“Affiliate marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.” How many times have you heard that one? If you’re anything like me, it will be something along the lines of “so many times I don’t even pay attention to it anymore.”
The problem with that analogy is that it implies that marketing is still a race and there is a finish line. One that can only be won, or lost. And that the faster you run that marathon, the better chance you have to win.
I think a better sports analogy would be Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (aka Gracie Jiu Jitsu). I’ve been training BJJ for about two years. I have three beautiful stripes on my dingy white belt. It took me less than nine months to get those three stripes and then… dead stop. Nothing, nada.
And you know what I learned? It’s all about the mat time. I can go to all of the lessons, watch all of the videos, read all of the books, but if I don’t put in my time on the mat, in live rolls, with real people who are also trying to get better, I’m not going to progress. That blue belt is just out of my reach and the only thing keeping me from it is my absence from the mat.
I’m a 5’4” lightweight woman who rolls with 200-pound men on a weekly basis. I get my ass handed to me every time. When I first started, I would come out of training with bruises so large and dark nothing could cover them up. Twisted wrists, pulled neck muscles, black and blue jaw, I’ve had it all. I almost broke my neck when I rolled too hard with one guy. It was a risk every time. But I kept showing up. And before long those former football players weren’t so heavy, and they couldn’t smash me with the same effectiveness before. And I got quicker. Quicker than they were. And I got stronger. I saw my biceps for the first time in my life. “You’re stronger than you look” became something of a mantra among my gym mates.
Affiliate marketing is no different. Read all the books, search all the forums, watch all the videos, heck, buy a couple of courses and consume that content like a hungry toddler on Halloween. If you don’t put that stuff into practice, in the end, you’re just a consumer. But that’s not what you signed up for. You’re here because want to make money.
Most people who start in affiliate marketing don’t make it passed the baby stage. You start out with a blog, sign up for Amazon’s affiliate marketing program, and maybe one or two more, and throw a few affiliate links into an occasional blog post. You make pennies for a commission, but never any real money. The idea of passive income seems great but the time involved for just a few affiliate commissions doesn’t seem worth it.
It’s time to stop ducking out of the game as soon as you might get a little sweaty or because you’re afraid you might lose. You ARE going to lose. And it’s the losing that makes you stronger. It makes you better. A LOT better!
At some point you need to accept the fact that you’re playing too small and your profit margins are puny. So let’s talk about the top 10 things new (and experienced) affiliate marketers do to avoid success. Master these 10 things and you’ll be well on your way to your black belt in affiliate marketing.
“Wait, what? I can make money by promoting other people’s stuff?? Sign me up! Wait a second, what do you mean I need a website? Landing pages? What’s that? Tracking software? Hold on, you want me to BUY AD SPACE?? Can’t I just share my links with my friends and they’ll share with theirs? I could be a millionaire by the weekend!”
Sorry, honey, that’s not exactly how it works. And not just because if you want your friends to STAY your friends, you can’t keep peddling products to them every few minutes. Affiliate marketing works. But you have to do it right.
Statistically speaking, the average conversion rate is between .05% and 1%. That means you need to get that product in front of 100 to 200 people in order to have one person buy it.
Let’s break it down with an example. Let’s say you find this awesome book that changes your life. And you want to share it with the world. Your Amazon Affiliate link will give you a 4.5% commission on every sale. SWEET!
Which means at $16.77, you’ll pocket $.75.
Let’s say you’re a Facebook friend superstar and max out your friends at 5000. IF all 5000 people click that link, statistically speaking you can make as much as $377.
5000 people times a generous 1% conversion rate times .754 commission per book sale.
And that’s it. Because you only have 5000 friends. But let’s be real, we all know the Facebook algorithms are such that only the friends who interact with you are going to see it. According to Business Insider, only 35% of your facebook friends see your posts in their news feed. So let’s factor that in.
5000 people times 35% times 1% times your .754 commission. That comes to $131.95.
And you’ll need to share 75 books with your Facebook friends in order to make $10,000 in one week.
How long until your friends catch on and decide to unfollow you. Before long you’ll end up with a bunch of people who see your name, and just scrolling.
That’s not affiliate marketing. That’s trying to leverage your friends and family into cash and pretty soon you’ll be the one no one wants to invite to Thanksgiving dinner. Have you ever heard the phrase, “don’t s*&t where you eat”? This is it.
Don’t be that guy.
In order to be successful, you need to have a structure in place where you can scale. A way to drive hundreds of thousands of people to your offer without overselling to the same people over and over again. You’ll milk that social media cow dry!
Affiliate marketing is a business and businesses have expenses. Being an affiliate marketer makes you a business owner. Goodbye Scooby-doo, hello Don Draper.
Which brings us to mistake number 2.
I’m not just talking about legally, but your mindset.
First, you need a business plan. An industry like affiliate marketing is heavy with the competition. If you don’t have a plan, you’re going to be eaten alive. It doesn’t have to be super fancy, but you need a plan! Again, you aren’t Scooby doo. You can’t just stumble your way into success. The really great people got to where they are by taking calculated and strategic chances that paid off in the end (and if I thought any of you were old enough for a Man Who Knew Too Little reference, I’d make it).
You don’t need fancy reports or complicated analyses on the market. It’s not a book report, dude. But you do need to know who your customers are, what you are trying to sell them, a way to get it in front of them, an idea of how you will convince them to buy it, and a way to keep your content relevant and new. You need goals, a budget (so you don’t spend too much on stupid things and not enough where it would help), an idea of how you will spend your time (so you don’t waste it), and a way to gauge whether you are making progress, even if you aren’t profitable yet.
You need to sign up for an affiliate network so you can give your audience a lot of options. There are millions of affiliate products you don’t even know about. Be Don Draper. Think like an advertiser, look like a blogger.
A “vertical” is a really fancy word for “niche”.
It’s a little more complicated than that… but only in terms of technical definitions, for practical purposes at this stage of the game, they are the same thing.
Successful marketers know that the riches are in the niches. The narrower you can get, the more successful you can be. To give you a very crude example, let’s talk Legos.
My kids love them. And when I’m building with them, I love them, too. Cleaning them up? Not so much. The other day my six-year-old dumped my huge plastic bucket of legos on the floor and proceeded to spread them around the entire room. Asking him to clean them up involved much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. And I can’t blame him. The sheer volume of debris was enough to overwhelm anyone. So instead, I asked him to narrow his focus.
“Just pick up the red ones.” And he did. Then he did the green, then the blue. Before long, he managed to get the pile small enough that he wasn’t overwhelmed anymore and could finish cleaning up his mess without too much complaint (he is six, after all).
Stop trying to sell everything to everyone. It’s too much for you and it’s too much for your audience. Just pick one, say weight loss. If that is still too overwhelming, dial it in a little more. Weight loss supplements. Not enough? Supplements for females. More? Supplements for female bodybuilders. Narrow your focus until you feel like you can get a firm grasp on your product, your customers, and your traffic sources.
Now if you asked me to sell weight loss supplements to female bodybuilders, I would fail. I just don’t know that much about it. All it would take is using a key term in the wrong context while writing the copy on my landing page and poof… I lose all credibility.
Because I wasn’t credible. At least not in that particular niche. But if you ask me to sell an app to single mom documentary photographers, I am your woman.
When you are starting out, pick ONE niche and research the hell out of it. Become an expert. And just for the sake of making it easy, pick a niche you think is cool and a product you believe in. If you do, selling it will be so much easier.
Sales copy for a product you love, for a customer you know, almost writes itself. Why do you think I can sit down and write a 3000-word article on marketing? Cause I like this stuff.
I LOVE this stuff. I listen to marketing podcasts, read marketing books for fun, and when my poor, sweet children come to me and say “mom, I want to sell my drawings”, I rub my hands together and start designing their websites. I eat, sleep, live and BREATHE this stuff. It keeps me up at night. I go to sleep thinking about content and lead gen and profit margins.
And that is why I can do it well.
Once you have one niche dialed into the point that you can pretty much let it run (with a few tweaks here and there) and are turning a consistent profit, then you can expand. Maybe into supplements for male bodybuilders.
While you certainly could start from scratch with a brand new, unrelated vertical, that seems a wasted opportunity. Why not leverage your current knowledge into another offer with minimal effort? So, if you’re totally clueless on the subject unless you are dying to get into maternity fashion, just leave it.
Do NOT, under any circumstances, chase the money here. Yes, we want money, money is good (that’s why we’re here, after all). But you’re going to make more by sticking with what you know rather than chasing high commission rates on something you don’t care about.
Unless you can afford to lose thousands of dollars in this kind of gamble, don’t do it.
And if you can afford it, dude, have fun! You’ve earned a little playtime and could hit gold!
Sometimes affiliate marketers think they get to play by different rules than “regular” online marketers.
Everyone is selling something. You’re just selling other people’s stuff. You need a list. Which means you need a website and server. And a way for people to give you their information, and way to contact them.
First of all, list building will give you the number one most valuable traffic source you will be able to find. People who are willing to give you their email addresses are more valuable than the random person the Facebook algorithm shows your ad to. We are beings sold to every second we are on the internet. So, people are pretty protective of their email addresses these days. If they give you their email address, they are instilling a little bit of trust in you and your message. They are more likely to open your email, click that link, and buy. And if you’re building a personal brand alongside your affiliate offers (and you should be), some of these people will end up buying just because YOU are the one selling it!
Secondly, you own your list. What happens if you wake up one day to find that your Instagram has been hacked. Poof! All of your carefully curated content and along with your 875k followers… gone. Facebook could very quickly go the way of MySpace. Google could wake up one day and decide advertising is for suckers and get out of the ad biz. None of that is likely, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared for it.
If the name and email address to everyone you ever sold to is sitting pretty in a spreadsheet on your home computer (with a backup in the cloud), your list is safe, even the internet as we know it is completely upended.
And if the internet itself is gone forever? Well, let’s just say we all will have more important things to worry about.
Lastly, a well planned and written email marketing campaign can gently guide most fence-sitters into loyal, paying customers. Do this right and you’ll have them shouting your praises from the rooftops. The quality of your traffic will go up, your list will grow, you’ll make more money… all good things.
This one is big for everyone. Business owners, affiliates, parents, and children alike. For whatever reason (either we’re overwhelmed or we’re misguided), we play around at things that make us look busy, but don’t make a difference in our bottom line (or sanity level).
The biggest, and most crippling time waster in the marketing industry perfectionism. And the worst part is you don’t even realize you’re doing it! If you’re agonizing over your sales copy, spending hours on a couple of paragraphs… sorry, hon. You’re a perfectionist.
Knock it off.
Let’s get real here. We got in this game because it’s fast, easy, and has the potential for massive rewards. Except it’s not really that fast. And it’s not really that easy. And if you think it will be, your reward won’t be worth the time and effort you put into it.
You spend weeks researching and carefully creating an offer for your audience, you toil endlessly over getting the sales copy just right, you invest your hard earned money into an audience with a ton of potential, you go live and…
Nothing happens, for like HOURS! So you go to bed, dreaming of the cash you’ll be rolling in by morning. You wake up. Nothing.
Instead of letting the campaign mature and, you dump it. And either switch to something your AM friends have had some success with, or you throw up your hands, curse the sky, and go back to your 9 to 5.
You’re planting a garden here. You have to give your seedlings time to grow. Or, to go back to the Jiu Jitsu analogy, you have to put in the time on the mat. Go slow when you are starting out. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. But you have to slow down and get it right before you can speed up. You can’t figure out where you went wrong if you abandon ship every time your numbers stagnate.
One solution is to set aside a separate budget for new campaigns (if you’re just starting, this is your entire budget, if you’re experienced and trying a new vertical, this will help you avoid the new campaign freak out since all of your other campaigns are still humming along nicely).
Another suggestion is split testing. Create two versions of the same campaign, that way you can tell where you are going wrong. Is it the copy? The images? The audience? The traffic source? Is there a broken link somewhere? Is it a better offer for mobile but you’re delivering via desktop? Was your ad account disabled?
If you know you’ve set things up correctly, it’s a good idea to let things just run for at least a week before you start changing adjusting. If things get better, awesome! If not, and you know the offer is good (and it SHOULD BE), then maybe take it down, do a complete overhaul and launch it again. Keep launching it until you start to see some traction. This is how it is done in EVERY industry. Affiliate Marketing is no different.
Just because you’re playing a different game, doesn’t mean the rules have changed.
That being said, don’t marry the thing. If you dedicated the time, effort, testing and it’s just not working, say, “it’s you, not me” and move on.
Sometimes it’s easy to think we’re in this thing alone and that everyone else is only around to take advantage of us. But when we play our cards too close to our chest, we lose our ability to expand in new and exciting ways. There is an unlimited amount of success out there. Partner with others, mentor those who are trying to learn. Share your knowledge! Trust me, you aren’t the only one in the world who has ever had this idea. If you don’t change the world with it, someone else will.
Remember, a rising tide lifts all boats. Be the rising tide, not the guy hoarding a dirty bucket of water.
This means different things in different stages of your affiliate marketing career. For the newbie, it means not quitting your day job until you have a predictable, steady stream of income. That also means signing up with several different affiliate networks, running multiple campaigns at a time, and working on building your personal brand and overall following. Blog. A lot. Focus your marketing efforts and marketing campaigns on building your audience before you start to leverage them.
If you’re experienced, this means having a variety of traffic sources, multiple verticals, and backup offers. If you’ve been doing this for a while, it’s important to hold on to some of the old, reliable, campaign templates that, while not exciting, are consistent and profitable. That way when you experiment with new offers and angles, you aren’t betting the farm. Set aside a separate budget and have fun with it, knowing the bulk of your income is safe.
You heard me! I just gave you gold, man! Now get off your butt and start doing this stuff.