Become An Affiliate Marketer – Categories – Finch Sells

Category - Become an Affiliate Marketer

1
5 Things I Would Do If I Were Starting Affiliate Marketing Today
2
How Much Could I Pay You to Quit Affiliate Marketing?
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Dude, Where’s My Margin?

5 Things I Would Do If I Were Starting Affiliate Marketing Today

“What would you do if you were starting from scratch in affiliate marketing today?”

This is one of those questions that pops up on forums, and lands in my inbox often.

It’s difficult to answer.

Mainly because it suggests we should be able to predict where our future money lies.

I don’t think there’s a single affiliate who doesn’t wish he broke in to the industry a year earlier. The ‘industry one year ago’ is a rosier place.

It always is, and always will be.

That’s because:

Successful strategies are only obvious in hindsight.

We feel pretty stupid when we miss them, but it’s a given that most of us will.

That’s why if I were starting affiliate marketing today, I would worry less about imminent opportunities — and more about the systems, processes and relationships required to take advantage of them.

Here are five tips to help you get started.

1. I would build a war chest of funds using my current skill set.

It is critical that you have a decent sized budget if you want to pursue paid traffic arbitrage.

Note: I have explained the core differences between free traffic vs. paid traffic in my updated intro for beginners.

Ideally you should be able to spend at least $100/day collecting data.

That’s not to say you should be losing $100/day.

Fuck me, if you’re spending $100/day and making $0/day — forget what anybody says about perseverance — pause that shit and get back to the drawing board.

Somewhere along the way, you’ve made a huge mistake.

Most people who land in this industry have key skills that can be used to build a war chest of funds.

Whether you are a writer, a designer, a developer, or a sales man — you can find work online.

These sites have thousands of jobs available:

Alternatively, you can get a conventional full or part time job.

Why are affiliates allergic to working 9-5? It makes no sense.

There is no shame in collecting a pay cheque from ‘The Man’.

If money is your primary restraint, I would say that it’s actually a pretty bloody smart idea.

2. I would invest in a good VPN and study my chosen market obsessively.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) lets you access websites using an IP in a different country.

Why would you want to do this?

To spy on foreign ads and affiliate campaigns, of course.

There are no secrets in affiliate marketing.

Most profitable campaigns are running in full view of the public.

You can use spy tools like WhatRunsWhere to harvest banners and landing pages, but these are often lacking in context.

The best way to see which creatives are dominant is to load up a VPN, access a placement, and note which banners appear first (and most often).

For this, I use HideMyAss. It has servers in over 128 countries, is pretty reliable, and works on mobile phones.

Note: A monthly charge to ‘HideMyAss’ is definitely one of the more interesting expenses on my bank statements. Be prepared to explain to your accountant what ’Spy Software’ actually means, lest he fear your affiliate business is a racket for the Russians.

If you don’t want to shell out on a VPN, you can crawl the web at a snail’s pace by Googling ‘proxies in [country here]’ and trying them one-by-one.

Once you have access to dozens of countries, you can start gathering intelligence on any markets that are active with affiliates.

You can see exactly what offers are being run (without getting redirected), and you can jack all manner of useful creatives.

3. I would learn by osmosis — and gain access to key players.

If you want to find an affiliate mentor; somebody to hold your hand, to teach you the ropes; then my best advice is this:

Snap off your dick, book in some surgery, reinvent yourself as a beautiful woman — and hope for the best.

For everybody else, I wish the very best of British to you.

I don’t believe mentor arrangements work unless they are mutually beneficial.

That means you need to bring useful skills to the table (available for free), or a knack for honeybadgering freebies, the likes of which is beyond the scope of this blog.

Here’s the sad truth:

Inside information is at a premium for newbie affiliates.

The guys who need the attention of their AMs (Affiliate Managers) are often the guys who the AM has little incentive to work with.

Your affiliate manager could be handling dozens, even hundreds, of accounts.

Imagine a Skype wall with “Hey, how are u?” repeated ad infinitum.

Their attention goes, firstly, to the volume players who already generate good revenue.

Forget the Pareto Principle. We’re talking 95/5 laws of revenue distribution here.

With that said, you will need to come up with some novel ways of extracting information from key industry figures:

  • Your affiliate managers
  • Traffic source reps
  • Your direct competition

Now, if I were starting my career today, I would be mind-mapping the chains of power that bind the industry together — and then finding ways to break in to them.

The one playground that is fair game for seducing all three parties above is the conference circuit.

Once you know who you need to target in your market of choice, research where (and how) to access them.

This is where you need to position yourself favourably:

Affiliate managers… respond well to the illusion of an already successful affiliate. Pretend you are running traffic elsewhere.

Traffic source reps… respond well to the idea that you are not actually an affiliate. Pretend you run a ‘performance marketing agency’.

Your competition… responds well to legitimate information, or flattery. No pretending here. Suck up or cough up.

I’ve met a bunch of newbie affiliates at events this year.

While I don’t know how their businesses have progressed since, I know for sure that they made the right decision in going to events where they’d network with legitimate affiliate marketers.

This form of learning by osmosis — for newbies and veterans alike — is vital for picking up signals about where the industry is heading.

Good places to start include Affiliate Summit, AdTech, and whatever annual meetup your network of choice is currently pimping.

4. I would focus on out-working the competition.

How do you build a competitive advantage when your competitors are richer, more experienced and better connected than you?

The answer is by starting small, keeping lean and making moves that — for whatever reason — your competitors won’t.

Stay under the radar and out-work the competition.

The best way to do this is to corner a small segment of a market that you already know to be profitable.

The German dating market is profitable. It’s also fiercely competitive.

A newbie entering these waters is going to be swallowed up by one of the many great white sharks, AKA your direct competition.

So you start in shallow waters. You ask questions about the huge German dating market and you segment it in to smaller chunks.

There are many ways you can do this: from age, to cities, to needs, to marital profiling, to disabilities, to shared hobbies.

The dating market is a great example because it serves a universal need (to find a companion) with endless smaller pockets of demographics that can be targeted.

What you will find is that your biggest competitors are drunk on their economies of scale. They won’t bother to devise campaigns for the smaller traffic sources, or the minority demographics. If they do, it will be an afterthought.

This leaves the path clear for a newbie affiliate to sweep in and serve those demographics with a message that strikes closer to home.

While a small budget demands that you out-work the competition, take note: this is not a scalable advantage once you enter the mass markets.

To be a dominant affiliate in the big-money open waters, you need to build structural advantages in to your business.

By definition, an effective advantage must not be easy for a newbie affiliate to replicate. I’ve referenced some of the more popular strategies here.

Of course, it’s a double edged sword.

Dominant affiliates rely on structural advantages to stay profitable. In doing so, they sacrifice an element of creative desperation.

Dave Trott covers the topic well with this excellent piece on Revolution vs. Maintenance.

5. I would choose a low CPA/CPI niche

There are two benefits to working with low payout offers.

The first is that they are easier to optimise.

If an offer pays out $2, you can make a decision on its viability with relatively little ad spend.

$20 spent and no conversions? Time to pivot.

The second reason is that for a newbie, breaking the pattern of zero conversions is important.

You want proof that affiliate marketing works?

You’ll get it faster by pushing offers that don’t require a large payment from the consumer — in other words, offers that don’t require a hard-sell.

This proof can morph in to motivation, which can snowball in to self-belief and more patience in the long run.

It’s easier to stay motivated while the conversion column is moving (and the data is taking on some meaning).

The good news is that there are tons of offers in emerging markets where conversions are rampant and the cost of traffic is cheap.

The Middle East and South Asia are prime examples. LATAM is another exciting growth area.

By focusing on these regions, you can get some conversions under your belt. You can learn how each traffic source works without selling off your left kidney to pay for the advertising.

The faster you get away from theory and in to the realms of collecting data, the sooner you can call yourself an affiliate.

To be blunt:

These are the five things I would do if I was starting affiliate marketing today:

  1. Build a testing budget where I can spend at least $100/day.
  2. Invest in a VPN and analyse the top-bidding affiliates in each country.
  3. Build key relationships with affiliate managers, traffic source reps and direct competitors.
  4. Search for under-served segments in profitable markets.
  5. Stick to low-paying offers and gather data fast.

What are you currently doing?

Have I missed something that can light a rocket up the arse and catapult newbies to success?

Interested to hear.

How Much Could I Pay You to Quit Affiliate Marketing?

There was an interesting poll up on the STM Forum this week:

What guaranteed monthly salary would you accept to quit affiliate marketing for a job in the corporate world?

Monthly affiliate salary

Just under 50% of the affiliates who replied said you’d have to pay them at least $500K per year to quit affiliate marketing.

That’s pretty remarkable.

Anybody who works in affiliate marketing knows that there’s no such thing as a fixed income.

To turn down a guaranteed bounty of $500K per year — plus a lifetime free of the aeons of stress-fuelled hair shredding — says a lot about the passion of those who turn to our industry.

Admittedly, yes, the figures are likely inflated by a sense of bravado and outward ‘who-can-grind-the-hardest’.

There’s a funny line that if you ask a man how many women he’s slept with, and then divide his response by three, you’ll be somewhat closer to the real answer.

Perhaps we can say the same for the price on an affiliate marketer’s head.

Regardless…

This poll, if even remotely close to the truth, reveals two stark realities:

1. Your competition is ruthlessly committed.
2. Affiliate marketing is more than just a business. It’s a lifestyle choice.

The Ruthless Competition

If somebody is willing to turn down a guaranteed income of $500K per year, what does that tell you about their affiliate business?

It says, either, “Hi, I’m insanely rich and 500K means nothing to me.”

Or, “I’m completely committed to making this work, to the point where not even half a million dollars is going to sway me.”

Whatever the case, this is your competition.

And that should be a call to arms.

These are the people, the pooled ruthless mindset, that you have to compete with.

Is it any wonder that the industry is so tough for a newcomer to crack?

A Lifestyle Choice

One of the things that struck me while reading the responses to the STM poll was just how many users had already given up six-figure corporate jobs in favour of affiliate marketing.

When you see a poll like this, your first thought is cynical:

“Somebody who already earns his millions in a glass-laden corner office probably isn’t going to be exchanging the view for affiliate marketing anytime soon.”

Except, that wasn’t the case.

I regularly speak to successful pros from all walks; from the finance arena, to the weary battle-hardened in law (the irony), and to unsatisfied executives.

It’s widely accepted that beyond a certain point, your salary ceases to add enjoyment to your life.

Once the basics are covered, and luxuries enjoyed, an extra 100K or 500K is pretty much irrelevant.

Time and burnout become the chief nemesis of happiness. Along with the political games that are so entwined with the corporate world.

And that’s why, for many people, affiliate marketing is not just a career. It’s a symbolic lifestyle choice.

Once you have enough money, you start looking inward at the value of your time.

Want to know the reason why so many affiliates put such high prices on their head?

Because they have something that people stuck in high-paying corporate jobs so desperately want:

  • The freedom of time
  • Self-determination

Once you have it, you don’t want to give it up.

This stubborn defiance to conform, even under the carrot of a fixed 500K salary, is what drives affiliates to be the best damn marketers in the business.

It’s the reason why corporations have to pay extreme money to attract us.

And if you want to carve your own career in affiliate marketing, this needs to be considered.

There simply isn’t room for the half-arsed.

The Price on My Head

Would I accept a fixed salary to quit affiliate marketing?

Are you shitting me?

Yes, of course I bloody would.

In a strange paradox, it’s exactly what I strive to achieve every single day.

But there’s a very big difference between working for any corporation, and working for one built in your own image through your own blood, sweat and beers.

For all the successful affiliates I’ve met, I can count on one hand those who wanted to stay middlemen in this same industry forever.

(And even then, I’m pretty sure half of them were rat-arse plastered at the time.)

We all have escape plans.

Affiliate marketing, the career choice, is 100% expendable in my eyes.

And yet the lifestyle and opportunity it represents comes at a huge price.

Is a 500K salary enough to fund that exchange?

To say there’s a yes or no answer would be to undersell the very Machiavellian nature of our industry.

To illustrate, I put this question to a friend of mine (who happens to be a newbie affiliate) and here’s what he said:

Guess I’d take the job. Hustle for a year. Demand a pay raise. I’d keep tabs on any useful data they had, any interesting connections. Try take on a few juniors to get some solo work done on the side. After 3 years, I’d leave with two Mil in the bank and blow up my own dick boost pills, or whatever’s flying at the time. Maybe Ebola. Fuck, when can I start?

And that, my dear scumbags, is why affiliates are not grown.

We are born rancid.

Dude, Where’s My Margin?

Feeling the squeeze?

Ever get the impression that your affiliate campaigns are having to work twice as hard for half the profits?

If you work in any of the major verticals — dating, gaming, adult, apps, etc etc — on any of the major traffic sources — Google, Facebook, POF, BuzzCity, Decisive, Exoclick — you have surely seen the effects of an explosion in competition, and the rising costs that it entails.

There is a swelling crowd of hungry affiliate marketers, and most of them are armed with the same weapons:

  • The same banners
  • same landing pages
  • same offers
  • same payouts
  • same budgets
  • same bidding strategies
  • same traffic sources
  • and all of the same advice.

Is it any wonder that you can’t get profitable when your entire business can be reverse engineered and replicated in 20 minutes?

Because it can be replicated so easily, it is replicated.

Which leads us to a situation where most of the major traffic platforms are now battlegrounds in a race to the bottom.

Affiliates bid against each other, rapidly driving up click costs, until they can stomach the loss of margin no longer.

He who cries first is forced to take his ball and look for a new traffic source where the battle has yet to reach the savage dying stages.

So what can you do about it?

First, understand the insanity:

There are websites where the exact same banner is shown when you refresh the page. You’d think this is the same advertiser, but it isn’t.

Further investigation shows that the duplicate banners are linked to an identical landing page promoting the same offer. In some cases, the offer is provided by the same affiliate network.

The only way to distinguish between these two campaigns?

They have two unique domains — because they are run by two competing affiliates.

In an industry obsessed with healthy margins, we forget what damage this level playing field does to the cost of traffic.

It rises continually.

Cloning a business model isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, and neither is cloning a campaign. But most business models take months or years to replicate successfully.

An affiliate campaign takes 20 minutes.

Now imagine that you conjure some serious creative juices.

You produce the most stunning banner ever to leave Photoshop. It gets clicked harder and faster than any other creative in Digital History. Imagine you pair it to the freshest and bestselling landing page in your niche.

Now what?

You make money, we hope.

As you start to make money, you can afford to bid more than your competition.

Slowly your winning campaign rises to the top of the stack.

You’re scaling! The world is your oyster!

Until…

One sleep later: every other affiliate in your vertical has noticed that he’s getting less impressions than he received 24 hours ago. He goes to see who’s taking them. He sees your work.

“This looks effective.”

So he copies you, and an entire industry follows suit.

The greatest work of your career is rehashed, ripped, and reuploaded faster than you can say “Hands Off, Wank Biscuit”.

This is a big problem, particularly for those affiliates who misunderstand what constitutes a competitive advantage.

A banner is not an advantage. Banners are copied every minute.

Neither is a landing page.

A business built around the percentage points you are capable of extracting from Photoshop or JQuery is doomed to fail — because there are simply too many marketers ready and waiting to View Source on your innovation.

You can’t hide the creative element of a well scaled campaign.

We’ve got proxies in every corner of the world.

There are a number of spy tools that exist to ‘out’ your work before you’ve had time to celebrate it over breakfast.

Whatever you can get to work, somebody else can too.

(Arbitrage marketers are the most agile in the world.)

And therefore, if you want to regain your margins, the creative process is the wrong place to look.

The solution is to unlock an advantage that is difficult to replicate.

And here are the main areas you should choose to focus on:

1. Wholesale traffic

Imagine trying to run a grocery store if you had to buy your stock from Tesco at retail prices.

It sounds like an uphill struggle, but that is exactly what affiliates try to do.

We buy nicely geo-targeted traffic at the premium rate. We then rely on our creative approach to squeeze profit where a brand advertiser revels in waste.

(If he grew any smarter, we’d be doomed.)

The industry is dominated by self-serve platforms. These charge a premium for their convenience.

They are great if you get there first. But it’s amazing how quickly costs will rise on an auction platform if just a single competitor enters your market.

The good news?

It is possible to buy traffic in bulk.

You can cut out Tesco and go straight to the supplier.

When you find a campaign that is profitable on Placement X, you should be thinking about getting that placement all to yourself. The way to do this is by approaching the site owner and making an offer he can’t refuse.

You need to offer a better deal than he’ll get with a traditional network.

A useful carrot is to offer upfront payment for months in advance.

Better yet, target websites that fit your market perfectly whilst being monetized poorly.

Research which of the major ad networks are known to be stingy with their payments — and target their publisher-base relentlessly with better offers.

If you see Google AdSense on a target’s website, pounce accordingly.

No webmaster who relies on AdSense should be able to refuse the type of deal that a smart affiliate can offer.

2. Exclusive offers

AKA networking, schmoozing and getting a jump on the gravy train before it leaves the station.

The best time to promote an affiliate offer is when nobody else has access to it.

While it’s optimistic to expect a one-to-one relationship with the merchant (unless you’re packing some serious volume), it’s certainly possible to promote offers before they land on your favourite CPA networks.

Often this comes with sacrifice: slower payments, greater risk of getting burnt, the chore of dealing with a real-life, living, breathing, usually fucking sleeping accounting department.

By the time a CPA offer has risen to the top of your network’s ‘hottest offers’ chart, rest assured: some other affiliate has taken the pie.

You may still be able to feed off scraps if you run fast enough, but the train has left the station.

Make it your responsibility to stay connected in your niche. Attend the networking events, store the business cards if you truly absolutely have to.

Use LinkedIn to target companies that might not necessarily have an affiliate program but do have a product that you know how to sell well.

Your competition can’t promote an offer that they don’t have access to.

3. Investing in Technology and Infrastructure

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t skimp on, it’s technology.

Every day I see mobile marketers trying to make a living using double meta refreshes on servers that are barely wired to load a LiveJournal without creaking.

It’s like turning up at St Andrews with a bag full of hockey sticks.

By technology, I mean investments like:

  • Servers
  • Tracking solutions
  • Spying tools
  • Automation tools
  • Redirect configurations
  • Local Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)
  • Productivity software (keep it simple, avoid productivity porn.)
  • High quality scripts for geotargeting, countdowns, etc
  • List building capabilities
  • Your own choice of hardware

By infrastructure:

  • Tax-efficient corporation setup (for the love of Satan’s Balls, stop running traffic under your personal name!)
  • VAT registration (you think your rivals pay 20% on their traffic?)
  • Access to high quality information
  • Native translators
  • Outsourcing teams
  • Payment terms and credit
  • Privacy settings to cover your trail
  • A setup that lets you work on the move

Most affiliates skimp on both technology and infrastructure.

You shouldn’t if you care about your margins.

4. Attritional Bidding

There are several ways to win the war on self-serve traffic sources.

If you have money in the bank, you can grind out the smaller fish by accepting a skinnier margin. This advantage snowballs if you can drive enough volume to demand a higher payout.

Some of the biggest businesses in the world operate on wafer thin margins (1-10%), but they make up for it in volume. They leverage economies of scale against the competition to literally choke them out of the market.

Similarly, you can focus on high quality traffic at the expense of short term profits.

If you deliver good leads, you can outmanoeuvre the competition through pay bumps and familiarity with the vertical’s underlying economy.

Knowledge of what ultimately sells is priceless in a way that knowledge of how to turn a quick 200% ROI usually isn’t.

The third option is to be more efficient.

Affiliates waste ad dollars every day by failing to set rules and redirects for their campaigns.

Just because you’re bidding on prime American traffic doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get it.

Analyse where your traffic is coming from.

Use a filter to deal with mobile traffic, and another to redirect traffic from outside your geo.

You can choose to monetise it with an alternate campaign, or simply sell the impressions back to an ad exchange.

5. Unfashionable Traffic

When a newbie logs in to TrafficJunky and buys a 300×250 banner for the whole of America, I can tell him with sad-eye certainty that he will not be making money in my lifetime.

Because his campaign is simply too fashionable.

It’s too fucking obvious.

You do not get profitable trying to conquer rush hour traffic with a bicycle and a $20 budget.

What is unfashionable traffic?

It’s traffic that you don’t hear publicised on blogs, forums or in network roundup emails. You’ll never hear me talking about it, or anybody who actually relies on it.

It’s traffic that still has healthy margins because the competition either doesn’t know how to monetise it, doesn’t know where to find it, or doesn’t have the technology to deal with it.

All of these burdens create a wall that protects the traffic from inflated costs.

Facebook is a good example of unfashionable traffic.

Yep, Facebook. Unfashionable.

There is still huge money to be made on Facebook, but in order to do so you need advanced technology to cloak your creatives, and you need a healthy bank balance to spend thousands on accounts that might disappear overnight.

To the newbie gazing in from the cold, that’s unfashionable traffic.

It comes with strings attached, headaches to nurse, problems to solve.

The newbie would rather move along to the next platform where the barrier to entry is less severe. The only problem is that he’s not alone.

The platforms with less friction are invariably meeting grounds for an industry full of disillusioned souls all trying to find their margins without having to put in the groundwork.

But shouldn’t that excite you?

You don’t have to follow them.

The upside to monetizing unfashionable traffic is that it gives you a massive advantage in times of industry crippling saturation.

If you run the hottest campaigns on the biggest self-serve platforms with the same creatives as the next guy, you can’t possibly expect to be making money forever.

You’d do well to make money, period.

Newbie affiliates, I’ll be honest with you:

You will not survive unless you build some walls around your business.

Building those walls means embracing the challenges that fill lazy marketers with dread.

It means pushing out of your comfort zone; creating a structural edge in your business that allows you to outbid the competition regardless of whether they copy your banners and landing pages.

That’s not to say that affiliate marketing is dead.

Only that arbitrage for fools might as well be.

Copyright © 2014.