Archive for the ‘Unmastered Series’ Category

Unloving the Autoresponder

One of the most frequently offered suggestions I have heard on mastering affiliate techniques is to learn to the love the autoresponder. An autoresponder will send a series of newsletters to the inbox of prospective or current customers, in any order or frequency that you specify. There are a number of e-mail marketing companies with competitive pricing that will help you design and schedule these e-mail messages. All you need is the e-mail addresses of your customers.

The theory behind e-newsletters is to establish a relationship of trust with a potential customer, thus increasing the chances that they will buy a product you have recommended. Plus, most people, once they sign up for a newsletter, will continue their subscription indefinitely, which increases your chances for making a sale with persistent, convincing promotions. All you need is a well-written sales pitch.

E-mail marketing is a cost-effective tool for affiliates for sending out daily or weekly newsletters to every client. You can schedule the first e-mail to go out on the day the customer signs up, and the second e-mail to go out 24 hours later, and the third e-mail will go out 24 hours after that and so on. The automation of the process means that you need to do very little after the initial set-up of your autoresponder.

To make it work, you need the following tools.

1) The pitch page that sells the product
For many affiliates, this is the web page provided by the product’s publisher.

2) The squeeze page
This is the landing page that all customers come to first when they click on a link for the product you are selling.

The main purpose of the squeeze page is to get potential customers to sign up for a newsletter. In order to entice them, you can offer insider information, a free gift, even a free product that they can receive as soon as they sign up. Whether or not the customer then immediately views the pitch page, you have established a relationship with them that you can use to offer your promotions via e-mail later on.

3) An autoresponder
You can utilize an e-mail marketing program like iContact if you want the maximum amount of assistance setting up your autoresponders.

4) Content for each e-newsletter
That’s it! Each newsletter you send is an opportunity for your potential customers to visit your promotions page. The more often they come to promotions page, the more opportunities for affiliate sales you can generate.

Though there are potential pitfalls to this type of marketing, I want to mention when an affiliate expert tells you to not be afraid of designing a webpage or an autoresponder, they are absolutely right. Whether you know anything about web design or not, there are enough companies now that will walk you through a step-by-step process of designing your own website. Godaddy offers webpage creation with every domain you purchase. And when you sign up with an e-mail marketing company, they too will walk you through creating autoresponders without knowing anything about how to create them. All you need is the content and the e-mails.

And that is where you might have the most problems. Don’t forget that the publisher of the product you are selling is probably also building their own e-mail lists. If so, that means you are competing for the same customers. Then you must distinguish yourself in your newsletter, both with what you are offering, and how you offer it.

Affiliates who use autoresponders need to also be aware of how federal law inhibits your business practices. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 has placed pretty severe limits on how businesses can send e-mail. The law mandates the use of opt-in marketing, prohibits deceptive subject lines and header information, and requires that recipients be allowed to opt out of contact at any time. If you sign up for a legitimate e-mail marketing company, they should be fully aware, and in full compliance with, the CAN-SPAM Act. And it doesn’t hurt you at all to know something about the law yourself.

Autoresponders are a great tool for making regular contact with your customers by e-mail. But like many affiliate tactics, in and of itself, it does not help you convert sales. That’s why, though you might love the autoresponder, don’t forget that there is more to affiliate sales than just sending out e-mails day after day to your client

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 autoresponders. 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.

The Myth of Cloaking Affiliate Links

One of the things I untaught myself quickly was the fear of stolen affiliate links. If you decide to cloak your affiliate links, do it for the right reasons. Do not purchase a product that will cloak links for you (you can do it yourself just as easily with only basic html knowledge) and whatever you do, do not cloak your links because…

…Other affiliates will steal your links
Yes, a knowledgeable person who understands how affiliate links are structured could replace your affiliate id with their own in the website address and “steal” your affiliate sale. The problem with this reasoning is that if they belong to the same affiliate program that you do, they can just create the link with their own affiliate id and purchase the product from that url anyway. There is no reason they have to steal anything.

But maybe more to the point: most affiliates don’t buy affiliate products.

The one circumstance where that might not be true is when an affiliate is ready to sell a new product. Then, that affiliate would buy the product once in order to be fully educated on the product’s features. But even in that case, the affiliate salesman is still buying it from their own link, not yours.

…Casual customers remove the affiliate link
Listen, the casual customer knows nothing about the world of affiliate sales. They don’t care one way or another who pays whom as long the product addresses their needs and is within their cost considerations. Not in a million years are they going to remove part of the url, not because they are maliciously “stealing” your sale and not out of ignorance either.

…because Affiliate links are too long
Web surfers are used to lengthy and incomprehensible web addresses. Users will think nothing of it at all.

That said, one reason you would cloak your link is because Google Adwords does not allow competition between identical display urls. So if you are promoting a product through Adwords that other people are promoting, your options are:

1.) Bid higher than your competition - inadvisable unless you know you can make a solid profit over and above your advertising costs

2.) Make up your display url and hope Adwords doesn’t notice - Adwords will disapprove an ad for reason of “Inaccurate Display URL” if they don’t like the one you list. But more often than not, a creative but otherwise closely associated url will pass their review process.

3.) Purchase a domain - When you purchase a unique domain name for your affiliate product, within the forwarding process, you can cloak the original url with your affiliate id using very simple javascript. (see resources) And some registries will forward and mask the url for you at no additional cost.

If you choose to cloak your affiliate links, make sure you do it for the right reasons. Precaution is fine, just don’t give in to unreasonable fear that everyone is tampering with your affiliate links.

The Good and Bad of Monetization Options for Your Website

You have a website and you have heard the buzzword: monetization. Monetizing your site is simply hosting ads that you are paid for, either per click, per impression, or per sale. There are literally dozens of different options, and most of them are relatively straight forward to implement. All you have to do is decide which options are the most appropriate for your site. Whether you are starting from the beginning, or looking for a fresh concept, here are some options to consider:

Google Adsense

Adsense are content-based ads that run on your site in blocks. Google’s spiders read your site’s content and produce ads on related topics (as much as possible). You specify the size, shape and quantity of ads in blocks.

Pros: Implementation is no harder than designing your site to begin with, and ad blocks are fully customizable to fit your page layout. Adsense is pay per click so you get paid whether or not your visitor buys anything from the advertiser. Google rarely turns a site down initially, which benefits new domains that have little to no traffic. Adsense has extensive tracking features to monitor performance and there are tons of resource books out there that will walk you through step by step optimization. Google handles your relationship with advertisers.

Cons: Google’s algorithm for determining your share of ad revenue is a mystery, and often seems arbitrary. Some key words pay higher commissions than others, but even then, it depends on a lot of factors that you have little control over. Therefore, some clicks are worth $1 or more, and some are worth a penny. And in most cases, you just never know. Web users are used to ignoring Google ads because they are so prevalent, and some browsers automatically block ad scripts from loading.

Peel Away Ads

Peel Away Ads sit in the very corner of your website and peel back when a user scrolls their mouse of the ad.

Pros: Simple script to implement, but you do need to be able to design the graphics. Because they sit in the top right corner of your webpage, they are never in the way of your content. You can easily host other ad space on your page.

Cons: Peel Away Ads are eye-catching, but there is no proof that they are any more effective than other ads.
Peel Away Ads is just a script, you still need something to advertise. You can sell your own product or establishing a relationship with an advertiser.

Commission Junction

Commission Junction is an affiliate program. You establish relationships with advertisers individually through CJ’s interface. Then, each advertiser provides block and text ads for you to host on your site.

Pros:High profile, brand name companies use CJ, so you benefit from their name recognition. CJ handles the relationship with the advertisers, and commission payments. Wide variety of product types to choose from, so you can easily pick things that are highly relevant to your site. You can easily encrypt most ads, and have them open in a new browser window, as well as append tracking codes to each sale.

Cons: Most commissions through CJ are paid when the customer takes action on the advertiser’s site. Which means, no sale, no commission. Commissions can be very low compared to other affiliate programs.

Clickbank

Clickbank works the same way as Commission Junction, except all the products sold through Clickbank are digital. And for the most part, you are advertising the product not the company.

Pros: High commissions, up to 75% It is just as easy to advertise someone else’s product as your own, giving you a full range of potential income. Tracking transactions is trouble-free.

Cons: You have to establish an individual relationship with every single publisher. A lot of publishers will offer banner ads, e-mail text, and keyword help to assist you in advertising their product, but it’s up to each individual advertiser to do so. There is almost no quality control on the products themselves, so unless you have purchased the product, the only way to know if a product is viable is to do some calculation against the $/sale.

Auction Ads

Auction Ads are hosted ads for eBay products.

Pros: If you have high conversions, you can take advantage of eBay’s bonus payouts. The ads, particularly the bigger blocks, can break up the monotony of your webpage. Commission payouts occur at the end of the month, so there is no delay in payment.

Cons: Auctions Ads interface isn’t great, but it gets the job done. Control over the products displayed on your webpage is limited, even when you use highly targeted keywords. There are a lot more small ticket items on eBay than big ticket, which means your commissions will often be pennies.

ReviewMe

Advertisers commission a paid review that is posted on your blog.

Pros: In addition to getting paid for writing the review, you also get original content for your blog. Advertorials rock! A company writes the post for you, all you do is post it to your site.

Cons: Your website has to be approved by ReviewMe before you can participate. Very new sites may have a hard time geting approved. Your commissions are based on your website ranking, so newer sites will potentially do the same work for less money

Amazon.com

Amazon is one of the biggest solo affiliates on the web.

Pros: Every product that amazon sells, you can pitch on your page. You can design ads by category, you can promote specific products, you can promote seasonal sales, or you can let amazon decide. More than any other affiliate program, amazon has a dozen monetization options for you to choose from. In particular, their product previews and astore widget are top notch.

Cons: Commissions are scaled based on items shipped per month. You don’t get paid for pre-orders until they ship, which means even multiple orders within the same month may not count towards increasing your commission percentage. There reporting interface is confusing. Commissions, particularly at the lower end of the scale, are minuscule. You really need a lot of conversions every month to really make it work.

And of course, many companies that have a strong web presence offer some kind of affiliate program. So depending on the nature of your site and what you want to promote, you can seek out many, many other affiliat

The Article Circuit

One of the most universal pieces of advice you will hear about driving traffic to your site is to write an article and submit it to one of the big repository sites like Ezine. There are a handful of submission sites that are the biggest publishers, but a lot of smaller ones as well. Depending on the advice, you should submit to one or submit to all. You put a link to your website at the bottom of your article and wait for the traffic to flow in.

The purpose of these sites is to offer reprint articles that other websites can pick up and republish. In theory, this outlet for promotion is a good thing. Ezine, for instance, requires that any active link in your article or bio remains an active link if republished. So, in fact, you could begin at no cost to you to build one way links to your website in order to beef up your pagerank. Also, if someone comes across your article on another site, you are still receiving credit, and possibly targeted traffic.

It does work, if in smaller doses than you might be led to believe, but like anything in the affiliate marketing business, it comes with some considerations.

1) Where does the article go?

The problem, of course, is that Ezine’s terms of service (which mandate the article is republished intact with active links) are virtually unenforceable. So sites can republish your article without active links, change a few words around so that the article is nonsense, or omit your byline altogether. And it happens a lot. Sites whose sole purpose is to drive traffic to its own advertising aren’t as worried about quality control as they are about keyword density and SEO. Over time, your article will end up plastered on some of very strange, unappealing websites. Sites that are seemingly beyond any real purpose. Sometimes, your article is just the lead, and an active link points to the Ezine article page instead of your own website. Sometimes, the live links are removed but the article itself is intact. (Either of these are preferable because they don’t mangle your article at least.) And other times, a bot lifts the article, republishes it with words changed or missing and it reads like a foreign language.

That other publishers seemingly can’t, or are unwilling to follow the rules is frustrating. By posting the article on Ezine, you are giving them permission to republish the article anywhere on the web. All they have to do is leave the article completely intact.

Upon further consideration, it makes even less sense for them than that. Google and other major search engines take into account the quality and originality of a site in its pagerank, and furthermore, give you higher credit for a link from a quality site than one that is unranked or low ranking. Put those two rules together, and that means that almost no one will ever find these rip-off sites that steal and mutilate your article (and thus, no harm to you) and furthermore, the fact that these sites exist and are linking to you shouldn’t make a dent in your traffic one way or another.

2) Is it better to publish the article yourself?

This is a question of leverage. Does you get more benefit from the exposure of posting elsewhere than you do on your own site?

Take our example again, posting to Ezine. You get wide exposure on a popular site, links back to your own site (Ezine, at least, lets you have three live links in your bio.) And Ezine’s high pagerank can have a positive impact on your own pagerank.

But the other component is the amount of original content on your site. Content that is both high quality and only exists on your site. Forget about how much original content you need in order to satisfy Google’s ranking system. Think about it this way: without original content, what exactly is the draw of your website? If the basis of your website is product driven, then the focal point of your site is the products themselves. However, if your site is article driven, like a professional blog, then it is the unique content that drives traffic to your site, and brings them a second and third time.

There is no ideal formula for how many sites to submit to these websites, and how many to keep exclusively on your own site. The best way to find a good balance is to conceptualize the reason you submitting your site. Is it for exposure? Backlinks? Or to blanket the web with a certain article of yours? Once you know why you’re doing it, it will be easier to decide how often.

Rush to Build a Link Empire

Building traffic to your brand new website is complicated by a lot of conflicting advice on how to best go about it. The lack of consensus on the topic is startling and a little disturbing. Other than advertising directly to your new site, the next best option is to build links to your website in order to raise your presence on the internet. But the driver in your decision is whether the exposure you are going to get as a result of building links is going to further your sales goal. For affiliate marketers, presence on the internet in and of itself isn’t enough of an inducement.

There are two important components that you can’t overlook when you are analyzing your own website traffic. One is that the actual traffic to your page isn’t really the most important measure; it is the percentage of traffic that converts into sales (and more practically, profit.) The other key is whether or not your promotional strategies play into the habits of internet users.

A lot of advice about link exchange starts with the conventional notion that the higher your page rank, the higher you appear in search results, the more traffic you will get. You increase page rank by building back links to your website. You might even, by virtue of appearing near the top of keyword search results, attract targeted visitors. That is because users primarily fall into one of two categories. Either they are looking for very specific information (product or service) and keep clicking until they find it - these are the internet users you want - or they are heading for a website that they are already familiar with - these are the users you’ll rarely see anyway. And the small percentage of users who are just clicking through a trail of webpages were never predisposed to buy your product in the first place.

So unless your branding encourages return visitors (and most affiliate websites do not in any practical sense) your only option is to cater to the user who is seeking something specific. So with that in mind, consider these options to building links to your site:

  • You can organically grow one way and reciprocal links with other sites by developing relationships with those webmasters.
  • You can buy one way links or join a reciprocal link exchange like indexguy or 3waylink.net.
  • You can join a traffic program.

a) Organic growth
This obviously takes time, a factor that doesn’t appeal to anyone in the sales world. And likely, you are doing this over time anyway.

b) Reciprocal link exchanges
The only benefit to these cooperatives is the creation of back links to your site (starting the chain reaction of gaining a higher page rank, getting closer to the top of keyword search results, and eventually targeting traffic organically.)

But there is no secondary benefit. The actual links themselves get buried in a directory (or 4,000 directories, it makes no difference) so that most internet users are never going to see them. Even one or two chance referrals from the directory link isn’t going to make a dent in your sales pattern.

c) Traffic programs
Traffic programs seem self defeating. In order to initiate visitors to your own site, you have to visit someone else’s webpage for a specified number of seconds, thus exposing yourself to their sales pitch. Then, in return, someone else lands your webpage, waits until the specified number of seconds has passed, thereby theoretically exposing them to your sales pitch. There are at least two very well known products out there that automate this whole process, but think about it; if everyone who has signed up to a traffic program has automated their page views, who is actually looking at your website?

And even if they don’t have a script running to do the work for them, is anyone really looking carefully at your sales pitch as they cruise through page after page? This is not targeted traffic, and really, the whole system is so arbitrary, the benefits to you are dubious.

There are other no cost ways to raise your presence on the internet (Ezine itself being a good one) but unless you can afford to wait six months to a year, presence isn’t enough to keep your business afloat. You have to make decisions about promoting your website bearing in mind that your goal is always going to be sales conversions. Understanding how internet users utilize the web is important, too. Put it altogether, and though the advice may still be confusing, you will be better equipped to make decisions about how to build traffic to your new website.

Jump Right In

The frenetic pace of sales letters and affiliate advice leads you to believe that if you don’t act now, the opportunity will be lost.

I personally hate the hard sell. How many times have you read…?

  • This Coupon will expire 3 days from
  • I reserve the right to end this introductory offer at anytime without warning
  • Once we get the testimonials we need, we’re going to push the price up on this to $97 or maybe even $127

I don’t understand how this approach works, especially when you are selling to other affiliate marketers. Creating a sense of urgency with these kind of buzz lines overwhelms the message of your product. And as a customer, making a decision with the timer running is just bad for business. But given the persistent nature of the extreme hard sell, someone must fall for it, right?

The problem with giving in to the hard sell is that it doesn’t always make good business sense. So before you jump on in because of you’re worried about missing out, take a step back and figure out if the product you’re buying actually makes sense for your business.

Look for full disclosure
You should know exactly what you are getting before you buy it. Whether you are buying a membership, or an eBook, whatever format the product gets delivered to you should be clearly stated.

You should also check out the FAQ. Most direct response pages have one, and it can be very enlightening to see what the seller views as important questions. Depending on the product, you will often see just a repeat of the same pitch you already read, a broken link, or a handful of questions and answers too general to be useful. If you aren’t getting enough information to make a sound decision, that is a tipoff that you need to be wary.

I’ll give you an example. There are numerous products on Clickbank for background checks and criminal searches. They all work essentially the same way. The price you pay is for a limited number of searches, and typically only basic ones. In order to use the service fully, you have pay per search, and often there are “premium” searches that cost more. But it doesn’t tell you that on the website, so you don’t find out until you have purchased the product.

Full disclosure is also related to price but at least with Clickbank products, you get the benefit of price disclosure before you purchase.

Ignore claims of financial success
No software or eBook can deliver you instantaneous financial rewards. People always want to believe it’s that easy, but not one system can guarantee that for every individual. Even when you are determined to follow a program step-by-step, you still have to do the work.

The truth about affiliate marketing is that there is an elite group of individuals who make most of the riches, and everyone else divvies up the other minuscule profits. Breaking into that elite crowd is tough, and most affiliate eBooks are built around the notion that it’s easy, playing to your greed. So don’t be played.

Go to an outside source
Google is amazing, you can find a review of practically any product, any service, and any company. If you have concerns, why not run the product name through Google search and see what comes up. A lot of affiliate products get marketed by more than one seller, and many of them use write-ups to advertise the product with their affiliate commission. As long as you look at these things with a little skepticism, there’s no reason you cannot use the information others’ offer in making an evaluation.

As often as not, though, you can find someone who has used the product and isn’t trying to sell it to you. Usually, the reason they are blogging about it is because they were dissatisfied, but isn’t that information you would want, too? Nothing you find on the internet is going to be totally impartial, but that doesn’t automatically make it unhelpful.

Know what you need
It’s not just enough to spot the hard sell, you also have to have a really concrete concept of what benefit you are going to get from the product. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and purchase the product to know whether it will truly end up being beneficial to your goals. But don’t be afraid to return it if it doesn’t deliver what it promises.

Whatever you do, don’t take action just because a seller tells you time is running out. That’s just folly. Sure, maybe the seller will raise the price, but you have to make decisions that are sound for your business, something that the seller has no way of knowing. Don’t jump right in just because the pitch says so. The extra time you take to make a decision can save you a lot of anguish later on.

Rethink Your Strategy for Website Monetization

It sounds like a great idea. You build a website of original content, mostly for your own satisfaction, and someone suggests that you create ad space so that you can make some money at the same time. Your expectations are low as all you want to do is basically pay for overhead on your website.

It quickly becomes evident that there are a lot of choices these days to monetize your website. And there isn’t a reliable way to choose between them besides advertising products and services that will most directly appeal to your visitors. Eventually you implement a handful and wait for the revenue to stream in.

This, of course, is when the fallacy of the whole concept is exposed. For those of us who start out with low ambitions, just to break even really, generating ad revenue is an excruciating process. AdSense barely pulls in $10 a month. Amazon links never result in sales. AuctionAds seem to pay off (who doesn’t have an eBay account?) but in such small commissions that your monthly income is insubstantial. And so on. And even if over time, those amounts creep up incrementally, it would take years or millions of unique hits to really get any momentum behind your income stream.

When I hit that wall myself, rather than be discouraged, my reaction was to try to punch through the wall. But nothing I did, from optimizing my site design to buying traffic to adding 10 new articles a day, produced any significant development in my income. It was time to reassess my strategy.

What is the purpose of my site?

Ad hosting serves two distinct purposes, whether or not your site is a personal endeavor or a professional one. First, it gives you a stream of income with which to support your overhead costs (for personal websites primarily hosting and domain registration.) Second, it can give your site a professional look.

Neither of these purposes is subordinate to the other. Ad hosting of any kind gives your regular visitors an opportunity to express their support for your site by either purchasing products they would have bought anyway, or by clicking on ads of interest to them. It is not lost on most internet users that this is the purpose of advertising, and because the ads are usually relevant to their interests, they can derive a benefit in the act of supporting your work.

Ad space on websites generally give the impression of a professional design, whether or not the site itself is intended as a business per se. If, for instance, you are designing a portfolio of your art, you can incorporate ads to give the site both an aesthetic appeal and an air of competence.

Establishing the purpose of your site first is important because it affects how the ads are placed. In no way should the ads distract from the primary purpose of your site unless it is the primary purpose. For practical purposes, that means if you are monetizing a blog, the body of your post should be uncluttered and clearly distinguished. (By the way, this does not mean you should not design the look of your ads to match your website - something you will read in every book about AdSense and it’s good advice. But it does mean that if your website is showcasing your writing, then your writing needs to be clearly identifiable and accessible to your visitors. If your website is just showcasing the advertisements, and everything else is subsidiary, then that is a completely different consideration.)

Is my traffic supporting my expectations of income?

This is an important point. 500 unique visitors a week is not going to sustain elevated levels of profit, no matter how your website is monetized. It’s just not going to happen. Aside from brand name websites, only very few personal homepages and other niche sites are going to drive enough organic traffic to sustain a full time income. If your site is indexed, if you update regularly with new content, and if your traffic is relatively constant, then you have can reasonably assume that your monthly income is going to be constant as well.

Am I utilizing the right advertising?

This is something that you may have to reevaluate cyclically because every program has its benefits and downsides. Adsense, for instance, is paid per click; you could ostensibly be paid without your customers ever purchasing anything at the other end. Affiliate links require your visitor to take action, purchase a product or sign up for something before you receive a commission (and commissions, depending on the program, can range drastically.) That’s a lot of steps before you get paid.

The other thing to consider is whether or not you can establish a relationship directly with advertisers and run the ad campaigns yourself. Or stick to selling your own products. Because in either case, you are keeping 100% of the profits yourself and that can lead to higher income (though the trade off is a lot more work.)

Whatever you decide to do, once you decide to monetize your site, the process is ongoing. The variety of ad programs is constantly growing, technology for running your own ads is becoming more accessible, and optimization techniques are always being refined. The one thing you should not do is just set up your ad space once and leave it alone. That approach, at least, will guarantee your income level lingers well below your expectations.

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.

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