The cleverbridge Affiliate Management team interviewed ChicagoMike who has worked in affiliate marketing for over 10 years and runs a number of successful affiliate sites. His latest project is SoftwareCoupons.com. We discussed strategies and tactics for succeeding in affiliate marketing, and we learned (among many other things):
- Why creating multiple types of affiliate sites is crucial for revenue generation
- The advantage of building out authority sites and the difficulty in maintaining them
- What are the best channels for traffic and conversions
Can you give us a short summary of who you are, the types of sites you run, and how long you have been doing affiliate marketing for?
I currently have a network of over 300 affiliate marketing websites in a variety of niches. The software niche has always been an important niche for me, and I have some extremely high traffic successful sites in the software and digital downloads niche like SoftwareCoupons.
I started in affiliate marketing in 2007 and after six short months, I was able to transition into making affiliate marketing my full time job. I did have a background in sales, marketing and SEO which gave me a solid skill set to be able to create successful affiliate strategies.
It was just a matter of executing the strategies and gaining traffic. Being an affiliate also requires that you never stop learning. It’s an ever-changing environment, and you never stop modifying your tactics and strategies.
What successful steps have you taken that you would like to pass on to newer affiliates?
One of the biggest mistakes I see from new affiliates is the thought that one website is all they need to be successful. From the start of my affiliate career, I have always created networks of sites as part of all my projects. You never really know which sites will take off and which sites will not gain traction.
It is a bit of a numbers game. When you decide to go after a specific niche, the goal is to blanket the niche to gain as much traffic and exposure as possible.
So do not put all your eggs in one basket, and make sure you diversify. Another suggestion to new affiliates is to take advantage of outsourcing as much as possible to maximize your time as well as maximize other people’s skills. You can’t be great at everything, and you can’t do it all yourself.
How do you think affiliate marketing will change in the next five years?
Affiliate marketing is always changing and will never stop changing. Keeping up on these changes is the full time job of any affiliate marketer. If I did have a crystal ball, I would list the following as the most prevalent changes coming to the industry in the next five years.
In the software niche Software as a Service (SaaS) and subscriptions have been slowly coming for some time now and will continue. SaaS offers many advantages to merchants, and on the affiliate side, it should offer the ability for recurring commissions which is always nice.
I also believe that there has been a shift toward authority websites, and creating thin affiliate sites is now harder than ever to sustain. So don’t think small. Build something that will last over time.
One last thought about future changes has to do with mobile vs PC. Although sales are indeed shifting to mobile, I still think there are still a large percentage of the conversions happening via PC/Mac, especially in the software and digital downloads space. You need to build responsive websites, but PCs are not going away anytime soon.
What do you feel is the biggest benefit affiliates bring to merchants?
I get asked all the time by merchants “Why should we work with you?” The main answer is this: merchants only have one website to market their products. Especially in the software niche, merchants need as much exposure and traffic as possible, and this can be a difficult task with only one website.
When they utilize affiliates, merchants will get hundreds or even thousands of websites sending traffic, reviewing their products, building their reputation, and providing them with powerful links that will help in their SEO. When you look closely at the economics of the partnership, giving up a percentage of the sale to affiliates is a pretty good deal for merchants when you look at the benefits they receive from the affiliate channel.
Which marketing channels are the most successful for you?
Since I promote a lot of software products, I still see most of my conversions occurring on PCs/Macs. The channels that work best for me are primarily organic search and PPC.
I do put a lot of time into spreading my content through social channels, but I mostly see the traffic — even from social — coming from organic search.
I spend a little on PPC for a few niche projects, but as an affiliate, it can be difficult to get cash positive when paying for traffic. I also have large email opt-in lists, so email marketing is another great source of traffic and conversions. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “The money is in the list,” this is 100 percent true.
What was the most successful affiliate project you’ve worked on and why?
I’ve had numerous very successful affiliate projects and promotions over the years. There has been a general theme to these successful projects. The successful projects always start with market research to find that specific niche or sub-niche to target.
I often reach out to the merchants within the niche to find the right products to promote and find a partner that understands my strategy and is willing to help if needed. Commission rates do matter to affiliates, so merchants should always make sure they are offering competitive commission rates compared to their competition.
The next stage is to blanket the niche, and the keywords within the niche, to gain as much relevant traffic as possible and drive for the conversion. This last step is normally the longest and most costly step, depending on your traffic source.
Each new project I work on takes months to get up and running, and a lot of time, energy, experience and money goes into it. Every new project is a bit of a gamble, and, yes, I’ve had some failed projects. When you hit a project that’s a winner and cranks out money, that’s when you get addicted, and all you want to do is find that next winner.
Amy Carabini is an Affiliate Marketing Specialist with cleverbridge.
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