How I Got Started -
I consider this the one year anniversary of my first affiliate sale, but the truth is I dabbled with other programs way before this and never stuck to any of them. Anybody remember Don Lapre? Tiny little ads in tiny little newspapers...way back when (and I mean way back), I bought a $100 psychic line from his company and put up an ad on a tiny website that I think was some AOL related site, and lo and behold, I made $130 total off that line. Enough to pay for the line and have $30 left over. What did I do with it after that? Nothing. Got lazy and looking back, I truly wish I would have stuck with some form of internet marketing, but I can't do anything now but hit it again hard.
I also experimented with a few cell phone blogs and Adsense. I was excited that Adsense was actually earning and I remember thinking to myself "if I can earn 50 cents a day (I was earning 20 cents a day) over the course of a year that would be $182 dollars. Big money!!" Now looking back it seems laughable, but hey, it was a start. And one that I abandoned as it just didn't seem to be worth it.
At one point last January I considered getting a part-time pizza delivery job just for some extra cash. I am so glad I didn't! I wouldn't have had the time to work on my online empire.
So this new round has seen me writing a lot of articles and working on building websites. I love both of these tasks and they are a great way to get started. Over the course of the year I have made $4730. Not a huge amount (but much, much more than the $182 I was excited about with adsense!), but considering that some folks don't make anything their first year, I am happy and have proof that it works.
Here is how this new round started in March of 2008. I decided to try my hand at writing some articles so I picked a few keywords after doing my research. I knocked out 5 articles based on 5 keywords focusing on one product. I distinctly remember being so nervous the first time I clicked the submit my article button at EzineArticles. What if they don't like my article? Is it good enough? Silly me.
In a few days the articles went live. The truth is, the articles sucked. No doubt about it. I didn't know how to write compelling stuff (and I still struggle with it). It is funny to look back on them today, but everyone has to start somewhere, so don't be afraid. After two days of the articles going live I checked my Clickbank account and saw a sale for $11. Cool, but it was such a small amount that I didn't really think much of it. I figured that this was another online marketing thing that wasn't really worth the time or effort, so I did nothing else (are you noticing a pattern here?). Almost exactly one month later I logged into my Clickbank account and saw that I had another sale for $11. What? I hadn't touched these articles, I hadn't written anymore articles, I hadn't done any more promotion whatsoever. And they made me another sale? That was my "Aha" moment! The game was afoot!! (Stupid Young Sherlock Holmes reference, sorry)
So here are some tips, tricks, and opinions on what I see after one year of affiliate marketing:
List Building -
The truth is, list building can suck at first. It takes awhile to build up a good list, so it won't be profitable right away (at least that I have seen). But it is worth it over the long run. I use Aweber and I have heard good things about GetResponse. My list does earn me more than I spend every month at Aweber so it is profitable and will only grow to be very profitable over time. The things that I see folks making a mistake on when building a list usually revolve around their opt-in form. There is no need to use too much text. A strong call to action and a nice free report is enough to entice most customers to join your list. Make sure that it is above the fold. My opt-ins more than doubled when I made sure that my opt-in box was above the fold. I also use a yellow background around the opt-in box so that it is very visible when a customer first hits my landing page. Some niches just aren't worth building a list in though, while other niches it is very, very profitable. Also, I use single opt-in. I've heard the arguments for both, but I would rather not miss a sale because the size of my list is smaller. I have had no problems with single opt-in.
Article Marketing -
This topic has been discussed to death so I won't get into it too deep. There are plenty of guides that do that already. But what I will say is that there are a few important things that go into your article. The title needs to be catchy as all get out. Take a look on EzineArticles and get some ideas. No need to be outlandish, but you need to think of your titles like those blurbs on women's magazines, the ones that catch your attention in the check-out line. For example: would you rather read "8 Tips To Help You Catch More Bass" or "These 8 Tips Will Fill Your Boat Full Of Big Bass Faster Then You Can Cast Your Line!" Copywriting is an essential skill and you can always learn more about it. The next most important thing is your Bio or Resource box. No one cares what you do ("I am a P.H.D. in blah, blah, blah"). It should read something like this: "Click Here Now to find out how to catch more bass then you ever thought possible!" The words Click Here Now and Catch More Bass would be the ones you link to your landing page.
EzineArticles vs. The Other Directories -
My main focus is submitting my articles at EzineArticles. Sure they are fussy (and I'm glad, actually, considering how much drek is out there), but they have a reason to be. No other article directory even comes close to the amount of traffic they send me. And I have tried them all. I may use the others for backlinks, but it mostly a giant waste of time submitting elsewhere. Google loves EzineArticles and it makes it easy to rank for keywords quickly. I have tried auto-submission software such as Article Post Robot and I think it is all fairly pointless. Most have a major downfall handling the Categories of various article directories so it became very tedious to use. I occasionally use other directories for backlinks, but if you write a good enough article, others will pick it up and use it so you get backlinks automatically.
Forwarding To The Merchant's Sales Page -
If I want to test out a new niche I will use Instant Domain Name Search Tool to locate a domain easily (as well as get a built-in discount) and buy it from Godaddy. Godaddy isn't great for hosting but their interface for managing domains is good and I know they aren't disappearing any time soon. I will then forward the domain to my Clickbank hoplink (masking enabled) and send my articles to this domain. EzineArticles allows top level domain redirects so you are OK there. If I make a few sales I know it is time to build a landing page, and the nice thing is, if I submitted articles that point to this domain that got picked up by other publishers I already have some backlinks built in to the domain. .info domains work just as quickly as a .com, but the money you save up front won't be worth it next year when you have to renew. Although I admit that I do have a number of .info domains for testing niches.
Getting Indexed Quickly -
To get one of my sites indexed quickly I will take an article and submit it to GoArticles (the articles go up right away) and point to my domain. Then I will Digg the front page of my site (no need to Digg the other pages). This will usually get me indexed in a day or so, but sometimes Google is fussy and it can take up to a week.
Wordpress 2.7 -
Once I decide that I want to build a site (with a landing page) I will point my domain DNS at GoDaddy to my hosting service. Then I install Wordpress 2.7 (or greater). I used to build sites by hand using HTML code, but after using Wordpress I don't think I will be going back to straight HTML sites anytime soon. Straight HTML sites can become a complete chore to maintain and update. I love the ability to quickly add a post or a page to a Wordpress site. Set a Page in Wordpress as the static main page and you have an easy landing page site that is easy to add articles to. The main theme I use is Flexibility 2 and there is also a theme called Elegantio for traditional sales pages. I do need to find someone that can customize my sites so they look more like a mini-site but I haven't found that someone yet (and for a reasonable price). My plugins of choice (depending on the site I will use others, but these are the basis for every site I create):
Akismet (spam filter)
All in One SEO Pack (great for SEO purposes)
Google Analytics for WordPress (so I can use Google Analytics to track data about my site)
Google XML Sitemaps (easily creates good sitemaps that Google loves)
Every other plugin is up to the purpose or functionality I need it for, but I have some sites with just these plugins and Google loves them.
Stop Buying Stuff -
We all get caught up in this. There are some things that are good to purchase and some e-books that I think are essentials to learn this whole thing, but there is a lot of fluff out there. The methods I used to make money didn't cost anything at first besides a cheap .info domain name. That's right, I got started for just $.99 cents. Now I have a few things I use and pay for monthly: hosting ($10), Aweber ($30), keyword subscription ($20) and that's it. I can host tons of add-on domains on my host so no need to buy anything else.
This is a whole art in and of itself and I call it an art, because it can't be science...there are just to many variables. I don't trust any keyword tool. I have used Wordtracker (free) and Google Keyword tool and there is so much variation between the two that it is confusing. I try to find a balance between them. As for keywords themselves, try to find "buying" keywords. I've found what I thought were a couple of great keywords with little competition, got very excited and watched as they never converted. To this day, one article based on one of these "tire-kicker" keywords still generates daily traffic and has sold exactly one affiliate product (better than no sales, I guess, but still).
Backlinks are very important, but man, they can be tedious to get going. Social bookmarking bores me to tears but it has to be done. One thing I have noticed is that even if I do a backlink campaign to an article on Ezinearticles, it doesn't seem to improve its ranking or place in Google searches. I tried backlinking one article that I would love to see on the front page of search and it just doesn't budge. I could be wrong, but to me it seems that once Google has settled on where it wants to show your article, it is settled and doesn't move around too much (after the initial Google dance).
Let's face it...Clickbank can really drive you crazy. I have some really great weeks of sales and then the next week, nothing. Something does seem screwy in their tracking system. Not sure what it is. But I feel compelled to use them because I don't see any decent competitors. Paydotcom looks like it isn't even maintained anymore, the products look shoddy (even more shoddy than Clickbank) and I have heard too many horro stories about not getting paid by merchants. Clickbank pays me every time, on time, and does direct deposit. I wish there was another game in town but I don't see it.
Landing Pages -
Once you know that you have a product that converts you need to build a landing page. I didn't used to believe in landing pages, but after some testing I think it is the way to go. One of my initial thoughts was "why make someone click through more pages just to get to the merchant page where he is already selling?" But there is something psychological about doing a mini-review beforehand. Pre-selling does work. Also, you can gain additional organic traffic by using a landing page. I was surprised to see one of my landing pages get a fair amount of hits from MSN search, and this is traffic that I wouldn't have had otherwise.
What I Call the Vs. Method -
On my landing pages I like to use what I call the Vs. Method. I don't like review pages with three or more reviews. I find that it is confusing and I like to funnel my traffic into two distinct products so I pit them against each other - thus the Vs. Method. This works great because it is like a giant split test. I am often blown away that one product that I didn't think would convert (due to shoddy sales page or other problem) ends up beating the product I reviewed higher. I love this kind of info because I wouldn't have even bothered with the product initially. When reviewing the products try not to sound to "marketing guru" (unless it is a high end IM product, then the more the better), but more like a real person. These reviews don't have to be that long. Just tell them what you like and don't like about the product. This is an extension of Chris Rempel's Conduit Method. I just call it the Vs. Method because it is one product compared to another product. Include bulletin points of features and you are set.
Hit or Miss -
Some weeks make great dough and others not so great. That's the internet for you. I work every day to get to a level of consistency and I am sure it will come, but for now I like to think of it as riding the bull. And I can always remind myself that I am making money, unlike a lot of folks that invested in the stock market or real estate, so I consider myself lucky.
Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 (or 9) -
This is my secret tool that I love for writing articles. I type all day long and I when I come home to work on my business I hate typing, so I picked up Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 and I have never looked back. It does make mistakes, but not many. Here is some advice for using it. Get the absolute best headset/mic combo you can get for it. It makes all the difference. I use the ClearChat PC Wireless by Logitech. I absolutely wouldn't do without it. No wires (I am so sick of wires!) and a fantastic mic make it a must have for me. I can crank out articles so much faster using these two tools, so consider getting them as part of your arsenal. Once I branch out to using Skype and things like that I am sure I will love the headset even more. Also, Dragon Naturally Speaking 10 runs better on a beefy PC. Take the time to train Dragon Naturally Speaking and I'm sure you will be happy.
Hubpages & Squidoo -
Some folks love them, but now I don't use them anymore. They were great to start out and learn things with. Hubpages just doesn't like you promoting affiliate products and they will shut down your Hub if they don't approve. Squidoo doesn't care what you promote at all...but I think there is way too much "leakage" in a Squidoo lens. I don't want my customers clicking on an Adsense link when I want them to get to my site. Not worth it for me anymore...I prefer using my own domains and my own landing pages. Also, Squidoo and Hubpages aren't getting the Google search engine love like they used to. That said, I'm not taking my lenses and hubs down...I just don't feel like building new ones.
If you just need to quickly edit an image, I found that Online image / photo editor pixlr free is a great Photoshop-like image editor that runs in your browser. Good stuff and easy to use.
Things I don't know enough about but hope to eventually learn (I need more time for sure!): outsourcing (I need to do this, but I have been too tight with money to consider it), CPA type offers (most of the programs I see I don't like), PPC (I am starting a new campaign but all my previous campaigns went down in flames and with all the new rules, it is soooooooo confusing...I like that I don't have to babysit my articles - if anyone wants to hold my hand through a Adwords campaign I would be willing to pay), Split Testing (I've done some, but it is difficult to split test in Wordpress and it drives me crazy because I know I should be split-testing all the time!).
Digital Point Forums vs. Warrior Forums -
I started in Digital Point a long time ago. A month later I found this site and never looked back. Digital Point is pretty horrible and some of the posters there are straight up jerks. There are a few golden members, but not like here. Glad I found you guys!
Thanks to -
I would like to point out the following Warrior Forum members for their great posts and inspiration: Steven Wagenheim (a true inspiration, wish I could write like him and someday I hope I can catch up to his success), TimG (thanks for the great article writing manual that you give out for free - you are great inspiration as well), Dean Shainin (you sent me a copy of your article e-book and it really helped as well), and Chris Rempel (for not lying in his e-books and for helping me start making more money than before I read your stuff - I appreciate your brutal honesty)
Good luck everyone and here is to all your success!