Are you talking to your customers correctly?

If you do any kind of business online then the way you communicate to your customers is absolutely crucial.

In a world of the typed word, emotions can be misinterpreted and messages can be misunderstood.

I am going to list my key principles in communicating with customers below but let us consider this mantra first.

(we have all heard it before)

The customer is always right

Do you agree?

I don’t.

If I sell software to my customer and they demand a refund after 7 months because “I was never able to access it” but I can see they downloaded it several times… are they right?

100% no.

But..

If we twist our mantra just a little bit to “Always make the customer right”, we can give ourselves a better chance of winning this customer over.

Here is my answer to the customer who wants a refund.

“I am sorry that you were unable to access your software and this absolutely should not happen. Unfortunately our policy only allows a refund after XX days but if you did request a refund during that time I will happily honour it.

Otherwise I will be more than happy to help you access the software now and guide you through getting started. Please let me know exactly what happens when you try to access your account and I will get this sorted for you ASAP.

First, note that I didn’t say anything about the access logs. There is no need to antagonise the customer or show them how smart we are. If needed, I can use this information later.

They key is to make your customer wanted (because they are), make them feel important (because they are) and respect them (because they deserve it).

My Rules for Talking to Customers

1) Always be polite
I follow this rule in life but online it is especially important.

It is easy to skip off a “please” or a “thank you” but if you do then you run the risk of your messages being interpreted the wrong way.

2) Be formal.. or at least be grammatically correct
I like to be mostly formal in all messages to customers. When I do this I find that my words are taken more seriously and I am less likely to receive an emotion driven response.

It shows that you are professional, you take this seriously and you are to be trusted.

Your method might be different and a less formal communication can help your business/marketing in different ways. However, I do urge you to at least be grammatically correct.

It also helps to use a proper greeting and sign off. It shows your recipient that you are taking the time over the message and taking it seriously.

3) They are not as smart as you
This is not an insult; it is (or should be) a fact.

If you are offering a service to your customer then it is expected that you know more than them.

You are the expert in this situation.

They are going to do or say things that seem ridiculous to you.

These “stupid” things are going to be repeated over and over again with your other customers.

My message here is simple but very important; stay calm, stay patient and remember that they don’t have the luxury of being as smart as you in this situation.

4) Don’t get emotionally involved
Especially where support or disputes are involved.

It is bad for your health.

Deal with every problem and dispute in a calm, methodical and efficient way.

If your recipient is completely unreasonable then don’t break character. Keep your messages concise, polite, unemotional and to the point.

Customer:
“I have been waiting 8 months for you to add this feature and now you are telling me it won’t be in the next version?? What kind of joke operation are you running? Honestly, I have bought more tools than I can remember and this is the ABSOLUTE WORST I have come across. Your last version was utter crap and crashed my PC and if I hadn’t spent the money on your junk then I would have bought (COMPETITOR) a long time ago….. etc. etc.”

What you want to say:
“Your feature idea is absolutely ridiculous and wouldn’t benefit anyone except yourself. We are not here to be your personal developers. The only reason your PC crashed is because of the spyware you caught from porn sites. Go and use (COMPETITOR) instead and don’t come back crying to us when it isn’t as good”

What you should say:
“Hi (CUSTOMER),

I am really sorry to hear that you are not happy and I want to do everything I can to help you out.

Unfortunately we develop new features based on the popularity from all our other members and your feature request didn’t get enough votes. We completely respect your decision to use (COMPETITOR) if you choose but I would like to help you figure out how to achieve what you want to with our software.

What is it exactly that you would like to do? I will hopefully find a better way for you to do it or look at how your feature request can be modified to benefit everyone.

Kind Regards,
Support Dude”

It might seem easier said than done, but maintaining this level of control will result in far more customers ending up happy.

Try it and you may just sleep better at night.

5) You are not friends
Ok, you might become friends with your customers (I have) but that is a rare exception.

“How are you doing?”, “Did your wife get that job?”, “What about the football last night huh?”.. it seems like harmless chit-chat but it wastes time. It means that you and/or your customer will put off responding because you have somehow created an unwritten chit-chat rule that can’t be broken.

Again this might be part of your marketing strategy and general business attitude.. but be aware that it can also come across as you being sleazy and fake just to get a sale.

6) Make sure your customers know what to expect
Set your stall out early in what your customer should expect in terms of response times.

In a support desk this is crucial. In some companies, 24 to 48 hours is normal. In others you can get under 1 hour responses. Your customers will have no idea what to expect and will get mad easily.

If your selling then remember that your response times at this stage need to be consistent. If your replying to your customer within 20 minutes before they hand over money, don’t drop it to 3 days after (unless they are made aware).

7) Stick to your rules
We need to set rules in how communication is made so that it is handled efficiently.

If your customer somehow finds you on Skype and asks you a simple question, should you respond?

No.

They will do it again next time. Then your Skype will be off, they won’t get a response and they will be mad.

Keep all communication through your official channels so you can optimize it, scale it, outsource it and automate it.

Conclusion

After over 8 years of supporting software and hosting customers, plus over 10 years of general supporting customers in the software industry, I realised (eventually) that communication makes a BIG difference.

Monitor it, change it, tweak it and make it better.

It will make your life easier, it will make you happier in general and it will make you more confident to teach this to others in your business.

How do you know when your software is ready?

If you haven’t heard this advice before then you aren’t reading enough.

Release early, release often!

But this doesn’t tell give you the real picture…

When I first started out creating software I was scared.

I was scared that something would break, data would be lost and that my reputation would be ruined.

My first software job was in a company who provided software to big retail companies. If our software went wrong they would lose a lot of money.

So quite rightly we had lots of procedures, testing environments and careful planning to make sure we minimised that risk.

After I left that job I took that attitude with me and kept it as a default.

I started creating websites for small businesses and I was using testing environments, version control and very careful planning.

But the amount I got paid wasn’t worth that effort.

When I created Fresh Store I spent months perfecting it and making it ready to release to the public.

I hesitated and kept telling myself that it needed “one more feature”.. and eventually a good friend of mine convinced me to just release it.

It was an overnight success and I made more sales than I could have imagined.

So what does early mean to your project?

You should be aiming for the minimum amount of development to achieve your goal.

This is different for every piece of software.

Is this a brand new idea that nobody else is really doing? Get it out ASAP and don’t worry if there are a few minor bugs. People will use it and you need to get yourself established.

Are you competing with an established solution? Get 2 or 3 features in it that your competitor isn’t doing, make it reliable and get it out there.

Every single day that your software is not on the market you are losing potential sales.

BUT if you release buggy and poorly created software you will start with a bad reputation that is hard to fix.

AND if you spend too much time and money developing, you run the risk of releasing a very polished product that nobody wants.

So how do you know when your software is ready to release?

Think long and hard about the minimum goals you need to succeed, following these 3 principles:

  • Add enough features to be a hit with the customers
  • Test and make reliable enough to not be frustrating
  • Release as early as possible so you can test the market

 

What is an affiliate?

First.. let us start at the beginning.

What is an affiliate?

An affiliate is somebody who recommends you a product and takes a commission (or reward) when you purchase it.

An affiliate is an online version of a salesman.

And just like real life salesmen, affiliates are sometimes treated with suspicion and contempt.

Rightly so.

Many affiliates, just like many salesmen, will do everything they can to push a sale. That means being dishonest, being pushy and betraying the trust of their audience.

But…

Some affiliates, just like some salesmen, put the customer first. They are experts at helping their audience, giving them the right information, engaging them properly and supporting them after purchase.

And they are usually the most successful.

Don’t get me wrong.. becoming a successful affiliate requires that you know how to be persuasive, how to maximise sales from every customer and know how to turn someone who is vaguely interested into an enthusiastic buyer.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be dishonest and you can still keep two strong principles at heart:

  1. Promote products you believe in
  2. Make sure your customers are happy

What kind of affiliate do you want to be?

How to start a project

I start my projects with a very simple and important focus.

Start now.

Do something.

You can spend weeks, months and years of your life planning for an idea.

Don’t get me wrong; planning is very important (we will look at that in another post).

But what is even more important is that you take action. Take action now, take action tomorrow and keep taking action even when you are successful.

How many times have you heard people say that they had the idea first?

The truth is that people have ideas all day, every day. Ideas are cheap. Ideas are fun. Ideas are exciting.

Ideas that turn into reality are few and far between. But why?

As soon as we sit down to start working on our idea, we realise how much hard work it is going to be.

That initial excitement of the idea will get you started and it might even get you over the first hurdle.

But you need a real drive to get you further. You need a determination that cannot be knocked. You need to want it more than you want to sleep.

In the future I am going to look at when and how to give up (because sometimes giving up is the right thing to do).

I have given up on countless ideas and will give up on even more in the future.

Just try to remember.. even if you give up on your idea you will have learned the lessons you need for your next project.

Don’t kill your enthusiasm with planning and don’t fear failure.

Get started on your idea.

Today.

Want to Succeed? Remember Your Creative Side

What is creativity?
Many people think of creativity purely as a design skill. Wikipedia defines creativity as a phenomenon whereby someone creates something new and valuable.

This is what we are looking at in this article – how and why you must bring something creative to your project or whatever you are trying to achieve.

Forget the Formula

There are many stories of success. Some people make a good living selling their success stories as a formula. But those that buy them rarely succeed… why?

There is no such thing as a formula to success, happiness, love or anything intangible. Once it has been done you simply can’t repeat it and get exactly the same results. I am not saying you can’t learn from other peoples success… but what you learn from them is important.

Forget the methods and look at how they solved the problem they faced. Learn the journey, not the path.

Creativity is needed

Instead of following exactly what other people have done, look at what was innovative about it. What did they do different? Where is the inspiring moment? Once you have identified other peoples creative spark, see how you can apply it to yourself.

Creativity is in us all and just needs to be trusted.

Think outside the box and don’t let others think for you

Everybody has an opinion but only yours matters. If you worry about what others think about your idea or approach, don’t. Lead your peers and don’t let them lead you. People may criticise you or support you – either way, you know you are doing something right when people are talking about you.

Go with your gut instinct and stand out.

Where did our Creativity go?

As a younger person your ideas will have been more fanciful, more outrageous and generally more unrealistic. But what is wrong with that? Over time “real life” beats us down. We look for a quick win to make things better, and a quick formula.

Take that Creativity back. Smile more and enjoy what you do. Trust your instinct.

Break the rules

Sometimes you need to break the rules. When the first cashback website launched, it was a radical idea and many people wondered if this was fair, legal and a valid business. In reality it broke boundaries and launched a whole new world for affiliates to explore.

Do less of the business plans and the market research, more of the “what will happen if I do this?”.

Feed your Creativity

Give yourself room to breath. Forget your todo list for an afternoon and take yourself out of your normal environment. Talk to great people about your ideas and get excited.

We are all motivated differently. Find your spark.

Fresh Store Builder – Amazon Affiliate Stores

This year I decided to publicly launch a script that I use to create Amazon Stores. The script integrates with the Amazon API and provides a complete platform for building your store, adding content, managing and so on. Products can be hand picked manually or automatically imported based on your criteria. These products then auto update.

The basic principle is – people visit your store, add to basket and click checkout. They are then redirected to Amazon to complete the order. If they do, you get a percentage of that order – typically about 6% but this increases if you sell a lot of products.

Fresh Store Builder provides you all the tools you need to be a successful Amazon Affiliate.

I wanted to give you all a bit of insight to the history of the script, my reasons for launching this project and my future plans.

How it Started…

I first became interested in the Amazon Associate program back in 2001. My first ventures into the web had seen me create some little websites, a personal e/n (i.e. blog) site and so on. The idea of earning money from promoting Amazons products was amazing and I signed up to promote some books and things. Despite a couple of sale I quickly lost interest and in all honesty, it seemed a bit unbelievable that I could earn any money this way – it seemed too easy!

I didn’t look at the Amazon Associates program really until the end of 2006. During these years I had gained a lot of experience in web programming, APIs and I had really begun to see the possibility of the web as a way to earn money. As a side project I dived into creating an integration with the Amazon API and the early version of Fresh Store Builder was born.

During this time, in 2006, a lot of changes had been made to Google which changed things dramatically. Some existing Amazon scripts like Associate-O-Matic had been performing brilliantly in the search engines just by using the original Amazon product content. A lot of affiliates had made a killing during this period, but Google introduced the duplicate content filter which killed these sites overnight.

This was my motivation for Fresh Store Builder – to create a script that would allow unique content and perform in the search engines as Associate-O-Matic had once done.

The First Version

By the end of 2007 I had launched a few UK stores in the various niches and had been making good sales. When Christmas time came around I couldn’t believe how well I was earning from Amazon – it beat everything I had hoped for and I had finally reached my goals to earn a good living from the internet. I continued to create more stores, promote them and maintain my stores.

But I got greedy and ignored my original motivation. My newer stores did not offer anything of value to a visitor in terms of unique content. I had pushed the limit by creating more stores and not focusing on quality.

The Fall from Grace

A large chunk of my stores got penalised by what is now identified as the Thin Affiliate Filter. Essentially this is a Google penalty which reduces your rankings so you got zero traffic. Why does this happen? Because Google thinks your site offers nothing of value, and is created purely to redirect users to an affiliate. Read the article above for more information on this (highly recommended read).

So in 2008 I focused on some big contracts I had as a contractor and put the Amazon stores back to being a side project. I was shocked by the ease at which my earnings could be taken away and sought the security of the contracting work which paid well, regularly and consistently.

The Reincarnation

I didn’t give up however and by the end of 2008 I had created a complete rewrite of Fresh Store Builder. It was still the same idea but I concentrated more on making it easier to add unique content by incorporating a front end AJAX edit in place, a product Queue system and a better designed admin area.

My focus was on creating great quality Amazon Affiliate stores. I started a lot of stores but made sure that each of them had good quality content and instead of aggressively link building I let them grow naturally. By the end of 2009 I was back to the great earnings of 2007 and started to phase out my contract work.

A lot of people on forums had seen my sites and were consistently asking to buy a copy. I was considering selling the script to a few people at a high price – at around the $1000 mark – but I was quite paranoid about people stealing the script and also giving away all my secrets.

The Public Launch

As 2010 came around I thought long and hard about a change in my work. During this time I was travelling around South East Asia and had given up most of my contracting work. I long since realised that the stores could support me and my lifestyle, but I wanted something more. I was excited at the thought of running a community and helping others achieve what I have.

So I made the decision to sell the script and set it as my new goal. The original name was Fresh Associate and I started to get together the people that had shown interest.

By May 2010 I had a lot of Beta users on board using the script, getting started and helping me perfect the script. By the end of June I realised that this was going to be very popular and had launched a new design, the new name (Fresh Store Builder) and opened it to the public.

 

The Feedback

We got a fresh new audience by means of a Warrior Forum post which proved a big hit and also various other forums started talking about Fresh Store Builder. Our users started to boast about earnings and the stores they had created generating an interest which is snowballing.

There is now a team behind Fresh Store Builder offering support, extra services (e.g. content writing, SEO, design) and developing the script further. We are constantly adding improvements to the script based on feedback from the users.

I couldn’t have asked for a better launch for this product – all our users have been great, we have some high earning stores, all our systems are in place and above all it is great to be the founder of a successful community.

As you can probably tell I am quite proud of all this, hence my long and dramatic blog post! But I hope this has given you the insight into the history of Fresh Store Builder and how a script like this comes to be made available to the public.

In the future I will write more about the technical challenges, tips on running a successful product and more about why these stores are the best way to promote Amazons products. For now you can take a look on the Fresh Store Builder site for more information.

Questions? Comments? Opinions?

Let yourself be heard below!

My First Online Earnings – CashWars.com

While at college, around 1999 to 2002, I spent a lot of time discovering this new thing called the Internet. My interests took me in the wrong direction by my standards today; instead of buying domains, creating websites and marking my legacy in the early World Wide Web I was mainly interested in games.

One of the games our entire class got into was Cash Wars (CashWars.com – no longer active). It was a map based browser game in which you had a set number of moves in a day. You spent your moves moving from one square to another – you had no actual map so the moves were supposedly random – and you could increase your moves by clicking on sponsor adverts. When you reached another users base, you could attack them and steal their money. In turn, others attacked you and stole your money.

This was the basis of the game as I remember it. If you had enough money at the end of a time period (a month I think), you could cash out and receive an actual cheque.

The game was easily exploitable. Working together you could build up maps of the world and mark it with the bases of those users that had a lot of money. Automated programs would perform your moves for you based on these maps. A referral system meant that a small percentage of any money earned by someone you referred would be passed on to you; consequently people had multiple accounts.

Many websites sprung up about Cash Wars, including my own, and eventually I reached enough earnings to cash out a cheque.

Despite it being just over $21 I was delighted at the achievement and was the only person I knew to actually get money from the Internet. Friends and family didn’t believe me – this was 2001 and the concept of earning money from the internet like this was very new.

Anyway I didn’t even pay the cheque in – I would have received a tiny fraction of it due to me being in the UK and my bank charging a lot for foreign currency cheques.

Soon after the website shut down. Due to it being easily exploitable they ran out of money and had to cease trading. It was a shame as I just enjoyed playing the game, but I soon turned my attentions to other things.

That first experience of earning money on the internet set me on the path that led me to where I am today. I often think of this when I need a bit of motivation to push myself to the next level.

Check out http://www.wealthwars.com/ if you are looking for an example of how Cash Wars worked

What was your first online earnings?
Did you play Cash Wars? What were your first Internet adventures?

Let me know below!

The Differences between UK Hosting and USA Hosting Accounts

Control Panel
Creative Commons License photo credit: Tim Dorr


When you’re in the market for a new web hosting account, you will soon realize that you have a large number of choices in front of you. While you have to weigh out the common web hosting options such as Cpanel hosting vs. Plesk hosting, dedicated hosting vs. a VPS account or reseller hosting, or using a Windows server vs. choosing the common Linux hosting option, there is a bigger decision you need to make. Should you choose a USA-based hosting account, or would it be better to host your website on a UK-based server?

To help you make your decision, here are some of the differences you can expect when choosing between UK and US-based hosting accounts.

Hosting costs and service quality

In terms of service options and overall quality, web hosting server companies are the same around the world. Regardless of the language or location, web hosting packages are, by and large, the same everywhere.

When you get into pricing, however, that’s where the differences start. If US Dollars and British Pounds were equal in value, pricing would be relatively similar in both the US and UK for web hosting accounts. Shared hosting accounts, for example, generally cost anywhere from £2.99 to £35.99 in the UK, but even though the pricing is similar in the USA, because of the differences in the value of the US dollar, US hosting is generally cheaper than UK hosting packages.

Support differences

Overall support, much like the available web hosting service options, is relatively similar in both the US and UK. However, there is one difference that can make a big difference for you — time zone differences. If you live in the USA, for example, you will receive responses to your support inquiries during UK time, and if you live in the UK, you will likely receive answers to your questions and trouble tickets during US business hours. Though, it is important to note that if you choose a web hosting company that offers support around the clock, you can bypass the problems associated with the large time zone differences.

Effects on SEO and search engine marketing

There is debate on how much affect hosting can have on your search engine placements, although it is generally considered to be less of a concern now than previously. Google can determine your geographical location using your domain name (e.g. .co.uk is assumed to be a UK site) and the instructions you give them via Google Webmaster Tools.

One consideration is the speed of your site, which is often noted as important for search engine positions by Google themselves. Hosting a site in the target country (e.g. UK for UK visitors) will make the site quicker for them and potentially makes your site better in the eyes of search engines.

To obtain the best search engine placement results for your particular market, it’s a good idea to host your website in the country where most of your visitors are.

Visitor experience

One important difference between US and UK hosting that is often overlooked by website owners is the visitor experience. Specifically, page load times and script execution. Anymore, it’s relatively rare to find a website that doesn’t use technology such as JavaScript or Ajax. These technologies can be problematic for website visitors who are located far away from your website’s geographic location as client-side scripting languages, such as those mentioned, must load before your web page will display to your visitors.

By choosing a web hosting account that is geographically close to your largest audience, you’re helping to keep your website page load times to a minimum.

While web hosting plans and platforms are largely the same regardless of where you set them up, and popular hosting options, such as Cpanel hosting, are available worldwide, there are still some significant differences between UK and US web hosting. For best results, you should do a little research on where your market is before you choose one hosting location over the other.

What is a Thin Affiliate Site?

Many people still hold the mistaken belief that making money on the internet is easy, if you know the tricks. They believe that it is possible to make a fortune without considerable effort, time or experience. Millions of people start websites in this frame of mind and 99.9% of these people fail.

It is hard to say quite where these beliefs come from but it is fair to say that many people are exploiting this attitude in order to make a lot of money themselves.

There are so many training courses, auto website generators, traffic boosters, SEO tools, Auto Twitter tools etc. exploiting this attitude that it is hard to keep track. Generally their sales page promises instant results, gives examples of successful users and shows you how little time and effort it takes to execute.

Unfortunately these tools are almost always trying to outsmart the one company that you do not want to mess with – Google. The main aim is to try and exploit the free traffic you would get from being listed high in Google for a popular keyword.

No matter how many tools you try and how clever you think these ideas are, you will never outsmart Google in the long run. To avoid sending you to auto-generated websites, websites filled with advert or even websites with malicious intent Google use some of the most sophisticated technology in existence.

What does Google want in their listings? High quality, content rich and genuinely valuable websites.

Note – at this point it is worth mentioning that some people operate their online business this way, knowing that they will not overcome Google permanently. They work on a scattergun approach and make money while they can constantly changing, throwing away websites and trying new methods. This method may well be successful but I have no experience in it and don’t believe it is worth the effort. I also don’t believe in tricking users is in any way worth monetary compensation.

Google uses many methods to fight spam in the search engine results. Naturally, they do not want to recommend bad websites and your trust is fundamental to their success – if you find bad websites at Google you will use another search engine. In this article we explore the “Thin Affiliate” label Google has defined, how it is determined, the consequences of being one and how to recover from it if you are.

So, what is a “Thin Affiliate” and how does it relate to tricking Google?

Essentially Google does not want to send people to sites that do not offer valuable content. “Thin Affiliate” is a label applied when Google thinks you have created a site that is completely focused on affiliate links (PPC ads, paid adverts, links to other merchants etc.) and doesn’t offer anything else of value.

A good example of this would be a script that creates a website from eBay listings. It is focused on a certain group of products (e.g. Car Exhausts) and provides several category pages (e.g. Exhausts for different models). Each page lists the current eBay auction results with links, earning the website owner money for every click and/or sale.

Google doesn’t like this because the website is not offering anything new to the user. This model can be easily replicated and if they don’t take action, Googles search engine results would be littered with this type of website, pushing genuine Car Exhaust sellers down the listings.

Another example would be a blog that reviews laptops. The reviews are automatically generated from a mixture of Amazon reviews, other merchant sites and related information. The result is a jumbled mess and the content may even be “spun” (a process of replacing words automatically in order to create unique content) which makes the content unreadable. Not only is the site not offering anything new but it is not of benefit to the visitor in any way.

Unfortunately, the idea of a “Thin Affiliate” site is not always so black and white. You might create a website with a few unique articles and pages with links to eBay the same as our above example. Does the unique content mean Google will not penalise your site? What is the line that we must not cross?

How is your site determined to be Thin Affiliate?

There are many automatic methods that Google employ to penalise sites. If you have duplicate content, poor quality content, an unresponsive site, too much advertising, you are using cloaking etc. then it is likely that Google will recognise this programatically (i.e. without any human intervention) and you will be penalised automatically.

Being a Thin Affiliate is somewhat open to interpretation and not so easy to recognise using automatic methods. However, you could be penalised automatically for reasons like the following:

  • No Content – if you have nothing at all on your site except adverts you will be penalised
  • Duplicate or poor content – It is possible to tell the quality of your content automatically and Google are very likely to use this technology. Content spinning, duplicate content and badly written content will get you penalised
  • Turnkey Solutions – Using a script that is known to generate thin affiliate sites can get you an automatic penalty. These scripts have a “footprint” i.e. something that gives away your site is using a particular script (e.g. html markup, particular file names/locations etc.)
  • User Behaviour – it is possible that Google monitors its users behaviour to see how they react to a site. e.g. if the majority of users click back to Google, then it is safe to assume the site doesn’t offer anything of value for that keyword

While these types of automatic methods are no doubt in place, it appears that a lot of manual reviewing is being done by Google in this area. That is an actual person is taking a look at your site and deciding whether to cut off the traffic from Google or not. This is extremely important to remember – it is easy to circumvent filters and stay within a boundary, but a manual reviewer can always see your site for what it is.

Most likely your site will be flagged for review based on automatic detection, like the above. For example, if a lot of users are returning to Google straight after visiting your site then your site is added to a review list. Someone will then manually visit your site and make a decision on its value – is it a Thin Affiliate site or does it actually offer something useful?

It is possible that your site can escape a manual review for a long time or possibly even indefinitely, especially if your site is well established. However it can be reviewed at any time for many reasons – a competitor reporting you, visitors reporting you, change in Googles algorithm etc. so don’t assume it will not happen to you.

With all this considered, determining wether your site is Thin Affiliate or not becomes quite simple. If you were to review your site without bias, would you consider it useful?

How can I avoid being labelled a Thin Affiliate?

Back in 2007 Shoemoney posted a video with essentially the message don’t make google look stupid. The point is simple – Google is bigger than you, smarter than you, has more resources than you and will catch you out if you try and trick them. Don’t make them look stupid by putting useless sites in their index. According to Jeremy, Google use this video internally to educate their staff and help them understand more about this issue.

The only true way to avoid being labelled a Thin Affiliate is to make your site good. Add great, compelling, unique content. Provide a useful service. Offer reviews, advice, tips or even just a good way to compare products. Whatever you do, make sure its useful to visitors and you are proud to put your name to it.

What penalties can I get?

Typically you will receive a -50 penalty, which means you will be listed 50 places lower than you would have done previously for search terms. You may still get traffic from extremely unique keywords but expect your traffic from Google virtually disappear.

From my experience you won’t get banned outright and remember that other search engines behave differently – you may still get good traffic from Yahoo and Bing especially. Google will never contact you to tell you whats happened, nor will they give you any information whatsoever if you ask them. They keep all of this 100% secret to protect their methods so we can only maker educated guesses on what has happened.

My conclusion is that Google will not remove your site completely from the search engines because it is too clear a sign that you have done something wrong. By issuing the -50 penalty, many people will just assume that they have not got enough links or popularity and will continue to try and promote their site. This is my speculation, but I believe Google are happy for people to waste time like this instead of working on another way to get bad sites to the top of the search listings.

A complete ban is not likely for a Thin Affiliate site – this is usually reserved for Black Hat techniques (e.g. cloaking, blog farms etc.) and sites that are frequently unavailable.

How do I recover from a penalty?

It is the same as with any penalty from Google – fix the problem and apply to have your site reconsidered via Google Webmaster Tools.

Essentially if you have received this penalty, you need to add value to your site. Google deals with a lot of affiliate sites and as such they are not high in their priority if you are contesting a penalty – you will likely get ignored. Therefore you need to overcompensate and turn your site into something that they must pay attention to. Getting attention and links from other high authority sites will help, although it may still take a couple of months for Google to get round to reviewing your changes.

Some people may consider it a write off and start again with a new site and domain. This might be a better option, depending on how much time and money you put into the original site.

The Conclusion

So we have looked at what Google defines as a Thin Affiliate site, how they spot it, how to avoid it and how to recover from it. Essentially I would recommend your philosophy is to create a great website. Initially don’t focus too much on what Google wants, conversion rates, the best affiliate networks etc. – simply create a great website that people want to visit, with great content and some innovative ideas. Create a website you are proud of and that you are happy to tell your friends about.

Do this and you will never have to worry about being a Thin Affiliate.

What do you think?

Have you any experience with being labelled a Thin Affiliate? Want some advice on your site? Have something you wish to say?

If so, comment below!

Why Opportunity is Stealing our Time, Focus and Energy

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Thomas Hawk

Nobody can argue against the amount of opportunity we have in this day and age. Particularly in our industry, the internet, there are so many potential lives we could lead that we can literally be anybody we want to be.

There lies the problem. Who do you want to be?

Would you like to be a famous and respected blogger? A drop shipper, selling the latest products from China all around the world? A PPC expert making money from all the affiliate networks? Or perhaps you would like to dominate the latest porn niche?

As I will explore in this article, I don’t believe it is what you choose that matters – more the fact that you do choose it.

Why can choice be bad?

In generations passed choices were limited. If you had access to a guitar, a grand piano or a football and some friends the chances are you would spend a lot of time doing that. To pass the boredom. You would be more likely to master it, to stick with it and make something useful of it.

In our generation, you can have a guitar if you want. Next week you can get access to a grand piano. At the weekend you can play a game of football, see the latest film, play the latest video game and so on. Do you ever get bored anymore? Your time and attention is split between so many things, how could we expect to master one of them?

Despite this, it does happen and it just requires discipline. In this instance you need to pick your field, pick it early and stick with it.

Are there any quick wins anymore?

In my opinion, there have never been any quick wins. I believe in luck… and let me explain what I mean by that.

I am in no way disregarding that it requires talent to achieve something good. It is essential. What I am saying is that many people have the talent it takes to start a software company, become a professional athlete or run a successful website. I believe there are many brilliant people who aren’t achieving what they are capable of and some that do.

The difference is timing or as I prefer, the luck factor.

In the excellent book outliers by Malcom Gladwell, this point is made very well and includes great examples such as Bill Gates (who was lucky enough to have programming access on a computer at the right time – just before the home computer revolution took off) and the hockey players who have statistically more chance of making professional if they are born in January (because try out cut off dates meaning they are older and stronger than players born in December).

Luck is not all you need, but it is a big factor.

How do you get lucky? Become the best you can be in your area. Don’t take on too much and when that opportunity comes along you will be ready.

How does this relate to internet businesses?

In our industry, there are an unlimited amount of opportunities. Every week there is a new tool, a new ebook, a new technique, a new script or a new research method that can make us millions. All of these opportunities have something in common – they give you the impression that making money is easy. Just follow these 5 simple steps and you could earn $1000 a day.

Lawyers call this technique “papering”. A typical web professional has so much information, potential opportunities and even blogs to read telling you about all this stuff that they have less time to actually do something. Lawyers will do this to each other during cases so that they have to spend more time (and money) on sorting out the latest letters, procedures etc.

Don’t let anyone steal your focus or steal your time.

As any web professional worth their salt (and not actively trying to sell you something) will tell you that you have to work hard to achieve success. I would like to add to this and say you need to work honestly.

Yes there are many of the blackhat crowd making a living by creating intriguing Facebook groups that require you to sign up to something or gaming the search engines with the latest trick, but it is not a predictable or stable path to follow. If your going down that path, your reading at the wrong place.

Don’t be tempted by the latest tricks. Don’t let anyone distract your focus. Have a great game plan, have 100% confidence in your plan and have 100% stubborn focus to see that plan through.

Are you a jack of all trades?

… and a master of none? If your skills are in marketing, why do you need to know how to code HTML? Focus on what is important and what you are good at. Do this throughout your life and accept the things that you just don’t have the time to fit into your life.

Committing to doing something is actually a very expensive thing to do. If you start down the path of learning a new language you are giving yourself less time to do other things – see your family, play football or finish that latest project. Analyse your life constantly and don’t take on any new hobbies or commitments unless you are 100% sure it will benefit you and fit in your life.

The most successful people are absolute masters of one thing, and know little about other things. As Seth Godin points out in his excellent book “All Marketers are Liars“, a frog can catch a living fly but not a dead one. It is an absolute master at catching flies with their tongue as that is all they are made for. Be the frog; find your skill and make it better.

If you are doing something, do it properly

My dad always said “if your going to do a job, do it properly” and I always try to remember this in my life. If you are going to start learning a new language make sure you do it to the best of your abilities. If you can’t, just don’t do it yet.

This applies to all areas of our life and business. Don’t start a new website unless your sure you can do it the best you can. I would make a guess that 80% of the internet is half finished projects, or projects that don’t get the time they need. Imagine what we could do with all that half effort and add it up to a full effort.

Do less, do more

Try doing less. Stop trying to read a book every week. Have less friends. Work on less projects.

What will happen? You will feel like you got more done. The books you read, you will read properly and take value from. You will have better friends and you will be a better friend. The projects you do work on will be more successful.

Was it worth it? Is it worth it?

Are you getting anything from the book your reading? If not, drop it. Are you losing weight at the gym? Try a class instead. Do you check your emails every day? Try every other day.

Don’t take anything for granted in your life. There are many ways were we can cut down on the things we are doing, the time we are spending and the effort that we are wasting. Take some inspiration from places like Life Hacker and optimise your life.

How else can you stay focused and own your time?

  • Drop wrong opportunities quickly – don’t throw good time after bad
  • Plan your projects, set goals and stick to them
  • Review your goals and processes regularly (I recommend every week) – are you on track? Can you put any projects on hold
  • “How do you eat an elephant” – one piece at a time. Keep faith in the big tasks by splitting them into manageable chunks
  • Be aware of priority – don’t let anything jump the queue unless it benefits you
  • For those things you want to do, but can’t right now – put them on a list. Keep them safe and review often. But don’t do them until you can give them 100%
  • Put all projects on hold, move them off main lists

Thank you for reading – I hope this inspires you to achieve more and make more fantastic contributions to this world. If you have any other tips, comments or questions comment below!