10 Feb 2022

Why CPA doesn’t work, or who won’t succeed in affiliate marketing

Lots of myths and legends surround affiliate marketing. Some say this is the most profitable and simplest way to earn online. Others argue that this method can barely deliver any profit. The truth isn’t in between these two extremes. Quite the opposite, there are far too many nuances.

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Since 2015, the global affiliate marketing industry has doubled in volume. Apparently, people are interested in this way of earning money, so more enthusiasts are opting for CPA, investing resources, and making profit. But not everybody.

Here’s what to do if you’re just starting out with a CPA and want to avoid some common mistakes or you’ve been working with affiliate networks for some time but haven’t seen any profit so far.

We should rephrase the question “Why doesn’t affiliate marketing work?” (since it does work, with its effectiveness proven by thousands of cases around the world). Instead, we should say, “Why doesn’t your strategy work?” Here are the possible reasons.

You expect too much profit

As in any other business, profit doesn’t just emerge out of thin air in affiliate marketing. How much you earn depends on dozens of factors. 

One such factor is what products and services you promote. Advertisers in various segments pay publishers using various compensation models. Some pay a fixed amount, while others pay a percentage of the target action value (e.g., sales). It should be mentioned that the latter is a more common method. 

Rates vary from segment to segment. You can check them out here or in a certain advertiser’s profile in the affiliate program catalog.  

Moreover, different niches employ different performance indicators that shape earnings. These may include the number of orders, earnings per user action, the average bill, and so on. 

For example, a publisher promoting apparel and accessories will get more orders than one managing financial programs. Clothes and shoes are more mass consumer goods than, say, loans, mortgages, or investments. However, the latter publisher will see a larger average bill and earnings per lead. 

How much you earn also hinges on the business model you pick, and this factor has dozens of underlying reasons. Some models require investments, and some don’t. We’ll talk about this below. Some drive more traffic, leads, and orders, while others only fit specific niches.

Question: Who won’t benefit from affiliate marketing? Answer: People who are 100% sure each and every publisher can earn millions, no matter the niche and offer.

You expect profit here and now

CPA marketing has an indicator called “hold time”. This is the order processing time, i.e., the period during which the advertiser verifies that a purchase was made properly, processes it, and delivers it to the customer. Hold periods vary across different niches. 

In any case, some time will pass from the time the buyer buys a product following your link and the cherished minute when you get the reward.

Keep in mind that every user makes a purchase decision in their own way. Let’s go back to the example of two publishers, one of which promotes clothes and shoes, and the other advertises financial products. It’s by far easier for the former to promote goods: they’re simple, cheap, and demanded. It takes a minute for a man to decide to buy new pants, but it’s all different with loans and mortgages: pondering may take days. 

In other words, the decision-making cycle differs in length from niche to niche. You’ll have to wait some time before your lead actually makes a purchase after following your affiliate link.

And here comes the term “cookie lifetime”. A purchase made during this period will be attributed to the publisher if the user visited any other websites between clicking the publisher’s affiliate link and placing an order. The cookie lifetime is specified for each offer in the affiliate program catalog.

Always keep in mind the differences between business models. Some will take you to the desired result faster than others. For instance, when you launch targeted ads on social media. Users see your banners and perform target actions right away. 

But there are some longer-term strategies—for example, content projects, SMM, or SEO. It’s always a whole set of tasks. If you create an online store, don’t think users will come to a no-name place straight away. You need to promote, maintain, improve, and test every bit of it.

Question: Who won’t benefit from affiliate marketing? Answer: People who want profit right away. Impatience is one of the biggest impediments to making a profit in the CPA industry.

You picked the wrong niche

You might want to select a niche for the CPA model that you know well, find interesting, and feel a connection with.

Admit it; it’s hard to promote a product you know nothing about. And suppose you’re a fan of fishing, for example. In that case, you know where to find the target audience (and maybe you’ve already managed to gain credibility on thematic forums or social media so that you’ll be listened to). You might know what gadgets are trending, the benefits of various spinners, etc. 

Another concern is that your niche should be relevant. Check how interested people are in your product. Make sure they need it. 

You can use survey tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms, trend search services like Google Trends, user interest and comment research focusing on social profiles, forums, and competitors’ websites. 

Don’t expect too much from a highly competitive niche. As a beginner, you’ll struggle to compete with skillful publishers and companies with big marketing budgets.

If you set your eyes on sports goods, narrow down your offer. For example, focus on women’s sportswear or equipment for specific sports and activities. 

Check what brands and stores appear at the top when you type something like “buy sportswear”. A newcomer will barely be able to compete with those giants.

Speaking of which, experts recommend starting with one or two niches, getting experienced there, and then moving on to other fields. Every industry, however, has plenty of offers that you can test. Getting back to sports goods, you can recall Adidas, Reebok, and others on the one hand, and multi-brand stores like AliExpress and Banggood on the other.

Question: Who won’t benefit from affiliate marketing? Answer: People who aren’t ready to study their target audience and delve into a product’s nuances.

You only use one traffic source

Traffic is a precious resource for any publisher. This is why you need to involve all the opportunities and channels to acquire it.

Imagine you have just created an online electronics store. You meet users coming from search results pages thanks to your great SEO. Fabulous! But you can get even more traffic if you enable other sources.

Start contextual search ads or targeted ads on social media. Don’t feel like spending money on purchasing ads? OK, try a different approach. Create a branded community on social media or in a messenger, start a blog, and fill these resources with helpful content. 

Share tips on choosing the best digital camera or selections of the best sports gadgets. Content attracts people. Alternatively, you can launch email newsletters, which can also be very effective. Last but not least, set up push notifications. There are tons of options.

Don’t forget that you need to mine traffic in sources relevant to your offer. It would be weird to promote sweets on a healthy lifestyle forum or advertise elite tours in a money savers’ community.

Question: Who won’t benefit from affiliate marketing? Answer: People who aren’t ready to experiment with new traffic sources.

You use shady tactics

Remember the simple and evergreen truth: It’s way easier to promote high-quality products and services. You won’t have to deceive people and will never face the risk of frustration and loss of users’ trust. 

We’ve got three tips for you. First, work with products and services whose quality you’re sure of: things you’ve tried on your own or that you’ve read a lot about. 

Second, only cooperate with trusted advertisers. Good-standing affiliate networks are your best allies. They guarantee that a publisher won’t come across an unreliable brand. And always read other publishers’ reviews.

Third, offer people value instead of just pushing a product. Create helpful content, offer discounts and deals, and promote products and services your target users really need.

Another important aspect is whether publishers act properly. Various types of traffic are used in the CPA market, including dubious traffic. Be ready to see zero results from such tactics or get you a permanent ban or fine.

We also advise that you avoid semi-legal tricks like spam (on social media or in email newsletters), misleading information, or clickbait (when you promise something your offer can’t provide). Such monkey business will drive non-target users that won’t make any purchase. (But it can result in complaints against you).

Question: Who won’t benefit from affiliate marketing? Answer: People who want to earn by deception.

You’re not ready to invest your own resources

This isn’t just about money. Yes, some business models do require investments, e.g., arbitrage. But this field is an option for seasoned publishers who know how to buy traffic at a lower price and then sell it at a higher price.

There are some almost free business models, which include content strategies, SEO, and social media and messenger communities. However, they might require some investments. You can start a social media group and do everything—design, content, promotion—on your own. Or you can pay specialists for content and logo design and use paid methods to attract more followers to your group.

Another thing you might do is to keep a text blog and monetize it. You can either land on a free-to-use platform or create something more advanced on a paid platform.

If it’s not about money, you’ll have to invest your time and effort anyway. Creating a website, preparing content, compiling a base for an email newsletter—whatever you pick, you’ll need to go from the beginning to the final line.

Question: Who won’t benefit from affiliate marketing? Answer: People who think someone else will do everything for them and who aren’t ready to apply any effort.

You don’t analyze your performance

Without regular self-assessment, you’ll never know what’s wrong with your ad or ad space. Every detail matters: how users come to you, what they do on your website, who your users are, where they come from, what creatives generate more attention, what creatives users complain about.

You’re free to choose from a multitude of analytical tools. Social media provide statistical parameters in advertising accounts, Google Analytics serves website and landing page owners, and there are dedicated services to manage email newsletters and push notifications. Stop procrastinating and study numbers and figures to find out which models and tactics work and which don’t. 

Experiment with all the components of an advertising campaign, content, or website interface: from button text color to impression time, from where the cart icon is located to how menu buttons are organized. But no matter what you experiment with, you won’t achieve anything substantial without analytics.

Question: Who won’t benefit from affiliate marketing? Answer: People who think they can spare analytics and tests.

We’re convinced there are very few people who couldn’t earn anything in the CPA market, provided they have invested enough effort. It’s not as hard as it may seem. The main thing is to get started, and we’re always here to help you do that.

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  • Dale Nefff

    I found this to be a great refresher course for me. Thank you.