Well… Technically I’ve actually been an Amazon affiliate for over 2 years – but I haven’t made any money off them yet… I swear. I signed up for Amazon’s affiliate program a couple of years ago when I was very green in the MMO game and literally had no idea what the hell I was doing. Honestly, I can’t even remember what site I was going to use it on at the time, and I don’t think I ever actually placed any code online. My stats over the last 2 years seem to indicate no activity.

At any rate, long time readers of this blog may find the fact that I’ve decided to move in to Amazon affiliate territoy somewhat surprising, because I’ve spent a lot of time here expressing my disdain for their affiliate program. In light of everything that has happened regarding Ebay Partner Network over the past year, I can now say confidently that I had it pegged all wrong to begin with.

First off, I’ll start out by mentioning some of the reasons why I had a bad impression of the Amazon affiliate program to begin with:

They have a shorter tracking cookie – meaning you will need your referral traffic to purchase quickly to get credit.

I am not 100% sure on the exact details, but I believe their overall commission payout is lower than EPN.

They take 2 months to pay out

They don’t offer PayPal as an option to receive commission (this isn’t a huge problem, but I like the fact that EPN does).

That’s pretty much it. To be fair, originally Ebay’s affiliate program was leaps and bounds better than it is now when I originally made this assessment – they used to pay a straight up $25 referral fee and there was none of the quality score shit that they have injected into their program now. So a year ago, Amazon really did have an inferior affiliate program, in my opinion, but as I’m writing this now, the reasons I listed above for my dislike of Amazon seem pretty marginal now.

The fact of the matter is, there are people reeling in some serious dosh off Amazon’s affiliate program. Not only that, there are people who have been doing this for years – not just since EPN decided to run their affiliate program into the ground. As far as I’m concerned, if there are people out there making 5 figure monthly Amazon commissions, it sure as hell must be a viable way to go. I’ve had a LOT of success with EPN, pretty good sustained success with Adsense, and I think it’s time for me to branch out and try my hand at Amazon.

So instead of going nuts and doing a 100 Amazon site challenge, or something like that, this time, I am going to do a ton of initial testing on several formats for Amazon affiliate sites. I’m going to see what is working, then try to scale it up once I’ve got a handle on things. One of the best things I learned from my 100 EPN site experiment was the importance of testing and planning, and I fully intend to do that here. I am hoping that by the end of 1st quarter 2010, I’ll have learned enough about Amazon to scale up majorly.

I’m going to start by testing 3 different kinds of Amazon affiliate sites, and possibly add some variations if I come across any. The first is the classic thin site. I think I can still do well with thin Amazon affiliate sites, similar to what I’ve done with EPN. I just released WP Commerce Flex, and I’ve finally purchased a copy of PHPZon, so I’m going to try to combine the two and see what I come up with. I don’t know if it will be quite as powerful as the EPN version, but it’s worth a shot. The second type of site is niche product sites – almost exactly like what I did in my 100 EPN site challenge. I think this format will work perfect with Amazon – just as well as it currently does with EPN, and possibly better in some cases. I may also move some of my current EPN sites to Amazon sites, depending on how things go. Last, I am going to work on some large sites that have a variety of product reviews – so taking a broad niche URL and filling it with a ton of relevant product reviews, and treating each one as it’s own separate entity –  in regards to building links. I will also experiment with it on Hubpages as well.

I’ve already got projects in the works, and I am fairly confident I can start generating some income off Amazon fairly quickly – especially considering the time of year.  As always, I will keep you posted on my findings.

100 EPN Site Update

Thanks to everyone who has shown interest in the project and contributed here, it has been a lot of fun so far, and I plan to continue periodic updates. I ended up earning around $300 from these sites last month, this month I am on pace for about the same, however it is all relative due to the fact that I will earn money from clicks on these sites regardless of whether they individually perform well or not. Fact of the matter is, I have a few of these sites that have performed well individually, especially considering the circumstances, but overall, my results are far below expectations. The amount of actual Ebay sales and revenue these 100 sites are generating is not particularly high, and wouldn’t have likely exceeded $300 in generated commisions for me either last month or this month. The reason why? They aren’t ranking for any of their targeted keywords, rather very long tail keywords. I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and here’s what happened: back in early summer, I joined the Keyword Academy. They teach a very specific keyword research method. Part of the reason they teach it the way that they do, I believe, is because their program is designed to work for people that literally have no Internet Marketing experience at all. Where I really failed on this project, is I followed their guidelines for keyword research way too closely. The end result, was that literally almost all of my 100 sites are targeting terms that are competitive enough to get them sandboxed, which is why they aren’t receiving any targeted traffic from Google. Now this isn’t a knock on the TKA keyword research method, it’s more my own problem. I believe TKA teaches keyword research the way they do, because they don’t want people who are new to spend a ton of time and effort building and promoting a site that won’t generate them that much money. Alternatively, for me, since I already have a nice passive revenue stream and I have a large amount of web properties, it doesn’t really matter if certain sites have a lower earning potential for me, as it all goes into the pot, and as long as a site can cover it’s yearly 7.xx domain registration fee, it’s good enough for me.

So while I thought I was still targeting relatively specific niches for this project, at the time, in retrospect I really was not. I was targeting keywords more along the line of “obscure widget” rather than “purple obscure widget”. The former is more likely to get sandboxed in this case, where the latter has a much better chance of ranking quickly because the competition is so low.

Basically, the current status of the 100 site challenge is that YES, the sites are earning me money – around $300 per month, however almost none of the sites are ranking in the top 100 for their main keywords, despite a large link building effort, meaning that they are all “sandboxed” or whatever you want to call it.

Luckily, there is a bright side to following the TKA method. These sites are all well built upon a foundation of content, meaning at some point in the near future, they will come out of the sandbox and begin to rank for their keywords. Because I’ve already done a lot of link building, particularly leveraging Web 2.0’s, when they do begin to come out of the sandbox, they should be stronger than ever, and I should see a real significant increase in earnings.

The sites were built in August/Early September, so they are all around the 3 month mark in age. There’s no definitive evidence on when the sandboxing period ends, but I have heard some people say 3 months, other say 6 months and some even say up to 9 months. I believe the general consensus is closer to 6 months, meaning that I could start to see the light on this project as early as February, or as late as May. I will personally plan on having low expectations until at least May, and be pleasantly surprised if I get anything sooner.

I was originally hoping to hit a quick score on this project and use the funds to finance even bigger MMO projects, but it’s been quite the contrary. It’s almost like investing in a Money Market or CD, you’ve got to put in a lot up front, and you won’t see any kind of return for quite a while – however in this case, the payout for me should be huge, it will just take longer than expected.

So going back to what I was saying about keyword research, I’ve already got a handful of new sites in the works that take a different approach to keyword research, targeting extremely specific niches. This approach really does not borrow anything from the TKA method at all, so I can talk a little more about it. Basically I’m looking for 2 key factors – 1. Does the term get at least 800 searches per month according to the Google Keyword Tool, and 2. Can I purchase the exact domain name as a .com? If the keyword satisfies both of these criteria, then I believe it has enough potential to merit putting up a site. I just started working on this, and I have 4 sites I’m going to be testing this strategy on, which should be deployed no later than next Wednesday. I’m going to deploy them all on the same day, monitize 2 of them, and not monitize the other 2. I will probably use EPN on one and Adsense on the other. These 4 keywords are all going to have exact .com domain names and very low competition, so it should be simple to get them ranking quickly. I want to see if I can get all of these sites on page one quickly, and sustain it without them slipping into the sandbox. I also want to test whether initially using EPN and Adsense has any effect on ranking/sandboxing as well. I’m hoping to get some real clear cut findings from this new mini-experiment, which I can possibly scale very soon if I find that it’s working.

Analytics

I wanted to touch on the topic of analytics. A helpful commenter posted on my October update regarding the use of Google Analytics on these sites. We went back and forth, and ultimately I agreed that while there are some real benefits to using Google Analytics, the risk is not worth it. So immediately following that back and forth exchange, I went ahead and removed analytics from ALL of my sites in this particular experiment.

I’m glad that I did, however it made me realize how much I really did enjoy using it, at the same time. The main thing I liked about analytics specifically regarding this project, was that I could view overall combined data for 50 sites at once, rather than having to look at each individual site’s performance. So for example, I could see daily, weekly and monthly traffic trends as a percentage, bounce rate, time on page, etc. I found that all to be completely helpful throughout the initial months of this project.

A good friend of mine recommended Piwik, which is an open source version of analytics. I have installed it on about 10-20 sites, and it is a very nice solution. The only beef I have with it is that I haven’t been able to find a way to replicate that “group” reporting the way I was with Google Analytics. I’ve also tried a couple other free analytics tools, but nothing else has even come close. I am now using Piwik for a few other sites independent of this project, but I don’t anticipate using it on any more sites that are part of the 100. At this point, none of my sites have been competitive for their targeted keywords anyway, so I’ve decided to just not even worry about stats for now. Down the road I may change my mind, but it’s kind of a time sink anyway.

Other Projects

So… If you haven’t already guessed, I’m not doing a hell of a lot of work on my EPN sites any more. I spent a shit ton of time backlinking them already, and I get the feeling that no matter how much care I put into backlinking these sites, it isn’t going to make an ounce of difference. The only thing that will make a difference at this point is time.

I’ve been throwing up some “thin” EPN sites which are already starting to do well. The formula is simple – use the WP Commerce Flex theme, add content on the home page, and add a few blog posts, then fill out the rest of the site like a catalog.

I promised I was going to release an updated version of the WP Contempo theme when I reached 100 RSS feed subscribers, but I decided to spend 2 days cleaning up WP Commerce Flex instead.

There is a reason. As I was going through this whole 100 EPN site challenge, while checking my EPN stats every day, I realized that 2 of my top performing EPN sites are sites I built about a year ago using the WP Commerce Flex theme. If you take a look back to the example site I linked to on the WP Commerce Flex page, I can tell you for sure, that my 2 other well performing sites are set up almost exactly like this site in every way.  I believe now, that the main reason they were not slapped by G was that they did not have any ads on the home page at all.

This prompted me to start throwing up some new sites in this same style – general niche, lots of product pages, no ads on the home page. I’m still early on in the process, but already getting some promising results. I am going to give it a try with Amazon as well.

Anyway, that’s the reason why I release that particular theme. I had only been using it privately before, but I wanted to give it a big cosmetic overhaul and make it available to everyone, so that’s what I did. It takes a little work to get an entire site set up, but overall I think the end result is really nice.

In addition to these thin sites, the main thing I have been working on is some X-Mas related sites. I’ve got an entire network of X-mas themed sites in production, and some are already doing quite well. I got the idea because I have a halloween site, that is one of the first sites I ever made for affiliate purposes. It’s been banned by Google and I haven’t laid a finger on it at all since early 2007, and yet it still manages to pull in at least $1000 during September and October between adsense and EPN. And the numbers were even more amazing when it was still getting Google traffic. Anyway, my point is that the first year I had the site I didn’t make shit off of it, however after it sat for a year it got better, then after another year it got a LOT better, and this year it had been slapped by Google, but it was STILL doing great. Point being, it’s kind of a bitch only being able to earn off of a site for maybe 2 months out of the year, but it can be easier to rank, and it’s a nice passive income once you’ve aged the site. Just another thing to kick into the pot. I’m hoping I can replicate the same thing with my network of Christmas themed sites, and I’m building them in such a way that they will hopefully be fairly viable all year round.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on my X-mas sites lately – the only other thing I want to mention is Hubpages and Infobarrel. I put up 120 Hubs over the summer in response to all the buzz in the industry generated partially by TKA. Those hubs in particular make me between 0-5 dollars daily via adsense. Since then, I’ve been throwing up a good 20 50 additional hubs and infobarrels per month spread between a couple of accounts. I’ve been using them for links, and testing niches. My Adsense earnings are up about 25%, and these Web 2.0’s are a big reason why. The other reason being I have an adsense site I developed about 6 months ago that finally started cranking out some revenue. Anyway, point here is that, while you probably don’t want to try to make a living off Hub Pages, I’ve been just throwing up a few hubs and barrels a week to support my other sites, and it results in decent backlinks as well as a nice little side income. Plus, many of the hubs I put up back in July are now PR2 and PR3.

Anyway, it’s been a monster post, so I hope it was worth the wait. I will try to continue posting more regularly, although it will depend somewhat on how my workload is. Everyone, please note that I’ve finally added threaded comments to this site, so hopefully that will be a little extra encouragement for you all to leave a comment.

Have a happy Thanksgiving!


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