Marketing Mistakes: conversion rate blinders

I approached an affiliate network this week to see if I could place some banner ads on my sites for a couple products I thought were cool. And the response I got was “let us review your sites and see if there is a match”.

I thought that was odd. Well, once I totally over-thought it, that’s when I decided it was odd.

The upside for them: It doesn’t cost them anything to e-mail me the url so I can download a banner ad. It doesn’t cost them anything if 1 million people visit my site and no one clicks the ad. And it doesn’t cost them anything if no one visits the site and no one clicks the ad. Therefore the upside is potential sales, actual sales and exposure. If it takes 7 impressions before you buy I could be one of those.

The downside for them: If 1,000,000 people click the ad and no one buys, their conversion rate looks really bad. (see related posts to see the truth behind conversion rates). If they put their ads on porn sites, their reputation may suffer. If they allow everyone to put banner ads on their sites and 95% sell 1 unit, that’s a lot of paperwork to deal with. Legitimate concerns? I’d say so.

But after totally over-thinking it, I believe they’re trying to protect their conversion rate. Oddly enough the conversion rate tells you so little that it really means nothing. A conversion rate that is too low means you’re fishing with too wide a net, driving the wrong kind of traffic or a poorly worded ad. Or finally does it mean that your site isn’t converting good prospects into paying customers? The only way you learn those answers is to get lots of traffic and test new things.

And that brought me to these questions. She didn’t ask a single question about what visitors to my sites have bought before or what is their demographic makeup. Nor was she curious as to the size of my e-mail marketing database – or the response rate I get when I e-mail information to my database.

Which leads me to believe that they’re interested in ads that are similar in content to the websites themselves. For example, they’d be happy to promote an Oprah book on an Oprah site. Unfortunately, it’s often the traffic itself that drives sales. A site about Kite Flying that is heavily viewed by people over 50 may do well with Enzyte ads – but that has nothing to do with kites.

So here are two potential marketing mistakes you could find yourself making. I’m not saying the affiliate company I contacted was making a mistake – you’ve got to run business as you see fit. But if you’re motivated by either of these wrongs, you may be missing out on income.

Don’t limit yourself to products and services that are similar to yours. If you’re a home builder – feel free to send your audience a coupon for tax planning at H&R Block. Homeowners and taxes go together. And stop worrying about your overall conversion rate. Look at it as a function of source – not as a function of performance.

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