CPA Marketing: Make Money from CPA Guide

CPA marketing is a way to monetise your website. CPA stands for “Cost Per Action” and the concept is very simple: you add advertising links or banners to your website and when one of your website visitors clicks on one of the adverts and completes the desired action, you get paid a pre-agreed amount of money. The desired action might be, for example:

  • Purchasing a product, service or subscription.
  • Requesting a quotation, estimate or brochure.
  • Signing up for a newsletter or free trial.
  • Filling in a form.

CPA vs. other monetisation methods

Many website owners look to CPA as an alternative to CPC programmes. CPC stands for “Cost Per Click”. Just like CPA, you place CPC advertising on your website but the desired action is simply for your visitors a click on one of the links or banners and you earn revenue for each one that clicks. The most popular CPC programme is Google Adsense. With a little customisation, their ads can be made to blend relatively well into your website and sometimes they look like part of the content or navigation – for example:

example-adsense-advert

However, the control you have over the ads that are shown is very limited in comparison with CPA, and the amount you get paid per click is often very low – so it takes a lot of clicks to make a decent amount of money. Here is an example CPC account:

cpc-examples

For the top website, 70 clicks on the advertiser’s link on this website have resulted in only £6.49 earnings, less than 10 pence per click.

By contrast, the amount you can earn through CPA programmes can be far more attractive. As an example, mobile phone vendor TalkTalk offers its affiliates a flat rate of £20 for each purchase of a handset or SIM only contract made within 30 days of clicking on the advertiser link/banner (tracked by a cookie). TalkTalk’s conversion rate is quoted as being an excellent 37.14% which means on average, each click on their link or banner will earn you £9.15. The same 70 clicks that earned just £6.49 in the CPC programme could have earned over £640 on the TalkTalk CPA programme.

Part of the reason that CPA programmes are so much more valuable is that CPA affiliates sit much higher up the chain in terms of who gets paid, in contrast with CPC publishers – in fact, many affiliates use CPC as one means to generate traffic to their websites which is only possible because the affiliate commissions far outweigh the cost of CPC advertising:

cpa-cpc-diagram

Another reason why CPA programmes are a more attractive proposition than CPC is because they are easier to integrate seamlessly into your website and you can choose what you promote specifically. For example, if you create a site of reviews, you can simply include a link within the text for the user to click through and purchase the product. You get to choose the exact product being recommended and the exact supplier that you want to work with, as oppose to Google serving the ads that it thinks are most relevant to your user. This is far more attractive than displaying a banner over which you have no control, and if you match your content and affiliate recommendations well, it gives you a far greater chance of success.

Finding a product or service to recommend

For the best chance of success with CPA affiliate marketing, you need to find a product or service that aligns well with your website’s existing traffic. For example, if your website features reviews of gifts and gadgets, it makes sense for you to include affiliate links to online shops where users can purchase those items.

You have two options here – you can:

(a)    join an affiliate network which puts you in touch with a wide range of advertisers and programmes, or

(b)   sign up with a company directly that runs its own affiliate marketing scheme.

So in our gifts and gadgets example, you might (a) sign up with an affiliate network such as Affiliate Window and start reviewing products from advertisers such as Firebox, or (b) sign up directly with Amazon Associates, Amazon’s affiliate programme. In either case, you’ll be able to control exact which products you promote on your website but with the affiliate network, you are likely to find companies offering higher commission than Amazon.

Affiliate Networks

There are many, many different affiliate networks, each with different advertisers. If you’re located in the US, odigger.com and offervault.com are fantastic resources – these sites allow you to search through over 500 networks for products and services most relevant to your website.

  • In the US, the MaxBounty (link: http://www.maxbounty.com/) and Panthera (link: http://www.pantherainteractive.com/PantheraNetwork/) affiliate networks both come highly recommended.
  • In the UK, Affiliate Window (link: http://www.affiliatewindow.com/uk/) is the most popular network.
  • CJ Affiliate (previously  Commission Junction) (link: http://www.uk.cj.com/) is also popular and offers Pay Per Call which gives you a trackable phone number, allowing you to promote advertisers through a wider variety of channels, both online and offline including search, print, TV, radio, mobile, vouchers, display, blogs and email.
  • Take care to properly check out affiliate networks before you sign up, as there are plenty of dodgy ones out there that rip people off. If you’re not signing up with a big name, search Google for reviews and experiences from other affiliates first.

An Example Application to A CPA Network

How to Sign up to Affiliate Window

We’ll look at Affiliate Window as an example of how everything works, but you’ll find that the other networks are very similar in their processes and use the same terminology.

Applying to be an affiliate

Affiliate Window’s application process (click here: https://darwin.affiliatewindow.com/user/affiliate-signup/account-details) is very similar to the other networks:

  • Step 1 – fill in your personal details.
  • Step 2 – indicate how you will promote advertisers. There are plenty of options here but for most people, this will be Content > Editorial Content (including links within articles) or Bloggers & Social Content (including links within blog posts/reviews). If you have an email list, you may want to consider whether links will be included in your email campaigns too.
  • Step 3 – give details of your main website with a description and the sector.

After that, you’ll just need to wait for your application to be reviewed. This can take up to 10 working days but in practice it is usually far quicker.

Setting up a profile

Once you’ve been accepted as an affiliate on Affiliate Window, the first thing to do is to set up your profile. This enables advertisers to see at a glance which websites you will be promoting their products and services on, and is likely to increase the chance of you being accepted as an affiliate. The same applies on other affiliate networks – a well filled-out profile will maximise your chances of acceptance.

On Affiliate Window, you need to fill in your primary website, under Account > Site Information:

site information

Then, under Account > Promotional Spaces, you can add further websites if you have them. Once you’ve added a website, make sure you verify it as yours by clicking the shield icon on the right hand side of your listing:

verify

Finally, still in ‘Account’, click on ‘Overview’. It is worth filling in as much information as you can in this area, as again, this will help maximise your chances of being accepted by the advertisers you want to work with. When you’ve been accepted by a number of advertisers, it’s worth returning to this section and clicking the pencil icon under ‘Advertisers’. You can then add them to your profile which shows other advertisers who you are currently working with:

profile

Remember that you don’t need to be a hot shot to get accepted onto an advertiser’s programme. Advertisers are just looking for websites that showcase their brand in a good light. Having a credible profile which is properly filled in suggests that you’re serious about working with them and won’t do anything that might harm their brand.

Finding an advertiser on Affiliate Window

Once your profile is set up, head over to the Advertiser Directory and here you can narrow down advertisers by searching for keywords and/or choosing a relevant industry:

earnings-per-click-examples

For each advertiser, you’ll see a number of metrics under different headings. Perhaps the most important to look at initially is EPC which is the average earnings per click. This is calculated by dividing the total affiliate commission earned by the number of clicks that were sent to the advertiser. For example, if a company’s affiliates make a total of £100 in commission for April, having sent through a total of 10 clicks, £100 divided by 10 = £10.00. The EPC is therefore £10.00 per click.

TIP: EPC is a better indicator than the commission rate that the advertiser offers. It is all very well offering a high commission rate but if the advertiser doesn’t convert any of the clicks sent through to them, you’ll never see a return. Another reason EPC is so relevant is that some affiliates use CPC to drive leads, and EPC gives you an idea of whether CPC advertising will be affordable or not.

Here’s what the other information and metrics mean:

  • Conversion rate – this is the percentage of people who go on to complete the required action, having clicked on the advertiser link. So, for example, if the conversion rate is 50% and you send 50 people to the advertiser website, you can expect roughly half of them to complete the required action that results in you earning commission.
  • Approval rate – advertisers have to confirm all sales before any commission is paid, and this percentage indicates the number of pending sales that are confirmed as valid sales by the advertiser. Look for a high approval rate as an advertiser that declines a lot of sales as invalid is not a good sign.
  • Validation period – this shows how long on average that it takes the advertiser to validate their sales. A short validation period is better.
  • Payment status – a green mark here indicates that the advertiser is within their credit limit with Affiliate Window and therefore commissions that they approve will be paid to publishers in full. An amber mark shows that the advertiser is outside of their payment terms or credit limit. Commissions will only be paid once the advertiser has paid them to affiliate window. Advertisers with a green mark are the safest bet and advertisers with a red mark are, of course, a no-go.
  • Awin index – this is a score awarded out of 100 based on conversion rate, approval percentage, validation time and EPC. It is a simple way to compare different advertisers.
  • Product data – this indicates whether the advertiser offers a product data feed. Product data feeds can be imported onto your website if you are using certain software (for example, these work well with WordPress + Woocommerce + the All Import Plugin). They save you having to manually create hundreds of links and pages, although you should be aware that Google does not favour websites that simply pull in affiliate descriptions and links without adding any additional value, so if you auto generate pages en mass, you’ll need to think about what other ‘value’ you can add to them.

Once you have shortlisted an advertiser, to see what commissions are on offer you need to click on the advertiser’s name and then click ‘Commission groups’. Here you’ll see:

  • Cookie length – when one of your website visitors clicks on an advertiser link, Affiliate Window will place a cookie – a small file – on their computer. Cookie length tells you how long that file will remain in place – typically 30 days.  If the visitor completes the required action within that time, you’ll earn the relevant commission, provided that you were the last person to refer them to the advertiser site.
  • Default commission groups – this indicates how much commission the advertiser will pay for the particular desired action. For example, you might earn £8.00 for every brochure request, or £20 for each user that signs up for a subscription. Sometimes, this will be a percentage of the sale, and percentages can be tiered, so that the more you sell, the higher the commission rates.

When you’ve found an advertiser you’re interested in working with, hit the join button to the right of their listing:

join

A dialogue box will pop up with some programme terms for you to read through. It’s important you give some attention to the boxes at the bottom.

First, under ‘promotion’, select the website that you intend to add the affiliate links to. If you don’t select a website that is relevant to the advertiser, sometimes you’ll find that your application is rejected:

application

Next, consider adding a custom message in the box. This isn’t essential but for high profile advertisers, it’s advisable and an opportunity to highlight why your website would be a good match for them.

Finally, check the box to agree to their terms and conditions, and click ‘Join’. Some advertisers accept you automatically, but most will want to review your website first. Very occasionally, advertisers also like to give you a call or drop you an email first so be ready for this.

“What if I can’t find a suitable advertiser?”

For some websites, it might be difficult to find an advertiser that fits your site topic. In those cases, you need to look for advertisers that offer products or services that your traffic’s demographic may be interested in. For example, if you run a website that provides free academic resources to students, you could advertise anything students might be interested in purchasing. Consider their frame of mind when they are using your website – if they’re studying, they’re unlikely to be interested in new student accommodation, but might be interested in backing up their files – or ordering pizza!

Your affiliate manager

Each advertiser has an affiliate manager and they’ll often drop you an email once you’ve been accepted:

manager-email

It’s a good idea to keep in contact and review their emails regularly as they’ll keep you informed of their latest offers which you might want to promote on your site.

If your website has a decent amount of traffic, it is also worth trying to negotiate a better rate of commission or a special deal with your affiliate manager and this is far easier if you have already built a relationship with them. A small increase can make a big difference to your bottom line – for example, if you negotiate a bump of just 50p on each CPA from what the advertiser is publicly offering, assuming 30 conversions a day you’d earn nearly £5,500 extra a year.  Worth a few friendly emails!

Implementing CPA on your website

Once you’ve been accepted by an advertiser, it’s time to integrate their links on your website. In your account, you’ll see a drop down for ‘links and tools’.

advertiser-links

The key to success in using these is to integrate well and avoid ugly banners. The better you integrate your affiliate links, the better they will convert – and conversely, ugly in-your-face advertising won’t convert.

The link builder tool helps you create links to any page or product on the advertiser’s website, and these are appended with your advertiser ID, so that when a user clicks on the link, a cookie associating that click with your ID is placed on their machine.

To illustrate, let’s say you’ve been approved as an affiliate for Argento and you’ve written a page on beaded bracelets. Now you want to link through to their beaded bracelets range. You visit Links & Tools > Link Builder and select the advertiser ‘Argento’ from the drop down list.  In the ‘Deep link URL’ box, you paste in the link to the beaded bracelets page on Argento’s site. Finally, you type in the text you’d like to use for the link in the ‘Link text’ box. The link appears underneath for you to copy and paste:

deep-link-builder

Well integrated affiliate websites

To give you some ideas of how you can effectively integrate your affiliate links, we’ll take a look at some successful sites that have done a really good job of this – our first pick is thewirecutter.com:

wirecutter

The Wirecutter is a really excellent example of how to do CPA affiliate marketing. It is one of the few affiliate websites that features real, in-depth reviews rather than just Amazon descriptions that have been reworded. The Wirecutter has been a huge success story – you can read about the thought behind the website and the revenue it generates in the New York Times here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/17/business/media/buffeted-by-the-web-but-now-riding-it.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Our second choice is thisiswhyimbroke.com which has a completely different format:

thisiswhyimbroke

This site actually has very little content – a photo and short description for each item – and relies heavily on social to get the word out about the insanely cool products that it promotes for its advertisers. Users can click the ‘share’ button to tell others what they have found on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. They can also save products that they like by creating an account.

Top integration tips:

  • Don’t just sell – provide visitors real value with high quality content such as free information, reviews, comparisons, latest trends, aggregate articles (e.g. ‘the ten best…’) and so on.
  • If you do review your advertiser’s products and services, be genuine – giving everything a 5* review won’t help your website look legit.
  • Avoid banners and in-your-face advertising – instead, use text links and integrate within the content.