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June 10

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The Truth About Running Paid Ads to Your Affiliate Products

By Nate McCallister

Last Updated June 10, 2020


If you're a new affiliate marketer, you have 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 extremely tempting to buy your way out of the work. 

You're not alone. I did this too several years ago when I got started in the business. 

My results were... underwhelming. 

We were under the impression that we didn't need a brand to sell affiliate products. 

We assumed that we could sell ANY product simply by running paid traffic to the landing pages of our affiliates, optimizing the ads, scaling them and pretty much printing our own money. 

Cartman Startup Cash in Bro Down

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...

Paid ads to JVZoo

According to this data (which I can't say is perfectly accurate with any certainty), 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, Google, Twitter etc. and essentially print money as long as the costs are below $2.18?

  • Spend $.75 on a click, net $1.43
  • Send $.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!

WARNING​​​​​

Some affiliate networks measure their EPC 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.

Commission Junction EPC

Side Note: I took this screenshot early in the morning so this was obviously just random luck that I made a sale on just one click. Not even I expect 100% conversions 😉 

They do this because it makes their available affiliate products look more enticing to potential promoters. 

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 decided to convert 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. 

$20 earned - $30 spent = -$10 

Instead of a money printing press, you've created a money shredder. 

This is of course assuming that the EPOC 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 6 big problems you'll run into when running paid traffic to affiliate offers.

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 very rare. 

Successful campaigns need great metrics and deep analysis. 

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. 

Since we can't directly track all conversions, we can't be 100% positive how well our ads are performing.

2. Facebook Limitations 

facebook ad block

Facebook is always a part (at least at first) of any paid traffic campaign.

Without it, you're starting behind the 8 ball.

This is a gray area and I'm surprised at what does and doesn't get approved.

Overall though, Facebook has 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!

Fb Ad Rejected

For now, let's keep breaking this down and head to reason #2 why these sorts of promotions fail...

2. Clicks Can Be Hard to Scale

This isn't the biggest hold up here, but it is a hold up.

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.

3. Traffic Needs Warmed Up

Warming traffic

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. 

The EPC provided by major affiliate platforms is an average of cold, warm and hot traffic. If you're sending cold traffic to an affiliate page you will almost ALWAYS get a lower EPC. #affiliatemarketing


Click to Tweet

This means that cold traffic will almost ALWAYS have a lower EPC than the average that is provided by the affiliate network.

4. Paid Traffic Takes Practice

Terrible FB Ad

The "direct to affiliate link" paid ad approach is a common attraction to new marketers. 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 compelling sales copy. 

You should also be able to properly test your campaigns and 

5. Good Ads Aren't "Hands Off"

The dream of creating one ad to an affiliate product and "setting it and forgetting it" while you rack in 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 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. 

The Heart of Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is about trust. 

The more trust your reader has in you, the more likely they are to buy what you promote. 

When you anonymously run cold traffic to sales pages, you are bypassing the heart of what makes affiliate marketing work. 

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...

Finding an affiliate niche

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 let's 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's 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 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 and more than just pitch a product. 

Note: If you're running ads on Google, you can't send traffic to a squeeze or bridge page.

Here is 

Paid traffic to blog posts

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 best seller 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 start to 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 someone on your page or channel.

2. Pixel Traffic and Retarget It

Facebook Pixel

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 retarget 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.

  1. They know you and are more likely to trust your future recommendations
  2. They are more likely to be interested in what you're selling
  3. It takes out a lot of the guesswork of creating an audience from scratch
  4. 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 

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 quite as often since new visitors will be pixeled each day and they will be seeing 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. 

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.

6. Test Multiple Ad Platforms

Some products sell better on certain mediums. 

Test Facebook, Google, Twitter and Pinterest and see which ones work best for your promotions. If you find one medium greatly out performs the others, spend more time and money on that one. 

Step By Step Method for Creating Paid Ads to Sell Affiliates

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 Facebook's native library of tutorials

STEP #1: Create Content Related to the Affiliate Product

This part requires a lot of work on your part but it is where the real money is made. 

Content should be directly related to the product in some way. 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 wood working. 

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 retarget 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 it's 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 #3 (a): Perform Keyword Research for Google Keyword Targeting

Unlike Facebook, Google Adwords is keyword based. You will choose to show your article when a user searches for a particular keyword/phrase on Google. 

Keeping with the example above, if you're selling a woodworking affiliate, you'll want to buy ads for keywords such as...

  • DIY woodworking
  • Free woodworking plans
  • Woodworking ideas

Like I said above, you should research how to run these well OR hire a professional. 

There are a number of tools for keyword research (both free and paid). 

I use KWFinder, SEM Rush, Google Keyword Planner (free) and AHREFS for my keyword research. 

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 awhile to reach a substantial number of users. 

Facebook Custom Audience

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). 

Conclusion

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. 

Be sure to comment with any questions, share with your friends and feel free to link to this article in your own relevant content if it adds value to your readers!

About the author

Nate is the founder and main contributor of EntreResource.com. He is a lifestyle entrepreneur who spends his time building businesses and raising his four kids Sawyer, Brooks, Van and Lua with his beautiful wife Emily. His main interests include copywriting, economics and piano.

  1. 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!

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

  4. Hey Nate!

    Bro this is a crazy good article. I have gone through so many of these growing pains the hard way but this has connected so many dots for me. I have read about a lot of these points here and there, but nothing is explained in order or that doesn’t make you jump through hoops to get to the end. Thanks!!! I am going to look you up more but how do you chose your products? Things you know well to create value on your content or are you more looking at what’s trending out there?

    Another thing for me personally, I started my website (socalhabit.com) on shopify as a store which overtime I realized I don’t really want a store. Do you recommend any website platforms best suited for affiliates? Also do you make new stand alone site for products in different categories or have a central site with landing pages etc? Sorry for all the questions but you seem like a guy I need to learn from lol!

    Again thanks for all the wisdom here buddy!

    -Brady

    1. Thanks Brady!

      Here’s one thing about choosing good affiliate products: you have to test.

      I am stunned by how many clicks some things will get with barely any sales while others just sell like crazy.

      Being in the space you serve helps but even still, you have to test.

      I will try to get 100ish visits to an affiliate product and see if it converts. If I get nothing, it usually isn’t a good fit. If I get a sale or two, I’ll look into how I can optimize or maybe add some value to bump conversions.

      WordPress is what you’ll want to use for your pages. I use ThriveThemes suite of tools here at EntreResource.

      I also use Clickfunnels for my actual products and landing pages for things like webinars. That isn’t a necessity though, you can get by with just WordPress.

      Depending on the niches, yeah you’ll want to make a new site if they’re totally unrelated.

      For example, I am selling bat houses. Those won’t sell here haha. However, if I decide to promote something related to entrepreneurship, it’s an easy plug in right here.

      Make only as many sites as you have to because the email list is going to be what really makes the most sales and it’s hard to build if you go in too many directions.

      Good luck to you man. Thanks for reading!

      -Nate

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