When I first started in CPA marketing YEARS ago I wish I had information like this, it would have saved a lot of confusion that is for sure.
As stated this is not necessary to read for veterans or even people already making money in CPA.
The Beginner's Guide to CPA (Cost Per Action)
In this guide, I'll cover the basics of what CPA is, promotional methods, tips for success and advice.
So, what is CPA? CPA stands for 'cost per action', which means you earn money when someone does something. With CPA, there are a ton of people who only make $1 a day or less, but there are some people who make more money per year than your favorite athlete. One of the people I've worked with makes a solid $7000 per month just promoting CPA offers, while the other has made up to $30,000 in one day. It depends on how much time, effort and money you're willing to put in.
Within CPA, there are 2 main subcategories, and those are:
Cost Per Lead - You get paid just for generating a lead for a company. A lead can be anything from just an email/ZIP code, or a full form submit for something. Leadgen offers pay anywhere from $0.10 to $75 depending on complexity, etc.
Cost Per Sale - Technically, this is the second type of CPA offers, these require the person to buy something.
For CPA, you have to join a CPA network. I won't recommend any specific CPA networks, but when looking at one, consider the following criteria:
What offers do they have?
Are they the highest payout for that offer?
Do they accept affiliates from your country?
What payout methods do they offer?
How often do they pay out?
Are they responsive to your emails and application?
Breaking down each of these pieces, the offers they have will be your selection on what you can promote. There are many different 'verticals' (categories) for CPA offers, ranging from email/zip submits, education, insurance, dating, downloadable software, etc.
Payouts can make a big difference on your ROI. You may only be breaking even promoting an offer on one network, but if you find another network that pays $10 more, you can make much more money.
Some CPA networks only accept US affiliates, others accept from anywhere. Check to see if they accept affiliates from your country. CPA networks are somewhat selective when it comes to certain countries that are associated with high risk of fraud (so if you live in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Africa, this might affect your ability to be accepted).
Payout methods and frequencies will determine how fast you get your money. For beginners, most networks that pay weekly will not accept you, so you'll be stuck with NET30. There are a few types of frequences: Weekly means you get paid every week for the previous week. Bi-weekly/Bi-Monthly means you get paid twice a month for the 2 previous weeks. Monthly means you get paid at the end of the month. NET15 means you get paid 15 days after the end of the month for the previous month. NET30 means you get paid 30 days after the end of the month for the previous month. So, with NET30, the money you earn in May will get paid to you on June 30th or after. This can make cash flow problems really difficult.
When working in CPA, it is VITAL to have a good relationship with your affiliate manager. Your affiliate manager is the gateway to getting higher payouts, getting paid faster, getting access to exclusive offers, or even suggestions on how to rock a campaign for maximum money.
Okay, now let's talk promotional methods, there are several main kinds to be aware of:
PPC - Pay Per Click, here, you are buying an ad somewhere, and paying when people click it. Popular PPC engines include Adwords, Facebook, MSN Ad Center and others. PPC is nice because you're only paying for people who are interested enough to click your ads. PPC is very competitive, most popular keywords are expensive, and Facebook and Google are very stingy about ads. To break into the PPC niche, you need to be willing to lose several hundred dollars (I'd advise $500 minimum for testing a new campaign). But, once you have golden keywords, you can ride those for insane profits. The other issue here is that campaigns are easily stolen and other affiliates click ads to see LPs and cost you money.
PPV - Pay Per View. Instead of paying for a click, you are paying for someone to view the ad. This is often referred to as 'contextual' within CPA networks, because most PPV networks display popups on URLs. Popular engines for this include MediaTraffic, LeadImpact and TrafficVance. PPV networks require a deposit of $200 to $1000 (TrafficVance). You will pay starting at $0.01 per view, so you can get a lot of views for cheap, but the traffic is lower quality here and it can be hard to get conversions.
Social - This is often a mix of PPC and just display, depending on how you do it. Plenty of Fish, Facebook, Twitter are all popular ways to promote offers, you can target demographics really well, but clicks don't convert incredibly high and it requires some testing to earn money. But, social is less competitive in terms of costs than PPC or PPV. However, social users are often more web-savvy, and are also spammed pretty hard.
Display - This is also referred to as media buying, basically, you buy banners on sites and hope people click. Most of the people making insane numbers on CPA are at least dabbling in media buying, it's easy to bleed money here but if you are smart about it and willing to test, media buying requires less micromanagement once you're set up and rocking.
Incentive - There are two types of incent traffic, cash and non-cash. CPA offers that allow cash incents pay VERY low and have a high scrub rate, but you can use sites like Mturk, Microworkers, etc, to fill these. With the scrub and low CPA, you won't make huge numbers here, but you can make $5-$10 a day here if you scale it up well. But, the payout frequency of the network will make or break this, because if you pay your workers and then the ad network scrubs your leads later, you're screwed. Noncash incentives means you can offer a free ebook for filling out the offer, etc. These are low paying, but not as low as cash incent offers.
Email - Still popular with those people who do listbuilding, email converts pretty well if it's opt-in. However, you have to be CAN-SPAM compliant and scrub against the suppression list on a regular basis. If you do unsolicited marketing, expect to get kicked from the offer or banned.
SEO - Everyone here knows this method I'm sure, basically, you build niche sites for an offer or vertical, and then get it ranked, and get traffic. This method requires the most upfront work by FAR, but has low investment in terms of money and can last a long time. However, you're also relying on Google to not de-rank you, so if that happens, you can lose your income stream fast.
Content-locking - Content locking is the new one in the game, and it's growing fast. There's only a few networks that run content locking, such as BlamAds, AdscendMedia and Dollarade. The payouts aren't very high, but you can quickly put up niche video or download sites, content lock them and make money. There is often a scrub rate here though, because it's technically a form of incent traffic.
Offline - Offline traffic is generally not supported by most networks by default, but if you ask, you might get approved. You can post flyers or business cards and get people to fill out offers. The danger here is the costs of printing, and avoiding breaking the law. For example, it is illegal to put flyers in other people's mailboxes, and other things like that.
Brokering/Outsourcing - Most offers don't support this, but a few do. What you do here is, either you own your own CPA network and broker other network's offers at lower payouts and take the margin for yourself, or you outsource your leadgen to someone else. Outsourcing is VERY risky, most people just get their accounts banned or get kicked off the offers and leads get charged back. Not advisable unless you're willing to risk your accounts and money.
Assorted 'methods' - So, these are what you will usually find in WSOs and methods posted here, basically, you come up with a niche way to make money. These get saturated VERY quickly and always get spammed to death. But, a few methods I've seen are using Openbook.com to find people who posted status updates about your product/offer. Posting comments or videos on YouTube, posting answers on YahooAnswers, etc. These methods can amount to spam, so be careful, if your affiliate link gets reported you may find yourself getting yelled at.
Those are the main promotional methods, that's not to say that there aren't others, but most are variations of this. Don't run around trying every method and type here, instead, focus and learn one method, test it, get profitable, scale and then consider moving on to a new one.
When it comes to promoting offers, you have a choice, you can either create landing pages or you can direct link. Landing pages require time, effort and knowledge to create, but are highly customizable and will almost ALWAYS convert better than direct linking. Generally, you should split test (ie, test both) LP vs direct link.
Tracking is incredibly important, that way you know what is converting and what isn't. There are 2 major tracking platforms, the first is Tracking202/Prosper202. This is free and easy to setup, allows cloaking of links to hide your traffic sources, and can rotate offers. CPVLab is the second, it's specialized for PPV traffic because it can rotate offers, LPs, and autopostback conversion data.
Now let's talk about succeeding in this game. CPA is very competitive because the potential for profits is HUGE. But, most people suck at this and are making mistakes and are giving up, so it's not saturated. In order to maximize your chances of success, you need to do the following:
Join multiple networks so you can examine different offers, and leverage one network against the other to get higher payouts. For example, if you're on network A and network B, and the offer you want pays $40 on network A but it's NET30, while network B pays $20 but it's weekly, ask network B for a payout bump to match network A.
Have a good relationship with your affiliate manager. This is crucial as I said, affiliate managers will go to bat for you because their money depends on you! So if they can make you more money or keep you with their network, they will do it.