In this article I'm going to lift the curtain on paid ads for affiliate marketing. I'm going to show you:
- The 7 problems you'll run into with paid ads for affiliate offers.
- The 5 principles to follow to make paid ads work.
- The 5 steps to create ads for affiliate offer that actually work.
Ready? Let's get into it!
Types of Paid Ads
Before you get too far into this article, you should have a basic understanding of what I mean when I say paid ads. Paid ads can come as...
- Social media placements. We choose these targeted audiences.
- Search ads. Search ads let us put our content on Google search results pages. We choose which keywords we want to display our ads on. The biggest platform here is Google ads, but there are others.
- Video ads. These are typically on YouTube or their partner programs. Video ads can target search terms or specific audiences. They will need to be videos, of course.
- Native ads. Also referred to as "display ads," these are ads that show up on websites like Yahoo when you're scrolling through articles. They are usually made to look like articles, but they end up selling something.
Ok, moving on!
If you're a new affiliate marketer, you've surely considered running paid ads directly to your affiliate products. Ranking on page 1 of Google or going viral on social media organically is hard, so it's very tempting to bypass all that and simply buy your way in front of your potential customers.
You're not alone. This was one of the first methods I tried when I got started in affiliate marketing years ago.
My results were... underwhelming.
I thought I didn't need a brand to sell affiliate products. Watching influencers grind away, building an audience and reputation, seemed like a lot of wasted effort.
I assumed I could sell ANY product simply by running paid traffic to the landing pages of my affiliates, optimizing the ads, scaling them, and printing our own money.
This was a total failure.
It was extremely disappointing because the numbers added up perfectly on paper.
For example, let's take this random weight loss program from JVZoo...
According to this data (which unfortunately, I can't guarantee is actually accurate), when you average out the total clicks by the total commissions paid out, each click is worth $2.18.
That's not too shabby.
So, why the f*ck can't I just run ads on Facebook and essentially print money as long as the costs were below $2.18?
- Spend $.75 on a click, net $1.43
- Spend $.18 on a click, net $2
- Spend $2 on a click, net $.18
Seems to make sense, but here is why it doesn't work...
But first, a warning!
Some affiliate networks measure their EPC (earnings per click) all wrong.
Ok, it's wrong to me at least.
Sites like Commission Junction measure their EPC as "Earnings Per 100 Clicks"
Unfortunately, they don't label it as earnings per 100 clicks (EPHC); they like to keep it confusing.
So, if you've been running ads to an affiliate that has EPC measured as EPHC (earnings per hundred clicks), your ad costs per click need to be measured accordingly.
If you're paying $.30/click and the EPHC is $20.00, you're losing money.
You'd need to convert your EPC to EPHC or vice versa. You need to measure them with the same unit.
So, if you converted your ad costs into EPHC, you'd need to multiply by 100. This means you're actually paying $30 EPHC.
$30 for 100 clicks will mean you're losing $10 because the average EPHC is only $20.
Instead of a money printing press, you've created a money shredder.
This is, of course, assuming that the EPHC is an accurate reflection of potential earnings (it sometimes is not).
Always verify what EPC actually means for each site. Like I showed above, Commission Junction still uses the EPC label on their product descriptions, but it should really be EPHC (earnings per 100 clicks).
If you don't check, you might not even know this until it's way too late.
Why Paid Affiliate Traffic Is Difficult
Here are the 7 big problems you'll run into when running paid traffic to affiliate offers.
Problem #1 Conversion Tracking Limitations
Although it's becoming more common with software like ThriveCart adding the ability to let affiliates add their conversion codes to 3rd party websites, it's still rare.
Successful campaigns need great metrics and deep analysis, but unfortunately, many affiliate programs and platforms don't make this possible or easy.
As Peter Drucker wisely said, "What gets measured get's managed."
Since we can't directly track all conversions, we can't be 100% positive how well our ads are performing. We don't own the sites for the products we promote, so we can't just add our code to confirmation pages, abandoned carts, etc.
Some of the major platforms do, however, allow us to track conversions, and tools like Voluum allow us to really get some data. Sites like...
Unfortunately, most of the products I promote aren't managed on these platforms. Most of my products run on smaller 3rd party affiliate tracking softwares or plugins that don't allow conversion tracking.
Problem #2 Limitations on Affiliate Offers
Social media sites like Facebook have cracked down on allowing people to buy ads that go directly to affiliate pages.
Later in the article, I'll show you how we can bypass this though, so you can get your Facebook ads approved...it just takes some more work. So don't abandon hope yet!
For now, let's keep breaking this down and head to reason #3 why these sorts of promotions fail...
Problem #3 Clicks Can Be Hard to Scale
This isn't the biggest hold up, but it is a holdup.
The more clicks you want, the higher the costs will be, and the broader you'll have to make the audience in order to get them.
If the product is very niche, clicks can be difficult to come by on a long term basis.
There are plenty of tricks to get more clicks on your Facebook ads, but it can still be difficult to scale these sorts of campaigns.
Problem #4 Traffic Needs Warmed Up
If you take one thing from this article, it should be that warming your traffic always leads to more sales.
If you don't provide some sort of value upfront, you shouldn't be surprised that you aren't making sales.
Paid ads to affiliate products shown to cold traffic fail in big part because there is no trust built or value previously given.
The folks at digitalmarketer.com put it well and compare selling to cold traffic to proposing to someone on your first date.
They might say yes, but that would be very unlikely, and you're going to look weird.
The affiliate product I mentioned above that had a $2.18 EPC is the average of all traffic. Most of that traffic is warm and sent by affiliates who have already built trust with their followers.
This means that cold traffic will almost always have a lower EPC than the average that is provided by the affiliate network.
Problem #5 Paid Traffic Takes Practice
The "direct to affiliate link" paid ad approach is a common attraction to new marketers and marketers who haven't created very many ads for anything prior.
Although it's always difficult to pull off these direct to affiliate offer promotions, it's extremely difficult if you don't understand how to make a quality, targeted ad with interesting sales copy.
You should also be able to properly test your campaigns.
Problem #6 Ads Aren't "Hands Off"
The dream of creating one ad to an affiliate product and "setting it and forgetting it" while you rack up commissions is just that, a dream.
In reality, most ads need tweaked periodically to maintain high CTRs.
AdEspresso shows this in a graph on one of their blog posts...
If you keep targeting the same users, they will develop "banner blindness" and will stop engaging with your ad.
It taught me so much about affiliate marketing, and I am going to share with you...
- Why this method doesn't work for most people.
- What to do instead (and yes, you can still run paid traffic).
I generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in affiliate revenue. I've won contests, received sweet bonuses (my Mercedes C300 for example), and I simply couldn't do this with the anonymous approach.
Let's get into it...
For me to explain why the direct paid ad approach doesn't work well, I need to start by explaining why affiliate marketing works at all, and then we can expand into why buying traffic to cold landing pages doesn't work as well as it sounds on paper.
Note: By all means, give this approach a shot if you'd like. It might work for you, and, at the very least, it will give you some perspective. I know from trial and error that it is not a good approach for my business.
Problem #7 Affiliate Program Restrictions on Paid Traffic
Most affiliate programs I'm a part of allow social media campaigns, but many have stringent restrictions on PPC (pay per click) and display campaigns on native advertising networks.
For example, we know that many low hanging fruit terms like " (product) + coupon code" convert very well. Most product creators know this as well, and they don't allow their affiliates to run ads on search engines like google to them.
Here's an example of the common paid advertising restrictions for an affiliate program I promote called SEMRush.
Notice that we can't run directly to affiliate links without permission, and we can't use any of their branded terms. This is pretty standard for most affiliate programs. If you find one that doesn't have these restrictions, take full advantage of it!
Also, native advertising has a bad reputation in many circles. Many affiliate programs don't allow their affiliates to run ads through networks like Outbrain or Taboola.
The Heart of Affiliate Marketing
There is a lot that goes into affiliate marketing, but one of the biggest factors is trust.
The more trust your followers have in you, the more likely they are to buy what you promote.
When you anonymously run cold traffic to sales pages, you're bypassing the heart of what makes affiliate marketing work.
Yes, you'll probably make some sales, but it can be extremely difficult to get conversion rates high enough to offset your ad spend.
Let's go a step further and talk about how we build trust.
Trust is built by...
- Give Value through great content
- Practice Consistency and Commitment
- Having Transparency
Cold traffic doesn't do any of these things...
Let's talk about what to do instead of the anonymous traffic approach.
Selling Products with Value and Trust
This method is not as sexy as anonymously sending traffic to landing pages.
Trust me, I can appreciate the appeal of that. The anonymous approach lets you hide behind the scenes and avoid the struggle of making yourself vulnerable to others.
Some people are mean and rude. Being a face in your industry can break you down if you take it to heart.
But, if the paid affiliate traffic method worked as easily as it sounds, this article wouldn't exist, and you probably wouldn't even know who I was because I'd be doing a lot more of the anonymous stuff!
Ok, that's a lie... I enjoy being in the public eye... enough about me. Let's talk about how to actually make affiliate sales with paid ads.
I have broken this down into two pieces...
First, a set of principles to follow.
Next, a step-by-step process.
Principles for Selling Affiliate Products with Paid Ads
Here are the keys to actually making affiliate money with paid ads...
#1 Send Traffic to Your Own Content First
This is where the sexiness disappears, but the effectiveness shows up.
You should send your traffic to a blog post, YouTube video, webinar, or anything else that can provide some sort of value greater than just pitching a product.
Note: If you're running ads on Google, you can't send traffic to a squeeze or bridge page.
The affiliate product should tie seamlessly into the sale of the product.
Certain content types sell affiliate products much better than others.
Providing value before the sale is extremely important. Dr. Robert Caildini, author of the bestseller Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, performed many studies around the concept of reciprocity and why giving something away often leads to getting more in return later.
Caildini performed a case study in which a waiter’s tips increased by 3% when diners are given a mint and 14% when they’re given two mints. When the waiter left one mint with the bill but quickly returned to offer a second mint, the tips increased by 23%.
It's not guesswork. Providing value FIRST will make you more money as an affiliate in the long run. This is part of why the anonymous approach rarely outperforms creating a brand and providing value for "free" to the masses.
This is part of why I have spent 4 days writing this blog post. I'm not getting paid to write this directly, but in giving you value, you're more likely to support me later if I promote something.
Sorry if that makes you feel like you're being played. You're, of course, perfectly welcome to scour my blog and YouTube channel and absorb every bit of free information without ever giving me a dollar.
That is how this all works. It's a beautiful thing for creator and reader!
There are additional positive byproducts of running paid traffic to your own content as well. If you have a blog or video channel, you can rank organically if users are viewing the content, liking, commenting, and sharing.
This means more free traffic overtime, which will lead to more sales even if you stop running the ads.
Another positive byproduct of sending traffic to your own content is you can capture email addresses if you include an enticing lead magnet to someone on your page or channel.
#2 Pixel Traffic and Retarget It
The purpose of sending traffic to content that isn't just a sales page is because it warms the traffic. Warm traffic buys.
Pixelling traffic allows you to re-target past visitors to your page and show additional ads to them as they navigate across the internet.
This is absolutely the best traffic you can target.
- They know you and are more likely to trust your future recommendations.
- They are more likely to be interested in what you're selling.
- It takes out a lot of the guesswork of creating an audience from scratch.
- People rarely purchase anything the first time they are exposed to it.
If someone has received value from you in the past, they are much more likely to click on an ad you show them later, and they are more likely to buy as well.
If you aren't familiar with the Facebook pixel, you need to get up to speed ASAP. Here is a great article explaining what the pixel is and how to go about installing it.
#3 Continually Optimize Your Ads and Creatives
The higher your frequency gets, the more money you're going to pay per click.
This means that we need to make sure we don't fall victim to "setting and forgetting" our ads.
Now, a slight exception is when you are running ads to just pixeled traffic. If you are targeting recent visitors to your site, you won't need to change the ad as often, since new visitors will be pixeled each day, and they will see your ads for the first time.
#4 Collect Emails When Possible
If you're spending money on ads, you might as well grab some emails as a byproduct.
When you gather email addresses, you can contact your subscribers again later with offers to your affiliate products.
Email marketing is my #1 source of affiliate sales, and it has been for years. Do not sleep on it.
Although not as valuable as emails, try to turn paid traffic clicks into followers or subscribers as well. This will make it easier for you to promote things to them organically without paying again.
#5 Sell in Email Follow Up Sequences
New email subscribers are giving you the chance to expose them to your offer multiple times. Create a great follow-up campaign that builds trust and gives incentive to buy, and you'll see your sales go much, much higher.
Step By Step Method for Creating Paid Ads to Sell Affiliate Products
Here is what the process should look like...
Note: I am not showing the technical aspects of creating the ad here. If you want help with this, check out the tutorials provided by the ad networks themselves.
Step #1 Create Content Related to the Affiliate Product
This part requires a lot of work, but it is where the real money is made.
Content should be directly related to the product. It should attract the type of person who would buy the product you're eventually going to sell.
For example, if my affiliate product is blueprints for 5,000 different wood working projects, I'd need to create content that targets people who are interested in woodworking.
Things like (and these are totally made up)...
- [VIDEO] Watch Me Build My Dream Wood Working Station from Scratch (for UNDER $500!)
- [BLOG POST] 20 Tools That Every Carpenter Should Have at Their Workstation
- [BLOG POST] DIY Plans for Pallet Coffee Tables you Can Make for Under $20!
These articles would attract people who wouldn't just be interested in plans about woodworking; they'd likely be excited to see them!
Remember, affiliate marketing is only annoying when it's disingenuous and not relevant to the viewer.
If I write a blog post on woodworking and sell you fat burners, that makes no sense, and it will turn off your readers forever.
Step #2 Install Your Pixels and Tracking Codes
Installing your pixels and tracking IDs on your blogs/channels allows you to re-target the traffic.
Not pixeling and retargeting your traffic is one of the biggest mistakes you can make if you're trying to make sales by running paid ads.
Note: Some affiliate programs actually allow the affiliate to track conversions for their traffic!
Step #3 Create Ads to the Content
Now that you have the content and the pixels/tracking codes in place, you can create your first ad.
Now, the purpose of this article isn't to teach you how to create great ads. THAT merits its own blog post (really, it merits its own book).
So, I highly recommend that you research how to create great ads across different platforms.
Step #4 Create Custom Audiences
Now that you've added your pixels, you will want to gather some data and then create audiences that include this pixeled traffic.
Depending on the size of your channel or site, this could take a while to reach a substantial number of users.
Step #5 Optimize Continually
Your ad isn't likely to perform well right out of the gate.
You will need to monitor it and continually optimize it. This is another one of the "hard" aspects of this process that most people (who don't make money doing this) ignore.
Once you have a lot of clicks to your first ad, you can create a second ad that targets everyone who has viewed the first article or clicked on the link.
This ad can send traffic directly to the affiliate product landing page OR to another piece of content that more directly sells the product (like a review page).
Although this article took a slightly pessimistic (realistic) tone, I personally spend $1,000s each year on affiliate traffic, and you should at least test it out if you're an affiliate marketer looking to scale. Just be ready to implement what I've shown you above and you'll be alright.
If you want to learn 99% of what I know about affiliate marketing, go check out my book Evergreen Affiliate Marketing on Amazon.
Great Article Nate – I have tried selling AFF products to cold audience with little success. but learning more each time I run my campaigns and step back to research.
That’s all we can do! Just keep taking action and learning from what happens.
Great article, I like having you critique the paid-ads aspect of affiliate, as other promoters sell it as the holy grail of affiliate marketing. Good read!
Thanks Adam! Yeah it’s definitely a deep topic with lots of pros and cons.
It took me over an hour to carefully read this blog post from biggining to the end just because it's one of the greatest contents I ever come across on the internet. Thank you, it's really a valuable content.
Great information Nate. Thanks for keeping things in perspective. I look forward to following you!
value able content love it first time in my life Inn had read full article
haha! love it, thanks!
Great Article. Keep Up The Good Work. Love to read such Great Content which provides quality Knowledge as well as interesting facts.
I found it interesting how you mentioned how paid ads can be effective in spreading the news about your product if they are targeted towards the correct population. My son wants to start a company that sells dog sweaters and he wants to spread the news of his company to the community. I will keep this in mind as we search for a commercial production service that can target the commercial to a specific audience!
Hello! Excellent article! I was wondering if it is possible to make a version of this article in Spanish for my followers. Obviously I will quote your website. Thank you!
Hey, sure as long as you cite it properly that is fine with me.
Of course. Thank you!
Great article Nate. So many awesome nuggets you give away here. I have failed at paid ads a few times but I am really doing my research to get it right on my next campaign. Thanks for your article. I am a follower now!
Awesome! Glad that you enjoyed it. I wish this article was more popular because it really is one of my most valuable ones haha