I met Charles (aka Dr. Ngo) a few years ago at Affiliate Summit and we chatted about our travels to Asia and his incredible track record in the industry. He truly is a leader in performance marketing, and has generated millions of dollars in leads for his clients since 2008. Charles specializes in generating traffic using paid traffic sources such as media buying, search, mobile, and social. He also writes about his experiences and learnings in the industry at CharlesNgo.com. Bookmark and read his blog, he keeps it real and it’s full of inspiration and awesome sauce! You can also follow him on Twitter. Now lets get onto my interview with the expert himself…
1) With an army of “make monies online” gurus, what’s your motivation for dropping knowledge bombs on your blog?
I discovered the industry by stumbling onto Shoemoney and John Chow’s blogs in 2007, and I had my first profitable campaign a few months later off an idea I saw on Nickycakes. You could say that blogs were important to my career development. I didn’t know anyone in this industry so reading blogs and WickedFire back in the day was my source of motivation during the bad times.
I’ve actually always wanted to start a blog but I felt that they were way too time-consuming. On top of that there’s a million other projects I could launch that would make more money with the amount of time I put in. What made me change my mind is I noticed almost all of my favorite affiliate blogs stopped updating. It was time to step up because someone has to lookout for the next generation of internet marketers.
My life is way more awesome than I deserve because of this industry and I want to give back to it. I don’t think I’m that smart – I’m just an average guy who stayed focused and worked his ass off. I want to share my passion and my mindset with anyone that gives me a chance. I want to change lives.
2) You’ve been an arbitrage media buyer in a competitive industry with so many meteoric ups and downs lately. You speak about the motto “adapt or die”, but does affiliate marketing still have a bright future?
As long as the internet exists, there are going to be people who want to lose weight, learn how to make money at home, want cheap car insurance rates, find a girlfriend online, etc. The audience we can market to is growing and the technology we use is getting better.
One big area of growth is we can now monetize countries that we weren’t able to in the past few years. Countries such as Russia, Turkey, and the Scandinavian region have offers that didn’t exist two years ago. Maybe in a few years we’ll be able to make money off huge audiences like China and Indonesia.
Another growth area is obviously mobile. People are spending less time on their desktop and more time on their cell phones. What I love about mobile is it’s much tougher for a competitor to spy on your campaigns. Also I’m a huge fan of the optimization process and mobile provides a lot more variables compared to the web. My point is that mobile is very rewarding to the guys who take risks and innovate.
“Adapt or Die” means you have to keep up with the industry changes. Traffic sources can become over-competitive, landing page styles become outdated, and certain verticals can die out due to regulations. Don’t get complacent. If you want to last in this industry then work hard, live below your means, and network with smart people.
One thing I want to heavily stress is to learn the fundamentals and come up with your own ideas. Don’t be one of those retards that just copies everyone and never adds anything. Constantly copying means you’re always a few steps behind everyone else, and your livelihood is dependent on the work of others. That’s why half the industry died in 2010. The easy money stopped and they never developed the skill set to adapt.
3) CPA offers are rampant across various affiliate networks. When (if ever) does it make sense to “go direct” with a merchant/advertiser?
It depends on the niche, and who the advertiser is. I’ve had plenty of great relationships going direct, but at the same time I’ve lost money from not getting paid by shady advertisers. That’s why it’s important to do risk / reward evaluations. What good is an extra $1 payout if you don’t end up getting that $20k wire?
The biggest benefits of affiliate networks is they pay faster than going direct (weeklies vs monthlies), and they also take the risk of dealing with the merchant. Sure there are some shady affiliate networks as well. The best way to protect yourself is to do proper research. Work with A-list networks who have a solid reputation. If you miss one payment then stop sending traffic. Read forums and listen to see if a network’s stopped paying people.
If I’m going direct I always ask around and see what other people’s experiences are. Sometimes it’s necessary to go direct if you want to remain competitive. If he has a $7 payout, and you have a $5.50 payout on the same offer, then he can afford to muscle you out of competitive placements.
Sometimes you’ve done everything right and you’ll still get burned – it’s an unavoidable part of the game. My advice is never trust another company with more money than you can afford to lose. Build up the relationship slowly and keep your ears to the streets.
4) Aside from your site, what other resources should serious media buyers tap into for useful information?
Most people would benefit from reading less and doing more; keep launching campaigns and keep testing. The problem with reading about this stuff online is you don’t know how credible the authors are, and some information become quickly outdated.
I look outside of internet marketing resources to improve my knowledge. I read business articles from Harvard Business Review, watch TED videos, and I listen to interviews on Mixergy. I read 50+ books in 2012 on marketing, the brain, decision making, biographies, productivity, business theory, and more. It never hurts to learn how to use your mind better, and how to be a more efficient worker.
5) What paid tools do you use? Do you see value in paid competitive intelligence subscriptions like WRW?
Some tools I use:
Tracking Software – CPVLabs, Mobafftracker (mobile), iMobitrax (mobile)
Spy tools – WhatRunsWhere and a bunch of Facebook spy tools
Server checker – Pingdom
Multi-variate Landing Page testing – Landing Page Genius, Visual Website Optimizer
Virtual Assistants – Banners, programming, personal assistants, etc.
A tool like WhatRunsWhere is valuable to me because I like to see what others are doing before I enter a new niche. My philosophy is “imitate, then innovate.” If someone’s been running for a few months with certain angle and landing page, then he’s probably making money. Doing something similar gives me a benchmark to work off of and improve from.
Another benefit of WRW is I’ve used it to discover profitable traffic sources I didn’t know existed. There’s over a thousand places to buy traffic and I don’t have the time to test them all. If I notice a lot of competitors using a source that I haven’t, it tells me that I need to setup a test soon.