Way back in 2002 I got my start as an affiliate when I borrowed $4,000 from my mom (credit card) to run some ads on Google Adwords for an auto insurance offer on CommissionJunction that paid a whopping $3.00 per lead.
I turned that $4,000 into a little over $25,000 revenue my first month! For the next 4 years, I averaged around $25,000/mo in revenue, due in part because of payout ($3.00!) and in part because of caps (they only allowed a certain amount of leads per month).
For the uninitiated, this means I was sending an average of 8,000 leads per month to this affiliate program. When I continue on with my story you’ll see how completely insane that volume is.
By 2006 I still couldn’t find an affiliate program that would pay out better than $10/lead, and advertising costs were getting much more expensive. My ROI was still was obscene (500%+) but my competitors were siphoning away a lot of the traffic on Adwords. Soon, my biggest competitors would be the carriers (GEICO, Progressive, .etc) that paid me!
In 2006 things started to really change. I had an account manager from Insurance.com reach out to me and ask me if I would be interested in giving their program a shot. They could start me out at $12/lead and go from there. Obviously, I was very interested, that’s about 2x more than I was seeing ($6) and their application process looked like it would convert well enough that it would be apples-to-apples (conversion is a very big deal!).
Almost instantly my revenue doubled. $40,000/mo – $50,000/mo was the new average and while my spend went up a little bit because of increased competition, I was still clearing a pretty effortless $30,000/mo profit. Not bad for a 28-year-old 😉
We went on like this for another year, slight bumps in payout ($15, $16, .etc) and increases in spend ($1.00/click to $1.50/click+). My margins stayed roughly the same and I was working a little more on SEO to get “free” traffic. Make no mistake, though, the real money for me was still in paid traffic.
Starting in January of 2008 everything changed. My account manager, who originally recruited me said he was going to a meeting and about to go to bat for me on an increase. I was at $20/lead at the time and the lead industry was healthy. They were getting GEICO & Progressive to bid top dollar on their leads and they would often service them (trying to sell my leads insurance policies) themselves, plus they were triaging the backend with per-click offers that would help them “back out” at higher payouts.
It’s complicated but the end result was my AM came back and said he got the green light for $37/lead.
What was about to happen was even more amazing. I had stumbled upon a set of keywords that had high volume and very little competition. It was the perfect storm.
For the next 6 months, I averaged over $100,000/mo revenue, with spend at around $20,000 – $30,000. It was like free money and absolutely the best time of my life! I finished out the year at just a shade under $1,000,000 in revenue, of which, over half was profit. To add a little context to the story here I’ve included a photo of my 1099 they sent me at years end. Sorry, I have to blank a lot of shit out, but that’s the way it goes.
Now, to catch up on the foreshadowing I did a little earlier. Remember when I said I was doing 8,000 leads per month when I started? That same volume would have been worth $296,000/mo! Even more disgusting? $3.5m per year! It hurts, guys. It hurts. I was giving away a massive amount of traffic for 1/12th of what I would be paid just 6 years later!
Crazy part? That was just one of the affiliate programs I was promoting at the time, though easily my biggest, and I did end up hitting $1m in revenue that year. However, I needed to provide some proof that I’m not full of shit and talking about something I don’t know like 99.9% of the people with Make Money Online and Passive Income Courses!
Passive income makes me laugh. You’re going to passively lose your income one competitor at a time if you keep that up!
Anyway, to make a very long story short, the gravy train ended by mid-2009. The industry was changing. Carriers like GEICO & Progressive had started hiring guys like me and throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising on Adwords which made it nearly impossible to pull low-cost volume out of Adwords anymore. I was still doing about $40k/mo revenue, but my ROI had dropped to 100% and could swing lower on any given day depending on the competition (it’s auction-style bidding) so it was really a race-to-the-bottom and affiliates like me were getting squeezed out quick.
In 2010, near the tail-end of the wild-west glory days of affiliate marketing, I got some really bad news. The company I had been working with for 4 years had just sold their entire company to a competitor. The affiliate program/easy money was ending. I shouldn’t have been blindsided, but I was. I also should have been working on other angles with other affiliate programs to replace that revenue, but I wasn’t – I was too busy buying cars and pretending I was retired at age 32!
The end result is the industry imploded and then capitulated, just like the mortgage industry had after 2006, and the big companies ate the smaller ones, consolidating into 3 or 4 major players and many affiliates had moved on to other more profitable areas. Those companies that were left ran the show and they paid rock-bottom prices because they could – there wasn’t much competition! Furthermore, another huge blow – Google Adwords starting banning affiliates! Unfortunately, I was one of them. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in spend didn’t matter to them, they wanted the big companies spending money with less competition from us “sneaky affiliates” that provided no real “value”.
So, what the hell does my story have to do with you or making money with affiliate programs? Everything. Nothing. It depends on what you do with it.
Here are my 6 rules for making money with affiliate marketing
Trust No One: The only person who will ever have your best interests at heart is you. Not your account manager (AM). Not the company or affiliate network that pays you, and certainly not your competitors. A lot of affiliate networks will ask to see your landing page (LP) and ads. My suggestion? Don’t. You’re going to have a hard enough time keeping your competitors from ripping off your hard work, the last thing you need is an account manager that’s making $45,000/yr decide to quit their job and run the same offer(s) with your creative! Yes, it’s happened many, many times and very few want to admit it. Seriously, though, what would you do? You’re managing people that earn $500k+/yr while you’re slaving away at a desk for $45k. You have all the information you need to do it yourself. Do you stay? Do you quit? I think it’s an easy answer and it should come as no surprise that affiliate managers have some of the highest turnovers around.
Never Take Street: In the affiliate industry there is what’s known as “Street” pricing, and this is akin to an advertised price or MSRP. A default payout, if you will. There’s a standard default price (street) that they want everyone to start at and then they want you to prove you’re worth a “bump” in payout. The reality? They’re lowballing you from the start. They can always afford to pay you more and if you’re paying for traffic, you need to build as much margin as possible. There isn’t a company or affiliate network around that can’t move another 20% higher from the street. Not one. CommissionJunction for instance takes 25% – 30% as a commission! Think about that. The advertiser willing to pay $10 street is paying another $2.50 – $3.00 to the network and on top of that there’s probably another 20% – 30% in the room to move up! That’s 50% – 60% more you could earn by going direct and getting the top tier payout!
Don’t Settle For NET 30: Imagine I offered you a “job”. You work for me from January to February. You’re excited to get paid only to find out you actually get paid March 1st for January! Sounds awful, doesn’t it? Welcome to the wonderful world of affiliate marketing. Almost every single affiliate network has a default NET 30 policy, and some won’t budge (like CommissionJunction) but many will. You absolutely need to push for better terms, and no NET 15 is NOT a better term (15 days after the end of the month), instead, what you need what are called “weeklies” which is a payout each week for the previous week and at minimum “bi-weeklies” which are payouts every 2 weeks. Some networks do this, you simply have to meet a certain threshold like $1,000/week revenue in order to qualify. And for all the talk about “never settle”, there are exceptions to the rule. Amazon is not flexible. ClickBank is not flexible. Both of these companies have “exclusive” offers that you probably shouldn’t ignore even at a NET 30 payout, but I have to warn you that the reason I suggest not settling for NET 30 is simple – cash flow. Without an operating budget, you could find yourself waiting a long 45 – 60 days to get paid and turn that money around on a marketing budget! It sucks to run out of money on a killer ad campaign that’s making 300% ROI, just trust me.
Don’t Stop Working: I didn’t mention in my story above how lazy I was, but I was awful. I would rather take vacations and spend money than create more ads or work on SEO. All of that money was too easy. It’s not 2008/2009 anymore, it’s not easy and your competitors are now armed with tools like AHREF’s to help sniff out your SEO, Social & SEM strategies. Believe me when I say you have to outwork everyone. You don’t have to put in 20 hour days, but you do have to have the hustlers mindset because there’s always some dude in India, or Ireland or Idaho looking to take all of your traffic! You have to hustle hard if you want to make it in the affiliate industry in 2017 and beyond.
Always Split-Test: You can turn an unprofitable campaign into a profitable one just by split-testing landing pages, ad copy, keywords/targets. I really can’t stress this enough. You need to be doing high volume at the lowest possible cost to you. This means cheap traffic + high conversion. You’ll never get there on your first ad with your first landing page on your first offer. You need to test it all and find a way to do that effectively. I don’t care if you’re paying for ads or getting free organic search traffic from Google – if you don’t split-test what your visitors see you could be leavings hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table. Offers that seemed to fail, suddenly start making money. New revenue streams open up. Test or die, dude.
Go Direct: I mentioned this briefly in “Never Take Street”, but I need to expand on it here. Everyone that talks about affiliate programs always mentions the networks, such as CommissionJunction, Rakuten, NeverBlue, .etc. Well, let me tell you something. This would be like buying shit from Walmart to resell online! Let’s say CJ has an offer you want to try. Instead of calling it a day and running that offer, why not go direct to the advertiser? Skip the middleman! I rarely use networks if I can help it, I always go straight to the source. The better you get at this (affiliate marketing) the more leverage you’ll have to reach out to someone on LinkedIn, or on their About Us page and get a custom deal. Also, many companies, like Credit.com for instance, have in-house affiliate programs. No middle-man to contend with, you push their offers, they pay you. You could make the argument they don’t “own” the offers, Visa, and other banks do, but you get what I mean. Get as close to the top as possible and you will ensure more profit.
Sure, there are going to be other rules out there, however, I feel pretty comfortable with these 6 for beginners. If I start talking about any more advanced tactics you will probably stop reading!
Ok, so let’s start from the beginning. You’ve read my truncated story. You’ve seen my rules, now maybe I should explain what affiliate programs actually are and how they can benefit you!
What Is An Affiliate Program?
Let’s leave my subjective views out of this for a moment and get straight to the facts. An affiliate program is where a company (such as GEICO) which is called an “Advertiser” agrees to pay a certain fee to you, the affiliate partner (called a Publisher), when a set goal is completed (a lead in this instance). This is generally referred to as a CPA, or Cost Per Action.
The advertiser will only payout when the desired action is met. This means that whether the action is a call, a lead, an email submit, an app install or a sale, this action needs to take place in order to register a commission.
Make sense? If we use the GEICO example above I can make this pretty easy for you.
Let’s say GEICO has a CPA of $8 for every auto insurance quote you refer.
You, as the affiliate, are going to drive as much quality traffic as you can to their auto insurance form.
For each person, you send over that fills out the application and gets a quote, you get the CPA ($8).
Done. That’s the entire transaction.
A sale would work the same way except it would require the customer to whip out their wallet and buy.
An install would work the same way except it would require the user to install an app.
On and on.
The best way to relate to an affiliate program offline, in the “real world” is a commission-only sales job. This is almost an identical model, with the one caveat being that as an affiliate you don’t always control the “sales funnel” and you’re often relying on the advertiser to seal the deal.
For instance, if we’re sending traffic to GEICO’s form, we don’t control that form. We can’t control what the person does once they leave our website. We don’t have the luxury of guiding them through the process like a typical salesperson, we’re at the mercy of the advertiser.
And this segues directly into a statement I made above. Conversion rates matter! Since you can’t control conversion once people leave your website, you want to know that you’re handing them off to a company that can close it out and makes you money. Not all companies and sales funnels are created equal! There have been many instances where I’ve run similar offers, such as auto insurance or home loans, with different companies and one converts 50% better! Of course, I’ll digress here a bit, but it always seems the best conversion comes from the fucking lowest payout offer. Grrrr. Anyway. Test.
We can go on and on about some of the shady stuff like “shaving” and “pixels that don’t fire”, but that’s a bit advanced and I may cover that later in this article, but probably not because this is long.
That being said, you should understand very well what an affiliate program is at this point.
How Do I Join An Affiliate Program?
This isn’t as cut-and-dry as explaining what an affiliate program is, unfortunately. In order for me to explain how to join, I need to explain “what” you join and why. There are 2 ways to join affiliate programs as I briefly touched on above when I suggested “going direct”, so I’ll try and break this down so it makes sense.
1.) You can join a network such as CommissionJunction.
2.) You can join a company directly, such as Amazon if they offer an affiliate program.
Unfortunately, I dug myself into a “content hole” here and now I’m forced to explain networks! HA! Well, the good news is this is great information to know. I will also let you know that my personal beliefs and the fact that I avoid networks at all costs because I despise middlemen, should NOT influence you. Not a bit. You can take all of my hard-earned advice on marketing online, but please, don’t hesitate to join affiliate networks if they have an offer you want to run and you feel comfortable with it. There are not only times you can’t avoid it because they have exclusive offers, but there are people making $50k+/mo with networks and no one should turn that down because you’re going through a network instead of direct. No one.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s discuss networks and the role they play in the affiliate industry.
What Is An Affiliate Network?
To put it bluntly, they’re a middleman. They work directly with the advertisers (such as GEICO) and allow you (the Publisher) to run any offer on the network. Their job, in a nutshell, is to handle the entire the affiliate process, which includes things like fraud tracking and payments. This alleviates the concern that advertisers naturally would have about quality, overpaying for fraud and handling a lot of individual payments for each affiliate. Basically, the network offers to do all of this for the advertiser, plus give them access to their large supply of affiliates for a fee.
Sounds like a pretty good value proposition, right? You, the large advertiser, have enough responsibility. You know the CPA model is one of the best acquisition strategies in the world, but you don’t want to set up an internal program, fight fraud, vet affiliates, send hundreds of individual payments each month or deal with year-end 1099’s. You want it done for you. This is the what the network offers – for a fee.
Now, I say for a “fee”, and it can definitely come to that. For instance, CommissionJunction has something like a $25k startup requirement, but it’s not exactly an advertiser fee. See, the beauty of the network model is that the advertiser really doesn’t take a hit – the affiliate does!
It’s simple and it goes back to “street” payouts. I’ll explain.
Let’s say you’re an advertiser and you want to join a network so you can have hundreds of affiliates pushing your awesome products. Without going into the setup details, the basic structure looks like this.
1.) You sign up.
2.) You meet any deposit requirements for the products (i.e. some networks require a deposit to pay out affiliates and a minimum monthly balance available to do so)
3.) You set your max CPA for a desired action.
Number 3 is where money is made or lost for affiliates.
The max CPA is the maximum an advertiser is willing to spend for each “action”, whether that’s a lead, sale, app installs or email submit. You can have multiple CPA’s, as well, but we won’t get crazy here. Let’s just go with “per sale” so it makes complete sense.
You the advertiser have determined, based on your ideal CAC (customer acquisition cost) that you would like to pay no more than $24 per sale, based on selling a $48 product. This is a “fixed fee” or “flat fee” payout. Most per sale affiliate offers use percentages when there are multiple products, or when they offer upsells or rebills, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be explained right now. The point is, there’s a fixed street price that the advertiser offers to the network as a MAX CPA. They are willing to pay no more than this.
Now, the network has this $24 max figure to work with. They know that for every verified sale that goes through their system they’re going to get to subtract $24 from the balance owed to them.
Let’s stop right there for a second. What do you think happens?
Yep, there’s no way in hell they’re offering $24 to an affiliate!
For a number of reasons, most of which come down to making a fucking profit, an affiliate network isn’t going to pass on the max CPA to affiliates. It makes no business sense to give away every dime. So, they do what any reasonable business would do, they offer a lower amount and pocket the difference.
In my experience, and keep in mind, there are hundreds of networks out there and they all have their own internal practices, there’s a minimum 25% cushion, always. This means that on a $24 offer, $18 may be offered as “street” to the affiliate and $6 is pocketed by the network.
However, before I go into that more I have to explain another dynamic…
Shared Offer vs. Exclusive Offer
Is your head spinning yet? I can’t very well explain payouts without touching on a key piece of the equation. Competition! For the sake of time, I’ll try to explain this quickly. Much like products sold at retailers, most offers are shared. This means that multiple networks are running the exact same offer. In some instances, there are “exclusive” offers and this means that the network has an exclusive right to promote that offer and no other network has that ability.
So, think about that. If you want to negotiate your payout, which scenario is going to benefit you, the affiliate, the most? The shared offer!
If multiple networks are running the same offer you will have varying prices and definite competition for affiliates. The networks know you can go to any number of other networks and run this offer for a better price. So, it’s hyper-competitive on price. They will match or exceed other network payouts just to attract high-quality affiliates that can drive volume.
With the exclusive offer, you have less leverage as an affiliate, at least until you start driving volume. In some cases, like Clickbank, which only runs exclusive offers, the set price is the set price for everyone.
Don’t get me wrong, I love running exclusive offers, especially on smaller networks, because it typically means less competition, however, the biggest downside is the payout.
Alright, let’s circle back to street pricing and how you can get “bumps”.
We know going in that any street offer is just a smoke screen. There’s a built-in margin with a ton of extra padding. So, how do you get those fuckers to loosen the vice a little and hook a brotha up with a little more of that cash?
1.) Pitch: Ok, so I have it a little easier here. I have done massive volume in very competitive industries. I know the lingo and can dazzle any AM with numbers and words. It’s all legit because I lived it. However, here’s a little secret. You could just as easily bullshit your way to a higher payout. It’s all a sales pitch if you think about it.
Your goal is a higher payout. In return, the network wants to know that you’ll give them high-quality volume. If you rattle off a few numbers from other offers on other networks, their greedy little minds will start spinning and they want action. They want all of your traffic. This is your leverage. You join the network, run the offer if they’re willing to give you a bump from street to something you can actually make a profit with!
2.) Quality: This can be used in conjunction with #1, and is definitely the best way to get bumps long-term. Without quality, you’re going to be about as desirable as 3-week houseguests. In fact, if your quality starts dipping below their network average, or worse, trending towards fraudulent or having a lot of returns/chargebacks – you’re screwed. You’ll probably get dropped from the entire network and even worse, they won’t pay you a dime! Quality solves this potential scenario. Don’t be a clown and look for the easy, scammy way to get traffic (I’m talking to you Craigslist credit report scammers!), the networks, or worse – the advertiser, will find out soon enough and you’ll be bounced faster than a 50-year-old at a teen dance club.
The opposite end of the spectrum is above average quality gives you more leverage to ask for a higher payout!
3.) Volume: Volume is separate for a reason. Even average quality volume is good. If you can hit the holy grail of high volume, high quality, the world is your proverbial oyster. Assuming you hit the trifecta and this is a shared offer, you have more leverage than a pimp. You can threaten to leave without seeing a huge bump. You can shop your volume around to another network. Hell, you can take your talents to South Beach and go directly to the advertiser! If the volume is king, and quality is a queen, having both gives you a pair of aces.
If you can do volume, just volume alone, you can get serious bumps. Networks are more than happy to take average quality volume all day. It’s no different than selling 1,000 $4.00 products versus 100 $8 products. Simple math, bro. Now, if you manage to sell 1,000 $40 products instead, well, guess what? You’re the boss. You run this.
…unless you’re dealing with an exclusive offer on a network! Damnit!
You can still get bumps with exclusive offers, there’s no doubt, but you lose a lot of the leverage from being able to take your business elsewhere.
Now, that we’ve covered 3 great ways to get bumps let’s move on to something just as important – payday!
Get Paid Son!
Ahhh, man. Where do I start? The act of getting paid for affiliate marketing can be a real bitch. Let’s just set aside how difficult it can be if you’re sending low-quality conversions and suspected of fraud or violating TOS. Those are to be expected, and you may never see your money. Instead, let’s just talk about the average affiliate payout date and how it impacts you.
Earlier in the article, I touched on NET-30 and why it sucks balls. It’s a cash-flow, thing. When you’re waiting a potential 60 days to get paid (Jan 1st to March 1st) it can be a damn long wait. I’ve personally had serious cash-flow issues when switching offers/networks, even when I was going from NET-15 to NET-30! That’s 15 days difference. It doesn’t seem like a big deal until you take into account that some ad campaigns run into the 4 figure daily spend! In my case, I think I average somewhere around $1,800 – $2,200 per day in spend across various ad networks. I’m not saying it was unsustainable if I had to wait 15 days, but again, we’re talking about a guy that spent his money as fast as he made it. You might actually treat this like a business!
Even if you have that buffer, NET-30 is still tough. Let’s say you’re testing new offers. Sinking $1k/day into ad campaigns, breaking even on a weekly basis and finally hit some profit. Awesome. Well, you just spent $30k, most of which is break-even spend, and you won’t see that money back until 30 days after the month ends! How much cash flow are you going to keep on hand to test and scale new offers? What if your primary offer, the one that makes you all of your money, starts dipping in conversion because of a funnel change or you get hit with a payout decrease?
Believe it or not, all the leverage in the world won’t save you from a payout decrease. Billion-dollar companies running multi-million dollar per year affiliate programs assess quality as an aggregate and make decisions based on that. They don’t cherry-pick stars and cut losers, they just password down that CPA’s are changing. Remember when I was making $37? With no notice I received an email one day from my new AM (it’s always the new guy!) that said they were lowering CPA to $22!
NET-30 starts to look really shitty at this point. Yes, you could be smart and have a lot of money socked away in a contingency fund, but it doesn’t change the dynamics of this business. So much is out of your control that you’re better off focusing on offers that can turn your money around quicker.
How To Negotiate A Quicker Payout
I need to start this off by saying that company policy is company policy. We’ve all heard it a hundred times in life when we weren’t going to get our way. Some companies just do not move. Amazon is a great example (dare I say, prime example? <–pun). It’s their way or the highway. Take it or leave it, you get paid when they pay you. Thankfully, not all networks and advertisers handle shit this way. CommissionJunction, ClickBank & Amazon do. You’ve been warned.
Now, here’s the deal. When you join a network you’re going to see a NET-30 to NET-15 payout by default. They aren’t going to advertise that they have quicker payouts. It’s not so much that they want to keep the “float”, they simply want to minimize their workload. They don’t want to process payments at a bunch of different intervals for a select number of people and then batch out payments on their default plan too. They want it easy.
Thankfully, you’re smarter than that. You ask them upfront how you can get paid sooner. You push for weeklies because you want to see your money every 7 days. Or bi-weeklies, which is every 14 days, or the 15th/30th of each month. You know cash-flow is important, so do they.
However, here’s the rub. Most of the companies that offer weeklies or bi-weeklies do so when you meet specific criteria. Remember, it has to be worth their time to pay you out on a quicker schedule. The only way you’ll meet these requirements is with volume. From my experience the magic number seems to be about $1,000 revenue per week. Anything under that and they don’t really care. I’ve seen it as high as $5k per week.
If there’s an internal threshold you typically can’t talk your way into getting it without meeting that number. There’s exceptions to every rule and it will certainly come down to your sales skills and potential leverage, but for the most part they won’t budge without you hitting that number.
The key is to be a top performer, but sadly it just doesn’t work everywhere (company policy!) and this where you need to weigh the pros and cons. I’ve settled for NET-30 many times because an offer just couldn’t be beat. $25k is $25k, you just deal. However, I’ve walked more times than I’ve stayed because I’ve read that book. I’ve seen that movie. The hero dies in the end. While YMMV, I know specific offers well enough, and my acquisition costs well enough, that I can take one look at the payout and the payout schedule and know if it’s going to be worth my time or not.
Often I’ll hit up AM’s soon after joining and state my case, my pitch. See what can be done. I think I’m a decent sales person. Sometimes I wow them with my past results, sometimes I threaten to take my business elsewhere. It doesn’t always work. Again, I feel I start every potential affiliate partnership with max leverage and negotiate like that.
Bonus: Tips & Tricks
I’m not going to give away everything, but I will show you guys some of the tricks I use to find great offers to run, spy and beat up my competition and repeat.
Find the offer: Signing up with a network to peruse offers is old-school. Instead, I like to use 2 strategies to find the right offers. One involves knowing what you want to promote first, the other can be used to help identify new offers.
1.) For the last few years I like to use affiliate offer aggregators like OfferVault to check out new offers and see overall payouts. It’s not without its flaws, as it’s typically overrun with “sponsored” results from thirsty-ass networks looking to recruit new affiliates, but for the most part, use it like it’s intended (a search tool) and you will be fine. Want to see why diet offers are paying out? Bam. Done. Want to see the average payout for a specific offer? Done.
You can see how this would be a useful tool for shared offers, right? Don’t like pushing a specific dating offer for $3? Maybe you’ll find it on another network for $5!
2.) I look at what my competition is pushing!
Competition: I left #2 short for a reason, it’s better to cover in this section.
There is nothing more powerful than understanding your competition. They’re giving you a solid blueprint to take everything they have! I know, it’s awful, but it’s not personal, it’s business. It sucks when you’re on the receiving end but again, it’s business.
The way I do this is quite simple. I use AHREF’s. You can use whatever tool you want, MOZ, SpyFu, iSpionage, whatever. I use AHREF’s because I like it and it fucking works.
Now, without going super crazy into competitive analysis because that would be another LOOOOONG article, I’ll just hit some highlights.
1.) Identify the niche: I can use AHREF’s to do this, or just use my brain/experience. If you’re currently pushing insurance, then you look for top competitors in insurance. If you have no idea what you want to get started in, just start plugging in websites or keywords and get some ideas. Stick to the top niches like diet/finance/dating and you’ll soon branch out into other sub-niches and get the gist of it.
2.) Identify your target: Typically I’m not hunting for niches, I know my niche and I know my targets. That being said, if you don’t, this is where you start identifying your targets based on organic or paid search volume. They’re pretty easy to find because they get a lot of traffic. Find those websites, it won’t be hard.
3.) Identify Their Traffic Sources: This is my favorite part. I get to see the strategies that give you the most traffic! HAHAHAHA. I know, it’s slightly evil, but again, it’s business. If I don’t jack your traffic, someone else will. So, anyway. I check their organic traffic sources. Any easy keywords? What about keyword difficulty? Wait? Why is this obscure keyword driving 20,000 people per month? I must have it!
You get the picture. Get a detailed look at your competitors, download their keywords and mimic their strategy. Whether organic or paid (do both), you’re going to find something that works. Maybe it’s a keyword set like I used to have that made me almost $1m in 1 year, or maybe it’s a group of related keywords you had never even thought about. You can uncover some serious gems if you look hard enough.
Ok, so what does this have to do with finding offers? Well, your competition isn’t always going to be a direct provider, sometimes they’re affiliates. While I like to do competitive analysis on websites that are higher up in the niche than typical affiliates, that doesn’t stop me from reverse-engineering what works for lower affiliates. I want it all. In turn, I also want to know who you’re sending traffic to.
Here’s an example. In the loan industry offers come and go. Payouts are high (up to $30/lead) and the top affiliates are constantly switching up offers to test them out. Instead of guessing, I let them do the hard work for me. Are they running lowermybills? Ok, cool. I’ll find that offer on a network and see what I can do about getting the same terms as this guy! I’ve used that strategy countless times and it really works. Why do all of the testings when someone spending hundreds of thousands per month can do it for you?
Now, touching on the same subject. One of my absolute favorite places to find top affiliates is on display ads or native ads. Think Yahoo. Sometimes I’ll just sit on the homepage and refresh it for 20 minutes at a time looking at all of the new ads. Who’s running what and how? It takes very little time to see the details and get straight to the source. If it’s working for them, you know they’re spending at least 4 figures per day promoting it.
Ok, I’m going to digress here a second to tell a bit of a related story.
The top affiliates in the world do display. They run crazy skin cream shit on Outbrain (dude, you know the ads I’m talking about) and various other native ad platforms. They tend to run offers using Advertorials and they rely on volume, lots of volumes.
Here’s the crazy part. You don’t know how much volume until you start talking to the ad networks (like Outbrain) or affiliate networks. I’ve been told, countless times, of various top affiliates driving 5,000 – 6,000 leads per day. No joke. We’re talking about guys that operate huge million dollar budgets doing massive network buys on Yahoo, various RTB’s (real time bidding exchanges) and native platforms that make $100,000+ per day in revenue.
That’s not an overstatement, man. The biggest players are doing this. The money isn’t always that good, but that’s the scheme. I was fucking small time compared to these ballers and I look to them when I want some inspiration and ideas. And trust me, they aren’t hard to find if you know where to look (Yahoo, Outbrain, USA Today, .etc)
I like to think of landing pages as tires. They seem small and insignificant on a vehicle until you realize that they’re the only contact you have with the ground. You could be driving 150mph in a $400,000 Ferrari and the only damn thing that really matters is the rubber compound that’s rotating at hyper-speed on the ground. Your landing page is very similar, it’s not always sexy, but it’s the most functional piece you have – it’s your top of the funnel.
Thankfully, with LP’s as people in the industry like to call them, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A lot of what works well is already out there in use every single day. Orange action buttons. Videos. Convincing text. Click-bait titles. Value propositions. Testimonials. If it works or doesn’t, it’s been tried. The great news is that when you’re doing the competitive analysis you can quite easily what’s working, or at least, what’s working enough to test on a very expensive campaign.
I won’t dive into LP construction because it varies so much, what I will say is that you should absolutely put the focus on understanding what works for your niche and what the top players are using. From there, you “copy” and by copy, I don’t mean steal, I mean iterate. Make better. Make it your own. Test it.
A product I like to use for this is called Unbounce. I’ve been using them for, what? 6 years now? I don’t even know. It’s been forever. So long ago that Oli still had hair! Kidding, dude. Anyway, I use Unbounce because I learned it first, it’s drag and drop, it’s mobile-responsive and it split-tests variations. So what this allows me to do is create hundreds of LP’s and find a winner based on actual fucking math. To sum up what this service has been able to provide would be very difficult and quite honestly, I really don’t want to give them any marketing material or reason to raise the price, but let’s just say at least a couple of nice cars.