CPA Marketing: The Ultimate Guide (Updated)
by Brian Dean · Updated Jul. 30, 2018
When it comes to monetization, I’ve tried it all.
I started with Adsense… but was let down by the low CPCs.
Then I promoted affiliate products… but I couldn’t get the traffic to convert.
Then I tried CPA marketing… and quickly realized that it was THE best way to monetize.
(In fact, CPA helped one of my sites go from 0 to $10k/month in record time)
And in this post I’m going to show you everything you need to know about CPA marketing.
- What Is CPA Marketing?
- Why CPA?
- Step #1: Find an Offer
- Step #2: Join a Network
- Step #3: Design Your Site Around CPA
- Step #4: Drive Traffic To Your Site
- Bonus: CPA Pro Tips
What Is CPA Marketing?
Cost Per Action (CPA) Marketing is a affiliate model where a commission is paid when a user takes a specific action. These actions include filling out a form, getting a quote, signing up for a trial, or making a purchase.
There are two main reasons that I prefer CPA over banner ads, 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 high up on the value chain.
Here is what the value chain looks like for digital products (using a $100 course as an example):
As you can see, Adsense, banner ads, and CPC/CPM put you at the bottom of the value chain.
On the other hand, selling your own product, being an affiliate, and CPA put you higher up on the chain.
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 bucks when someone buys a $2500 laptop.
To be clear:
I’m not saying that you should avoid promoting physical products.
Just remember that physical product commissions tend to be A LOT less than with digital products.
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.
As you’ll see later, you can seamlessly integrate CPA offers into your site.
This means you run a legit branded site… while benefiting from out-of-this-world CTR and commissions.
Step #1: Find an Offer
Your first step is to find an offer to promote.
The question is:
How do you find the perfect offer for your site?
That’s easy: use oDigger and OfferVault.com.
They’re like the Google of CPA: they aggregate thousands of 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 health space.
Head over to Offer Vault and type “weight loss” into the search field:
And you’ll get a list of results, like this:
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 someone 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 or installs a piece of software.
Publisher: The person that promotes the offer (you).
Trial: When user signs up for a free trial of a product or service.
“Pixel Fires”: This is what happens when someone clicks on your link (they become a lead).
US/FR/CA: Offer only valid in that specific 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 (one-time or recurring).
When you see an offer that looks good, click on the listing:
Then, check out the details. The listing will usually give you key information on the offer, like what the user needs to do and what type of traffic is allowed:
If the offer looks good, hit the “Full Landing Page Preview” button. This will show you the page that users will see when they click on your link:
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.
More fields also mean higher commissions.
So don’t be automatically turned off by a page like this that requires 6 steps:
If the traffic is motivated enough (for example, they your traffic comes from people searching in 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.
Let me illustrate what I mean with a real life 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 9th graders wondering how to talk to Sally that sits in the back.
(Not the 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 ANY money with Adsense.
And when I looked at the ads Adsense was putting on my site, I realized that they weren’t dating related at all.
Instead, 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 360.
And just like, that I started to make significantly more money than I was making from 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 the “Join Network” link on the offer page:
When you do, you’ll see an application like this:
I should point something out:
You’ll be asked to provide a phone number… which they will call.
This is a stumbling block for a lot of people. As affiliate marketers we’re accustomed to making money online without having to talk to anyone.
But the reality of CPA is this:
If you want to join a CPA network, you’ll need to talk to someone on the phone. 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.
Here are some tips that will help you get accepted:
- Call Them Before They Call You: Shady affiliates try to fly under the radar screen. So give the network a call right after you apply. This shows you’re the real deal. I was accepted into one network literally 10 minutes after applying. How? I picked up the phone and called.
- Check Your Whois: Some networks check to see if your site’s whois address matches your mailing address.
- Be Honest: Most applications have a section to learn more about your online marketing experience:
Remember: you don’t need to be an internet marketing rockstar to get accepted.
In fact, I joined my first affiliate network when I was making about $20/day from Adsense. They just want you to 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 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 if 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.
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 higher your conversions.
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, Google would probably ban my account!)
Here are two examples of big brand sites that have done such an amazing job with integration that you can hardly tell they’re promoting CPA offers:
Big Brand CPA #1: MoneySupermarket.com
This is a big brand financial site in the UK.
(How big? They’re publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange)
And their business model is almost 100% CPA.
But you couldn’t tell my looking at it. The site’s CPA offers are seamlessly integrated into the site.
Big Brand CPA #2: NerdWallet.com
NerdWallet.com is a rapidly growing personal finance site. Like MoneySupermarket.com, they integrate their CPA offers into useful tools.
This seamless ad integration blows away the CTR and conversion rate that they’d get from banner ads.
Just to be clear: you can do well with traditional banner ads and contextual links.
But I HIGHLY recommend using a custom design that makes your site look legit.
Step #4: Drive Traffic To Your Site
Now that you’ve found an offer and joined a network, it’s time to drive traffic to your site.
There are a million ways to get traffic. But here are the 3 most common traffic strategies that CPA marketers use:
As you might expect, SEO is my go-to traffic strategy.
It takes time to kick-in, but once you rank for your target keywords, you get traffic without needing to do ANYTHING else.
If you want to learn the ins and outs of SEO, I recommend checking out these resources:
Keyword Research for SEO: The Definitive Guide
How to Get High Quality Backlinks (7 New Strategies)
On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page
2. PPC Ads
PPC ads (like Google Adwords and Facebook ads) are another popular way to get traffic to your CPA offers.
The big plus of PPC advertising is that you can start right away.
(You can literally start getting traffic within an hour or so)
The downside is that you need to funnel money into your ads… Once you stop spending, your revenue goes to zero.
3. Social Media
Facebook. Instragram. YouTube.
These are all platforms that you can use to get your offers in front of the right people.
Like with SEO, it can take time to build up a following on social media. But a popular Instagram profile or Facebook page is an asset that can pay off for YEARS.
Bonus: CPA Pro Tips
Here are a few tricks that I’ve picked up from my experience running offers as a CPA 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:
After all, most AMs are cool peeps 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 that you can 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 check to see if the offer you’re promoting is at a competing network.
When I see that another network is running one of my offers at a higher rate, I ask my AM they can match it:
They don’t want you to bolt for another affiliate network. So they’ll usually hook you up:
You 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 quickly 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 shady operations that rip people off. That’s why you need to be VERY careful about joining shady networks.
So before you signup for a network, check the reviews at Odigger.
First, click on the “Network Reviews” tab from the homepage.
And find the network that you’re looking to join.
Steer clear of any network that has really bad reviews.
(Especially if lots of people report they had trouble getting paid)
With that, keep something in mind:
Networks sometimes have legitimate reasons to withhold payment (for example: if someone 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 higher with the shady network).
My Recommended Networks
I’ve joined a bunch of CPA networks over the last few years. But I’m most active on two: MaxBounty and Panthera Network. They both have a ton of offers, competitive payouts, and great AMs.
They’re both awesome. But if I had to choose one… I’d probably go with MaxBounty.
The main difference between the two is that MaxBounty offers weekly payments.
There are lots of other reputable networks out there (for example, I’ve heard good things things about Peerfly and Neverblue). But I can’t recommend them because I haven’t personally worked with them.
Now It’s Your Turn
There you have it: a complete CPA marketing blueprint.
Now I’d like to hear from you:
What’s your experience been with CPA?
Or maybe you’re just getting started.
Either way, let me know by leaving a comment below right now.