CPA Marketing: The Ultimate Guide

CPA marketing bannerSince the start of my internet marketing career, I’ve tried every monetization strategy under the sun:

I started with Adsense…but was let down by the horribly low CPCs.

Then I promoted Clickbank products…but I couldn’t get the traffic to convert.

Finally, I built a list…but I didn’t know how to pitch products without losing subscribers.

Then I tried CPA marketing…and quickly realized that it was one of the best ways for affiliates to monetize their sites.

Today I’m going to show you everything there is to know about CPA marketing.

Exclusive Blog Post Bonus: Download a free quick start checklist that will show you how to get started with CPA.

CPA Marketing 101

CPA stands for “Cost Per Action“.

CPA is very simple: you get paid when someone clicks on your affiliate link and completes an action.

The “action” can be just about anything, but usually consists of:

  • Filling out a form
  • Getting an estimate or quote
  • Signing up for a free trial
  • Buying something
How CPA Marketing Works

Why CPA?

There are two reasons that I prefer CPA over banner advertising, Adsense, and most other affiliate marketing strategies.

1. Higher on the Value Chain

To make the most money from your site, you want to get as high up on the value chain as you can.

Here is what the value chain looks like for digital products (using a $40 ebook as an example):

Affiliate Marketing Value Chain

As you can see, Adsense, banner ads, and CPC/CPM models put you at the bottom of the value chain.

On the other hand, selling your own product, promoting targeted affiliate products (ie. web hosting), and CPA offers tend to put you higher up on the chain.

(FYI: the values in the diagram don’t add up to $40 because there are clicks and leads that don’t convert).

Keep in mind that physical products have 2-10x more hands in the pot (distributors, warehouses, suppliers etc.). That’s why Amazon Associates only make $100 when someone buys a $2500 laptop.

2. Integrated Advertising

The other nice thing about CPA is that you don’t need to disfigure your site with ugly Adsense blocks or banner ads.

Ugly Adsense Site

As you’ll see later, you can seamlessly integrate CPA offers into your site. This means you run a clean, professional, branded site…while benefiting from out-of-this-world CTR, CPCs, and RPMs.

Step #1: Find an Offer

Your first step is to find an offer that aligns with your site’s existing traffic.

But with dozens of CPA networks — each with hundreds of offers  — how can find the perfect offer for your site?

That’s easy: use oDigger and

They’re like the Google of CPA: they aggregate offers from reputable CPA networks.

And you can search based on keyword, price, category or network.

Let’s say that you run a site in the education space.

Head over to Offer Vault and type in “Education” or “Degrees” into the search field:

offervault search

And you’ll get a list of results, like this:

offervault results

Here are the common terms you’ll come across during your search:

___ Only: You can only use a certain traffic source, like email or organic search.

Display: This includes text links and banner ads.

Lead: The most common “action” in the CPA marketing world. Usually submitting their name, email, phone, address etc.

Email/Zip Submit: The most simple CPA offer. Good for untargeted traffic. User gives their email and zip code only.

Incent: Short for “incentivized”. Incent means that you can bribe users with a free product or download.

Pay Per Call: You’re paid when someone makes a call after clicking on your affiliate link.

Download/Install: You get paid when someone downloads and/or installs a piece of software.

Publisher: The person that promotes the offer (you).

“Pixel Fires”: This is  when your lead actually counts as a lead.

US/FR/CA: Offer only valid in that country.

AM: Stands for “Affiliate Manager”. Your AM is your go-to person in the network

Sale or Rev Share: You get a cut of every sale.

When you see one that looks good, click on the offer’s listing:

Clicking On Offer

Then read the details of the offer. The listing will usually give you basic information on the offer, like what the user needs to do and what type of traffic is allowed:

CPA Listing

If it looks good, hit the “landing page preview” button. This will show you the page that users will see when they click on your link:

cpa landing page

What should you look for in a landing page?

First, you want a landing page that looks clean and professional.

If it looks shady to you, it’ll look shady to your traffic too…and it won’t convert.

Also, the more fields a page has, the lower your conversion rate is going to be.

Fortunately, more fields also mean higher commissions…

…so don’t be automatically turned off by a page like this with a million fields :

Large Form

If the traffic is motivated enough (for example, they just searched Google for “best online degrees”), I’ve found that they’ll fill out just about anything.

“What If I Can’t Find an Offer?”

Depending on your niche, you may not be able to find an offer that fits your site’s topic.

If that’s the case, you want to look for CPA offers that appeal to your traffic’s demographic.

For example, I used to run a site in the “dating” niche that was getting 2,000 visitors per day.

I put “dating” in quotes because it was comprised mostly of 7th and 8th graders wondering how to talk to Sally that sits in the back. Not the PUA type of stuff that’s easy to monetize.

Despite the fact that I tested about 20 different themes and ad placements, I wasn’t making jack with Adsense.

Adsense RPM

When I looked at the ads Adsense was generating, I realized that they weren’t dating related at all…they were targeted based on demographics.

That’s when I decided to switch out Adsense for an email/zip submit offer for a free Xbox.

And just like that I was making significantly more than I was with Adsense.

Step #2: Join a Network

If the offer looks good, it’s time to join the network that runs the offer. You can apply by clicking on a link on the offer page:

join cpa network

When you do, you’ll see an application like this:

cpa affiliate application

You’ll be asked to give them a phone number…which they will call.

This is a huge stumbling block for most people. As affiliate marketers we’re accustomed to making money without having to talk to another human being.

The fact is, you’ll have to talk to someone on the phone to join a CPA network. You may have to even fill out some actual paperwork. It’s no big deal.

How to Get Accepted By Any Network

Remember that CPA networks aren’t trying to make things difficult. They just want to make sure that you’re a legit business that will send them real leads (which you are).

So it’s just a matter of being transparent with them.

Here are some tips that will help you get in:

  • Call Them Before They Call You: Shady affiliates try to fly under the radar screen. Give the network a call right after you apply. This shows you’re the real deal. I’ve been accepted into networks literally 10-minutes after applying just by picking up the phone.
  • Check Your Whois: Some networks check to see if your site’s whois address matches your mailing address.
  • Be Honest: Most CPA applications have a section that asks about your internet marketing experience:
application questions

Remember: you don’t need to be an affiliate marketing rockstar to get accepted.

I joined my first network when I was making about $20/day from Adsense. They just want people that put honest answers into these fields.

So if you’re new to affiliate marketing, it’s OK to tell them that.

Step #3: Design your site around CPA

Once you’ve joined a network and have a CPA offer offer ready to go, it’s time to integrate it into your site.

One of the things I love about CPA is that you can make your site look Fortune 500…even as you promote $1.25 email/zip submits.

In other words, don’t waste the opportunity to make your site look legit by slapping up a nasty banner:

ugly banner

Believe it or not, but you don’t need in-your-face-advertising to make money from your site.

In fact, I’ve found that the more you integrate your advertising, the more people will click and convert. 

For example, I own a site that’s 100% monetized with CPA.  Most of the affiliate links are either contextual links or integrated into the site’s design.

It has very little banner advertising.

Despite the lack of obvious advertising, the site has a 26.4% CTR.

If I had that kind of CTR with Adsense I’d probably get my account banned!

Here are two examples of big brand sites that have done such an amazing job with ad integration that you can hardly tell they’re promoting CPA offers:

Big Brand CPA #1:

moneysupermarket homepage

This is a big brand financial site that focuses on a UK audience.

They get a fat commission for every credit card lead they send to Visa and the other big credit card companies.

Big Brand CPA #2:

nerdwallet homepage is a growing personal finance site. Like, they integrate their CPA offers into useful tools. This seamless ad integration blows away the CTR and conversion rate that they’d get from a banner ad.

Just to be clear: you can do well with traditional banner ads and contextual links.

But I HIGHLY recommend shelling out the cash to get a custom design that makes your site look legit.

CPA Pro Tips

Here are a few tricks that I’ve picked up from my experience running CPA offers as an affiliate.

Be Tight With Your Affiliate Manager: Your AM is your inside source at the network. Every now and again they’ll call you or email you to get you to run some of their new offers. I’m always nice and professional when they reach out:

Email Exchange

After all, most AMs are cool guys (or gals) just doing their job.  And it’s a relationship that you can leverage for exclusive deals (as you’ll see next).

How to Get Commission Bumps: One of the perks of having a good relationship with your AM is the ability to get commission bumps.

In fact, I have a 100% success rate so far. And it’s because I do two things: a) maintain a good relationship with my AM and b) play one network against another.

Every now and again you should check to see if one of your offers is running at a competing network.

When I see that a network has an offer that I’m already running — but at a higher rate — I ask my AM if they can match it: Commision Bump

They don’t want you to bolt for another network and will usually hook you up:

AM EmailYou may have noticed that this is a $.30 bump from what the network was publicly offering.

That may not seem like a lot, but let’s do the math:

Let’s say you’re getting 50 conversions per day.

50 conversions x $.30=$15 extra per day

$15/day x 30 days=$450 extra per month

$450/month x 12 months=$5400 extra per year

Not bad!

Avoid Shady Networks: The dark side of CPA is that there are a lot of fly by night operations that rip people off. That’s why you need to be VERY careful about joining shady networks.

Before joining any network, check the reviews at Odigger.

First, click on the “Network Reviews” tab from the homepage.

odigger network reviews

And find the network that you’re looking to join.

Steer clear of any network that has reviews of people saying that they never got paid or getting paid was a hassle:

CPA Network Review

However, keep in mind that networks can have legitimate reasons to withhold payment (like if the person sent them phony leads). So if you see a few complainers in an otherwise stellar list of reviews, it’s probably OK to join.

But if you see a sea of negative reviews, you should go with another network (even if the commission is a bit higher with the shady network).

Recommended Networks:  I’ve joined a bunch, but I’m active at two networks: MaxBounty and Panthera Network. They both have a ton of offers, competitive payouts, and great AMs.

They’re both great — but if I had to choose one — I’d probably go with MaxBounty.

The only difference between them is that MaxBounty offers weekly payments. There are lots of other reputable networks out there, but I can’t recommend them because I haven’t personally used them.

Are You Ready To Rock?

There you have it: a complete blueprint to CPA marketing success…

Ready to get started?

Then click the image below to get access to my free CPA marketing quick-start checklist.

CPA Marketing Checklist
  1. Aaaah…so this is the CPA article you promised Andrii, Wow!you actually kept your word…I get it…your cool like that.I’m heading over to Maxbounty right now! Do you use CPA on Backlinko?

    1. I’m a man of my word :-). I haven’t done any CPA with Backlinko (there aren’t many SEO-related offers). Let me know how it goes with Maxbounty.

    2. brilliant post and i am new to this. just got accepted in ebay partner network and peefly on my first applications lol. guess I’m lucky. but love your tips and will use.

      1. Thanks William. I’ve found that you can get into any network on the first try if you’re open and honest. Let me know how CPA marketing works out for you 🙂

  2. Phenomenal post, Brian. I love where you say, “call them before they call you.” This kind of assertiveness should be used for all types of business, not just CPA.

  3. Hey Brian,
    In a short time, I have become a long time fan! The stuff that you share with us is incredible. On top of that, your strategies & points are actionable. These days most of the big SEO companies (kissing up to brands) are putting out stuff in the name of being Whitehat. What they don’t realize is that affiliates don’t read their blogs anymore cuz they dont serve content that helps the little guy. You on the other hand, offer complete balance in terms of white hat, grey hat, blackhat & everything in between! Keep up the great posts coming. Real affiliates will appreciate your blog as everyone else is trying to look good in the eyes of Google & what not. I guess they forgot about the small affiliates who helped them reach the brand level & sadly they only put content out for agencies, corporate brands…
    Best of wishes,

    1. Your comment made my day! It means a lot to hear that my advice is helping you achieve real results. I know that many affiliates feel the same way you do: that SEO professionals abandoned them to go after big fish clients. Thanks for stopping by, Chet!

  4. You have a great tutorial on getting started in CPA.
    I have an idea I like to spend was wondering if you could advise. I know of a friend who bought traffic lots of them on credit from trafficvance and redirect them to CPA offers and track them using CPVLAB.

    For newbies who dun have cash to burn, I would like to purchase a .info domain use Google trends to find rising keywords, find matching CPA offers, find long tail keywords with low cpc, redirect traffic to CPA LP and track conversion.
    Is it tooooooo much work?
    I know all the gist of CPA but I’m freeze of strategic planning.
    Pls help.

    1. Glad to hear you liked the post, David. That sounds like too much work for not a great ROI. Finding keywords, registering domains, setting up sites etc. for a few weeks worth of traffic doesn’t seem worth it. You’re better off building an authority site so when those trending keywords come around you can publish a post and rank for it right away.

  5. Wow, another comprehensive piece by Brian! Well done for writing these awesome KINGlike posts. I just shared and “kingged” it on the IM social site and I left the following comment:

    Brian of has done it again. I enjoyed his other very comprehensive post on Google Ranking Factors, and now this… awesome!

    I like how he introduced the basic CPA concepts and made it very understandable for newbies to CPA and how he also provided “pro tips” for those who are more advanced.

    Anyone who has always wanted to learn about CPA will certainly find lots of helpful tips in this article… CPA newbies and pro alikes.

    Well written, Brian.

    1. Thanks for Kinging another one of my posts, Sunday! I tried to make it the best guide to CPA marketing out there. It looks like I’m on the right track :-).

  6. It sounds like a lot of work.Would it not be a better investment of time to focus on creatinga product, eg:ebook, cds, program all in a bundle and then keep all the profit.
    And build a network of affiliates to promote?
    Regardless your posts are awesome!

    1. It’s actually not a lot of work once you join a network and have a few proven offers.

      And it’s not always practical to create your own product or service. Let’s say that you’re in the insurance niche. Would you rather create your own insurance company…or send them leads using CPA?

      But you’re right Dom: your own product puts you right at top of the value chain. And having an army of affiliates promoting your product? Even better. So monetizing your own product is definitely something to consider.You can often make more from your own product than from CPA or promoting other people’s products.

  7. Thanks for this post. I signed up with CPA networks and I have not been active for a while due to cash flow as I use 7 search and bidvertiser to promote some offers, I didnt make back the amount i invested i must say and a times some of the traffic they want are US based and am in Europe. How can I set up a site that will only focus on US traffic, is there a way to do this?

    1. My pleasure, Carl. Most sites get a mix of US and international traffic. But if you host your site in the US and use a US TLD (.com, .net, .org) you’ll naturally attract US-based search traffic.

  8. thanks alot for this quick tutorial … i’m a cpa marketer for a 2 years and it’s a great and profitble bussnise

  9. Hey Brian, I’ve learned more from your site than the two wso’s I paid for. I think I’ve found an offer but I’m confused about the difference between the “type which says (Lead)” and the “Category (email submits)”. Why are both listed, I thought it would be one or the other not both.
    Thanks in advance, Angela

    1. Thanks so much, Angela! They’re more or less the same. The difference is this: “leads” often have several fields to fill out and email submits are generally just name, email (and sometimes) zip code.

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