I’m a huge believer in using one’s own skills and talent for lifestyle enhancement. It’s all about whatever you can do to make life a little bit better. Some people possess great artistic or musical talent while others possess great physical talent. My particular unique skill set involves search engine marketing (SEM).
One of the great things about paid search is that when it’s applied to a referral program that offers a reasonable return, there’s a chance to really make your dollars stretch. By reasonable I mean an opportunity that after referral credits and advertising fees will deliver at least a 50% discount on products or services that I may personally use.
I was originally inspired by a blog post detailing how to use AdWords to max out Dropbox referrals. Yes, I have a maxed out Dropbox account. It was also quite sometime before I had to pay for an Uber ride, though I’ve since become a full fair paying heavy user of the service. Naturally, opportunities have a way of presenting themselves when you’re on the lookout for them, so it wasn’t very long before I found a way to gain DEEPLY discounted sports tickets.
Last summer I discovered Scorebig.com, an online sports and event ticket service that offers users the opportunity to bid on remnant ticket inventory. Somewhere along the way I learned that they also rewarded users who referred friends that made a purchase with credit toward event tickets. The real beauty of the program was that for each friend that was referred your referral reward upon purchase increased substantially. As the screenshot shows:
- 1-10 Friends – Earn $10 on each friend’s first purchase.
- 11-25 Friends – Earn $25 on each friend’s first purchase.
- 26+ – Earn $50 on each friend’s first purchase.
Now I just needed to somehow find people who were already primed to make a first time purchase with Scorebig and get them to use my referral code.
Drawbacks AdWords for Affiliate and Referral Programs
If you’re considering using AdWords for a referral or affiliate program think twice. Google historically been unfriendly toward affiliates and banned AdWords accounts are not uncommon. The internet is littered with stories and complaints of banned AdWords accounts. I choose to stay safe and use Bing Ads for this type of program.
Bing Ads Campaign Build and Launch
Have you ever wondered why companies bid on their own names when they already rank #1 in organic search? It’s often done to control messaging, introduce new products, or discourage competitors and vendors from bidding on their branded terms. In case you’re still wondering, the simplest way to place yourself in between a brand and a user searching for that brand is to bid on a company’s own name.
Here’s the formula:
- Create a campaign and adgroup consisting of exact match branded keywords
- Create simple “official” ad
- Insert your referral link
- Turn the traffic loose!
It took a little time for the campaign to gain traction, but once it did, referrals quickly snowballed. All season long I had prime tickets to Chicago Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks games. I even had the chance to see The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker (amazing) and make it to my first (and last) UFC event. Needless to say it made for a great Fall and Winter.
Within days of placing an order tickets were regularly delivered directly to my office via Fedex. After a while it even became a joke among coworkers that I had my own personal Ticket Oak. Unfortunately, just as MLB tickets started to become available, my Scorebig account was shut down.
An Entertaining Timeline of Events
September 25th, 2012
I received an email from ScoreBig’s VP of Marketing asking to discuss my account. I promptly replied with an available time to talk. I never heard a response back, however, three days later I was mistakenly included in an internal company email discussing the availability of MLB playoff tickets. Very entertaining.
January 28th, 2013
I placed an order for (2) Bulls vs Utah Jazz tickets: Section: 121 , Row: 11, which ScoreBig valued at $560. After the order I still had roughly $500 in credit remaining in my account.
January 29th, 2013
I received an email and shortly thereafter a call from ScoreBig’s Director of Business Development who wanted to convert me form their referral program to their affiliate program and advised that their referral program would be changing soon. He also wanted to find out how I was generating so many signups and sales. I was forthcoming and let him know that I was using paid search, specifically Bing Ads, to drive traffic. Apparently that was a mistake. Our conversation ended shortly and that’s when things became really interesting.
I received another call about 30 minutes later. This time it was ScoreBig’s Vice President of Marketing, who left a voicemail requesting the login credentials to my advertising accounts. He also sent an email containing the same request. I replied saying that I’d shut down my advertising campaigns, would no longer engage in marketing efforts involving ScoreBig, and that I declined to hand over my advertising accounts.
Account Disabled, Ticket Delivery Stopped, Credit Seized
I went out to dinner that night and arrived home to find that my account, which still contained a roughly $500 balance of credit, had been disabled. I also never received the $560 Bulls vs Jazz tickets. Oddly enough, for two weeks after my account was disabled I still continued to receive notification of referral rewards, including the new $15 reward amount. Go figure.
Results and Return On Investment
At the end of the day I accrued $5150 in credit before the powers that be at ScoreBig shut down my account. I also received an additional (4) $50 and (2) $15 referrals that occurred after my account was disabled. In total I received 109 referrals that amounted to $5380 in referral credit. I’m no longer able to log into my ScoreBig account to show details, but the email notifications tell the tale.
- Total Bing Ads Spend: $708.75
- Average Cost Per Click: $.10
- Return On Investment = ($5380 – $708.75) / $708.75 = 659%
Of course when you factor in the last set of $560 tickets that never arrived and the $500 that was seized in my account, the numbers don’t look quite as good. Still, it was definitely worth it and went well beyond my initial 50% discount requirement. The question of whether ScoreBig is a service that I’d use or recommend is another story. My experiences with customer service prior to account shutdown were not great and their so-called “deals” are questionable.
Key Takeaways and Lessons learned
The fact of the matter is that ScoreBig had a gaping hole in branded search. For many companies it’s not a huge deal, but for those where there is opportunity for an unwelcome entity to insert themselves into their click path, the loss can be substantial.
Some lessons learned:
- Ticket Oaks don’t live forever.
- Protect your brand.
- Always keep your eyes open for opportunities.
- Look for ways to apply tested strategies to new opportunities.
- Use your analytics package and pay attention to traffic sources that appear unusual.
- Try things and have fun. Sometimes it works out really well and you end up with a great story to tell.