This is a guest post by James Agate. James writes a blog about SEO, operates a few sites of his own and runs an SEO consulting firm that works with affiliates (amongst other clients).
The road to success is littered with dog shit. Affiliate marketing is no exception.
In my mind there are two kinds of affiliates. The ones that do a few things really well (develop a specialism) and earn themselves decent money in the process and then the other kind; that try too many things and end up earning mediocre amounts.
You’ve probably seen both kinds of affiliates at work.
There’s the super skinny sites that operate the manure model… this is an affiliate or website owner that has outsourced or just written piss poor content and sandwiched it between multiple horse shit offers in the hope that someone might actually feel sorry for them and click that ad and make a purchase. They are also the kind that merrily spend their AdWords balance sending people to a homepage or pay little attention to the commissions versus the CPC.
Then there’s the other kind that clearly understand how the business works and where they fit in the customer purchasing process. The fact that it is so easy to become an affiliate is part of the reason why so many affiliates have shoes caked in dog shit. People assume because it’s free and affiliate networks promise big payouts that all it takes is for you to whack up some vaguely relevant content and people will happily buy using your links.
In the immortal words of Daniel Craig in Layer Cake – “It doesn’t fucking work like that.”
What some affiliates forget are the underlying principles of running a successful business. You can ‘con’ a customer and turn a quid or you can look after them and enjoy lifetime customer value. I know which one I’d rather do.
Tip 1 – Encourage loyalty
We affiliates spend time, money and effort acquiring customers so we owe it to ourselves to try and retain them.
Think about it in money terms; if you spend £0.20 per click on a PPC campaign and you convert a £5 offer at say 5% you are going to hit profit if you buy 100 clicks. But what about if you took each of those 5 ‘customers’ and as well as the initial commission you managed to retain say 3 of them. You could then promote multiple other related offers to those 3 retained users and next time you need not spend that £0.20 buying them, they know you, trust you and you know what kinds of offers they like.
I can certainly do more of this and if I am honest, I haven’t cracked the loyalty thing quite yet on all of my sites but I’m getting there one pre-pop, email grabbing offer at a time.
Tip 2 – Don’t spread yourself too thin
This isn’t just a tip for affiliate marketing but more of an online business tip in general. ‘Real businesses’ make carefully considered investments in projects based on the likely risks and returns, weighing up the pros and cons in a rational fashion. Since you’re running an online business, you should do the same.
I’m not saying you need a committee or to embark on a complex journey of planning, research and feedback but having a solid grasp on the following is key to your success: who you are targeting, the problem you are solving, the business model you are going to use, how much is it going to take to get this thing off the ground, how much time will you need to commit in the first instance and on-going (and do you have that time), what is the likely return and how long will it take for you to see a return (and can you wait that long).
I’m pretty sure it’s the unwritten rule of internet business that you shouldn’t buy another domain or start another project until you’ve covered the setup costs of your last project or at least got a solid plan in place that is going to get you there.
The late, great creative director Paul Arden said that people are always looking for the next opportunity, forgetting that the project they have right in front of them IS the opportunity.
Tip 3 – Add value
Some people like to dress up the affiliate marketing business as a complex beast. The fact is that if you want to make big fat juicy commissions then you had better capture that customer right at the sweet spot – when they are at the info seeking or comparing alternatives stages in the buying process.
You can entice them by adding something of real value. There’s a reason why the likes of MoneySupermarket.com are so successful and that’s because they focus on providing real value to the end user. If your site makes the life of the user easier, solves a problem or is generally useful then they will be more than happy to oblige and click your affiliate link.
I try to build sites that are genuinely useful or solve a problem. I have a site that helps people out of redundancy and a site that helps people start a business as well as a few others. I’ve started websites in all sorts of niches like broadband, mobile phones and life insurance without truly thinking how I was going to make it work and what I actually brought to the party.
I’d be lying if I said that my sites were all about the user because I don’t run a charity and I try to ensure everything I do at least in some way contributes to my bank balance but I like to give my sites the appearance of being user focused.
Tip 4 – Don’t chase the money
I once blew a month’s money in two days chasing life insurance commission. Think you’ve got deep pockets? Not compared to these guys. They can afford to drop £30 a click because they either A) have more money than sense B) they are backed up by some mega rich brand that ‘needs’ to be present on that term or C) a combination of the 2.
There wasn’t anything wrong with my website, my keyword research or my ad writing skills. I simply didn’t have the budget to sustain that pesky pilot phase of every PPC campaign. Even if I had got there I probably wouldn’t have had the cash flow to support the demands of the campaign. Painful, but I’m glad I realised that fairly quickly otherwise I might have actually wiped myself out.
Look for gems. Niches or affiliate offers that are underserved or underrepresented or at the very least have good opportunities in i.e. some good keywords are low competition, low cost so at least give you a look in. They are still out there, the other day I found a whole niche with really decent search volume and on several of the bigger keywords, parked pages were actually ranking in the top 5!
If you are going to target a competitive market then you had better have a good USP.
Tip 5 – Relax
As any affiliate will tell you, there’s nothing worse than to sit there hitting refresh every 2 minutes wondering why your AdWords balance is going down but your affiliate network balance isn’t going up. Behaving like this will do little more than turn you into a nervous wreck.
Be thorough in your planning, spot-on in your execution and then to a certain degree you have to trust your instinct and let the thing run its course. You want to look at bigger patterns i.e. daily, weekly, monthly.
I’d like to think I have developed this mentality because I’ve got balls of steel but in actual fact I have just come to realise that worrying about a campaign is quite damaging to not only your health but also your bank balance. You may pause or delete a campaign before it has been given a chance to hit profitability or before at the very least it has been given the chance to show you where the profits might lie.
Giving up on a website too soon is also another crime that I have committed. When you kick off a project you have all the enthusiasm in the world, this tends to fade as it becomes increasingly clear that it’s not as easy as you imagined. Stick with it because if you truly believe in something then you will get there eventually. That annoying man that’s obsessed with “re-inventing the vacuum cleaner” spent nearly a decade on his idea before earning any real money from it.
A word of warning however, don’t let things go too far. Be clear in your own mind how much you are prepared to commit before you write the project/site/campaign off as a lost cause.
To sum up
You know just how easy it is to start life as an affiliate. If it cost you £1000 to join each program I guarantee you wouldn’t take it so fucking lightly and that’s the point. You need to focus on how you are going to turn this website/campaign/idea into the money tree your parents told you never existed – that’s the secret to avoiding the queue outside the job centre. As Finch would say, affiliate marketing really isn’t a piss in the park.
I’ve learned all this the hard way because I reeked of dog shit when I started life as an affiliate. I adopted the scatter gun approach. I started as many sites as I could, as quickly and cheaply as possible and then prayed my bollocks off that one might make me some money – yes I even had one dedicated to compost!
I escaped the dog shit by realising there was a problem and making steps to correct that (washing my shoes, selling domains, closing down websites and focusing on core projects), you can do the same, it’s never too late.
I learned the wrong way to be an affiliate and you’d be surprised how doing the wrong thing can actually be the better way of learning how to do it properly. A man that makes no mistakes makes nothing and all that. I like to tell people it was one big experiment when in actual fact it was good ol’ fashioned naivety.
Recommended This Week:
Be sure to check out James’s blog, SkyRocket SEO. I stumbled across it several weeks ago and was impressed by the content. Plenty of takeaway tips to sink your teeth in to. You can also follow him on Twitter. Cheers for the guest post, James.
I’d also like to say a major thanks to everybody who has purchased my Premium Posts so far. I’ve been genuinely flattered by the feedback and sheer number of sales. It’s nice to know that so many of you are willing to pay for
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