Exclusive Interview with SEO & Affiliate Marketing Legend, Rae “SugarRae” Hoffman

Rae (Sugar Rae) Hoffman of PushFire

Rae (Sugar Rae) Hoffman of PushFire

I recently had the privilege of spending some personal time with SEO and Performance Marketing legend, Rae “SugarRae” Hoffman of PushFire.

I wanted to get to know her more, having watched her over the last few years, reading her blog and admiring the woman she is, both as a mother and a business owner.

She was wonderful in answering my very personal questions and I appreciated her genuine answers and heartfelt replies.

Exclusive Interview with Rae “SugerRae” Hoffman: 

 

Q. You’ve accomplished an incredible amount in your life and you have much to be proud of. What would you say are your top three most precious accomplishments either personally or professionally?

LOL, thanks. You know, it’s funny – I really had to think on this one because looking at individual past accomplishments isn’t something I do often – neither on a personal level or a professional one. I think sometimes I’m so busy moving forward I don’t have much time to look back. That said… On a personal level it would have to be being a mom. Cliché, yes. Campy, yes. True, yes. I had nothing when my first child was born. My oldest son was severely multiply handicapped – both mentally and physically. By the time I was 27 (which was nine years ago) I was a newly divorced, single mom of 3 until I got remarried about three years ago. Being able to raise them on my own – without any outside financial support and without any financial struggle despite my oldest son’s needs – while still being able to be an “active mom” to them is the thing I’m most proud of at the end of the day. I like to think I’ve shown my kids you can do anything if you work hard and don’t see failure as an option.

On a professional level, it is so hard to pinpoint one specific event. I think for me, it’s the entire gamut of going from foster kid to CEO and every single step that occurred between. It’s very hard to pinpoint one individual thing because it was such a long series of steps, milestones and occurrences that got me from there to here. But, at the end of the day, I like to believe that never losing site of “who I am” through it all is something to be proud of. I’ve seen success ruin so many personalities over the course of my career. I’d like to think I’m the same personality wise today I was 10+ years ago – with a little more confidence, LOL. And I actually do my best to keep myself surrounded by people who have no problem “checking me” when needed vs. “yes men” so to speak.

Lastly, I think I’m pretty proud of making the decision to partner with Sean and build PushFire. Being able to create a company that is independent of relying on me as an individual is something I’m pretty stoked to be doing. I handle managing the SEO side of things while Sean focuses on the PPC side. We have the same values as far as our number one priority being to deliver ROI to the client. It’s not about how much money we can make ourselves – it’s about how much money we can make the client.

 

Q. From someone who specializes in Search Marketing what do you like and dislike most about the performance marketing industry?

The thing I like the most is the independence of it. As an affiliate, I answer to no one except my own bank account. I work when I want to and my revenue potential is directly tied to how hard I’m willing to work for it – but it’s done on my own terms.

The thing I dislike to most is the negative opinion on our industry fueled by ignorance and some “bad apples” who will promote anything, in any way, honest or not, to make a buck. I hate that the legitimate, value add, honest affiliates out there are often undervalued and underrated for the benefits they bring to a merchant.

 

Q. What do you find are the greatest challenges retailers are facing today around SEO and PPC efforts?

Ha. The challenges are plentiful. Google removing the ability to track keyword referrals from organic search is a huge, huge issue in the SEO side of online marketing right now. It makes tracking the success and value of SEO campaigns so much harder – in addition to making it an uphill battle to identify and rectify SEO related issues on the keyword level. Their Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates – and the lack of transparency around them – creates a lot of collateral damage that seems to be ignored. Figuring out if any of the above is affecting you is easy. Understanding how to rectify it – not so much if you’re not completely immersed in the world of SEO.

PPC isn’t my specialty. But, from what I see relating to PushFire PPC clients, I think a lot of people simply aren’t utilizing PPC to their fullest advantage. For instance, if merchants are running PPC campaigns but aren’t involved in (smart) remarketing – they’re missing out. Same goes for merchants who aren’t running PLA when their target search results have big emphasis on those listings. Setting PPC and then forgetting it – instead of optimizing the hell out of it on a continual basis.

 

Q. What three recommendations can you make to retailers preparing for Q4 shopping season right now?

Understand the “SEO ship” has already sailed for Q4. You can’t begin working on improving SEO efforts in late Q3 and expect to see any ranking miracles occur in time for Q4. If improving SEO for Q4 is a priority, it’s one that needs to be addressed no later than Q2.

If you don’t have your remarketing efforts for PPC integrated into your checkout process, get it done. Example: Someone put an item in their cart, but didn’t complete the checkout process. This is obviously someone “warm” to you, but for whatever reason they didn’t complete the sale – so maybe you decide to remarket them with an offer for free shipping or a discount code to sweeten the deal.

Get your affiliates updated creatives and create some sales increase incentives for your top affiliates to help them kick ass for you over the holiday season. Also, not specific to Q4 per se, but, if you don’t have the ability for affiliates to deep link within your site, I’d heavily suggest considering it. My conversion rates as an affiliate are much higher when I can link to a specific product page versus merely linking to a homepage or category page.

 

Q. What are three things you’d absolutely love to do in your life that you have yet to accomplish?

You like making me self reflect, LOL!

I’d like to see PushFire on the Inc 5000 list when it’s eligible company age wise. I have a side project I’m working on that I unfortunately can’t release details on yet (sorry) haha.

Lastly, I’m chomping at the bit to get land and move more into the country. Like… 40+ acres with cows, chickens, horses, hay production and four wheeling in our “backyard” country. I am a redneck girl and suburbia isn’t my thing. We wanted to wait until my older children were at or near driving age though before making that move. We’re almost there!

Performance Marketing vs Affiliate Marketing Part 2

Affiliate Marketing vs Performance Marketing
A few days ago I posted an article originally titled “Performance Marketing is NOT Affiliate Marketing“, however it caused some confusion as to my position on particular things so I changed it to Performance Marketing vs Affiliate Marketing. The main point of my post was to demonstrate that in affiliate marketing, in this case from a merchant perspective (since most of my readers are advertisers), there needs to be some actual performance and effort attributed to sales. In reality, this goes for any type of affiliate or merchant partner.

From the affiliate side, this is equivalent to signing up and promoting a program that doesn’t convert. In this case, there is no performance from the merchant side.  That was the point of that post. However, upon receiving some good constructive feedback as to how the title and exclusion of some additional points might contribute to an already confusing topic (and I’m always open to positive constructive feedback), I wanted to share a few more points and insights that might shed some light on this subject.

 

Here are a few more thoughts on the subject:

1. Performance Marketing as a term can encompass many different channels in the digital marketing space. Technically, any marketing program that produces a return that is higher than the return it was receiving before is performance marketing, because it’s performing.

2. Affiliates, merchants, networks, agencies and anyone within the affiliate marketing space call themselves by a variety of names. A post by Missy Ward from a couple of years ago explains these terms and differences well.

3. Todd Crawford, owner of Impact Radius comments “I feel the terms “performance advertising, advertiser and media partner” are better terms for the currently used “affiliate marketing, merchant, affiliate/publisher” if the intention is to move the industry in a direction that aligns it more closely with other advertising like display, search, email, tv, radio, direct mail, print, etc.” I think this comment aligns with the point of my previous post because it shows affiliates and merchants alike needing to perform to provide value to their partners.

4. There will likely still be confusion over the next few years about the term “Performance Marketing” because it can encompass so many things, be part of so many channels and support so many people’s individual views. However it’s a term that stands strong in the affiliate marketing space because it is “performance” driven.

Regardless of whether we want to term the phrase “performance marketing”, “partnership marketing”, “affiliate marketing” or “associate marketing”, in this case, a level of effort and performance to drive incremental value, to me, still stands.

Performance Marketing vs. Affiliate Marketing

 

What is performance marketing? What is what we refer to as “Affiliate Marketing”? To me, Performance Marketing is just that: Performance. What is performance? By definition it’s the execution or accomplishment of work, acts, feats, etc. That means that just being “associated” or “affiliated” with someone does not equal true performance or true value. By signing up for every known brand then trademark bidding on brand terms to convert easy sales with coupon codes is not performance marketing. It’s “affiliated marketing”. By definition, you have to do something to earn something back.

Therefore performance marketing is more than just “affiliate marketing”. It’s creating and cultivating value where value did not exist before. Affiliate marketing has had a bad name for a while now and I wonder if the term is bringing unpleasant thought and feelings to an industry that’s actually different than it’s perceived value. To many, “affiliate marketing” is rampant with fraud, scams, spam, crimes and many other unpleasantries. However “performance marketing” shines innovation, teamwork, dedication, passion, value and incremental sales.

Is it time we started changing our terminology about who we are and what we do? The Performance Marketing Association doesn’t call themselves “The Affiliate Marketing Association”. Doing so would bring in a completely different group of people and values to the table.

ShareASale, one of my favorite affiliate networks because of their people, values and the way they bring value to their partners as best they can (both from a merchants and publishers) uses the tag line “True Performance Marketing”.

What are we offering to each other as performance marketers? What am I offering you as an outsourced program manager or consultant that makes you want to do business with me? What is a merchant offering to their customer to make them chose to buy through them over someone else? What role do affiliate partnerships have in driving new sales, improving the exposure and goodwill of a brand?

How do you create value? By doing what others are not willing to do. By putting in that little extra effort. By writing about a great new product or company that you’ve found and love so others can enjoy it too – and sharing it through every channel you can – in your newsletter, on your blog, in your tweets, in a video – with a link to the product and a picture of the product and some widgets to other related items that others might enjoy.

Sure I can give you a coupon code to help me drive some sales – but that on it’s own is not going to create the value that our merchant partners are looking for: brand awareness, product awareness, goodwill through consumer engagements and solid communications of features, benefits and positive experiences. These things lead to new sales.

A long time ago when I first got into the industry I read a book that said an affiliate’s job is to “presell”. PRE-sell. Not post sell. Not capture a sale when the customer is halfway through the checkout. Pre-sell them. Doing that takes work. It requires performance through time and effort.

In an industry where true value is essential to our survival, performance wins over affiliation any day.

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