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M-Commerce Opportunities for Affiliates

mcommerceAfter four days at the Mobile World Congress, 2012 in Barcelona, my visit has revealed to me that there are a myriad of opportunities in m-commerce from a performance marketing perspective.  If you are a regular visitor to A4U and like to keep yourself up to date with the latest performance industry insight you will surely have seen the A4U Mobile Commerce Report which is free to download for all registered users.  There are some strong statistics within this paper which support the headline argument that M-Commerce is no longer a hyperbolic dream, but a significant opportunity for Advertisers, Publishers and Performance Networks alike.  That’s all well and good, but what are the next steps?  Well that all depends on which of these parties you are and what the current status quo is within your business…

A key issue that has been highlighted in the report and will continue to be highlighted for some time, is that many merchants do not have mobile optimised sites and quite often those that do, have not had the insight to include affiliate network tracking.  At affilinet we realised this issue some time ago when one of our cashback partners got in touch with a tracking audit request on the eve of launching its mobile app.  We have therefore started to take steps to make the distinction between those that do and those that don’t track mobile transactions more clear to affiliates working with our platform.  Regardless of the current situation with merchants I would suggest that affiliates start to take the initial steps towards up skilling on the topic of mobile.  The extent of the learning and the direction you go with it depend on the type of affiliate you are.

In this initial article I would like to flag a few initial ideas that I came up with for publishers after a week in Barcelona attending the world’s largest mobile event, GSMA’s Mobile World Congress.  You can read about my 4 day experience here.

Small Steps towards Success in the Growing Mobile Eco-system

The following simple examples are based on the assumption that the vast majority of affiliates (by numbers alone) are hobbyists and operating quite simple websites publishing content in niche areas.  In recent years the long-tail has expanded to include people just running twitter profiles, Facebook pages etc.. But these parties are out of scope as it is the social platforms themselves not the affiliate that technically controls the mobile experience.

1. Take Advantage of Publishing Frameworks that include Mobile Support

A huge percentage of new websites that join the affilinet network each month are powered by WordPress, I have not done a survey or unleashed an analytics algorithm, I just know, I can spot them a mile away.  The reason for this is that WordPress is open source and a piece of cake to install on many of the cheap web hosting packages out there.  In many cases the installation is even handled by the Fantastico script installer which means that setting up a new site is very similar to installing a program on your desktop computer.  So to mobile, why are Frameworks like WordPress good for the small screen?  The simple answer is that the theme and plugin developer communities are multiple and huge and they have developed various approaches to serving up content for small screens.

Approach 1: Install a user agent detector plugin which knows what type of device is visiting your website (based on HTTP data transmitted via the browser) and chooses a specific theme to target the user with.

Approach 2: Install a responsive theme that resizes the content panel’s areas of the website according to the dimensions of the users screen, the same theme is always served.

Quite often in approach 1 you may find that iPads get shown the mobile version of your site which does not often look good, so you may have to tweak the active user agent list to remove these devices (which don’t always have the same agent).  Approach 2 has its downsides too though… You cannot easily amend the menu or the order of the content to be optimised for mobile users.  This may not worry you at stage one but is something to be aware of.  The benefits of both of these approaches are that you do not need to be so worried about duplicate content across domains, or indeed maintaining separate content on an m.yoursite.com domain.

2. Test, Learn & Refine Approach

It was quite clear at the Mobile World Congress that even the biggest businesses do not know exactly how they are going to fully leverage what the GSMA calls the 2020 vision, the Connected Life of 50 billion devices.  There was some interesting insight by Nielsen at the event which focused on how people buy from a neuro-science perspective.  The key point that was made is that whilst mobile is the most personal of devices that’s not often shared; it is the hardest device/medium for publishers and brands to drive emotional connection, an essential part of any buying decision (to a greater or lesser degree).

The point I am making here is that the test, learn and refine methodology is vital so that you can start to understand how mobile users interact with your optimised content.  Make sure that whatever site setup you put in place your analytics are as far as possible integrated with your desktop version.  For many people this will mean using Google Analytics, recently the Californian business unleashed a raft of updates to this product to include additions to reporting views that include mobile traffic breakdowns.  It is outside the scope of this article, but for those publishers also adopting a native or semi-native application portfolio strategy (as some working with affilinet are) this tracking can also be integrated and used to track events when the user does not have network coverage.  Events are then registered asynchronously when the device is back online

3. Get on the Mobile Desktop

So you’ve launched a mobile version of your site and it is picking up traffic from mobile searches (I didn’t want to touch on mobile SEO here, it’s worth at least two dedicated articles).  Something you might want to consider is how to retain users, or keep them coming back to advertisers via your links.  A new customer / user is generally more expensive to come by than an existing one, which is why many publishers have for years made bookmarking buttons prominent on their sites.  This idea becomes even more important in the mobile environment where search sessions tend to be shorter and results pages display less information.  Just because we are not talking about mobile apps, it does not mean that you cannot get on a users mobile desktop.  Check out this tutorial which highlights some iOS specific tips.

As I said earlier, this article is not meant to constitute a comprehensive framework to build a mobile strategy around; rather it is designed to act as a short practical primer for publishers to get them thinking about how they can take their first steps towards embracing mobile.  We definitely need to keep publishing statistics like those contained in the A4U Mobile Commerce Report, but as an industry we also need to work collaboratively to share ideas on practically driving change, the debate over mobile being important is over.  I know myself and everybody at affilinet is looking forward to embracing this change and contributing further insights to the A4U community over the coming weeks and months.

About the Author

Paul Brown has over 7 years in online, 6 of those in affiliate marketing. At affilinet Paul is a Senior Strategy Manager and also the UK office’s Product Champion. Paul has an extremely high level of technical know-how and was responsible for developing our Pay Per Call technology and retargeting solution. He has spoken at several industry events, including ad:tech, Affiliates4U Expo and the IAB Affiliate Forum. Previously Paul was Affiliate Executive at Carphone Warehouse and Affiliate Manager at Alliance and Leicester. Out if hours Paul is at his happiest drinking wine, eating cheese, travelling the world, playing sport and discovering new music and film.

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