Affiliate Marketing 101: Tracking

There are two things that an affiliate marketer HAS to master in order to be successful:

1. Generating traffic

2. Tracking your money (from which source of traffic it comes)

In the last post I wrote briefly about generating traffic and why as a business person you need to focus your efforts on paid traffic, while considering organic traffic as a side project that helps your paid one and at the same time generates you money.

Today I’ll write a bit about tracking. And I want you to consider the importance of tracking for an affiliate marketer as equivalent to monitoring the subject of an open heart surgery. All the vital processes should be monitored all the time during the operation. If the monitoring system doesn’t work the operation can not be done. There is no such a thing as a “blind” open heart surgery.

As an affiliate, you need to monitor all of the vital processes of each campaign you are running all the time. As opposed to open heart surgery, there could be a test, semi-monitored campaign. Once you decide to scale it up you MUST track your vital affiliate processes.

The vital processes for an affiliate marketer are your ad copies/banners, the landing page copy, design, colors .. etc, and the source of traffic in response to that particular ad copy, keyword, and landing page.

Your tracking system has to show all of them. For example:

If you are going to promote a product from ClickBank, the destination link of any ad should look like this (this is a direct linking case):

http://YourClickBankID.VendorID.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=A01L01K01

where A01 is a code for the ad copy, L01 is a code for the landing page, and {keyword} is a keyword insert token that MSN will replace with the searched keyword that lead to clicking on your ad. (Please note that MSN Adcenter does not allow direct linking with affiliate IDs. To overcome this use your own tracking software installed on your server and use the tracking link given to you by this software. I use AdTrackz and PPVDominator and they both give me reasonable real time tracking).

If the source of traffic does not allow keyword insertion tokens, or if your keywords are too long to fit in the tracking ID, then you’ll have to manually give each keyword a code and place it instead of the keyword token (like, in case of PPC, giving your keywords serial numbers and adding those serial numbers after tid=, and using each link to track a single keyword in a separate ad group).

That doesn’t work if you are going to use landing pages of your own that you are going to be testing as well. And if you are going to do that manually it will take you forever to come up with one fully tracked campaign.

In case of clickbank and most offers where you can contact the advertiser or the affiliate manager, you can get a tracking code from your source of traffic (say MSN, Yahoo, or Google) and ask them to put it on their “thank you” page. In this case you can track the conversions down to the keyword from within your PPC account.

There are plenty of tracking software that you can buy (up to $250) and use, or even get a free version (like tracking 202).

Now don’t get me wrong. I am not writing all of the above to pitch you inot buying a relatively expensive software through my affiliate link. On the contrary, you can start with the free tracking 202 software and upgrade later when you have money to invest in it, or just buy one of the really expensive ones ($3000-$10,000), whatever works for you.

Whatever you do, use a tracking system that allows you to just keep an eye on the these four components of your campaign: keywords that convert  so that you focus your budget only on those and discontinue the other non converting or converting but losing keywords, your ad copy to get the highest click through rate and consequently more traffic, the landing page that converts the best, and the source of this traffic.

So basically what you are doing tracking your results is that you are weeding out what is not profitable and focusing on what is profitable.

For example, if a keyword is costing you $0.25 per click and is converting at 1%, then you must be making more than $25 per conversion if you want to be in profit. If yes, then keep it, if not pause it (or try to lower the bid) until further notice. Or if you have two ads, one is getting higher click through rate but with no conversion, while the other is getting a lower click through rate but is profitably convering, then you’ve got to pause the first and focus most of yout traffic on the converting ad. Always use a fraction of your traffic in testing new factors (new ad copy, keywords, landing page … etc).

That’s it for today, I hope I gave you a good picture for what tracking is and why you need it.

Good Luck

Share

Affiliate Marketing 101: Traffic: Organic Vs. Paid

Dragging traffic to your buffer pages, whether they are review pages, lead capture pages, or blogs, is the next component of the big picture. You know … the picture of a full time affiliate marketer who is making real money by choosing the right market, testing products, preparing good buffering pages, and sending as much targeted traffic to those pages as possible.

But where to get the traffic from?

Here is a list of the possible sources of traffic to any website:

  1. Direct traffic: where people type your url in their browser and hit enter, or chose it from their bookmarks. Most of the time people arrive to your site this way if they hear about it offline (TV, fliers, posts, word of month, in a book or magazine).
  2. Search engines: where people search for a keyword or phrase and your site shows up in the search results. A typical search results page includes two types of results: sponsored links (paid for showing up for this keyword or phrase), and organic results that the search engines picks from their indexed sites that contain these keywords. More on these later.
  3. Referred traffic: who click on a link or a banner on another site and follow it to your site.
  4. Contextual traffic: this one has variant definitions, but for affiliate marketers it is when your site shows up as a pop up or pop under when someone visits a related website or search for a relevant keyword. It is driven either by adware (not spyware) or pop up from the website they visited.

Out of the above sources you pay for sponsored search results, banners (sometimes) on other people´s sites, offline advertising, and contextual traffic. Organic search results, on the other hand, are free. Free as in: you can not buy them.

Now the debate whether you should go for free organic traffic or paid traffic first is like the chicken/egg one, because you need, and can get both but you don´t know which one to start with.

Here is my two cents:

You can only build a business on what you pay for. Free stuff might work for a while and even make you a lot of money, but you have no control over anything you get for free.

In this post what concerns us is the organic traffic from search engines. If you optimize your website to show on the first page of results when your keyword is searched you´ll get this kind of traffic for free (only if you consider that your time is worthless).

This search engine optimization process is time consuming and involves a lot of work, and you don´t get to see the results right away. It might take your site anywhere between 1 week and 2 years to show on the first page depending on the market you are in. One can not expect search engine algorithms to stay the same until you are done with your SEO work. They change all the time.

And when they change your site might move from the first position to the 30th or even 900th, and this unplugs your money machine immediately. Can you build a business on that? As a business you have expenses to cover and a growth plan that you want to achieve on time. You need to be in control of your traffic if you are serious about your affiliate marketing business.

Paid traffic on the other hand is an instant traffic. It means you could be making money from your sites in a matter of minutes. Besides, if you pay for traffic and don´t get it, you can call someone and have the problem fixed (money talks louder than anything today body).

It doesn´t mean that you shouldn´t work on SEO, you actually should (the process involves getting backlinks to your site, which in itself is a source of traffic). In fact SEO helps you get lower cost per click if you use Google Adwords for advertising. Just consider this kind of traffic as a bonus and don´t consider it as a source of income in your future plans for expansion.

One more thing, and it is very important. When you do the SEO you do it for a certain keyword or phrase per page. You want to spend your time optimizing for the keywords or phrases that make money. And what is the best way to know this? By tracking your Pay Per Click advertising.

More on the tracking process in the next post.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share