Today is Free Shipping Day and thousands of online stores are participating in what is going to be one of the largest online shopping holidays of the year. The title of a press release from comScore last year says it all:
Gadgets rank at the top of the growing “computer hardware” category for the holiday season with purchases of handheld devices like the iPad, iPhone and Android phones driving sales. Mashable took note of this yesterday when the posted the Top 10 Tech Retailers Delivery in Time for Christmas, featuring Free Shipping Day as a reward for procrastinating tech junkies. But Mashable isn’t breaking any stories here. A search on Google News will reveal a flood of media coverage about this event.
With all the hype around Free Shipping Day, one would think that it is like any other similar shopping holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. But it’s not. The big difference here is that Free Shipping Day™ also happens to be a trademarked day that belongs to the affiliate website FreeShipping.org.
Luke Knowles is the “super affiliate” behind this $1-billion dollar day. When looking into marketing and retail stats he discovered that holiday shopping online peaked around December 10th because consumers were worried that they may not get their orders in time to wrap and put them under the tree before Christmas if they ordered any later.
So Knowles, who was already an affiliate with thousands of online merchants via FreeShipping.org, had the idea to get stores to commit to guaranteed delivery by Christmas nearly a week after the December 10 peak. The extended shipping deadlines, combined with coupon offers, was an instant hit with consumers.
Merchants don’t typically like to help their affiliates with marketing efforts and for good reasons. But this doesn’t seem to apply to the Free Shipping Day franchise (which is now growing in Canada and the UK as well). Below are some of the ways this affiliate manages to get merchants to help promote their site…
Every store gets its own URL to share with its brand evangelists and customers via email and social media channels. But having thousands of pages of thin content (i.e. a couple of coupon codes) isn’t a viable SEO strategy these days.
So instead of making these URLs pages, the site appends a parameter to the URL that changes the sort order to show each different store’s coupon first. By having Google and Bing webmaster tools ignore that parameter, and by using a rel canonical tag, the site manages to funnel all of that PageRank into their home page.
Social Media Interaction
The next step is to get brands to share their vanity URLs. In addition to sending each merchant an email with their URL, the site encourages them to share it on social media channels (example). In addition to the custom link, they also provide the hashtag to use: # FreeShippingDay. Imagine hundreds of small, medium and huge brands tweeting a link to your affiliate site along with your own custom hashtag. #WouldBeNice
Every merchant also gets a badge with custom code that links to their vanity URL to display on their website, while badges with a link to the home page are available to all. Badges are nothing new, but it amazes me how often websites create badges, put them on a page and just expect people to use them. What’s the motivation? In this case, it is to show off that you are participating and to link shoppers directly to your vanity URL.
Sharing The Love
If you are an affiliate who is out hustling via guest posts, PR and social media to get traffic and build your own brand, it should be a no-brainer to let the merchants you work with know that you are benefiting them beyond just sending direct sales via affiliate links.
When the LA Times mentioned BestBuy and Toys R Us in an article about Free Shipping Day, an email quickly went out from FreeShippingDay.com to the marketing departments at each company to let them know about it.
Is this possible for all affiliates to add this kind of value? Probably not. There won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution to building links and traffic into an affiliate website. But this example should illustrate that it is still possible to compete with big brands with a little bit of luck and a whole lot of marketing sense. I’ve heard the masses predicting that affiliate marketing is dead, and with recent brand-boosting, affiliate-punishing changes from Google – not to mention stuff like this – you have to admit it is an uphill battle. The days of putting up some reviews on your blog, or publishing coupon feeds from LinkShare and raking in the dough while you sleep are long gone.
The moral of the story here is this: Add value for the merchants and treat your affiliate site like a brand and you may still stand a chance.