My Affiliate Marketing Experiment – Part 2

My favorite method of learning something is jumping into it. I’ll usually start by reading all I can about a subject, then quickly try a real life version of something simple, then something more advanced….an “experiment” so to say.

So I wanted to try an affiliate marketing experiment in order to learn all about this industry. From what I understood, a lot of affiliate marketing had to do with creating effective landing pages and making people want to buy or take action. Basically that means out of 100 visitors to a web page, how many of them can you make buy/signup whatever. Since I run an e-commerce store, this appealed to me. Perhaps learning some of this affiliate marketing could help me increase the effectiveness of my own business.

For the month of October 2009 I decided to embark on this affiliate marketing experiment in my spare time. I first made a written list of things I wanted to learn from it:

  • Learn why most affiliate marketers don’t go into much detail about their work.
  • Learn more about what all this affiliate marketing stuff is about.
  • Learn to make great and effective landing pages.
  • Learn how to A/B split test landing pages using Google Website Optimizer.
  • Further understand how to optimize paid keywords and conversion rates.

Even if my real life experiment lost money, this list contains some pretty valuable skills that could add much benefit to my own business. So it was decided, the month of October 2009 I would try an affiliate marketing experiment to see how this all works.

Start a Real Life Experiment of Promoting Something

So for the first part of this experiment I decided to try something really simple that could just be a proof of concept….just to if it could work. I wanted to do a simple campaign where I promote an affiliate link over Google Adwords. When someone clicks through to the ad and buys, I get a commission. So long as I spend less to buy the ads than my commissions ad up to, I make money. It works in theory, now to see if it works in action….

Step 1.) I had to find something to promote:

I could have either joined something like CJ.com or ClickBank.com to find affiliate offers to promote or find one myself. I decided to steer clear of the affiliate networks for this simple experiment solely to find something easy to promote without tons of competition doing the same thing.

I had seen some videos about this new thing called “electronic cigarettes” becoming popular in bars, and started Googling. I’m not a smoker, but this e-cig concept seemed like a brand new industry which has the potential to become big, but hasn’t yet.

I did a little research on e-cigarettes and first joined the BluCigs.com affiliate program simply because they had the best looking marketing material and easiest-to-buy-from website (See that link for BluCigs in the previous sentence? THAT’S an affiliate link in action! If you buy after clicking that link, I make a commission).

So now they gave me an affiliate link to place on my advertisements:
http://affiliate.blucigs.com/idevaffiliate.php?id=3257_0_3_1

Whenever you click that link, it takes you directly to the BluCigs website and if you make a purchase after you click that link, I make a commission! Simple affiliate marketing in action. Understand?

I now have something to promote….e-cigarettes…and I don’t even know a damn thing about them.

Step 2.) Get some people to click that link!

I could either make my own ecigarettes site and build up a readership over time, but this is supposed to be a quick experiment, so the best way to get traffic is to BUY IT.

Since e-cigarettes aren’t such a massively popular keyword at this point, the traffic is was dirt cheap. I could pay $0.05 per click and still be in the top results (or only result) for many keywords.

I immediately made a couple of Google AdWords ads and posted them. Here was one of them:

blucig-google-ad

Once again…Whenever you click that sponsored link, it takes you directly to the BluCigs website and if you make a purchase after you click that link, I make a commission! Simple affiliate marketing in action. Understand?

Step 3.) Make some moola

So now I just sit back and waste money on buying traffic to see if I make a sale. I thought this would take longer than it did, but sure enough in about 2 days (or maybe less, I didn’t check) I made my first sale! The BluCigs program gives me 20% of each sale, and it was a $59.95 sale, netting me $11.99 in commission….so far I’d only spent about $0.50 in ads! Pretty good return on investment!

This 24X return on investment was on an extremely small scale, so I was excited to see if that pace would keep up. However if it does, you see how certain people can make lots of money with very little?

A day or two later, I made ANOTHER SALE for $104.95, netting me a total of $20.99 in commissions! Even though this isn’t a whole lot of money, I was excited my dinky little experiment was giving a good ROI (return on investment). Using less than $5 I now made $32.98 back. At this point I still didn’t even really know what an e-cigarette was, but I was making money off them.

Step 4.) Get caught

Google first slapped my hand in the beginning of this experiment and and pulled my ad since cigarette-related terms cannot be advertised. I changed the text so it never says “cigarette” or any closely-related term:

original-blucigs-ad

This worked for two days, then Google denied the ad again saying the link-to URL was different than what was advertised (I guess since I had the referral link in it) so they asked me to change it. Unfortunately I couldn’t get Google to accept my ad anymore…..I’ve been doing an affiliate marketing experiment for only a few days and ALREADY I was caught for doing something shady! 🙂

Well, Google has a fair policy to ensure quality, so I decided an alternate and perfectly OK way of doing this….

Step 5.) Make my own domain

I bought a domain called BluCigsStore.com (if you recall the actually website is called BluCigs.com, without the suffix “Store”) and made an auto-direct script for the page to forward to my affiliate link. I immediately changed the banned ad to BluCigsStore.com and Google accepted the changes, I was back in business! This cost me about $19 to privately register the domain name (so my name is not immediately associated with it).

A problem I noticed earlier was if people browsed around the internet researching these BluCigs, they would invariably click on several affiliate links. Whoever was the LAST affiliate link gets the commission.

To help improve my odds of being that person, I made a simple frames page (just used a template in Microsoft FrontPage since I can’t even write simple HTML). Nothing shady or illegal about this, and it actually added some value to the customer because it makes it easier for them to navigate. I used Photoshop to make the graphic for the frame header, and FrontPage to create the simple frames page and picture-link the graphic.

Now when you go to BluCigsStore.com you see the normal store with a static header on it that doesn’t move. When you click around the site, that header stays up. If you want to navigate home, it has a button for that. It also has an EXIT button that is a link to my affiliate link:

blucigsstore-header

Using the frame bar on my own browser made it easier to navigate the site for me, so I’m guessing other people probably found it helpful (and probably never expected it was an affiliate tactic…just part of the normal site).

So Google once again approved my ads and I started making more money…. To be continued.

Neville Medhora blogs at NevBlog.com and is the founder of House Of Rave.


103 thoughts on “My Affiliate Marketing Experiment – Part 2”

  1. Hey Nev – From the screen shot aove, I noticed that your ad campaign text was lower cased. Instead, each word should be capitalized (there has been case studies that it converts better this way).

    Also, make sure you use negative keywords like free, information, comparison, etc. to lower your cost.

    1. Good feedback/ Also, the benefit of having your own site or landing page before sending the traffic to the advertiser is that you qualify the leads. The ones who really want to buy will pass through your page to the actual offer. Your goal is to sell the person with your adcopy, images/ vids, and testimonials.

    2. I’ve did some experimenting with negative keywords and I would personally suggest anyone new to adwords to stay away from them, yes they do lower the cost but unfortunately people who often search using the word free are actually looking for a freebie so they won’t open their wallet so fast so you get a ton of traffic but little to no conversions. just my experience.

      1. Neville says:

        I think what actually got users to click my link and buy was the ad that said:

        ===========================
        Click only when ready to buy
        Get free shipping through this link
        ===========================

        That particular ad seemed to work the absolute best because it targeted
        1.) Serious buyers
        2.) People like free shipping

        The funny thing is the site gives free shipping no matter where you buy from….I just “emphasized” it 😀

        1. Haha I never thought of that, well done. You’re basically eliminating the casual browsers because they know that they’re going to get hit up with another landing page so they don’t click and don’t cost you anything.

          I’ll give that a try and see how it goes 😛

        2. @Danny Wouldn’t you want to use negative KWs then to avoid people looking for freebies? Or am I just reading your comment wrong?

          1. It depends what you mean by negative keywords, from the original post I understood that he was referring to keywords such as “free” & “information”. When i create campaigns I usually avoid such keywords because people searching those terms are not really in a mental state to key in a CC number. You tend to get a lot of clicks which such keywords but little conversions. On the other hand if you’re just trying to build your mailing list then yes I would use such keywords because they would most probably enter their email address and I would have more attempts at trying to convince them to buy a product (could be a different product)

        3. Clever thinking there, Neville. Free shipping definitely counts as a great incentive to purchase stuff online!

        4. Alan says:

          I guess the later ad got banned by google pretty quickly again too, right?

          And then blucig store said you couldn’t use their company name in your url title?

    3. Neville says:

      Thanks for the advice Jack.

      Like your site tagline says: I DON’T KNOW JACK!

      I was definitely a n00b to this stuff, so my first attempts were pretty lame.

      1. Haha…No prob. I actually started learning Adwords exactly how you started this experiment. Just dove right in…

    4. Always test everything. Just because a case study says one thing, doesn’t mean that will be the case for you too.

      1. ibnujusup says:

        true man… do our own research instead…. 🙂

        1. But however with that you will be able to get a path to where you should start.

  2. Is it me, or is the math a little off:

    “Using less than $5 I now made $32.98 back. At this point I still didn’t even really know what an e-cigarette was, but I was making money off them.”

    If you made $20.99 in revenue after to sells and spent $5, wouldn’t your profit be $15.99?

    1. His commission for his second sale was $20.99, his first commission was $11.99 giving you a total commission of $32.98.

      1. that would mean he was using more than one offer since the payout would be different.

        Since he wrote above: “So now they gave me an affiliate link to place on my advertisements” that would mean he only had one offer he was running that would give him the same payout per action.

        If he was using a second offer that paid almost double his first offer, then more power to him!

    2. Neville says:

      Chill out man….the math is rough, the experiment was rough…try to pick out the principles, not the details!

      1. haha…not picking at you, but as any affiliate will tell you, the devil is in the details. Especially when looking at stats, percentages, cost, revenue, ctr, cpm, etc.

        It’s great that you ventured out to experiment. Many people simply think about it.

        1. Certainly you have a nice career after close.

  3. It seems You make it easy to make money from affiliate.

    1. It is not that easy if he where to start with no capital at all. I like to see what he woudl do at that situation.

      1. Neville says:

        I did start with NEARLY no capital….obviously not ZERO dollars, but I only spent maybe a few cents per click to make sales.

        In essence, anyone with a few bucks and and some know-how can make money like this.

        Not all campaigns might be successful off the bat like this though.

        1. Definitely not! But if you at first don’t succeed, you must just try and try again. Don’t be disheartened by initial failure however, LOL.

          1. You should try try and again try but you should also know when to stop as there is no sense to do stupidity again and again.

  4. d3so says:

    Interesting. Thanks for the follow-up.
    I hope u dive into keyword selection/research because that’s where I have problems 😛

    looking forward to the next post!

    1. Neville says:

      Fortunately e-cigs were quite a new industry so I had relatively little problem selecting good keywords for cheap.

      For my own business HouseOfRave I select keywords based on how much money I make per click for each keyword.

      I eliminate low-paying keywords and keep the high ones.

      I find this out my setting up GOALS on Google Analytics.

  5. Javalate says:

    after reading the second part of your marketing experiment, I began to understand and love your writing. I think I want to try it

    1. Neville says:

      Awesome, glad you like the experiment! The point of sharing it was to help people understand all this stuff a little better by making it SIMPLE.

      I’m pretty dumb, so I only understand stuff that’s simple…hence why this experiment never gets overly complicated.

  6. This is what everybody is doing right now. They jump on something that they wish to learn.

    1. Neville says:

      If you want to learn it, one of the best ways is to jump right into it.

      I’d actually suggest first READING all you can about it, THEN jumping in….but either way works for low capital intensive experiments like this.

  7. ibnujusup says:

    thanx for sharing 🙂
    gain a lot here

    1. Neville says:

      Thanks!

      By the end you should see the entire campaign setup and how this dinky experiment made nearly $1,000 in a month with hardly any work (wow…that sounds like a “too good to be true” offer)!

      1. Nev is this going to be a 100 part experiment lasting through to the year 2020 ?

        1. You should collect all this and write a book about this.

          Or you should start classes.

          1. Neville says:

            This is good info for people…I bet people would pay!

  8. Thanks for sharing your tips. One should learn from your blog.

    1. Neville says:

      Glad to share!

      I understand 100 people will probably copy the exact campaign (or make it WAY better than my crappy experiment), but hopefully it will teach 1,000 people the principle behind affiliate marketing.

      Learning = good.

      1. Your math is way to rough Nev! 100, 1,000?

  9. Your site unfortunately does meet adwords site standards – in time your whole site will be given the dreaded Google whack (quality score of 1, minimum bid price of $5). There are Landing Page and Site Quality Guidelines for adwords and your landing page and site are not conforming to them.

    1. Neville says:

      You’re probably right….however this was definitely a n00b experiment. I didn’t know ANYTHING about this stuff, so I gave it a quick try.

      Any iteration from here on out will be more professional. I did LEARN a lot from doing this small experiment though, hopefully others do too.

      Thanks for the link!

  10. Great post, very inspirational!

    1. Neville says:

      Glad you enjoyed! Hopefully by the end it’ll teach you something, and kind of de-mystify making money online for many people.

      1. Yeah, I’m looking forward to the finale!

  11. And again well done Nevil, I hate to beak it to you but you were lucky there on your first try 😛 I can still recall my first couple of adwords campaigns, let’s just say they were’s spectacular.

    Nevil, do another try with CPA, the conversion rate is spectacular, I’ve had ads go up to 60% conversions (not the norm, but they usually do go up to %40) let me know how it does I assure you, you won’t be disappointed.

    Good luck 😉

    1. Neville says:

      TELL ME ABOUT IT!! My end return on the experiment was 6X or more…for my first try!!

      Fortunately I got into a brand new industry, and used an affiliate program with a REALLY high conversion rate (the BluCigs website does an amazing job at converting visitors into sales).

      You actually read my mind with CPA, I have been in the beginning stages of a CPA experiment of my own. Through this experiment I have LEARNED a lot, including what CPA is (I previously had no clue what it was all about).

      Thanks for the quality feedback!

  12. There is a lot of potential with social media traffic as well…any thoughts of dipping into that?

    1. Neville says:

      Absolutely….this first experiment was simply a test run I did for the first time.

      Future tests will get into alternative traffic sources.

      1. I’ve been trying to figure out what application John uses here for the avatar…i know it’s not mybloglog…

  13. marita says:

    Lots of interesting info here Neville! I like that you also talk about the shady stuff you’ve tried. It puts it all into perspective. Unfortunately your redirect became a victim of Time Warner’s ‘traffic-control’ and they’ve highjacked your link to go to this page

    http://dnssearch.rr.com/?q=www.blucigsstore.com&con=nxd

    (Unless there is a problem with your URL?)

    Unfortunately I’m seeing this strategy a lot lately. the latest federal ruling that struck down the FCC online access rule only reinforces the fact that ISPs can freely control what traffic they let through and which traffic they block. (China comes to mind…)

    1. Neville says:

      Actually I was the one who voluntarily pulled the plug on the BluCigsStore site.

      The BluCigs affiliate TOS states you CANNOT have the word “BluCigs” in the name of your domain (because it’s intended to confuse the customer into thinking they’re on the BluCigs website).

      They asked me to remove it after the experiment, so I did.

      This was one of the shady things I tried (although I didn’t think it would be a big problem at first).

      I’m not ADDING value to them if I simply snipe traffic they’d get regardless if I was involved or not.

      1. Well I’m not sure if any of my messages are getting through, they’re apparently being shown a couple of hours later on my PC. Could be something on my end but I don’t know.

        Anyway, well Nevile when it comes to domains you need to take it as a rule that you can never use the trade marked name of the product in your domain. You might get away with BluCigsReview or something but BueCigsStore says a little more and you are actually impersonating their site in your own way. As far as I’m concerned you’re also not allowed to bid on keywords with the name of the product on adwords on most products.

        Let’s see if this comment gets through by tomorrow hehe 🙂

        1. marita says:

          Hi Nev, I think pretty much all affiliate terms state that you can’t use their name in URLs and ads, don’t they? Nice try 🙂

          So, how long did you get away with it and did you get to keep your affiliate account and commission?

          (JOHN – your replies within replies feature doesn’t work; the submit button gets overlapped by the following comment’s name and URL)

          1. Neville says:

            I got away with it for about a month. I didn’t really think it was a big deal at first…I knew that clause was in the TOS, just didn’t think they’d enforce it.

            They cancelled my account, but it was quickly resolved when I removed the infringing site.

            If anything, I at least learned THAT rule of AM 🙂

        2. Neville says:

          Yea, I know that NOW! Before I was just trying to make the most money with the least effort for the sake of the experiment.

          Live. Learn.

        3. Neville says:

          You’re definitely right….I learned that the hard way!

      2. marita says:

        Hi Nev, I think pretty much all affiliate terms state that you can’t use their name in URLs and ads, don’t they 🙂

        So, how long did you get away with it and did you get to keep your affiliate account and commission?

        (JOHN – your replies within replies feature doesn’t work, the submit button gets overlapped by the following comment’s name and URL)

      3. marita says:

        Hi Nev, I think pretty much all affiliate terms state that you can’t use their name in URLs and ads, don’t they 🙂

        So, how long did you get away with it and did you get to keep your affiliate account and commission?

        (JOHN – your replies within replies feature doesn’t work well; the submit button gets overlapped by the following comment’s name and URL)

  14. What you’re doing is going to get you banned on Google AdWords and anyone else who does the same thing.

    Google banned 100,000 AdWords accounts last year and a lot of them had much better websites than the doorway page you built here.

    The sucky thing too is that they work retroactively too, so even if you pull that stuff now they can still ban you six months from now.

    All I can say is play at your own risk.

    1. Neville says:

      At the time Google was approving my campaigns, although the rules have changed now.

      Of course I was doing the bare minimum effort type of campaign, if I built my own landing pages (which you will see in the next part of the experiment) it should still be OK.

    2. scheng1 says:

      I thought Google only bans Adsense account. I never realize that Google bans those who bring money to them also.

      1. Neville says:

        They do whatever they can to keep the ads clear of too much junk or scamminess…..so even if you’re paying them, you’ve still got to meet some standards.

  15. Caleb says:

    I too learn best when just jumping right into it and althoug you make some mistakes, it is still more fun this way 😉

    ..although I am surprised you did so well on your first adwords campaign?!

    1. Neville says:

      Caleb,

      Jumping in is definitely fun!

      I think I did well because I picked an un-crowded market…plus I HAVE been running web businesses for years now, so I presume some of my past experience definitely came into play!

      1. Caleb, so true! Money and time, and actively attempting to learn, you will almost always learn new things!

  16. Alright, since Neville didn’t answer me about what avatar app John is using here…can anyone help me out so that I can put an Icon up…

    I appear in his mybloglog community below, but don’t show up here.

    1. Neville says:

      I think you have to go to Gravatar.com and change it. Whenever you use the same email address as the one you sign up with Gravatar, it’ll display that image.

      1. Yup, Gravatar sure does rock! Sometimes I forget with which email I posted comments previously though, and the mixups can be quite amusing at the best of times….LOL!

        1. Seriously! I think I used that email for a diff gravatar…hmmm, I’ll have to get creative i guess

          1. Alright, I think I have it set up now…this will be the test.

          2. Neville says:

            There ya go….look at you Mr. Fancy Gravatar Man!

          3. Yes this avatar is suiting your name.

  17. Testing is absolutely great. What I would love to see is some real number, as in financial analytics or ROI (return on investments). It’s all about deciding which offers, traffic methods, etc are worth it or not

    1. Neville says:

      I do a basic split test in the third part!

  18. Free Picks says:

    I was waiting for the second part, thanks john

  19. leon says:

    i have never tried affiliate marketing ..

    i have 1 question

    can i redirect the domain ? is it okay with your affs ?

    your post is getting more and more interesting …

    looking forward for part 3 🙂

    1. Neville says:

      You will have to check with each individual aff program for this. Doesn’t seem to be a big deal.

      Part three will be posted whenever John feels like it!

  20. DJ says:

    I checked out blubigs website and it looks like now they only pay a flat fee of $15 for a starter kit referral as opposed to your 20%. Bummer. But if there are stills sales to be made….

    1. Mathew Day says:

      That is a bummer cause I was about to check into this too.

    2. Neville says:

      That’s not bad though! I believe the starter kit was $59.99 at the time, and 20% of that is only $11.99….so $15 is great!

      I haven’t checked out the new affiliate terms, but it still looks like a great opportunity for the right people.

      1. scheng1 says:

        I wonder if we earn from repeated sales as well. Once people are hooked to this product, they definitely will return to buy more.

        1. Neville says:

          Absolutely….I made several recurring commissions from customers I referred. It’s usually people buying more atomizers or flavor cartridges.

  21. Mathew Day says:

    This is really turning into a great detailed case study to help newbies getting into affiliate marketing. Looking forward to next post.

    1. Neville says:

      Thanks Mathew!

      The next part will easily demonstrate how to do an A/B Split test to create better landing pages….always a very good thing to know for any businesses.

  22. Charles says:

    Man I love your reading your blog lots of new things I can implement. Good case study though.

    1. Neville says:

      Glad you enjoy 🙂

  23. Nice work. I agree with Neville – would love to see landing page split tests from you next. I only wish PPC worked as well for more complicated services like ours!

    Bryan

    1. Neville says:

      Thanks!

      A basic split test is shown….maybe a little complex for complete n00bs, but not THAT hard.

  24. scheng1 says:

    I admire your creativity. Too bad Google is too smart for dirty tricks. At least you have profited from the few days of advertising.

    1. Neville says:

      It wasn’t really a dirty trick, Google was cool with what I was doing at the time. Followed all guide lines.

  25. nice shared, when i can like you.. big income from blog..good lucky

    1. Neville says:

      You might want to work on your spelling before you start blogging 😉

  26. After long time John’s blog got such kind of comments.

    Thanks to Neville Medhora

    1. Neville says:

      I THINK that’s a compliment!

  27. Wow, killer results. Thanks for sharing that with us

    1. Neville says:

      No prob, glad to share!

  28. Another thing to mention: Are you sure iFraming is allowed? I have witnessed issues with this personally on certain landing pages/offers.

    1. Neville says:

      I presume the rules have changed with Google now, however it didn’t seem to matter before.

      1. Ok cool. Just make sure you run within the terms so you don’t have commissions forfeited!

  29. “To help improve my odds of being that person, I made a simple frames page (just used a template in Microsoft FrontPage since I can’t even write simple HTML).”
    can you please add a link or a page where i can learn how to that exactly? very nice post and thanks for sharing that.

  30. villaa says:

    I am wondering how Chow made his own website (buygreensmokes.com) seems totally same as greensmoke.com? who can help .thanks

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