I love watching eSports. (Video games being played on a competitive level)
In any game you watch, you might hear the commentators refer to a term called “The Meta.” They’re talking about what’s the most dominant strategy right now.
It’s a big picture of what’s working and what isn’t.
In Overwatch, the meta two years ago was Triple Tank. Your team would pick three hulking tanks to absorb the damage, while they were being supported by three healers.
It was tough to stop.
Until it wasn’t.
This strategy sucks in 2018.
The developers added on patches that have changed the gameplay, new characters have been introduced, and the players themselves have figured out better strategies.
Try the Triple Tank strategy now and you’ll get destroyed.
The Meta has changed and will keep changing.
“But what does this have to do with affiliate marketing?” you ask.
Just like eSports, affiliate marketing is a competition. You’re competing for traffic and hot offers right?
You don’t want to be investing your time and money into traffic sourecs that have seen better days.
In this article, I’m going to talk about how the metagame applies to this industry, and what causes it to change. By understanding what causes the meta to change, it can help you predict when the tides are changing in the future.
The Two Types of Affiliate Marketers
There tend to be two types of affiliate marketers.
The first group are called the Evergreen Guys.
These guys are that found their niche and they stick with it no matter what. If they were promoting Adult Dating in 2012, they’re still promoting adult dating in 2018.
You can imagine how deep they understand their niche and their traffic source after six years. Evergreen guys become experts in one niche and then barricade themselves in that niche.
Evergreen guys don’t care “what’s hot”. They found something that makes money and they stick to it.
If you’re going to be an Evergreen guy then it’s important to develop your competitive advantages. Let’s say you’re an Evergreen guy who decided to focus on promoting leads in the Education vertical.
You can start off promoting affiliate offers in the EDU space. However, over time you can develop a competitive advantage by collecting the leads yourself and selling them to advertisers.
That’s the benefit of being laser focused.
The second group is what I called the Meta Chasers.
They have a solid understanding of affiliate marketing, and they’re chasing after what’s hot at the moment.
They’re kind of like professional surfers. They sit on the beach and observe the waters. They swim to where the waves WILL FORM and are in the perfect position to ride the waves.
Why keep chasing something new every year?
Part of it is to take advantage of market inefficiency. The earlier you get into a niche, the less competition you have.
There might also be fewer regulations. Those who got into the cryptocurrency niche early were able to promote on Facebook for a while until Facebook banned crypto ads.
Besides taking advantage of market inefficiency, some people enjoy trying out new things. I did a lot of adult dating in 2012, but I can’t handle it anymore.
I don’t care how much money that niche can make, my mind can’t handle uploading another MILF ad.
If you’re going to be a meta chaser, then you need to understand what meta changes are happening and what causes them.
If you don’t know this, you’ll hop onto trends when it’s too late.
What Causes a Meta Change?
I’ve been in this industry since 2008 and have seen countless meta changes.
Some off the top of my head:
- Acai Berry
- Rez V / Anti-Aging
- Government Grants / Biz Opp
- Mobile Pops
- Penny Auctions
- $1 Trial iPhone Offers
- Tactical Flashlights
- Shopify / Ecommerce
Some things were the hottest thing ever, and then a year later they were dead.
What caused the boom and bust?
Here are some reasons why the meta changes in affiliate marketing.
1. Over-competition / Saturation
Imagine you’re a fisherman and you discover an untouched pond. Every time, you visit there you walk away with tons of amazing fish. But then word gets out about your secret lake. Other fishermen start coming and they start telling their friends.
You visit the pond a few months later and there are way too many fishermen. The ecosystem can’t support it anymore and you end up catching no fish.
This is what happens to some verticals and traffic sources. There’s just not enough traffic to go around, and bid prices go up.
What happens then? The best fisherman can stay; everyone else has to find a new pond.
2. New Rules / Regulations
Affiliate marketers are aggressive, and sometimes we skirt the gray areas of the law with some of our claims.
And then regulation happens.
The mobile offer was “hot” because they didn’t list their terms and conditions. Now regulations happen and the advertiser adds multiple checkboxes to the offer. The conversion rate dips.
Or maybe the offer you were promoting was too misleading. Now Visa / Mastercard doesn’t want to accept payments for the offers.
3. New Markets are Open
When I first started, we could only monetize the big 4 countries: USA, Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia.
Now we’re able to monetize nearly every country in the world.
I remember when “Cash on Delivery” came out a few years ago. In some countries, the population doesn’t use credit cards. The Cash on Delivery model came out where people would literally go to their home, and collect cash for the product.
Innovations like these open up new markets to us.
4. New Verticals Are Created
The Shopify / drop shipping business model didn’t exist a few years ago.
A perfect storm happened with Facebook, Shopify, and AliExpress. This represented a new opportunity because now affiliates could promote almost anything they wanted, without backlash from Facebook.
5. New Strategies Are Created
Affiliates are always innovating.
We don’t have the greatest profit margins compared to other businesses so our only edge is our innovation.
And I’ve seen so many “dead” verticals revived a few months later because of innovation.
This can come in the form of a new landing page, a new angle, or a different way of promoting the offer than before.
The lesson here is don’t be quick to judge that a vertical’s “dead” because no one’s promoting it.
It can be one innovation away from being a winner again.
The Meta Will Always be Changing
The Meta is always going to change.
But just because something’s “not” in the meta doesn’t mean it won’t make money anymore.
You’re not going to see a surge of affiliate marketers wanting to learn how to email all of a sudden. But I guarantee you there are a bunch of older guys with Ponytails and faded Led Zeppelin shirts doing $10k a day now.
There’s a thin line between chasing the meta and bright shiny object syndrome. You won’t make any money if you’re always changing your idea every week. Make a decision and stick with it.
Second, create a system to understand the current meta. This can include talking to your affiliate managers, visiting conferences, checking out spy tools, and networking with others.
Remember, the meta is all about beating the competition.
If you want to beat the competition and succeed as an affiliate, you need to wrap your head around the current meta.
If you don’t, it’s like still trying to use the Triple Tank strategy.
Featured Image by Sabino Parente