Affiliate Marketing 101 | A Timeline for Success
Day 1 – The Study Period
Read, read, read. You’ve probably heard from a friend, colleague or just through the grapevine that people are making alot of money promoting affiliate products online and want a piece of the action. It’s time to start soaking up knowledge to give yourself an idea of how it works, whether its for you, if the money they are talking about is even real.
There are some great resources on the internet which have valuable information on online marketing. Take a look at:-
- http://www.bluehatseo.com/ – Site down May 2016
- http://www.mrgreen.am/ – Out of date, not updated.
Some new ones to try:
Day 7 – The Planning Period
So you’re convinced and have committed to giving this a go, you are probably expecting instant results and have already decided what colour you are going to have your Ferrari in. You probably want to start with free/organic traffic because you don’t want to commit money until you know for sure it works. Sensible decision.
The following in my opinion is the best way to start out.
Creating Your First WordPress Website
and making money from it
For this you are going to need an outlay of around £20 or $30 USD, a patient attitude and a determined work ethic. What you are going to be doing is creating your first website and monetising it via Google Adsense ads.
What is your site going to be about?
The best bet is to make it about something that genuinely interests you. You’ll be doing a fair bit of writing for this and it is much less painful if you are writing about stuff that you like. Now take your subject and type it into Google. So for example I play guitar so I might start a website about Fender guitars. When I type Fender guitars into Google I can see sponsored ads in the listings. This means there is some commercial interest in your topic, a very good thing when it comes to selling advertising later.
Another great tool for this is the Adwords Traffic Estimator.
I think you may need an account with http://adwords.google.com
You can find it under Tools > Traffic Estimator
As you can see from the above Fender guitars isn’t a bad topic, Jimi Hendrix is a better topic because cpc’s are high and the audience is bigger, snowmen is a nono because there’s less audience and noone is bidding on that term.
So what will you nead?
Here is a cost breakdown with everything you need.
Domain name – $15ish for 2 year registration
Web hosting or a VPS – $5/month or $20/month for a VPS
Latest version of WordPress – Free
Googles webmasters suite – FREE
Notepad ++ – Free
Image editing software for designing logos etc. – Probably free
Day 14 – The First Build
For domain names I tend to use Godaddy for US or 123-Reg in the UK.
Try and find a domain name with the name of what you are writing about in it.
- my-cool-blog.com = Google no likey
- jimihendrixrocks.com = Google likes & its fairly memorable (might want to think about copyright infringements with this one though.
Web hosting or a VPS (Virtual Private Server)
So with webhosting you can setup one website, if you want to setup another one you need to get another webhosting package. With a VPS you can host as many sites as you like all on one server. If you are looking to seriously get into online marketing a decent VPS is a great investment and will allow you to expand as you get new ideas for new websites etc.
If you decide to go down the Webhosting route look into webhosts that come with wordpress pre-installed as this eliminates the need to set it up yourself.
WordPress is a free blog / website creation programme, I think the proper term is content management system. It runs on a webhost or server and you don’t really need to know any html or php code to use it. Once setup you can edit pages in much the same way you word edit a Microsoft Word document. It’s so simple to use your Granny could do it. This is what it looks like from the admin panel:-
I’m not going to go through how to install it on a server but it’s pretty easy the second time you do it.
Installing wordpress article: http://codex.wordpress.org/Installing_WordPress#Famous_5-Minute_Install
Once it’s installed you can get started setting up a nice theme which suits your content. Setting up some pages, categories. Generally just fiddle with it and mess with things until it looks right or you break it and have to start again.
WordPress is great until you want to do something which doesn’t have a plugin or theme. That’s when you need to start tinkering with the backend code and a little bit of php knowledge is very useful.
In fact if you are going to be doing more of this learning PHP is really essential in my opinion.
So by now you should have a basic site setup, perhaps a few pages of content, some nice pretty pictures etc. If you want a logo for your site you’ll need some image editing software. Gimp is free, Photoshop is the standard, Fireworks is what I use. Photoshop is probably the best thing to use if you can get a cheap/free copy.
Photo editing is going to play a major role in design, creating banners and covering up girls boobs later on in your marketing career so it’s a good idea to get started with it now.
The next step is to get a Google account and sign up to the following free tools:-
- Google Analytics – Shows who’s visiting your site
- Google Adsense – Displays ads on your site, makes you money
- Google Webmaster tools – Info and help with indexing your site on The Google
To integrate all of these into your site download the following wordpress plugins or find better equivalents:
1. Google Analytics for WordPress
2. Best Google Adsense
3. Google XML Sitemaps
Now it’s a case of producing great content, attracting visitors, promoting your blog. Get writing, get working, be patient.
Week 8 – Replicate and Improve
By now you should be getting some visitors to your blog and some of those should be clicking those lovely little adsense ads which should be bringing you in some money. Don’t be too disheartened if you’re only earning $1-5 day at this stage. Your Ferrari may still be a long way off but you should start earning enough to warrant investing in a solid VPS and registering some more domains.
Like the first time you do anything you will have learnt so much that the second time you will want to do everything differently. This time installing wordpress takes 2 minutes instead of 2 days. Getting the plugins setup is a doddle. It all seems to be coming together.
Your second site will no doubt be more successful than the first. You can learn a bit more about how the search engines function from sites like:
You can start to build a real audience by doing guest blog posts and commenting in the community on blogs and forums. You’re design skills will be improving and you can start producing imagery and infographics which everyone, including Google, loves.
Month 6 – Automation
By this stage you should have a handful or more sites all bringing in a little bit of money. You should start expanding your monetisation methods too by signing up for Amazon affiliates and the Ebay partner network. You might not be able to give up your day job yet but you should be earning in the region of $10-50 a day. Best of all the cheques are starting to come through now. You actually have some money in your account. But it’s hard work, countless hours writing blog posts, editing photos, reading articles on SEO, learning php and mysql, tweaking theme templates. It just doesn’t seem worth the effort for the little reward. But what if you could automate this process of creating sites. Instead of making one or two sites you made 100 and they all brought in a little bit of income.
This is where it pays to have some background knowledge in programming. I used ruby, image magick and linux to produce 100’s of little niche review sites for the Amazon content network back in 2010 It was great for a while, every site started creeping up the SERP’s (Search engine results pages) and I thought I was the richest man on earth earning $100/day.
I fell in love with automation, the idea of having something that runs itself, like a machine printing money. I could set it up and the next day go surfing and I would still be making money while I wasn’t working. It’s a great feeling and I heard a little saying the sums it up well.
“Affiliate Marketing – The art of working 16 hour days so you can make money in your sleep”
Month 7 – The Google Slap / First Set Back
You wake up in the morning and the first thing you notice is your Amazon account isn’t looking as good as it should. You check Google Analytics and all your traffic has gone. You just got Google slapped. Back to square one.
Horrible feeling but you’ve just got to get back to work and start again.
Month 10 – Affiliate Data Feeds & Big Content Sites
By this stage your sites should be getting ever more advanced. Perhaps taking content from data feeds or ripping databases from all over the web and then collaborating the information into massive content sites. As long as you keep the text and images as unique as possible you can get 1,000,000 page websites indexed this way. This can bring in alot more revenue than your average wordpress blog and once the content is setup you can move on to the next project.
Month 12- CPA Networks
You continue doing the Google dance and making sites to bring in adsense revenue and sell products for affiliate commission. You should have a fair amount you’ve made in your bank account now, assuming you haven’t spent it. But everything is so slow. It can take six months for a site to develop to a stage where it is bringing in decent money. You crave faster success. There is a buzz on the forums and places like www.affbuzz.com about CPA advertising and promoting offers on sites like Plenty of Fish and Facebook. You hear of people making thousands promoting stuff on Adwords and other paid traffic sources. You sign up to your first CPA Affiliate network.
If you are going to sign up to an Affiliate Network make sure it’s a reputable company.
MaxBounty, Clickbank, GlobalWideMedia etc.
You’ll need to get approved on the network and that usually involves a phone call. Scary stuff, the first time I spoke to some lady at Max Bounty it was like a cross between a first date and a job interview. It’s worth the hassle though CPA networks are the best way to really take your business to the next level.
It’s probably time to start thinking about starting a business too. I don’t know about for the US but in the UK if your earnings are above a certain level you are going to get spanked hard by the tax man unless you start up a company. Luckily I had an accountant I worked with already which made this much easier.
Month 13 – Promoting Dating and Gaming offers on Social
It’s time to start hitting the paid traffic sources to promote your CPA offers. Here are a few to get you started:-
Plenty of Fish – A dating website which has superb targeting options.
Facebook – The people who run Facebooks ads are complete arseholes but they have loads of traffic. Upload ads, get them disapproved, reupload them, get them approved, get them retro-banned. This goes on till they close your account and then you start another account and do it all over again. Ridiculous but a necessary evil if you want to get a bite of all that Facebook traffic.
I think the best verticals to start out in are gaming and particularly dating. It’s competitive no doubt, everyone runs dating and gaming but there is a good reason why everyone does it.
At this stage it doesn’t matter how much money you are making as long as your campaign is profitable. Go Niche! Target 40-45 year old dog walkers from Newcastle. You might only be able to spend £3/week on that campaign but if you get a conversion at £5 you are doing it right. This is a learning curve and once you get familiar with setting up campaigns and promoting offers you can start to go broader as you search for wider profits.
Having said that don’t beat yourself up too much if you lose a little money. I spent a few hundred dollars on PoF before I got the hang of it. Once you spend $1000 with them you get access to their IAB standard ads (basically bigger ads) which tend to be more profitable.
Month 14 – Tracking and Optimising
This is going to be key if you are going to be successful at promoting CPA offers. For me Prosper202 is the way to go. It’s free, you install it just like wordpress and it’s fairly straight forward to use.
Prosper202 will let you track what is and what isn’t working. You can see your clicks coming in. You can see them going out to the CPA offer. You can setup a conversion pixel so that you can tell how much you earnt that day across all CPA networks and all traffic sources. You can spend countless hours watching the little spy page with it set to show only conversions waiting for another dollar sign to pop up letting you know you’ve made another $5.
By this stage you should have a pretty good grip on setting up sites and designing banners. You should also be getting pretty handy with php. Know how to do a geo ip lookup yet? That’s going to be useful.
You need to start creating and coming up with your own innovative ideas for campaigns.
Try building landing pages rather than direct linking to the CPA networks. Try collecting email addresses using Awebber or icontact. Try some different traffic sources, there is a massive list of them at:
It’s only a matter of time before you hit your first real success. A nice little campaign that is makes a tidy $100+ a day. It works, it’s instant and you are doing it. Buying and selling traffic for fun and profit.
Month 17 – The Facebook Ban or Banner Blindness
Your one campaign starts to die out. Either Facebook bans your account or all the users on PoF start to get wise to that hot girl in glasses they kept click on and landing on a weird sign up form. Either that or your affiliate manager will tell you in the politest manner that your traffic sucks and they don’t want it anymore.
Your campaign starts to lose money and you have no choice but to pause it.
By this stage you should have some solid campaigns across various traffic sources running traffic to more than one CPA network. You should be hitting $1000+ revenue weeks with each CPA network consistently which should put you in line for weekly payments.
This is where things start to happen really fast. You pay for advertising and within a couple of weeks that money plus whatever ROI (return on investment) you made will be back in your bank account ready to reinvest.
Your spend and income will soar dramatically over the next three months as you scale out campaigns.
Start looking at different countries. Promoting stuff in Poland isn’t hard when you have:
You can use tracking software to optimise your campaigns to get the best possible ROI. You need to be designing banners which can pull a high CTR (click through rate). Constantly optimising, testing, improving your campaigns.
It might be a good time to start looking at different verticals, credit reports, skin care, biz ops, mobile.
Start looking at high volume traffic sources such as Google Ads, Facebook, Sitescout RTB, BuySellAds, perhaps even setting up your own media buys direct with site owners.
Do some research when you enter a new niche. You can use:
Take a look at what others are doing, who else is advertising in this space.
- Where are they advertising?
- What do their ads look like?
- What do their landing pages look like?
- What offers / networks are they sending the traffic to?
- Most importantly can you do it better?
Month 30 – Taxes and Trips Away
You should now be running a shit load of traffic. Quit your day job. Outsource remedial tasks using odesk.com and generally be living the high life while still working 80 hour weeks. CPA networks & Ad Exchanges will be inviting you to events, conferences, parties.
The tax man is going to come after you in a big way sooner or later, make sure you are ready. If you haven’t done it already get an accountant, give them the job of checking daily stats, sending wire transfers, keeping an eye on payments coming in. It’s time to stop micromanaging and start doing what you do best –
Buying Traffic Cheap > Adding Value > Selling Traffic For Profit
The money involved becomes intangible almost like playing with monopoly money. Your mistakes start costing you more and more money. I once lost $36,000 because I mistyped an outlink on a landing page. I sent traffic to out.php instead of out/out.php an easy mistake to make and there were other links on the page so the campaign was still profitable. I fixed it 18 days later and my profit on that campaign the next day rose $2000.
No. 1 Tip – Check stuff. No matter how busy you are. No matter how simple that last line of code was. Upload it and check it works. Check tracking links are working, check images look ok. Check your lander works on all browsers and at all screen resolutions. Check your conversion tracking is setup right, pretty much check everything and then check it again before you start throwing traffic at it.
Start looking at server optimisations. Apache can’t handle high volume campaigns out of the box, you either need to tweak it or start using something like nginx. Get setup with dedicated servers, load balancers, custom tracking solutions.
Month 36 – Moving On
I sometimes think of affiliate marketing being like working for someone else. It’s like working in a day job at McDonalds in a lot of ways because you are making money for someone else. You are earning for sure but you can guarantee the Network/Merchant is making a whole lot more in the long term. I think everyone gets to a point when they want to do something different, build their own site/offer, start a CPA network, release a guru course or coaching forum, invest or start a bricks and mortar business.
Online marketing is a fast paced industry and people don’t tend to stay in it long term. Make your money and get out. The skills that you learn become an ideal base to take it to the next level, whatever that may be.