Note: This is a guest post by Jerry Low
2004. A lot of good things begun in that year…
Facebook was officially established in February 2004. Google IPO took place on August 19, 2004. Yahoo! Mail bumped up its free email storage to 1 GB (thanks to GMail). Apple Inc. unveiled the iMac G5 in November 2004, the world’s thinnest desktop computer.
And of course, I started affiliate marketing.
I know. It feels kind of shameless to put myself in the same breath as those big Internet companies. But bear with me for a minute…
How I got started in affiliate marketing
I started affiliate marketing as a part-timer (kept my day job as a Rubber Dam engineer) and made my first for-profit website in August 2004.
When it came time to choosing my niche market, I went with the satellite TV industry in the United States. The reasons being:
- There were plenty of demands for this product based on my search studies; and
- Satellite TV dealers were paying $80 – $120 per sale at the time.
At that time, my salary as a junior engineer was about $800 (at an exchange rate to MYR of 3.75). So the math was simple – make more than 10 satellite TV sales per month and I can quit my job. Easy as pie!
Except that it was not.
It took me exactly 14 months to register my first sales on CJ.com. It took me 24 months to accumulate enough courage and savings to leave my day job in July 2006.
What followed next was years of heavy site building, SEO studies, and market research.
I have built dozens of websites and blogs to sell products I thought would be profitable: Amazon books, camping accessories, Forex education programs, office productivity tools, holiday travel packages, and fresh lobsters from Maine, Boston (yup!).
I made good money with some of these sites; and failed miserably with others.
In 2009, I started Web Hosting Secret Revealed (WHSR) on the side to share my experience with hosting companies.
I never thought I could make money from this. The industry was too competitive and I doubt techies who were planning to start a site would read my site.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
The demand in this niche was huge and WHSR grew into something much bigger than I anticipated.
Today, the site (and my affiliate business) has grown from a one-man operation to a small team of writers, web developers, and marketers.
The journey was not all smooth – there were plenty of ups and downs and soul-searching moments throughout the years. In fact, there was a point when I was losing money too quickly and had to fire my entire team of freelance writers.
In this article, I’m going to share with you some of the important lessons I’ve learned throughout my journey.
Lesson #1: You need to be in the right niche to make money
The hardest lesson I had to learn when I first started doing this was that failure will come often. During the first 12 months, I’ve tried affiliate marketing, more than half of the projects I’ve launched failed.
Big Failure#1. I tried selling travel packages via a honeymoon site but it failed because the industry was too competitive and I wasn’t prepared enough.
Big Failure#2. When I launched an online store to sell inflatable boats, it failed because the market was too small and 99% of the buyers prefer buying offline.
All those failures taught me another important lesson which was to focus on the right niche market to make money.
One easy way to find a profitable niche is by looking at the ad spendings. The more money advertisers are spending in a niche means there are more money to be made.
In this example – the advertiser (who runs an affiliate program) is spending roughly $130,000 per month on Adwords.
Another easy way to judge the profitability of a niche is by looking at the merchants’ numbers at CJ.com. The affiliate platforms display a number of useful metrics when you search for advertisers (see image).
Signals to identify profitable niche:
- Network Earnings = How much advertisers are paying compared to overall. Higher Network Earnings often means there are more affiliates in the program.
- 3 month EPC = Average earning per 100 Clicks for the last 90 days – which indicates the long-term profitability of an affiliate program;
- 7 day EPC = Average earning per 100 clicks for the last 7 days – which tells if the product is a seasonal product.
Check out –
When I jumped into the satellite TV industry, the competition between dealers was very steep and they still relied heavily on affiliates to grow their online business. Since there wasn’t much competition, I ended up being one of the top affiliates, which meant higher commission rates and better partnership deals.
I was making so many sales that at one point, I had my own dedicated phone order numbers. This meant that customers who call in to make an order will be credited as my sales.
Takeaways for Affiliate Marketers
If you want to make money doing affiliate marketing, you need to focus on the right niche market. That means doing proper market research and a little bit of trial and error. Soft products – ebook, web services, memberships, discounted hosting; are usually easier to sell and come with better commission rate. Leverage on that.
And – don’t worry if you stumbled for the first tries, just keep going until you find your niche market.
Lesson #2: Your audience don’t care about you
I’m going to share with you a harsh truth — Your customers don’t give a damn about you, your products or your services.
You know what they care about? Their problem and the solutions.
Affiliate marketing or not, your audience doesn’t care about the product or service that you’re selling unless it’s a solution to their problems.
So what does that mean to you? It basically means that instead of promoting the product or service as is, you position it as a solution to your audience’s dilemmas.
Colgate’s Oral Care Center is a great example of how their brand and products are marketed as a solution for all the woes of oral hygiene. They understood that their audiences biggest worry is about dental care, so they set up a resource centre on their company website where people can learn about dental care basics and more.
With over 400+ articles, interactive guides, videos, and tons of information, audiences know where to go to if they wanted to learn about better oral hygiene. But more importantly, they know which brand to use.
Takeaway to Improve the conversions
Understand your product/service and how it can be the solution for your audience’s problems. Push that solution to the front of your marketing and create content around it.
Lesson #3: Don’t be at the mercy of Google
The best way I can describe my relationship with Google is probably through Gnash’s song “I hate you, I love you”.
I sang that song to Google more times than I’m willing to admit but that goes to show you how powerful and frustrating Google can be.
Yes, we all know that Google is the king of the Internet and when Google loves you (meaning you’re ranked high on their SERPs), you’ll get an endless flow of targeted traffic and inbound revenue.
But, and this is huge but, your business will be at the mercy of Google.
When Google introduced the first Penguin updates in 2012, all my primary sites suffered heavy penalties due to the stricter control from Google. This caused my web traffic and revenues to disappear overnight just because Google didn’t want people to spam their rankings.
What followed was a gruelling 18 months of restructuring and re-jigging on all my sites to crawl back up on Google’s ranking and back into the game.
The whole experience taught me a painful lesson: Take as much as you can from Google, but never rely solely on one single source for inbound traffic/revenue. I realized that the best practice for me (and for budding affiliate marketers) is to build up various sources of inbound traffic on multiple platforms.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are a great way to drive traffic and build an audience that is interested in your products / services. Use content marketing and social media tools (I use SEM Rush, Buffer, and Socialert) to help you identify content growth opportunities and track of social media trends. Do it right and you’ll see an increase in traffic, conversions, and site income.
Experiment with different avenues such as posting in forums related to your niche market, creating industry-specific content on Slideshare, or guest blogging on other sites to drive traffic back to your website.
Offer something valuable to encourage your site visitors to signup to your email list. Keep in touch consistently with your subscribers through emails and newsletter.
The takeaway for consistent traffic
Google might be king when it comes to driving traffic but it’s NOT the only one. Build up a network of inbound traffic and revenues through multiple platforms but don’t just rely on one single source.
Lesson #4: Persistent, persistent, persistent.
Online marketing tools and research are essential skills you’ll need to lay the foundation for affiliate marketing. Ultimately, what’s going to determine your success will boil down to one thing:
Let me say that again, Persistence is key.
Why? Because success doesn’t come overnight. When I started affiliate marketing, I did not make a single dime in the first two years! It sounds crazy but it’s true.
Building a steady stream of traffic and revenue takes time, more so if you want it to be profitable. Following the lesson I’ve mentioned earlier will help you reach your goals faster but you still have to be persistent at it.
Plus, in the early stages of establishing your site, you’ll have to be a jack of all trades. That means handling the writing, optimizing your site for search engines, outreaching to other webmasters to form a partnership, running and optimizing social media marketing campaign, as well as the technical aspects of developing and running a website.
My advice to you is to focus on mastering one or two skill sets in the later stages and outsource (or build a team) to handle the rest.
The takeaway for success in affiliate marketing
Jumping Into the world of affiliate marketing might seem overwhelming but don’t let it get to you. Be persistent throughout it all and you’ll come out better in the end.
How it all applies to you (Take Action)
You’ve gone through my lesson and you’ve made it this far. The question then remains:
How is my lesson relevant to you – a newbie or a blogger who just got started in affiliate marketing?
At the end of the day, affiliate marketing is a developed business model that’s being used by many site owners and bloggers today as a source of revenue. If you’re not using it in your content, then you’re basically leaving money on the table.
If you are doing affiliate marketing and you’re not making money,
then the chances of your mistake as affiliate marketer are:
- You are not in the right niche,
- You are not getting enough targeted traffic,
- You are not promoting the products correctly,
Affiliate marketing is an immensely powerful tool for bloggers and site owners for creating a source of revenue in the internet. Even if you’re a newbie, you shouldn’t be afraid of using it.
I can only cover so much in one article. For those who wish to dig deeper, I suggest reading the following guide and articles.
- On finding the right niche – 100 online business ideas in India 2021
- On developing and running your website – How to develop and host your own website
- On improving your site continuously – https://www.webhostingsecretrevealed.net/improve-your-blog/
- On getting started in SEO – Beginner’s guide to search engine optimization
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