My insane speaking schedule has made it difficult for me to keep this blog up-to-date, so apologies for that. This year I’ve spoken at Internet Retailer Web Design, SMX West, Elite Retreat, AMA SEO Training Series, Web 2.0 Expo, Shop.org Marketing Workshop, Catalogue Exchange, eMetrics Summit, and now, in a few days, SMX Advanced.
However, I am going to get back up to a normal posting frequency here quite soon — especially now that my co-authors and I have finished the draft of The Art of SEO which is coming out later this year (publisher is O’Reilly).
One conference in particular I want to call out as being truly remarkable — the Elite Retreat, put on by the self-made Internet multimillionaire Jeremy Schoemaker (aka “Shoemoney”). It was an intimate gathering: Jeremy capped the attendance at 35 registrants. Many of the attendees were successful internet millionaires in their own right and were easily qualified to take the stage and offer their own session chock full of content. I felt quite privileged to be amongst them, to learn from them, as well as share some of my expertise and experience with SEO.
Also in attendance was my daughter, Chloe, owner of the Neopets Fanatic blog, who had an amazing time. She learned a lot about affiliate marketing; but even more importantly, she became inspired by the attendees’ successes. One of the first things she did when she got back home was to share her thoughts on the Elite Retreat with readers of the Huffington Post (where she has a column). It was a fitting follow-up to her earlier post about conferences being real-world learning for kids.
The super affiliates really have a secret sauce; it is so much more than hard work. They know the right places to buy traffic. They know the right people to talk to get the best offers and the best payouts. They are able to do deals that the rest of us couldn’t hope for.
The sessions covered SEO, paid search, affiliate marketing (of course!), conversion, website acquisitions, and more. Day 2 consisted of one-on-one tactical brainstorming sessions with your top choices of the previous day’s speakers (along with some concurrent session presentations). I was busy that whole day giving one-on-ones.
At the end of it (Day 3), we had a field trip to the Facebook headquarters. We got some face time (no pun intended) with some of Facebook employees who were surprisingly giving with information. Unfortunately, NDAs from Facebook and The Elite Retreat prevent me from going into any details whatsoever.
The price tag for the Elite Retreat is steep, it’s $5000, but it’s absolutely a worthwhile investment. I heartedly endorse it and think you’ll find it to be one of the best conferences you’ve ever attended. I don’t know if it could rival the TED conference, where you’d get to hobnob with folks like Bill Gates, Sergey Brin and Larry Page. But of course the Elite Retreat is a different kind of conference from that. I am hopeful to attend TED one of these years (it’s invitation-only).
I don’t know that I’d call the Elite Retreat a conference. It is more of a think tank than a bunch of interesting talking heads. And it’s a peer group. The alumni get together over the phone every week to share successes, challenges and questions in what they refer to as the Elite Retreat Mastermind Group.
There’s value to be had at traditional conferences as well, of course. Don’t stop going to them. But you should also add an event like the Elite Retreat to your conference travel schedule.
Affiliate networks like CJ use 302 redirects, even though they know that blocks the flow of PageRank to the merchant. And that’s not going to change anytime soon — if ever — because the networks’ loyalty is to the affiliates, not to the merchants. If merchants profited from affiliate links in terms of rankings improvements, the affiliates would not be happy. There would be mass revolt and a bunch of affiliates would leave the network. Luckily, for you merchants, there are a couple workarounds you could utilize to capture some link juice from your affiliates…
- Bring your affiliate program in-house and utilize an affiliate tracking solution that uses 301 redirects and therefore passes PageRank. Here’s a blog post of mine about this: Affiliate Programs That Pass Link Gain (PageRank). Amazon.com is one such merchant with an in-house affiliate program — and it serves up 301s to capture PageRank from their “associates” (affiliates).
- and/or, simply require your affiliates to post a disclosure statement on their Legal Notices page (or their About page if they don’t have a Legal Notices page) stating that they are an affiliate of the merchant and that neither party is an agent, partner, joint venturer, franchisor, franchisee, employer or employee of the other. And of course require that the affiliate include a straight link to the merchant in that statement. Pretty sly, eh! And the great thing about a Legal Notices page is that it is typically linked site-wide and has very few other links on it compared to other pages, so your link gets a bigger slice of the PageRank that is divvied up among the links!
Bear in mind that affiliates can always add rel=nofollow to any and all links to the merchant, so the power still rests with the affiliates.
Most affiliate programs do not benefit search engine rankings because the link from the affiliate to the merchant doesn’t count as a “vote.” Thus, the merchant will not see a benefit in their Google PageRank and consequently in their search engine rankings. For example, any merchant using LinkShare or Commission Junction will not see such a benefit. That’s because they all use temporary redirects, also known as 302 redirects. That type of redirect, which is the one programmers and site administrators tend to use by default, doesn’t pass the link gain (e.g. Google PageRank) on to the target (final destination) URL. Only a very few affiliate management services allow the merchant to capitalize on the link gain of the affiliate. MyAffiliateProgram.com is one such affiliate solution. So I checked them out, and it turns out that it kinda works. Yes, kinda.
Here’s the problem. The affiliate solution needs to use permanent redirects (a.k.a. 301 redirects) rather than temporary (302) ones. MyAffiliateProgram.com uses what they call “direct links.” Here are a couple examples of affiliate-tracked direct links that they provided me to look at: http://www.myaffiliateprogram.com/?kbid=1001 or http://www.kitchen-universe.com?kbid=1001. But when you visit either of these 2 URLs, there is no redirect at all. Consequently, this creates lots of duplicate pages in Google when Googlebot finds these affiliate-tracked direct links and follows them. Taking the first URL as an example, if you search Google for site::www.myaffiliateprogram.com inurl:kbid you’ll see 6,980 duplicate pages in Google. In other words, these are pages that were already in Google with URLs that don’t have kbid= appended at the end.
Think about it this way: Yes, with MyAffiliateProgram.com a merchant will get PageRank flowing to all the links contained on the countless duplicates of the merchant’s home page that are getting indexed. But because there is no 301 redirect present, MyAffiliateProgram has failed to collapse the link gain to one definitive version of the merchant’s home page. Then search engine spiders come along and index all these versions of the merchant’s home page which compete with the merchant’s true home page (the one without any kbid=). Furthermore, searchers who click on listings in the search results that contain kbid= in the URL will get counted as referrals from the affiliate and the merchant will pay for that. Ouch!
So, buyer beware when shopping for an affiliate management service that passes PageRank to your site. The devil’s in the details.
Any readers want to recommend affiliate solutions that do effectively pass link gain?
UPDATE: Just found this great blog post from Greg Boser that discusses this issue in more detail.
Earlier this year at SMX West, I met (then) 15-year-old entrepreneur Harrison Gevirtz. He was on a panel with my (then) 16-year-old daughter Chloe Spencer the owner of the Ultimate Neopets Cheats Site. Harrison blew my mind. Here’s a kid who travels the world, often times makes six figures a MONTH, and lives the high life and he isn’t even old enough to vote let alone drink. I got a chance to chat with him and get a bit of an inside view on his rock star lifestyle. Read on and perhaps you can glean a few secrets to his success and perhaps repeat that for yourself…
For many self-made Internet marketers, Harrison Gevirtz is already a legend. He’s a whiz-kid 16-year-old globe-trotting Internet advertising genius who pulls in six figures a month. How does he do it? Is it legal? What about school? What are his secrets? The rules of online marketing have changed and it’s kids like Harrison who are driving this new future. If you are smart enough, and creative enough – with the tenacity to make your own rules – perhaps you too can drive this new future. So much for needing a college degree or to graduate high school to really get somewhere in this world!
You might guess that Harrison doesn’t think too much of school and may be a dropout. He tells me he goes to “Continuation School” and is in a special program called “Independent Studies”. This means he goes to school 1 day per week for about 45 minutes! He collects his assignments and then is done until the next week when he repeats the process. This program will allow him to graduate school normally in four years. Kids – don’t try this at home! Harrison has an unusual gift and this type of school arrangement is not beneficial for everyone. Most kids (mine for sure) need more structure to prepare them for college life and their career. Harrison’s lifestyle is the exception.
With this loose of a school schedule, what does a typical day looks like for Harrison and how many hours a day do he work? Keep in mind he is still a teenager, regardless of his genius – so yes – he does sleep late and starts his day around noon. The luxury of this income obvious allows him the ability to set his own schedule. He chooses to travel a lot too — whether it’s Taipei or Monte Carlo or the Bahamas, he looks for any excuse to hop on a plane. When he’s not on the road he works most of the time, ordering lunch, which he says, allows him to keep working at his computer. Yes, this is the picture of a young workaholic, potentially addicted to his computer and the Internet at the tender age of 16. He tells me though that he doesn’t live his entire life in front of the computer. “I do like to go out with friends, go eat out and have fun like a normal teenager does. But I’m still really motivated. I do most of my work during the night (which neither of my parents approve up), but usually end up going to bed around 2-4am.”
Harrison is a dealer-maker. He relies on old-fashioned networking to establish direct relationships with advertisers. He brokers out many deals with various advertisers ranging from small web stores having the privilege to market products exclusively, onto larger various lead-generation advertisers. His secret? You bet he’s not telling. He won’t deny though that he often pulls in six figures a month. He admits that affiliate marketing can be very fast-paced and not very consistent. He’s more focused on his work than the bottom line and admits that not every month is a whopper, “when I don’t make six figures in a month it’s OK; there’s always next month!” Ah – the role of youthful optimism comes into play for this Internet advertising hero. Harrison is known to be a Super Affiliate, yet claims he is not. Which networks does he prefer to work with? He thinks very highly of CX Digital and Neverblueads, but he’s reticent to go into a larger list or provide many details (and of course I don’t blame him!). Harrison emphasizes that he is focusing more on making deals directly through advertisers now instead of going the affiliate route.
In addition to having an unconventional school and work life, Harrison’s lifestyle allows for him to travel extensively. He tells me that about 90% of his travel is for business. At the time of our interview he was in Boston for a meeting. In 2008 alone he said he has been to Denver/Boulder, San Francisco, New York City, the Bahamas, India, France, Amsterdam, Tokyo, and London, to name a few! Of the more exotic locales, the Bahamas was for pleasure, India and Amsterdam were for business, and France was a mix of both (mostly for pleasure, but Harrison’s wise to the value of tax deductions so he worked in a bit of business there too). Considering the circles Harrison networks in, the super-exclusive Elite Retreat conference run by superstar online marketer Jeremy Schoemaker (“Shoemoney”) was — despite the $5000 price tag — a no-brainer for him. He found it to be well worth it: “Elite Retreat was great… the conference was very unique because all the attendees were willing to share information about what they do and not be secretive. I learned quite a bit, not only from the speakers but also just as much from my fellow attendees.” Clearly conferences are important for Harrison, to network and to strike deals. For him, ad:tech NYC so far has been the best conference for this. He is also very complementary of “boutique conferences” like the Elite Retreat which “provide knowledge on a whole different level.”
He may be a genius, but he still makes mistakes and learns from them just like the rest of us. He admits that being overconfident with various projects and campaigns has been a pitfall and caused him significant losses from time to time. One example of this was when he was first starting out and earning his first profits from PPC advertising. He had a small campaign that he was spending about $30 per day from which he earned only about $75 per day. In his learning process he thought the best way to scale it would be to double the bids because even with a double cost per click he figured he would still be profitable. The result was an increase in his budget from $30 to $1,000. He was overconfident in his strategy and quickly lost $1,000 in a single day. From this experience he learned his lesson about how to efficiently scale up a campaign. Harrison’s risk-taking has paid off for him though — big time. But there is a constant risk. He can’t take his eye off the ball; he works incessantly. He also has to hold his own in a business world full of adults who don’t take teenagers seriously — not a small feat. In fact, Harrison says his greatest challenge this year has been in negotiating with various online media companies as a youth. While he finds this to be very frustrating, often there’s not much he can do about it. It’s not personal, but the policy of many affiliate networks and ad networks requiring users to be 18 years or older is a serious roadblock. He’s shared in other interviews how in the past he has been terminated, not paid, and taken advantage of by numerous networks because of their legal terms and minimum age requirement. Harrison advises other entrepreneurial kids to demand respect despite their age.
So where does Harrison see himself in ten years? He hopes to be living somewhere abroad, preferably Europe. He’s not sure if he’ll be pursuing the exact same business model that is working so well for him now, but he hopes to stay in this industry and continue to have the flexibility to work from anywhere.
How can high schools and universities inspire and prepare more students to achieve what Harrison has achieved? In his opinion he doesn’t think schools inspire students to come up with ideas or to establish a drive to accomplish something. But, he thinks that some professors can be influential and help you make future decisions that can improve your life. He thinks high schools and universities should better prepare students by offering more real-world, relevant business curriculum, instead of useless broad information.
Harrison’s latest business ventures that he was willing to share include BlitzLocal, his local-focused SEM firm, and LeaderClicks, his social advertising network. Harrison also invites readers to check out his blog.
Jeff Molander of Molander & Associates has given me a scoop on their new service that they are about to roll out — ProtectMyMark.com. Jeff has been kind enough to send me a sample report so that I can actually see what a merchant can get from using their service, and it looks really good.
ProtectMyMark.com’s reporting provides a mechanism for merchants to police their wayward affiliates who are using their trademarks in inappropriate ways — in search listings, in adware and in spyware.
The search engines they monitor include Google (both Google US and Google UK), AOL, Yahoo! and Ask.
They do daytime and weekend monitoring and monitoring of geo-targeted ads as well.
In their reports, they make recommendations for who to send compliance request notifications, termination notifications and “cease and desist” letters, depending on how serious the discovered violation is.
It looks like a great service and I am looking forward to its official launch, which should be happening soon.