Affiliate Marketing 101: Affiliate Marketing Tools

In the past post I wrote about different types of affiliate sites and how I use all three of them to maximize my earnings from affiliate marketing. In this post I will write about the tools I use and why I picked them up from the growing pile of service providers.

This post might sound like pitching you to buy these tools. Although I will make money when you take my recommendation and buy from my affiliate links, but it´s not what this post is all about. It´s about you and how to start your affiliate marketing business on a solid foundation. Any mistake at the beginning might cost you a lot of unnecessary expenses or lost potential commission on the long run,

So … let´s start.

To have all three of the affiliate sites (a blog, a lead capture page, and a review site) you will need a web hosting that supports MySQL and php (GDI does not work). You will need those for Word Press or Joomla to manage your website/blog content, and for managing your list using your own autoresponder or membership script.

If you are going to use only the list building and review sites and a third party autoresponder you can use your GDI hosting for it.

In addition to the hosting you will need the scripts that will run on it (the autoresponder or membership script and the content management program(s)), some images, and a tracking software.

Hosting

Hosting could be the worst nightmare in the life of an affiliate marketer. Imagine waking up one day to find that the campaign that is making you thousands in commission every day is unplugged because the server was down. (Don´t ask how I knew this :-()

And there is no way you can be in full control over your hosting unless you are your own host. But there is one thing I learned from hosting companies: never put all of your eggs in one basket.

How is that?

You can organize your campaigns in two different fashions:

1. Have all of the blogs on one server, the lead capturing/list management on another server, and your review site on a third server. This way if one of them is down, you have at least two thirds of your money making campaign running until you fix this one.

This should not be as costly as it sounds. You can have your lead capturing/list management systems on a paid hosting, the blogs on blogger.com, and review lenses on squidoo.com.

As a beginner, I recommend you do it this way. You´ll only pay for one hosting package, and benefit from the organic traffic you´ll get from structuring your blogger and squidoo correctly (Ledbetter, 2009). Once you are making enough money, don´t wait a second … just buy a couple more hosting accounts from two different companies and transfer your blogs and review contents to them.

2. For each campaign have a dedicated hosting account for the blog, lead capturing/list management system, and the review all on the same domain. In addition to three well ranking blogs on three different servers linking to your main campaign domain.

This structure will give you more credibility of having the membership site, the review site, and the blog for updating your members/readers with news (and new offers) under the same domain, and having blogs on other servers will give you more organic traffic and less cost per click if you are running an Adwords campaign.

You still can get back links from blogger.com blogs and squidoo lenses for more free organic traffic and as a back up plan for this particular campaign if the server goes down for a while.

One campaign per hosting is just a way to avoid unplugging all of your money machines if your server goes down.

You´ll obviously go for this option only when you have a winning campaign that is making you a lot of money.

Recommended Hosting

The best among all web hosting companies at the moment of writing this post is Hostgator because they have one of the best packages for the best price and it’s easy to use.

List Management

For managing your list you´ll need an autoresponder. I am not going to pitch you to buy any third party autoresponders like Aweber or iContact. Although as an affiliate I get recurring commission as long as you have the service if you buy through my affiliate link, but I know it is not the best for your business.

Your best bet on managing your own list is installing your own autoresponder script on your own server. You pay for it once and you have it for life (well … kinda).

Imagine that you have a winning campaign and that your list is growing fast. With most third party autoresponders you pay monthly according to the size of your list. The only exception is trafficwave.com (no I am not an affiliate :-)), and you still are going to pay $20 every month.

Although it could be a side stream of income if you refer to it, still, you can eliminate all of the monthly autoresopnder expenses if you buy the script and install it on your server. There are free ones, but don´t build a business on any thing you didn´t pay for. With your payment comes a guarantee, technical support, and a seller willing to keep you satisfied in order to buy more stuff ;-).

Alternatively, you can go to freelancer.com and post your project. Coders will submit a proposal to make for you and you can pick the lowest cost among a group of the best freelance coders around.

My favorite method of managing a list is a membership script that includes a built-in autoresponder.

If you are one of the lucky ones who responded to my promotion for Mike Filsaime´s Butterfly Marketing, then you have the membership script with a similar autoresponder to that used by aweber for just the shipping and handling fee. That was a limited time offer and long gone, so .. I am pitching you on it. If you want it today you´ll have to pay $797 for the downloadable version, or $1997 for the DVDs + shipping and handling.

The second best is Frank Salina´s EZMembership script. It costs a one time $497 $77 and you´ll get updates for life. It´s like a simple, fully functional version of Buttyfly Marketing but for just a tiny fraction of the price. $77 is less than 4 months of autoresponder´s fee and you have shopping carts, one time offer scripts, and upsell and downsell sciprts as a bonus.

In addition, if you are going to expand on your winning campaign by having upgraded membership levels within the members area. This is the main purpose of doing affiliate marketing.. finding a market you can expand on and dominate with your own product/service.

I can´t make any guarantees, but these tools are by far the best in the market.

That´s it for today. The next posts are going to be more interesting. You still need track your advertising effectively.

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Affiliate Marketing 101: Your Affiliate site

In the last post I wrote about the catalyst, which (in plain English) is your effort to get the market to buy your affiliate product. And I hope we agree on that the best way to convince your audience to buy your affiliate product is to pre-sell them on your site.

Today I’ll go through some of the affiliate site types and how to chose the type that fits with your market.

There are 3 main types of affiliate sites:

  • blogs
  • lead capture pages, and
  • review sites

Blogs

Blogs can be your best shot if you are selling a product that needs a social proof, such as hair regrowth, acne treatment, muscle building, weight loss, and teeth whitening products. The right way to do it is to buy the product, take a picture of yourself before you use it, and on intervals after that.

It sounds like a lengthy process, and the market might get saturated, or at least you lose your first-striker advantage by the time your are done. But blogs that are done this way convert way better than any other form of affiliate sites.

Some affiliates fake blogs and pictures in order to jump on the opportunity while it is still hot. But guess what, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has changed its rules specially for those fake bloggers. There is a term for this kind of blogs: Flogs.

You want to make money, not to get in trouble with the feds. Even if you don’t live in the US, the law still applies to you if you are selling anything in the US (which is the biggest market available so far).

Lead Capture Pages

This kind of affiliate sites is the best when it comes to niches like working from home, but it also works really well in any other niche. The idea is to prepare a report, a small software, or an ebook, either by yourself or by having it done for you (rent a freelancer, buy PLRs, or MRRs). Then build a landing page that offers this gift for free and ask for name and email that you’ll send the gift to. This could be as simple as one page with an autoresponder form on it (and definitely with all the other business pages: about, contact, terms and conditions, and privacy policy). After your deliver your gift follow up with useful information and recommendations (which will be your affiliate products).

And it could be as complicated as a membership site. Before you jump to a conclusion, running a membership site is way easier and much more secure than the simple lead capture page example. From within the membership site you’ll have your own autoresponder, your own real estate which you’ll be bringing visitors to it on demand, and you’ll have the control over all of your tools (except for the server if you are hosting on a third party’s server).

Building a list could be a source of income itself through one time offers and special offers that you’ll be able to provide for your list within the membership area. MRRs work perfectly well with this model, and you’ll be able to segregate your list into buyers and potential buyers.

Review Sites

Review sites are the most common examples of affiliate sites in niches like PC error repairs (registry cleaners, pc enhancers, anti spyware and viruses) and relationships (dating, relationship advice ..). The review sites provide the reader with a chance to compare available products, which is a buyer’s typical behavior. This way, if you are going to buy traffic to your site you know that your visitors are ready with their credit card in hand.

You can also combine Review Sites with Lead Capture forms to maximize your potential earnings per visitor.

My Personal Favorite

My personal favorite way to promote a product is to start with the lead capture page, a review site, and the blog at the same time. The lead capture page will be my source of leads and income in this niche in the early stages, and the blog will be gradually building credibility, especially that I post on blogs as diaries (like, day1, day2 ..etc). The capture leads will be directed to the review site where they can compare products if they are interested in buying right now. Then I would drag traffic directly to the review site, on which there is a lead capture form, either in a static form or as an exit pop up. This kind of traffic is expensive and I’d better make sure my review page converts well before I buy this traffic.

While I am reviewing the product on a day to day basis for my blog (or having it reviewed for me) I’ll be getting it indexed, posting every day and having back-links built for it. By the time it has built credibility it will be getting organic traffic from back-links and search results.

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Affiliate Marketing 101: Catalysts

Now that you have a product and a market you need to bring the product to the market. And to bring the product to the market you need a catalyst (as in chemistry) that brings the two together on a medium that facilitates the reaction (in our case the reaction is the purchase or subscription).

The catalyst for the affiliate marketer could be as simple as a direct advertisement, or as complicated as a niche site, and each market-product combination has its own optimum catalyst.

Your job as an affiliate marketer is to find out which catalyst, or let´s call it ¨platform¨ from now on, that fits with your audience. Then adapt your promotion method to fit with this platform. You should have already got this piece of information from the market research step.

For example: if your audience trusts forums, your job is to modify your promotion method to fit with forums. That could be simply a banner at the top of that forum (buying banners is usually referred to as ¨media buy¨) linking directly to your affiliate link.

If your audience needs more pre-selling (persuasion), then your job is to be the star of these forums at this subject. It will take you a bit of effort to learn all about the subject, and you´ll need to have the best answer to every question asked on these forums. But this is a business. You have already done that in the school by doing assignments about subjects you´d never heard of at that time. Consider this as one of those assignments, but you´ll be rewarded in cash instead of marks.

Let´s take a live example:

One of the niches that have been making me money is the online business niche. Within this niche there are sub-niches, and you can divide the market into several sectors, such as: newbies, not-too-newbie, drop out, advanced: needs traffic, advanced: needs hosting, advanced: needs a membership management script, advanced: wants to stay up to date … etc. Even these sectors can each be divided into smaller categories, like MLMers, MLM drop outs, affiliate marketers, direct sellers (on auction), store owners .. etc.

If you have a guide that explains the basics of generating more targeted free traffic, your target should be [advanced: needs traffic]. If you are building a list with this guide then you can sell to this list in the future more advanced traffic generation techniques, alternative sources to buy traffic from, keyword tools, and keep advancing with them. Parallel to this line, you know that they need services such as web hosting and autoresponders. Your job is to keep an eye on the best offers from these service providers and keep your list updated.

Now let´s dissect this example:

Your audience is allover the internet, but there are authority sites that rank at the top of search engine results for the term ¨online business¨ and, therefore, are more trusted than other sites.

Some of these sites are interactive, and you can post comments or articles related to the content of these sites. Examples are forums, blogs, and article directories.

Your product serves one sector of this community: people who already have an online business and need more traffic to their sites.

You need those people to see your offer. And to do this you buy advertising space on these authority sites, post useful information about the issue and link to your ¨site¨ in your signature, or just get a back-link to your ¨site¨ from these authority sites to increase your chances of ranking higher on search engine organic results.

Your ¨site¨ could be the direct affiliate link, but this is not a good idea. Your traffic will see your offer once then you lose them. Besides, back-linking to your affiliate link only helps the owner of the product, and doesn´t help you at all.

Above all, as in the example above, I need to build a list of those people and build a relationship with them so that they buy from me in the future.

So .. you´ll need a ¨buffer¨ website. (I keep using chemistry related terms today … :-).

This buffer website could be a blog full of free useful information and pre-selling your affiliate product, or a review site/blog that provides useful information about a group of products and an honest evaluation.

And to make sure you make the most out of your visitors you´ll need to ad an opt in form that you can get from your favorite autoresponder. Just paste it on your site and offer a free gift for everyone who fills it.

Why it is important to have your own site/blog?

First of all you are building a traffic history for the site you are advertising, why not benefit from this effort on the long run?

Second, some offers convert very well at the beginning then they stop converting. The traffic is going to the site that you control, if the offer is not converting change it with something else. You already have a list of products that you can sell from the product research step.

Third, you can build your own list. This is one of the biggest assets in your affiliate marketing business. Some markets respond after being exposed to your offer many times, sometimes 4 weeks after they first come across your site. Your chances of selling to them increase with following up with them with different pitches.

That´s if for today. The next posts will cover advertising resources.

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A list of affiliate networks I worked with

An affiliate network is like a short cut to find products to promote as described in the previous post. The reason I delayed this list is to assure on the concept of “the market comes first”. Always start with finding the market then find the product it needs. Never get emotionally attached to a product/offer. It’s a business. Find people who will buy from you then find them something to buy.

Below is a list of affiliate networks (some are also known as CPA, or Commission Per Action networks) that I worked with and currently am/used to be happy with my affiliate managers. I excluded from this list all of those that I had serious problems with.

As you already know, I am an affiliate marketer, and those are my affiliate links to the affiliate networks (yes, I get commission on your earnings from most of the following networks).

Click Bank of course: Only digital/downloadable products. Is a corporate-structured network and a very trusted name in the industry.

Paydotcom.com: Owned and operated by a marketer celebrity; Mike Filsaime. Is a good alternative to clickbank and has an efficient customer support in place.

Commission Junction: The highest Alexa rank among all affiliate networks.

Amazon.com: Physical products. You get a low commission but are very likely to make it up with volume. It is a trusted name, and you can capitalize on it.

The rest are not easy to join. There is a screening process, and interview, and some require referrals you worked with before. It doesn’t hurt to try, but it’s not the end of the world if you get rejected. Practice with the above two until you build a solid affiliate marketing history.

The reason it is hard to join CPA networks is that they deal with fraud more than any thing else. So … to stay in business and to protect their reputation and their clients they tend to reject applications to stay as clean as possible.

AsSeenOnPC: Mainly physical products, like those featured on infomercials.

Clickbooth: One of the oldest CPA networks, operated by IntegraClick.

COPEAC: One of the biggest CPA networks.

Neverblue: One of the biggest names in the CPA world.

ROI Rocket: The most friendly CPA network I ever worked with.

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Affiliate Marketing 101: Product Research

Now that you have the thirsty market that is ready to absorb your products, it’s time to find those products. And to do this there is nothing easier than going to Google and searching for the features of the product. On the site of the product if there is an affiliate program in place you’ll find an “Affiliates” link, mostly at the bottom of the home page. If you can’t find any, there are affiliate networks that list most of the affiliate programs out there. Join some of those networks and search their list of affiliate programs.

Take note of all of the products that you’ve found. This is your starting list. Now set down and open the landing pages of all of these products in internet browsers (or tabs) at the same time and look for the following:

The header: Does it communicate reasoning or emotions? Exclude all of those that communicate reasoning, because emotions sell more. Does it have benefits (not features) in the headline text? If yes short-list it for the next screening.

The theme: A successful web designer will make sure his design appeals to the target sector of the community. If, for example, you know your audience is women, then the theme of the landing page should appeal to women. How to know? Ask a woman.

What if you don’t know your audience?

That’s easy. Ask quantcast.com. Copy the url of the landing page and paste it in quantcast, hit enter and you’ll know the gender, age, education, and the level of income of the audience of this site. If the site returns no data it means it hasn’t been around long enough. In that case check the demographics of another authority site related to what you are trying to sell.

Check for bullets: Do they list features or benefits? Again, go for the benefits.

The call to action: Is the call to action clear and can not be missed? This is what you want. You don’t want to spend hours of your life and heard-earned money sending traffic to your affiliate link just to get confused and leave without taking action.

Is there an opt in form? Perfect, it means there will be a follow up with a fraction of the traffic that didn’t buy.

Are there any ads of any kind? Run away. It means it is not converting for them and advertising on the site is how they are trying to monetize their traffic. Not good for you.

You’ll need at least two products to start because you’ll send half of the traffic that you’ll generate to each one, compare their conversion, then send 90% of your traffic to the winning one. The other 10% will be for testing other products.

Now this step is optional, but it helps you live the culture of your audience: buy the product and try it yourself if possible, or have it reviewed by someone who belongs to the culture of your audience. (If it is about babies, for example, and you don’t have one, pass it to your friend who’s got a new born as a gift, then later ask about their experience with that gift).

In the next article I’ll write about the different methods of promotions, the pros and cons of each one, and my recommendation.

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Affiliate Marketing 101: What to Promote (Market Research)

Market research is the first task you should do as an affiliate marketer. Find a thirsty market, provide a product they want (not necessarily they need), bring it to them, and you are very likely to be in profit. This is way easier than finding a product and trying to find someone to buy it.

Note: If you think you’re stuck with a product and you need to sell it for any reason (proving it to yourself for example), please hang around. I’ll be posting about a method to market anything.

So .. back to market research. Let’s find a thirsty market first and make sure that someone is ready to pay money to fulfill their need.

What is a Thirsty Market?

First let’s define what is a thirsty market that will absorb your product like a sponge absorbs water.

A thirsty market is a group of people who have a really urgent issue that is affecting their quality of life in a way that they can not, or are not willing to, tolerate. Examples are: people who gained weight involuntarily and they are losing their jobs, love, or social gains because of it. Losing weight for such people is as important for them as getting hired after a year of unemployment for others.

And that’s another good example; people who lost their jobs and have been unemployed for quite long time that they are running out of savings.

How about women who want to have kids, everything is fine, but they don’t seem to be able to conceive.

These are examples of  markets that are thirsty for something to solve their problems, and if you can find that solution and bring it to them you are very likely to be making money in minutes.

One thing to consider though, some markets are not ready to buy your product no matter how much they want it. That could be due to some background issues like lack of fund or due to their location.

Now that sounds pretty easy, except that you’ll need to know where to start!

Where to Start Market Research?

You’ll need a start point and brain storm from there. That start point could be an idea that came to your mind, an infomercial, a TV commercial, a new trend in a talk show, or even something you saw on the news.

This is just the start point. The start point is sometimes all what you are looking for, but most of the time you’ll need to do a lot of research until you find a really thirsty market.

So .. the start point is not a big deal. Just do what you normally do every day but add to that a note pad and a pencil, and collect ideas. After doing this for just one day you’ll have more than more starting points than you can handle.

How to do the market research?

Now that you have a start point go to Google and search for broadest term related to the start point. Do you see any sponsored ads? If yes then there is a market. How many ads do you see? If you see a lot of ads then there is a huge market and the competition is fierce. Then start narrowing your search using Google suggestions at the bottom of the search results page. keep doing this and write down the search terms that you found sponsored ads showing with them.

IMPORTANT: Please note that the ads that you’ll find are all geographically targeted. The markets you’ll find this way are specific to your local area (country, state, or even city). If you want to see markets in other places you’ll need to use a proxy.

After you’ve built a list of potential markets keep an eye on them and make sure that the ads are still there for a week or so. Have a screen shot for your records and compare them at the end of the week.

One thing to keep in mind. You might need to keep starting market research projects every day in an overlapping fashion, and don’t stop until you find at least 3 markets.

After you find these markets you’ll need to a product or service. And this is what the next post will be about.

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Affiliate Marketing 101: Introduction

Introduction

Affiliate marketing is the process of bringing the buyers to the seller and getting paid a commission per sale or customer you bring in (lead). This is the simplest definition for the term affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing in the online world is to bring Internet traffic to your affiliate link to a product, service, or lead capture form and getting paid commission per action (sale, opt in, or just a click through).

Affiliate marketing is not a new invention or an Internet specific trend in business. It has been around for as long as I am aware of life (I am 40 at the time of writing this). When you buy a car from a dealership, you could get free services or even a discount on your next car purchase if you bring in customers to the dealership. The same for real estate agents, they broker a house sale without buying or selling. They sell the house for you and get a commission for facilitating the sale, and they get commission from the buyers for finding them the house. Even large stores like Sam’s club rewards you with coupons when you bring in new members.

I even did it one time when I owned a small publishing business, I had an affiliate program in place for those who bring in new customers. And that was my only method of advertising. It was working so well that I at one point I had to stop it in order to be able to fulfill my current customers ever growing orders.

So … affiliate marketing has been around for a long time, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Elements of Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing involves a lot of factors and elements, but the basic 3 elements are:

1. The market (people who need to buy something)

2. A product/service that fulfills what the market needs and has an affiliate program

3. The affiliate (you), the person who will bring the product to the market and get paid a commission per each successful task.

Note that I mentioned the market first, before the product. Most of the time, especially for beginners, affiliates start with the product then they try to sell it. And most of the time that ends up with failure and new affiliates dropping the towel too early because they picked the wrong product and/or promoted it to the wrong people.

The right way to do affiliate marketing is to find a market first, then find a product that the market needs, sign up for its affiliate program, and bring the product to the market.

In the coming posts I’ll discuss how to do the market research, how to find a product with an affiliate program, and how to do the marketing itself: how to funnel traffic to buy from your affiliate link.

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