So far this week I have received the same question 4 times so I decided to write a post to let you know my thoughts.
DISCLAIMER: The following are just my opinions from being in the industry and seeing many people struggle and many people succeed. From members of my membership site, customers of my WSOs, discussions with people on WF, and from going to conferences and seminars, I have been around hundreds of success stories and hundreds of failure stories. So these are just a few of my opinions.
Also, if you asked me this same question 2 years ago I would have had a much different opinion. First, the paid traffic space has become tougher in the last two years as many PPC platforms have made it more difficult for affiliate marketers and the ones that have been more favorable have therefore had more marketers (competition). Secondly, as I have become more public through products and such, I have witnessed firsthand how the majority of marketers progress, which is much different than hwo my journey progressed.
So the question...
Should I start with Paid Traffic or Free Traffic?
My answer is simple, Free Traffic. But let me justify my opinion.
Paid traffic is great. In fact, much of my income stems from paid traffic sources and a majority of my large campaigns have been from paid traffic. So, though the paid traffic space (most notably PPC) is becoming more competitive and tougher, there is still opportunity. The traffic is abundant so if you can find and scale a campaign with a positive margin, the results can be fantastic. A tiny profit margin with a boatload of traffic is still a big number! That's the good news.
But the bad news is that PPC is a tough game to learn. I have been there and have witnessed countless new marketers lose their budgets and walk away from IM altogether. For the marketer who hasn't made a dime online, going into PPC a majority of times means you will lose money to start. How much you will lose before/if you start making money is different for each person but for the vast majority of people there are many more down days than up days when first starting out. This But then again most businesses lost money at first, but it's problematic in IM because a lot of people have very little budget when they are starting...sometimes people only have $20 or $100 to 'invest'. Here is an analogy:
Let's say you want to play soccer as a goalie. You have seen soccer on TV and are familiar with the game but have never played in goal as the goalie. You say to yourself, "all the big earners in the game of soccer play for a premier league team like Manchester United". So you decide to go to the Manchester United tryouts. They put you in goal for a scrimmage and being that you have never been a goalie you generally know what you should be doing, but you are playing with all professional players so you can barely stop from flinching, never mind blocking a shot. The players of course are amazing and are whipping shots at you... you are getting hit in the face and you can barely stand your ground. Chances are after the scrimmage (if you are still alive) you will never want to play soccer as a goalie again. Just because the best goalies in the world play for a premier league team, does that mean you should try out for Manchester United as your first time attempt? That doesn't make a lot of sense.
A better and more logical route to take is to start by playing for your local team to learn the fundamentals, then work your way up to travel and then tryout for a premier league team.
Well, this is a lot like trying to get into paid traffic like PPC. There is a lot of potential and some marketers are pulling gigantic numbers, just like the players for Liverpool are making millions. In fact, there are some newbies that happen to hit big right from the start. But, PPC is tough to get into if you don't have a good foundation of CPA knowledge and don't have a budget to keep you afloat as you learn and make mistakes, which everybody does.
Now there are exceptions and I would say that if you have a mentor/coach or have a VERY detailed course and a budget, then it can make sense to dive into PPC as your first venture, but for the majority of new marketers, this isn't the case.
I see people all the time spending money on Google Adwords PPC traffic and never have built a landing page before. Do you think these people will see a good quality score or any resemblance of a good conversion rate...nope.
So what's so great about free traffic?
Well, it's free. That means as you learn, as you make mistakes, you aren't losing money. You can learn how to build and optimize a landing page on a small and free scale. Most marketers have more time than money to devote at first and the internet and CPA is great because time can be just as valuable as money. You can start building income streams of $5, $20, $50, $100 or whatever a day that you can then invest into paid traffic.
The other great thing is that free traffic can be just as lucrative. If you get good at SEO, you can pull huge numbers. Think about this...if you get 10,000 visitors a day on your sites and convert 2% at a $30 payout, that is $6,000 per day revenue. Since this is through SEO your revenue is your profit, $6,000. However, if you buy 10,000 clicks on a PPC campaign at $0.50 per click and get the same 2% conversion, that would be $6,000 in revenue, but $5,000 in cost, meaning profit is only $1,000.
Now of course getting good at SEO is difficult and just as hard as getting good at PPC, but the point is that big numbers are very possible in the free traffic space as well.
FOR THE AVERAGE NEW MARKETER, they will be doing things like video marketing, press release marketing, article marketing, forum marketing, bum marketing, etc. There is still a lot of money that can be made here as well, I've been there and done it.
Getting good at video marketing or article marketing is easier than getting good at PPC, so why not stick with those and build a small set up passive income streams. You will learn a lot, you will mitigate much of your downside risk, and you will still make money.
So, the paid traffic space has its place. It's lucrative, its sexy, it's great, but for new marketers it doesn't always make sense. My advice:
Step 1: Get a good foundation of CPA and how the industry works through this forum, a product, blogs, whatever.
Step 2: Begin learning about the different traffic directions you can take and find one that fits you based on what you like to do and what you are good at
Step 3: Pick a direction and stick with it. I can tell you that almost every (if not all) traffic sources work if you get good at them and do them long enough.
Step 4: As you continue to learn and build income streams in that traffic strategy, then diversify and explore the paid traffic space.
IMPORTANT: Throughout each of the steps and throughout your journey, program yourself to work your butt off. The only reason I got anywhere in this industry is because I worked harder than 99% of the other marketers.
At the end of the day, I only give you these opinions because I want to see you succeed. If you have the budget, confidence, mentor/coach, or good solid product to lean on, then by all means, go for it. If you don't have one of the above, then I strongly urge you to consider my advice.
No man can become rich without himself enriching others -Andrew Carnegie
PS: I simplified parts of the argument to illustrate general concepts. For example, yes, there are some costs associated with building a major SEO campaign. Etc.
PPS: This mainly applies to marketers who haven't made money online yet.
PPPS: YES, there are ways to approach PPC and other paid traffic to minimize risk as a newbie, I am not discounting that.
To your success and prosperity in your personal and professional endeavors.