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A New All-CSS Amazon / Zazzle Button

I hadn’t posted this until now, because I’m still getting the kinks out. But I thought I’d share some CSS wizardry.

Problem:

My old Amazon “Buy” Buttons look a little fuzzy at modern screen resolutions, and they don’t resize well.
Amazon Associates

Also, that’s just for Amazon. Sometimes I want a Zazzle button!

I believe in the marketing research that shows a “Big Orange Button” helps convert sales.

So how can I make a BOB that will scale to different screen sizes?

Solution:

Create a rounded-corners button with CSS:

Buy on Amazon

 

 

blizzard of '78 t-shirt
Buy T-shirt on Zazzle

I’m still fine-tuning this, but people who know code can play with it.

Here’s an example from my spruced-up “Blizzard of ’78” lens.

Here’s a template for the button. You MUST change the width (11em) to fit the width of whatever words you use. For example,  in”Buy on Amazon” button, I used 8.5em.  An em is simply the width of the letter m, so this means that the dimensions listed in ems will scale up and down to match the text.
<a style=”display: block; margin: 5px auto; width: 11em; color: #fff; text-decoration: none; font-family: Arial; font-size: 90%; font-weight: bold; text-align: center; border-radius: .5em; padding: .2em; background-color: #f90; box-shadow: 1px 1px 2px #888888; background-image: linear-gradient(to top, #FF9900 60%, #FFBB44 100%);” href=”LINKgoesHERE”>Buy T-shirt on Zazzle</a></p>
I was a bit haphazard in which dimensions I specified in pixels, which in ems. I think this looks good at different screen resolutions, as I’ve checked with my iPad and this Responsive Design Tester, but… I can’t promise.
Breaking it down:
  • display: block; turns the span into a block-shaped area with specific dimensions.
  • the margin is whitespace around the outside of the button. Use margin: 5px; if you do NOT want the button centered horizontally (auto)!
  • the width is the width of the orange button, which I defined in terms of the width of the letters inside. This way the button grows or shrinks with the font and screen size.
  • color: #fff makes white letters; after this comes a bunch of optional text-tweaking.
  • border-radius: makes rounded corners on most modern browsers. On older browsers, you get rectangular corners, which isn’t too bad.
  • padding puts space between the borders of the orange rectangle and the words inside.
  •  background-color #f90 makes Squidoo Orange.
  • box-shadow: is a new CSS3 property, supported by IE9+, Firefox 4, Chrome, Opera, and Safari 5.1.1. On older browsers, no shadow. The values are: horizontal offset, vertical offset, blur distance, color.
  • linear-gradient: In theory, this will add a bit of shading, with darker orange at the bottom and lighter orange at the top. It’s part of CSS3, but not all browsers support it… yet. They will. In the meantime, I could go with all sorts of complicated code to make it work. But I’m not gonna. There’s nothing wrong with buttons that look good now, and will look better down the road.

Here’s a demo of how this button looks on browsers that DON’T support the linear gradient, and those that DO. (Modern editions of all browsers support rounded corners and drop shadow; older IE will just show an orange rectangle with no shadow.)

Making Money Selling Zazzle Art on Squidoo

On my Want Graphics? Promote Zazzle Designs lens, our spiffy-hatted member TxCowboyDancer posted in the guestbook:

One question: Do you have a couple/three/four examples of “good lenses” that promote Zazzle?

OOPS! Confession time! While I do have the odd Zazzle graphic on my lenses, like my Sea Hare lens using a funny T-shirt to jazz up the guestbook, my lenses about my shops are seriously out of date…they’re still featuring Cafepress designs!

Here’s one, and it’s sneaky: my Funny Signs and Billboards lens includes a Zazzle gallery with “Demotivational Posters” whose spoof punchlines are a little too small to read, so visitors tend to click on them to view the posters on Zazzle. I haven’t sold too many, but at least this helped the lens get more clickouts (which impact its lensrank).

What about a lens dedicated to showcasing Zazzle art — either your own, or other people’s— to get a commission? Let’s check out some other members’ fine lenses featuring Zazzle products. I did a quick search for the “zazzle” tag on Squidoo and checked the results against Fluffanutta’s Squidaholic tool to see what kind of traffic they’re pulling in, since I can’t tell how well they’re selling. So, the comments below are about how the lens is laid out, how products are presented, and (because I know this stuff) some basic SEO-for-Zazzle tips.

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Two Kinds of Reviews: Know Which You’re Writing!

Trial and error has once again revealed a useful insight for affiliate marketing: there are two kinds of reviews, and if you write wrong kind for your product and target audience, you can kiss sales revenue goodbye.

Hard-to-Find Products

Examples of this are my review of a cheap hard case for an old Macbook whose polycarbonate case was known to crack, a special kind of baits to kill the little black ants invading California, or collectible figures imported from Japan that are hard to find in the states. Here, the buyer has a problem or an idea what she’s looking for, but either doesn’t know the exact brand and model name (what to type into Amazon to find it), or it’s not available on ordinary retail sites like Amazon.

With all of these products, I use the products’s very specific name for the article to help it get picked up in search engine results, or, more often, (“hard case for old Macbook”) I did some keyword research with Google’s keyword tool to discover what people type when looking for that kind of product.

The “specific name” approach works for products that are difficult to find, or are sought by collectors. The “keyword research” approach works very well if you can zero in on a question or phrase people tend to Google when they’re looking for the solution to a problem.

However, there are several examples where the “specific name” approach failed to get much traffic. See if you can determine a pattern:

What’s the problem? People aren’t liable to type out “review of Herman miller Aeron chair.” Either they already have the Aeron chair and have formed an opinion about it, or they go straight to Amazon or some e-merchant they trust and look for product reviews on the site where they intend to buy the product.  Why Google for a product review when there’s already dozens right on the product page on Amazon?  I still get some traffic on these kinds of lenses, but no more than 10-20 a week.

So think about your buyer. Do a simulated run of buying it on Amazon yourself. Is it an item lots of people know the name of? Are the Amazon reviews informative, and the product page tells you everything you need? Does the Amazon listing turn up at the top of Google when you search for it on Google? In that case, you probably won’t have much luck, because the typical buyer is going to go to Google > Amazon > Amazon reviews > Buy as opposed to Google >Webpage  Review > Amazon > Buy.

That doesn’t mean don’t do the review, because you might get lucky. However, for the most part, I recommend focusing on products that fit the criteria I mentioned above: they solve a problem, answer a question, are difficult to find, or are sought by collectors. Those get searched on Google, not just Amazon, and users may actually do a little research before heading to Amazon.

The Buyer’s Guide

Often, web users trying to compare a bunch of products to pick the best one. Then they need a concierge to steer them to likely products. These articles take more knowledge and experience to write well, because you can’t get away with reviewing just one product: you have to be familiar with the niche and give an honestly useful report and comparison of a bunch of different products. But these articles can be very useful to customers, because they can’t just go to Amazon and read a few reviews to find what they’re looking for.

I make a few sales a day on these lenses: Best Books on Greek Mythology, Great Books on Celtic Mythology, Best Books on Egyptian Mythology. I had discovered these kinds of searches in my old Greece-related lenses’ traffic stats. On the same principle, I tried the Best Ice Compresses and got good results.  So if you know a subject, and you’ve done your own comparison shopping to figure out which are the best, write a lens on it, with mini-reviews of the pros and cons of each and comments about what each one is good for.

I’ve also had tremendous luck with collectibles guides where I showcase all the items in a collection. People don’t always buy those things, but they often go to Amazon to browse them, then they buy something— not necessarily any of those items, but those items lured them into the store like a shop window display!

The key with buyer’s guides is that you’re trying to attract people who are interested in a certain type of thing, they don’t know exactly what product name to type into Amazon to find it. This kind of buyer’s guide is especially effective for products that turn up a lot of four-to-five star rated products in Amazon search, so many that it would be bewildering and time-consuming to dig through all the customer reviews to find the best one (e.g. celtic mythology). If a search for, say, “eco-friendly Christmas lights” turns up only 5 products that are better than 3-star-ratings, then you’re probably not going to get too many visitors to a webpage on that product; it’s easier for visitors to skim those five products on Amazon, read the reviews there and make a choice. Again, this isn’t an argument not to write such a review, but it’s less likely to succeed. This problem is happening more and more, as apps and online retailers provide people many ways other than a generic Google search to learn all they need to know before making a purchase!

Here’s a special case of the buyer’s guide which is worth considering.

App Store Concierge

Right now, there’s no easy way to SELL apps — at least, I’m not finding an affiliate program with Apple that gets down to the app level — unless you go for the Android apps available on Amazon. [EDIT: See below; Christene's got tips.] But since Squidoo rewards lenses that get lots of clickouts, there’s an opportunity to make some money playing app concierge. There’s a real opportunity here, at least for now, because the iTunes App Store isn’t really good at turning up items unless you know the name of the app you’re looking for. It’s got no tags, too few categories, and only shows the top 100 in each category. It’s a really inefficient way to find apps. For example, I couldn’t really find an app that let me keep track of miles and calories for a treadmill, exercise bike, etc, because Apple’s search tool is too inefficient.

So I’m creating a few guides to different kinds of apps. Right now I’ve got one on creative people’s drawing apps, although I put that on Hubpages because I’m trying to diversify.

Basically, if you’ve had to do some research on, “What’s the best app to do X?” make a lens about it, and be sure to make prominent links to the app’s page.

Beyond Squidoo: Getting My Eggs in Multiple Baskets

It’s wise to get eggs in multiple baskets — that is, income streams from multiple online sources — to protect oneself against Google penalties or policy changes on any one site. Whereas last year I decided to make a go of treating Squidoo as a full-time job, this year I’m trying to diversify.

So far, I’m having a hard time getting traction anywhere else, but then, it takes a while to discover what works best with each service and website. Here’s my breakdown for January-April 2012:

 

My Earnings Breakdown: Squidoo, Hubpages, etc

Here’s what I’ve been doing lately.

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‘Tis The Season — For Sales Research

You should get holiday shopping lenses done now, because Google has been favoring fresh content more than ever, lately. (Of course, last month would’ve been better, to make sure it got indexed in time.)

Regardless, this is the time to gather data about what your visitors are buying. On Squidoo, click the $$$ tab on the dashboard to sort your lenses by recent affiliate sales. Right-click the “Stats” button under each lens with $$$ commissions, choose “open link in a new [browser] tab,” then click Squidoo’s “Royalties” tab to see what items were bought from that lens.

Create new articles targeting similar kinds of products, which evidently you can sell because you’ve already did sell some!

But wait— remember my little riffs about coincidental sales versus direct sales? Direct sales come from a review or “best of” list you wrote in which you featured the product. Coincidental sales come from articles you wrote for another purpose — a How To article or a tutorial, for example, where you featured books related to your topic or included the materials used in a crafts project.

It’s the coincidental sales you want to look for. You already have lenses to sell the direct sale products, so you don’t need to make another. But if you accidentally sold toothbrushes on a lens about hairbrushes, maybe you should make a toothbrushes lens.

There is actually a spectrum between direct sales and coincidental sales, because people often click on a product review, go to the online retail website, and wind up buying something else entirely.

Consider creating lenses on “I went to buy X but bought Y instead” products.

Of course, you’ll have to use your judgment. There’s many things that one visitor will buy that no one else will buy — that’s the beauty of the long tail. But it’s time to examine all your sales and see if you detect any patterns (similar kinds of purchases) or any really good ideas for product reviews. New lenses may not get out in time for this holiday season, but at least you’ll have them for later.

(And yes, I can hear you saying: “but if I publish them now, and they aren’t indexed in time for the holiday shopping season, then they won’t be as fresh for the holiday season next year.” To which I say: never cheat yourself out of publishing effective content that may be building up an income stream because of something Google might or might not be doing.)

More Tips for Building Amazon Associate Links

I’m always fiddling with ways to display Amazon Associate links with big bold images and appealing layouts so they get more clicks.

I’ve got a few tricks I use all the time. They’re fast, and I do them almost without thinking about it.

Unfortunately, when I try to explain them, they look scary, because the code Amazon gives us is scary, then I have to insert minor tweaks.

Which is why I’ve filed this Squidoo Tutorial under Advanced CSS. For old Squidoo hands, it may be useful; for new Squids, it’ll probably make your head spin:

My Amazon Associates Links Beat Squidoo’s Links

Hopefully they will prove useful to somebody.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Listen To Me

This is an unsolicited, sincere, enthusiastic endorsement of a site on writing marketing copy and killer online prose.

But don’t listen to me. Listen to Copyblogger.

For instance, check out the Magnetic Headlines ten-part lesson.

The site is chock-full of actionable, useful advice you can use right now to grab, hold, and tempt your readers to buy and click.

Make yourself a cuppa tea, coffee, or your favorite beverage. Take a break and explore the copywriting tips on this site. You’ll be so glad you did.

2011 Google Quality Raters Guidelines (Oops!)

Google did something wrong. I did something wrong. Yet I believe that good will come of this. Let’s recap what happened with the 2011 Google Quality Raters Guidelines:

  • Step 1: I see a post in the Squidoo forums noting that Potpiegirl (aka Jennifer Ledbetter, WAHM affiliate marketer) ha a new post up about Google.
  • Step 2: I read Jennifer’s lengthy (and fairly useful) post on How Google Makes Algorithm Changes.
  • Step 3: I notice that Jennifer’s post links to Google’s 2011 Quality Raters Handbook.
  • Step 4: Classics major training kicks in: Wait, hang on, is this real? Is this legitimate? Why aren’t the major SEO websites like searchengineland, seomoz and seobook salivating over this carcass like a pack of rabid hyenas circling a dying zebra?
  • Step 5: I share the tip with SearchEngineLand, asking if the document is legitimate. Barry Schwartz seems to think so and posts about it.
  • Step 6: Lots of people download the 2011 Quality Raters Handbook.
  • Step 7: Google contacts Barry Schwartz and asks him to take down SEL’s mirror of the document. Google also contacts PotPieGirl and asks her to remove the link from her blog.
  • Step 8: Too late: the guidelines have gone viral. As a result, various SEO bloggers and experts discuss ways to make content more relevant and useful. (There, Google, was that so bad?)

I owe Jennifer an apology for tipping without thinking. Hopefully the amount of traffic that has landed on her blog as a result of this offsets the inconvenience of having to delete that link. I also feel guilty for my part in spreading the leak, but I honestly think that having the Quality Rater Guidelines out there will encourage people to focus more on the quality of their content, which is not a bad thing.

So, well, Mea culpa. Now, what are these Quality Rater Guidelines? Simply, they are the rating system that Google beta testers use to test, refine, and improve Google’s automated algorithm. They are not the algorithm itself. But in order to create a computer algorithm which can detect and rank sites relevant to a given search query, Google first needs to know which sites real people judge to be the best ones for a given search query.

The reason these raters guidelines are useful to us is that they give us some idea what Google considers “quality content.” I can’t talk too specifically about what’s in the guidelines, but here are three takeaway lessons:

  • The rating system is based on relevance to a topic. Content is king, but relevance is queen. And “relevance” here means “gives the searcher what they wanted when they typed in that search.” Is a site absolutely THE go-to place for a particular search query? It wins. Is a site incredibly relevant for that query, satisfying most people who search for it? It ranks pretty well. Does the site only have some relevant content, or is it from a less trustworthy source? That’s going to lose points. If it’s only slightly relevant, fuggeddaboudit.
  • Google defines webspam as anything designed to trick search engines into getting more traffic. So while backlink spamming, keyword stuffing, or other sneaky tricks may work for a while, sooner or later, Google will tweak its algorithm to negate those practices. If you’re doing something only for search engines, it’s probably not worth doing it (save, perhaps, making your content structured, organized and clear enough for search engines to comprehend it). If you’re doing something that really is for your readers, hopefully, long-term, you’ll win.
  • Google doesn’t define all affiliate marketing as spam or “thin” content, but it’s extra wary of affiliate marketing. Raters are told to watch out for warning signs like a product review on one page that sends people to buy things on another domain entirely, suggesting the review is there to benefit the reviewer (with commissions) not the visitor. If you’re doing affiliate marketing, you have to create relevant content that is useful to your readers — price comparisons, pros and cons, your own photos of the product in use, etc. If you only excerpt/quote customer reviews and info from the site selling the product, then your page has provided nothing of value to the reader that cannot be found on the original product page. That’s thin, that’s shallow, and it’s asking for Google to bury your page so far down in search results that no one sees it.

In sum, Google is trying its best to design an algorithm that rewards pages which are useful to readers and relevant to the search query.  Over time, the algorithm gets more and more successful in doing this (we hope). So, if you want your pages to rank well on Google, take a page from Kennedy:

Ask not what search traffic can do for your webpage, but what your webpage can do for search traffic.

 

UPDATE: I discuss this topic a little more here: Google’s “Quality Content” Guidelines: Do You Make the Cut?

Resizing Images for Amazon Associates, Squidoo, Zazzle

I experiment with different ways of using images, because they get clicked even when they’re decorative. (And there’s nothing like a visually intriguing thumbnail to get people clicking — they want to see it full-sized).

When you grab a basic Amazon Associates “image” code, you get something like:

There’s an easy — well, fairly easy — way to resize Amazon graphics, up to whatever size the original product image is that’s stored on Amazon. (Any larger than the original, and it gets fuzzy.)

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Making Money Online: Coincidental vs Direct Sales

Squidoo, Hubpages and Wizzley users make money through ad revenue and affiliate commissions. Many of us who come to these sites with basic writing skills are shy about sales lenses. We take a pussyfooting approach instead: we write on something we love, and include links to products that might interest our audience.

I call this second approach coincidental sales:  you’re not writing a product review, just hoping that visitors will stop what they’re doing (reading your article) to buy. Obviously, this isn’t quite as effective as the direct sales approach, but there are ways to tweak it.

Coincidental Sales

My very first two reliable sales lenses were my   Thoth article, an essay on Egyptian mythology, which I’d divided up with some Amazon product thumbnails more as visual decoration than to sell anything, and my “How to take your pet on a plane” article, where I included a spotlight on a particular pet product I use.

In the former case, I learned that you can break sales modules “best practices” — a keyword-rich header or caption for search engines, a large picture and personalized review for people — if the textless thumbnail images are so puzzling, intriguing, or provocative that people tend to click on them. Another excellent example is posters or signs that obviously have funny captions, but are slightly too small to read. I shamelessly use a block of Zazzle “demotivational posters” on my Funny Signs lens for exactly this reason. (I don’t get many Zazzle sales, but at least I get clickouts). People click images. Surprisingly, they even click images which are decorative elements on the page. Getting them to Amazon is like getting people inside a department store — it won’t guarantee a sale, but it’s a start. And again, on Squidoo, clickouts boost lensrank.

The second lens I mentioned above, the “pets on a plane” lens, was useful in that it showed me there was a market for a particular product. Multiple “coincidental” purchases of the same product meant I should break the lens off and create an actual sales lens devoted to that product.

Direct Sales

Direct sales lenses, however, are more powerful. People use the web to buy things. Don’t be embarrassed to help them. After all, you search the web to buy things all the time yourself, correct? If you provide useful, actionable information that can help someone find what they’re looking for, then you’ve earned your pay more than half those folks wearing orange, green or blue aprons in big box retail stores.

With sales lenses, you have to:

  • Identify the product in the opening sentence, or declare what kinds of products your page covers.
  • Establish yourself as trustworthy and knowledgeable. Polished prose helps.
  • Stay brief, focused, and to the point. They want information to help them decide whether to make a purchase. Give them that information. Don’t give them something else.
  • “Talk benefits, not features.” The most valuable lesson I’ve learned on sales is that people want to know what’s in it for them, not how many whoosiwhatsits it has.
  • Use crisp, eye-catching graphics, if you can.
  • Don’t go overboard. Less is more. People who are shopping are in a hurry; they don’t want to plow through more than they absolutely must. So you don’t have to be exhaustive and comprehensive. Just give them the most useful benefits, the most important points. (You might do this at the top of the lens, with a spotlight, and then go in more depth for those who pass the first big shiny BUY button without committing.)
  • There is nothing wrong with having a BUY button near the top of the page for those who make their minds up quickly, and another at the end after you’ve covered it in more depth.

I am learning to create two kinds of sales lenses.

“Best Of X” or “Top Five/Ten X”

You’re not just pushing them to buy, buy, buy. You are serving as a concierge, researching all the products of a certain kind (Digital SLR cameras, e.g.) and presenting your recommendations for the top five or ten. Basically, you’re being a one-person Consumer Report, saving your readers time and effort by helping them find the product that will best suit their needs.

In this case, you start by saying you’re going to review the best [cameras, kitchen utensils, cars, books, dog breeds, software, or other thingies] for X, Y, and Z. Say this right in the first sentence. You need to tell people the page has what they’re looking for. Then deliver on that promise. Be brief, but personable. Show you know what you’re talking about. (Polished writing helps.) Link to products that also have good customer reviews; if they don’t, you’ve got the wrong product. Go beyond Amazon customer reviews to the web at large — heck, do look at Consumer Report, and other sites too — to learn what you can about the products. You don’t want to overwhelm; your readers are in a hurry and want a few facts (or features), not an essay. You don’t want to lift reviews or copy from anywhere; write in your own words. But research and learn so you can give good info.

“My Review of X”

When I’m stumped for what to write on, I prowl the house looking for things I like, and then review them. My own photos are a powerful message (I hope) saying, “Look, I use this. I know what I’m talking about.”

Again, start the article by saying what you’re covering. What’s in it for your reader? They’ve come to find out about the Widgetbat XT 3000, not your feelings on widgetbats in general. Use the product name — brand, model, number — in the page title and URL, if possible, to attract the precise people who want to know about that product before buying it. They’re researching it.

Again, give them more than they’ll find in Amazon reviews, otherwise there’s no reason for them to read your page as opposed to going straight to Amazon. I list features, what I use it for or like it for, pros and cons.  I highlight the main product in  an Amazon Spotlight.

I also give a few alternates below for people to make their own comparisons. “Other products like this.” I include shorter blurbs on them.