This is a guest post from Jonathan Wanchalk.
Starting as a Poker Affiliate in 2009
Many new affiliates feel like making any money is impossible when they first get started. More specifically, poker affiliates tend to give up after a month of work goes unrewarded. Perhaps the most discouraging aspect of being an affiliate is the fact that your work is not going to see any results for quite some time. Sure, you could go and get a job somewhere, but is that really going to pay long term dividends? In all likelihood the answer is an emphatic no. When you get fired or are let go, there is nothing you can trade in, so to speak. When your days as an affiliate are over, however, you can sell off everything you have worked for. This is something that really separates someone who wants to do something on their own vs. someone who is happy with a secure pay check. If you are not willing to make the work now/get paid later tradeoff, don’t waste your time becoming an affiliate, it really is as simple as that.
If you have decided that you are willing to put in the work in exchange for the opportunity of building a successful website, be prepared to learn and make innumerable mistakes. This is the only realistic path to take as an affiliate. Don’t expect to find immediate success. In addition, get ready to become incredibly frustrated. There are a ton of things to learn about the internet, be it in terms of SEO, web design, content, creativity, or otherwise. The internet really allows someone to create something out of nothing, though, and therein lies the beauty.
If You Know Nothing
When I started in around September of 2009, I knew absolutely nothing about pretty much anything. Like many gaming affiliates, I transitioned over from poker to being an affiliate. I actually got started when I asked my rake back guy about the possibility of starting up my own site. He had mentioned that he thought my idea at the time had some validity, but that he and his partner were just too busy. Now, he probably felt like I would start working on it and then ultimately fade into oblivion, and I can’t really blame him. Since I had no one to really work with, I decided to start learning everything I could on my own. I remember frantically asking my friend (who knew a little bit about web design) why I could not get my Dreamweaver site to appear online. I didn’t have a clue what “FTP” was (beyond Full Tilt Poker), and GoDaddy support was quite unhelpful. It must have taken me a solid day to simply figure out how to publish my site to the internet. Nonetheless, my one UB banner with blank white template reading “djhdksf” was online for the world to see. This was a very proud moment for me, even if it was quite the elementary step.
Once I knew how to upload my site, I figured it was time to start adding content. At this point I didn’t even know how a site would be included in Google. Like I said, I was pretty much clueless, having used nothing but Publisher on a prior occasion. I manually submitted my site to Google after I had a few pages up (this is how everyone does it, right?) and was eventually listed in the index. Of course, I ran into infinite roadblocks after this point. I would not suggest Dreamweaver as an ideal software for someone who is completely new to web design. My HTML and coding of the site was basically remove this tag, see what tags are below it, mix and match and hope for the best. I was starting to feel like a 10 buy in downswing was less tilting than building a website. Luckily I had Keith (my original rake back guy who I had first emailed) to barrage with questions. He was very, very helpful and gave me a lot of advice and tips that he really didn’t have to. Eventually I had a 15 or 20 page site up and functioning, even if the text was a bold blue and my URLs were a solid 100 characters long.
New Affiliate Trap
This is what I would estimate 95% of new poker affiliates do when they are building a website. They look at a site like Poker Listings and begin to mimic their style. Hopefully a new affiliate is not so naïve as to think stealing content word for word is allowed, but many will try to imitate the general flow of other poker affiliates. I was no exception to this rule, having built a site with a number of boring room reviews, a one page list of bonus codes, some rake back sign up information, and a handful of strategy articles. I posted my original site up on PAL after it had undergone a bit of work and was given a lot of helpful advice. The original thread can be found here.
Needless to say, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t even know what Google Analytics was at this point, so my only basis for traffic were some sites that estimated daily page views, and these are obviously far from accurate. I got a lot of advice in that thread, the majority of which came from PAL members who I still speak to/work with today. Perhaps the most encouraging thing, though, was that I earned my first rake back signup shortly after that thread was created. He only netted me a few bucks in the end, but it was the fact that I saw my work paying off that was most rewarding.
Ditching My First Project
After my first site was up and running, I gave it a makeover and switched everything over to WordPress. Of course, I did not use a single 301 redirect or anything of that nature. I guess it didn’t matter much, though, as I had a few backlinks at the most. In fact, I actually requested all links be made in httx://www.sitename.com format, as I was convinced that links with anchor text would not actually be found by Google. Plus, I had my doubts about whether these backlinks really did any good in the eyes of Google. This was around the time that Keith introduced me to Google Analytics. Like most webmasters, I checked my stats religiously. I would check just how high I was ranking for any given long tail whenever someone would land on my site and would ride the highs and lows of any given day’s visitor count. As you might imagine, I wasn’t exactly raking in the traffic, netting maybe 100-200 hits per month, most of which were for random strategy based long tails. I made next to nothing with this site, sold it off, and started all over again.
Starting My First Real Project
Now that I knew a little bit about what I was doing, I was ready to start something serious. This is a checklist of what I had learned by mid-late October 2009.
- How to install and use WordPress basics
- There is a lot of crap content out there, and that I should be different
- Pick something that you can be the best at and go from there
- Layout your site before hand
- Determine what will separate you from the competition
- Results will be far from immediate
As you can tell, there was still an awful lot to learn. I decided that I was going to make the best site in the world for poker site reviews. I actually almost sold the domain as I had it listed for $50 at PAL. The highest offer was $25, so I decided to go ahead and keep it. I am sure glad no one bought it, as I would have sold it at $50 in a heart beat and possibly decided to move on altogether. I kept it and got to work. It is worth nothing that around this time I started to write poker content for some members on PAL. I couldn’t believe that I could make $250 for writing (13) 500 word articles! What the hell? This is like printing money! I thought for sure that Kaus would back out when she realized that $275 for 17 articles was way, way too much. In fact, she can attest to the fact that I sent a nervous email to her inquiring about my payment. Of course, now I cringe at the idea of making even $500 for the same amount of writing. Nonetheless, writing was an incredible way to not only earn some money, but to also make some great contacts.
Working and Learning
As I worked on the poker site review site, I began to really mess around with WordPress. I had no knowledge of HTML or CSS, let alone HTML, so I was really winging it with whatever I had. I went ahead and started with a review section, a bonus code section, and a page for rake back offers. I actually shifted back and forth when deciding whether or not I should add rake back to the site for fear of losing rev share players to rake back. In the end I included both rake back and bonus codes, and it remains that way to this day. My “genius idea” was to make video reviews of all of the sites and to put them on YouTube and my site alike. I went ahead with this idea using a $10 microphone and virtually no editing whatsoever. The background on my computer served as a watermark. In fact, many of these original videos remain on the site, though they are all in the process of replacement. After the videos were completed, I added thorough reviews for each site. Almost all of the reviews were at least 1,000 words (save for the non-US sites of which I had limited knowledge), and some even totaled 1,500 or more words. For the most part I felt like this was something that the majority of reviews could not match. Eventually writing reviews became an excruciating process, but I did my best to make sure that they were legitimate, informative, and full of content.
After a few months of building online poker site reviews, I became frustrated with the lack of progress and results that the site was seeing. I was beginning to add backlinks and whatnot, but the results just weren’t there. In fact, I felt this way well into the beginning of 2010. I sent Randy Ray an IM telling him how this was all a waste of time and that the only successful affiliates were those that started in 2003. While it is true that many older affiliates had an easier path, it was not true that my site could not find success of its own. Randy said, and I quote, “LOL” when I complained to him. That pissed me off, but it also motivated me to get something done. I am glad that he didn’t say something along the lines of “affiliating is not for everyone,” as I would have went with that idea.
To help combat my lack of success, I decided to add new dimensions to the site. The new areas of the site gave me additional opportunities to drive traffic and convert players. Keep in mind that I still had next to no idea about how to properly implement CTAs, what solid SEO was, or even how to use redirects for my affiliate links. I kept adding content, and saw a marginal increase in traffic, but it was nothing spectacular. I would estimate my best month in terms of traffic was probably around 300 visits until around June.
As summer 2010 approached, I was still writing a lot, albeit at a much, much higher rate. I had a lot of people asking me to make videos for them, and I was earning a pretty good amount of money. To be honest, I was more fascinated by how much money I was making writing and producing videos than I ever was with my site. But I always kept one thought in the back of my mind, “pretend that this is your last bit of writing work ever, how will you generate steady income?” This is what forced me to make the decision to really focus on my site. After all, I was not going to become a millionaire writing articles.
By mid-June 2010 I was going over every single page on my site with a fine-tooth comb. I added new CTA’s to each and every page, started proper interlinking, added some content to empty pages, changed my URLs (thank you Mike W and Kaus for the assistance with that) and focused on SEO and conversions. Most importantly, I decided that I had what it took to become the authority on online poker site reviews.
As June ended I was ready to sit back and wait, essentially hoping for the best. To this day Google has still not entirely reindexed my site, but I have seen dramatically improved results in every way possible. My traffic has nearly doubled, I had my first month with consistency in sign ups, broke 20 RMPs and 40 sign ups in a month, and really felt like I knew what I was doing. Over the last 50 days or so my visitor to sign up ratio is about 10:1. I am getting new sign ups daily and I know that a 100 RMP month is just around the corner. I am in the middle of adding a casino section to the site and plan on making the site, in total, around 300+ pages. Am I wildly successful right now? Absolutely not. In fact I just finished up what I hope is my last writing job and am working on a variety of projects with different people. I have found success in some non-gaming affiliate areas as well, and am devoting much of my time to an offline/online startup that I feel can be an extremely successful million dollar company. This new venture has taken off much faster than I had anticipated, even if we aren’t fully live yet. Hopefully I can write more about this in a future post later on down the road.
My plan for the future is to create the ultimate review site in every online gaming arena. I have a ton of different things I am working on right now, but I have never been as confident in my abilities. I used to doubt what was possible, but now know that I have only recently reached the bottom of an infinitely tall mountain.
My Advice to Anyone Else in the Poker Affiliate Industry
As I mentioned previously, I am not a millionaire affiliate, but I am positive I will be soon enough. Take this advice for what it is worth.
No matter what anyone says, you do not need to spend a fortune to make money as an affiliate. When I was getting frustrated with everything, I figured the easy solution was to buy a bunch of links. I emailed a number of sites, some gave me rates, others ignored me, you know, the usual. One reply from a fairly large affiliate site was along the following lines…
“You may want to reconsider becoming a poker affiliate. Like in poker itself, you should game select the industry you are competing in. It is incredibly difficult to break into this industry and almost all new affiliates fail. I can offer you a link, but I wanted to let you know that this is a very tough thing to start right now. All of the top affiliates have been at it for years.”
I was moderately discouraged by this, posted it in some thread I started, and Kaus quickly messaged me and told me it was completely untrue. She had never steered me wrong before, so I went with her insight and ignored this person’s input. She was right. Yes, it will take a lot more effort than it did in years past, but it is hardly impossible to succeed.
When I got this email I decided that I didn’t need his links or anyone else’s links that wanted me to pay for them. To this day I have never paid for a single link. I have asked, but never pulled the trigger. On one hand I felt dirty doing it, and on the other I felt like it was taking a short cut. I may end up purchasing links in the future, but will put it off for as long as I have to.
On the topic of not spending money, I have yet to pay a dime for anything on online poker site reviews. Every ounce of content on the site was created by me. Every image (however amateurish they may be) was designed in MS Paint, and nothing was ever outsourced. In total I would estimate my costs at $7 for the reg fee and $7/month for hosting (now $50/month since I switched to VPS server). There is nothing wrong with spending money on your sites, obviously, and it is a really good idea, but you don’t have to. The best way to minimize your financial risk is to do everything yourself. Plus, you know how the saying goes, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”
Pick a Niche
You aren’t going to rank for “poker” or “online poker” without years of work and a ton of money. Sure, you could, but it would be damn near impossible. This is a challenge you should work on after you have some success in smaller, less competitive areas.
I am notorious for how often I post on PAL. A lot of this is because I am super ADHD, but a lot of it is because I am always looking for more information. When I used to set up as a dealer or visit sports card shows at around age 14, I was known as “Mr. 21 Questions.” People who ask questions might get annoying, but they’ll also end up getting further than people who would rather wander around without a clue. Look at some of my old threads, they are laughable. There are always people who are willing to help you, but you won’t get anywhere if you are too afraid to ask.
Accept that you’ve failed. When things aren’t working, sometimes it is better to give up and move on. This sounds like a quitter’s mentality, but it really isn’t. The most successful people almost always have more failures than successes in their lives. I started a strategy site that largely bombed. I started a student employee job seeking website that failed. I started a headlight restoration company with my friend last year that failed. The list goes on. Like I mentioned earlier, I am not a millionaire, but I have experienced a little bit of success by now, and it far outweighs my failures. The aspiration for success will get a motivated person much further than a failure will set them back. If you can’t accept this, you probably aren’t interested in business at all.
Take Criticism Critically
I have had a lot of people help me in a number of different ways. Whether it be SEO tips, advice on how to optimize a site, or basics in HTML and coding, I have been corrected more times than I can count. Sometimes I take a person’s advice, other times I consider it, and other times I disregard it. The most important thing is that you are open to criticism. If people hadn’t told me that my site sucked or that I was doing something wrong, I might have never learned. The primary reason why people object to criticism is because deep down they know that they are too lazy to fix what they were doing wrong. I know I have been tempted to ignore someone’s advice because it would mean that I need to re-do a lot of work. Critique the criticism that you receive, but never underestimate the value that it has.
Never Give Up and Always Look for New Opportunities
Never give up is a phrase that is about as cliché as possible when it comes to life in general, but it is an incredibly viable sentiment. I feel like I am putting myself on a pedestal, but I would be nowhere if I gave up in early 2010. I never would have ran into the partners I work with on other projects now if I didn’t put myself out there. I wouldn’t have made invaluable friends/contacts if it wasn’t for a never give up attitude. Another great line is “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” I found one partner when I was selling a site. If I don’t make that site, I don’t meet that person. If I don’t make the effort to sell the site, I don’t meet that person. If I don’t add that random person on Skype to help transfer the site I just sold, we never discuss working on some projects together. If we never work on projects together, I don’t learn a lot from him. This is how opportunities create themselves and how luck takes you somewhere because you allowed it to.
Don’t think that poker affiliating is the beginning and the end of business. I don’t anticipate the majority of my lifetime earnings coming from affiliating. I have aspirations well beyond that. I want to be a producer and a creator. There is no doubt that you can effectively become a producer through websites, but there are fortunes to be made elsewhere as well. In the end it all comes down to whether you are an entrepreneur with a never ending craving for success or whether you are looking for a quick buck. When I started my first site I told myself that I could make this my full time job. I never once considered the idea that this would be a part time thing. If I am doing something, I want to do it to the best of my ability. I hate the idea of someone being better than me. When I slowed down my online poker play, I decided that I wasn’t cut out for it and that the potential as a player was far outweighed by the potential in business. Plus, business is what I have the biggest passion for in the world. Nothing feels better than starting something and seeing it become profitable. Remember, when you put half the time and effort into something, you will inevitably receive half the rewards. I suppose this article is a good example of doing something to the best of your ability. I planned on writing 1,000 words, but am now at just about 4,000.
This post has both a personal and informational angle to it, so I figured I would add a few lines about me.
I just turned 20 and attended one year of college at St. Francis University before deciding to take a chance on my own. I own a few primary sites of my own, the most notable of which being the subject of this post. Aside from these sites, I have a number of big projects/sites that I am working on with some great partners. I am also in the middle of getting my first real start up company off the ground. I stated in my senior yearbook that I would own a corporation and be retired by 33; I not only believe in this more than ever, but think retiring at 33 is too easy. 23 is my new goal. Of course, no one who is truly into business ever retires.