Getting Started with Amazon Affiliates (Podcast)

Adam Smith from Cardiff (Wales) has made 6 figures doing Amazon Affiliate and he is today’s guest. We are going to be discussing what he does, how he’s got here, and he’s going to answer various other questions. Let’s get some good info from Adam today.

Craig: Welcome Adam, thank you very much for coming on.

Adam: Thanks, Craig, and thanks for asking me to come on. It’s a pleasure.

C: For anyone listening who hasn’t ever heard of you (I know you remain off the radar to some degree) — can you give us a brief intro of what you’re doing, what you’ve done, or just a bit about your background?

A: Sure. I’ve been involved in digital for a number of years. In the last four years, my day job has been agency side, firstly with a small agency that was very niche targeting, working on video adverts based in South-East Asia, so very niche agency but I learned quite a lot there. And from there I moved onto another more broader agency that dealt with the education market, so I was a digital strategist for some of the top universities in the UK, all of which paid strategy. I would go in and help them understand their audience, segment their audience, and understand and plan campaigns across the whole student cycle. It’s not like an eCommerce store where somebody sees a pair of red shoes, likes a pair of red shoes, and buys. The decision to attend a specific university can start and finish… that’s almost a 12-month decision or buying cycle there.

A: So, it’s how do we reach those audiences? How do we nurture them? And then how do we ultimately get them to enroll? So, that’s my background in terms of professionalism. I finished at the agency in May of 2019, and I’m now a full-time Amazon affiliate marketer. I haven’t really been in the Amazon game for an awful long time in comparison to a lot of other people that I see in the industry. I made my first major purchase in January 2018. That’s where it all started — that site I bought for $13,600. So, it was quite a big start, but based on my previous experience, I had quite a bit of confidence that I could make this a success. Seven months later, I flipped the site for $59,000. It was a great introduction.

Getting Started with Amazon Associates

C: So what made you think of Amazon out of all the affiliate options out there? What was its appeal?

A: Even though I started the Amazon stuff in 2018, I’ve been involved in affiliate stuff for an awful lot longer, always on the sides, never anything full time, or never been able to crack anything else. I’ve done a bit of affiliate stuff in terms of pin offers, zip offers; dating offers from Max Bounty and Peer Fly. And then they just fell by the wayside. I could never quite crack that enough to think I’m going to give it a good go and that it would be my full-time gig. I’ve done a little bit with Amazon sites before this, but in all honesty, it was a coincidence. I saw the site for sale, I had some spare cash and thought this is what I’m going to do. I believe I’ve got the skills and what it takes to do this. So, I decided to jump in with both feet.

C: It’s true; I think you’ve got to try and test different things and methods out. As I said to you prior to coming on live on here, I’m rather new to Amazon, too. I’ve done other affiliate deals in the past and fancied giving Amazon a go and seeing what would work and how. I also wanted to understand everything about Amazon Affiliates, as well. So, I’m with you on that one. I think if you have confidence in your own ability, then it’s not really going to be a poor investment. So, you paid $13,600 for it?

A: Yes, that’s right.

Investing in an existing Amazon Website

C: That’s a considerable sum of money for someone to invest in a website. For me personally, the reason I wanted to buy a site is that I wanted it to have some history, backlinks, content, and everything else. Were you going through the same thought process, like give yourself a head start?

A: Yes. I’ve never built an Amazon Affiliate site from scratch, and I never intend to. It’s a time versus reward factor. New sites typically tend to take a long time to come into their own and begin to gain traffic, even if you invest a load of money in them. I don’t know if you follow Spencer and his niche? He’s doing a niche site case study at the moment. He’s 18 months in, and I think he’s spent somewhere around $18,000 or $19,000, and the site has just cracked $1,000 a month. I don’t see the value in spending all that time getting to that point when I can buy a site that’s making $1,000 a month for $30,000, and I’ve just saved myself a load of time basically.

C: Yes, you’ve got all that content and the rest, as well. It would probably cost you five grand, or whatever it may be to get that same level of content, and then various other bits and bobs in links and so on.

A: Not only that, it’s cashflow positive from day one, as well. I assume you’re familiar with how sites are valued, but typically between 25 and 35 times monthly revenue is what you pay. So, you’ve got that base level if it’s got some history. I buy this today and invest this today, I know I’ve at least got a baseline of revenue going forward, which I can then work off.

C: Exactly, I think that’s always appealing. But in terms of then scaling that up prior to flipping it, was the website in good shape? What kind of work did you have to do on it to scale up?

A: This site, in terms of design and visuals, was very nice. It had stagnated, so there wasn’t any growth, although it had been steady for six months prior. The revenue had plateaued, and so had the traffic. The guy had really stopped working on the site. It looked like it had been a bit of a labor of love. It was in the barbecue and smoking niche, so I think the guy really loved his barbecue foods. He wrote a lot of the content himself, and I think he just got bored, let it sit, and decided to get rid of it. So, that site I purchased from Empire Flippers.

A: So, from a design perspective, it looked all right; it didn’t need an awful lot of work there. The content was semi-decent because it hadn’t been outsourced. And then I took it on. The site is different in terms of what it did there to what I do now. I actually did all the work myself, so I spent a lot of time writing the content, hundreds of thousands of words actually which when I thought about it afterward and thought that’s probably about 20 or 30 university dissertations worth of work, I blew myself out, to be honest.

A: That first site took me seven months. I worked on it every night, every weekend after work. I was still working full-time. To be honest, it really hurt in terms of doing all the work myself. It was a painful process, one that I had to go through to get to where I am now, but not something I would be keen to do again.

How to get content for Amazon Affiliate Sites

C: What would you do now? Would you outsource that content?

A: Yes. Everything is outsourced these days anyway. My main role these days are detailed analyses of potential new purchases, and then an intensive process in terms of strategy, which takes about four to six weeks upfront once a purchase has been made. I imagine the way the site needs to look and compare it to how it looks now. I’m very much a fan of virtual asylum, so that will include restructuring the URLs of a site, or restructuring the categories, and making custom category pages so that everything flows through correctly.

A: Then, it takes building out and mapping what content is already on the site. Once that structure’s finalized, and I can see the different categories that I want to pursue, mapping out what content already sits within each category and moving that around on a site might be necessary. What happens next is extensive keyword research (long-term keywords) I don’t really go after anything other than long-tail keywords. I map those out against the new structure and then outsource the content.

C: So, you do the whole strategy by yourself and then just outsource the grunt work like content and the rest?

Outsource and Delegate the Grunt Work

A: Exactly. The grunt work at the moment is formatting and uploading the content, which takes some time. I tried working with a VA from the Philippines to do that and it worked well for a while, but it didn’t quite work out in the end. Now I outsource to three different content providers. One of them includes uploading and formatting within the price. My next step is to ask all content partners to do that to retain business.

C: So, for anyone obviously listening, say it’s one product review, what is the average cost for that to be written and formatted? What’s your budget for paying out for that?

A: I just pulled up my order from last month. A 3,500-word piece of content typically costs around £61. Two of my content providers are billed in dollars, and one is billed in pounds. They’re roughly around the same – between $22 and $27 per 1,000 words. One provider uploads it for that same price, at no extra cost. I think it’s because we put in a bulk order, so that comes as free then.

C: That leads me to my next question very well. How many articles would you throw at a website per month?

How many articles to add to an Amazon Affiliates website per month?

A: As many as I can afford. My content order for last month was just shy of 500,000 words. Therefore, that works out to be around 140 articles across 7 sites.

C: That is a lot of content.

A: Yes, and it’s only growing month to month, so the order gets bigger gradually.

C: Yeah, I’m sure the content writers will love you. Do you face the usual problems that I’ve faced in the past where content writers get burned out? They’re good for a couple of months and then fall off. How do you manage that?

A: That’s definitely happened in the past. I’ve had all kinds of requests from neighbors saying to me, “Oh, I’d really like some extra money.” One gentleman had lost his job and said, “I’d love to work from home. I’d love to do some writing.” It all sounds great. You tell them — sit down, write 3,500 words, which will probably take you three or four hours, and I will pay you 65 pounds. They say that it sounds amazing, but when it actually comes time to write the 3,500-word articles, they quickly decide it’s not for them.

A: The way we’ve circumvented that is by working with two content providers that are agencies. I am assuming that they have heaps of writers themselves, and they outsource that — it becomes their problem. The other source is an individual gentleman who lives near to me. I met him at an SEO meetup event, and I’m suspecting that he’s started working full-time with me based on the work that I give him. I know he’s committed since he’s quit his job to do this now.

C: I think it is amazing if you can get someone local rather than outsourcing it all the time. But obviously, the cost of hiring someone here in the UK is not always the most cost-effective option. Because the margins are so low on Amazon, you need to kind of balance the books. But I mean, as I say, I’ve tried the Philippines, I’ve tried loads of different places for content. Do you have any preference for where your content writers come from? Are you getting better results from a specific continent or country?

A: No, not really. So, when it goes to an agency, I don’t actually know who produces that. It could be somebody from the Philippines, it could be somebody from elsewhere. And there’s no real difference in terms of results I see from the native English writer compared to outsourced content from these agencies who obviously don’t use native English writers. I know that everybody bangs on about making the best piece of content that you can possibly create and make it better than everyone else’s, and that’ll gain you natural backlinks et cetera, but to be honest with you in the Amazon affiliate world, you’re never really going to gain backlinks in any kind of numbers to a post that’s called Best Soccer Boots for Wide Feet. It’s not exciting content, so that’s never going to happen.

A: It doesn’t have to be the best content. And my strategy is volume, to be honest. I don’t do a lot of link building, in fact, six of the sites I’ve done no link building for. It’s all just based around content.

C: So, you don’t build any links in a lot of those websites, all just long-tail stuff pulling through, no broad keywords at all?

Going after Long Tail Keywords

A: That’s it. And that’s where I think my edge lies is in — identifying those long-tail keywords. I spend an awful lot of time doing that initial strategy, coming up with these enormous lists of literally every possible combination. I then run them through a number of tools. I’ve also had a couple of tools built (proprietary tools) that help me sort out in terms of competition. And then it’s literally going from top to bottom of the list ensuring that nothing is cannibalized and it’s all content.

C: So, have you considered just throwing some link budget at it as well and thought what might happen here with even one of them?

A: Yes. One of them is the biggest in the portfolio, which I think is at the level where it now warrants links. We’ve mostly run out of keyword ideas. We’ve been adding content to this site for the last three months in the form of 50 articles a month. All of the low hanging fruit is what I consider my specialty. That’s done now. If we want to grow further, we’ll either have to move into informational content or push the head keywords, neither of which appeal to me too much. I don’t like pushing out informational content because it doesn’t give a direct return, and I don’t like going after head keywords because there’s too much competition.

Growing a site using content, then flipping it

A: So, my personal strategy is to grow a site to this level and then to flip it on.

C: That makes total sense, and you’re the perfect guy for me. The website that I bought that I was telling you about earlier, the golf site, the guy had done an amazing job — amazing website and lots of content — and he had taken it as far as he felt he could. Where I added value was in the link building side of things and was able to then scale that up to another level. If link building’s not your thing, or you don’t want to get involved, I think it’s obviously a good business model to be able to start off and build things up to a certain level and then flip it. For me, the resale value is where it’s at.

C: If you’ve got your process right, you fully understand what you need to do. As you said, you do the strategy then you outsource the content. I’m assuming you’ve got in your head some calculation of “I’ll spend £10,000 on a website buying it, I’ll spend five grand on bits and bobs, and then I’ll be able to flip it for 50”. Is that how you look at it?

A: Yes. My rule of thumb is I purchase a site, spend between 25 and 30% of the purchase price on doing it up, and then flip it for between 200-300%, sometimes a little bit higher, within six to eight months.

C: Interesting. As I say, there’s a business model within doing what you’re doing as well. It’s amazing that you are so honest about how you make your money in affiliate marketing. Even saying that you don’t want to go after links is honest, and it’s fine so long as you’re making money at the end of the day.

A: I mean, you can scale sites using this model to a decent size. So, we talked offline about your golf site and my golf site. We both bought them around the same time — January 2019. In January, it made $330. That only through this content strategy that has now scaled. It’s now making $6,336. So, without any real links. We do rent five PBNs. Aside from that, it’s just been content, content, content.

Do Amazon Sites Rank on Content Alone?

C: Yeah. As I say, it’s remarkable. The amount of Amazon websites I see that just rank in content alone is frightening, and that’s where I personally look for my opportunities. And then, as I say, that’s when I think I can swoop in and take it to the next level.

A: So, basically, what you’re saying is then the next site they have for sale is to hit you up.

C: Definitely. I’m creating a marketplace, as well. I’m always interested in good investments, and as I say, if the money’s right, it’s now for me about making the money work for me a bit like yourself. If I spend this, I’m going to make that. And I know roughly what X amount of money is going to return me if I implement everything. I don’t want to just do Amazon, I want to do some eCommerce stuff and various other bits and bobs as well. Is that similar to yourself, are you looking to also do things like that, or is it just Amazon you want to do?

A: It’s primarily Amazon. If I see a site I like and it’s got potential, I buy it if I’ve got spare cash. Although it’s my full-time job now, it’s not quite like a business. It still feels like I’m just doing it freelance here and there.

A: So, I see the future of what I do here. We’re just about to start a seed round investment fund for the capitalization of a business that actually buys and sells sites as a five-year business model, and we’ll buy and sell in that five years a defined 15 websites of various values along with the business plan. And then liquidate all the assets at the end of five years and that will be the business basically.

Investing in Digital Assets

A: So, it’s not buying digital assets anymore, it’s now running a business. There’ll be another member of staff and me, and we run the day to day things like an actual business. There’ll be set periods and set targets that each site has to hit in order for the milestones to be unlocked for us to continue to move forward. That is where I’m headed to now.

C: Interesting. And obviously, I always wish every businessman all the best with going forward, but what if you weren’t hitting those milestones? Have you got a backup plan, or how’s that going to work?

A: The business will work in three cycles. The initial investment will allow us to purchase five websites. And those five websites will be benchmarked across year one. If performance doesn’t reach or is below a specific level at the end of year one, we reevaluate and decide either to return capital or to continue forward into the second cycle.

A: If that’s successful, the second cycle begins. This one starts and ends, as well, and then the same process occurs again. If those five sites of cycle 2 don’t hit the milestones and targets that we were expecting, what are we doing now? Can we move forward if we fix it? If not, is it time to liquidate now?

C: I take it you’ve already got all the processes in place. Are you just going to do that, scale up the way you’ve done with your own stuff?

A: Exactly. The processes are in place. I think you touched on finding quality content providers at decent rates who are reliable. That’s in place. The strategy’s in place because obviously, that’s me. So, it’s now just a case of how do we take flipping sites here and there and everywhere into this is a business, this is the business model? We will buy five sites within the next five months, and this is how they will perform. Once they hit a certain performance level, we will sell and reinvest that money into cycle two then.

C: What about where to look for digital assets? Everyone knows about Empire Flippers, but there’s not always the website that you want on there. Do you have any tips or hints on other places that maybe the general public doesn’t know about? Where else do you look for these websites?

Where to find good websites to buy?

A: I think it’s difficult for the general public to get started. The more involved I get in this world, the more I network with people who are at the same level or even higher than myself. There’s almost this underworld where there are clubs that are almost secret. These guys have a lot of deal flow that comes to them before it goes anywhere else. They’re actively out there looking for deal flow, so they’re scraping search results and making offers to sites which haven’t been updated in X amount of time.

A: I’m quite fortunate now that I feel like I’ve broken into that circle. I see a lot of deal flow before it goes even to the Facebook groups now. Typically deal flow will go to private investors, maybe some Facebook groups, and then to a marketplace, maybe Flipper or Empire Flippers if it’s of the correct size. It’s how you try and position yourself and move up that value chain. Once something’s on the marketplace, typically, it’s passed through a private investor who’s not interested, as well as a couple of Facebook or networking groups that are not interested. Then, almost as a last resort, I’ll put it on Empire Flippers because they’ve got a big buyers’ list. That’s how you try and move yourself up that value chain. The closer you can get to the top, the better deals that you see.

Do others get to see websites before they go to a marketplace?

C:  I would 100% agree with you that I’ve spoken to loads of guys in the past and asked them their opinion on a particular website. Lots of my friends in the industry had already seen a website I thought I was the first one to notice. So, I think you’re spot on. If you’re not in these private masterminds or clubs, then sometimes you could be missing out. So, the natural questions that people will ask is “How do you enter those clubs?”. My advice would be that it’s through networking and surrounding yourself with the right people. You’ve got to be out there — you can’t just wait for these things to drop in your lap.

A: No. You’re going to be otherwise left with the sites you don’t want.

C: Exactly, the sites that no one else wants. And it’s the same when you’re looking for domain names, expired domain names, and others. The drop catchers are catching stuff, and if you go to a provider like expireddomains.net or some other one, you’ve been left with the ones that no one wants. So, I think that happens in all walks of life anyway. There is underworld and you just have to get to know the right people and get out to events. So, do you go to many events? Where do you network? Is it locally, or no?

Use networking to get the right contacts

A: Most of my network work where the deal comes from is all done online. I attend the local SEO meetup, and that’s about it, to be honest. I’ll attend the Empire Flippers 6 and 7-figure Mastermind Retreat next year, as well as the Chiang Mai SEO meetup. So, they’re my two go-to events for next year, and if I can convince my fiancee to come and allow me to spend a couple of days out the event while she chills by the pool, that would be great.

C: I think Chiang Mai is a very, very good event. It’s one of the best ones I’ve been to. I spoke there last year. Sadly I’m not able to make it this year because I’ve got another speaking engagement. Haven’t you ever been to Chiang Mai?

A: No, never.

C: I would go there. Less for the event itself and more for the guys that are there. They’re all crazy affiliate guys that test a lot of things and do very weird things, but it works. That’s what we love, right? You don’t want to go to an event where someone’s just looking to sell their tool. I haven’t gone to the Empire Flippers one, but I am friendly with Gregory, and Justin was in my mastermind group at Chiang Mai last year. Both events are great, so if you can get your partner to go with you, do it. Last year when I went to Chiang Mai, my wive was 7 or 8-months pregnant, so I had to get back home fast. I wish I could have had more time there. I was there for 8 days, but I could have easily stayed there for a month.

A: I can imagine.

C: There’s a lot to be picked up there. Those guys are buying, selling, and flipping sites and they can put you in touch with the right guys who’ll even help you get into the clubs where you get offered the websites before they go out to the masses.

C: Now that we’ve talked about how you do Amazon and your goals, I have to ask. Are you going to stick to this or get back to agency life?

Will you go back to an agency after doing affiliate sites?

A: No. Definitely not. Leaving the agency life was probably the best decision I made. Agency life sucks the soul out of you, takes you here, there, and everywhere, and can turn you into a selling machine. This other type of lifestyle is much more chilled out. I make my own hours. Besides, since everything’s outsourced now, my day-to-day stuff is nowhere near as stressful as it was when I was at an agency.

C: I know there are many people listening and will want to leave their agency, as well. So, how did you do it? How did you get that money to invest in a website? When did you decide to jump? Can you explain a bit more about that kind of process?

A: Sure. So, I just had some money saved up which is where the initial investment came from. In terms of actually leaving the agency, it wasn’t ideal in terms of timings and anything like that. So, I asked the agency if I could drop down to three days a week to pursue this part time initially. They said yes, but there was a process. They wanted six months for them to make a decision. With that in mind, I should have either stayed there and worked full time for at least six months, with no guarantee of dropping down to three days per week, or I had to jump at that moment.

A: It can be frightening – with a small child, a mortgage, regular bills, a partner back at work just part-time. Taking a step down from a relatively well-paid agency job with a car allowance and the rest to relying on my income from Amazon full-time can be risky. Google could change their algorithm tomorrow, Amazon could turn off their program tomorrow, and I’d be left with pretty much not a lot of income. It’s very much a risky thing to do, but as with all things in life if you take a risk and it works out, then typically it works out in a good way, and the bigger the risk, usually the bigger the reward. So, it was I’d like to say a calculated risk, but it certainly wasn’t on the timescale that I had planned initially.

C: So, what was the reasoning behind the agency saying six months? Is that until they found a replacement?

A: I suppose it was partly that, but I think partly playing a little bit of hardball. They only have a handful of accounts, but the accounts are massive, and once you’re somewhat embedded within the accounts, the account shouldn’t see change, which includes seeing new faces. If you were the one to build a strategy for a year or 18 months, with your recommendations and reasoning, if there’s a new person coming in halfway through the cycle, that doesn’t look great for the relationship. There was also a little bit of hardball that maybe I’ll stay if they drag it out a little bit. I don’t know is the honest answer.

C: I was just curious to know if there was a logical reason, or they were just being jerks.

A: I don’t want to say, but they definitely forced my hands.

When is the right time to start in affiliate marketing?

C: As I say, I know lots of guys who ask me, “When did you decide to jump into doing your own stuff in your own business?” and it’s always interesting to hear when you’ve done it. Clearly, you didn’t have any real strategy behind it, you just went for it and took the chance. For example, I had built up enough income to cover my wages before I jumped. That was the way I’d done it, but it’s amazing just to hear that some people just go, “Fuck it, I’m going.”

A: I mean it wasn’t totally just like, “Fuck it, I’m going.” The Amazon income from the portfolio of sites more than covered my salary at the time. So, it wasn’t a, “I’m finishing today and now I have to try and figure out where my next payslip is coming from” kind of situation. It definitely wasn’t like that. So, the portfolio was bringing in quite a bit of money every month, so I wasn’t just jumping in and thinking, “What now?”.

C: It’s not quite as bad as I was making it out.

A: No. If I didn’t have that income level there, then it would have been difficult for me to say, “Okay, let’s go.” With a mortgage and a family and a small child.

C: For anyone who is considering jumping out of a job and doing similarly to what you’ve done there, I take it the rewards in terms of freedom and the ability to be able to work when you want is massively worth more than the money, right?

A: Not just that, it’s how quickly you can progress. So, I’ve probably progressed more in the last four months than I did in the previous year. So, just for example, that initial strategy when you buy a site, I can knock that out in a week doing full-time working on it here. If I was to do that again in the evenings or on the weekends, that would take so much longer. The number of sites I could purchase would be negligible compared to what it is now. So, it just allows you to scale faster, to move faster. Plus, you’ve got all the benefits you just mentioned in terms of time, so I can finish when I want, I can go and pick my little boy up from creche. I can drop him off. If my partner’s off, then we can take him to the park if the weather’s nice. It’s that level of flexibility, which is also very nice.

C: And you could always work abroad when you’re on holiday and stuff.

A: I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been agency side for years, but I’m still very regimental even though I’m full-time doing this now. I rent an office in time, I get up, I go to the gym in the morning. I go to the office for nine. I’m there until at least half four, and every day it’s the same. I don’t work from home. I tend not to try and take lots of days off unless the weather is particularly nice, and we can take Parker to the park and things. It’s still very much treated as a serious job, in that these are the set hours. I take half an hour for lunch, and in that half an hour I can do what I want. I can watch YouTube, or Netflix or whatever, but after that half hour’s up, I’m back to work.

Make sure you stick to a rigid working structure

C: Having the rigid approach is much better. At one point in my career, I was working from home. I’d worked from home for about three or four years and my wife worked as a nursery nurse at the time, so what I tried to do was I drove her to work, dropped her off, came back, and I thought I’ll work while she was working. But what I then slipped into was crawling back into bed for an hour, watching Jeremy Kyle. At one point, I had to do what you did, I had. to get an office so that I was actually going out to work. Otherwise, I found it very hard to motivate myself lying about in the house. Some people might be able to do that, but I don’t want my house to be the office all the time. I think it’s quite important.

A: And not just that, it works when you finish as well. So, when I finish, and I go home, it’s as if I’m home then. Work is done until tomorrow.

C: Yeah, I’m the same. We’re almost out of time. Hopefully, we can get you on as a guest in the future as well, get an update from you, see what’s new. As I say, thank you. Well, tell people first of all, if anyone wants to talk to you, get advice from you, where can people get a hold of you?

A: You can find me on LinkedIn. I’ve got the most unusual name ever, Adam Smith, so there’s probably a million of us. But maybe I don’t know if you’re going to do any show notes Craig or anything like that, but you can put a link in there. An email as well, so I don’t mind people … I’ll give Craig my email address and people can email me whether they’re interested in they’re just starting out on this journey and they’re after a little bit of advice, or at the total opposite end of the spectrum if they’re interested in that whole buying or flipping as a business model and maybe want to get involved, or any aspect like that, then again, hit me up.

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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 18 years.

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