or article or site.

This sort of manipulation of otherwise trusting, naive or uninformed users of the web will only intensify as more people go on the web with mobiles and tablets in the coming five years.