Interview with super affiliate Keir McConomy / Spear.co.uk
Keir McConomy isn’t as well known as some of the US based super affiliates but when I heard him speak at the February Buy.at retail vertical it was clear straight away he knows about SEO and affiliate marketing.
Luckily Keir has agreed to this interview so we can see exactly what a super affiliate is and how an affiliate company can drive more sales in a year than the GDP of some small countries.
Back in the early days of affiliate marketing, many affiliates, including myself, started as one-man band affiliates working from their bedrooms. “Super affiliate” is a term coined recently in the media to describe affiliates who have grown into large, professional companies. Spear is regarded as one of the leading affiliates in the country in terms of the volume of sales we generate and the size of the company.
I understand that last year Spear drove over Â£75 million in sales for your merchant partners. Can you share some other interesting stats with us? (eg number of campaigns, number of staff, number of sites, monthly uniques to your network etc).
Sure. Spear currently employ 25 staff. We have offices in the UK and in Poland. We specialise in SEO & PPC. We run affiliate campaigns in the UK, USA & Europe. We have multi-lingual capabilities and run campaigns in almost every European country. We currently have 1000+ active PPC campaigns and 1000+ live websites in our network. Obviously these range from very small to very big campaigns.
What is your role within the company and how did you get into affiliate marketing?
I am the owner and Managing Director of Spear.co.uk. I first discovered Search Engine Marketing and Affiliate Marketing back in 2002 when I ran a web development company. I have been passionate about it ever since. Spear was setup as a dedicated Search Engine Marketing / Affiliate Marketing company in 2004 after selling my previous company.
During your session at the buy.at Retail Seminar you mentioned how your company switched focus from organic SEO to PPC a few years ago before re-focussing your efforts on building your natural rankings during 2007.
What are the main challenges you see affiliates facing when they try to compete in natural search and how are you overcoming them?
SEO comprises 2 areas, 1) on-page optimisation & 2) link-building.
In my opinion anyone can be trained to do the on-page optimisation bit. It is not rocket science. There is enough best-practice information out there in books, forums, etc. that anyone can learn to do that part. I believe links are the most important part of SEO. In my opinion it is 70% link-building and 30% on-page. Being successful at link-building is not something that can be easily trained. There is no set formula. You need to be a creative thinker and think outside the box about the possible sources to generate links from and the methods to achieve this.
The ability to get large volumes of high-quality links is what differentiates exceptional SEO companies from mediocre SEO companies. This is why we excel, as we happen to be damn good at this!
Last year Google threatened the business model of some large affiliate sites when they indicated they were not interested in having search results appearing in their index. Do you think this is a major concern to affiliates and how are you insulating your network against this threat?
I don’t see this as a major problem at all. It is technically very difficult for Google to prevent this due to all the different methods by which different websites construct their searches. It is 12 months on since that article and search results are still showing in the SERPS.
Also, I think it is worth differentiating between the 2 categories of sites referred to in that article. The first category are large, well-established shopping comparison sites like Shopping.com and Bizrate. The second are spam “scraper” sites that scrape content as search engine fodder and put ads on the page. In my opinion the first category of sites has a valid place in SERPS. If a user is looking for a “digital picture frame” and the link takes them to a page on one of the shopping sites that compares all the latest digital picture frames and has unique content, reviews, etc. then that is adding value to the user and the SERPS. I can see why people would argue that the second category of sites is not adding value and should not be in SERPS.
One of the key issues facing affiliate sites is being able to make the jump from being “just an affiliate site” into a legitimate business able to attract attention from the mainstream press. Have you any tips for making this transition? How hard do you find link building & marketing for affiliate sites?
This is interesting as this is what we are going through currently. Previously we designed affiliates sites solely for PPC & SEO purposes and to drive traffic into merchant sites. Now our business model is changing and instead of building hundreds of new small affiliate sites we are now focusing on developing large-scale real online businesses that will be built into big online brands. For instance, we have a new brand launching in July this year that is going to be massive! It goes far beyond a normal affiliate site. It is a sophisticated online business that has taken a team of people nearly a year to build. It is a proper business in that it genuinely adds value to the user and serves a function and is not just there to generate traffic through to the merchant. The aim is to build this into a household brand and a massive multi-million pound business in its own right.
My tips would be as follows:
- 1) Pick a specific sector to specialise in
- 2) Look what competitors are doing. Pick the best bits from each competitor. Aim to do what they do but better
- 3) Buy the most expensive domain you can afford as this is your brand. It is much more costly rebranding at a later date if the site is a success
- 4) Don’t scrimp on branding. Make the site look like professional company
- 5) Aim for repeat business on site rather than one-hit affiliate sales
- 6) Include community element and User Generated Content (UGC) – get users doing the work for you!
Every week I receive emails from people who are interesting in starting out in affiliate marketing but don’t quite know how. What are your top tips to somebody new to the industry?
It is tough if you are just starting out without lots of cash, resources, etc. Many of the big money sectors are already dominated by the big players. Pick a niche sector and focus on being the best within that sector. Look at what the competitors are doing and aim to do it better than them.
Thanks Keir for the interview, personally I found it fascinating and I’m sure most of the readers here enjoyed it too.