If I Started Over In Affiliate Marketing (This is Exactly What I Would Do)

A few days ago I did a little Q&A session here on the site.

I wanted to take one of the questions that I received and answer it in more depth than I did in the comments. There are two reasons.

  1. It’s probably the most common question I get
  2. The answer never changes

The key to becoming great at any skill is mastering the fundamentals before you worry about the details. And this question and answer covers one of the major fundamentals.

fun·da·men·tal [fuhn-duh-men-tl]
a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part: to master the fundamentals of a trade.

Too often, new affiliates get hyper-focused on the smaller details (server speeds, software, desk setups, apps, etc) without learning the basics that are used by the pros every day (launching, testing and optimizing).

So today, we’re going to focus on the fundamentals of starting from scratch. No matter your experience level, this is what I think you should to.

Thanks to Adrian for the question. I’ve copy/pasted it verbatim below.

Question: “If you were to start afresh with no knowledge on Affiliate Marketing, who will you look out for to learn affiliate marketing and how will you get started?”

1. Save Money.

You’re going to need some money to learn with. How much? I can’t give you a specific dollar amount but the more you have the faster you can learn.

On my first paid traffic campaign I lost about $3000 before I figured out what I was doing. I had to lose money every day for the first month or so to get an understanding of what worked. If I hadn’t had my savings as a cushion I may have never made that campaign work.

Why do you have to lose money?

Because your first few campaigns (like mine) are probably going to be awful and unprofitable. It won’t be because of the offer, the ads, the landing pages or the traffic sources. It will be because you’re bad at it. So, you need to be able to lose a few thousand dollars while you learn how to do it right without going bankrupt.

How to Do It:

  • Employed: If you currently have a 9-5 job, Keep It. Start saving as much of your paycheck as you can. Put it into a separate checking account if needed to keep from spending it. Cut back on all unnecessary spending. Cancel your cable TV, cook all your meals, stop driving your car to save gas, don’t buy a new pair of shoes or any clothing. You’ll be surprised at how much money you’re spending every month on things you don’t really need. If you make major cutbacks, you can save a significant portion of your paycheck (think 50% or more) and easily come up with several thousand dollars for your nest egg.
  • Unemployed: Being unemployed and using affiliate marketing to make some quick money is not really a good scenario. Getting free traffic (SEO) takes a long time and you need money to do paid traffic. But if you’re unemployed and completely broke there are still many things you can do.
    1. SEO. Start a WordPress blog on Bluehost for 3.95 a month. You get a free domain name when you sign up and you can install WordPress in 1 click. Write a sh*tload of great content about something you’re interested in that also has an affiliate product attached to it. Post 1000-2000 word articles about it 2-5 times a week. The traffic will come, but it will take some time (weeks, months). If you can get sales coming in from free traffic you’ll have some cash you can save. (I did this for 1-2 years and built it up to about $2500/month, still getting small commission checks each month 6 years later)
    2. Outsource yourself. There are a lot of sites like Fiverr.com and elance.com that let you do jobs for other people. If you like to write, find someone who needs articles written and work for them. Expect $5 – $20 per article depending on your skills.
    3. Make websites. Using WordPress and Bluehost you can setup a professional looking website for any small business (or friends and family) very easily. Pitch websites for $500 – $5000. Use free WordPress themes for the cheaper sites, use slick Premium themes for the more expensive ones. It’s incredible how easy it is to become a freelance web designer these days.

2. Research Current Trends.

This is huge. There are a lot of people right now searching affiliate network offers for something to try. They’ll pick something that looks good, try it out, fail and then pick something else.

I did it at the very beginning and it was horrible. I would blindly choose an offer, build a site around it and put in tons of work before realizing the offer sucked. You don’t want to do that, it’s an awful way to go.

It’s much easier and faster to speak to an affiliate manager or another affiliate and see what’s hot. Doing this eliminates all the guess work and gives you a better chance because at least you know the offer converts.

Do whatever it takes to ensure you don’t start out flying blind.

How to Do It:

  • Talk to affiliate managers. When you talk to affiliate managers don’t make the mistake of saying “I don’t know anything, I’m brand new.” 90% of affiliate managers will not work with new affiliates. They want experienced people that can drive traffic because their job depends on revenue coming into the network. It’s rare to find an affiliate manager that is willing to help someone new and really rare to find one that is willing to help that knows what they’re talking about. Tell them you’ve been doing affiliate marketing for the past 3 years, took 6 months off and are ready to get back in the game. Ask what offers and traffic sources are hot. They may even provide you with example ads and landing pages.
  • Talk to affiliates. This is a bit harder, because if an affiliate tells you what offers and traffic sources are working, they’re creating competition for themselves. You can’t walk up to a super affiliate at a conference and ask “What traffic sources and offers are you using?” But you can hang out in forums and social networks, provide some real value to conversations being had by experienced affiliates and possibly get pointed in the right direction. If I’ve been chatting with someone on Twitter for several months and they ask me personally for some help, I’m much more inclined to give them some useful info.
  • Check forums. There are free forums and a few paid forums that give out some real info. Look at follow along campaigns for ideas. Newer affiliates post their entire campaigns, ask questions and get feedback from major affiliates. They show their ads, cpcs, offers, epcs, everything. 99% of the time the campaign fails. If you’re savvy enough you can look at those failed follow alongs and see where they went wrong and turn it into a solid, profitable campaign. (I’ve done it multiple times)

3. Copy.

Instead of inventing your first campaign from scratch, try testing some things that are currently running in the space. If you see them running time and time again there is a pretty good chance the person running them is making money.

Use 1-5 sets of creatives that are currently running on your target traffic source and see which one does best. There’s a pretty good chance at least one will show promise.

Instant profits aren’t guaranteed, but you can find a direction fast and cheap. Save your ideas for later, during the innovation phase.

How to Do it:

  • Spy Tools. If you can afford a spy tool, use it. These tools cost a lot but they save you a ton of time. These aren’t affiliate links.
    • What Runs Where. The best tool I’ve used for spying on display and mobile campaigns. You can find ads, traffic sources and landing pages for just about any kind of offer in a ton of different countries. Starts at $150/month for mobile, and up to $299/month for everything. They do offer a 3 day free trial, so you can sign up, get all the info you can and then cancel if needed. Or get a plan for a month, get all the info you can and cancel until you need it again.
    • Lots of Ads. If you’re on Facebook this is the one for you. Spy on 1000s of currently running Facebook campaigns, search by demographic, country and keyword. It’s really good. Also has a free trial. Otherwise runs at $200/month.
    • Box of Ads. Spy on PPV campaigns. 3 day free trial, and about $200/month. I’ve used it, works like a charm.
  • Free Methods. If you don’t want to spend a few hundred a month, you can do manual research for free.
    • Follow.net. Created by the guy that made Tracking202, Follow.net is a free plugin that gives you intel about any site you visit. Find a landing page that is currently running and investigate. You can see their text and display ads, traffic volume and all kinds of other stuff.
    • Browse the sites you want to advertise on. If your affiliate manager tells you the name of a great traffic source for your offer go to the ad network’s website and find the major sites they advertise on. Look for ads on those sites and either save or screenshot them to your hard drive.
    • Contact Ad Networks. You can also contact ad networks directly and ask what is doing well on the network. Some ad reps will give you landing pages, ads and offers that other affiliates are using. It’s ugly, but it happens. At the very least they’ll give you a niche or offer that is currently running at high volume and you can take a shot at it. Again, you can’t call like a sheepish newbie of you’ll get no help. Act as if you are the king of affiliate marketing with unlimited ad budgets and you’ll probably get more help.

4. Innovate.

This is the job of an affiliate marketer. Steps 1–3 above get you a bankroll, a traffic source, an offer and some ads and landing pages. Now you get to work.

Start split-testing your own ideas for copy, headlines, images, ads against the creatives you borrowed. You will most likely lose money or break even with the stolen creatives, testing new ideas is how you turn it into positive ROI.

If you can get good at this phase of the campaign you’ve got a good chance at a long-term career in online marketing.

Some tools I use to innovate:

  • CPVLab – The standard tracking affiliate campaigns and split testing landing pages.
  • Prosper202 – Free campaign tracking, LP split testing software
  • Crazy Egg – Spy on visitors using heatmaps (my favorite tool)

That’s It.

The advice listed above is eternal. If you ask me 10 years from now how to get started in affiliate marketing I will give you the exact same answer. This is how it works.

The traffic sources, offers, spy tools and technology will definitely change. But the method for starting out and launching your first campaign will not.

The Quick Version:

  1. Save Money
  2. Research
  3. Copy
  4. Innovate

If you can master those 4 steps. You can make it in affiliate marketing.

  • Zach

    Thanks, Malan! I really appreciate your straight-forward answers, very helpful. Question about this part:

    “Browse the sites you want to advertise on. If your affiliate manager tells you the name of a great traffic source for your offer go to the ad network’s website and find the major sites they advertise on. Look for ads on those sites and either save or screenshot them to your hard drive.”

    Are you saying to choose the traffic source AND the offer at this point? So you’d be checking the traffic source to find the specific ads OR just checking the traffic source for ads that are running? My question revolves around what happens if you can’t see the ads you want to see for a specific offer on the traffic source. E.g. It is geared toward a demographic you are not in and can’t find the creatives people are using.

    Thanks again for your great posts!

    • Zach

      BTW I’m having trouble logging into my account with Disqus, not sure why.

      • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

        can’t help much with that. good luck!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Yes, in that scenario I’m saying ask the affiliate manager 2 questions:
      1) what offer is doing well?
      2) what traffic source is it doing well on?

      Go to the traffic source –> Find the campaigns –> Rock n Roll

  • Ryan


    This is a brilliant post and as per usual I appreciate the time you put into this blog.

    My one question remaining is:

    – Which tools would you recommend for creating banners and landing pages?
    – Where can you learn the skills to create your own LP’s and banners?

    Thanks again!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      I make banners in photoshop
      I edit landers in Dreamweaver
      I download other people’s landers with Blue Crab (Mac)

      I learned how to use Photoshop and make my first website using Google and tutorials. There are places like Code Academy and Udemy that have lessons but ive never used them.

      You need to be resourceful and if you want to learn anything, just Google it and put in some hours learning. All the info is out there for free.

  • Adrian

    Thank you Malan for this brilliant post. Question answered! Really solid info.

    I am starting to love your blog .

    Simply awesome.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Thanks Adrian (and thanks for the original question)

  • Petre Veluda

    It’s always good to go back to basics and remember how the game is played. Thanks for the post! Like in Think and Grow Rich, always read the steps to your goal until they become second nature!!

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      right on man. yeah it’s just doing the same thing over and over. goes for affiliate marketing, fitness, and any other skill

      • Petre Veluda

        Ohh..fitness:)!! I managed to get from 79kg to 82kg and my target is 83kg as my hight is 1.83m just by applying the rules above. It was second nature. Sleep and eat better, exercise regularly and so on..

        • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

          nice work man.

  • Bobby

    Thanks, nice article. What do you mean by “Write a sh*tload of great content about something you’re interested in that also has an affiliate product attached to it”? Can you give an example of content and an affiliate produce attached to it?

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Hey Bobby,

      You recently repaired your credit score: start a blog and tell your story and give tips and recommend a credit report offer in your posts

      You’re a web designer: write tips and guides on how to create websites and include links for hosting and premium wordpress themes

      • Bobby

        Thanks, Malan!

      • Rok

        Amazing and very valuable article, Malan.
        Hope you don’t mind me asking, did you have any success promoting wordpress themes? Themeforest or independent companies? Cheers

  • CMD

    Malan, you mentioned copying follow alongs posted by newbies… if you had to start all over though, would you post one? Do you think it’s of much help? I’m currently keeping my progress in check on a follow along posted on stackthatmoney, it’s been a good way for me to get advice/feedback from experienced affiliates, but what do you think?

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      yeah i probably would. i think the value you get in exchange is worth it. not on a public forum though, just on a private, paid forum like STM.

      now – if the campaign takes off and starts making huge profits, i probably wouldn’t share all that 🙂

      • CMD

        thanks a lot man…. honestly dude, your blog and Charles Ngo’s are incredibly inspirational for rookies like me. i wish you guys both 100x more back in karma.

        • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

          thanks CMD, good luck

  • TaeWoo

    Hey Malan. I don’t do much affiliate marketing these days (got burned with that shady CPA network EWA).. and I did pretty decent in 2008, but i was curious.. what do you think about this guy’s comment on affiliate marketing?

    I’m gonna lie.. the lure of spending money to make money is quite attractive, yet I tend to agree that affiliates have no control. Especially when going through a middle man like a CPA network.

    How do you personally combat this issue, especially with respect to

    1) Payment terms
    2) Offers going up and down
    3) Shady offers (ringtones, slimy rebills,.. basically stuff you would never recommend to any of your friends & family) – Do you even run them?
    4) Lead shaving

    Do you personally go direct with the offer owner? I dont see you recommending any affiliate networks too much on your blog

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      Taewoo – there is risk either way. I think it’s a personal choice. If you want to build a product and cultivate it and that’s what works for you, that’s great. If you do better as an affiliate, than do that.

      I’ve done both. I’ve built my own products and been an affiliate through an affiliate network. I made 10x more money being an affiliate.

      I’ve also gone direct with advertisers. To tell you the truth going direct with advertisers is WAY more risky than going through a trusted affiliate network. The aff network’s job is to take the risk of an advertiser not paying. If the advertisers disappears (happens often) the affiliate network is supposed to pay anyway.

      Many aff networks have failed at that job, mismanaged money and folded because of it. EWA included.

      All of the 1-4 things you listed are just a part of the game. I have a few very trustworthy aff networks that I’ve worked with for many years, that’s one way I try to keep my risk pretty low. I don’t worry about lead shaving. It happens, and it sucks – but as long as I’m making money I’m good.

      • TaeWoo

        Thanks for that insight malan. One more quick question… your thoughts on your own aff network stealing your campaign.. is that just pure neuroticism? If not have you seen your own network do that to you? If so how do you deal with it?

        Maybe it’s just me but all these show off culture along affiliates turns me off…and even make them rather untrustworthy

        • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

          the trick is to not worry about things like that so much. the aff network may steal your campaign, other affiliates may steal your campaign. Just don’t worry about it, especially if you don’t even have a live campaign going.

          Funny thing is that several times I’ve had campaigns ripped off from me, then they optimize it in a way I didn’t think of. So I then steal their updated version and make more money. It all works out.

          Don’t be so hyper focused on all the little things that you miss out on the big picture.

  • Hugo

    Good stuff Malan! Straight to the point. Starting to save money now so I can join STM and get the ball rolling this year.

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      good luck Hugo

  • keysmank

    Well said..

  • Christina Cowden

    This is all extremely well said and I am greatful for all of the helpful information. I’m def. subscribing. Thanks Malan! 🙂

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      glad to have ya

  • http://www.mytipshub.com/ M.Imran Nazish

    Thank you Malan for sharing quick but very informative information to get start with affiliate marketing. Regards,
    M Imran

    • http://malandarras.com/ Malan Darras

      you’re welcome brotha! thanks for reading.

  • Maurice Patterson

    Thanks Malan, As usual, another great and extremely valuable post.