"What is your biggest challenge with Affiliate Marketing?
Do you struggle with creating links, getting traffic, making sales... ?
Get specific - I'd love to know what frustrates you most!"
There were just over 20 responses, and they were all legitimate frustrations.
I narrowed it down to 10 main issues most people have with affiliate marketing...
Top 10 Problems With Affiliate Marketing
There were replies from all levels of affiliates, including Jerry West - an SEO expert and Super Affiliate. The top 10 topics cover everything from beginning (technical how-to) to advanced affiliate issues...
I should warn you upfront, this is a rather long post. I have turned it into a PDF File which you can download and read offline on your favorite mobile device if you like. See the end of the post for download instructions.
Here we go!
1. Choosing a Profitable Niche
@R.K. Castillo: "I think choosing a profitable niche that we can take from start to profit. So we can have a good idea it will be worth the time it takes to do just that."
I have a quick exercise for choosing a niche that is worth revisiting. My advice is to consider your niche carefully. So much of your time and energy will be devoted to your career, so you want to choose something you're going to enjoy doing.
This may be different than some teachings which will have you starting multiple sites in multiple niches just to "make money online". It's far better to build a profitable business, and to focus on that business exclusively. Which means choosing a niche where you can start a business with personal branding.
Now, more than ever, the niche you choose has the potential to shape your life. It can be used to create your ideal lifestyle. Think about the options and opportunities you wish you had. What would you do if you weren't stuck working all the time? What would you do if money was not an issue?
The answers to these questions should be explored as potential niches.
Most people struggle with research and really get hung up on the numbers. How many searches is enough? What search volume am I looking for exactly? What IS a "good niche"? See: Frustrated With Market Research & Finding Niches?
2. Working with Affiliate Links and HTML Code
The technical side of creating affiliate links, or working with HTML code, is a hurdle for many people when they first get into Affiliate Marketing.
Most merchants make it easy by giving you copy & paste code to work with, but there are times that you want to make changes to that code for a nicer end result. It's really not that difficult!
In Anatomy of an Affiliate Link, Part 1 I give you the HTML basics and a walk-through video of using affiliate links from Commission Junction.
In Anatomy of an Affiliate Link, Part 2 I continue with a tutorial on breaking out of the (ugly) default affiliate code from Amazon.com to create great looking promotions and product reviews - complete with live examples.
If you struggle with affiliate linking, or if your links are ugly (don't feel bad - it's common), go through both of those tutorials and try the suggestions out for yourself. You'll be impressed with the results!
3. Getting Traffic
@DeAnna Troupe: "Getting qualified traffic is what I struggle with."
Traffic alone is not enough. You definitely want qualified traffic. Meaning that the visitors are targeted, and that you have a strong message-to-market match between your offer and your visitor (and more specifically: their intention).
The most obvious source of traffic is search engines. You want to be right there, front and center, when your market is searching for what you're offering. I always refer people to SEO Fast Start, which is a free SEO guide by Dan Thies.
Also see: Web Page Optimization (Checklist)
Optimizing your pages, and getting them to rank well in the major search engines is not enough, though. You want to qualify your visitors through the keyword phrases you target: Using Keyword Modifiers to Qualify Visitors
When it comes to traffic, always remember that quality beats quantity. You want to target as specifically as you possibly can. This will often result in fewer unique visitors, but higher conversion rates - and mean a higher number of sales than more unique visitors and a drastically lower conversion rate.
There are other sources for targeted traffic as well, of course. Once you have optimized your pages to rank well, you'll want to work on these other sources while you wait for your site to become established in the major search engines. Most of these sources will contribute to your overall SEO strategy, but they'll also bring in their own traffic while you're waiting for your pages to rank well.
Other traffic sources include:
- Niche Communities
- Social Media
- Guest Blogging
- Off-Site Content Marketing
Guest Blogging is one of the best ways to get in front of your target market. You'll also want to publish content off-site in other places such as article directories, squidoo, hubspot, wikis, etc. Niche Communities are a great place to find your market as well, and include: forums, discussion groups, and Facebook groups. In all of these cases, including Social Media, your goal is to become known and provide value to the conversation in your market.
4. Making Sales
A lack of commissions boils down to one of two problems: traffic or conversions. Make sure you know which of the two is the actual issue, and work from there.
More often than not, when people say they're having trouble making sales... the real issue is lack of traffic, or poor targeting.
You need at least 1,000 unique visitors to a specific offer, and highly targeted visitors of course, to determine the true conversion rate. If you have less than that, or your traffic is less than targeted, go back to work on traffic first.
Another major issue I see often is in the message-to-market-match, or the keyword targeting. It's important to consider the intent of the search with each keyword phrase, and deliver exactly what they're searching for. You don't want to serve information to someone who is ready to make a purchase, or try to sell products to someone searching for information...
5. Writing Content
@Keith Bush: "My major hangup is article writing. It's the one area I really hate."
Writing content is an issue for a lot of people. You're not alone. It helps to look at it from another angle, rather than just a mundane marketing task. Instead, consider it part of "a conversation".
You start by choosing a keyword phrase to target, or write about, and then you sit there with a blank screen and try to come up with an article or a blog post for that topic. It can be daunting.
Instead, imagine the person on the other end - the person typing in that keyword phrase. They are basically asking a question. Figure out what they are asking, and then imagine someone asking you that same question in person or on the phone. How would you answer it? Start writing...
Your content is a response to their search. You're simply entering a discussion. Done right, you'll satisfy their need and lead them to the next best click.
For more help on writing content, see:
- The Secret To Writing Great Content
- Simple Sources for Finding Topics
(when you're at a loss for what to write or blog about!)
- How to Write a Product Review
- How to Write a Blog Post (that brings readers and makes sales)
And hey, don't be too hard on yourself. I still struggle with writing from time to time. In fact, I refer back to those ^ posts all the time myself!
6. Writing Sales Copy
@Nick Garcia: "COPY! Writing copy for my sites is the bane of my existence.
That being said I've improved a bit but I still wish I could find some way to improve the flow of my copy. I think I just need to keep practicing. Hmm..."
The biggest key to writing copy is to focus on the benefits, not the features. We tend to write from our own perspective, and often describe the product or features. A good example of this is opt-in copy that says "Sign up for my mailing list". That describes the product and leaves the reader asking... why?? The goal of sales copy is to answer the why, not to make them ask it.
While you will need to have some basic copywriting skills as an affiliate marketer, your primary focus will be on the pre-sell - not on making sales. It's the merchant's job to close the sale. The affiliate simply sends qualified (ideally, pre-sold) leads.
7. Motivation & Time Management
@Keith Bush: "I struggle the most with getting off my backside and actually doing everything that I've learned. I've learned enough so that I should be making $100 a day in sales. My daily income is directly proportionate to what I've lazily accomplished, ZERO."
Becoming (successfully) self-employed requires self-discipline and self-motivation. And in the beginning, sacrificing what we consider our "free time". It's hard work.
That, and working from home is not necessarily easy for everyone. It sounds great as a concept, but there are many home & family distractions to work around. Not to mention a lack of concrete direction and standard operations that we're used to from working at a traditional job.
Keith brought up a good point, too - about spending more time learning than implementing. It's important to strike a balance between consuming content and creating content. Otherwise you'll become a successful student, instead of a successful business owner.
@Scott Milford: "Getting traffic. I'm working a 40-hour/week job and I'm disorganized (but I'm working on that). So spending time commenting on other blogs, doing guest posts, or article marketing takes too much time. And I just don't have the interest in doing those things right now.
So how do you get more traffic when you have so little time?"
You only have two options: do the work yourself, or outsource the work. If you're in a position to outsource tasks, that could prove very helpful when on limited time. If not, you'll want to set aside a block of solid work time on a regular basis and work through the tasks yourself.
The key is to work smart so that you get more results for the time invested. If I were limited on time, I would focus on: SEO, link building & guest blogging. They all three go hand in hand, with the guest blog posts serving as quality (permanent) inbound links, and those links helping your pages to rank better in the search engines. Investing your time in organic (white hat) SEO offers a great long term return, while the guest blogging brings in immediate qualified traffic.
@Oliver Olsen: "It takes time!"
You're right, Oliver - it does! But man is it ever worth it.
I have confessed a number of times that I used to work 14-18 hours/day, 7 days a week, back when I was getting started. Looking back from where I am now, I can honestly say I have NO regrets. None.
@Terry Loving: "Focus. Pick one or two and do it well rather than my shotgun- what is before me - approach. Planning would be good. Keeping records easily accessible. I think its called a system.... lol"
@Sharyn Sheldon: "Mine is prioritization. So much I need to do and I can't do it all, so I have to figure out which things are most important and do those first. I always set goals each day of what I want to achieve and never manage to do it all. Need more systems and processes that are realistic!"
I was flying by the seat of my pants for the first decade in my own business. And I did well, mind you. I never really reached full potential, or max profit potential, but business was good - and all was well. Of course, I was actively working towards a goal at any given time, and doing the tasks to achieve those goals. I was just never super organized about it.
I'll tell you what worked for me, and it's very simple really.
I do what's called a Brain Dump (see pages 6-8. everything else in the document is outdated). Basically you take everything out of your head, and put it on paper - or on the screen - in front of you. From there you organize and prioritize all of the thoughts and ideas, and create a schedule & task list.
I've always done this on the computer, then keep a notepad on my desk with the 3-5 tasks that I need to complete that day. I do those tasks first before anything else. Those 3-5 tasks come from the top of the Brain Dump list, which was already prioritized.
I've since found a software (sorry, for Mac/iPad only) called Things that I truly love. I can do my Brain Dump in the program, then create projects and scheduling with the items. It's very simple, which is what I love most about it!
See: Are You Doing Things In Logical Order?
(and watch the video at the end of that post - it's an excellent illustration by Gideon Shalwick of how to create a flowchart and properly plan out your business, or individual promotions)
8. Working with Affiliate Program Managers / Merchants
@Jerry West: "My biggest issue is changing terms by the merchant. Very frustrating, and the high turnover of affiliate managers."
This falls at the top of my list as well. I used to do a lot of work with CPA offers, but the high turnover rate with those offers kept me running in circles. I ultimately chose to go with more evergreen products & promotions. Still, terms change and programs close and linking code changes, and yada yada yada. It's a pain, for sure.
One thing I do now that saves me a lot of time and trouble, is to create affiliate redirects for products I promote. That way if the program closes or the linking structure changes, I only have one file/link to update - instead of dead links out there all over the web.
@Rodney Brown: "Getting paid for the traffic/sales sent and un-responsive managers."
In the 14+ years that I've been doing referral & affiliate marketing, with hundreds of merchants, there were only FOUR times where getting payment became an issue. In all four cases, I *did* get paid.
That's something I refuse to just let go, and am happy to jump through hoops over. To the point of finding and using a personal phone number as many times as it takes to get a response. Or going public with the issue. Whatever it takes.
In my opinion, it's not just about my one affiliate check - but going to bat for every other affiliate out there for that person or company. They have to be held to a proper standard. Period. Luckily, like I said, it's been a rare issue for me.
On that note, the affiliate agreement that you have to "sign" in order to become an affiliate for any given program or merchant, is usually very one-sided. In one case I took the agreement to a lawyer, and she was unable to help - she stated that the agreement (which was pretty much a standard affiliate agreement) was written entirely in favor of the merchant.
So when it comes to lack of payment, late payment, lack of response, etc - I take matters into my own hands. Call me the Squeaky Wheel.
9. Link Building
@Loretta Oliver: "Quality backlink building is my biggest struggle for sure. Content and creative bits, walk in the park - but getting those darn incoming links makes me crazy most days."
Since content comes easy for you, you have the hardest part nailed.
Content Marketing is the absolute best way to build quality, relevant inbound links to your site. I said "site", but you actually want to get inbound links to individual internal pages of your site - not just to your home page.
You start by having a strong internal linking structure, linking relevant pages and leading your visitors to and through (and even off) your website strategically. You then get quality links to your core pages - your Pillar Content or Money Pages - and let your internal linking do the rest.
When it comes to content marketing, Guest Blogging is one of the best methods you can use. It allows you to control the topic, angle, title, keywords, call-to-action, outbound links and anchor text. It also puts you in front of an active readership in your market - so you get both immediate results, and the permanent inbound link.
You also want to submit your domain to niche directories, and blog & RSS directories if you have a blog. You can submit content to article directories, wikis, online magazines, newsletters that are archived online, squidoo, hubspot, relevant websites, etc.
Speaking of link-building, see this study on getting a new domain ranked with nothing but Facebook Likes and Tweets. Very interesting: Can You Get a New Domain Ranking Using Just Facebook Likes & Tweets?
10. Building a Responsive Mailing List
@Kathy Pop: "building a RESPONSIVE list"
I often get asked if I bother building an email list in all of my affiliate niches. I haven't always, but you really should. The key to building a list as an affiliate is to target the informational keyword phrases in your niche. Use the "free", "how to", "help" etc keyword phrases to offer a solution. That may be a comparison sheet, a tip sheet, a tutorial - whatever they're searching for.
Answer those keyword queries with a page that basically says "Yes, I have the answer - where can I send that to you?"
Use your commercial keyword phrases to target buyers, then use your informational keyword phrases to target the rest of your market. Send them what you promised, then follow up with them 3 days later to make sure that answered their questions. The key to keeping subscribers engaged and responsive is to stay in touch with them with relevant (useful!) information.
MY Biggest Challenge with Affiliate Marketing
@Nick Garcia: "Lynn, what is YOUR biggest challenge with Affiliate Marketing? I'm sure plenty of people are curious about frustrations at that level"
I can relate to all 10 of the challenges listed above. But the one that wasn't mentioned that drives me mad... is working with datafeeds. There is no real industry standard on datafeeds, and so they are all formatted differently. Add in the fact that all the software & plugin options work differently, and you usually end up having to edit the stupid datafeed by hand to make it work the way you want it to.
And after all that, the merchant updates the datafeed - and it doesn't always update automatically on your site. So you have to go back through the process all over again. If you have a solution for this (that isn't a royal pain!), let me know...
I told you this was a long post -lol. It weighed in at 3,403 words. Wowsa! Now you see why I answered the questions here instead of replying individually on Facebook.
As promised, I have created a PDF version of this post for those of you that prefer to download and read this post offline or on your favorite mobile device.
There is a tiny catch. You'll need to opt-in so I can send it to your email. This is not a marketing list, so you don't have to worry about getting blasted with offers. It's simply a notification list for my upcoming guide on affiliate marketing.
Request the PDF version here:
Thanks for all the awesome comments & questions! Feel free to add your own in the comment section below, and we'll let the discussion continue!
p.s. My goal is to publish the Affiliate Starter Guide by August 2011. The notification list is simply that - to notify you when the guide is available, and where. I plan to publish Amazon & Kindle versions first, with other formats becoming available later. Yes, I am FINALLY going to publish a how-to guide with all the steps in order... all in one place, in an easy to read (and implement!) format.