We go into affiliate marketing for a lot of reasons. We want passive income. We want the freedom of being our own boss. We want the satisfaction of building a business. We want to learn new things.
But at the end of the day, the ultimate goal we all share is the same: We want to make money.
Instead of learning from their mistakes and tweaking their strategies, the overwhelming majority of affiliate marketers end up spending a lot more time, money and effort than they want. Eventually they drop out of the game, convinced that affiliate marketing “doesn’t work.”
Think of affiliate marketing as the tip of an iceberg. A few hard-working people sit at the pinnacle, where the money is made. The other 99 percent or so are below the water, with nothing to show but failed attempts and bitter memories.
How can you get to the top of the iceberg? Let’s look at the mistakes that kill affiliate conversions and what you can do to prevent them.
Not tracking key metrics
You don’t have to be a math whiz to be a great affiliate marketer, but if you don’t know your numbers you don’t know your business. These are some of the key metrics you have to stay on top of:
- Commission Rate (are you paid a flat fee per lead or a percentage of every sale?)
- Conversion Rate (how many people who see your offer end up buying or completing the action you’re trying to get them to complete?)
- Customer Lifetime Value (are they repeat customers? Will they buy add-ons?)
There are some other things that any online marketer should keep track of, things like click-through rate (CTR), average order value (AOV, earnings per click (EPC) and return on investment (ROI). Each one is a piece in an overall puzzle, and how these numbers are connected tells the story of whether or not your campaigns are on the right track.
Not knowing the different kinds of affiliate marketing
Another big mistake is not knowing what kind of affiliate marketing you are doing. Are you wanting to monetize niche sites? Or are you buying traffic for limited-time offers?
Most affiliate marketing newbies don’t know the difference, so let me break it down by two distinct types: We’ll call them the Thought Leader and the Barnstormer.
The Though Leader is essentially a content marketer. He might use paid traffic methods (like PPC), but he typically leverages free traffic through SEO and word-of-mouth to make a niche site popular until it’s time to monetize.
If you want to be a Thought Leader, your site will need at least 30 pages of good, high-quality content based around carefully-selected keywords and keyword phrases. It may take months of blogging and social media outreach to build your audience.
Eventually, customers will consider you an expert in your niche. They will rely on you for product recommendations. You’ll be able to negotiate ad rates and higher affiliate commissions with merchants (brands) that you’ll develop long-lasting relationships with.
The second type of affiliate marketers I’ll call the Barnstormers. They are the rockstars of affiliate marketing. They study every angle, find what’s hot, and usually run dozens of offers at once. And most of their offers lose money.
Then they find one that hits. That’s when they stop everything and pour all their resources into the offer/traffic combination that is converting. The payday may last for a day or two, or it may last for months. But eventually, other marketers will figure it out and come crowd the space like vultures on roadkill.
The Barnstormer can make huge commissions in a short amount of time. While Thought Leaders focus on niche blogging and are more consistent with their income, they can’t scale up as fast as a Barnstormer.
What do I mean by “scale up?” When a Barnstormer finds that one-in-ten or one-in-twenty offer that makes money instead of losing money, he will drive as much drive traffic to the offer as he can, using networks like Facebook, AdWords, AdMob, or SiteScout. They might also leverage some cheaper “second-tier” traffic buys on 7search (https://www.7search.com/), or Clicksor (http://www.clicksor.com/).
Choosing the wrong network
What networks should you be using? The answer will depend on whether you’re a Thought Leader or a Barnstormer.
The Though Leader might use native advertising, Google AdSense, or Amazon Affiliates to monetize his/her sites. But commission-based affiliate offers come from networks like CJ by Conversant, Shareasale and AvantLink. These offers appear as text links or banner ads on the site, and the affiliate usually gets a flat percentage (commission) on every sale.
You can sign up for any of these networks for free—if you’re in the U.S. or Canada and you have a website, they probably won’t turn you down.
Barnstormers run commission-based campaigns sometimes, but they really like lead-generation (CPA) campaigns from networks like Clickbank or JVZoo. The Barnstormer will have a harder time getting into premium affiliate networks like W4, GlobalWideMedia (formerly NeverBlue),MaxBounty, Ads4Dough, and MundoMedia.
Why are these networks so exclusive? Because for every “serious” marketer making great money there are a thousand newbies hanging around, asking dumb questions. And the best offers usually only go to affiliates who have proven themselves. It makes sense if you think about it: Why would the network have 100 marketers out there, driving up advertising costs? Instead, they’ll let 5 or 10 proven marketers sell the offer as an “exclusive” … That way everyone stands a chance to get paid.
Check this site out for network reviews: http://www.affpaying.com/
Choosing the wrong niche
Your campaigns won’t ever get off the ground if you aren’t in the right niche. I can’t tell you which one is right for you. But “evergreen” niches always have some life in them. These include diet, fitness, consulting, dating. Some people say evergreen niches are too saturated. But there’s always opportunity there for smart marketers who are willing to do their homework.
Non-evergreen niches might be a fad item or a hot Christmas gift—something that sells great now but probably won’t be around in a few months. They’ll make lots of money for the people who market first and market best, but they’ll leave most marketers out in the cold.
Choosing the wrong offer
Even in a great niche, there are good offers and bad offers. You have to find an offer that you know will convert well.
Some marketers get too focused on chasing “hot” offers. There’s nothing wrong with keeping one eye one what is trending, but there is ALWAYS a better offer. And if you don’t dig in and make the most of the offer you’ve chosen, you are leaving untapped potential that someone else will come along and mine.
Some of the best affiliate offers are off the beaten path. I know a guy who made a fortune selling ebooks on beekeeping. For real.
Thought Leaders have to consider the price of the product. If you’re trying to build a site around a $10 product, don’t bother—the commissions will be so small there’s no way you can make it up in volume. So I like to look for items that are at least $40 or more, preferably $100 or more. My most successful site, the products range from $50-$300+.
Research your product. Know who’s buying it and what they respond to. Understand your audience. What’s their age, their gender, and their pain points? Make a list of all of their demographic characteristics. By spending more time on research in the beginning, you can avoid wasting time and money later on.
If you’re a Thought Leader, you know what your audience wants to buy. You’re an expert in that niche. If you’re a Barnstormer, Offervault.com, CBgraph (http://www.cbgraph.com/help/) and CBengine (http://www.cbengine.com/) list affiliate offers and the networks that have them.
Remember: When you’re just getting started, there’s no shame in imitating the big dogs. In fact, you’d be a fool not to. JVNotifypro (http://v3.jvnotifypro.com/account) is a great place to research Clickbank launches, while Moat (moat.com) and SpyFu (spyfu.com) let you check out the campaigns other marketers are running.
Not having effective landing pages
The biggest reason landing pages don’t convert is that they don’t present a clear objective. They have too many distractions and no clear call-to-action. Make sure your landers have the following:
- Bullet points (instead of blocks of text)
- White space (easy on the eyes)
- Action verbs (motivate the customer)
Makes your landing pages DON’T have the following:
- Links that take the user somewhere other than the CTA
- Distractions of any kind
For designing these pages, I have used Unbounce (http://unbounce.com/) and I’ve hired a developer from Fiverr.com to do them for me. If you know some basic FTP and HTML, you can HTTrack (https://www.httrack.com) to copy the files of an existing landing page and make enough changes to call it your own.
No, plagiarism is not a good idea. But as I said before, while you’re getting started, there’s no harm in imitating what already works!
Testing offers is not optional. If you aren’t testing, you’re throwing darts with a blindfold on.
And if you’re a Barnstormer, you need to be prepared to lose hundreds of dollars while you’re testing. The biggest mistake wannabee Barnstormers make is to start with promoting high payouts products with expensive keywords. Then they start losing $100 a day, they get scared, and they pull the plug and never return to affiliate marketing.
Start with low payout offers with cheap keywords and run multiple offers at once. Split-test your offers, in addition to running the usual A/B tests of your landing pages. This means running concurrent campaigns with a minor detail changed, be it an image or slightly different wording. Run the same add with multiple platforms (referrers).
In this stage, you’re buying enough data to know which referrer or keywords convert. Then you start blacklisting the non-converting referrer and keywords and only run on the converting keywords.
Keep tweaking your weak offers until they are profitable and know when to cut them loose if they never get better. Once a campaign is profitable, you scale up, buying traffic to maximize your market reach.
Making decisions based on feelings
I know a marketer who turns your nose up at email marketing. He says “I don’t look at sales emails, so why would I send them?”
He also says those pop-up overlays that ask you to submit your email address are annoying.
I agree with him on both counts.
But they work, and that’s why I use them. My friend doesn’t use them, and he’s making a huge mistake. He thinks his prospective customer has the same prejudices and feelings about their online experiences as he does. They don’t.
An affiliate marketer I know who consistently runs six-figure campaigns once told me “I don’t use Internet Explorer. But my offers convert 5 times higher with I.E users than they do with Chrome or Firefox. So guess who I optimize for?”
Think about that. While you’re at it, ask yourself how much time you’ve spent trying to make your website or your banner ads look beautiful. Do you think the owners of Craigslist.com and Google.com are losing any sleep because their home pages don’t win any design awards?
What you think looks good doesn’t matter. What you think your users should be doing doesn’t matter. What matters is the data—which you get from testing, testing, and testing some more.
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