It’s time for affiliates to move past organic search

Last month Google confirmed they’re working on a ‘buy button’. Just like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter they are looking for ways to close The loop in e-commerce.

Buying products straight from the search results could be a great improvement for the user experience, because Google will then control the user journey and doesn’t have to rely on other companies to get their websites in order. This is the same logic as Facebook has behind their instant articles, and Google itself has shown by trying to answer more and more search queries directly in the search results. Why go to Wikipedia if Google can tell you straight away the Mount Everest is 8,848m high? And why go to Epicurious.com if Google will tell you how to bake a cake in 7 steps, using the content from Epicurious.com in their search results?

All of this definitely makes sense for the user experience. I mean, what’s the use of an extra click and a possible crappy website when Google is fast, usable and reliable?

The reason this is getting tricky for affiliates, is because Google is also starting to do this for product comparison, one of the biggest revenue drivers in affiliate marketing. Whether it’s in finance, travel, electronics or fashion, comparison websites (aggregators) play a big part in the customer journey. For example, Finder.com.au is big in finance and probably one of the first stops for many consumers when they’re thinking of getting a new credit card or home loan. Even before they visit their own banks’ website. And who really visits the Jetstar website first when they want to fly from Sydney to Melbourne? Skyscanner.com.au is a more likely first stop as they can tell you exactly when and where to buy your perfect ticket, whether it’s with Jetstar, Tigerair or Qantas.

For a long time these aggregators relied on organic search to drive traffic. Most of them have invested a lot in high quality content around the products they compare. They’re no longer only the last part of the customer journey (comparison) but often play a role in informing the consumer from the start. From the moment you wonder whether you should rent or buy, Finder is there to help you out. And of course you can find your home loan there too if you decide to buy. A bit closer to the conversion are questions around how to consolidate credit card debt, a topic on which most financial comparison affiliates have a lot to say. Spoiler: Get a new credit card with balance transfer and compare on their website.

As high volume keywords with high buy intent are very competitive, it pays to capture customers early on in their customer journey. A solid SEO and content strategy goes a long way in this regard.

As Google slowly begins to enter the comparison space, search results will more frequently have product comparisons embedded, removing the need to visit a comparison website. Already Google has entered the credit card, car insurance, hotel booking and flight comparison markets, competing directly with comparison affiliates for advertising dollars.

Although Google will only show these embedded comparisons for relevant search queries, these are exactly the highest value keywords for comparison affiliates like ‘flights from Sydney to Melbourne’ and ‘compare credit cards’. However well their websites might be optimised, competing with comparison embedded in the search results will be difficult. Especially if it’s also possible to buy straight from the search results, with the Google ‘buy button’. Comparison affiliates will still send you to the advertiser website to complete the transaction.

So what about those keywords earlier in the customer journey? As competition for head keywords has long been fierce, the opportunity might lie in long tail keywords anyway?

It seems only a matter of time before Google also takes up that space in the name of customer experience. As answering search queries without having people leave the search results is their goal, Google now looks at comparison affiliates websites and sees a huge amount of highly structured (because good for SEO) and high value content that answers all kinds of relevant questions. How great would it be for user experience if people would get that content without having to click through to affiliate websites?

Although it was never a good idea to rely on one channel alone, this is another reason for comparison affiliates to look beyond organic search. As most of these affiliates provide real value to consumers in all stages of the customer journey, they should start focussing on building relationships with them. Whether it’s via social, email, apps or accounts, the time is now to diversify and minimise dependency on organic search. The future is in getting to know consumers and adding value to their personal situation, based on their personal needs. When they do that, they do stand a chance against the Google buy button.