You’re not going to want to miss this one, folks. Today I have a very special treat for you – an interview with Eskil Nordhaug of Profitapolis.com, one of my absolute favorite affiliate marketing blogs.
Eskil is one of those guys who I madly respect – he is truly genuine and it shows. You may know him as the poster behind the username ImagesAndWords on Wickedfire, or maybe you follow him on Twitter already.
I asked Eskil a lot of specific questions, and as usual he doesn’t disappoint in the quality and helpfulness of his responses. If you’re in the affiliate game, listen close!
For those who may not know you already, what’s your background and how did you fall into affiliate marketing? What does a typical day look like?
I was first introduced to the internet back in 1992, before the first Netscape browser came out. Already then I was amazed and fascinated with this new internet thing, but I was too into my computer science studies and college to do anything about it (regretfully, lol). It wasn’t until 2003 that I started tinkering about the plans of making some money online – by starting up my own web hosting company in Norway. I launched it in the spring of 2004 and it became a success pretty quick. Too quick in fact, and I learned a whole lot of valuable business lessons for better and worse, lol.
It was during this time I started reading around about other serious money-making venues online, and finally decided to sell the company so I could shift my focus onto affiliate marketing. I got into domaining, then Adsense arbitrage, blackhat SEO, and physical products and CPA offers. The most valuable experience I had gathered in my years with the hosting business was running my own PPC campaigns on Google Adwords. So it was a natural progression to now use that knowledge by pushing affiliate offers through PPC search and contextual ads.
A typical day looks like this: Get up early, get the kids fed and off to school. Then sit down around 8am and spend no more than 20 minutes catching up on yesterdays email and industry news. I have become pretty self-disciplined, so I strictly work for all the hours I’m in my home office. I refuse to let myself get sidetracked with timewasters like Youtube or anything like that. It’s focus, focus, focus! I spend my hours on either campaign research, building, optimizing, analyzing, testing, or design. Usually following a todo-list I made the evening prior. I head upstairs around noon to have lunch with my wife, or her and I will go out to lunch sometimes too – something I love being able to do.
I then work again consistently until 4pm when the kids come home from school. After that it’s dinner, homework, and family time the rest of the evening. I do sometimes work in the evening too whenever I can. If the wife is on the phone, kids are busy, whatever. Not an hour is wasted! Lol..
It’s the greatest job in the world, eh? While affiliate marketing is great, how did you battle through the dark days when you were first getting started? What kind of problems did you face that really held you back and how did you overcome them?
Yeah this is indeed a great job, no doubt about it. But it’s not for the faint-hearted either. I think what makes or breaks you as an affiliate (or your chances of staying as one long term) is how you handle and cope with stress and loss. Everyone I know in this business have all faced some financial loss combined with failures time and again. But there is only one way to win – and that is sticking to your guns and not let emotions take over.
The way I have battled through things is honestly knowing in my heart that I can and will make it – no matter what. I convinced myself early on that *nothing* will come in my way of success. No matter how low I get, no matter how broke I get, no matter how much discouragement and hopelessness I see. I. Will. Not. Quit.
I think the most common problem faced by affiliates running paid traffic is obviously cashflow and I’ve been there too. It doesn’t matter if you’re sitting on the most in-depth knowledge on an amazing campaign, know exactly what to do and how to run something – if you can’t afford to run it. But if there is a will there is a way and your strategy should be to find something or someone that could contribute to your cashflow in any way. See what you can do or sell to make it happen. I also wrote a blog post on this very subject, with some cashflow tips.
When did things really start to “click” for you? Was there anything you feel strongly contributed to your success? A change in mindset or way of doing things perhaps?
Things started ‘clicking’ for me when I saw what motivated my targeted demographic to perform the actions I wanted them to take on my landing pages. Instead of blindly guessing what I *thought* would work, it all the sudden made a difference when I really tried to understand who I was selling what to – and why they couldn’t resist it. I keep saying this in blog posts but – understand your target demographic! If you think of them as just “traffic” and numbers of clicks, that is what they will be. Start instead to realize that there are actual human beings behind the screen somewhere who are actually seeing YOUR ads and YOUR landing pages, and then realize that those actual people are going to have human feelings and thoughts about what they see. Then give them what they want. And profit.
Are you more of a paid traffic guy – an SEO guy – or both? What have you had the most success with?
I am definitely a paid traffic guy, yes. As mentioned earlier, I was into the blackhat SEO thing for a while, but random results and unpredictability is not for me. Not saying all SEO is random and unpredictable. Blackhat sure was, but even serious SEO efforts can be to some extent too. I see it more as a strategy of “I will just throw my stuff out there and get whatever traffic the search engines will give me I guess…”. You are more under the grips of 3rd parties (search engines) than you are with paid traffic. Are you under grips with paid traffic sources too? Sure you are! But there are more tangible rules, specific things you know that you can do. Specific volumes for specific payments. More precision and much more control. With paid traffic, you have campaigns that you can instantly start and stop and change whenever you feel like it, and it is this control that I totally prefer dealing with over SEO any day.
What about niches – do you go after smaller niches, or do you stick to mass marketable offers? Do you stick to primarily to CPA, or do you go wherever there is an affiliate program?
When it comes to CPA, I go where the bigger money is and never bother with microniches and oddities. I think for someone starting out with very little experience though, small niches can be a good first step on your learning curve. You can get much easier and higher conversion rates sometimes by targeting narrow demographics, small groups of people who are interested in exactly what you promote to them. But to move on, it makes more sense to go up the ladder where the big fish are. There is more competition of course, but also so much volume and potential that there is something for everybody.
CPA has its place but it would be too narrow-minded to ignore all other avenues out there as well. There is simply so much money to be made online – so many markets and things to promote as an affiliate – that the sky (and your wallet) is really only the limit. Personally, I like to diversify things a little and so I still like to keep a foot in with physical products through platforms like CJ and Tradedoubler. But I also work in the CPA field of things, as both areas have their pros and cons.
CPA offers (and their networks) can give you fast cash and quick growth from zero to hero. But it can also be incredibly frustrating at times to deal with offers that go up and down, advertisers that change their rules and payouts, or strange changes in conversion rates that may or may not be happening on the network end. On the other hand, promoting physical products (or cost-per-sale) type offers can also bring in lots of money. You will usually also see more stability with cost-per-sale type affiliate programs because you are not dealing with lead quality issues, scraping, and so forth. A sale usually means a sale, and that’s it. The downside here though is that it can take more money to test and research a campaign, and you really need to know even more what your target audience wants – at least this has been my experience.
It seems the CPA networks are littered with scammy affiliate offers – stuff that generates tons of complaints. On one hand I feel like an offer is just an offer, but on the other I’d rather not promote known scams. What are your thoughts on rebills and the sorts of offers that don’t provide much (if any) value for the end user?
This is for many a sore subject that keeps coming up in forums and blogs. I think it’s a two-edged sword. I don’t think necessarily all rebills should be considered scammy, although of course there is a significant amount of shady ones. In my opinion it comes down to knowing and understanding what you’re promoting. Ask yourself if you would feel ok with selling the same offer to a friend and if you feel the amounts charged are fair. I think also that a rebill can remain respectable if they have a decent policy on returns and complaints. It’s the ones that make it impossible to get a refund from, or the ones that are really hard to get ahold of that really are the worst of the bunch. If you’re in doubt about an offer’s credibility among consumers, do some research and see what comes up. If it has tons of complaints from furious buyers, stay away and pick another.
Market depending, is building email lists a priority for you in your marketing? It seems like everybody just uses a lander, but in the end when that person clicks X, they are gone forever. You also can’t cultivate any lists of buyers that way too.
Yes building lists should be a part of every affiliate marketers plan. I’m not saying you should do it for every single campaign because let’s be honest – it just simply wouldn’t make sense for some types of campaigns. However, in many cases it does make sense and it’s amazing how few people are doing this. Even if your list is small and grows slowly, that’s ok. Why? Because if you’re able to collect a few *buyers* (people who have or are willing to spend money in your niche) – they will be worth a lot to you down the road. Think quantity versus quality. I would rather have a list of 1000 proven buyers, than a list of 10.000 random people who only signed up to your list so they could download your shitty ebook. Because out of those 10.000 people, how easy will it be to monetize them later with various offers?
In an effort to diversify, I have been thinking how sketchy it is to have just a keyword list, your ads, your landing pages, and an account at your traffic source. As soon as something goes wrong, it’s a scramble. What advice do you have in regards to diversification?
Yes this is definitely something all affiliates should keep in mind at all times. Most campaigns (at least in the CPA/leadgen affiliate world) have a finite lifespan and you cannot and should not expect a campaign to last for years once you get it to work. It is always better to assume that your best campaign just may die tomorrow, and – you should always be prepared with a plan B, C, and D. That means, always staying on top and building out more. That is – if you plan on just doing affiliate marketing for the rest of your life. In my honest opinion though, affiliate marketing should not be considered a long term strategy if you want to build a stable, passive income. The way I see it, you should consider affiliate marketing as a stepping stone for bigger and greater things. It’s a great cash machine but you should use what you make to save and invest into other things that can benefit you for the rest of your life. How about instead of constantly re-investing into more affiliate marketing campaigns, you begin to set aside a portion of it to buy assets?
This is the sort of diversification I think many affiliates should think about, to protect themselves. Save up enough to buy something like an established website that already has recurring monthly income. You can sometimes find some really good deals on places like Flippa.com. Or what about putting some into stocks or mutual funds? If you think the returns look small at first, don’t forget the power of compound interest. Five years later you will be glad you did something instead of throwing every affiliate penny into endless testing and spending. Think about it.
Alot of people say that noobs should start on Facebook and CPV when buying traffic, but I tend to disagree – those campaigns burn out way too quickly (in my experience) – it’s a hamster wheel. Where do you recommend noobs start with paid traffic? Somewhere they can get a good foundation AND enjoy some stability in their successful campaigns.
Things can indeed burn out quick on social traffic and CPV. But I do still think they are good places to start out. Even if you don’t make a ton of money at first and the campaigns die out – you are also earning a lot in the form of valuable experience. Remember – at first, know-how and experience is worth more than any dollar you make. If you learn nothing, you will also keep earning nothing. So I tell people to expect to lose money at first. But to minimize your losses, places like Facebook and Plenty Of Fish are good to start out for several reasons. There is no minimum spend to start, you can target down extremely narrow, and you can get some quick results with all the data you need if you make sure to track everything from day one.
As far as stability, I think the best thing to do is to ask your affiliate manager for offers that A) convert really well and B) has been going strong for a long time. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that the offer is raking in big bucks over at the affiliate network. It could be small offer that gets 50 leads a day. The point at first is not to do tons of volume. It’s better to start with something that can give you a high ROI, perhaps low volume, but at least you know you can work with it and tweak it for a while as your first campaign. For example, look for offers that work well in countries with very low competition, has a small target demographic, but still convert amazingly well for this small group.
In your opinion, what are some of the skills you should master to get to the next level in this business? Personally, I think direct response copywriting and (even just basic) html/css/php coding will make you unstoppable. What other things do you think are important we as marketers should focus on?
Quality copywriting and creative thinking are important abilities to have, and they will get you ahead. Study sales techniques, buyer psychology, and personas. This is if you want to think of yourself as a marketer. Now, ask yourself this as well: do you see yourself as a marketer forever, or do you want to move on to being a business owner so that you can work even less and make even more?
I ask because to me, it is just as important (and I am now answering not just as a marketer, but as a business owner) to monitor and plan the financial aspects of your short and long term business plan. You can keep repeating what you do month after month and just care about how much you have made. Some guys do that. All that matters to them is the bottom line at the end of the month. Then they start the next month repeating the cycle. But they will only keep doing and doing. They are strictly marketers who buy low and sell high. Daytraders if you will. Will they make money that way? Sure they will. They can make lots. But the problem is that they will remain slaves to their own business. They work for their business instead of having the business work for them. In other words, they will need to keep doing what they do in order to stay afloat, even if the money is good.
The guys who move on to the next levels are the guys who have a definite long-term PLAN. A plan that tells them where they want to be and how they will get there. Good planning requires understanding the numbers. Personally, I’m a spreadsheet-nerd and I love setting up projections and plans for how and when I can achieve my goals with the numbers that I know are realistic. Learn to become your own financial advisor and advise yourself to make the right moves.
What are some of your favorite books, sites, and/or resources that other affiliate marketers should check out? One gem I found awhile back is called HardtoFindSeminars.com which has some unique interviews on business building.
For books, there are a few that probably every reader of your blog has already read. But I want to mention them anyway, because they are the ones that have made the biggest impact on me: “Rich Dad Poor Dad” (Kiyasaki), “The E-Myth Revisited” (Gerber), and “How To Get Rich” (Dennis). These are classics that really speak to me. And if you haven’t read these, do your favor and pick them up. When reading them, keep thinking of your own affiliate business and where it is today versus the “big picture” discussed in these books. As far as other things- for me there is of course Wickedfire, and some of the blogs featured on Affbuzz.com. Just don’t let time run away from you reading too much every day.
It’s been great interviewing you and hearing your thoughts on things – you’ve given me tons more motivation, thank you! Lastly, do you have any favorite affiliate networks that readers should sign up for?
I work with several networks but my favorites would be Profit Kings Media, Ads4Dough, EWA Network, and Convert2Media. All of these are owned and ran by guys who truly are passionate about what they are doing, and they can all relate to having been affiliates and what affiliates want. It’s also interesting to see that all of these networks have only been around for the last couple of years – yet in my opinion they are all better than most of the older, more “corporate” style networks because of their willingness to help and educate their publishers.