ShareASale ThinkTank 2010

Friday, November 5, 2010 6:31

I recently attended the ShareASale ThinkTank. It was an event organized by ShareASale, which they hold every year. This year it was held at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, CA.

SAS invited a mix of around 200 merchants and affiliates for 3 days and 2 nights for a mix of golf, sessions, eating and drinking. It was a great experience and I would definitely go again.

It was really great to talk to a mix of merchants big and small, as well as affiliates. As this was a closed, invite-only event, the caliber of people there was much different to an Affiliate Summit or adTech. Also as SAS is mostly cost-per-sale, most of the affiliates are more open about what they do and how they drive traffic. I met some interesting people and learnt alot.

Day 1 was golf and spa day. This was mostly the arrival day, I turned up around mid-day. As I wasn’t playing golf, I got lunch with a few people I knew and drank some beer instead. After seeing how awesome the golf course was, I kind of regretted not playing golf.

The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay

...And the amazing golf course along the coast

Then I hit my room for a while to do a little work before the opening dinner/reception.

Reception dinner & cocktails

...with TONS of seafood and everything else you could imagine...

It got pretty messy from here on with an open bar… A bunch of us ended up trashed in Jason Rubackys room drinking Blue Label Johnny Walker, good times…

Day 2 we started all the sessions. I attended mostly the merchant sessions and popped in to some of the affiliate sessions. Some of these were really interesting as some of the speakers really knew what they were talking about.

In the evening we attended an OPM wine tasting at a winery. I must admit there was a large OPM presence at the ThinkTank, and I didn’t really question what an OPM was until the wine tasting. Honestly I am still slightly confused as to what it is they do… Much wine was drank and I spent most of my time talking to some SEO affiliates and had some interesting chats with affiliates who target seasonal niches.

Day 3, the final day, ended with a large session on “Things We Need to Fix @ ShareASale”. I don’t think this session was too productive as a few people got carried away with the “feedback” system on SAS which ate up almost half the time. After this I had lunch and a few final whiskeys with Jason and a few other affiliates and headed back to San Francisco in the afternoon.

I think in future, one way to have more effective sessions is to make them much smaller. For example instead of having 200 people in one room, separate them into groups of 50 instead. Same goes for smaller sessions, have smaller groups of 20 people or less, I personally think these would be much more productive.

I would like to extend a HUGE THANK YOU to ShareASale. They really went above and beyond with this event and they are a GREAT affiliate network to work with. If you are not currently working with them, you really should.

Where am I now?

On the personal front, I’m now in London, UK. If you’re in the area, get in touch with me soon if you want to meet up, I’m heading off to Oporto, Portugal on Wednesday.

The plan after this is to go south through Portugal, and cross over into Spain, hire a car and drive the coast for a while, maybe pop over to Morocco, take a look at Gibraltar, and head to Madrid before the 30th December for my flight back to Colombia. Overall, a relaxed 2 months with no real plans. Get in touch if you’re around any of these areas and want to meet up!

E-commerce SEO from BlueHatSEO.com

Friday, July 9, 2010 11:49
Posted in category E-Commerce

It goes without saying that Eli from Bluehatseo.com is a genius.

Anyone in this business should read every word on his blog, he recently posted this and I suggest you read it:

http://www.bluehatseo.com/seo-checklist-for-e-commerce-sites/

Case Study: Google Adwords vs Yahoo Search Marketing vs MSN Adcenter

Sunday, June 27, 2010 23:12

So here I am again to drop some valuable information on you.

Here’s what I did.

I created an advertising campaign, with a moderate number of keywords (50 or so) and 8 ad variations. I put this campaign up on Google Adwords, Yahoo Search Marketing and MSN Adcenter.

I’ve let them run without me touching them and I’m going to share my conversion data with you.

One thing I’d like to mention, is that I did not put all of the campaigns up at the same time, so the overall spend is not an accurate reflection of available impressions between the search engines. But I believe the conversion figures are somewhat accurate enough to reflect how the search engines perform.

So… Bing rules! It’s converting about three times better than Adwords. It’s interesting to note as well that in Adwords my bidding level has put my ads in position 3. My CPA(Cost-Per-Acquisition) would be even higher if I bidded for position 1. I honestly thought Yahoo would perform better than it did, I should also mention that Yahoo’s conversion tracking did not work for me, so in summary Yahoo is a piece of shit. Luckily I can see my conversions on Prosper202, but you’re average Yahoo customer probably has no idea what they’re getting for their money!

Now I have to bring up some interesting points. Considering the following:

– I source my product overseas at the lowest price possible
– At a CPA of around $40, I’m breaking even, meaning Yahoo and Google are losing me money
– On Adwords, I’m in position 3, so there are 2 other advertisers losing even more than me*

*Yes my Quality Score on Adwords is high

As affiliate marketers, we are used to tracking everything, so we know exactly where we are losing money and where we are making it. From there it’s a matter of cut the shit, keep the good, scale and make more money. But it seems to me that there are obviously a ton of advertisers on platforms like Adwords who don’t have access to the kind of data I have, and are probably not even using the Adwords built in conversion tracking.

This is a big problem.

If advertisers don’t track performance, they won’t realize they are losing money. Mix in sales from SEO, affiliates, offline and other sources, I’m guessing a lot of these companies just allocate a budget to ‘online advertising’ each month and blow through it. Meanwhile, I’m trying to compete with advertisers who are quite happy to drive CPCs to ridiculous unprofitable levels.

I can only imagine this problem getting worse as time goes on. More and more businesses are getting online and trying to get exposure. Adwords is one of the obvious and easiest places to advertise on. With most people already busy with the operation of their businesses, they don’t have time to learn the complexities of a complicated ad system let alone how to track performance. It’s a shame really, the only winner here is Google.

That said, I can still optimize my campaigns to break even or better. And picking up new customers and expanding my mailing list is worth the effort.

In summary: Be careful with Adwords, competition is high and margins are slim. Get your ass on Bing! With poor performance from Yahoo and the lack of serious volume, it’s almost a waste of time. We’ll see how the Yahoo/Microsoft search alliance shapes up…

(Review) Affiliate Software: Post Affiliate Pro 4

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 15:17
Posted in category Affiliate Marketing

I spent a long time researching software for my own in-house affiliate program. While different software packages range from FREE(*cough JROX, avoid*) to thousands of dollars. Your options will most likely narrow down to 2 commonly used and well priced software packages.

Option 1: iDevAffiliate (Hosted $29.99/month, Owned $99)

While I am not reviewing this product, I’m sure a lot of you probably found this review in the position I was originally… Deciding between these two great packages. So throughout the review, I’ll tell you why I made the decisions I did. Please note that some information here regarding iDevAffiliate, may be slightly incorrect, as I have only used the software as an affiliate, and only tested the merchant interface on their live demo.

Option 2: Post Affiliate Pro 4 (Leased $119+/year, Owned $199+)

Post Affiliate Pro 4 is the software that I purchased to manage my affiliates. In the end, it better suited my needs, had far more capabilities & functionality and did not cost that much more. In my eyes, it was much better value for money.

Overview

Let me save you some time here. If your website:

– is selling a small number of products/categories
– has a relatively simple payment structure
– only charges in only one currency
won’t be expanding beyond the above 3 points

Then use my ugly affiliate link, and buy iDevAffiliate now, this will work perfectly for you.

Now as avid readers of my blog, if you are anything like me, and plan for your e-commerce empire to span the globe and eventually other galaxies, there really is no option here but to buy and use Post Affiliate Pro 4. If I could sum up the differences between the two software packages in one sentence. It would be that Post Affiliate Pro 4 has half the functionality of an affiliate network.

At this point, I am obviously in favor of Post Affiliate Pro 4. Simply put, it’s better to have a feature available and not use it, rather than to need a feature and it’s impossible. Now lets break it down…

Price

I don’t know who would bother with the leased/hosted options. Buy it and stick it on your own server. The base package for Post Affiliate Pro 4 is $199, and iDevAffiliate $99. Both have more expensive versions available that come with more features, but I find these unnecessary. They also both have additional modules that can be purchased and added on.

Post Affiliate Pro is a bargain at $199 if you compare the features and capabilities to iDevAffiliate. And it’s only $100 more, which is nothing considering what potential affiliates can generate in revenue for you, give them something better to work with!

Interface

Quite simply, the interface for Post Affiliate Pro 4 blew me away. It’s like running a separate operating system inside your browser, while that might sounds a little confusing and complicated, all it is… is AWESOME! You can have multiple windows open at once. Rather than say more, just check out this screenshot from my system, where I have a Trends Report, Raw Clicks and Commissions windows ALL OPEN AT ONCE. The boxes can be resized and moved, and up the top you can see the task bar with my open windows.

Post Affiliate Pro 4 Affiliate Panel

Don’t even get me started on the number of options available in the Merchant panel. Needless to say you will probably never use 80% of the options available, but it’s nice to know they’re there.

Feel free to join my affiliate program, and you can play with the interface yourself.

Features

As you may or may not know. I run multiple versions of my site (Australia, USA, UK etc), and each site uses a different currency. I wanted my affiliates to be able to access all the different markets easily so they could expand their campaigns and manage everything from one simple interface. PAP4 has a $9 Multi-Currency plugin which manages all the different currencies easily.

Post Affiliate Pro 4, allows you to create ‘Campaigns’, so different types of products can have different commission structures, eg shoes 10%, T-shirts 20% and so on. When I said PAP4 is halfway to being an affiliate network, this is what I mean. You could run multiple sites selling multiple products, and manage it all from one installation of PAP4.

This is one of my favorite features. This software lets you track by referrer. So your affiliates can simply input their domains into their account and direct link. This avoids the hassle of using redirects to make links look nice, and most importantly helps SEO because it’s a natural link pointing to your site.

The reporting capabilities are simply better than iDevAffiliate as well.

Support

I had an issue with some of my mod_rewrites causing clicks not to track properly. I contacted support and my problem was quickly escalated to a developer who went to the trouble of logging into my system and testing. I knew my mod_rewrites were causing the issue in the first place, but they still went to the trouble of finding out exactly why it happened. And all this was done within 24 hours. Superb support, I’m sure it would have been resolved even quicker if we were based in the same time zone.

Installation and Setup

Installation was easy. If you’ve ever installed WordPress, Prosper202 or similar, you can handle the installation of Post Affiliate Pro 4.

Setup is one aspect I admit, that will take more time than iDevAffiliate. But ultimately when you consider a site that is going to be around for a long time, with a large and active affiliate base, you shouldn’t expect anything less than a platform that has tons of capability and flexibility. Having said that, you could be up and running in an hour or two.

If you do buy Post Affiliate Pro 4, use my affiliate link and I’ll help you if you have any questions during setup.

In Conclusion

Simply put, Post Affiliate Pro 4 is much better software, and given the price, is a bargain. Having adjusted to the software now, I would have easily paid 3 or 4 times the price I did.

Like I said earlier, it’s better to have a feature and not use it, than need a feature that you can’t have. Porting a database of affiliates from one platform to another would be a nightmare if not close to impossible. Build your affiliate empire on a solid base, make the right decision in the beginning.

I hope you found my review useful, I know I was searching for reviews when I was in the buying stage. If you use my affiliate link to buy PAP4, I’ll be more than happy to field any questions you have while your getting set up.

Review: MSN AdCenter/Bing ‘Search Specialist’

Sunday, May 16, 2010 21:36

So a while ago, I was contacted by someone from MSN Adcenter asking if I’d be interested in the assistance of a ‘Search Specialist’ to import my existing advertising campaigns into MSN Adcenter. At the time my main focus was Adwords, as there was tons of volume and I was still busy optimizing my campaigns there. My previous efforts on Adcenter provided too little volume, so I had given up. The only condition was that I was willing to spend $500 a month. No problems…

I was actually impressed that Adcenter made this effort to reach out and offer this service, I’m not a fan of the mighty Google so I welcome with open arms any other platform that is willing to compete with them. I also figured since every advertising platform is complicated and has it’s own different ways of operating, this ‘Search Specialist’ might point out a few things I didn’t know. So we scheduled a call…

The call I had with the Adcenter specialist was very long, unnecessary 2 hours. We started off discussing my sites, types of products and what kind of advertising I currently do. All well and good, then we moved on to their platform and what they hope to help me achieve, very good. Moving on, I was asked how my campaigns are currently set up in Adwords(for search network, a metric fuckton of keywords including misspellings in exact match, 1 keyword per adgroup). I was told this approach wouldn’t work so well with Adcenter, and that they would prefer to make new campaigns from scratch… I decided to leave it in their hands. The reason the call took 2 hours, was because they for some reason had to explain to me many things I already knew, which was kind of annoying, as I have more important shit to do, perhaps they just needed to make sure I understood how they were going to blow my money.

Now a week after my call with the ‘Search Specialist’, they called me back to say everything was ready, so I could go in and swap the links for tracking links and turn the ads on live. So I log in, and one of the first things I had to do was rewrite all the ad copy. I also had to delete about 25% of the keywords they used, because they weren’t relevant to my niche. Overall I thought the campaign was poorly made, and I could of made a better one in 15 minutes, but what the hell, different platform, different rules right? I decided to just turn it on and let it burn some money and let the results speak…

I let the campaigns burn through a few hundred dollars and came back to see how they went. Overall $400 spent for 5 conversions, resulting in a $80 CPA. Not very good when my average sale is $50. Search Specialist? I think not, but I still give them a B for effort.

I deleted their rubbish and launched my own small campaign. Only 10 keywords in one adgroup, 3 types of ad copy in rotation. After spending $500, my CPA without any optimization, was $22.

In conclusion

Forget contacting Adcenter for the assistance of a ‘Search Specialist’. Do it yourself. But most of all, make sure you use Adcenter! The volume is no where near close to Google Adwords, but the traffic converts so much better. You are leaving money on the table if you aren’t using MSN Adcenter.

Affiliate Marketing – Past, Present & Future

Friday, April 16, 2010 10:29

Recently, I had a few people ask me what I thought about the future of affiliate marketing.

To succeed in anything long term, you need to look to the future to anticipate changes before they happen. This will ensure your survival in an industry that changes very fast. You have to be able to adapt and make sure your business isn’t too dependent on external forces.

PAST
I started affiliate marketing in 2008, at the time it seemed like the perfect way to make an income while traveling around a lot.

Back in 2008, Adwords was the game, everything could be run, simple landing pages could be used, very rarely did you hear of anyone being banned. Facebook was much the same. Clicks on both platforms were a lot cheaper than they are now, and it was a lot easier to make money. And because of this, many people jumped into the industry with the lure of easy riches.

PRESENT
In only 2 short years, leaves us in 2010… What’s changed?
All the major advertising platforms are turning anti-affiliate. Adwords will ban you for life at a moments notice, or just slap the shit out of your campaigns. It is clear they don’t want affiliates on their platform and we’ve seen that it makes no difference to their quarterly revenues. To be fair, the majority of CPA affiliates aren’t providing much value to consumers, and if I was in charge of a major advertising platform such as Adwords I’d probably make the same decisions.

Facebook now is following suit. Just recently they slashed the daily spend limits of many affiliates and released new guidelines which more or less rule out CPA offers.

FUTURE
In case you can’t look beyond next week: These trends are going to continue.

So this leaves a lot of affiliates scrambling for new traffic sources, PPV etc. Affiliate marketing is a hustle, and the best hustlers will always make a killing.  Unfortunately the majority of affiliates have no real skills, and can do nothing more than rip landing pages and copy what other people are doing. Eventually a lot of these unskilled affiliates will end up in day jobs again. Don’t be one of them…

So to the future and beyond, how does one survive?

By building a real business.

After the first round of Google bans, I spotted the trend and started making a return to e-commerce. I realized that in order to build a stable income, you can’t rely on anything as fickle as a few traffic sources.

You need to have control over your income. And to create a stable income on the internet, you need to either control the product or the customer. That means you need to have your own products or info to sell, or you need to control a large amount of traffic. Both of these result in a stable income, which are the type of businesses I like to work with. As an affiliate, you’re at the mercy of the merchant, affiliate network, traffic source and everything in between. It’s like a house of cards vs a castle and a moat. So another affiliate made $5k a day every day last week and is now making a big fat 0 this week. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather make a stable $200 a day/365 days as a base that I could continually increase.

In a way, I’m advocating becoming a merchant rather than being an affiliate. It suits a free lifestyle better by having the hustlers working for you, rather than being a hustler. On top of that, you can still advertise on platforms like Adwords and make a consistent ROI each month.

The main difference is that building a real business takes a lot more work in the beginning for little payout. But when that payout finally arrives, it will be consistent. Don’t be afraid of a higher barrier to entry, embrace it by being one of the people who actually follows through with a harebrained idea, thank me later.

What to do when you arrive in a foreign country + Update

Sunday, April 4, 2010 9:54
Posted in category Travel

I’ve been a little quiet lately, but I’ve been a little busy. I’m currently in Puerto Iguazú in the north of Argentina, home to one of the seven natural wonders of the world – Iguazu Falls. It was spectacular to say the least.

So I was open to suggestions as to topics I could write about, more people seemed to be interested in how I travel and move around.

Travelers come in different shapes and sizes, but by far the most fun and interesting is to travel as a backpacker. I travel like a backpacker – except without a backpack. I rarely stay in hotels, unless I’m attending a conference or something like that, Hostels and guesthouses are the way to go.

Firstly, hotels are designed for privacy. Hotel staff will give you ‘hotel advice’, and one of the only places to mingle is the hotel bar, which if your hotel has one, is not the best place to meet like-minded individuals.

Hostels and guesthouses are the best option, you can meet other travelers and can always find someone to hangout, drink and talk shit with. And before you go thinking you’re too baller to stay in a hostel – I’ve met millionaires and even the son of a King staying in hostels. It’s a social choice. Most hostels have private rooms as well, which makes it kind of like a hotel, except more economical.

I work and travel in cycles, so I’ll typically settle in a place, shared house or apartment for a few months so I can do some work, and then spend some time traveling before settling down again. A few times I’ve stayed in hostels for months at a time as well.

So, imagine you are traveling to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language nor know anybody there, what is the best way to approach this kind of situation?

If you’re anything like me, traveling with a bunch of expensive pieces of electronics, the last thing I want to do is roam streets with all my gear. The first thing I usually do is hop onto Hostelworld and find a hostel that has WiFi, and decent reviews. So once I arrive, I hop in a taxi and have a place to get online, sleep and find out more about the country/city I’m in.

I’m not a fan of books like the Lonely Planet(I used to live with one of the writers, who was a major dickhead, maybe this has something to do with it), either way, I prefer to just chat to people who have already explored the country, which you will always find in a hostel. The other good thing about hostels, is this will be one of the best places to ask people about finding some more permanent accommodation. Guests staying there or staff can always point you in the right direction. That is more or less the only preparation you need, just make plans as you go.

You don’t always have to be prepared, some of my best memories have come from unplanned adventures. For example me and 2 Israeli girls spent a night in a drug rehab center in the middle of the Colombian jungle because we missed the last bus. Disaster at the time, but one of my favorite memories.

Right now I’m in a bit of a situation where my plans didn’t quite work out.

My original plan was to head north through Paraguay to Bolivia in 2 days time. However only 2 hours ago, I found out that I need a tourist visa to enter Paraguay, which kind of screwed up my plans, which is fine, since my plans are never concrete anyway.

So my new plan is to go around Paraguay and stop in Salta, Argentina, before going north to Bolivia.

As long as hostels exist, you’ll never be up shit creek without a paddle, so just get on the road and shit will work itself out! Anyways, if you can’t afford to be away from the internet for more than 24 hours – you’re doing it wrong.

I’m writing this blog post poolside at a hostel I’m staying at right now.

Business wise, now that March is over and I’ve had a chance to do my accounts. It has been another record month for my e-commerce stores, which is a pattern I hope will continue.

I had an phone appointment with a search specialist from Bing this week, who offered to import my Adwords campaigns over to Bing. After looking at my campaigns, I was told they wouldn’t work so well on Bing, so she’s going to recreate campaigns for me. If you’re willing to spend more than $500 a month, this is pretty much open to anybody. I’ll report back on how this goes once the campaigns are live.

Picture Friday + Update

Friday, March 19, 2010 22:28
Posted in category Travel

So I’ve been getting a bit of attention ever since I dropped my E-commerce guide on Wickedfire.

It seems I dropped the post at a good time, since rebills have been dying out for a lot of affiliates, people have been looking for new things to do. A handful of affiliates have taken to my guide and already are importing products from Asia. I’m happy that my post has been useful for quite a few people, who might never have considered importing their own products before.

Having said that, I felt it was time to update this blog but could not think of any specific thing to write about. So I’ll just post a few more travel photos in the meantime, and if there’s any particular subjects on E-commerce or importing you’d like me to cover, leave a comment or drop me an email, I’m taking requests…

More on my travel activities: I might go check out Uruguay for a few days next week, and then at the end of the month I’ll be leaving Buenos Aires and heading up to Iguazu falls with a friend and 2 of her friends coming down for Spring Break. From there I’ll head through Paraguay to Santa Cruz in Bolivia to visit a good friend of mine and maybe hang out there for a month or two. Being productive on the move is quite challenging, but sometimes long bus rides give you some time away from a screen to collect your thoughts.

Andorra - A little country between Spain and France, who knew it existed? I went to check it out...

Czech Republic - Shitloads of Absinthe

...which led to hotel damage bills (was traveling with friends)

The Panama Canal

Norway - Took pic on the train from Oslo to Bergen

Rome - Ever wondered what the inside of the Coloseum looks like?

San Cipriano, Colombia - Yeah that motorbike, wooden platform and train tracks do exactly what you think it does...

San Cipriano, Colombia - 2 Kids posing for a photo :)

Tokyo - From above

Guatemala - Volcano with lava flowing out of it

Semuc Champey, Guatemala - Rock pools

Focus on Quality = Make More Money

Thursday, February 25, 2010 20:04
Posted in category Affiliate Marketing

Apart from my E-commerce ventures, I still do a bit of affiliate marketing in one niche… Dating.

Like most affiliate blogs, I ain’t going to say shit about how or what offers I promote. But I will divulge a bit of history on how this niche became a good money-maker for me. The same principal applies to all niches. Focus on quality and you’ll make more in the long term.

When I first began promoting dating sites, I like most affiliates, did whatever I could to sign up leads. In the beginning that was mostly done by signing up lesbians. Lesbians in general provide a higher than average conversion rate, the downside is that for the advertiser, only about 2-3% of these leads will convert to sales. So in short, I’d jump on dating offers, sign up lesbians until the advertisers realized my traffic quality sucked and I’d get kicked off the offers and move on to the next.

Over time I improved and got better at promoting dating, so I started to sign up high quality leads, and stopped signing up lesbians. Fast forward to now, I’ve built up great relationships with my affiliate managers, who know that I send nothing but quality leads when it comes to dating offers.

So now on my favorite networks, I’m always given higher payouts, and put onto private offers that aren’t available to most affiliates. Getting access to these private offers and payouts means I don’t have to compete with the majority of affiliates because I can outbid them and still make good bank, while they lose money.

To summarize: Find your niche, focus and drive quality, get better payouts and make bank. With the flood of newbies into this business, spreading yourself too thin won’t work out so well in the long term.

Random Sunday Photos

Sunday, February 14, 2010 17:40
Posted in category Travel

Here are a few photos I’ve taken on my trips. I’ll try to make this a more frequent thing.

One last thing: BE MY FRIEND ON FACEBOOK.

The Roskilde Festival in Denmark

The San Blas Islands in the Caribbean off the east coast of Panama

Gas Chamber in Mauthausen Concentration camp, Austria

Roman Abramoviches 'Pelorus' spotted in Helsinki

The Blue Lagoon, Iceland. Shame it was overcast that day.