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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!

AFFILIATE MARKETING EXCLUSIVE: Personal Interview with Shawn Collins

affiliate marketing expert shawn collins talks to sarah bundyI recently had the privilege of an exclusive interview with Shawn Collins for my blog. Shawn has touched so many people in this industry and his work continues to set the bar for leadership and influence in productive and ethical affiliate marketing practices.

Click here to download the exclusive video interview with Affiliate Marketing Expert, Shawn Collins

Shawn's Brief Bio:

Shawn Collins has been an affiliate marketer since 1997 with a number of active affiliate projects, and a decade of affiliate management under his belt. He is a Co-founder of Affiliate Summit, the leading global conference and tradeshow for the affiliate marketing industry and Co-Editor-in-Chief of FeedFront Magazine. He authored the book Successful Affiliate Marketing for Merchants, and was an editor and contributor to Internet Marketing from the Real Experts. Also, he publishes the annual AffStat affiliate marketing benchmark reports.

Shawn blogs daily on affiliate marketing at Affiliate Tip and co-hosts the weekly Affiliate Thing podcast on GeekCast.fm. Additionally, Shawn has been quoted in numerous publications, including Entrepreneur Magazine, Internet Retailer, Inc. Magazine, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.

Links to Shawn's Affiliate Marketing Contributions:

Feed Font Magazine (Free)

Geek Cast.FM (Free)

Ask Shawn Collins (Free)

Aff Stat Report (Free)

Affiliate Tip Blog (Free)

Extra Money Answer (Free)

Affiliate Marketers Give Back (Free)

Affiliate Summit Meetups (Free)

Affiliate Summit Webinars (Free)

Affiliate Summit Forum (Free)

Affiliate Summit West, Central and East (Free Info)

In many ways I suppose Shawn is one of my personal heroes in the industry. He's worked hard to bring a positive name to the industry through quality education and free resources to help those around him. His integrity and "stick to his guns" ethics make him one of the most important leaders in the space, and I'm personally proud to know him and work with him in the betterment of affiliate marketing everywhere.

Industry Interview with Award Winning Affiliate Manager, Matt McWilliams

As a continuation to my "Getting to Know Performance Based Marketing" interview series, I asked award winning Affiliate Manager, Matt McWilliams, a few questions. In his responses are some great points and tips for new merchants coming into the space.

Q:   How did you get into the Affiliate Marketing industry?

"Everyone seems to have a story for that question. It seems like we are approaching the first generation of people who actually got into affiliate marketing because they wanted to and set out to do it.

I am like so many over the past 10 years...I got into it by accident. I worked with a good friend of mine, Hunter Ingram, at HometownQuotes in 2004. I had no idea what an affiliate was. I was doing sales, web design, PR, and small bits of coding and Hunter was doing the marketing and affiliate management and was CEO. 

By mid-2006 it dawned on me that I was the one doing all of the communicating with affiliates. Poor Hunter...he was completely clueless on the programming and technical side of things so inevitably everyone got turned over to me at some point.

I complained about it so he made it official...I was the new HometownQuotes Affiliate Manager. Congratulations to me. Everything from that point forward is a blur and I have loved every minute of it."

Q: What do you like best about the industry?

"First, the growth potential for individuals. Anyone can truly make as much as they want within reason...and "within reason" can have a lot of zeroes. 

Second, the individuals themselves. The people are generally amazing. Some of my most productive and enjoyable relationships are with affiliates and other affiliate managers. I have received so much help from well over 50 people over the past 6 years; affiliate managers and affiliates alike. "

Q: What do you think merchants need the most help with when starting out?

"I still don't feel like I have figured that out yet.

If I have to answer it I would say they absolutely have to understand what affiliates want from them and there is no better way to find out than to ask. If at all possible, they should form an advisory group of 3-5 affiliates on whom they can lean heavily. It's hard to do that without getting started, so if they have the money, get an experienced manager. If they are doing it themselves, they need to reach out to a few, offer something in return, and get their help. It takes a lot of time, but is well worth it.

Also, they need to know the landscape of their industry insanely well. They need to know who has an affiliate program, they need to join it if at all possible, and they need to know every detail about those programs: commissions, products, conversions, features, etc. You cannot lose sight of the fact that often affiliates are a small commission increase or better offer away from bolting for greener pastures.

Too many merchants throw up a link, get a $99 software to run the program, offer a % of the revenue and think it's going to buy them a new house in the country with a well stocked lake and a new Mercedes. The reality, there is so much work before the program even launches."

Q: What do you wish you knew when you first started that you would have done differently?

"The one thing I would have done differently is putting our program on a network. At HometownQuotes, it might not have been a good fit for ShareASale because of the dynamics, but with every other program I have been a part of it is absolutely the right choice. Being on a network has a ton of benefits, from helping recruit affiliates to tons of features that you just cannot get on an in-house program without tons of development time. 

Also, you don't have to worry about paying them. Early on, that is important. You can consolidate your expenses into one payment rather than hundreds."

Q: What do you think needs to be done to help bring a better name to the affiliate marketing industry overall?

"This might be a little controversial...OK probably not, but I wish that about 2% of the people in this industry would get out and do something else, like join the mob or the space program. The 98+% of the people in affiliate marketing are drowned out too often by some of the bad apples. The spammers, the coupon crooks (again a few bad apples within that niche give the rest a bad name), cookie stuffers, and shady review sites make the industry as a whole look like a scam to people who don't know any better.

It begins with merchant education on the problems so they can police their own affiliates. Then the networks have to use information wisely and judiciously. As much money as some affiliates are making some networks and/or merchants, it can be hard to do the right thing, but it must be done for the sake of our industry as a whole."

Matt is an affiliate manager consultant and trainer at Affiliate Management Trainers which offers personalized affiliate management training for internet retailers, and is available along with the rest of the AMT team to help merchants better understand their affiliates needs, how to get them active, how to recruit strong performing partners, how to improve their internal performance based marketing strategy and much more.



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