Today’s interview is with Erica Stone, one of the best ‘real’ Amazon affiliates I know of. Her super popular course, Extreme Review, has helped hundreds of people dial-in their Amazon affiliate efforts. This interview is long and has a lot of great content– Make sure you read the whole thing. I really appreciate Erica taking the time to do this for us.
UPDATE: You can now get Erica’s most popular course, Extreme Review, for just $29 here…
What got you interested in starting an online business and how did you get started?
In 2008, I developed an interest in HTML. At the time, I was not looking for a new career. I had a senior management position at one of the largest banks in the country and was just looking for a hobby. I received a book on how to write HTML for Christmas that year and decided I’d build a family website. I was a bit frustrated with the limitations of the free site platform I was using and began researching how to build a more substantial site. That led me to WordPress and I started a personal blog. Jumping into WordPress with no website experience at all was a challenge. I enjoyed it but it only led to more research and that led me to Squidoo. I was hooked. I had no idea you could make money online unless you actually ran your own online store. I’d never heard of affiliate marketing. I joined a group on Squidoo to learn as much as I could, abandoned the idea of a family website, and spent every spare minute online building Squidoo lenses. When I felt I had the concepts for keyword research and marketing down fairly well, I went back to WordPress and started building Amazon review sites.
Did you have any failures early on and what did you learn from them?
Ha! I’m the queen of failures. I don’t think there’s a better way to learn in the whole world. My first WordPress site was hacked in the first couple of weeks. I’ve broken my own sites, accidentally deleted them, and made tons of Squidoo lenses that have no hope of ever making a sale because I completely misunderstood how to target buyers with my content when I was building them. I’ve had sites, too, that never made a sale. I’ve tried PPC and spent plenty that never resulted in a gain no matter how analytical I am and exacting in studying the results. I’ve chosen stupid domains, spent weeks spinning useless content and tried tools that aren’t helpful.
I was online probably six months before I made my first dime and it was just that – almost exactly a dime. Something like $0.11 or $0.16. It was the most exciting money I’d ever made and I was earning a healthy six figures from my day job. Why I’d be so excited by that first sale only other internet marketers will ever understand.
What’s the main thing that made the difference for you in becoming successful?
Only when I focused on one project exclusively for months at a time did I see any real success. I decided to build a site around a keyword that only gets about 500 exact searches a month. It seemed important to find something simple to work on so that I could see how the strategies all came together. I wanted to know what it would be like to rank really well for just one keyword. Ninety posts later the site was getting 500 visitors a day and making money through Amazon sales and a Clickbank product every day.
Focusing on just one keyword, one site for an extended period of time just seemed so strange. When you read the internet marketing forums – which so many of us do when we’re new and trying to get our arms around how to make money online – they’re so bloated with strategies and advice that they almost make you think you have to have your hand in five or ten different business models in order to be successful. That’s just not true. It’s also not what the forums intend you to think but it seems a natural outcome of seeing so much information in one place.
Even today, I get emails from people who list out the 20 different projects they’re working on and they’re asking for help understanding why they’re not making any money. I get tired just reading how much work and energy they’ve put into everything they have going on. Makes me feel almost lazy in comparison. It shows that energy and effort are not the issue, in most cases. It’s knowing what to do first, second, and third on a single project to carry it to fruition.
Almost any single, niche can bring in a full time income. Giving up too early and spreading myself too thin were probably the biggest hurdles I had to overcome.
What’s the best piece of “big picture” advice you would give to someone just starting their online business?
Everyone has a unique set of skills. Those skills might work really well with one online business model and not well with another. This means everyone has the potential for success but they have to know what they’re good at, be able to compensate for what they’re not good at, and choose a model that plays to their strengths. I love to write, enjoy numbers and analysis, and find researching products a satisfying challenge. This makes me a good match for affiliate marketing and review sites. Find your strengths and make sure you choose a path that plays to those strengths.
As I mentioned, almost any niche can bring a full time income. When you think about the millions – billions, even – of dollars in sales that take place for just a single product and that you’d be happy with just a small percentage of that income, then it starts to make sense how this is true. If manufacturers and retailers make millions every year selling baby cribs and you get into the baby crib niche, even 1% of the sales that take place is a great deal of money. The potential is almost always there.
What could you have done that would have made you successful sooner?
I think the only thing that would have helped me see success more quickly would have been to start sooner. I understood the mechanics of how to get material online but not the art of putting the right content together with the right keywords and I’m not sure you can gain much of that without taking action and seeing the results. A lot of people that I work with struggle with over-analysis and it prevents them from getting content up online. They have ebooks, they read all the forums they can find, they ask questions, and they study different business models but they don’t actually BUILD anything. It’s taking the time to TRY that will teach you more than you can gain from any other resource.
What would you tell people just starting out that they should focus on?
Focus is really the key. Write a plan and follow it out. Make adjustments only when you think they’ll make a material difference to your results. I don’t care if the plan is just a set of hand written notes or a detailed spreadsheet of what you want to do but come up with steps you want to take to get started – find a niche, get a domain, get hosting, write my first post, etc. Write them down somewhere and start working through them. There is a ton of information available that outlines step by step action plans for you to follow. Find one that resonates with you and work it from start to finish.
Then, take the time to analyze the results. There’s a concept that businesses of all sizes have followed for years. Launch, analyze, refine, and keep going. For affiliate marketers, we should put up content and then analyze the results – what keywords are bringing traffic, what is that traffic doing when they land on our site, are they finding your affiliate links, are they following them? There’s a ton of information in tools like Google Analytics or stat plug-ins you can use for WordPress. Look for problems and then refine your site to address those problems and keep going. This doesn’t have to be done daily. Keep building your site but once every month or two stop for a couple of days and just digest the site statistics and see if there’s something you should change to improve traffic, clickthroughs, or conversions.
Why do some people succeed online and others never do?
That’s a tough question. There’s no one single reason that divides those that are successful from those who are not. For some people, it’s a lack of taking action but there are many people who take so much action that I’m awed by their energy and yet that doesn’t lead to success, either. When action IS taken but doesn’t achieve the desired results it seems to boil down to a few, common issues
First, a lack of quality content can be a problem. I don’t necessarily mean that the writing is poor and unpolished. I mean that it doesn’t help the reader. We can all put words on a page but it’s putting the RIGHT words on the page that will answer whatever the visitor was hoping to find when they entered the search term in the search engine that makes the difference. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy and you don’t have to use big words, you just have to lead the reader through important points to consider when they’re considering buying this product.
In the case of review sites, people are looking for honest, well-researched reviews of a product that give them information they can’t find on Amazon.
Posts like the “Best Such and Such for 2012″ can be great traffic getters but if all it does is showcase a product without any explanation as to why it’s the best product, then it lacks the reasons people need to feel comfortable that the product really is the best.
Second, using shortcuts in hopes of speeding things up doesn’t usually bring success but it’s easy to think that they will. In fact, we really want them to so we pin our hopes on them and give it a shot because it sounds so easy. Easy isn’t always good.
People are amazed when I tell them I don’t use a lot of sophisticated tools or a large team of assistants to do what I do. I put up my own sites, I write my own product reviews, and I write all the content I use to promote my sites (web 2.0 pages, articles, or press releases). I have occasionally outsourced these things but I’d say that I’ve done 90% of the work myself.
Outsourcing is fine but it does require that you stay heavily engaged with the content that you’re putting up. If you’re not really reading it for understanding and if you aren’t in touch with the products you’re promoting, you’ll miss opportunities to expand your site. Some of the best posts I put up are those that compare one product to another and it would be hard for me to know which products I should compare if I didn’t know them as thoroughly as I do.
Third, I think passion for the niche and the process has a lot to do with success. I’m just finishing up with some one-on-one coaching with a number of students. Those who did the best had such dedication to their topic and the process that it was like they were unleashed by just having a plan to follow. All they needed was some guidance in the right direction and they’ve come up with amazing ideas for distinguishing their sites from their competition. They’ve added their own, unique spin on the niche and it’s simply amazing to watch them go. While they’re certainly hoping for sales (and making them), they’re almost more driven by putting together something they can be proud of.
How has running your own online business changed your life?
My life is about as 180 degrees different from what it was and it’s all due to affiliate marketing. In 2010 I left my job at the bank and became self-employed. I’ve had moments of sheer terror wondering what I’d done but also moments of incredible freedom. As the sole provider for a family of 5, there’s a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders and I often lose a great deal of sleep because of that pressure. Taxes, medical insurance, and retirement planning when you’re self employed are way more challenging. I’ve easily got several more years before I’ll feel I’m as stable as I was when I was working for someone else.
My lifestyle is very different, too. My previous work life involved a great deal of meetings, travel, and long hours. I still work long hours but only because I choose to do so and not because I have to do so. I get up when I want (unless the kids are in school), we travel when we want, and I work in a tank top, jeans and flip-flops (something you can do just about year round in Arizona) sitting on my patio and right by the pool. Seriously, it’s like an amazing dream! My parents have been extremely supportive of the change even knowing it was a big risk. My mother asked me the other day if I would ever go back to working for someone else and I told her I couldn’t ever see myself doing so again.
What motivates you to keep going and become even more successful?
I’m highly motivated by achieving new goals. Once I made my first dime, I wanted to make my second dime that much more quickly. Soon it was $100 a day and then I wanted to make it $200 a day. Supporting my family is also a huge motivator. I have a son entering college and another son who will need a car in a couple of years. I want to be able to help pay for those things. My husband and I have travel goals we’d like to meet, too. Hawaii, Greece, and a comfortable retirement. Each new financial goal I meet means I can achieve another level of success and so I keep striving for that next level. I have a fixed amount I’d like to make each month and I won’t slow down until I’m there.
You’re obviously an expert Amazon affiliate… what are some of the best tips you have for creating successful Amazon affiliate sites?
One of my best tools for creating a successful site is content. Content can be a great traffic getter all on its own. If you write useful, relevant content about a niche, you will get traffic – long-tail at first but then you’ll gain traction when your site continues to explore that topic in depth. I use very targeted posts that go after long-tails so that my sites become a sort of full-service, authority site around a niche. Once the visitor lands, I want them to have all the information they could possibly need before deciding which product to buy.
When you’re researching a product, ask lots of questions. Why does a product have a particular set of features? Who would need those features? When are they important and when are they not useful? Find the answers and include that information in your posts. It will connect your content with more readers through long-tailed searches and it also makes your site unique from most competitors.
Ignore products people don’t buy online. If a product appears to be something people would prefer to buy in person, it’s not worth your time when there are so many products available that people DO buy online. Why work harder than you have to?
Find products that people buy online and buy in multiples. When I buy lawn chairs, I never buy just one – I want a set of 2, 4, or 6. Products like these might have lower ticket prices but when you sell multiples of them at a time, you’ll see higher commissions more quickly.
How do you go about choosing niches or topics for your Amazon sites?
For my Amazon sites, I tend to pick complex products that have lots of features, buttons, controls, motors, and accessories. The more complex the product, the better, because I know that I’ll research it more thoroughly than most people will attempt. By doing so, I’ll get more traffic in the long run. These kinds of products also tend to have higher prices and the commissions are good for each individual sale.
I make sure that there are signs that these products are bought online by checking the number of reviews that are on Amazon. The more reviews, the more people have purchased these online before and the chances are good they’ll continue to do so.
At the root of things when it comes to getting Amazon sales, the overall goal is just to get the visitor to click thru to Amazon.com. Have you found any tricks to really increasing conversions or seen big differences in what types of calls to actions work best?
For my sites, I link almost every image in the post to Amazon, I include two Amazon style buttons, and I include at least 3 or 4 text links. Those have worked well for me. For my Squidoo lenses, I’ve been testing out using a button that says something like “see today’s favorite such and such” and link it to a search listing page on Amazon. This gets a good clickthrough volume but a low conversion rate. However, it showing incremental sales and I’ll take every one of those I can get.
What traffic strategies are working for you right now, and are there any that will always work?
My favorite traffic strategies – which also make for good backlinks – are several web 2.0 sites. Squidoo is by far my favorite. They rank well, they’re fun (in my opinion), and they can earn a strong page rank in their own right if done correctly. I have some sites where the site and a Squidoo lens rank on the first page for my main keyword. If I don’t capture a searcher one way, I stand a chance of getting them through the other link. Squidoo has a great system in place for referral traffic that your lenses can gain from other lenses. If you can tap into that traffic, you can use your lens to drive that traffic to your sites.
Where can people go to learn more from you?
I don’t have an internet marketing blog only because I’ve not carved out the time to set one up. I do have a list where I routinely send out informative emails, updates, and tips and a set of ebooks around Amazon affiliate marketing.
Erica’s main course is Extreme Review. If you’re not making money with Amazon yet but you want to then get it.
If you want to get as much in-depth info from Erica on being an Amazon super affiliate, then check out these products of hers: