WordPress has a plugin for almost everything, so it’s highly unsurprising that there are already exists a price comparison plugin for WordPress. Do we really need another?
It’s a very valid question, and one that I am keen to answer. But before I do, let me take you on a journey of how I have been running a price comparison site network that isn’t based on WordPress, and why I am now moving my new sites over to using a WordPress site with a price comparison plugin model,
In The Beginning
The story begins with how I first encountered the concept of making money online.
I’d been using the Internet for a good long while – back before the Millennium. I’d even toyed around with some income generation ideas around 1999-2000, but the Dot Com boom largely passed me by.
When the bubble burst in mid-2000, I have to say, I ran for the hills (read: permanent employment / a day job) and never really considered making money on the Internet again for a long while after that.
It should be said that during this time I was but a young whipper snapper, living at home and with very little financial overhead. The few pennies I pulled in each month more than comfortably covered my life style.
Then I moved out.
Having a home of my own gave me the kind of sharp wake up call that can only be paralleled by the shrill digital chirp of an overly early alarm clock. And in this instance, that alarm clock was not waking me up to head to the airport for a fun-filled holiday. No sir. This alarm call was alerting me to 30 long years of monthly mortgage payments, car loans, and a seemingly ever growing weekly food bill.
I needed money.
I needed enough money on a regular basis to get me back to that comfort level I had been accustomed too. Only this time, I would be comfortable in my own home, not my parents.
With the day job consuming 37.5 hours each week, my second source of income had to be relatively passive. The last thing I wanted was to be coming home after work, getting changed into a different uniform, and heading out to stack shelves or wash pots.
I remembered back to my early forays into Internet income, and it wasn’t long after that the first of my new, relaunched websites found it’s way online. I wasn’t aware I was doing so, but what I had launched was an early example of an Internet Marketing website.
Welcome to the Automation Station
Whilst my original efforts had been completely manual affairs, in the interim period between 2000ish to 2005 I had been learning PHP.
PHP is a programming language for the web, and it’s the language that WordPress is written in. That said, WordPress didn’t exist at this point, or if it did, I certainly wasn’t using it.
I found my programming skills helped me automate the most common of daily tasks. Whilst I still had to design and develop my websites, the process of growing backlinks could be heavily automated – much more so than today.
Google wasn’t even the main search engine at this point. Instead, I was doing search engine optimisation for Yahoo, Alta Vista, and Dogpile.
With a bit of trial and error, my simple toplist-style websites started to convert quite well.
You may have heard of, seen, or even used websites like this in the past. Let’s take an example to better illustrate what I mean.
As the wheels of the corporate machine keep ever turning, every so often a brand new must-have product will be released.
I followed the niches I was (and still am) particularly interested in – computer games and their associated consoles.
The nice thing about the console industry is that it keeps moving forwards, and enough gamers always want the latest and greatest consoles. The huge marketing efforts around the launch means theres always a hungry market for the product, and as it doesn’t matter which retailer you purchase from, savvy gamers will shop around for the lowest price.
I’d managed to miss the launch of the Xbox 360, but was determined to catch – and ride – the wave of the PS3 launch.
To do this, I set up a simple one-page wonder. It had a bit of text about the PS3, some heavily keyword stuffed footer section which I set the colour to match the background (haha, honestly this stuff actually worked in bringing in the search traffic), and then a list of affiliate links to the various UK online stores that were selling the PS3 console at any given time.
I have to say, this wasn’t a purely money making affair. I was genuinely interested in getting myself a PS3 at launch, and I was doing the daily research on pricing and availability anyway, so sharing it with other like-minded individuals was giving back to those who couldn’t find the time to do the often tedious research for themselves.
Every day I would log on to each of the stores, then diligently update the HTML of my page and FTP the new page up to my website. I relied heavily on the search engines and a network of free-hosted sites to send traffic back to my website, which I hoped would click and convert into a paying customer.
The idea was decent but the execution was primitive.
The biggest problem I had was keeping the prices accurate, and secondly, I found that if I could display an in-stock notification next to the price, click-throughs would go up quite significantly.
This wasn’t infallible – after all, I was only updating my site once in the morning before my day-job would start – but it got me to thinking:
“Could the pricing information, in-stock notifications, and the gathering of other relevant data be completely automated?”
As my 100% manual price comparison website performed well, I began to expand my network.
My niche selection ideas revolved primarily around games consoles, and if a big title was due to launch, I would make either a sub-page or less frequently, a dedicated site for the game.
A side note: affiliate commissions on games are always going to be lower than a console purchase which is approx 7-10x the price of a game, therefore it didn’t provide the needed return on investment of my time to repeat this process by hand for every game unfortunately.
I tried branching out into other niches but found that having a time sensitive factor (such as the launch of a new console) made the gaming sites perform much better than most of the other tested product types.
There was another problem I was facing – and it’s one we all face as soloprenuers – I couldn’t scale myself.
The only way to grow my business was to automate or outsource the pricing updates. The likes of oDesk (ahem, Upwork), Elance, and others were not even on my radar at this point. Outsourcing just didn’t cross my mind in truth. So I did what any PHP geek would do – I wrote software to solve my problem.
The first iteration was incredibly crude. I had learned much in my PHP journey, but the software I created was fragile and the sites that I was scraping were seemingly changing on a daily basis. I swapped my manual daily pricing updates with manual daily bug fixes.
Light At The End Of The Day Job Tunnel
Around this time the income from my burgeoning topsite network had equalled my monthly day job pay packet.
With the amount of work involved in running my sites being as good as a full time second job, I negotiated a reduction in my working week from 5 days to 4 days, giving me that extra time to patch and improve my software, and ideally grow the network further.
Having the extra day to devote to my sites really shifted things up a gear, and before long I was working on a completely new price comparison software solution, custom built and ready to take advantage of the latest addition to the affiliate arena – XML Feeds.
The bigger affiliate merchants were releasing, in many cases, their entire product range as a single downloadable file – sometimes called a Data Feed, but to geeks they are usually referred to by their file type: XML files.
Data Feeds are designed to be downloaded and read by computer systems, allowing computer savvy techno nerds to transform the data from the standardised format (XML) into whatever output you desire.
This opened up all kinds of possibilities – and it’s what gave rise to the price comparison site boom.
Downloading, reading, and manipulating these files is a real pain in the backside.
Each merchant has a slightly different format – sometimes they use XML, sometimes the file came as a CSV (all the data is the same, but inside the file the formatting is totally different) – and no two merchants ever followed the same naming pattern. Sometimes the product would have a title, sometimes it would be called a name. A product in one file might have a description, in another it might be an abbreviated desc.
Of course, this was – and still is – a total nightmare.
Managing this data was yet another full time job. Each time more complex and confusing.
But the data was available, and that meant the possibilities available were vast.
Price Comparison Network 2.0
I began to rebuild my software, taking into account the lessons I had learned along the way.
This time I made the software easier to adapt to the ever changing structure of merchant product data.
I tried a particularly well-known, off-the-shelf standalone price comparison software but it didn’t seem to offer anything I hadn’t already built for myself. I knew my software better than I did theirs, and my price comparison software was completely open to me, whereas adding plugins and addons to their software was difficult and confusing for me.
The biggest additional feature I wanted was a super fast search engine.
I wanted my visitors to be able to type in just like they could at Google, and then get back a curated list of products that had been expertly matched against all the relevant alternative merchant products.
This gave rise to perhaps my biggest attempt at a price comparison website – YouSmellGood.co.uk.
There were many good things about this site from a technical point of view.
But Google hated it.
Let me explain why, because this was a hard lesson to learn, and one that’s certainly worth sharing.
Hard Lessons Learned So You Don’t Have Too
I frequently see other affiliates desperate to run price comparison websites. They – like me – have the idea that I had:
If you can just build up a huge list of products and add them to your site, you will become Zuckerberg rich.
Certainly not in 2015, and doubtless that will change any time soon.
You see, Google hates sites that appear overnight with 10,000’s of pages of largely repetitive, obviously computer generated content.
Google – and they are so large these days that they are the ones you have to optimise for – want to see high quality content. As it happens, so do your visitors.
Slapping up thousands and thousands of identical content will not work.
However, WordPress, with a few plugins, is the perfectly optimised environment for generating awesome content that will convert your visitors into sales.
I have learned this the hard way.
What I thought would be my biggest success – a price comparison website with over 30,000 products – turned out to be one of my biggest disappointements.
Yes, it still generates traffic and sales, but not anywhere close to the levels I had anticipated.
Partially this is down to poor market research on my own part, but largely this is because each page is so similar. There’s no awesome, unique content such as insights, reviews or feature analysis, and both Google and my visitors recognise this.
It’s very difficult to have to build a kick ass site from scratch with top notch search, comments, a mailing list, great visuals and more. As a soloprenuer that’s a big, big ask.
Instead, it makes much greater sense to leverage the existing powers of the WordPress ecosystem and concentrate on the content – letting a few select plugins enhance and improve your well-honed content.
Please, don’t repeat this mistake.
There is no escaping it – in 2015 and beyond, the only way to build a kick ass website is to provide amazing value.
You do this through creating amazing content. But that content has to be seen. And the very best way to get that content seen right now is to leverage the infrastructure and power behind WordPress.
It took me a long while to realise this, but from the now extensive testing I have done, I can clearly see how a WordPress site with SEO plugins will 9 times out of 10, beat a custom made website with roughly similar SEO.
It’s such a no brainer that for the foreseeable future I will only be using WordPress for my new sites, and I will strongly consider moving my existing price comparison sites to WordPress.
The reasoning here is that with the power of WordPress SEO, and my price comparison software utilised as a plugin, I can get the very best of both worlds.
Google actually loves pricing tables and price comparison data, and so do your visitors. This is actionable, useful data to your customers – and so long as the chore is taken out of keeping that pricing data up to date, Google will only reward you further for providing it.
SEO – Quality Content
WordPress is the undisputed king of SEO.
With access to plugins like the Yoast SEO plugin you can have a fully functioning, highly optimised blog / review site / content marketers dream up and running in next to no time. Heck, they rave about their 5 minute install, and with good reason.
All of this is super, but the very best bit is that WordPress does an amazing job of getting the heck out of your way.
This allows you to focus on doing the bit that you’re good at – content marketing, driving traffic, and generating sales.
I don’t want to be fussing over whether my articles and reviews are perfectly optimised, I just want to click the SEO Check button available via Yoast and let his plugin do all that boring work for me.
I add value by having high quality content that improves my customers lives in some meaningful way. With the chores of managing and maintaining a modern website out of the way, we as affiliates and only marketers can focus on what we do best – exploring a product in depth to better enable a purchasing decision.
Of course, you are free to run your website however you want. But right now, for me, the very best way is to use WordPress to power the site whilst I deliver high quality content.
If you’re new to the game, I suggest you do the same.
Confusing Technical Problems? Just Give Me a Plugin
The last thing I want to do is spend time on setting up all the technical details that a modern website requires.
Backups? There’s a plugin for that.
Link tracking? There’s a plugin for that.
Kicking ass at SEO? Yup, there’s a plugin for that.
I have now converted my bespoke price comparison software to be easily usable as a WordPress plugin.
With a few clicks, I can have accurate, sortable, filterable, simple to use pricing tables on my blog pages with next to no effort.
The conversion rate improvements I have seen as a result of this have been really, really encouraging.
With everything I have learned over the past 10 years, I have been able to highly optimise my price tables to efficiently lead visitors through to my promoted merchants.
No longer am I worried about keeping individual merchants up to date – this is all handled behind the scenes. This means each WordPress site can simply install the plugin and get started – no messing about with merchant Data Feeds, or having to pay for super high powered servers, then install complex and complicated software which forever seems to break.
With the complexities of creating and maintaining a bespoke price comparison site a thing of the past, I can now more frequently focus on the areas of being an affiliate that generate income.
Whatever niche I select (always through careful market research), I can rest assured that WordPress will have my back when it comes to getting my content seen.
I can be sure that with the simple and easy to use price comparison plugin software, my visitors will see timely and accurate pricing data that will increase my conversions with no further effort on my part.
Technology is best utilised when it makes boring and difficult tasks into a walk in the park. I like it when technology does what it says it will do, then gets out of my way. This frees up my time to focus on the things that bring me joy – and niche exploration is one of my favourite things ever 🙂
Price Comparison Plugin for WordPress – Designed By Affiliates, For Affiliates
As an active affiliate, I know exactly what’s involved for those like myself. Keeping our sites running, and at a highly authorative level involves a great deal of time and effort.
The rewards when you get it right are awesome. You become your own boss, getting to do what you love as your day job, and earning whilst you sleep.
These, I believe are the reasons most of us get into affiliate marketing in the first place.
I have seen the most success in my affiliate websites when I have added massive value to my customers lives – and usually that’s through saving them globs of time by not having to do all the time intensive pre-purchase research for themselves.
I’m always frustrated when a plugin wants per-site licensing, or some other overly complex model for using the software. I want to pay once and use anywhere that makes sense to me, even if that means paying a little more. Don’t cheap me, or frustrate me with licensing nonsense. Just let me use your product to make my visitors lives better!
I know how frustrating and time consuming it is to manage merchant data. This is something that has caused me no end of trouble in the past – but having this data, and having it in a format that’s easy to compare against other merchants is the lynchpin in the whole price comparison model.
Imagine having all this and more available to you in a simple to use WordPress plugin.
That time is nearly here. If you want to know more, and be involved in the launch process, add your name and email address to the mailing list on the sidebar.
Let’s make our visitors lives better together.