The upcoming version five of Associate-O-Matic will introduce many great new features. Templating will be the most obvious addition. Last month we discussed some of the other additions, such as Image Cloak, Integrated Search Within Results, etc. As it enters the final stages of Beta testing, I would like to balance out this preview look by discussion of what the upgrade will not do. While v5 is a fantastic advance on previous versions, it is not a universal panacea, returning us back to the days of ‘set it and forget it’, or ‘install, and that’s all’. As a user and site owner, there are still some responsibilities you can’t avoid.
To start, the upgrade will not make any changes to the Installation Procedure. You will still be required to download the zip file, unzip it, and upload it to your website. Many people struggle with this, even though boiled down to the absolute basics, it’s three steps – download, unzip, upload. The rest is just details. It should be mentioned at this point that unzipping does not require purchasing another program; Windows has included a free unzip utility since XP, and there are many free unzip programs available online. What is important is that the unzip program should unzip the files in the correct structure. You need the files to be in various folders, and uploaded that way, otherwise the program will not work. If you unzip a long list of files with no folders, something is wrong.
Conversely, you would not want to upload the files manually, or with the upload facility offered by most webhosts. An FTP program like Filezilla is worth every penny you don’t have to pay for it. I’ve uploaded AOM files hundreds of times, and I wouldn’t do it any other way.
By far, the biggest feature of a store that the software cannot do for you is Setup the Categories. Even the fanciest template can’t make the product lists for you. In a post-v5 world, you’ll still be responsible for picking and choosing the nodes or ASINs, etc. that you want in your site. The job can be made easier by going to findbrowsenodes.com and planning the structure of your site. There are webhosts out there that do pretty well with premade AOM sites for $9.99/month. They go to great lengths to hide the fact that they are selling websites that use the FREE Lite version, and even change the AOM logo image on the control panel login so that Associate-O-Matic is not displayed prominently. Despite what they may imply, they are not in fact licensed resellers for AOM. For the same amount of money or less, you can set up the Lite version on your own webspace and have total control; currently you cannot with this company. Plus, you can set up as many sites as you like on your own, without having to pay any extra. You can’t do that with these guys – it’s $9.99/mo. per site. And users of this service are not eligible for AOM support; if you have a problem or a question, we are unable to assist you.
Another area where v5 cannot help you is with SEO. AOM is constantly being improved to help users with SEO concerns and to bring in more traffic. It’s obviously a win-win to assist in making your sites as profitable as possible. Some search engines see things a little differently, and consistently try to exclude whole levels of affiliate marketing in a belief that someone who is using a search engine does not want to see sites selling what they may be looking for. It’s a cat and mouse game, or evolution in action (whichever metaphor you prefer). One reason v5 does away with nearly all table structure in AOM is because it’s believed that a cleaner underlying structure is an SEO benefit. Perhaps so. But certainly things that are proven to be beneficial, such as unique original content, is still the responsibility of the site owner. Now that RSS feeds are pretty much discredited for SEO (but still useful in terms of importing/exporting information), the onus is on you to make your site stand above the crowd by offering text, and lots of it.
Blogs generally do better than other types of sites, because they are a treasure trove of original content (hopefully). One criticism leveled at AOM is that all the sites are cookie-cutter. There is some truth to that, and templating will help with that in a visual sense; but when you have fifty videogame sites, what makes some a better shopping experience than the rest? Content. Inserting reviews, opinions, commentary, critiques, etc. all play a part. Besides offering a rich brew of keywords to search engine spiders, they offer comfort and advice to the shopper. Yes, it may require you to knock out a few column inches every month (or week), but what would your local electronics store look like without signs? Or staff to answer questions? That’s what a site without content is like. Would you shop at a store like that? Why would you expect anyone else to?
The final area we’ll look at is Traffic, since it follows directly from SEO. A v5 store with a fancy template may grab the attention of a potential shopper who drops by. And if you’ve set it up correctly and loaded it with helpful keyword-laden content, might even convince someone to spend a few bucks with you. But none of that matters if you can’t deliver the customers to the shop in the first place. The single most important lesson regarding traffic is that it takes time to build. You cannot finish a store on a Tuesday afternoon, and expect hoards of excited shoppers to be rushing the site by Thursday morning. Experienced AOM users say that you can’t expect serious sustainable traffic in anything under a year after completion, although I would go with six months or more. The reason being that search engines tend to like older sites, since they seem to be in it for the long haul. Unlike a site that goes nowhere in six months, so the plug gets pulled. Why bother indexing it then, if it’s not going to last the course? But constant promotion is required; a ten-year-old site that’s ranked dead last might as well not exist at all.
How do you promote a site is the holy grail of marketing. There are many approaches you can try, all with varying levels of success. One might be to set up a companion blog about the niche and constantly add to it, with links to your site (using the WordPress plugin, for example). Another method is to join forums related to the store niche, and become an established member. If you can put a link to the site in your forum profile signature, so much the better. Yes, it might take up a lot of time, and you have to make sure you don’t become a pushy spammer, but that’s the kind of work that’s required to operate a successful business, online or in the ‘real world’.
If you can get your site mentioned or reviewed elsewhere, it can have a huge impact; I had a site mentioned by MSN in a review of online memorabilia related to the niche of the store; the next day I had 19,000 pageviews. Besides the obvious value of such an incident, it provided a very high-quality inbound link, and helped a lot with pagerank. The author of the piece found my site because I had original content, and had done what I could SEO-wise to get the site noticed. Otherwise it might have easily been overlooked, and I would have missed out.
Ultimately, there are no guarantees; just like a brick and mortar site, you can do everything right, and still go out of business. All you can really do is try to improve your chances of succeeding. The more work you put in, the better your chances are. The launch of v5 will provide another tool for you to use, but the odds are really determined by how you use the tools you’re given. The best hammer and saw in the world can’t build the house for you.