updated 16/07/2016 : Introduction ( Australian internet Marketing )
Online Crash Course to Affiliate Marketing
Question: What is the simplest and most fool proof way of attracting traffic to your website?
The answer that you have in mind is the wrong one.
[Article originally published Dec 25, 2008 @ 21:13]
The way to accomplish this task is much simpler. You print the website’s name on your t-shirt than go on and bang on every door in your neighbourhood urging the people to enter your site and paying one buck if they do so. Of course, this isn’t exactly what most webmasters do and there are plenty of reasons for it.
First of all, this technique is very labor intensive, second of all you would become your neighbourhood’s freak, third of all you can only reach that many houses or flats within a single day, next you would soon become broke and thus finally the amount of traffic you would receive wouldn’t be exactly something to be proud of. Not to mention that it is very likely that you will obtain a few restraining orders in the process.
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- The First Lesson
This hypothetic scenario does teach us however about the basics of generating traffic. What is simple is not necessary easy and effective, you only have a limited amount of time/money at your disposal to accomplish this task, the amount of traffic received per unit of time/money should be as high as possible and traffic generation techniques should ideally be of the residual type.
What does residual traffic mean? Well, the term has been coined right now under your very nose, but the principle behind it is rock solid. Basically a residual traffic technique will continue to generate australian traffic long after the mechanism has been set into place, without further investment of time/money. Its opposite is what I call flashflood traffic techniques which naturally generate traffic for a very short amount of time or ongoing only for as long as time/money is invested.
Sounds simple enough, but the devil is in the details. Let me give you 2 quick examples that will show you clearly how the two types of traffic differ:
1)Imagine that you just bought a permanent link on a blogroll (the collection of links found usually on the right side on a blog). Of course the amount of traffic you will receive won’t be too consistent (unless it is a very popular one), but the traffic will keep on coming for months if not years, not to mention that the link will also get you some attention from the search engines. This is a clear example of a residual traffic technique.
2)Now imagine a different scenario. You have an article dealing with a very controversial topic posted on Digg. Before you know it, your servers can barely keep up, as the story made it to the front page. A week later however, the traffic from Digg has stopped to a grinding halt.
Now this is an extreme example of flashflood traffic. Of course the situation is not that simple if you think further. The story might bepicked up on forums or blogs, and the link to your website will remain in place, but that’s already a different matter.
This is basically how you will learn to quickly evaluate any traffic technique. Again here is the list that highlights these factors:
1) What’s the amount of time/money required
2)What amount of traffic will you obtain per unit of time/money
3)What type of traffic (residual/flashflood) does the technique generate
4)Are there any hidden benefits or problems?
The world of affiliate traffic is one full of misconceptions. So before I even start explaining in more detail, I will first point out what affiliate traffic ISN’T.
1)Setting an effective affiliate traffic program is not easy
2)Setting an affiliate traffic program alone, won’t bring you any sizable amount of traffic. You will still have to promote your program through other means in order to make it effective
3)Web surfers are not mindless simpletons that will buy anything if you scream out how good your product is. You must avoid over hype and build credibility
4)Most web surfers are reluctant to click an affiliate link/banner, if they are aware of it.
5)There are no shortcuts. Affiliate traffic is one of the most labor intensive techniques available, but is also potentially one of the most effective. And no, this does not necessarily concern the actual affiliate platform development, but rather the promotion.
With these issues cleared, it is also important to realize that affiliate marketing is perhaps one of the most effective tools that you have at your disposal to generate traffic and sales, but again only when used in conjunction with other traffic generation methods. Why sales? Because in traditional affiliate marketing, the traffic generated is only a sideissue, the main focus is on the sales figure. The traffic you might get can be relatively low, but the conversion to sales is fantastic.
Programs that encourage users to only subscribe to a newsletter, sign up to a community or a forum and are not intended to immediately generate sales are not considered to be part of affiliate marketing part, but part of PPA (pay per action) campaigns which require a very different strategy and will thus be treated extensively in a separate chapter. However attempting to capture e-mails or sign ups to further leverage future sales is a technique used widely in conjunction with affiliate marketing, so do make sure that you read the chapters on PPA and e-mail traffic/marketing
Affiliate traffic is thus suited only to those cases which seek a direct conversion of traffic to sales. Now there are two sides to this story. You might be either interested to become an affiliate or sell your product through an Reliable affiliate program.
Now the first case doesn’t exactly concern traffic generation, but it is an issue you must be familiar with in order to make your affiliate program that you manage actually work and of course if you are interested in becoming an affiliate in order to properly monetize your traffic. Either way, it is definitely a must read.
Why doesn’t anybody click my links?
The affiliate side of the story.
If you have ever tried to make some money with affiliate marketing, by selling affiliate products more exactly, that’s the question that nags you the most. This happened most likely because you tried to apply blindly some sort of success recipe and you considered that doing things only halfway through is enough. There are virtually endless possibilities in which you could go about and generate income by manipulating visitors to exit via the affiliate links, but each and every one of them must be done right in order to have any sizable effect.
The first question you should ask yourself is a very sensible one. Would you buy the product that you are promoting? This is a key part, because the answer is most likely NO. Why wouldn’t you buy the product? Is it because the product itself is of low quality? Is the language used to promote it too full of hype? Do you have an aversion towards the format in which the offer is available? Would you have a problem buying a product from someone who is a mere middleman and not actually the manufacturer of the product? These are the questions that hold the key to a more effective type of affiliate marketing.
Let’s take each issue, one at a time:
STEP 1 Picking the right product.
The best affiliate product to sell that you will find is the one that you are familiar with. Forget the “hot” cliché. Anything can be sold if there is a niche to it and although the niche itself might be small, the competition itself will also be smaller. If you have an expertise in a certain field and you pick a product related to that field, you will have ahuge edge. Why? Because you will be able to understand your readers and thus act accordingly.
You will also be able to instantly recognize a quality product from the low quality crowd and that will count a lot later on. In the long term, as time goes by and you attract more traffic, you can build up a portfolio of affiliate products to sell to your existing customers. The basic idea is to find a customer niche which you understand and which you know how to cater to, thus being able to choose the right products for it.
The death of the sales letter OR what format to choose
Quite a scary title, eh? It was coined by Michel Fortin to acknowledge the shift from classical sales approach to a Web 2.0 type of approach. Now of course, the sales letter isn’t quite dead yet. On the contrary, based on how many of them are on the web, you could easily say that the sales letter reached its peak. But this is not the issue we are after. We need to know if sales letters are effective when it comes to promoting affiliate products. And the straight answer is… sort of. Each technique has its own uses and used right it can be extremely effective. Sales letters are perfectly acceptable if you are for example selling seats at a conference about viral marketing or an info-product, even if only because this is what the readers expect and react to.
Generally speaking though, there are a lot of approaches available to sell. Put yourself the next question: Why are people browsing the web? A consistent percentage are indeed out there looking for a solution to a problem or simply looking for something to buy, but most of them are only looking for general information and human interaction. A sales letter thus although attractive to the first category does not deliver to the second category of people. So the basic approach should be to cater primarily to the first category and if possible to the second. Sell, solve, inform, interact. Basically you have a choice: sales letter vs content website. Catering to a small, very likely to buy community vs catering to a large, less likely to buy community.
The sales letter
The sales letter has both advantages and disadvantages. Its use is most effective when used to sell info products or products which target a niche accustomed to this format. Typically long sales letters tend to be more effective with “older” people, 23-25 years or above and less effective with the younger ones. Why is this happening? Well… the sales letter format is actually a very old one and its transition to the online format carries with it the advertising culture that created it, younger people are less accustomed to the direct mail type of advertising culture and will thus be less likely to react to it.
But what should you do when you try to sell info-products to youngsters? Let’s say a guide to repair an Xbox 360. Well, a sales letter is still the best choice, but its length should be considerably smaller and the whole copy should be straight to the point.
So what are the advantages of the sales letter:
•There are no distractions. The sales pitch is all that there is to it and as the reader progresses and reads the copy, no exit points can be found on the page that he or she could follow. This means that if someone actually reads it the only choice faced will be whether to buy or not to buy, greatly increasing thus the conversion ratio.
•The SEO effort must only be directed at a single page.
•It takes relatively little time to develop
As for the disadvantages:
•Some readers despite their purpose to buy or seek a solution have an aversion towards sales letters.
•You can only target that many keywords for SEO purposes and thus the keyword strategy must be chosen wisely.
•Some methods of promotion and traffic generation will be unavailable due to the inherent commercial purpose of the format.
•The format does not allow further development. If you want to sell additional products, you will have to make a new website.
If you choose the sales letter format, you must be aware of the advantages and limitations that it has and also actively seek remedies to alleviate the problems and approaches to maximise the advantages.
For example, you could use a template which is more similar to a traditional website if your niche includes mostly people with an adversity towards the format, you should get quality copy and possibly include multimedia elements to increase the conversion ratio and you should also pursue as many as possible traffic generating venues available to commercial websites.
Choice 2. The general content website
The general content website is pretty much a vague term. Several years ago it would have meant a simple static site containing some articles/reviews. Nowadays with the introduction of Web 2.0 there is a great variety of sub-formats which you can choose. At the core of all this variety though lies the continuous quest to generate a more interactive experience. Whether you are talking about the blog, forum or social network features the ultimate purpose is the same.
•Make sure that your website has loads of content. Not all pages need to have affiliate links in them, but ideally all should have interesting content.
•As far as content goes you could cover industry news, new website features, reviews of products (obviously), cover stories, “how to” practical guides and so on.
•The ways to provide interactivity are extremely diverse. You can conduct polls, you can run a blog, you can open a forum, you can use an open source social networking platform such as Pligg (www.pligg.com) to allow users to vote their favorite stories or submit their own, you can run contests and so on..
Now this sounds like a lot of work for only selling one product. Now who said that you should only sell one? That’s the beauty of it. You can sell a whole array of products if they are linked in a way or another to the expertise you have and the niche you are serving. You might also choose additional monetization venues. Diversification is the real name of the game.
But there is another advantage to full fledged websites compared to sales letter sites. The number of pages. This is an extremely important factor when it comes to search engine optimization (as you will learn later on). What you need to keep in mind now is the fact that the more pages are in a website, the better and you simply can’t achieve that with a traditional sales letter.
What other advantages does the humble website carry?
Quite a lot of them actually. Because the ability to mix different writing styles, instead of just sales pitch also means that you have access to traffic generating techniques that a sales letter website webmaster couldn’t even dream of.
Can you imagine a sales page website on the first page of Digg? Or discussed on forums and blogs? Or even successfully marketed via a press release? I have a hard time imagining that. The array of methods available is simply miles ahead for your good old, trusty website.
STEP 3 Honesty sells OR how to present the product/s
Over hype is a plague that is currently devouring the world of affiliate marketing. It is also terribly ineffective. Let’s take an example. Suppose that you are selling wrenches. Now take the two following approaches:
Wow!!!!! This is the wrench that will change your life!!! It is the “bestest” of best. You will never need another wrench again, ever. Wow. Such a great wrench! Buy it now! It used to cost 1200$, but now you can buy it for only 5$. 1195$ saved is 1195$ earned.
You are actually winning MONEY. Buy this wrench NOW!
And the second approach:
The wrench is made of titanium-steel alloy and comes with a lifetime guarantee. It has an adjustable head which allows it to be used for just about any imaginable bolt in existence. The wrench comes at a reasonable price tag of 5 dollars. Click here to order. The price does not include shipping.
Now I strongly wish that the first example were a joke. About half of the sales letters on the web are made this way. Yet it is painfully obvious that the second approach will sell better. Further still, if you take the time to review the product thoroughly and write honestly about it, you will make sales.
That however will only happen if you choose a quality product which comes at a fair price. This is all that there is to it. Honesty and straightforward talk work better than hype.
STEP 4 I’m not clicking that Or how to deal with affiliate links
A major problem which you will face when dealing with affiliate links is the reluctance that people have… well… to follow them.
WARNING: Some of the techniques presented below might be considered in certain circumstances to be black hat. These instances will be marked as such and the dangers associated with them clearly presented.
There are several techniques available to bypass this issue, varying in effectiveness and amount of time/work necessary. Just to give you a complete rundown I will not skip any of them. In the end you will probably stick to the last one presented, but it is important to know the alternatives:
1)Be straightforward about it. Acknowledge that the link presented is of the affiliate type. It’s that honesty factor all over again. In some cases, this can work wonders and in other you can experience a backlash. The thumb rule is: if your visitors are familiar with what affiliate marketing is and are actually OK with it, this is the method to pursue
2)Use anchor text distraction. The least effective of the methods described here, but very easy to implement and relatively benign. The basic psychological mechanism behind it, is that people will not check the actual link if the anchor text seems trustworthy enough. So if the actual link is http://www.somesite.com/?ref=me, you can use an anchor text that reads http://www.somesite.com. Most people will never check the link itself, if they think that the anchor text is actually the link. However this method can lead to a backlash if discovered, so there aren’t any real advantages to it except the easiness with which it can be implemented.
4)Redirects. The most effective of the methods presented it is also the most laborious one. The basic idea is to create an intermediate page, which when reached will automatically guide the reader to the affiliate page. This can be achieved through a variety of platforms: plain HTML, PHP or ASP. Presented below is the methodology for plain HTML. The code present in the intermediary page is at is follows:
<HTML><HEAD><TITLE>Hop page</TITLE> <meta
http-equiv=”refresh” content=”0; url=http://www.affiliatepage.com/ref=me”>
<HEAD> <BODY>Loading</BODY> </HTML>
Why is this method less controversial? Because the link to the intermediary page is completely visible (no use for black hat SEO) and the link will point to a page on an owned website which will then forward to an external website (the opposite of how phishing schemes work).
On the long run this technique will also pay up as it makes the multiple link management process much easier. You could have for example 10 such intermediary pages and edit them according to the offers you are presenting, modifying them accordingly as you change the promoted products.
Obviously each of the methods presented, except the first one, at least from a visitor’s perspective, seem dishonest. This is something that you will have to live with and is in fact an integral part of being successful in the affiliate world. However given the benefits that link cloaking/ redirecting has it is definitely wise to use it. You will avoid getting your affiliate commissions stolen, it will keep the array of products that yopu promote at a reasonable level, it will make the outgoing links look more tidy and you will get a better conversion rate.
Of course, you could just as easily ignore this chapter, but as someone used to say: “Ignore it at your own risk”
STEP 5 Promote, promote, promote
Somebody once said that opening a website is like opening a store in the middle of the desert. The land is dirt cheap, but there are no customers in sight. This is true for any start up website, not just affiliate ones. This means that your quest for traffic should never end. You should also employ a diverse array of traffic gathering techniques. That diversification mantra again. The more diverse, the better. Fortunately, you are reading the right book and by the end of it, you will know what you have to do.
The pains of being an affiliate manager
Once you start considering promoting your products with the help of an affiliate program, a choice emerges:
A)You can choose to develop your own in-house affiliate program from ground up.
B)You can choose to use a third party affiliate platform such as ClickBank (http://www.clickbank.com) or Commission Junction (http://www.cj.com)
Both approaches are valid and each of them has its unique advantages and disadvantages, so obviously each of them will get a complete rundown.
CHOICE 1 It’s on the house OR building an affiliate program from ground up
STEP 1: The Software Dilemma
Building the affiliate program from ground up is in itself a very challenging task. It requires a great deal of effort and promotion, but it also has some important perks along the way.
The first hurdle you will encounter is the affiliate platform development. Here you have 4 possible alternatives:
•Develop the platform yourself. Probably the most effective route, this requires however some serious software development skills and a great deal of time. If that’s something you simply don’t have, you should use one of the alternatives.
•Outsource the development process. The costly way to handle this job, this involves hiring a programmer to take care of the problem for you. Now of course this approach has its own downsides and risks. If you want to pursue this venue make sure that you read the “How to outsource effectively” chapter first.
•Use a free/open source affiliate software. Free affiliate scripts can be found pretty easy on the web. The problem usually is however, that they are not of the highest quality you could think of. Further still these packages will almost always require some degree of customization, which brings us back to the first 2 points. The amount of time/money required though decreases drastically.
The best place to find such a script is on Hot Scripts (http://www.hotscripts.com). They literally have hundreds of free PHP affiliate scripts available there, so you can easily make your choice. If on the other hand you prefer ASP as the development language ASPin (http://www.aspin.com) could also work
•Buy an affiliate software. Probably the most expensive option, it is also the most reliable as these packages also include support and installation, which will probably come very handy later on.
As for the alternatives available PostAffiliatePro
STEP 2: Deciding on the program’s software
With this issue covered, the next step is to set up the affiliate structure and create marketing materials for affiliates.
The affiliate structure falls in one of the two categories:
•1 tier affiliate structure. The simplest approach of the two, this means that you pay a commission for every sale or lead that your affiliates will generate. Your affiliates will ONLY be promoting and selling your product.
•2 tier affiliate structure. A more complex model, this structure separates your affiliates in 2 categories: those who actually sell and those who attract other affiliates. The first tier (those who attract affiliates) get a percentage of what the affiliates signed under them sell, while the second tier are those doing the grunt work and selling.
Each of the approaches presented above is equally valid. The first one works best if you have access to a large pool of potential affiliates and you want to keep it simple, while the second works best if you have access only to a few, but very active affiliate marketers and you don’t mind some extra complexity.
STEP 3: Choosing the structure of the commission
The second part of the commission structure is well, the percentage you are willing to give. There are no strict rules here: a higher percentage means that you will have more affiliates, while a smaller one brings more profit per sale, or at least this iswhat conventional wisdom tells you. It’s basically a balancing act.
To get a proper outline of what to offer, a good idea is to check what the competition is doing.
Going beyond the conventional wisdom though, you can offer extremely high percentages. How? A single word. Upselling. What does upselling mean? It’s quite easy actually. In the moment that you manage a sale you will automatically obtain various details from the customer like an e-mail address or physical address and since the customer already trust you as a retailer it will be much easier to sell additional products for which you won’t have to pay a single cent in affiliate commissions.
For this you will have to develop multiple related products, a serious e-mail delivery system and you have to be careful not to trigger a backlash, for more details please visit the e-mail traffic/marketing chapter.
STEP 4: Attracting affiliates
By now you should have a fully functioning affiliate program, albeit not a very successful one. The hardest and most interesting part is merely starting. How do you convince online entrepreneurs to sell your product?
Choice 1: Hiring an affiliate manager
The simplest answer you can get to this question is: Hire an affiliate manager! These guys however don’t come cheap and especially for start up entrepreneurs they might be prohibitively expensive. They are worth every buck they get though. This is because they have the know-how and they also have the contacts to get your affiliate program producing profit in a much shorter period than you could possibly achieve on your own.
The best place to hire affiliate managers is through the forums dedicated to the affiliate world or through sites specialized in intermediating freelance work (please refer to the outsourcing section for more details). As a rule of thumb you should always ask for proof of their previous performance and also clearly establish their goals and responsibilities.
Choice 2: Promoting the program on your own
Of course you could also meet the challenge head on and try to obtain some decent affiliates yourself.
STEP 1: Get to know your market
The first thing you should obtain prior to choosing this path is a list of places where your potential affiliates congregate. Obviously the forums specialized in affiliate deals are your best bet, but you could also try out larger, less specific forums dedicated to online business in general. Once you have developed this list it is the time to make your offer attractive.
STEP 2: Making your program attractive to affiliates
How? Well, make sure that your affiliates will not face more problems than necessary. This means that the affiliate links should be easy to obtain, the registration process should be quick and that the marketing materials at their disposal are diverse and effective.
Try following the next checklist to make sure of this:
1.The affiliate link that should be used should be visible in a friendly copy/paste format within the main page of the affiliate account.
2.The registration process should be separated into 2 parts. The initial stage which will not require any personal details from the affiliates, just a valid e-mail address and setting up the affiliate account (username, password, affiliate link). The second part should include all the necessary details required for the affiliate to receive his/ hers commission. This strategy will ensure that affiliates will get into the program quickly and if they manage to obtain some sales they will voluntarily add more consistent details to their account in order to get their payment.
3.The marketing materials should range from banners to PLR (private label rights) articles and sales copy. While the first is easy to understand, the second involves creating text which the affiliates can modify any way they want as long as they are promoting your product. This will ensure that you will attract a much more consistent click through rate and you will also attract more affiliates as they will be less reluctant to join your program since their amount of effort will substantially decrease.
STEP 3: Promoting your affiliate program
With the list of places available to promote and a decent affiliate program you are now ready to finally make contact with potential affiliates. Now since these forums you are going to use are probably new to you, you should make sure first to find out the proper sub forum where to advertise your program. When describing your offer make sure that you use a catchy title, but keep the message itself short and to the point.
Fair and square so far, but what should the message contain? Obviously, the terms of the program, percentage, structure and the type of niches that support the program. But there is more to it. In order to have a successful thread in a forum you must have some sort of conversation. If your post goes unanswered, in a matter of hours it will get knocked off the first page and almost nobody will read it. This is the part where a bit of social engineering would help.
What are the alternatives?
1.You can ask some of your friends to ask questions in that thread and you can thus kick-start a conversation. Try to keep it natural: no “wow, this program is great” sort of replies, but rather “I’m interested, but I want to know if your program supports Paypal”, “How often do the pay offs come?” or “I have a website specialized in x, do you think that your product would be suitable for my site?” and so on. Be creative! As a rule of thumb you should avoid creating multiple accounts and rely on real persons to make the thread alive.
2.You can condition the entry in the affiliate program on a reply in the thread. For example, you could use an angle like “We are starting an affiliate program and the first 30 people who reply here will get the chance to get a preview.”
3.You can pay your way to get attention. This entails a contact with the forum admin prior to making a post and buying the endorsement of the forum owner and possibly the making of the affiliate program as a sticky thread, also ideally the thread should be created by the admin itself as it will definitely get much more attention this way. There are no rules concerning price here, so it always pays off to contact these admins, also the price is not always fixed so don’t be afraid to haggle a bit.
Of course you can mix these strategies, depending on the specific situation you are in, but basically this strategy should ensure a healthy affiliate population when you start.
STEP 4: Making your affiliates more effective
Never overestimate your affiliates: some of them might be internet marketing savvy, but really helpless when it comes to the technical part or the other way around. Always make sure to give council to your affiliates, so they avoid making costly mistakes.
This means making them aware of the best choices available to them.
A couple of articles in the affiliate section of your website highlighting the best options would be highly recommendable and if you have the time you could also use a newsletter system to send off weekly tips.
The latter will also be effective in keeping your affiliates active since there are many members in the affiliate scene who only try a program for a short time and then move on to another.
STEP 5: Increasing your affiliate base and quality over time
The promotion of your affiliate program should never stop. I know that it is easy to rest on your laurels once the first affiliates sign up, but you must press on. Those threads you started in those forums should be updated as often as possible and you should encourage your affiliates to put their genuine questions and achievements there.
What will this achieve? Well, your program will gain in credibility and exposure and if thelevel of attention is high enough you might have the surprise of seeing some of the big league players joining your program.
As your sales mount up however, you will also gain access to a second category of potential affiliates: your customers. There are several marketing gurus out there (like Armand Morin) who use this base exclusively and also use it as a selling point. For example in order to sell places to a seminar (where a ticket was worth around 3000$) this guy only allowed referred buyers and these referrals were only obtainable from previous seminar attendees.
The affiliate commission was somewhere at around 50% and in the price came the firm guarantee that for the next seminar those buying will be able to become affiliate sellers. Very nice trick there. As far as I know this guy always sells 100% of the places available. Now you do the math.
Of course this sort of technique might not work in all the circumstances, but it is always worth the effort to look at your customer base with a fresh perspective and look for potential hidden strategies which might yield consistently higher returns.
STEP 6: Building further on your successes
Once you manage to get your first affiliate program up and running, it will also become increasingly visible of how painfully short a certain product can last on the market before it becomes obsolete.
This means that at some point you will probably try to launch new products which come across as fresher and resolve a problem which is more actual and acute.
You will also contemplate the prospect of starting up a new affiliate program to sell your new product.
However at this stage you will benefit of several advantages which were simply not there before:
•You will have a list of potential affiliates, together with their contacts, which trust you and will likely join the new program.
•You will have a list of potential customers, which especially if the new product is related to the old one might buy it and promote it to their friends.
•You have made contact with the forum owners and can more reliably predict what capital will be needed in order to buy advertising for your program in these forums.
As a general conclusion, things do get easier once you establish the proper contacts and you have a reasonably large potential affiliate base, but it is just as important to always keep pushing and never assume that things will just happen to go your way, you must be proactive and make sure that they do.
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Copyright: George Cozma
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