Archive for January, 2005

How I Unlearned What the Affiliate Experts Taught Me

It started innocently enough. I dived into the world of affiliate sales because I was looking for some extra income to support my other, non-income generating, websites. There was no aspiration to make thousands a day, or find the ultimate wealth system. So when my friend told me that he had the perfect system for my relatively low ambitions, it seemed like a reasonable proposition.

He said, “Open up a Google Adwords account and a Clickbank account and carefully craft ads pointing to Clickbank products.” He went further and handed me a campaign, product, keywords, bids and ad variations, that he had used himself successfully.

While I generated sales running his campaign, I never made a profit or came close to breaking even. At that point, I went in search of better information.

If you are diligent, there are any number of products right on Clickbank that will offer you the perfect affiliate strategy. The problem is, they inherently appeal to your greed, offer a lot of verbiage for minimal content, and let’s face it, there is a lot of conflicting advice to be found. So I decided right away on a few tactics.

  1. I was not going to spend $47, $97, or $147 for how-to e-books with master resell rights.
  2. I was going to sign up for every free newsletter from their squeeze pages and read through their e-mail newsletters to divine whatever I could divine about affiliate strategy.

It proved to be an enlightening mission, even if my yahoo account now gets a solid forty e-mails a day from marketers. But for all the months I spent reading up on the tactics for driving traffic, making conversions and exploiting Adwords, it reached the point where I was aware of so many divergent possibilities that I couldn’t sort through it all. And I still wasn’t earning any profit.

So I decided I had to unmaster everything I had learned from the experts and start from scratch. Here’s what I untaught myself.

1) Adwords can drive conversions
There is a notion out there that if you’re creative enough, you can identify keywords with marginal advertiser competition but high search volume. But this strategy completely ignores the entire problem with pay-per-click advertising, which is that more clicks does not equal more sales conversions.

There is a critical mass, especially with products with master resell rights, that means your competition is trying just as hard as you to find creative ways to advertise. Your only solution with Adwords then is to be at the top of the search results, which is expensive if you intend to pay for it, and no more directed at bringing in quality traffic than creative search terms.

2) I can write an e-book myself, and probably should
Just about every marketer will tell you to sell your own product, but that is the most unnecessary and unjustifiable advice they can offer for two reasons. For one, it’s never simply as easy as taking what you know about something and trying to write a convincing and worthwhile book. Just like someone can’t build you a website and expect you to know how to generate sales from it. I have seen a few of these offers to create your very own sales portal but it is just a website with links to products. You still have to find some way to not only drive traffic to that web page, but convince people to buy from that webpage.

But more importantly, the truth is that most niche e-books don’t sell in overwhelming quantities. Because unless you’re writing about something that a lot of people are interested in, there won’t be an enormous rush to read it, much less buy it from you or your affiliates.

3) Traffic equals sales, just play the percentages
Banner swaps, pop-ups, pop-unders and other traffic generators all sound very enticing for encouraging people to your sales page because you figure if you swirl enough traffic through your url, you are bound to make a reasonable percentage of sales just on the sheer volume of visitors.

But this completely conflicts with the underlying structure of the internet. People search for a specific subject, keyword or answer to a question. Once that need is satisfied, they’re done surfing. So if that is the case, why on earth would your invest in random, purposeless traffic just in order to make your visitor statistics look good. That kind of traffic is rarely profitable.

Through all of this unlearning though, I’m like you, I don’t necessarily know what the correct answer is. But knowing that affiliate sales takes a lot of determination and experimentation, and a heck of a lot of patience, to have any quantifiable success means I can’t rely solely on the advice the experts want to sell me. Knowing what not to do doesn’t seem to hurt either.

Can You Still Build an Empire with AdSense?

You can do everything right. You can optimize your AdSense placement, put your ad blocks above the fold and next to graphics. You can match the ad text and background to the colors of your website. You can use section targeting and meticulously track keyword density. You can all that and still only earn a couple random clicks a day. You can advertise your site in forums, with AdWords, on MySpace and Facebook. You can find your pages in the first five search results for some keywords, and capitalize on the long tail. You can do all that and still never see a marked increase in your traffic patterns. Maybe it’s me, but more than likely, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Success with Google AdSense is measured by one criteria, the money you earn per month. If your click traffic is high, and your revenue per click is low, you have an easy analysis: either Google thinks your site is crap, or your site’s content is targeting low paying keywords. If your traffic is moderate, consistent, and your clicks are moderate and consistent, but the content of your site is above par, then you, like myself, are stuck in the Google rotary, unable to maneuver and getting no where fast.

Part of the frustration is the propriety system that Google uses to reward higher commissions to websites with higher quality content. Given the unending stream of new websites whose sole purpose is to pilfer content and republish it with AdSense ads, it’s nice that Google is willing to acknowledge that some sites are truly intent on bringing quality, or at least original, content to the web.

But being one of those quality sites (with original, interesting content) is not much of an indicator of future success. And therein lies the problem for the average website owner. Moderate amounts of traffic mean moderate amounts of income. And unless you have been focused all along on topics whose keywords bring in higher commissions, not only are you doomed to fairly unremarkable click thru rates on your ad blocks, but you will typically be paid only pennies for each click. The rare exceptions are individuals who manage to turn their websites into brand name products.

That means for the rest of us, it can take months, if not a year, to ever see revenue payout from Google (reaching that $100 threshold.) That is not a viable model for running a business, even if your only profit goal is to break even on your overhead costs. And let’s face it, nobody ever goes into business to break even.

Reaching break even isn’t even that much of a milestone because you can circle the Google rotary endlessly; the system encourages you to do so. To break free and end up on the road to profit, you have to consider which of the following options is viable for your enterprise:

1) Review your AdSense optimization on a regular cycle
You can do a complete site analysis on the placement and the design of your ad blocks. It means testing variations in size and colors and location, and tracking the changes you make to see if they are produce higher click thru rates. You can always go with what the gurus tell you to do, but the industry’s standards for best practices are always in flux. Which means you can never optimize just once.

One of the best books I ever read on AdSense optimization was written by Joel Comm. I occasionally get e-mails from him and I should pay better attention because I think his book is clearly written, direct, and thoughtful. The AdSense Code: What Google Never Told You About Making Money with AdSense is aimed at beginners and intermediate AdSense users but it gives you a solid starting point for reassessing your ad blocks.

2) Monetize your site with other affiliate programs
Google allows you to do this, as long as your other ads don’t mimic Google’s style - which means no other content ads. But you can advertise products and services that match the subject matter of your site. (See The Good and Bad of Monetization Options for Your Website)

3) Focus your energy on driving traffic to your site
I tend to deter people from believing that if you simply have enough traffic, the conversions will come. First off, more traffic is not the same as more targeted traffic. And second off, Google puts a lot of stock in return on investment (ROI) which in this case, means that people who click through the ads convert to customers. So it’s not enough that people click, they must be invested in the product being advertised. Of course, you can better assure this by doing #1.

4) Blackhat tricks
Blackhat is a buzzword in internet proliferation of bypassing the system rules to achieve your goals. Most of these tricks are underhanded, some are blatantly against the rules, and some just bend them. I won’t detail them here, but suffice to say if you’re interested in the dark arts, you will find mentors who will willingly take you down that path.

So maybe the truth is, given these four options, that you really are better off doing some combination of them. And if you’re like me, you probably already have with small success. Does that mean that the empire you want to build with AdSense is dead on arrival? Not necessarily, but it does mean that the road to profit is longer than you might have supposed, with a lot of stop lights along the way. Just make sure you skip the rotaries.

Competing in an Affiliate World

How many affiliate marketers are too many?

Conventional wisdom says that no solid product, eBook or service, will lack for new customers. With the right pitch and the right price point, you can pretty much sell anything. But what happens if you and I, and the person next door, and hundreds of other people are all trying to sell the same product, will we run out buyers?

For any single individual product, maybe. If nothing else, even the best eBook is going to be outdated at some point. But the most successful affiliate marketers don’t stick to one product. Whether or not you are selling your own product, the resell rights, or just pitching someone else’s eBook, the best diversify their portfolio so that no one single product makes or break their profit potential.

Still, I think it is fair to say that it is not easy competing in the affiliate world. It is our own fault really; affiliates have long perpetuated the myth that affiliate marketing is easy money. That customers come and buy and there are no returns and little fraud - and all you have to do is just start and you will be successful. That very notion was the reason I got into the affiliate game.

Maybe at one time, it was easier to compete, but now there is some very real competition that you have to contend with to be a successful affiliate.

Pay Per Click Advertising

Even if you know what you’re doing, beating the competition in pay per click advertising is a gamble and a lot of work. You have to identify highly targeted keywords. You have to write ad text that compels your prospective customers to click with the intent to buy. Then you have to have a landing page that either converts sales, or collects e-mail addresses - and if you are promoting someone else’s product, you have no control over that at all (except not to promote it.) And then you have to position your ad with a pay per click advertising program so prospective customers can find it.

That is a lot of factors, without even addressing the costs of advertising and your competition. Beating your competition in pay per click advertising means pricing yourself over the top of them, bidding on obscure keywords - which for practical purposes, there is no such thing anymore - or promoting a niche product targeting a specific interest group which may very well mean a limited demand.

Website Marketing

A lot of people, rather than promote others’ products directly, send everyone to their own website and promote from there, or through auto responders. This is deceptively simple idea. There is no competition because the site is wholly yours, and you can saturate the page with advertising.

The problem, of course, two fold. One problem is generating traffic to your site. If you do it organically, it can take months to be at the top of search engines, and you have to continually add new content. And though the current model rewards you for inbound links from other highly ranked sites, gaining any is rarely a fluid process. The upside is that your costs are limited to purchasing the domain and paying for hosting. The downside is that you may never see a single targeted visitor for weeks while other established marketers are selling the same product that whole time. And furthermore, you always have to be thinking about what you are offering your visitors that is both unique and persuasive to buy.

The other problem is web users are banner blind, and banner blockers are as common as pop-up blockers now. There are programs that will wholesale block any ad script from loading in a user’s browser, which effectively means 90% of your advertising is for nothing.

One of the unfortunate trends that doesn’t make competing by having your own website any easier is the prevalence of websites that aggregate content. You promote your presence on ezine or other article submission sites, and a website aggregator picks up the first paragraph and targets the ezine article, not your own homepage. Not only are these aggregators not really effectively promoting your article, they are not linking back to your webpage. Furthermore, their own sites are just garbage because there is no original content and not even full length articles. So you are competing not just with legitimate websites but also with aggregator sites.

Product Development

Can you develop your own product that is a truly unique offering? It is simple enough to copy the gist of another eBook and just call it your own, but people are pretty skeptical about the quality of eBooks. And the last thing that will endear you to your affiliates (and for that matter, Clickbank) is to have a product that produces a lot of returns.

On the other hand, developing a quality product requires that you have an area of specialization, whether in a niche market or a broader market, and some intangible benefit to distinguish your product from the rest. Well, if that’s all it takes, right?

Fortunately, even with the competition, there is success out their for affiliate marketers. It’s not easy money, and there are a lot of people trying to do the exact same thing you are. But even for all the obstacles, just know that your success or failure won’t hinge on what the competition is doing.

Three Keys to Starting a Successful Affiliate Campaign

Being an affiliate requires an investment of time to start and maintain a successful campaign. You can save yourself some wasted energy by conducting your research and planning upfront. Armed with a product to sell, your objective in hand, you now need to tackle these essential tasks before you launch your campaign: research keywords, writing the pitch, and getting the word out.

Research keywords

There’s no excuse to not to do the proper keyword research for your product. First, you need a list of potential keywords, which you can generate from the product’s sales page. You can also use the keyword tool provided by Adwords to find a collection of related terms. Once you have a larger list of potential keywords, you need to narrow down the list to viable keywords.

Here’s a simple way to start: type in a prospective keyword for your product and look at the ads that show up on the results page. Are the ads promoting the same product that you are? More to the point, do the ads seem to be promoting only one product, or a number of products on a number of topics?

Whenever you do keyword research, you need to keep in mind what you are looking for. How targeted is the keyword? That is, how likely is the person searching for the keyword also searching for, and willing to purchase, your product? How much competition does the keyword have for your product, or similar products? How frequently is the keyword searched for at all?

Both Yahoo! and Google have keyword tools that will give you detailed information on each keyword so that you can reduce your trial and error before you ever start your campaign.

Writing the Pitch

Depending on your campaign, your pitch can be either ad text or an article.

Regarding ads, as much as possible, your keyword should be appear somewhere within the ad, either as part of the headline or display url. If you have a lot of keywords that don’t appear within the ad at all, think carefully about how targeted those words truly are. Remember, people searching for a particular keyword should be prepared to either come across your product, or even better, prepared to purchase your product. If they are searching for something else entirely, then you have the wrong keywords. On the flipside, if your keywords are highly targeted but not contained within the text of your ad, you should think about rewriting your ads.

Regarding articles, whether your article is intended as a sales pitch, or informational, it is important to watch your keyword density. Density is really the number of times a particular word or term appears on a webpage, but it’s good practice to pay attention to the density of the keywords for your product.

Getting the Word Out

You need to plan how you will spread the word about your product. Every method has its pros and cons and it is useful to do some research about each before you launch your campaign. At best, it will save you some wasted time and effort, possibly even some money, rather than learning through trial and error.

For example, right now Google Adwords is the definitive company to run ads on keyword search results. But being the best means a lot of your competitors are using it too, and the service isn’t free. Even if you can get your cost per click down to pennies, that is still money you have to spend first before you have even made a dime.

As another example, an article submission site (like Ezine) is a great way to start advertising your product because spiders index new articles from those sites quickly. However, by submitting your article, you are giving permission to have your article republished almost anywhere on the internet. In addition to legitimate reuse of your article, bots sometimes steal partial text from your article and republish it with some words replaced or altered. The result is that your article is butchered and unreadable. Though this practice violates the rules of submission, it is generally difficult to track them all down and the best you can hope for is an intact link back to your article.

In order to be a successful affiliate, it’s essential to plan ahead before you start your campaign. A little planning and research can go a long way to ensuring your time is spent wisely.

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