Learning Affiliate Marketing is Hard

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

I’ve always been fascinated by learning hacks.
“Learning how to learn” is probably one of the best skills you can develop in life.
Affiliate marketing was one of the hardest things I had to learn. I was able to achieve success in under a year, but I literally had to live, eat, and breathe it.
You’re probably at my blog because you want to learn affiliate marketing. Yet once you start your journey you’re realizing that it’s a lot harder than it looks.
I want to dive into why learning affiliate marketing can be difficult.
This post isn’t meant to scare you away from affiliate marketing. You need to know your enemy first before you can conquer it.

This is a Secretive Industry

If you wanna learn how to play poker, there are unlimited resources out there. You can buy countless books, take courses, read articles, and even hire a coach for $100 an hour.
It’s not exactly “step-by-step”, but there are multiple experts who can coach you, and you’ll get better gradually.
The same goes for chess or most pursuits. The recipes are out there, and you only have to focus on execution.
Can you say the same about affiliate marketing?
How many people are actively sharing what they know? I always found it fascinating that there are thousands of affiliate marketers out there, yet there are only a few active bloggers. And there’s a limit on how much information I can share (I gotta eat too).
Check out blogs, private forums, Facebook groups, etc.
Just be careful of what you read online because context matters. One person says to bid high and another person says to bid low. They both could be sharing what works for them. But because you don’t see the details of their campaign, you don’t know how it can apply to you.
One of the most valuable things you can do is try to find a mentor who can help you weed through all the b.s.
That’s why I’ve always encouraged people to go to local affiliate meet ups and conferences. People are so much more open to sharing in person than online.

This is Discovered Learning

Here’s the U.S. school system in a nutshell:

  1. You read a chapter in a book over and over again.
  2. Memorize facts.
  3. Get “tested” to see how well you remembered what you learn.

You’re not getting an A for how well you execute what you learned. You’re not getting an “A” for experimenting.
You get an “A” for memorizing facts – That’s how we’re taught to learn.

But that’s not how the real world works.
The real world is a constant experiment.
So when someone enters the affiliate marketing industry their instinct is to search for a step by step recipe to emulate. They want to teacher to hold their hand and tell them what to do. It’s what we’ve been taught to do.
(The closest thing you’ll find out there is my free affiliate marketing course.)
Learning affiliate marketing is like becoming a researcher.
You have to perform experiments over and over again and go through a process of self-discovery.
Test and see.
You’re in charge of your own learning.
No one’s going to tell you exactly what’s working. You have to do your own research for “clues” and perform your own experiments to see what works for you.

You’re Thrown Against the Wolves on Day 1

Imagine it’s your first day of boxing.
You’re excited to start training.
Your first opponent? Floyd Mayweather.
That doesn’t happen in boxing though.
You go to a boxing gym. Practice sparring with other people. Then when it’s time to “fight”, you’re matched against people your experience level.
You only fight the best when you’re ready, after decades of training from the best coaches in the world.
But affiliate marketing doesn’t have these built in playgrounds for newbies.
If you’re promoting on Facebook, then you’re competing against everyone directly. You’re competing against me. But you’re also competing against other newbies as well.
If you’re targeting 18-30-year-old moms on Facebook, then you could be competing against the local restaurant that has no idea what they’re doing.
Or you could be competing against a 10-year veteran with a 300% ROI campaign.
This can be a good and a bad thing – you can crush some of your competition, and others can crush you.

There’s a High Cost to Failure

My muscles are aching.
I could barely walk out of bed this morning because my left thigh abductor is sore.
Last week I trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu 8 times. I am improving rapidly.
But there’s a cost to everything.
What’s the cost? I put in 10 hours of my time. My gym membership is $225 a month. And I have some muscle soreness.
Overall I will get better at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu if I keep coming to class.
The cost isn’t too bad for me.
Most pursuits are like this. All you have to do is put in the “reps” and you’ll improve. Play more chess games and you’ll get better. Play your scales and you’ll be a better musician.
Give your time and your energy and you’ll improve.
What about affiliate marketing?
It’s not just time and energy – you always have to invest money. And unfortunately, money is a finite resource, so it’s a double edged sword.
Traffic’s not free.
Tools and servers aren’t free.
You can’t run unlimited campaigns.
If I go to a 2 hour BJJ class, my “opportunity cost” is I could’ve stayed home and played Overwatch.
I remember losing my first $500 on an affiliate campaign. It sucked. I started thinking about all the different things that I could’ve spent that $500 on.
There’s a mental cost to failing as well in any given pursuit.
I sparred with a guy the other day in BJJ class. He submitted me.

It was his 1st week of training.

I’ve been training for 1.5 years.
I felt as if I failed to represent the gentle art.
But then I reframed the situation. He did outweigh me by quite a bit and seemed quite athletic. Who knows what kind of wrestling or other experience he had prior to this.
My measuring stick is always me. Am I better than myself 6 months ago? Yes. Then keep going.
So many destructive thoughts went through my mind when I started in affiliate marketing:

  • It’s too late for me to make money online
  • I should just focus on getting a raise. At least I’m guaranteed a pay check every week.
  • Why do I keep wasting money like this? I could be spending it on so many other things.

There is a cost to failing in affiliate marketing.
But I kept going forward because I didn’t think of the cost as that high.

  • Losing money on campaigns? I’m buying data and learning.
  • Is it too late to make money online? I see a bunch of other affiliate marketers killing it. If they figured it out, then so can I. They don’t seem that different to me, we both started in similar places.
  • A stable pay check would be nice, but being my own boss would be incredible.
  • What if I lose all my money? I can easily get another job again, plus I’m learning a skill that’s in hot demand (media buying and internet marketing)

Can you pay the cost to be the boss?

The “Meta” of Affiliate Marketing is Constantly Shifting

The “meta” refers to what’s the “strongest” strategies at the moment.
I love playing Overwatch on PS4. A few months ago the “meta” was to use triple tanks. Now the “meta” is what’s called a dive comp.
What worked a few months ago may not work right now in Overwatch because a stronger strategy has been discovered.
Same thing happens with affiliate marketing.
The meta does shift. What worked last year, may not be working now.
Back in 2011, everyone was running adult affiliate dating with Traffic Junky / Exoclick. Now it’s a lot harder to make it work.
Running native ad affiliate campaigns was easier 2 years ago than it is now.
I’m not saying it’s impossible to make it work, it’s harder.
That’s the problem when you’re newer. You don’t know if what you’re learning is still relevant or not.
That’s why I recommend “spying” on other competitors. You shouldn’t do it to steal their campaigns or landing pages. I recommend it so that you’re always “on top of the meta”.
I’ll write more on what causes the meta to change.

Dealing with Variance

One interesting thing I realized about poker is that the best players don’t always win. There’s so much “variance” in poker.
They could play 100% perfectly and by the book and still lose. They can’t account for what cards they’ll get, and what their opponents will do.
There’s variance in campaigns as well.

#1 Some campaigns are impossible to profit from.

If the offer’s shit, then the offer’s shit. No amount of sick angles or landing pages can make it work.
That’s why it’s advisable to go after proven campaigns (aka spying on other affiliates). At least you know someone made it work.
You just gotta reverse engineer it and improve it.

#2 Some campaigns you can do everything right and not profit.

Let’s say I have pocket aces. You have 7 2 offsuit. We go heads up and go all in. I did everything right and I can still lose.
Even though I lost, I should keep doing the same strategy again.
This is a hard concept to grasp for campaigns. You might’ve had some great ads with perfect sales copy, but the traffic source showed the initial impressions to some horrible audience.
Or maybe the top placements started sending crap traffic that week you decided to launch. Or the offer is having problems with their merchant processors and it stopped converting.
You need to keep pulling the trigger when the time is right.

You Need to be Good at Multiple Skillsets

Affiliate marketing success requires a ton of different skills.

  • Copywriting
  • Problem solving
  • Understanding data
  • Some technical skills
  • Etc.

You can be an amazing copywriter, but you won’t get far if you can’t interpret the data. Made $1 million last year? If you don’t keep track of your finances then it could all disappear.
And having a “big team” can be a hindrance if you don’t have any leadership skills.
I’ve noticed some people may be amazing at one aspect of affiliate marketing, but their growth is stunted. They never delegate or fix their weak spots.
You should read this article.

It’s Hard, but It’s Not Impossible

I didn’t write this article to de-motivate you.
One of the most valuable things you can do to learn a skill set is to “de-construct” it.
What does it take to be successful? Where and what are the pitfalls along the way? What are the essential skills to learn?

  • It takes an average of 8 to 10 years to become a Brazilian Jiujitsu Black belt.
  • Olympians can train their entire lives for a shot at glory.
  • It can take years for a restaurant to re-coup their investment and become profitable.
  • A decade of study + $200,000 to become a doctor.

My point is that mastery takes a long time.
Someone told me they wish they’d started in 2008 when I did.
“It was so much easier.”
What do you want? A time machine?
Focus on what you can do now.
In 2025 there will be a generation of affiliate marketers that’ll talk about how 2017 was the good days.

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                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

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