A couple of months ago I asked our readers what affiliate marketing questions they would like to have answered. I then analyzed the submissions and filtered out the 15 most common questions. After that I sent the questions to three friends of mine who are affiliate marketing rock stars, and the result is what you will find below.
These guys need no introduction, but here we go anyway. Shawn Collins started doing affiliate marketing in the 90s, and today he is one of the most respected names in the industry. Jonathan Volk is the CEO of Surge Marketing, an affiliate marketing company that generates million of dollars in affiliate sales every year. Zac Johnson started making money online when he was 15, and today he is one of the most successful affiliate marketers around. Make sure to subscribe to all three sites if you want to learn more about affiliate marketing. Now to the questions and answers.
1. How do I get started with affiliate marketing if I am a complete newbie?
Shawn: I created a video overview on the steps I would take to set up a new affiliate site.
Jonathan: I would start out by joining some of the internet communities and reading the blogs. I think it’s a great idea to give you a head start. Additionally, on many of the blogs they have some “Getting started with affiliate marketing” type guides that can really help you to start your make money online journey.
Zac: The best way to get started is to get familiar with the lingo and how networks, cpa/cpc, social marketing and all aspects work. There are plenty of paid ebooks and “teaching” programs out there, but none of them are necessary. Do a simple google search and you will come across a ton of marketing blogs offering the same newbie information for free. Everything you need to get started is already out there for free if you just look for it.
2. Do I need to spend money (e.g., PPC, paid advertising, etc) to make money with affiliate marketing?
Shawn: There are many different ways to make money as an affiliate. If you have money to invest, and you’re willing to put a lot of time into testing, you can make money fairly fast with PPC. But if you have more time than money, and you want to build a long-term site, I’d suggest focusing on building a blog on a topic that interests you. This can be done for very little cost.
Jonathan: Yes. There is always going to be at least a minimal investment needed. You’ll need a website, domain, etc. You don’t have to pay for traffic but it’s the FASTEST way to begin to earn a living online. I would recommend starting out paying for PPC traffic and just setting your daily budget to whatever the affiliate commission is. Let’s say you earn $20 bucks per lead for an offer. Set your daily budget to $20 and see if you get anything.
Zac: As mentioned, everything is already out there. You definitely DO NOT need to spend money to make money online. However, it is all relevant in terms of how fast you want to make money and how much. When I first started making money online over a decade ago, I was making 5 figures a year without spending a dime on advertising costs. This took much longer to build up content and get search traffic… but didn’t cost any money.
3. Suppose I already have a website or blog with decent traffic. How can I use affiliate marketing to monetize my site?
Shawn: Find out which companies in your niche have affiliate programs and apply to them. Check them against each other to see which have the longest cookie durations, best payout, highest EPC, etc. Then start testing creative from these companies to compile data and determine which perform best for you and your audience.
Jonathan: First, you really need to know your demographic. Who visits your website? Then using that information go to your affiliate manager and ask them what particular offers might be working well for this demographic. For example, if your site primarily caters to 35-50 year old women, weight loss offers might be and offer you want to try.
Zac: Depending on the type of site you currently have, its likely one of the major affiliate networks will have a relevant CPA offer for you to blend in with your content. You always have the option of Google Adsense, but that is usually a last resource for seasoned marketers. The key is blending in relevant content/ads and making it look real.
4. Do you start by choosing an offer, and then building a website/email list/PPC campaign around it, or the other way around (i.e., first build a website or email list and then try to find suitable offers)?
Shawn: I choose offers that fit my sites, because I am more likely to maintain a site if I have an interest in it. But there are plenty of successful affiliates who are essentially mercenaries that create sites to capitalize on whatever is hot.
Jonathan: I actually find the market first. What I mean by this is that I find where there are high volumes of traffic and try to cater to their needs. That way I know the traffic is there, it’s just a matter of finding out what will convert profitably for that particular area (or demographic).
Zac: Personally, if I am selecting an offer from a network, I will go through their available offers. I already have a good idea of whats on every other network and most likely saturated, so I want to choose something that looks a bit unsaturated and not already being pushed by a ton of affiliates. This is usually a hard find, but if found, usually it is much easier to promote and make money.
5. What is affiliate scrubbing/shaving, and what do you think about it?
Shawn: I focus on retail/revenue share and this hasn’t been an issue for me.
Jonathan: Scrubbing is when an advertiser (not the network) scrubs out bad leads and you do not get paid for them. This is very common and happens on a majority of the advertiser pages. This could be as simple as scrubbing someone from another country when the advertiser is only asking for US based leads or as complicated as the lead having bogus information such as a fake email address (e.g., [email protected]).
Shaving is different. Shaving is when an affiliate network shaves leads from your leads. So maybe one in 100 of your leads does not get counted. The network still gets paid from the advertiser for this but you will never see anything. There are times when shaving is intentional (and some networks have been proven to shave) and sometimes when it is unintentional. Either way, it can be prevented by simply split testing the offer across multiple affiliate networks if possible.
Always remember that you should not accuse anyone of shaving unless you have a statistically significant number of leads to prove it. If you only have 10 leads per day on average and one day you have 5, it doesn’t mean the advertiser is shaving. It could mean a lot of things.
Zac: Since affiliate marketing first started online, it’s always been a scary issue and always in the back of our minds. Years ago, you pretty much had to rely on what the networks stats reported, but with more advanced reports and pixel/cookie tracking, you can compare network stats against your own. Unfortunately there are always going to be cheaters, lairs and people looking to take advantage of you. Before pushing some serious numbers with a company, make sure you can trust their stats and know who you are working with.
6. Do you fear the possibility of web surfers having their browsers to auto-clean cookies at the end of every browsing sessions? What if this becomes a default feature on browsers?
Shawn: There is a new threat that has some affiliate marketers frantic every six months. I just concentrate on producing quality content and don’t obsess about the threats. So long as my numbers are where I’d like them to be, the payout, conversion rate, etc. are secondary.
Jonathan: No. I think it will never become a standard. Too many people like to be logged into their facebook, myspace, email, etc without having to relogin every time. Plus some networks don’t even require cookies to track conversions.
Zac: I’m not concerned about individuals clearing out their cookies, but it would be interesting to see what happens if this was an automatic browser feature. I’m sure many of the bigger coupon sites and merchant networks would be affected heavily. I always liked the concept of whoever delivers the most recent cookie, gets the credit. Either way, the marketplace will adapt and find a new and better way to track leads.
7. Do you think that super affiliates necessarily need to use PPC to power their campaigns? Or is it possible to make big money with affiliate marketing without using PPC?
Shawn: PPC is just one area of affiliate marketing – there are plenty of affiliates using content sites, comparison shopping, email, coupons, etc. to generate big results.
Jonathan: PPC is not the only traffic source. There are many other traffic sources that you could use. I do feel that since Adwords has such a HUGE reach, it can prove to make someone extremely successful in finding large volumes of traffic.
Zac: It’s definitely possible to make a massive amount of money without relying on pay per click. PPC is always the big attraction because it can deliver fast and big numbers. What most people aren’t discussing or thinking about is the big costs also involved. I’ve always been a fan of creating niche sites, building them up over time and having them earn thousands of dollars in profit month and month, without having to worry about PPC management or costs.
8. How do I get quality affiliates to promote my own products and services?
Shawn: That’s not really something that can be answered in a couple sentences. However, I’ve created a free video series that goes over the steps for companies to set up and run a successful affiliate program, based on my decade as an affiliate manager.
Jonathan: I think it comes down to a few things.
1. Relationship. – If you have a relationship with the affiliate, they are way more likely to promote your stuff although it does not guarantee it.
2. (Most important) Conversion rate. – If you spend the time optimizing your page over and over, you will have the best converting sales page. Numbers don’t lie and at the end of the day, super affiliates want to make the most for their investment into traffic costs.
Zac: Most affiliates are lazy and just want to make money. They don’t want to be bothered and pestered with what offers to run and why your network is better than others. If you truly want an affiliate to run your offer, contact them with your exact numbers (and they better be good!), and a very easy way to get the campaign up and running. Nothing is worse then being pestered to run a campaign, then having to join a network, wait a couple days and so on… by then it’s already too late.
9. Clickbank seems to be the big thing among affiliate marketers. Do you use it extensively as well, or most of the offers you promote come from other places?
Shawn: ClickBank is popular with affiliates who focus on digital products. I tend to promote physical products, and work more with Commission Junction, Google Affiliate Network, LinkShare and ShareASale.
Jonathan: I used Clickbank in the beginning of my affiliate marketing career. Now my Dad owns a product on there and does very well with it. I have since moved on to entirely CPA networks with the exception of a few small marketing campaigns.
Zac: ClickBank has always been a massive powerhouse and the way they handle their payouts and backend is awesome. They get paid when a sale is made, so you never have to worry about an advertiser screwing over the network. From an affiliate aspect, they have an excellent selection of offers for almost any niche, with well written creatives and ad content. As an advertiser, you simply create an account, add a product, a few creatives and you are ready to go. ClickBank is genius!
10. What was your first affiliate marketing success?
Shawn: Back in the 90s, I started doing paid search arbitrage before I knew it had a name. There were lots of PPC affiliate programs then, and I would buy targeted clicks for a penney on GoTo.com and funnel them to affiliate links.
Jonathan: It’s been so long I cant even remember. I think I was linking directly from PPC campaigns to a clickbank ebook on golf. I was making like $20 bucks per day or so. I then moved into other niches and got up to $250 per day just linking directly from PPC Campaigns in google.
Zac: My earliest and most memorable affiliate successes was when I was first starting out and hitting $100,000 in sales with Amazon.com, with NO ad spending. This may not seem like a ton, but it was pretty cool for a kid starting high school. After promoting Amazon’s associate program for a while, I quickly got into CPA affiliate marketing, where things got even more exciting and fun.
11. There are so many offers out there to promote. How do I choose the right ones for my blog/audience?
Shawn: It depends on why your audience is there – think about the top 3-5 keywords that describe your site and search in Google for affiliate programs that related to those keywords.
Jonathan: This goes back to knowing your demographic / audience. Know what typically converts for that audience by asking around and you should do pretty ok!
Zac: It’s all a game of testing. Since there are literally thousands of offers to choose from, you can break down your decisions by profit potential, quality of offer and relevance to your web site. If you are selecting ads for your high quality/profile blog, you want to make sure you aren’t pushing crap off to your readers.
12. Do you believe that social media can be used to promote affiliate offers? If so, how?
Shawn: Yes, affiliates have been using video, Twitter, social networks, etc. for years to promote affiliate links.
Jonathan: You can promote affiliate offers through social media although it’s a lot more difficult. I think the best way would be referring friends to services, etc you are already using and enjoy. Sure, you won’t become a millionaire from it, but you’ll make some extra coin!
Zac: Without a doubt. I’ve seen some great results with Facebook Fan Pages and Twitter for building up niche sites that people are really interested. You would be surprised at how many people will retweet articles they are interested in, and gladly contribute on your blog feedback.
13. Do you use pre-sell/review pages when promoting affiliate offers, or do you send the traffic directly to the sales page of the merchant?
Shawn: I always send the traffic from my sites. I don’t think affiliates are bringing value to the table if they’re insinuating themselves into a search from a consumer for a product or service.
Jonathan: I almost always pre-sell my traffic before sending them to an affiliate offer. Doing so generally increases profit.
Zac: I will test both landing pages and direct linking. Direct linking is always easiest, but with the creation of a landing page, you may even increase conversions more. It’s very easy to split test offers while advertising on solutions like Facebook Ads, because you can get a decent flow of traffic very fast and have an idea where/what people are clicking on.
14. Do you lose money on offers while trying to find profitable ones? Is this process inevitable?
Shawn: That’s the nature of testing – the key is to closely monitor things to limit losses and scale gains.
Jonathan: All the time. In fact I’ve lost more money this year than I ever have. Why? Because I’ve tested a TON of offers aggressively. You can’t make everything work and sometimes it takes a bit of money to figure that out.
Zac: It’s a good bet that you will lose money while testing out new campaigns. It’s also ok and expected, which is why it’s called testing. You are throwing a lot of mud at the wall and seeing what sticks. Once you find the few keywords, ad copies or offers that work and weed out the best, you can see a quick swing to high profit margins.
15. What are the most important things to track and test when promoting affiliate offers.
Shawn: The effective CPM for all similar offers to see which ones to drop and which to give more prominence.
Jonathan: I think it’s always important to track what traffic source is converting best. If you’re promoting your site in multiple places, always make sure you know which site is bringing in what conversions. This can be done with a simple “subid” and helps dramatically.
For testing, the main thing I test is my headlines. Testing different headlines both in affiliate landing pages and ads is very important!
Zac: Obviously the ROI of an offer is what you are looking for, and how much you can expand on advertising. Once you have a campaign setup, it’s easy to see your profits and sit there and relax. A few days/weeks pass and you are slowing losing profit margin, then before you know it… you are pushing even/loss numbers. It’s important to always be on top of your ad campaigns. Don’t forget to search for other relevant and competing offers to see which may convert best.