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The wisdom of the crowds

 

This post is based on the excellent session, “Crowdsource Your Success”, that was given in Affiliate Summit East 2010 though I expanded it and added my own perspective.

 
Crowdsourcing is becoming increasingly popular these days. According to Wikipedia, Crowdsourcing “is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call“.

 

Using Crowdsourcing, you can submit a job description and get multiple bids each already satisfying the specifications you desire. Since you get multiple people trying to create what you want, the results are potentially diverse and can be surprisingly creative. Of course, this is usually more expensive than just using regular outsourcing sites such as oDesk or Elance – but the disadvantage of those is that no matter how good your contractor, you are ’stuck’ with a single design.

 
Crowdsourcing works because of the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ principle: the idea that a crowd – a collection of individuals – is much more likely to get the right answer than a single individual.

 
A good example is the game show “Who wants to be a millionaire?”. Asking the audience for the answer is more likely to result in the right answer than asking your friend or Regis Philbin.

 
This principle has been adopted by computer science as well (and probably other fields). In my academic career I used to create multiple artificial neural – instead of a single one – networks that solved a problem. The right solution was determined by taking the solution that the largest number of networks ‘voted’ would work best.

 
Here are some suggestions given at the talk to get the maximum from crowdsourcing:

  1. You reap what you sow: define your project properly or you may get something very different from what you had in mind.
  2. Tight deadlines are very effective as people like discovering quickly whether they’ve won a bid.
  3. Don’t be a jerk: Designers thrive on feedback, give feedback and recognition.
  4. The project has to require your involvement: a crowdsourcing project is not ’set and forget’.
  5. Keep it simple: be realistic in your expectations and ask for what is reasonable.
  6. Don’t be too cheap: most people aren’t going to be paid, so keep this in mind.
  7. Announce there will be multiple winners to boost designer participation (assuming that is the case!)

Until the talk in Affiliate Summit, I (naively) thought crowdsourcing is limited to graphic design/web design and 1-2 other types of applications. I was mainly familiar with 99design.

 
The following is a list of crowdsourcing resources given at the talk. I had no idea there were so many! When I’ve done a Google search I found even more though it’s hard to tell which are good. If you are familiar with anything that is not included and is a good resource, please let me know and I’ll add it.

 
Note that I’m still looking for a place to crowdsource copywriting (sadly, not my strength!) – so if you are familiar with a good site for that purpose, suggestions would be welcome.

 
Banner, landing page and graphic design
99designs: the most well known resource for Crowdsourcing.

 
Landing page optimization:
FiveSecondTest: allows you to get quick feedback on landing page designs.

  • Are your calls to action standing out? Get people clicking on hot spots
  • Can visitors understand what the site is about?
  • Give viewers a memory test: what can they remember about the landing page?

 
PPC management
Trada: Allows you to turn over PPC management to a group of AdWords qualified professionals.

 
Ad copy
BoostCTR: allows you to outsource your ad copy so that your CTR is boosted. Guaranteed improvement!

 
Videos
GeniusRocket: professional videos and animations.

 
Product development
Quirky: submit new ideas for products or influence products currently in production (and earn cash)

 
Feature Requests
UserVoice: a giant suggestion box. You get a lot of comments which are prioritized. Best ideas are voted to the top.

SuggestionBox

 
Software development
TopCoder: an excellent resource for software developers.

 
Find JV partners
Jigsaw: a massive crowsourced database of contact information

 
Content writing
Spudaroo: useful for web content as well as resumes, leases, etc.

 
Beta Testing
UserTesting: usability testing for your website.

CrowdFlower

 
Ideas/Names
Amazon Mturk: Although the Amazon Mechanical Turk is not exactly a crowdsourcing resource, by offering to pay a small amount for ideas, you can effectively crowdsource names. An example was given of a person who paid $27.50 to get name ideas for his iPhone app (the result was iReadFast). Note that there used to be a site (which I vaguely remember) that was used for this purpose but has been apparently closed.

 

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Resources for Affiliate Marketing

This Wednesday I’m giving a two hour introductory talk about affiliate marketing. This is following my plan to start doing more speaking engagements which I enjoy (as mentioned in my post about my talk at Social Media 201).

 
Preparing my Powerpoint deck was fun although it was somewhat time consuming. I also prepared a resource page for the audience.

 
I don’t know exactly the demographics of this blog’s visitors (clearly Alexa is untrustworthy, as I’ve joked about): I would estimate that at least a quarter are seasoned affiliate marketers, another quarter is friends, and the rest are people I meet through Twitter or people who Google for certain topics I’ve written about – Twitter Jail being the most popular (of course, it’s possible to be both a friend, an affiliate marketer, and know me from Twitter :) ).

 
Since I took the time to make this resource list, I figured, why not share it? If you’re an affiliate marketer, you can stop now because at least 95% are things you know, and know well (however, I AM sure most marketers aren’t familiar with the Mobile CPA Network I joined, for example). But if you’re not… proceed.

 
I think I will make more of these introductory posts, explaining resources for building links and other things new affiliate marketers require. But that’s for another time.

 

“Standard” Affiliate networks

These are networks dedicated to physical products or eBooks.
Clickbank Sign up page – eBooks, eCourses
ShareASale sign up page – physical products
Linkshare sign up page – physical products
Linkconnector sign up page – physical products
Commission Junction sign up page – physical products

 

CPA networks

Here are some of my favorite CPA networks: harder to get into than other networks, and normally require a brief phone interview before being approved.
Neverblue sign up page
Marketleverage sign up page
Azoogleads sign page
Clickbooth sign up page
Copeac sign up page

 

Mobile CPA networks

This is a CPA affiliate network dedicated to mobile offers. I am aware of two more such networks, but since I have not used them myself (yet), I’m not listing them.
Sponsormob sign up page

 

Offer directory

An excellent resource for finding offers and comparing commissions across networks.
Offervault

 

PPC: Keyword spying tools

If you’re doing any PPC at all, you really need a keyword spying tool. I used PPCBully 2.0 and thought it’s great.
PPCBully 2.0
Affportal – has a lot of useful tools for PPC campaigns

 

SEO/Blogging: Keyword research tools

If you’re creating search engine optimized niche sites you must do your keyword research.
Micro Niche Finder: superb tool, and even has a ‘brainstorming’ function which just finds good niches for you on its own.
Market Samurai: superb tool which just gets better.
Google Keyword Tool: a good place to start

 

SEO: Link building

eZArticleLink: If you need links, this is a good resource – there’s even a free version!

 

Pay Per View Networks

I included only some of the PPV networks I use.. since this is an introductory talk, I’m not sure I would recommend on PPV being the starting point. However, I didn’t want to leave this out.
DirectCPV
AdOn Network
MediaTraffic

 

Pay Per View Resources

If one does do PPV then Affportal is a must. An absolutely fantastic – and mandatory – resource for PPV which just gets better.
Affportal

 

Email marketing Resources

Here too I only mentioned the one tool I use. Yes, there are others, but this one is the best.
Aweber – best email marketing tool

 

Twitter resources

This is probably better phrased as ‘Twitter monetization resources’.
Ad.ly
SponsoredTweets

 

Media Buying resources

This is useful for anyone doing demographics research for the purpose of media buying. Most definitely not for new or even intermediate affiliates!
Alexa
Quantcast
Compete

 

Domain registration

I registered more than 60 domains with Namecheap and don’t have a single complaint. They’re also the cheapest. In fact, I’m going to register one, possibly two, domains right after I finish this blog post…
Namecheap

 

Domain hosting

Unlike domain registration, I’ve had my share of hosting accounts and was very unhappy with most. However, Hostgator is excellent: very good service, high reliability, quick and friend customer support. Definitely better than the other accounts I used. Even their pricing is competitive!
Hostgator

 

Facebook advertising resources

Since it’s hard to do split-testing with Facebook because there is no way for the average user to get a bulk upload tool, the Facebook Ad Manager is a must in order to do any serious Facebook advertising.
FB Ad Manager

 

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SEO Traffic in 2000

I haven’t blogged in a while. Some people have asked me whether I decided to quit blogging. “Of course not” I responded “I’m just too busy”. Which is true (as I briefly elaborated in my last post).

 
The frustrating thing is that, as mentioned before, I already have three posts just waiting to be finalized and published. One of them I’m not going to do anymore. It describes my experiences at Affiliate Summit West (ASW10) and it would feel quite silly to publish it almost two months after the fact. So I won’t. I’ll just say: ASW was great!

 
Earlier today I was lying in bed and suddenly realized it’s been exactly ten years since I began my first job in the US (had others elsewhere. Curious? Check my LinkedIn profile).

 
In my first job I worked as a software developer for a dotcom called iAnalyst. This was before the dotcom bubble burst, so we were all reaching for the stars, ready to work crazy hours, and mentally preparing to become millionaires. The sad fact is, we kind of knew we won’t become millionaires, many of the crazy hours were spent starting at the PC and chatting – it was more of a “morale” thing, we all stay at work regardless of whether it’s actually necessary. So there were whole weekends I spent at the office doing nothing. With that being said, I don’t regret even a single second – it was a fantastic experience even when the company went down.

 
I had three projects in iAnalyst, with the most important one being the creation of the company’s production system. Basically, it allowed our producers to enter content, which would miraculously be transformed and transferred to our website. Sounds familiar? I bet it does: Wordpress does just that. More than that, Wordpress does it 1,000 times better than my creation did. Then again, we’re talking a full decade ago – that’s centuries from a technological perspective. Literally the stone age.

 
Why am I mentioning all this? I was lying in my bed and thinking why the company failed. It failed because we didn’t get almost any paid clients. This despite the fact the company got a massive amount of media attention: we were featured in many articles as “a hot new startup”, and our CEO was even interviewed on CNN – NOT the website – the television channel. Yes, we were on our way to greatness.

 
Prior to the CNN interview, we had a company bet: how many new people would register immediately afterwards. There was even a reward promised to the person who will be the closest. I remember increasing my bet to more than what I thought it would really be, for company morale. One of my colleagues was a financial analyst: he came up with a complicated calculation that derived a number. This was the lowest estimate, by far, of everyone. What happened was that he was the closest – the real figure was roughly half of what he projected. There was such a gloomy atmosphere after this he never got his reward. We just didn’t talk about this anymore.

 
So why did we not succeed? Basically, we just waited for people to register to our services, counting on the media attention and word of mouth. Considering I was a prominent member of the technical team (which consisted of only several people), I don’t remember a single conversation about advertising online, making ourselves available for people who search for certain terms. We didn’t even consider this. Yes, these were prehistoric times in terms of internet advertising and SEO, but it still existed back then in its primordial form.

 
We just sat and waited for the traffic to arrive, and it never did. Then we ran out of money. And then we shut down.

 
What we should’ve done is used paid advertising. As far as I know, PPC didn’t exist back then, but there were ways to pay per impression (I’ve heard many stories about the “good old times”, how easy it was back then to profit from advertising because there were no accurate measures or pay per click). I don’t know exactly how Google ranked sites back then (yes, even then Google was #1), but considering I was involved in generating the site, I don’t remember a single conversation about how we should optimize it to appear higher in search rankings. The whole concept never occurred to any of us.

 
I’m wondering what would’ve happened had we been able to optimize our online presence using all the knowledge we now have, even with the tools that existed in 2000. I’m sure we could’ve increased our traffic a hundredfold if not a thousandfold. We did have money. Whether this would’ve saved the company? Probably not, but I guess we’ll never know. There were talks of eTrade buying us (they didn’t) – it certainly could’ve made the difference in that case.

 
It doesn’t feel that long ago, yet in so many levels, it’s light years away.

 
Note that exactly one year later (2001) I was working as a lead developer/team lead for a small firm. That is when I was first introduced to SEO. We had a guy do a bunch of what I thought was pretty comical: he hid a lot of keywords in white text on our site’s main page so they would be invisible to everyone but the search engines, also put tons of links in tiny fonts. Of course, these are very rudimentary SEO tactics and now search engines will punish you if you use such tricks, but in 2001 this still worked.

 

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ad tech new york 2009

As I wrote in my previous post which dealt with my personal experiences at ad:tech, I set up quite a lot of meetings with companies who contacted me. This turned out to be a very positive experience because many – if not most – would’ve been companies that I would’ve been interested in chatting with anyway, so rather than me having to chase them, a meeting was set up with allocated time. I never played the journalist until this conference but really enjoyed this.

 
Here are some of the companies I met with. The vast majority were very relevant to what I currently do or my background, but not all were. Those I felt I have nothing to write about I omitted.

 
If anyone spots any mistakes I’ve made – which is possible, since I didn’t take notes but rather counted on the brochures I diligently collected, please do let me know!

 
2ergo has a technology that enables conducting marketing campaigns on mobile platforms. Interestingly, this strongly resonates with a session I attended the next day (which I’ll describe in the next post) that says teens prefer SMS texting to any medium, really: email, chat, etc. Although I (currently) don’t do anything that involves mobile advertising I can’t help but think that maybe I can utilize this somehow.

 
BurstMedia: my first question to Jarvis Coffin of BurstMedia is “what does your motto ‘Discover the Long Tail’ mean?”. His response was that they specialize in niche websites – even those that focus on extremely specific subjects. They own a large network of niche sites and enable very targeted advertising on these sites. An example he gave me – and I don’t remember the exact site – was something along the lines of SquirrelRehab.com. Apparently this site, despite the fact it’s extremely nichy, not only gets traffic, but a very respectable amount as well. Quite surprised me! This is useful both for potential publishers as well as potential advertisers.

 
I’m thinking of submitting my, ehm, nichiest site there, which gets very decent traffic but monetizes very poorly.

 
measuring success

 
Elephant Traffic: although I’m very familiar with the concept of domain parking, which refers to domains that are not actively used but rather instead show relevant ads, Elephant Traffic tackles it in a rather unusual method – by simply taking the search query from a search engine and matching it to a parked domain. i.e. if someone searches for “buying toothbrushes” they’ll take him to a domain they park buyingtoothbrushes.com (this is a made up example – I doubt they have this domain). This offers very cheap and yet very targeted traffic – since it is extremely likely that those who type search query this would in fact be interested in buying toothbrushes. Again, very useful for both potential advertisers and publishers.

 
I liked the concept and think I’ll attempt to use it from both ends: both use some of the domains I’m not using with them (unfortunately for me there are about 30 of those!) – and also explore getting some of their traffic for the offers I promote.

 
eZanga is another one of those companies that I would’ve gone to talk to regardless of my being press or not. They are offer a PPC search platform that enables high quality, high volume, traffic for competitive prices. Definitely on my list (for a while, actually) of companies to try.

 
Looksmart is a second tier PPC search engine network that offers competitive prices. Second tier refers to the fact that they are not Google, Yahoo or Bing. I was actually familiar with Looksmart before I spoke to them and heard good things – though I’ve never used them myself. I definitely intend to give them a shot. Until now, the only second tier PPC search engine that I liked has been 7search (and I still want to kick myself for forgetting to visit their booth!)

 
As a side note: From what I heard – and sadly, based on my own experience as well – many of the second tier search engines offer really low quality traffic (and often fraudulent traffic – traffic that never converts).

 
geo targeting

 
MyPRGenie enables submitting your own press releases. The cool thing is they offer many free yet still useful services. There are, of course, paid subscriptions which offer more, but for the starting entrepreneur this could be very useful.

 
Netezza was different from other companies I spoke to in the sense that what they do is not really relevant for me now, but would’ve been tremendously relevant for me in the past. They offer a hardware implementation of a data warehousing relational database (such as Oracle, MS SQL Server, MySQL, Sybase, etc). As you can imagine, this offers a significant performance boost (if I recall correctly – and I may not remember correctly – a boost that offers 100 times speed performance). I was really surprised to hear such a technology existed let alone utilized as this could have been extremely useful for me in my last workplace (I worked at a hedge fund and our major bottleneck was analyzing data – even a 5 time speed boost would’ve been significantly useful for us). I can think of three of my friends that can benefit from this technology and might have not heard of it, so will let them know.

 

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mass unfollowing

Unsurprisingly, there are various approaches to follower attraction and – for lack of a better word – follower removal. Some people, and I believe these are the people Twitter originally aimed to attract, just naturally meet people. Follow those whose tweets interest them and unfollow those whose tweets do not.

 
Another group of people are similar to the above, but they aim to gain as many followers as possible. I admit to belonging to this group, primarily because it gives me a much greater audience to this blog as well as significantly more opportunities for interaction and meeting people (it’s also so easy so why not do it?).

 
A third group aims to gain as many followers as possible since every follower is a potential buyer. If you have 50,000 followers, and you try and sell something, even if 0.1% on average buy, then it’s still 50 people – which is a lot if you compare it to other ad models (i.e. PPC).

 
The philosophy behind following and unfollowing is clearly intertwined. If you’re in Twitter and truly only care about interaction, then there’s no reason for you to care if you are being unfollowed (unless this offends you).

 
If you try and gain as many followers as possible, then you’re fully aware of the fact that if you don’t follow someone back (reciprocal following), there’s a good chance he’ll stop following you very soon. So often you see people who follow roughly the same number of people who follow them.

 
Personally, I believe that only those who offer truly unique and interesting tweets can expect someone to follow them and not need to follow back. For example, if you’re a celebrity (I covered this in greater detail in my post, Why Do People Follow Celebrities?) then your life is deemed interesting to your followers even if it’s completely mundane.

 
But even if you’re not a celebrity, but say, are a very funny guy or a very interesting person (i.e. Iconic88, one of Twitter’s treasures), then it also likely that people will continue following you because of who you are and what you say.

 
Alas, for most people, that is not the case. A while ago I looked at the tweets of some people I consider celebrities or experts in their respective fields. Although they may be interesting, even fascinating, in real life, their tweets are, how shall I say it, not really interesting. They often deal with the uninteresting trivia of their life (i.e. I don’t particularly find interesting what William Shatner had for lunch). It may be fun and exciting to interact with them, but normally these people also don’t interact with their followers – don’t respond to their followers’ comments, etc. I’m not just talking about people with millions of followers, but also those with a far smaller number. Some even have fewer followers than I have (and I always respond to anyone who attempts communication – not talking about DMs which are really unusable).

 
For the sake of fairness, I’m not sure how many people would continue follow me if I did not follow them back. I almost always tweet articles from my blog, other articles I find interesting, retweets of articles other people found interesting, blip my favorite music, and generally chat the vast majority of my time – or better phrased “interact with my followers” ;-) ). So I assume if I were to, say, unfollow 90% of my followers, a great number would unfollow me. I also think it’s not unfair.

 
This brings me to an interesting question: so assuming one is not a celebrity or someone whose content greatly appeals to the masses. What would happen if he or she were to unfollow most of their followers? Let’s try and see.

 
Recently I was unfollowed by three people I was following for a long while. When I looked at their follower charts (as I like doing, since there’s always something I find interesting in this data) I noticed that all three did a mass unfollow. Note that this seems to be somewhat of a recent trend since some companies pay people who tweet and their ratio of followers to followees is one factor in determining the price they can demand (supposedly, the greater the ratio, the more of a celebrity you are – which actually does make sense).

 
Since I don’t want to mention any names, I’ll bring the follower charts of these three. If you have any guess who they might be, please do not comment below as I will edit the names out. This is not meant to be a personal criticism of anyone. Really.

 


 

As you can see, in the first two images, there was an immediate mass reciprocal unfollow, following by a stead steam of unfollowing. In image 1, even now, a month and half after the mass unfollow, the trend of unfollowing appears to be continuing. In other words, this person is still losing followers.

 
In image 2, which is much more recent, despite the smaller scale of the mass unfollow, the exact same thing appears to still be happening.

 


 
In image 3, it is a bit harder to tell since the mass unfollow has just occurred – so the trickle hasn’t started just yet – but in all likelihood, the same thing will occur.

 
Personally I believe that in all three cases, people have unfollowed for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. Just because. You unfollow me, I unfollow you. It’s not fair otherwise.
  2. Automatic unfollow: you unfollow me, my autopilot program detects this after X days and unfollows you.
  3. You’re boring, and suddenly I realized that now I have no more incentive to follow you, ergo, you’re gone.

 
Despite the fact that in none of the cases 100% or even 50% of the people have unfollowed the person, the trend in all cases appears to be negative, so there’s no reason to assume it’ll stop – though of course there isn’t enough data to support this theory. Personally, I don’t think it will stop for exactly the above reasons. I think most people simply aren’t aware that they are no longer being unfollowed, and the slow trickle of unfollowing occurs because one by one they discover that.

 
My own personal reaction to this was to immediately unfollow all three once I realized I am being unfollowed. As I discovered, it seems I did not follow them for their content as I do not even notice their tweets are gone. Otherwise I would’ve stuck with them.

 
Any thoughts?

 

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Cheap Traffic sources

Originally I told this story as an amusing anecdote to friend, but last week, following a conversation, I realized this could actually be helpful to my readers.

 
A few months ago I was promoting a lot of auto insurance offers. Now, these usually have a good payout, but in terms of PPC are extremely competitive and consequently, very expensive. It is really hard to make a profit, but I was managing. However, I was constantly on the lookout for quality – yet cheap – traffic sources.

 
At the time I was just starting to explore Media Buys. I heard of an network that offers this service (hint: its name starts with “Ad..”) ;) ), however, when I actually went to register, I got confused and registered to another network that does the same thing, but isn’t nearly as good. But I didn’t know this at the time. The names were just very similar.

 
The site required that I give them, I think, about $25, and showed me many sites divided according to niches with traffic statistics. The idea was that you can select a site, and place a banner/ad for a specified amount of time for a price. I picked five sites, and placed an ad to my auto-insurance offer. All seemed like very appropriate sites and nothing looked out of the ordinary. I paid $1 for each, and the ad was supposed to run for a single day on every one of those sites.

 
The next day I got the statistics:

  1. Two of the websites didn’t send me even a single visitor. Clearly the site’s statistics were simply fraudulent (I think each claimed 7,000 unique visitors a day or something like that)
  2. Two of the websites sent me two visitors, none converted. Again, fraudulent statistics.
  3. One site sent me a pretty good number of visitors – I think around 50. Normally I’d have to pay quite a lot to get 50 clicks using PPC for Auto Insurance offers! In Google Adwords this would literally cost me hundreds of dollars! The odd thing was that none of them converted, and I was very familiar with this offer – it normally converted very, very well.

 
The strange thing is that that one site kept sending me traffic the next day. I didn’t pay an additional dollar, but it still sent me traffic. Awesome, I thought. Again, the numbers were not bad at all, but 0 conversions. After two days this was starting to look suspicious. I examined the IPs and they were all very different – so I didn’t think it’s the same guy clicking my ad again and again.

 
The next day my ad was still running. I have no idea what the guy was thinking, but I didn’t mind. Again, decent traffic, zero conversions. Ok, now I started getting really suspicious. I sent him an email requesting that the ad be redirected to one of my own sites. I assumed he’d probably cancel the ad (reminder: I paid $1 for a single day! That’s it!) but this was simply too suspicious to continue. To my surprise, he agreed. No further charges.

 
The next day I started getting the same traffic to my site and then I discovered what was going on. All the traffic was coming from Asia. 95% from China and some from Singapore and Vietnam. Well, that explains why I got zero conversions – the offer was for US traffic only.

 
The thing is I really couldn’t guess this is what I’d get from the site – it looked perfectly American to me. And nowhere did the network or the site imply it may be a target for Asian visitors mainly (it just wasn’t mentioned anywhere, and I, naively, didn’t suspect anything – I still believed I’m using a good network at the time).

 
At this point I thought: well, the traffic is coming from whatever reason, I don’t mind. Maybe they’ll buy something? Maybe they’ll see something they like in the ads? Who cares, free traffic.

 
And the traffic kept coming… there were zero conversions but I definitely got some ad revenue which immediately made up for the $1 original cost.

 
This lasted for about 1-2 weeks until one day, some visitor went and clicked on all the ads on my site. 19. I heard Google likes banning AdSense accounts for exactly this type of suspicious activity, so decided not to risk it. I went to their site, there was an option “report suspicious activity”, I sent: “I don’t know who, someone clicked on all my ads, this is not me, feel free to take the income back, I don’t want it, kind, benevolent, great Google!” (well, I didn’t phrase it exactly like that, but that was the general spirit of my letter).

 
I got no response from Google – which is typical, maybe 10% of the emails I sent them got a response, and even those were usually automated, and neither was my account banned, so I figured – good, end of story.

 
However, I noticed something peculiar – that my ad revenue from all my sites significantly dropped. It was then I discovered what ’smart pricing’ means. It means that for 1 to 4 weeks, your entire AdSense account (and you are not allowed to have more than one) will get about a tenth of its revenue because Google suspects your traffic sources. Highly unfair – why should it affect my other sites!?

 
This was starting to become a problem. I didn’t want to just ask the person to remove the ad (free traffic, still), so I sent him an email asking him to redirect the traffic to another one of my sites (my book site), one which doesn’t have any ads. I figured, at least there the visitors can’t do any damage. If they buy something, great, if they don’t – I don’t mind. Clearly this traffic is not stopping any time soon.

 
This continued for a few more weeks (again, I remind you: I paid $1 for all this!). And then during a lunch with a friend he gave me an idea I can’t say is anything less than genius. “Why don’t you join a Chinese affiliate network?”. What a smart idea. Absolutely brilliant!

 
I started looking for some, and indeed found a couple. Several were all in Chinese, so I just couldn’t join them (even though I did guess what the various boxes represent), but one was not. So I joined (they were a bit baffled and interviewed me why I would want to do so). After being accepted, I applied to everything which I saw. Of course, half rejected me (why would a jewelry advertiser want to advertise on a book site?) but a surprising number approved me.

 
I started putting a few banners in Chinese in one page in my site, which must’ve looked pretty odd to my usual visitors, but noticed that the visitors almost never visit that page. The problem was that I didn’t want to overdo it because really it was making my site look odd. It’s a niche site, so I knew people would still visit it because of the content, but I didn’t to go to far… even with a just few banners my site was looking too weird for my taste.

 
So then I thought of a really good idea. I put all these banners on one page and made it hidden, so you could only access it using a direct link. Then I sent yet another email to the site owner and asked him to direct his traffic to that specific page. Perfect, no? Best of both worlds: it doesn’t affect my site, and I get good traffic to the one specific page.

 
After two days the traffic stopped. I think the person realized what I was doing and decided he’s not going to give me free traffic anymore. I must’ve received about 2 months of traffic for that $1 I paid. I decided I’m not renewing this ad anymore (he’ll probably charge me daily now). And that’s where things are left. Still have a hidden page filled with banners in Chinese.

 
I think this is an amusing story. First, because why would I get so much traffic for so little? Second, because clearly the traffic was not what I thought it would be. Later the auto insurance offer was canceled because someone was sending it “problematic traffic”, I quickly contacted my affiliate manager and inquired – this wasn’t me, my traffic was a drop in the bucket of the traffic they got, and I only sent it for 3 days. However, just the thought that I could have endangered my relationship with that network unwittingly wasn’t something I found pleasant.

 
Let this be a lesson to you all ;) Since then I’ve learned much on gauging the quality of traffic and am significantly more careful. But just thinking about this makes me laugh about this weird scenario and how naive I was back then with regards to Media Buys.

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The Wannabe Guru

The Wannabe Guru

I just returned today from the Lightweight Startups meetup. Overall, an excellent meetup, though frankly, our 202 Affiliate meetup is much better (not to mention the fact that we win free items every time). During the meetup I noticed that the attendees tend to be very different from those who attend our affiliate meetups, who in turn, are quite different from the people who attend the tech meetups (which I occasionally attend as well). It is then that I realized that I’ve attended enough affiliate meetups to be able to categorize affiliate marketers into several distinct groups. Ah, a challenge! I’ve decided to do so in this blog post.

 
Note that if you’re not an affiliate marketer, you may not understand what I’m talking about, though I’m sure you’ll see some analogies to a domain you are familiar with. We are dealing with human nature here, so the same/similar patterns will emerge in various circumstances.

 
Let’s begin. I’ll start with the lowest of the low.

 
The Newbie: he comes to the meetup with bewilderment in his eyes. Someone told him that he could make tons of money very quickly, and he wants to know how. Sometimes he knows a bit (“you can advertise on Google with CPO, right?”) and sometimes he knows virtually nothing. Usually despite the best efforts to help him all you can really say is “take a good class or do a lot of reading on the subject, as you need to be familiar with the basics before you can do anything productive”.

 
The Struggling Affiliate: usually this type knows his stuff but hasn’t had great success so far. It might be because he doesn’t know some crucial bit of information, or he simply hasn’t gotten his lucky break yet. Sometimes he admits this, sometimes by talking enough with him you’ll be able to tell.

 
The successful affiliate: you can recognize this type by the calm assurance he handles the meetup and the occasional slip-up of large expenses he mentions. You can also tell that he is generally not interested in either the Newbie or the Struggling Affiliate because they have nothing that he needs (he may throw a bone in their direction, but nothing beyond that).

 
The Bullshitter: this type of affiliate has done it all and made a lot of money. He won’t say anything specific. Just that he’s done PPC, SEO, Media Buys, PPV, on all the affiliate networks, and promoted all the hot products (he can name every single one as if his life depended on it). He also knows all the gurus, every single one (he’s been to Gauher’s house and is fact the godfather of his child!). Yet when you really try to get some facts from him, you see that his knowledge is skin deep and basically what he does best is talk. One final bit: the bullshitter knows he’s a bullshitter. He’s not self deluded.

 
The super affiliate: a super affiliate is what we all aspire to be. Those are the guys that make the big bucks. From my experience, the real super affiliate tend to be rather shy about it (“I do well” they answer when asked), and in fact, that’s how I usually recognize them. That doesn’t mean there aren’t super affiliates that are the bragging type, there’s definitely a lot of those.

 
The Guru: I’ve met only a handful of those, but these are the legendary people. We all know their names. We all get emails from them. We all know who they hang with. They’re gurus, and they’ve earned this status. Usually they don’t come to meetups unless they’re invited to give a talk. Why should they? They don’t need to anymore. They’re beyond that. We all bask in their glory. If you look really hard, you’ll be able to see that some have a green aura around their heads (because of all the money they have, you see).

 
The wannabe Guru: the wannabe guru is a successful affiliate (possibly a super affiliate) that genuinely believes he is a guru and constantly talks about this, how much money he’s made, and how his life is the life of a rock star. But when you do some research he can never be found online! How mysterious! And no one knows his name! This type is easy to recognize because he talks more than everyone else, usually about how successful he is. The nice thing about the wannabe gurus is that there’s no chance they will ever read this post. Their time is too valuable to waste on mere blog posts (let alone from someone as lowly as myself – wait a moment, everyone are lowly to the wannabe guru, except for other gurus perhaps). Why waste their time when they could be hanging out with President Obama, Bono or even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (they know him too and are at times eccentric, so you never know).

 
The lackey/minion: you’ll see him hanging around whoever he thinks is higher in the ranks than he is (usually the successful affiliate, the super affiliate, the wannabe guru, or the guru). He’ll laugh at all the right moments, never interrupt mid-sentence, do whatever is asked/commanded to do. He lives to serve, all for the precious knowledge that he may gain (and who knows, he might – I’ve never been one myself so I don’t know).

 
The scammer: fortunately, I haven’t seen any of those in our meetups, though I have been in contact with some (through other means). They masquerade as gurus/super affiliates when in fact most of their income comes from scamming YOU. They do courses which are overpriced, promise the world yet offer nothing new. During the course they constantly try to pitch in offers (always with some excuse “I know I shouldn’t be doing this, but this is too good for me not to mention”) and often try to sell their own products as well, which tend to be overpriced junk. A quick visit to some of the affiliate forums will give you names, though you probably can think of some already.

 
Note that the categories are not mutually exclusive, that is, a person can be in more than one: for example, a successful affiliate may be a lackey of a super affiliate and a wannabee guru may be a bullshitter (though it’s not necessarily the case – he may truly believe he’s a guru).

 
Have I forgotten anyone? I have considered adding more types such as The Blackhatter, The Porn Affiliate, but decided this goes in a different direction to what I have in mind.

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Enticing People to Visit Your Blog

Here’s a common scenario: It took a few months where you kept telling yourself “I’m going to start a blog soon, I promise” and you finally have. You put some effort and created several state of the art posts. But no one visits. You look at the traffic logs, and there are two visitors, one is Google (spidering your website) and the second is you.

 
This is a common problem for new blogs: no one knows you or your blog, and they don’t have any reason or interest in visiting your carefully crafted blog. How do you get them to give you a chance?

 
I’ll classify my answer to this issue into two categories: the technical way and the non-technical way. I’ll begin with the non-technical way which will be covered shortly. The second part will be posted tomorrow.

 
In many ways, the non-technical way can also be called the ‘common sense’ way, though some aspects are quite subtle, particularly if you’re very new to the world of blogging.

  1. Quality: write good content. As I wrote in an earlier post (which actually does not even reside on my blog but rather in Murray Newlands’ interview of me… I should copy some parts into my own blog!), you should not be blogging if you don’t find this activity at least somewhat enjoyable. If you enjoy the process, then you are more likely to produce quality content. If you produce quality content, you are more likely to attract people who enjoy it. If you attract people – well, that’s the goal, isn’t it?

     
    A necessary condition, in my opinion, is being passionate (as well as knowledgeable) about what you’re writing about. Don’t try to write about something that you don’t like – as it will be apparent in your writing. If you’re using blogging as way to reach a goal and don’t find the subject matter interesting, then there is probably a better way to achieve what you want other than blogging. Although this may seem obvious, some people just blog for the sake of blogging. Perhaps so they could also say “I have a blog”. It’s very easy to identify these blogs. They’re simply boring. Dull as hell. Sometimes you can even sense the suffering that went into producing a specific post.

     

  2. Consistency: write consistently. Suppose you wrote three very good posts in the span of a week and have started getting a group of people who show interest in your blog, but then stopped for two weeks. Don’t be surprised if these people figure you’ve abandoned blogging and go away (as this happens more often than not – just visit the random blog on blogspot). Particularly at first, it’s crucial that you maintain consistency. Even if it means posting only once a week.

     

  3. Show interest in other blogs. In the past, I’ve participated in blog networks where people visited your blog because the framework was a vast network of blogs and you couldn’t avoid other blogs even if you wanted to. Once you started getting visitors, you felt compelled, sometimes out of curiosity, other times out of politeness, to visit their blogs. It was considered very impolite not to at least express some interest in the blogs of people who used to visit your blog (though there were a few people who never did). These days since most professional blogs are located on their own domains it’s a bit different. Yet when we think about it, it’s not that different. If you consistently visit other blogs, leave interesting and insightful comments with your blog address, you are much more likely to get the blog owner to visit your blog, as well as his own visitors. This is particularly true when using the ‘CommentLuv’ plugin, but I will discuss this tomorrow.

     

  4. Differentiate yourself: find the aspect you’re good at, or particularly interested in, and focus on it. Not only it’s very educational to see what other bloggers in your field are writing about, but you also don’t want to write articles such as “introduction to PPC”, “Introduction to Affiliate Marketing”, “Introduction to CPA” when every single blogger in your field (assuming, in this case, is affiliate marketing) has written a similar post.

     

  5. Know your audience: some people are targeting a very specific audience they aren’t familiar with. This is a recipe for disaster. For example, it would be very difficult for me to write a blog about makeup, as I literally know nothing about it. Even if I use a woman’s name, even if I try and somehow succeed at emulating a certain writing style (assuming one exists – I genuinely don’t know), I believe it will be very obvious to the readers at some point that (a) I have no idea what I’m talking about and (b) I am not even a woman.

     
    If you do this, slip-ups are bound to occur, and then you’ll lose the faith of your bloggers. Once you lose that, it’s over – they won’t give you a second chance. You’re dishonest and can’t be trusted.

     
    Note that – in case you don’t remember – I am an ex-academic. Often I’d read papers of people who would try to write a professional article about a certain subject, and within 5 minutes I’d spot a slip-up. For example, they’d use the wrong terminology. Or treat a fundamental aspect as a novel discovery of their own. Whenever I spotted something like this I immediately stopped taking anything he or she wrote seriously. If one does his research properly, this can’t happen. My conclusion: it’s better to stick with what you know even if you don’t know certain things, than claim to be an expert on something and be caught. I advise you, the kind reader, not to do that.

     
    On the other hand, it’s important to mention that some fields really don’t require a lot of effort to master. Perhaps makeup is a bad example, but I’m sure if I spent 2 hours reading about dog grooming, I can easily write a blog that will at convey enough expertise to be convincing. I have a website about auto insurance, and when I started, I really didn’t know much about it. However, I’ve done so much research when writing articles than now I’m really somewhat of an expert on the topic. It’s not rocket science, after all. However, not all fields like that, particularly fields that require passion (i.e. makeup) or professional knowledge (i.e. health issues). Keep this in mind.

     
    Of course, you can have a wide range of topics you’re willing to cover (i.e. a very wide audience), and – in my humble opinion – that is fine too. This blog, the Industry Review, is about Affiliate Marketing, Social Media, Technology in general, and all that is related. It covers quite a lot of fields, but at least so far, hasn’t really focused on any of those (i.e. I haven’t written a post about “How to use PPV effectively” until now. I could if I wanted to, and maybe I will, but there’s so many other things I want to write about, at least now I haven’t gotten to this point yet.

 
In the second part of this post, I will cover the technical aspects of enticing people to visit your blog. Check this blog tomorrow! Please leave comments of things I have forgotten or omitted.

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free online classes

I’ve taken my share of classes during my time. With 3 degrees it would be surprising if I didn’t, wouldn’t it?

 
When I started doing affiliate marketing, I realized there are many topics I need to learn how to tackle (PPC, Quality scores, CPA, SEO, SERPs, Traffic, Landing Pages, Keywords, Social media, Article directories, RSS feeds and the list goes on and on). None of it is rocket science, but there’s just a lot to know. I learned a lot of it on my own, but figured I may as take a shortcut in the form of a class or two – particularly since most of them have 30 to 60 day money back guarantees.

 
One thing I learned is that there is a great variation in the way the classes are being taught. I was expecting every class to be very similar in the approach taken, but it’s far from the case.

 
So here are 10 aspects I think every online class should have. If you’ve ever considering creating a class, pay attention. I classified them in three ways: Crucial (most classes actually do this), optional (can’t hurt to have), and subtle (many classes don’t do this, and yet it’s so important).

 

  1. (Crucial) Organization: Provide students a clear map of what you’re supposed to be doing every week, where you are headed, and what you’re supposed to learn. You’d be surprised how often this is not the case.

     

  2. (Crucial) Stored videos of classes: This is essential since it’s likely you’re going to miss some. I’ve actually never seen a class that doesn’t have this feature.

     

  3. (Crucial) Original content: many classes simply offer the same regurgitated content you can see elsewhere and present it as their own. Not only this is unethical, but it pretty much guarantees you’re never going to buy a class from that person again. People sometimes ask me: is affiliate marketing any good? This is one reason I sometimes find it hard to answer, because so many classes offer the same ol’ same ol’.

     

  4. (Optional) PDFs summaries of every lesson: At times, particularly a while after you’ve watched the class, it’s just easier to read a summary rather than go through an entire lecture again.

     

  5. (Optional) Bonuses: it’s nice to buy something and get a related piece material you have not paid for. Normally I would not mention this, but it almost feels standard nowadays since almost every class has this.

     

  6. (Optional) Forums: forums offer a way for you to interact with other course members who are going through the same process as you, and have similar interests. This is not crucial, but very important. Most classes I’ve participated in had a forum system.

     

  7. (Optional) Live webinars: not only the occasional live webinar gives the feeling it’s a “living” course (and not something that was created 2 years ago), but it also allows asking live questions, or examining students’ own work (such as websites).

     

  8. (Subtle) Standalone: Some classes expect you to have to buy another piece of software to successfully do the class. Sometimes this is unavoidable (like the need to register domains, etc – that’s part of the game), but other times it’s just not the case. For example, I’ve taken a class which was pretty cheap, but the lecturer kept using a software that – surprise surprise – costs more than $1,000. As far as I know, he also was involved with that piece of code as well. Since I couldn’t afford that software (nor did I want to buy it), and half the course depended on it, I ended up asking for a refund. This just feels like a cheap and dirty way to sell other items (give the course for not much, sell the tools for a lot).

     

  9. (Subtle) Availability for personal questions: When you take a university class, there are office hours, professor emails, and you can always physically approach them. Some online classes do their very best so that you will not be able to contact the lecturer. When you think about this, this is downright rude (particularly since some classes cost thousands of Dollars!) One class I took has several layers “protecting” the lecturer. I wanted to ask a personal question (inappropriate for the forums). So I had to ask support to get the lecturer’s email. They asked me to contact his personal assistant. Which I did. The assistant asked me what it’s about, so I sent my question to him – and he said he’ll relay it the lecturer. I assume he did – but after going to all this effort, I never even got a response. That’s unprofessional. Note that naturally, this was after the 30 day money back deadline passed. It makes class takers feel like the lecturer only cares for their money. In this specific case, the lecturer said in the sales pitch that he’s trying to build his brand, so he wants our testimonials once the class ends. Regardless of the quality of this content, I guarantee you this attitude would eliminate many of the positive testimonials he could’ve gotten.

     

  10. (Subtle) Availability for public questions: although this may sound identical to the previous item, it’s not. What I mean here is that there should be a way for students to post a question (to a forum or a mailing list) and for the lecturer, the authority figure, to give a definite answer. You’d think this is obvious, but many classes simply do not have this option. The lecturer is “somewhere up there”, and the people who answer comments are the other class members. Don’t forget: they’re students too and they are often wrong. This is irresponsible, and in this case the class does ill service to its students.

 
What do you think? Have you had similar experiences? Better? Worse? Please do let me know.

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