In the last week 3 people have written to me asking for advice about their Amazon affiliate sites. Their stories were all the same - they've been working hard, building their sites, getting links, but hit a ceiling they couldn't seem to smash.
I checked their sites and the mistakes they were making were all the same, too. It made me realise there are a lot of people making affiliate sites who have read all the guides but not really UNDERSTOOD the guides.
In this article I'll summarise some of the feedback I gave out. I'll call the people Guy 1, Guy 2, and Guy 3.
Mistake 1: Doing Things for 'SEO', Not for the Reader
I'm putting this one first because it hints at the core of the problem. The guys who wrote to me are all people willing to work hard and put time and money into their projects, but they never think about the person on the other end of their site. They only think about what Google 'wants'.
There are 'SEO things' you do to help Google know what your page is about (e.g. organising text into sub-headings and using alt-tags on images). Then there's all the garbage you do because you've been told it's the right thing to do, or you've seen on other sites (e.g. bolding the keyword every time it appears).
My girlfriend recently used the phrase 'the mindless application of rules' when talking about bad horse riders and it fits here too.
Your priority always has to be the visitor to your site. Here's a typical failed niche site (not made by Guys 1-3). Can you spot any problems?
Look at that. It's total garbage. Bordering on pure spam. The person who made that site doesn't give a shit about you - he just wants you to click on some links so he can make a buck.
I genuinely think he'd be ASTONISHED if you said to him 'do you think someone is really going to read that giant block of text?' It's just not his mindset to think there's a human being on the other end of the line.
Mistake 2: Incoherent Branding
'Find Best Vacuums'. Pretty ghastly name and there's no logo. Amazingly, it's still better than the sites from the 3 Guys. Every page on findbestvacuums.com is about VACUUMS and - shit as it is - you know what you're going to get.
Guy 1's site was in the baby niche, but you wouldn't know that from the domain name or the logo. There are some pictures of babies in the featured images, but I was confused for a good while about what the site was supposed to be, especially when I saw an article about condoms. There isn't even an 'about us' page.
When I asked Guy 1 why he'd chosen that brand name, he said it was because it was a domain he'd bought ages ago. Well I bought the domain 'PittAniston2020.com' years ago but I wouldn't make a baby products niche site out of it.
Do things for your READERS not for yourself.
By the way, sites 1 and 3 are in super-super-competitive niches so even if the Guys did everything right they'd maybe get to number 8 or something.
Guy 2's domain looks like there's a spelling mistake in the middle. When you get over that you understand what the concept of the site is. I don't like having that friction - my dream is to have a domain name so awesome that people immediately go 'why didn't I think of that?!' At least the content of his site fits the theme.
Guy 3's domain is along the lines of 'justkeyboardreviews.com'. As you'd expect, there are some articles about keyboards. But there's also tons about mice, gaming headsets, PC speakers. Call me a crazy person but if your name is justkeyboardreviews then stick to keyboard reviews! Otherwise, choose a different name!
Also, when you read 'The Best Gaming Keyboards' on Guy 3's site the first thing you get is an invitation to read an article called 'The Best Snooker Cues'. WTF? I typed 'best gaming keyboard' into Google, found your site, and you want to send me off to learn about snooker cues? Just think about it for five seconds!
Mistake 3: Keyword Stuffing
Maybe it's because I look at niche sites all day but I'm getting pretty sick of articles called 'Top 10 Best Widgets for Beginners Reviews 2018'.
This is from Guy 3's site (I removed the product name to hide the niche - imagine it says 'keyboards' and 'gaming' in the spaces). It's your typical 'best X for Y' article:
Now Jesus Christ, come on. Show me a HUMAN BEING who would read that article. What about Top 5 Best Best Best Keyboards for Gaming? Why stop there? Why not Top 5 Best Best Best Best Best Best Top Keyboards for Gaming? Google's SURE to love that, right?
No. Google responds to how people interact with their search results. Titles with interesting names have a chance to intrigue a human and climb the rankings.
Let's do a test. Which of these titles would you click on?
- Top 5 Best Best Keyboards for Gaming - 2017 Reviews
- Join the Legend's League and Dominate Doom: 5 Classy Keyboards
- The Best Keyboards for Gaming (The Ultimate Guide, Updated for 2018)
If you chose the first one, you are not a human being and I would politely ask you to go back to spamming Twitter.
But the title is just the beginning of this counter-productive keyword stuffing.
In the photo from Find Best Vacuums (above) you can see exactly which keywords the page is targeting - they are repeated again and again, bolded, and stuffed into as many sentences as possible whether it makes grammatical sense or not.
I did a CTRL+F search on Guy 3's gaming keyboard page and found the word 'best' was used 69 times. The same page on The Wirecutter (the affiliate site sold to the New York Times for 25 million dollars) is much, much longer and only uses the word 'best' 38 times.
Are you getting this? Are you getting it?
Mistake 3: Quality
The top 1% of sites have outstanding design and writing. That's not the world you and I compete in. (Did you notice that there are two 'mistake 3s' on this page? If you did notice, you have one skill needed to do well at making money from websites.)
Generally speaking, all affiliate sites look alike. Here's a shit one and a successful one side by side:
At first glance they look pretty similar. Massage Chair Land (right) has a better font, a nice comparison table, and the sidebar has attractive images. But they are alike.
So why is one an abject failure and one is making tons of money?
Well, Find Best Vacuums is pure SEO spam offering no value to the reader. Here's the thing - when you read the text on Massage Chair Land you realise it's not much better. The language is stilted, the writing doesn't flow - there's just no way it was written by a native speaker.
The thing is, you have to READ the text to realise that it's shit. The visual impact of the page when it loads is overwhelmingly positive. Most people will just arrive at the site, scroll down, see that the text is ENDLESS, feel trust in it because it's so comprehensive (and they can't see any mistakes right away), then click on one of the products in the comparison table.
So anything you can do to make a visitor trust you is going to improve your SEO and make you money. I'm talking about having NO spelling mistakes, having ATTRACTIVE comparison tables, NICE images, a site concept (brand) that makes sense, sub-headings that tell the reader where they are and where they're going, and a font and colours that fit the niche and brand.
Here are a few sites I saw when looking at vacuum cleaner review sites. You've got 5 SECONDS to decide if you trust the site or not. Ready? Let's go:
Bit cluttered? Looks like a website from 2006? How about one with a modern whitespace hipster feel:
No, that's REALLY the home page. This guy is posting on some forum right now going 'why isn't my site making money?'
Quality, people. QUA-LI-TY. Make your site pass the 5-second test and things will start to click.
On the topic of quality - centre-align images (unless they're wrapped by text), use 'embed' for Youtube videos so you don't get the small, default Wordpress video, and so on. There are lots of ways to get a page looking 'nice'.
Mistake 5: Trying to Walk Before You Can Run
One interesting thing I noticed from all 3 people is that they kept returning to some advanced SEO concept they shouldn't be wasting a single calorie thinking about. One worried how the Google 'Fred' update was affecting him, one wanted to go all-in on PBNs, and one's wondering about content ratios.
At one point when I asked Guy 3 why he'd used a certain keyword in his title he ignored me and said 'So should I get more PBN links?' He didn't want to talk about the basics. He didn't want to talk about the main thing holding him back!
It's totally normal to be fascinated by these shiny things. Joining a new cult your goal is to be initiated into its higher levels.
But get a grip on the basics first.
Other Signs They Aren't Thinking About their Readers
Table of Contents
2 of the Guys' sites were fairly bonkers with their TOCs. One had his halfway down the page - what? Why?
And the other wasn't using a plugin but was doing it by hand somehow. The result looked worse than one generated from a plugin and the jump links didn't work. Here's an example (with some possibly identifying info removed).
English speakers read from left to right so all those entries should be left-aligned, and it's not helpful to have to read from the left column to the right column, down to the left, right, down to the left, right etc etc. And how do you show the hierarchy of ideas in such a format?
A TOC is to help your reader - it shows them what's on the page and allows them to jump to a particular section they are interested in.
Someone who has the reader in mind would never place a TOC halfway down the page and would only create a different way of generating one if there was a tangible benefit.
It's minor, but weak websites often don't have a favicon. It takes 5 seconds to upload one.
It's a quality issue and a trust issue - I'm suspicious of sites that don't have a browser icon, and having one that stands out is helpful if the person has a lot of tabs open.
Other Issues Common to the Guys
Breaking Amazon's Terms
All the Guys' sites break Amazon's TOS in some way and are at risk of being banned. But that's another topic for another day.