Chapter 8: Paid Traffic

Chapter 8: Paid Traffic

Like we discussed back in Chapter 7, paid advertising is the #1 way to drive traffic to your site in the first 2-3 months after launch. Do you have to use paid advertising? No. If you'd prefer not to spend any money on advertising, you don't have to. But I highly recommend that you try it out to see if it's profitable in your niche.

Here's the thing... You don't have to "mortgage the farm" to try it out. It's not at all like "real-world" marketing where you have to spend (tens of) thousands of dollars to create a TV/radio/magazine spot that will air for a few weeks, all in the hopes that it generates enough business to pay for itself. We're talking about "risking" maybe $40-50 here (maybe $100 if you want to get "crazy"). If you haven't made any sales by then, you can always stop the ad campaigns and throw in the towel on paid advertising. But I'd strongly recommend giving it a try, as paid advertising can contribute significantly to your bottom line.

Immediate SalesThe really cool thing about paid advertising is that it can help you drive traffic and start generating sales DAY 1 after you launch your store. Getting ranked takes several weeks (sometimes months) to pay off and start bringing in free, organic traffic. In the meantime, you can start making money immediately with some well-crafted paid advertising campaigns.

A word of warning, though... If you don't follow the principles and techniques I'll teach you here in Chapter 8, it's possible to accidentally spend A LOT of money very quickly... and not generate a single sale from it! The world of paid advertising is not kind to the uninformed. Please make sure to go through ALL of the Chapter 8 training (including all expandable sections and Pro's Edge boxes) before you begin doing paid advertising.

One other word of caution... Be careful not to allow yourself to get caught in the "pay per click time trap", as I call it, where you spend ALL your time creating PPC ads, processing minimal-profit orders, analyzing your ads, tweaking your ads, processing more low-profit orders, analyzing and tweaking your ads some more, and so on. Don't become so busy that you fail to work on getting ranked! Always remember that a sale placed by a free visitor yields more profit than a sale placed by a paid visitor.

3 Main Types of Paid Advertising on the Web

There are 3 main categories of online paid advertising opportunities...

  1. Pay Per Click (PPC) - You pay a set amount each time someone clicks on your ad and comes to your site. (Note: I'm grouping Pay Per Impression (PPI) ads into this category since they're so similar. With PPI ads, you pay a set amount for every 1,000 times your ad is displayed on a page, regardless of how many times the ad is actually clicked.)
  2. Private Banner Ads - You pay a set monthly fee to have your banner ad displayed on (a) certain page(s) on someone else's website (number of impressions and number of clicks are irrelevant).
  3. Affiliate marketing - You pay your affiliates (i.e. those promoting your store/products) a set percentage for every lead they send to your site who ends up placing an order.

All 3 types of paid advertising are viable options you should take the time to explore, but PPC advertising is by far the biggest and most prevalent (and what we'll primarily focus on). We'd recommend starting with PPC and look into expanding into paid banner ads and/or setting up an affiliate program later down the road.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising Basics

PPC Advertising BasicsMost of you are probably pretty familiar with how Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising works, but let me quickly provide an overview for those who aren't (or for those who need a little "refresher"). I'll use a standard "search ad" as an example, although we'll talk later about the fact that there are a few different types of PPC ads.

1. You create your PPC ad, specifying...

  • the ad's headline text,
  • the ad's body content (i.e. sub-text),
  • the URL to be displayed on the ad (i.e. display URL),
  • the URL of the page customers will "land on" when they click the ad (i.e. the landing page),
  • the exact search phrase(s) a searcher must search for in order for your ad to be displayed, and
  • the maximum bid amount you're willing to pay for each click (i.e. max bid amount).

2. Your ad is displayed on a search results page when someone search for one of the specific phrases you listed when you created your ad. The higher your max bid amount (relative to the other sites bidding on the same search phrase), the higher up your ad will appear on the page, giving it more exposure and increasing the likelihood it will be noticed. Note: With PPC advertising, you don't pay anything just for having your ad displayed on the page (which is called an "impression").

3. When a searcher clicks on your ad, you pay for the click (up to the max bid amount you chose when you created the ad, although you'll oftentimes pay a lower amount). The searcher is taken to the landing page you specified, and they hopefully go on to make a purchase. But whether they place an order or not, you still pay for the click.

You can see how it's really just a numbers game. Since you're paying for every click (i.e. every visitor), the name of the game is generating a sale (i.e. a "conversion") with as few of clicks as possible. If you're able to generate a sale that yields, say, $60 of profit every 50 clicks that cost, say, 50 cents per click, you're only spending $25 on paid advertising (50 clicks @ $0.50 per click) in order to generate $60 of profit. Success! You netted $35. 🙂

Important PPC Terminology & a Simple Example

3 "Varieties" of PPC Ads

Within the realm of PPC advertising, there are 3 main "varieties" of ads.

1. Search Ads. In my example above, I've described the 1st type of PPC ads: textual search ads. With search ads, you create your textual ad (specifying the headline, ad body and URL) and then you specify when you want your ad to appear (i.e. the specific search phrases they must search for). Your textual search ad will only be shown when somebody searches (hence the name) for one of the search phrases you've listed.

Note: Facebook, Reddit and other sites use the same basic concept for their PPC advertising engines, but other parameters besides search phrases are used to determine when your ads are displayed. But I'm still going to categorize them as "search ads" since they are based on the same general concept of 1) building your ad, and 2) specifying the conditions for when that ad is displayed.

2. Display Ads. The 2nd type of PPC ad is a display ad. Display ads are graphical image ads, also known as banner ads. A few examples include a 250x250 square ad, a 728x90 wide ad, a 160x600 tall ad, and so on.

Setting up display ads is quite similar to setting up search ads, but there are a couple key differences. First off, you're obviously uploading an image rather than entering the text of your ad. (You will of course still specifying the landing page URL the ad will take people to when they click the ad.)

The other key difference has to do with where your ads are displayed. They don't show up on SERPs (search engine results pages) like search ads do. Display ads are displayed on privately owned websites across the web who have opted to show ads on their sites (to earn money).

How does the PPC engine (i.e. Google AdWords, for example) decide which websites to display your ad on? When you set up your display ad campaign, you provide a list of keyword phrases that your ad relates to (similar to what you do when you create a search ad). But in this case, Google takes the keyword list you've provided and uses it to identify "relevant" websites (i.e. sites that are about the same thing, based on the titles/tags/content on the page).

3. Product Ads. The 3rd type of PPC ads, product ads, are driven by a "product feed file" that you upload to the PPC engine. So rather than setting up individual ads, you simply upload a feed file containing your key product details (i.e. title, price, image URL, description, etc.) for each of your products. Then it's up to the PPC engine to decide when and where to display your product-based ads.

In a few minutes here, I'll provide a list of the best PPC portals for each of these 3 varieties of PPC ads. For now, I just want you to understand that there are 3 different types of ads just within the Pay-Per-Click category (which is just 1 of 3 types of paid advertising). I know, I know... there's a lot to learn and keep track of. But that's what we're here for! 😉

And just remember, the core concept is the same for all 3 types of PPC ads: 1) you create the PPC ad, 2) the ad is shown to at least semi-relevant web surfers/shoppers, and 3) you pay a set amount (of your choosing) each time someone clicks on the ad, which brings them to your site.

PPC Rules of Engagement

Over the past few years we've spent coaching and mentoring online store owners, we've heard some variation of this sad tale way too many times...

"Right after I finished building my site, I set up a Google AdWords campaign to start driving some traffic to my site. I thought I set everything up right, but when I logged in the next day I saw that I had spent almost $500 and hadn't made a single sale. PPC advertising is a joke!"
Then there's this recurring story, too...

"I've been running Google AdWords for over a month now. I've gotten 400 clicks so far (costing me over $200), but it hasn't generated a single sale. What a waste of time and money!"
Have you heard stories like these? Have you been unfortunate enough to experience either of these scenarios yourself? 🙁

PPC advertising can be a great way to drive targeted traffic to your site. But if you don't know some of the crucial rules of the game, it can be 1) very expensive and 2) very ineffective... NOT a good combination!

Here in this section, I'll go over my "Big 4" rules of engagement for PPC advertising. My advice is to not even attempt PPC marketing until you've read everything in this section (including the expandable sections and Pro's Edge boxes). So without further ado, let's jump in...

Rule #1. Know Your Maximum Cost Per Conversion Before You Begin

Calculate Your Maximum Cost Per ConversionSuppose you were part of a marketing team for a corporation and you were presenting a marketing pitch to the CEO. When the CEO asked you how much the marketing campaign would cost and how many sales you expected it to generate and how much net profit that would result in, what if your answered, "I have no idea"? Do you think that would go over very well?! Do you think you'd even still have a job at the end of the day? 😉

This scenario sounds ludicrous, but based on our experience coaching thousands of web store owners over the years, "I have no idea" is the answer the majority of store owners would have to give if they were being honest. They have no idea how much money they're willing to spend on the PPC ads. They have no idea how many orders they expect the ads to generate. And they have no idea how much profit the sales they're hoping to get will result in. All they know is that they want to make sales, that you need customers to make sales, and that PPC ads can send those customers.

But you simply cannot go into PPC advertising blindly like this. You've got to know EXACTLY how much money you're willing to spend on PPC ads in order to generate 1 sale. In other words, you've got to know your Maximum Cost Per Conversion.

How to Calculate Your Maximum Cost Per Conversion

Pro's Edge: How to Use 'Maximum Cost Per Conversion'

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Pro's Edge: Biggest Factors that Affect Cost Per Conversion

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Rule #2. Start Small & Scale Up Slowly

Last year, a friend of mine got a new job in a neighboring state. He thought he'd love the new job and be there for a long time (maybe for the rest of his career), but he of course had no way of knowing for sure whether everything would pan out. Rather than selling his home here in Idaho and immediately buying a new home in Nevada, he was smart enough to hold off for a few months. So he just rented out his home here and rented a home there in Nevada to make sure everything turned out as planned. Well, it just so happens that things DIDN'T turn out! He ended up hating the new job, and within a few months they moved back to their home in Idaho.

Now, what if he had sold his home here in Idaho and purchased a home in Nevada? He would have lost A TON of money in closing costs and real estate fees, not to mention the hassle of buying and selling two homes! My friend is glad he was smart enough to take things slow and not go "all in" right out of the gate.

Similarly, you should "ease into" PPC advertising. Whether you do it intentionally or unintentionally (and it's oftentimes unintentional), you should never charge into PPC advertising. You should start small and scale up slowly.

Starting Small

Start SmallWhat do I mean by "starting small"? You should start out by only advertising for very specific, very targeted search phrases. For example, if you're selling dog houses, you shouldn't set up your first ad campaign to show up for searches like "dog" or even "dog houses". These phrases are quite broad and get A LOT of daily searches, which could very easily result in A LOT of clicks. This means you could spend A LOT of money overnight and, because the ads are not very targeted, also not make any sales from the ads. In virtually every horror story we've heard about people accidentally spending hundreds of dollars in a single day, they didn't follow this rule about starting small.

Your first ad group should target specific, long-tail search phrases that include one or more of the following:

  • a brand name
  • a product name or model number
  • descriptive words (size, material, functionality, other adjectives
  • "buying words" (i.e. for sale, discount, cheap, on sale, etc.)

For our dog houses example, your first ad group might target phrases like these: "large dog houses", "insulated dog houses", "dog houses for sale", "[brand name] dog houses", "wooden dog houses", and so on. These search phrases won't get nearly as many searches as broad, generic phrases like "dog" or "dog houses", but they're much more targeted and therefore should have a higher conversion rate (since descriptive, long-tail phrases demonstrate that the searcher is in "buying mode"). Plus, as an added bonus, you won't run the risk of racking up a huge bill overnight. 🙂

Pro's Edge: 2 More Tips to Avoid Accidentally Spending $500 Overnight!

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Scaling Up Slowly

Scaling Up SlowlyIf you follow the first part of this rule about starting small (and you better! 🙂 ), you'll be starting out with specific, targeted search phrases that likely don't get a whole lot of daily searches (and therefore won't result in a whole lot of clicks or traffic to your site). Just because you start out small doesn't mean that you have to restrict yourself to these low-volume search phrases forever! Over time, you can and should scale up. But you should scale up slowly and methodically. You're not going to want to go from "insulated dog houses for sale" to "dog" in one step! 😉

The Maximum Cost Per Conversion you calculated for Rule #1 will play a key role in how much you'll expand (or whether you'll expand at all). The Pro's Edge box below will walk you through the process you should use to scale up your PPC campaigns.

Pro's Edge: How to Methodically Scale Up Your PPC Ad Campaigns Over Time

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Rule #3. Create Targeted, Compelling Ads

There's a lot more to creating a good PPC ad than using "buzz words" meant to grab searchers' attention. Of course, you want your ads to STAND OUT and get clicked on, but you're just flushing money down the toilet if those clicks don't result in sales. That's why it's so important for your ads to be targeted.

Create Targeted, Compelling AdsIt is absolutely critical that these 3 things are 100% aligned with each other:

  1. the search phrase the potential customer searched for,
  2. the content of the ad (including the headline, the body and the display URL), and
  3. the landing page the ad takes the potential customer to when they click on the ad.

Let's say that a potential customer searched for "wooden dog houses". Don't you think she'd be more likely to click on your ad if the exact phrase "wooden dog houses" appears multiple times in your ad than if only a portion of the phrase appears just once? It seems so obvious, but go do a "nichey" search on Google and check out the paid ads listed down the right side of the page. For most searches you do, you'll find that the ad headlines, body and display URLs rarely match the exact phrase you searched for. You'll often see similar phrases or portions of the phrase you searched for, but very few ads contain the exact phrase you searched for... and fewer still contain that phrase multiple times in the ad.

Okay, let's say your ad stands out enough to grab the searcher's attention and she clicks on it, bringing her to your site. This is the critical question: What page does she land on? It darn well better be a page on your site that is CLEARLY all about "wooden dog houses" (the phrase she searched for)! If she can't see in the first 1-2 seconds that she's on a page all about wooden dog houses, she's gone and you just wasted your money! This also seems incredibly obvious (and I almost feel stupid even writing it 🙂 ), but this rule is broken ALL THE TIME!

It seriously blows my mind to see how many PPC ads take you to the home page when you click on them! Unless your home page is 100% dedicated to "wooden dog houses" (unlikely!), that is NOT the landing page you should be taking this customer to! She searched for "wooden dog houses", so why on Earth would you take her to your home page, which shows dog houses by brand, dog houses by size, top-selling dog houses (only a portion of which are wooden) and so on?! You should take her DIRECTLY to your "wooden dog houses" category page!

Very few PPC ads follow this "obvious-as-the-nose-on-my-face" rule, which is why so many PPC advertisers struggle to break even. It's incredibly simple, but it's extremely powerful...

  1. The potential customer searched for "wooden dog houses".
  2. Your ad has the exact phrase "wooden dog houses" 3 times (once in the headline, again in the body and a third time in the display URL).
  3. When she clicks on it, it takes her directly to your "wooden dog houses" category page.

The ad makes it clear that you're selling exactly what she wants. And then, when she lands on your site, she's taken directly to a page that lists exactly what she's interested in (and no more). Simple but powerful!

Whatever you do, please don't waste your money sending hordes of people to your home page to try to figure out how to get to where they actually wanted to go! 🙂

2 Inseparable Goals

Pro's Edge: Creating Ads that Stand Out & Get Clicked!

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Rule #4. Use A/B Split Testing to Improve Your Ads Over Time

In professional sports, how do we crown a champion? Do we just choose who we think the best team is at the end of the regular season? Of course not! Virtually all professional sports have some kind of playoffs after the regular season to determine the champion. (Even college football has FINALLY started to figure this out! 😀 ) In most sports, there are several elimination rounds where the winners of the previous rounds continue to face each other until only one team is left standing.

Improve Your AdsYou should approach your PPC ads the same way. Don't just throw an ad up and hope it's as good as it's going to get! 🙂 It sounds stupid, but it's what a lot of people do! Google and the other PPC engines make it easy to do a form of A/B split testing to run 2 "versions" of the same ad side by side at the same time. You let them run simultaneously for a couple/few weeks (long enough to get a decent sample size), and then you analyze them to see which one performed better (both in terms of click-through rate and, more importantly, in terms of cost per conversion). You declare that version the winner and immediately introduce a new challenger (aka a new version of the ad). Those 2 ad versions will then run side by side until you analyze again and declare a new winner. You continue to repeat this process over and over again until you've found a winner no challenger is able to beat.

In addition to the changes you make to the content of the ad itself, remember that adjusting the max bid amount (up or down) can make a big difference in your click-through rate and your ad's performance. So make sure to include the max bid amount as one of the "variables" you play with in your A/B split testing.

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Pro's Edge: Tip for Cutting Your AdWords Cost in Half

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Top PPC Advertising Options

Alright, gang, now that we’ve gone over my "Big 4" rules of engagement for jumping into the world of PPC advertising, it’s time for you to dive in and get started. Like I’ve mentioned a couple times now, you don’t need to risk a lot of money here to test it out and see whether it will be profitable in your niche.

So the big question you’re probably asking yourself is: "Where do I start?" As you’re probably aware, there are A LOT of PPC advertising options out there. Let's discuss a handful of your best options.

Google PPC Advertising Options

Google is the most popular search engine on the planet and therefore has the potential to bring you the most traffic. That’s why we focus on Google for getting ranked organically and why I’m also listing Google as the #1 PPC advertising option.

Remember back in the PPC Basics section when we talked about the 3 different "varieties" of PPC ads (1. textual search ads, 2. graphical display ads and 3. feed-generated product ads)? Google actually offers ALL 3 TYPES of PPC ads (and multiple options for a couple of them). Here’s a quick overview of the main 3 PPC platforms offered by Google…

Google PPC Ads
1. Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs). These are product-specific ads (which show a product image, product title and the price) that appear down the right side of many Google search results pages as well as in Google Shopping. PLAs are driven by a product feed file that you upload to Google Merchant Center. Basically, you upload a spreadsheet containing key information about each of your products (i.e. title, image URL, price, product description, etc.), and then Google decides where and when to show your PLAs. If you’ve been going through Store Coach training course sequentially, you likely already set up PLAs back in Chapter 6 as part of the Store Launch Sequence. If you haven’t, jump back to the Set Up Google Products section of that chapter now for a step-by-step guide on how to set up PLAs.

2. Google AdWords Search Network. These are the textual ads that appear at the top (and sometimes also at the bottom) of most Google search results pages. (If you go to Google.com and do a search for practically any product type, you’ll see these textual ads (they don’t include images) at the top of the page.) This is the "traditional" type of PPC ad where you specify what you want your ad to look like (i.e. the headline text, ad body and display URL) and when you want it to show up (i.e. what search phrase(s) the person searching Google had to have searched for). You create AdWords Search Network ads through Google AdWords. (Note: In addition to Google.com search pages, AdWords Search Network ads will also appear on AOL.com and several other major search engines and comparison shopping sites that have "partnered" with Google.)

3. Google AdWords Display Network. These ads (which may be either textual ads or graphical banner ads) appear on privately-owned websites, not on Google.com search results pages. Google simply plays "matchmaker" by linking up the site paying for the ad (Party A) with the site hosting (or displaying) the ad (Party B). For example, Party A (who signs up through Google AdWords) says she's willing to pay $0.25 per click and wants her text or banner ad (whichever she chooses) to be displayed on pet-related websites. Party B (who signs up through Google AdSense) owns a pet-related website and is willing to display pet-related ads on it. Google (acting as the "middle man") facilitates the whole thing and keeps a few pennies from each click. (Example: Party A pays 25 cents per click, Party B receives 21 cents per click, and Google keeps 4 cents for brokering the deal.) You create AdWords Display Network ads through Google AdWords.

Because Google PPC ads have the potential to drive the most traffic to your site, they are also quite competitive. But that certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give AdWords and especially PLAs a go! Google is still our #1 PPC advertising option that we always try first. Besides the high traffic potential, AdWords is also a good "measuring stick" to see how successful PPC can be in your niche. If you do well in AdWords, you should be able to do well in the other less-competitive PPC engines.

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Microsoft Ad Center (Bing) PPC Advertising Options

Bing PPC AdsBing is our 2nd go-to option for PPC ads and offers all of the same types of PPC ads we just discussed for Google. In fact, Bing is so transparent about the fact that they've copied Google's PPC advertising platform that they allow you to straight-up copy over your AdWords campaigns over to Bing (which is really nice). You will need to manually set up Bing product list ads, though (they can't just be copied over).

Creating PPC ads in Microsoft Ad Center will put your ads on Bing, Yahoo, Shopping.com and a handful of other second-tier search engines that have partnered with Microsoft. Bing's PPC engine typically won't bring you as much paid traffic as Google will, but in most niches, Bing will still bring you a fairly substantial amount of clicks. See the Pro’s Edge box below for a step-by-step guide on setting up PPC ads in Microsoft Ad Center.

Pro's Edge: Microsoft Ad Center (Bing) PPC Set-Up Guide

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Shopzilla PPC Advertising Options

Shopzilla PPC AdsShopzilla is one of the best "second-tier" PPC portals because it is tied to BizRate and Beso as well. So by submitting your store's products to Shopzilla, you will have PPC ads running in 3 of the biggest shopping portals. Follow the steps in the Pro's Edge box below to create Shopzilla PPC ads.

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Private Banner Ads

Alright, let's switch gears now and spend a few minutes talking about private banner ads. As we discussed way back in the chapter intro, private banner ads are ads (typically graphic image ads) that appear on a particular website. Rather than using a major PPC engine like Google or Microsoft (Bing), you contract with an individual website owner to have your ads show up on particular pages of his/her site for a set monthly fee. You'll pay that set monthly fee regardless of how many times the ad gets clicked.

Keep in mind that using the Google AdWords Display Network (which we discussed in the 'Top PPC Advertising Options' section above) basically allows you to place banner ads on topically related sites all over the web. You just don't have the same level of control about which sites you'll be advertising on (although Google does give you the ability to specifically exclude sites you don't want your ads to show up on). Using Google's Display Network automates and facilitates the whole process, playing "matchmaker" for sites (like yours) wanting to buy advertising space and sites wanting to sell advertising space.

The drawback with using the Google Display Network for banner ads is that Google can only match you up with sites that have signed up for Google AdSense and placed AdSense code on their sites. Don't get me wrong, there are a ton of sites that have done that (it's one of the primary ways high-traffic informational sites/blogs make money). So it's not like the pickings are going to be super slim. But there are likely going to be sites in your niche that you'd like to advertise on that don't have AdSense blocks. For these sites, your only option is to reach out to them and inquire about paying a monthly fee to place an ad on their site.

I've kind of already mentioned this, but another major difference between using the Google Display Network and paying for private banner ads is how your advertising fees are determined. With Google, you pay a set amount per click (based on what you set your max bid to be). With private banner ads, you'll pay a set monthly fee (based on the rate you negotiate with the private website owner).

Steps to Set Up Private Banner Ads

There are 4 simple steps for setting up paid banner ads:

  1. Find relevant, high-traffic sites you may want to advertise on
  2. Analyze the options and select the one(s) you want to try
  3. Design your ad
  4. Analyze the results and determine whether the ad is profitable

Let's spend a few minutes to quickly discuss each step.

Step 1. Find relevant, high-traffic sites you may want to advertise on. The obvious goal here is to find a) high-traffic, b) topically relevant sites that c) are willing to let you advertise on their site for a reasonable amount. How do you find such sites? There are a couple easy methods... 1) Search Google for your top 2-3 keyword phrases and cruise through the top 20-30 results, looking for non-competing sites that have ads on them. 2) If you've been running Google Display Network PPC ads, log in to your account and view the list of all the sites that have ever displayed your ads. Google seems to think these sites are topically relevant, and the sites have basically pre-qualified themselves for being willing to host banner ads as they're currently using AdSense.

Step 2. Analyze the options and select the one(s) you want to try. Many (or even most) of the sites you visit will likely have a page with information about the cost/exposure you'll get advertising on their site. Just look for an 'Advertise' or 'Advertise with us' link in the footer (or just below the banner ads you see on the site). If you can't find such a link/page, you'll need to find the site's 'Contact Us' page and reach out to the site owner to inquire about advertising opportunities. Be very clear who you are and what your store sells, and inquire about paid advertising opportunities.

Create a simple spreadsheet to keep track of the key info about each paid banner opportunity. At a minimum, this spreadsheet should include information about the monthly cost, where your ad(s) will go (page and location), the reported amount of monthly impressions (i.e. page views) those pages get, how long of a commitment you have to make, and an indication of how topically relevant you deem the site to be.

Once you've created this spreadsheet, you'll obviously need to make a decision about which site(s) you want to try out first. Then contact the site owner and sign up.

Step 3. Design your ad. Find out from the website owner what the exact dimensions of your ad should be. Once you know that, you have 2 choices to make: 1) what do you want your ad to look like, and 2) what page on your site do you want the ad to link to? Obviously, these 2 decisions go hand in hand, as the landing page will largely drive what the ad should look like.

Now you need to create the ad. You're going to be paying good money for this ad each month, so to get your money's worth, you definitely want the ad to look professional and draw the eye. That doesn't mean the ad needs to be elaborate, though. Some of the best banner ads are incredibly plain and simple. Your only goals are to grab viewers' attention and persuade them to click the ad. You typically don't need a lot of text to accomplish that. Less is (almost always) more when it comes to banner ads. Use as few of words as possible to get your message across.

Be sure to include a Call To Action (or CTA) in your ad... something you're inviting the viewer to do. There should be a very clear invitation to click it. Also, make sure to keep in mind who the "average user" is on the website you're advertising on. You want your ad to be appealing to that particular audience, while also conveying what it is you're selling. Also, look at the other banner ads on the page(s) where your ad will be displayed, and try to come up with something that will be unique and get noticed.

Obviously, if you don't have graphic design skills, access to a good graphic design program (i.e. Adobe Illustrator), or an account at Canva.com or something of the like, you'll need to hire a graphic designer. I'd recommend posting a job on UpWork or oDesk, or, if you're on a tight budget, check out providers on Fiverr.com.

Step 4. Analyze the results and determine whether the ad is profitable. Just as with PPC ads, you'll want to analyze how much traffic and - more importantly - sales the banner ad is generating for you. If the profit you're making from the sales generated through the banner ad are more than covering the monthly cost of the banner ad, it's obviously worth continuing. If not, it's not! (Really complex, I know.) 🙂

Without a reporting system like Google AdWords or Microsoft Bing has, though, how will you know how many sales the banner ad is generating? Through Google Analytics. I won't get into the details here since we go into it in depth in Phase 4, but the bottom line is that Google Analytics will show you exactly how many visitors and sales you're getting each month from the website displaying your banner ad.

Affiliate Marketing

Set Up an Affiliate ProgramOkay, let's talk about another great way to drive traffic to your site: setting up an affiliate program. We talked about affiliate marketing back in Chapter 3, but at that time we looked at it from the perspective of an affiliate. Now let's take a look at affiliate marketing from the perspective of a retail site owner (since that's what you are now).

Note: If you're running an affiliate product store rather than an eCommerce site, you can skip this section since it won't make sense for you to set up an affiliate program as you yourself are an affiliate! 🙂

When you set up an affiliate program, you'll set the commission percentage and other terms of how the program will work. Affiliates who sign up for your program will promote your store and products (on their websites/blogs, through their social networking profiles, via newsletters sent to their mailing lists, etc.) and will send targeted traffic to your website. You won't pay anything for this traffic. But when somebody referred by an affiliate buys something, the affiliate software credits the affiliate's account and you'll need to periodically send payments to your affiliates.

So it's different kind of paid advertising. You're not paying for the traffic itself. You don't pay your affiliates a penny unless and until somebody referred by an affiliate actually places an order. To put it another way, you pay for acquisitions (i.e. sales) rather than paying for leads (i.e. visitors).

The following video recaps what we've discussed and then lines out the steps for setting up your own affiliate program...

Step 1. Choose Affiliate Software or Network

The first item of business is choosing which affiliate network or software to use. There are 2 main categories: 1) large affiliate networks and 2) self-managed affiliate software.

The affiliate network route is quite expensive. The most affordable major affiliate network (ShareASale.com) has a set-up fee of $550 and a "monthly minimum" of $25. Then there's Commission Junction (CJ.com), which absolutely rocks but which has a set-up fee of $3,000 and a $500 monthly minimum! There are, of course, major benefits to using a hosted network solution... 1) recruiting affiliates is easier since these big affiliate networks have HUGE built-in pools of affiliates looking for new programs to join, and 2) administering the program is easier since affiliates are paid automatically.

Omnistar Affiliate SoftwareBecause of the hefty fees involved with joining a large affiliate network, most of you will opt to go the self-managed affiliate software route. There are a lot of affiliate software options available, but our hands-down favorite is Omnistar. It starts at just $47.95/month (after a 15-day free trial), and it's incredibly easy to set up and use. It's 100% compatible and super easy to integrate with almost every major shopping cart, including 3DCart, BigCommerce, Shopify and WordPress. (If you'd rather pay a $200-400 one-time fee and ditch the monthly recurring payments for the software, my top recommendation would be iDevAffiliate.)

While Omnistar and iDevAffiliate don't have quite the same size of built-in affiliate pool that ShareASale and (especially) CJ have, they do have fairly sizable affiliate directories you can list your program in to attract affiliates looking to join new programs. And in step 4 below, I'll show you a bunch of easy ways to recruit affiliates to join your affiliate program.

Step 2. Set Up & Configure Your Affiliate Program

Set Your Commission PercentageAfter you integrate your affiliate software/network (aka "link" it to your store), you simply need to configure the program setting. The most important decision, of course, is choosing what percentage or revenue you're willing to pay affiliates. The higher the percentage you offer, the easier it will be to recruit affiliates and keep them interested in promoting your products. But obviously you don't want to go so high that it wipes out most of your profit. As in all things, take a look at what your competitors are doing and make your affiliate commissions competitive.

In addition to selecting the affiliate commission percentage, you'll also need to specify the amount of time the affiliate tracking cookie remains active (usually at least 30 days), the earnings cap (usually unlimited), the payout schedule (usually monthly, with a $50-100 minimum threshold) and the payment method (usually PayPal).

After you've configured all of the program settings, make sure to run a couple of test transactions (using "sandbox" mode, aka testing mode) to verify that everything is working correctly. Your affiliate software/network should provide tutorials on how to do all this (integration, configuration and testing).

Step 3. Create Your Affiliate Program Information Page

Create Your Program Information PageThe next step is to create a page on your site that basically "sells" your affiliate program to potential affiliates. This can just be a regular old page on your site (it doesn't need to be "tied" to your affiliate program) as long as the "join" button links to your affiliate software/network's sign-up page. You'll want to keyword-optimize this page (which you should know how to do at this point!) for the term '[main keyword phrase] affiliate program' so it ranks well in Google for that phrase (which affiliate marketers frequently search for).

The goal here is to inform potential affiliates about your program and, more importantly, to entice them to sign up and start promoting your store. You'll obviously want to provide key information about your program (commission percentage, tracking cookie, earnings cap, payout schedule, etc.), presenting everything in as appealing a way as possible. It's also important to include professional-quality banner ads and other "creatives" your affiliates can use to promote your store/products.

Step 4. Get the Word Out to Potential Affiliates

There are a handful of things you should to drum up interest in your affiliate program...

  • List it in affiliate directories. If you're using ShareASale or CJ, your program is automatically added to the network's directory. If you're using Omnistar, you'll need to manually add it to Omnistar's affiliate directory. In addition to listing your affiliate program in your provider's directory, there are literally dozens of other affiliate directories you can get your affiliate program listed in. Most of them are free. Here's a list of some of the best affiliate directories to consider.
  • Add an 'Affiliate Program' (or 'Affiliates') link to your store's footer. Affiliate marketers will often search for new affiliate opportunities by visiting sites relevant to their genre/topic and looking in the footer for an affiliate link. You'd also be surprised how many affiliate sign-ups you can get from ordinary visitors/customers on your site. So you should definitely take 2-3 minutes to quickly an a link to your affiliate program information page to the footer of your store.
  • Invite topically related sites to become an affiliate. This is very simple but extremely powerful. Just do a few Google searches (for various keyword phrases related to your niche/market) and cruise through the results to find high-ranking sites that appear to be ad- or affiliate-based (as opposed to selling products or services themselves). Write up a nice email template that invites them to join your affiliate program (note: you can borrow most of the content from your affiliate program information page) and send it to all the sites you find.
  • Invite sites that have been displaying your PPC display ads to become an affiliate. If you've been running Google AdWords PPC ads using the Display Network, you can log in to your Google AdWords account and see a list of all the sites that have ever displayed one of your ads. These sites are the perfect candidates to receive an affiliate invite! (They've essentially pre-qualified themselves as topically-related sites willing to promote related sites' products.) Reach out to these site owners directly (using the same email template discussed above) and invite them to become an affiliate for your store.