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How To Monetize Like the Pros!

"Affiliate programs allow you to recover the costs of developing and sharing free content.

Monetization is simply the process of making a content site pay."

How do today's super affiliates monetize their sites? What's the trick to making a lavish income from affiliate sales? And do these high-paycheck affiliates employ secret copywriting or advertising tactics that can't be bought at any price?

Hardly! Affiliate marketing is actually one of the most transparent business models in the world. In fact, almost every aspect of making a good income from affiliate programs (pay-per-click advertising, or PPC, is one notable exception) can be learned for very low cost.

As members of The Affiliate Classroom know, all you need is a little start-up money, a proven step-by-step model, no-fluff instruction, and someone to answer your questions. Affiliate marketing is probably the best-documented and most easily duplicated of all online business models. And the single most important affiliate marketing concept is monetization.

What is monetization?

In the very early days of the World Wide Web, web sites were plain, primitive, and labors of love. People shared content - advice, articles, tips, stories, reviews, and favorite bookmarks - for free. Many people feel that this 'tradition' of free content on the Internet should dominate. And for the most part it still does - thanks, in large measure, to affiliate programs.

This is because affiliate programs of all kinds - whether commission-based, pay-per-action, pay-per-click, or pay-per-impression - allow webmasters to recover the costs of developing and sharing free content. Monetization is simply the process of making a content site pay.

If you monetize only a little bit, then you might barely recover the costs of creating and running your site. But if you monetize a lot - or ultra-effectively -over time you could make a lavish income.

Some webmasters have become so good at finding ways to monetize, they make $100,000 or more per year from their web sites. These are the super-affiliates. Others - the power affiliates - combine affiliate sales with creative joint ventures, strategic partnerships, reseller status, and cross-sells and upsells.

These super and power affiliates run full-blown online businesses. Most of them run networks of dozens, even hundreds, of top-performing web sites.

These sites may be big or small. The content may be as simple as a product FAQ or a free autoresponder course. Or it may be as complex as an encyclopedic portal, with thousands of articles about your niche.

But whether you're a blogger who'd like to make some extra money on the side, or a content marketer committed to a vast online business empire - monetization of content will still be the cornerstone of your web business.

How to monetize? Let us count the ways.

For the true affiliate marketer, your primary business will be promoting other people's products. Your income may come from actual commissions on the sale of goods or services generated after visitors click your affiliate links. Or, if your site is better suited at generating qualified actions, you won't be making money from actual sales, but from leads or clicks.

In either case, if you're a full-time affiliate marketer, your primary job is to create value for your merchant. The content you aggregate, organize, or create is designed to pre-sell and pre-qualify visitors. The goal of your content is to do the best possible job of preparing prospects to spend money - or take action - with the merchants you're promoting.

Of course, you don't have to make affiliate sales the primary purpose of your site or your sole source of revenue. Some power affiliates branch out into developing their own products or services, and combining them creatively with affiliate sales.

And for many others, affiliate sales are just a sideline. This group uses affiliate marketing to generate occasional backend sales for their primary business, such as professional services or their bricks and mortar store.

There's a monetization channel for everyone

The point is, for every type of online marketer, there's a monetization method. In fact, most web-based entrepreneurs actually use SEVERAL monetization methods. They may choose to deploy multiple monetization methods on a single site. Or they may create a special type of site that's geared toward optimizing just one monetization method.

Sophisticated affiliate marketers create mini-networks of individual content sites - some with Adsense, others pre-selling commission-based products, still others emphasizing pay-per-action or pay-per-impression programs. These satellites all revolve around a central hub, usually a portal that offers plenty of free content in the form of articles, tips, reviews, and news. Monetization models are mixed and

"If you're a fulltime affiliate marketer, your primary job is to create value for your merchant. The content you aggregate, organize, or create is designed to pre-sell and pre-qualify visitors. The goal of your content is to do the best possible job of preparing prospects to spend money - or take action - with the merchants you're promoting."

"Those three little words - 'make a purchase' - are the most important factor when monetizing with commissioned sales.

Your visitor must actually BUY something from the merchant for you to make money."

matched to suit just about every type of prospect. These mini-nets often dominate a specific niche.

So what are all these monetization methods? And how do you know which ones to focus on? To simplify matters, first we'll focus in detail on the monetization methods used by full-time affiliate marketers.

First we'll focus on cost per action (CPA) channels. CPA is a generic term that includes both CPS (cost per sale) and pay per lead (PPL) programs. Then we'll look at pay per click (PPC) and pay per impression (PPI) channels, as well as "hybrid" networks that offer many types of programs.

The commissioned sales channel - still going strong

This is still the lifeblood of the affiliate marketing industry. Sometimes called CPS (Cost Per Sale) programs, these pay either a fixed percentage or a fixed dollar amount of the total sale. You sign up to become an affiliate for specific merchants or products. Then you receive a special tracking code - in the form of text links, banners, or other display ads called "creatives." You put that code on your site. Then, when visitors click on those links or banners and make a purchase, you get credit for the sale and will be paid a commission.

Those three little words - "make a purchase" - are the most important factor when monetizing with commissioned sales. Your visitor must actually buy something from the merchant for you to make money. In this form of monetization, clicks don't count, just actual sales in which the customer pulls out a credit card and completes a transaction.

As a rule, if the customer ends up returning the item or requesting a refund, you will lose that commission. It doesn't matter if the merchant delivered a defective product or gave the customer poor service - even though you did your job, the commission will be deducted from your paycheck.

Since many people don't purchase on the first visit, merchants use "cookies," small tracking codes, to "tag " your visitors with your affiliate ID. If the visitor doesn't go out of their way to delete the cookie, or if it isn't overwritten by spyware or parasiteware, you'll still be paid a commission if the visitor returns tomorrow, a week, even months or years later (if your visitor buys a new computer in the interim, though, all bets are off!).

It's this "cookie factor" that drives super affiliates to promote merchants who have long, durable cookies and who actively fight against spyware. Some merchants set cookies that are so long and robust, they're considered "lifetime commission" merchants.

And a few merchants go out of their way to be sure you receive credit for sales from returning or repeat customers. These merchants include additional tracking mechanisms to their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems, linking you with "your" customers in their databases.

Monetizing effectively with commissioned sales

Choose commission-based monetization when you can be relatively certain of these factors: the merchant's ability to convert; and your ability to "pre-sell" or soft-sell with your content site.

How can you tell if the merchant does a good job of selling visitors? In the case of independent merchants who manage their own programs, you just have to take their word for it. But when you join various affiliate networks, such as LinkShare or Commission Junction, you will be able to see data on how well the merchant's site converts visitors into buyers.

Often this conversion data is expressed as EPM (Earnings Per Thousand Impressions) or EPC (Earnings Per Click). EPM is calculated by dividing total impressions by 1000, then dividing the result by the total earnings. To get EPC, you would divide the total number of clicks by total earnings.

These figures can help you judge how well a merchant's creatives and overall sales copy are in converting into sales. EPC is especially valuable, since from it you can get a good idea of how well individual clicks convert into sales. Make sure you check the exact formula an affiliate network uses to calculate EPC - and make sure you understand it. As a rule, the better the EPC, the more your merchant converts visitors into buyers with detailed product specs, an intuitive shopping cart, and a stable payment interface.

Unfortunately, until you get to the point where you're generating tens or hundreds of thousands of sales per month, you have very little influence over your merchant's sales methods. But there is one factor you can control - your own contribution to the sales process. YOU control your content. YOU control how well your copy and page layout siphons visitors to the merchant's sales pages.

Pre-selling for big commission checks

There's a big difference between slapping a merchant banner above an article and hoping it makes some sales... and embedding well-crafted contextual links in a detailed product review. In most cases, links INSIDE the natural flow of the copy - not just slapped up at the beginning or end - tend to get more clicks. So do banners or text links placed in specific places on your page layout - above the fold, to the left or content, and so on.

"There's a big difference between slapping a merchant banner above an article and hoping it makes some sales... and embedding well-crafted contextual links in a detailed product review."

"Pre-selling" has become a term used by online marketers to talk about how to use the soft-sell strategies of classical marketing. To pre-sell, you provide your visitors with copy that's informative, interesting, and includes links to products and sites that address the needs that brought visitors to your site in the first place.

While pre-selling is a skill, it's actually much easier than writing direct response copy that presses toward closing a sale. Even beginners can learn to write good pre-sales copy, as many Affiliate Classroom students discover when they work through AC's copywriting tutorials.

Super affiliates actually go to a lot of trouble to test and tweak factors such as inline links, placement of creatives on the page, and even the colors of headlines and links. Why? Because they have a very specific goal - to get as many clicks as possible going to the merchant's sales page.

Super affiliates WANT those clicks - the more the better - since they can't actually consummate the sale. Only the merchant can accept payment and process the order, so the goal is simple: make it easy and appealing for that visitor to click over to the merchant's site. Their entire sites is designed to make visitors feel that going to the merchant's site to buy - or at least check out the product in detail - is the next logical and natural step.

Soft-selling with content

If you think about it, ANY content can assist in pre-selling. Ideally, your entire affiliate web site - the design, colors, layout, look and feel, graphics, and text - should guide your visitors towards making an informed choice to click over to the merchant's site.

As we'll discuss in "low-content wonders" below, classic direct response "soft-sell" techniques, or even informational sales letters, can increase clicks to the merchant's site. Soft-sell techniques include consumer reports-style product reviews, or digital versions of "magalogs" (those direct mail mini-magazines that combine content - such as gardening or health tips - with an offer for a product).

So whether you want to call it pre-selling, soft-selling, or just good affiliate marketing copy, your content must drive clicks to the merchant's site. The more opportunities you give the merchant to close the sale, the more money you will make as an affiliate.

Needless to say, QUALITY content tends to work better than bland, filler content on these sites. The better the content, the more likely your visitors will trust those links. Your content works the same way an 'advertorial' in a magazine does. They will assume you're directing them to high-value products that carry your implicit endorsement.

"If you think about it, ANY content can assist in pre-selling. Ideally, your entire affiliate web site - the design, colors, layout, look and feel, graphics, and text - should guide your visitors towards making an informed choice to click over to the merchant's site."

One side-benefit of quality content for you, the webmaster, is it allows you to add other monetization channels - such as contextual pay-per-click advertising like Adsense - and create an additional revenue stream. And what's even more important, quality content is an effective attractant for search engine spiders. This type of content helps you acquire natural backlinks and good placement in organic search results.

There are thousands of individual CPS merchants who participate in dozens of affiliate networks. A great place to start looking for honest merchants with well-managed programs is www.5StarAffiliatePrograms.com.

The content monetization model that keeps on going

It was only a few years ago that online marketers discovered that content doesn't just attract visitors. It also attracts search engine spiders. This gave birth to a new industry - Search Engine Optimization, or SEO - and a marketing philosophy based on creating content to obtain BOTH good organic search engine rankings and plenty of sales.

This monetization model is based on the "content site." Mini content sites are usually 20-50 pages, while full-blown content sites can be hundreds, even thousands of pages. You first do keyword research to find strings of search query terms, called "keywords" or "keyphrases," that visitors use when looking for information connected to your niche. You then choose the lowest competition, highest demand terms, then write site content that contains those keyphrases.

So when marketers talk about "writing keyword optimized articles," they're really talking about a specific type of presales copy. This type of copy is designed to rank well in the search engines for queries made by human visitors.

In some ways, these content sites have taken the affiliate monetization model full circle. In the early days of affiliate programs, you tried to figure out ways to make money from content you already had. Today, you create special content that works hand-in-hand with making money.

If you add a few classic direct response techniques - such as building an opt-in list - to this monetization model, you'll be harnessing the power of all the best aspects of online marketing. This model has proven its effectiveness and longevity.

As long as a content site combines search engine marketing with viral promotions and link building in the PROPER

"In the early days of affiliate programs, you tried to figure out ways to make money from content you already had. Today, you create special content that works hand-in-hand with making money."

BALANCE, it will continue to make money for years to come. For this reason, we've chosen this structure as the basis of the step-by-step instruction taught in The Affiliate Classroom.

But content sites till pose some challenges. Finding low-competition search terms requires research, creativity, and persistence. Many newcomers are disappointed to find search engine saturation in the niches they're passionate about. They may want to start with a site that doesn't require dealing with search engine research.

Low-content wonders: combining direct response with CPS

Enter the "ugly" web site. Plenty of affiliates make a great living with these one-column sites with ultra-plain, un-pretty layouts. They can be excellent direct response sales vehicles that crank out modest but steady commissioned sales for many years.

Modeled on classic direct mail techniques, these are often called micro-sites or sales-page sites. Some top affiliates generate six-figure incomes with collections of 150 or more of these very basic sites.

The keys to this form of monetization are simple and classic. Think direct mail advertising, but with a digital twist. In the same way that direct mail matches a targeted list with a strong sales letter, your sites need to combine list building with low-risk, low-maintenance offers.

Most marketers who monetize with these small direct response sites realize that they need to go for volume. You can't build one or two of these sites and expect to retire. Your goal should be at least 100 sites - preferably many more - and you need to think of this as a numbers game.

It's best to keep these sites plain and the pages few, so it only takes a couple of hours to build each of your sites. Monetizing this way means you're going to need lots and lots of sites and many small mailing lists. So stick with old-fashioned, boring templates designed to grab an email address, present the offer, and showcase compelling sales copy.

Interestingly, you don't need to put much content on the site itself. Instead, offer brief content snippets, an FAQ (one of Affiliate Classroom's favorite tricks!) or a 'course' via auto-responder.

"Enter the 'ugly' web site. Plenty of affiliates make a great living with these one-column sites with ultra-plain, un-pretty layouts. They can be excellent direct response sales vehicles that crank out modest but steady commissioned sales for many years."

"One great advantage of PPL programs -particularly if your content is in high competition niches - is that your visitor doesn't have to buy anything for you to make money."

You want to deliver content to those visitors who sign up for your mailing list, so you can continue to sell (and eventually upsell) them. Your goal is a low-maintenance site, not dependent on organic search engine traffic. SEO should not be much of an issue, so you don't need constantly updated on-site content as spider food.

How will you get traffic without SEO? Many marketers use "squeeze pages" (see below) to build a targeted mailing list quickly. Others join ezine/newsletter coops and traffic exchanges. Still others purchase lists of leads to get targeted traffic. And a whole group of successful marketers still use PPC, ezine advertising, free reports or white papers, or $1.99 reports sold on eBay to build targeted direct response lists.

If you try your hand at these sites, remember to choose products that can be delivered digitally, and that require no support and little or no customer service (that rules out most software). Most marketers choose low-cost digital information products from ClickBank.com or PayDotCom.com. Make sure you automate as much of the sales process as you can. Use auto-responders for thank yous and follow ups, choose products that are low-risk for your visitors, and make sure your payment processing is foolproof and autopilot.

PPL channels make high-competition niches pay

PPL stands for pay per lead. This monetization channel is sometimes called CPL, or cost per lead. When you join, an advertiser pays you when one of your visitors clicks on a link, takes some sort of action (such as filling out a form), and becomes a "qualified lead."

What constitutes a qualified lead? That varies depending on the merchant. It could be as simple as someone signing up for an email newsletter or requesting a free copy of a print magazine. Or it could be as complex as filling out a mortgage loan application or applying for a new credit card.

One great advantage of PPL programs - particularly if your content is in high competition niches - is that your visitor doesn't have to buy anything for you to make money. As long as the visitor gives COMPLETE information - name, e-mail, phone number, or whatever else the merchant requires - you will be paid a flat fee, or "bounty." And because many PPL programs pay extremely well, just a few qualified leads per month can add up fast.

Pay per lead programs exist in just about every industry and niche. Payouts are anywhere from 25 cents for a simple email lead, to $25, $50, even as high as hundreds of dollars for completed loan application or other elaborate visitor actions. Some of the highest payouts come from insurance, mortgage, and loan applications, but you'll also find plenty of lucrative opportunities in niches such as beauty, health, employment, music, cell phones, and even sweepstakes and coupons.

Maximizing returns from PPL

Few marketing educators address PPL programs in any specific way, and you'll find almost no real case studies about this channel until you sign up for individual PPL networks specializing in these types of offers.

Mainstream web business gurus do little more than define pay per lead monetization. The consensus seems to be that it's easier to make money from PPL than from commissioned sales, and that you should create sites for these prospects just as you would for any other affiliate program.

To a certain extent, this is true. Monetization is about using web site content to attract and inform your visitors so that a click on your links seems as natural as taking a breath. It's safe to assume that most of the basic principles of pre-selling and soft-selling can and do apply when you're monetizing with pay per lead.

But you must also remember that the MERCHANT decides whether a lead is qualified or not. Prospects need to take the EXACT action required by the merchant. Prospects who don't understand where a click on your link is taking them are unlikely to fill out a form completely - or take any other desired action.

Know your PPL market

In Affiliate Classroom's analysis of a handful of successful PPL sites, we've seen these programs work in many different ways. In cases where informative content is the key to credibility -such as financial niches - classic pre-selling techniques work wonders.

But other PPL offers - such as instant coupons, contest entries, free magazines or color business cards - are about immediate gratification for your visitor. These offers seem to work well using a technique we call "restaurant style" marketing.

Coupon, contest, and free sample offers tend to work appeal to many different types of mainstream audiences, from small niches to big crowds. We recommend rotating these offers periodically the way restaurants rotate daily "specials." We like seeing these ads in a specific, above the fold section of your web page - such as the top of a right hand navigation bar - with a label such as "Today's Special Offer" or "Today's Hot Deal!"

"Some PPL offers -such as instant coupons, contest entries, free magazines or color business cards - are about immediate gratification for your visitor.

These offers seem to work well using a technique we call 'restaurant style' marketing."

to get the most clicks and conversions.

Given the variety of PPL offers, however, there's also a lot of marketing room in between quick "daily specials" and serious content-laden web pages. From what we've seen, TARGETING - on your site and when mailing to your opt-in list, seems to be the key to making pay per lead pay off handsomely. Nothing new about that, of course. But what's important for pay-per-lead programs is that you get your offer next to CONTENT that's as targeted as possible.

For example, let's say we find a program that pays up to $16 when current college or post-graduate students fill out a brief student loan consolidation application. We could probably run this offer - and do well with it - on just about any type of site that appeals to college students.

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