Advice on Direct to Merchant PPC

October 26, 2009 Steve

Rachel wants to know about the benefits and risks of PPC direct to merchant:

“I was just wondering if any of you thought that one could make a living purely by doing PPC?  We have a few sites, but are looking into concentrating solely on direct to merchant PPC and wondered what all of your experiences have been like with this?

Have you found that it’s better to build your own sites and then PPC direct to your landing page so you have control and get the benefit of natural search?  Or have you found that direct to merchant PPC is faster, more profitable and has a quicker turn around time should you be penalised (e.g. if you were running a site that got a google penalty, you would be looking at trying to rectify it and this taking a few weeks min; with ppc direct to merchant obviously you can change this in a few hours).

Thanks a lot


Here’s what the Docs had to say:


Shane RobinsonYes, a very good living can be made purely by PPC and it’s possible via direct PPC or building your own sites, or a mixture of both.

Doing Direct PPC is hassle free and fast to get going, but your revenue dies the moment you turn the traffic off and the cookies run out.  You could also be competing with one or more affiliates for the right to use the display URL, so your bid may end up higher than it would be if you were sending users to your own site, as your ad would feature alongside the direct ad being used by other affiliates sending their traffic direct.

On the flip side, doing a site which you then PPC to has benefits in that you are creating something which will be bookmarked and referred by word of mouth to friends in many instances.  It could also be used to harvest email addresses and build up a loyal user base which are emailed regularly.  This type of site would grow in intrinsic value as its user base grew and could be sold off at some stage for a tidy sum depending on the sector.

Your own site could also get natural listings and thus free traffic.  However, on the adwords side of things, Google could flick the affiliate site switch and deem it unworthy if they saw fit.  In these situations, your quality scores would drop to 1 and you’d be asked for silly money per click, so it’s not wise to get too attached to sites lately.  Some people now concentrate on a core site for SEO/Brand building which they don’t PPC to, but they then use throwaway domains with the same database content etc. for PPC purposes.

I guess it depends how you want to play it personally as to which way to go.  Direct PPC is quick yet only works well whilst the ads are running – there’s no value being built and you are solely bouncing clicks through and taking a onetime kickback.  With your own site it’s much more work, but value gets added with each user who registers and there’s the chance to get SEO listings.

I personally made the mistake of doing far too much direct PPC in the early days whilst others were doing it to their own sites.  As an example, I was sending around half the volume direct as a friend of mine who was sending traffic via his site … he later sold the site for well over a million pounds!!!


Kieron Donoghue10 years ago it was very easy to make a living entirely from PPC, I should know, I made a great living from it.  Back in those days you could brand bid until your heart’s content, send traffic straight to merchant or via your very own crap landing pages.  All at 5p a click :)  However … Google put a stop to most of that, merchants and affiliate networks matured and terms and conditions went from being half a page long to the equivalent of War and Peace.

On saying that however, there are still opportunities to brand bid, send traffic direct to merchants etc., but you have to look a LOT harder to seek them out.  You are right when you say PPC is instant, but beware that Google can “slap” you at any time and put your 10p bids up to £10.  Just as equally a merchant can close their programme, change their terms or drop you.  Instantly.

My advice would be to have a healthy mix of PPC and sites that get traffic via natural methods.  That way you’re not reliant on 1 channel bringing in the cash.  Trust me, after years of spending millions on PPC, when you start to see natural traffic and sales coming to a site for “free”, it’s the best feeling ever.


Kier MarstonHi Rachel.

It’s certainly possible to live on PPC alone, but if you already have some successful sites why would you want to get rid of them?  I’d advise keep your sites, maybe work on them less if you want to develop the paid search side of your business but don’t rule out natural traffic altogether.

Landing page vs direct to merchant will depend a lot on the product you are selling and the merchant involved.  Direct has the advantage that you don’t need to spend time building a site but a well constructed landing page can presell effectively, increasing your conversions.  As such, a good method is to try a merchant/product with direct and if it works well, then consider building some landing pages for them to try and increase your profit.


Mark RussellDirect to merchant PPC will have a better conversion than to a landing page, but please make sure you check every merchants restrictions on the use of Brand Bidding, and also restrictions on use of display url.

If a merchant restricts use of url, then you can alwys build landing pages for products or services, and if these are targeted well, they can return a good conversion.

When building landing pages you don’t have to stick to one merchant, you could list 4 or 5 that offer that product or service, you could also consider using Easy Content Units to add some nice formatted content units from more than one merchant on your page.

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4 Responses to “Advice on Direct to Merchant PPC”

  1. I would like to say a really really big thank you. It’s so much appreciated to hear all your thoughts and advice, not to mention a big support for people (like us) who are relatively new in the business.

    We are trying different landing pages now, as well as doing direct to merchant and it seems to be about finding the right formula for the actual landing page/ site, plus obviously finding the right products.

    I think we are getting there; but in terms of back-up, i do feel a lot better with some landing pages / websites behind us, rather than just doing direct to merchant ppc. Especially with your comment, Kieron, about merchants being able to slap you at any given point. (I had saved that particular thought only for Google but in fact have just had this happen to us with a direct to merchant campaign we were running that was doing extremely well for us: They suddenly pulled direct ppc and even though we now have a landing page it’s not working nearly as well).

    I guess for us the main learning curve for us has been acting as fast as possible when we notice a niche… and getting a landing page up pronto!(if it’s not appropriate to do solely PPC)

    It’s really really reassuring to read your advice and to hear that you haven’t said: ‘No you can’t do this’ for a living and that it’s not feasible. So thank you very very much.

    On another note, someone mentioned that they had been to an affiliate lecture run by SEOMOZ and a guy who runs a big SEO agency said that something very ‘big’ was going to happen in the affiliate networks in the next six months. Does anyone have any clue what this might be? the only real thing that we could think of was that google might stop link juice in affiliate links and hence merchants might not want to be a part of the network anymore (because a) they wouldn’t have any benefits from the inbound links and thus they would have to concentrate on their own SEO etc? I don’t know if anyone else has heard anything similar???

    Thanks so much again guys this site is excellent and I really enjoy reading it.

    ps sorry for the long post!!!

  2. Hi Rachel.

    You’re welcome, pleased it’s helped you out. I’ll ask a couple of the docs to see if they have an answer to your question.

  3. Hi Rachel, thanks for your comment. I have no idea what the SEOMoz stuff is all about but as far as affiliate links containing “link juice” well they don’t and never have. They are almost always coded with the affiliate networks URL so there has never been any benefit to merchants from an SEO point of view. The reason why merchants join affiliate networks is for their technology (tracking, banner hosting, payment etc) and of course so they can have access to the thousands of affiliates signed up to the network. In short, merchants use affiliate networks to generate sales, not for SEO.

  4. There are actually some networks that do use tracking methods that allow affiliate links to pass link juice but most don’t on the whole and for those that do it’s a value add aspect of their service. As Kieron says merchants join networks to get sales/leads primarily, there are useful seconday benefits of which this can be one for those networks that use it (although I’ve heard tracking reliability suffers as a result).

    Very hard to say what they’re talking about, maybe a big Google update of some kind, shaking up the natural or paid results would be the main thing that would affect all networks. If this was a US focused talk then they may be referencing impending legislation/government action against a lot of the really scammy ‘CPA’ deals that are being pushed so hard over there and increasingly in the UK as well (“One rule to a flat stomach: OBEY!”). Without knowing more I’d say don’t worry about it.

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