Book Report: Affiliate marketing strategies for beginners, by Nick Reese
Chris Brogan made him do it.
That’s the short story behind why Texas-based affiliate marketer Nick Reese wrote How To Turn Traffic and Trust Into Sales.
Why didn’t he just call it How Beginners Can Make Money Online? Well, that’s the long story.
For Raven’s Book Report series, Nick answered my questions about about what he calls Core Content, what he has learned about trust, reputation and trolls, and how affiliate marketing needs to change to grow.
How long have you been involved in affiliate marketing?
I have been involved in affiliate marketing since late 2006, early 2007. I originally got into it because my buddy Markus Urban told me about a website he had that made $8-10/day off AdSense.
I figured I might be able to mimic what he accomplished in other verticals. I proceeded to get my hands dirty and make a few sites. Along the way I learned that AdSense was a pretty crappy way of making money, so I began exploring affiliate marketing. Along the way I had way more failures than successes but I learned something from everything I tried.
Fast forward a few years and it still hasn’t gotten old.
What prompted you to write Traffic and Trust?
My buddy Derek Halpern of Social Triggers introduced me to Chris Brogan. Shortly after, Chris asked me to write “the beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing,” as there weren’t many legitimate beginners’ products in the space.
My initial thought at the time was, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of work,” but after a bit of thinking and additional prodding, I came around.
From the get-go I decided to focus the book around the concept of Value Chains and mutual value. To me that is the most important part of the book. (That and a good SEO strategy).
After several rewrites and months of polishing I felt I had created a perfect beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing. My goal was to create the guide I wished I could have gotten my hands on in 2007 when I first was just getting my hands dirty.
You relate affiliate marketing to the referral process common among Realtors, car dealership and lawyers, it’s just that affiliate marketing happens online, and the affiliate marketer must build a website that becomes an “asset” with value. What do you mean by value?
In today’s world attention equals value. In Traffic and Trust I focus on teaching people how to create a “microbrand.” This microbrand must be able to stand on its own and add solve customers’ problems.
What’s the difference between content and what you call Core Content?
If you’ve read anything over the past few years about blogging or SEO you’ve most certainly heard that “content is king” or that you should “create great content and they will come.”
Core Content is simply content that isn’t easy to replicate. On another front, Core Content is content that you want people to know you for. This may be an authoritative study on your topic, it could be a great how-to guide, or an exclusive interview.
Core Content is what gives people a reason to link to you. It is often timeless, and more often than not it solves a need for the visitor.
How does a good affiliate marketer build an audience for that content?
Subconsciously we are all exploring the web at our own pace trying to scratch (solve) one of three itches (problems):
- Solve a problem.
- Learn/research something (solve future problems)
- Be entertained.
Core Content is based around solving a need of your reader or visitor. Content like this does well because it quickly answers the reader’s question, “What’s In It For Me.”
By answering this subconscious question clearly and solving one of those three problems your visitor is facing, Core Content naturally attracts more links, social mentions and attention simply because it is easy to talk about.
Once you have created your Core Content, you need a way to let people know about it. This is where many smart SEOs, social media people and content producers go wrong. Even if your content is great, you still need to create a solid distribution strategy if you hope to gain traction.
Distribution strategy depends on how established you are. If you are just starting out, you could go the guest posting / forum posting route. If you are more established, try doing traditional PR pushes and leveraging industry contacts.
Ultimately, once you have a loyal following of subscribers, they will often make your distribution efforts easier—but first your content has to address the WIIFM question before you can even build an audience.
It is really a chicken and egg problem. Lots of people are good at creating great content, but until a critical mass knows about your content it is easy for that content to go unnoticed.
Is that where trust comes in? At the most basic level, how do you define trust?
Trust has to do a lot with intentions (known or hidden) of the people/companies involved. If someone has good intentions and their goals are inline with what you are trying to accomplish, then they are often considered trustworthy.
In real life we can process tons of non-verbal information about a person to grasp if they are trustworthy. Online, we don’t have these non-verbal cues so many people apply trust “transitively” based on how they found the site.
I talk a lot about this in Traffic and Trust.
In your section on building trust and a good reputation, Chris Brogan comments that “‘Reputation is repetition.’ If you’re repeating the same behavior over and over, you will earn a reputation.” Have you seen a poor reputation hurt an affiliate marketer? How so?
Without getting into industry drama, I can think of more than few affiliates and networks that may be negatively affected by their poor reputation, but I think there is a bigger problem.
As search and social continue to collide and paid traffic strategies continue to shift, I think more and more affiliates will have issues with not having any type of reputation.
In the affiliate world, it is super common to hide projects and campaigns you work on because being public about your projects will only invite more competition.
I think going forward, affiliates have to get more creative and make business models that grow the more they they talk about them. Right now, it is too easy to find an affiliate’s campaign and duplicate their landing page and keywords.
In my eyes a good search/paid strategy is no longer a competitive advantage; it is just one part of the overall puzzle.
Over the next couple years you will see many affiliates jumping more directly into the reputation building game. In the coming months I hope to have several solid examples to point to of affiliates doing this well.
When you talk about reputation, you point out that you can’t control how others view or portray you. “If other people are sending negativity your way, realize this is when you know you are on the verge of something good.” Why do you say that? Have you even been in that situation?
This is best explained by a short story: “Crabs in a Bucket.”
In this story there are five crabs in a bucket. Each individual crab could escape the bucket if they were alone in the bucket. Since the bucket is filled with other crabs, every time an individual crab goes to climb the steep side of the bucket they get pulled back down to the bottom by their fellow captives.
After hours of trying to escape and getting pulled back down, all of the crabs give up.
This story reflects what happens in the real world and the online world. Once you start to make progress towards your goals and get some sort of recognition, the crabs and trolls come out in full force trying to pull you back into mediocrity.
In the real world, it is often hard to block out the crabs. You often have to change your peer group, which can be hard. Online, you just need to develop a tough skin.
This statement is rooted in my experience in gauging new PR campaigns or when I launch a new project. Typically you know you are on to something good (or at least disruptive) if you get at least some resistance.
A perfect example of this is my friend Karol Gajda, who is doing a roller coaster tour of the United States. When he was interviewed by USAToday, no one but crabs came out in the comments. At face value having negative comments on a national press outlet may look like a bad thing, but if you judge how well a campaign is doing by the comments of complete anonymous strangers then you are probably looking at the wrong metric.
As a general rule, I’ve found that for every crab or troll you get, there is about a 50:1 ratio of people who enjoy your stuff . . . unless you go viral on 4chan, which can be a win of sorts in and of itself. (Those guys love to link to stuff they hate. It would also be fun to have your affiliate site be a target of the next Internet meme.)
What resources do you turn to day-to-day for guidance—on affiliate marketing, on life?
My peer group and family. Just like the metaphor mentioned above, your friends and family influence you drastically. If who you are surrounding yourself with are holding you down or have different dreams and aspirations which don’t support yours, it is time to find to “enlighten” them about your mission or find a new peer group.
I am lucky to be surrounded by great thinkers like Chris Pearson, Derek Halpern, Duane Anderson, Karol Gajda, Brook Schaaf, Markus Urban, Sean Ogle, Jenny Blake, Jonathan Fields and many more. Without my friends and my family as a support group and sounding board, my life and business wouldn’t be the same.
You advise readers to think about the overlap between their passions, market interest and the ability to make money. What are your passions? Do you have any that don’t make for good affiliate marketing?
My passions are traveling and learning new things. I also love internet marketing, shooting video and drinking caffeinated beverages just to name a few.
Each of these passions have their limitations with regards to affiliate marketing, but if you can dig deeper and find out why you enjoy your passions and the skills needed to master those passions, then you may be able to identify a new market that may be a good candidate for an affiliate campaign.
For example, the commissions when booking flights are low and really not that great (we’ve got a few sites there), but if you have an audience of people who are looking for cheap travel, you could always teach them how to master travel reward points on credit cards.
Affiliate marketing is all about testing assumptions, finding new markets and putting a spin on old markets.
There’s a joke I’ve heard. The newbie says to the affiliate marketer, “How can I make money online?” The affiliate marketer says, “Get in line.” How do you approach both attitudes?
For me this all has to do with the person asking. If the person has drive and is an obvious critical thinker then I might give them a few pointers or tell them about my book. From there I’d suggest they follow the steps laid out in the Traffic and Trust blueprint and to follow up if they have questions.
If they are looking for a step-by-step hand holding then they should probably “get in line,” because what works for one affiliate is rarely going to be shared. The economics of sharing that information just don’t make sense. Let’s say you have a campaign making you $400 a day. If you wrote a book or guide with step-by-step instructions on how to duplicate your exact campaign, you would have to sell quite a few copies to make up for the increased competition, which now made your $400 a day campaign worth $30 a day.
Do you truly believe in “passive income,” that one can set up a site and the money will just roll in?
I don’t think there is anything “passive” about passive income. I think a few years ago it was easy to setup some arbitrage plays and I think there are still great opportunities for that, but any time you are passive or coasting, then you are missing future opportunities.
Sure you can build set-it-and-forget-it properties, but in my experience these are often in low growth and/or low competition markets with quite a few SEO advantages factored into the campaign (old domain, exact match domain, etc).
Going forward I am not betting on anything that is passive.
How many domains do you own?
I own ~153 domains personally. Our business owns another couple hundred. Most are vacant, some are old and built out, we have about 15-20 actively managed assets but more that could be revived. I’m a big fan of building out domains and letting them cook. I call this the “shell method,” and I’ll elaborate on that at a later date.
If your readers could retain just one thought after reading Traffic and Trust, what do you want it to be?
Value Chains, Value Chains, Value Chains. I think Value Chains are by far the most important element to success in affiliate marketing or any industry. There is a reason the “Mutual Value” chapter is available for free download.
Your mom is one of many people you thank for helping you on this project. How does she explain what you do for a living to her friends?
My mom is my hero. Seriously, I’m really close with my mom. I’m also very fortunate because she is one of the sharpest business people I know. As far as explaining it to her friends, well . . . here is how she explains it in her own words. This is copied and pasted straight from an email with her.
“Nick is a internet entrepreneur. He does affiliate marketing and can do so anywhere in the world he has an internet connection. He loves what he does. He works hard but he is having so much fun and never gets bored.
“If they don’t know what affiliate marketing is, I explain how businesses spend millions of dollars in advertising. Traditionally they would use media and print advertising but that is very expensive and is a pretty broad brush to use where only a few of the people might be interested in their product.
“I then go on to explain how affiliate marketers are able to target customers interested in the product and they only get paid when they make a sale. This allows small businesses to have a greater return on their advertising dollars and big business to target specific segments.
“I always end it with “I’m a Very Proud Mom!””
The Raven Internet Marketing Tools Book Report is an occasional series featuring new marketing, communications and creativity books, including exclusive interviews with authors. To purchase your copy of How To Turn Traffic and Trust Into Sales by Nick Reese and Chris Brogan, go to TrafficandTrust.com. Follow Nick Reese on Twitter.