This afternoon’s session at Affiliate summit West 2007 was the Super Affiliates session which was a QA format featuring super affiliates Jeremy Shoemoney Schoemaker, AOJon of Wickedfire, and Andrew Johnson of WebPublisingBlog.com.
I was looking forward to this session as I’m obviously a huge fan of web publishing, and these three all have had a lot of success as web publishers and being able to monetize their efforts.
The session got off a bit slow as there was no moderator and no microphone for the audience, and you need a microphone for the audience to ask questions for the most part. Anyway, they just kicked it off anyway with audience members yelling until a microphone arrived. The following is my paraphrasing of the questions and answers from the Super Affiliates.
How do you pick who you work with?
Shoemoney: I basically test everything, the money doesn’t lie so you just continue what works.
AOJon: I do research at Google to see what areas are hot, but I kind of just got out of doing affiliate marketing.
Andrew: I usually focus on specific niches, so it’s companies that have offers in those niches. I like companies that treat their affiliates right. I also do a lot of stuff outside of affiliate marketing, so I don’t always have the time, but at least the reps keep contacting me with offers.
When you get started how do you know where to go and what to do, how do you make an offer succeed?
Shoemoney: Find a company and start to work with an affiliate manager who will give you insight. A good affiliate manager should know and provide you information on what is and isn’t working for sites like you.;
AOJon: I ask my friends to see what’s working, and I also use Google as a big research tool. Also a company should be able to provide you that information. Hey, why is everyone leaving? (people were leaving in the back)
Andrew: On a technical level, I like to do a PPC test and track the results, and try and determine exactly where the point of failure might be. Run tests with each network on each offer and determine exactly what does and doesn’t work.
Shoemoney: With ringtones as an example you want to test different carriers and landing pages, because what works for Sprint may not work for Cingular?
Once you have your PPC campaigns dialed in, what do you go back and consistently test again for? Are you ever satisfied?
Shoemoney: I’m never satisfied, so I do tons of A/B testing and heatmaps like CrazyEgg and Clicktracks to see what’s going on with my pages and seeing where people are clicking and what they’re doing. You have to keep playing with that content, rearranging things. I pay a guy to make 50 landing pages at a time and then rotate them over a month.
AOJon: We don’t spend any time on anything that is going to convert under 3:1. I guess we’re lazy but we set stuff up and don’t touch it until it dies out.
Andrew: I could spend the time, but I get bored with things so I’m often going to look at new markets because that excites me more. I just want to learn as much new stuff as possible.
Why do you prefer CrazyEgg or heatmaps instead of web analytics?
Shoemoney: Use CrazyEgg testing to set up a layout, and you have three different links to get to wherever you want your traffic to click. Heatmaps will show you which one of those three links is generating the most clicks. They may be clicking on the top link, or a button on the left. You can rearrange your navigation to work better. CrazyEgg will allow you to set up A/B testing and archive the layout. I’ll often even put contextual advertising on the landing pages because if they don’t click on my offer I can still make some money off of them since I paid to get them there.
AOJon: I don’t use heat maps.
When do you decide to bail on something?
AOJon: When conversions start pummeling and it starts to suck. After 6-8 months often times a new and profitable niche can become saturated and you lose your ROI. You probably shouldn’t be telling your friends when something works.
Shoemoney: The numbers don’t lie, it’s all about being profitable. I give a new program a day if I know what the results should be.
Andrew: Just look at your spreadsheet and see if it’s losing money. If it’s something minor you can fix, then do it, if not move on. Just because something is dead, it doesn’t mean you can’t come back down the road and use some elements again.
Have any of you ever tried affiliate relationships with web hosts? What tips can you give on really competitive marketplaces?
Shoemoney: Why do I always have to go first? I personally never got into the web hosting affiliate space because it was saturated when I got into the business and I’m interested in so many different things. It’s still very simple in a lot of niches and people overcomplicate it. At a previous event someone asked if you can still make money in something saturated like ringtones, so we picked some artists, bought some traffic on MSN Adcenter and sent it to AzoogleAds ringtone offers and they quadrupled their money the next day.
AOJon: Yeah, web hosting was saturated in 1998. So you guys need balls of steel to compete in that space, so maybe you do incentivized offers where you give your affiliates interesting or unique gifts and prizes. Back in my adult affiliate days, they’d do tiered programs that would pay you more the better you did. They pioneered so many things. They did point prizes where you earned points for signing people up, then give prizes for points.
Andrew: I’d recommend looking hard at the long tail and targeting specific markets that need hosting. How about packaging hosting templates for things like tanning salon businesses and making it a specific sell to tanning salons.
AOJon: You could also go to offer hosting large forums. Not just mine, because mine rocks, but we had a large hosting company who offered to host our forums for free if we’d just put their logo near the top.
You talk about testing as much as you can, so taking the ringtones example, how much media spend or click volume do you allocate to a test before shut it down?
Shoemoney: I’m probably unlike most people driving click traffic. I only pay the minimum PPC amount and focus on huge amounts of keywords to drive volume. You’d be surprised at the weird keywords that end up converting. Like AOL.com converted for me for ringtones.
AOJon: Uh, that’s trademarked.
Shoemoney: Oh, it is? Anyway, when Adcenter first came out they had no cap on the number of keywords you can upload, I took CNET’s database of search terms they made public that had like 27 million unique keywords. I broke out all the unique phrases and uploaded to Adcenter and made a bunch of money bidding the minimum. Of course then I got banned for doing that! There are caps on all the engines now, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple accounts. Not that I do or anything.
What do you do if a CPA company doesn’t pay you? Or has that happened?
Shoemoney: If I get burned I’ll blog about it and put the word out. One guy had a Commission Junction problem and had all this evidence so I blogged about it.
AOJon: I had a problem with Commission Junction, I was doing mortgage leads and a merchant claimed a bunch of leads 30 days later were fraud so they didn’t want to pay $170,000. They need to treat affiliates better. It took me two and a half weeks to four different people to find out I wasn’t getting paid. Go to forums and talk about it. We’re launching a directory, and letting people rate affiliate programs and giving them all equal listings for people to rate. But also letting the programs talk to people as well to figure it out.
Shoemoney: If you post on forums about a problem, you’ll get a lot of attention. Just make sure you’re very factual about what’s going on.
Andrew: If you are a program or network, you need to make it a top priority to monitor forums and address issues that are brought up about your company.
AOJon: I know a lot of people who get banned by Google Adsense or YPN without explanation. We don’t get to see stats from Google or Yahoo on what they claim is fraudulent, but if we want to complain about fraud we have to provide stats. Why don’t they?
Do you use any second tier search engines?
AOJon: I’ve been using them for arbitrage, but arbitrage 2.0 which is a content site that is Adsense and YPN and gives the user what they want to find. So I’d buy cheap clicks on these 2nd and 3rd tier networks. Typically nothing every converts, but it’s a good way to buy cheap traffic and then get a higher paid click from Google. Don’t make the page plastered with ads, but if they click on an ad you’ll make some money.
Shoemoney: When I’ve dabbled with them, and something like Adbrite, and a lot of them deliver a lot of international traffic. If you’re going to pay for it, make sure you have offers that international traffic can convert for. Set up a good geotargeting system to make sure you give people the offers that work for your geography and get the best ROI.
Andrew: I think we should probably clarify to make a difference for something like Adbrite which is on page advertising instead of something like Searchfeed or 7search which have poor conversion rates on affiliate offers.
When I am doing affiliate marketing or arbitrage I feel like my hands are tied because I don’t have control of what the landing page is like that I’m sending people to, what can we as affiliates do to help companies make better landing pages?
Andrew: I think we’re going to see more white-labeling and custom landing pages. I think if you also contact the company and are willing to help them and do some testing for them, they may be willing to work with you. Probably not the largest companies, but some of the smaller ones.
Shoemoney: Some companies like Azoogle will work with you and work with their merchants to make landing pages better. I think the ringtones do a good job with it.
AOJon: Threaten them. If they aren’t willing to work with you, then leave. Many companies will customize offers for you. There’s no reason we have to abide by their rules and there’s so much competition out there between affiliate networks those ones that make the extra effort to work with you will win out.
With forums, how do you go out and start a new forum in a competitive space?
AOJOn: Wickedfire has no ads on it right now, we’re only 6 months old. A lot of time people make forums to monetize them, but you should get the quality up before you put the ads on it. I’ll take this opportunity to bash Earnersforum, they started out and put ads all over the place, we didn’t, and we started doing really well. We’re going to add ads soon, but do it in a simple way. We also did contests to give incentive for people to post. It pissed some people off, but it worked to get some people posting. As it grew we kept giving users what they wanted to get. We don’t censor anything. In an industry like video games that has a million forums, why not start giving away games? That’d get people interested. Don’t focus on ads until you’re already rolling.
Shoemoney: You first mentioned DigitalPoint. He’s owned that domain for about 10 years, and used his forums to support his software, then launched the webmaster forums. He got people to his domain through his free tools as well, and then put his latest posts in a little box on those tools pages so tool users would go join the forums. It’s just a lot of ways to keep acquiring users. I’ve tried a couple of those “pay per forum posts” services and they’ve been horrible. People don’t just sign up for forums anymore to have a place a chat. You have to find good ways to get people to your forums.
How do you compile reports to give to the search engines to report bad clicks?
Shoemoney: We only target USA users, so anything that we get that’s not USA we know it’s invalid. If we see the same IPs over and over, or IPs repetitively clicking then we submit those. The engines are pretty receptive because they do want to keep things legitimate.
AOJon: I’m technically challenged, but my partner over there does. Go talk to him. He’s like a genius or something. You can also call him really late at night.
Shoemoney: In closing, I think it’s a really interesting time in the affiliate space. It used to be a lot of bulk emailing, but now everyone is realizing the power of search engine marketing. As more affiliates figure this out and get more statistics and SEM tools, it’ll just get better.