Episode 63: Successful Affiliate Marketing with Robert Brandl

Learn what it takes to make it in the affiliate marketing world! An experienced affiliate marketer lays it all out and shares his advice for anyone looking to get started.


Robert Brandl is an affiliate marketing expert and founder of EmailToolTester, a project that helps beginners find the right email marketing service to meet their needs. In this episode, he talks to Chris Davis about how he got started as an affiliate marketer creating WebsiteToolTester, what the path to affiliate marketing success looks like, and what he recommends for those who are just diving in or interested in getting started with affiliate marketing.


Chris Davis: Welcome to another episode of the Active Campaign podcast. In this episode I have Robert [00:00:30] Brandl of emailtooltester.com to sit down and talk to me about affiliate marketing. How to become successful at affiliate marketing. He is an Active Campaign user, as well as affiliate, and after talking to Robert, I think that his approach to affiliate marketing is one that you can easily implement or start a business with.
There’s a lot of confusion at times [00:01:00] how to become a successful affiliate marketer, and I think that this podcast is going to do a great job to inform those of you who have been on the edge wondering if I should dip my hands into it, and if I do how would it look? This episode should help you walk away with that clarity, enjoy. Robert, welcome to the podcast, glad to have you on, how are you doing?
Robert Brandl: I am doing really fine, thank you, how are you?
Chris Davis: I’m well Robert, and I can’t wait [00:01:30] to jump two fold into what you have, your practice as well as the website, they’re one and the same, but before we do that tell us a little bit about your background, how you got to where you are right now.
Robert Brandl: How I got to where I am, well I would say it all started … I’m from Germany, and I used to work for a marketing agency, specifically more for email marketing in [00:02:00] Frankfurt. There I got exposed to email marketing a lot, it was mainly for enterprise type of clients. I learned loads within the email marketing space, and I got to know a lot of different newsletter tools.
We mainly worked with one email marketing tool, I think it’s called Emarsys, [00:02:30] but yeah, I haven’t really checked it out recently. I also always had a look at the smaller tools, because I found them really interesting, because compared to the big enterprise solutions, they were so affordable and so easy to use most of all. The big enterprise software is always a bit oh, you always have the feeling you’re doing something wrong when you use them.
Chris Davis: Right.
Robert Brandl: What is [00:03:00] not the case with the smaller tools. They have evolved a lot, but yeah, I was working for this agency for four and a half years I think. My boss was always experimenting with affiliate marketing, which I found pretty exciting. He was sometimes in our team meetings he was reporting, so last month we made $500, and next [00:03:30] month it was $1000, and I was like, “Wow, is that real?”
You’re sending basically clicks to another website and they pay you that kind of money? Before I knew of affiliate marketing, and I found it interesting, but I never thought that you could make actual money from it. Then that was the moment when I was giving it more attention. Yeah, [00:04:00] on the side next to my, “Real job,” I started spilling to get a review website for website builders.
The reason was because I wanted to create my own website, and I found it quite hard. I was back in the days I think there was only … WordPress wasn’t really big, and there was Dreamweaver I think it was, and I found it super complicated.
Chris Davis: Yes.
Robert Brandl: Yeah, [00:04:30] I hated it, and then I was just looking for something else. It was back in 2009, and then I think that was just when these website builders were popping up like Weebly and Wix and Squarespace and these companies. I gave them a try, and then I thought, “Oh, now that I’ve tried out so many of them, I could just put my test results on a website.” I used one of the website builders obviously, [00:05:00] and put the test results on it, and then yeah, surprisingly very soon people were actually reading it.
Yeah, Google sent me free traffic of people who were reading my reviews, and then that was the moment when I thought, “Okay, then I could just as well put up an affiliate link and see if anybody’s interested in buying,” and surprise also people started to buy these products. That [00:05:30] was basically how I got really started in the affiliate space. I’m half a year in I think after starting this website.
I also quit my job and I went all in into the affiliate marketing game.
Chris Davis: Nice.
Robert Brandl: Yeah, and it was going really well, and then eventually I think one year later after starting this website I remembered that I had some [00:06:00] email marketing experience, and that was when I started Email Tool Tester, which is the newsletter software review website.
Chris Davis: Yes.
Robert Brandl: The other one is called Websites Tool Tester for the website builders. Yeah, there I was running two different affiliate marketing websites already.
Chris Davis: Beautiful, and I don’t know, I don’t want to give you too much credit, [00:06:30] and here’s what I mean by that. I’m going to go out on a limb and make a statement, and let me know if this is true. When you were doing the website review, in your mind did you know that you were going to do Email Tool Tester as well?
Robert Brandl: I guess somewhere deep down.
Chris Davis: Right, it was there.
Robert Brandl: It was always there I think, but at this moment I didn’t even know if it was [00:07:00] going to be a success.
Chris Davis: Yeah, right? You had no clue, so the reason why I was saying I don’t want to give you too much credit, is because a lot of people can’t see step two until they complete step one.
Robert Brandl: Yeah.
Chris Davis: Right? You completed the Website Tool Tester, and then that made apparent the next step. The other thing that I see a lot of people make the mistake of, is thinking that their first idea that they act on is the idea.
Robert Brandl: [00:07:30] Yeah, true.
Chris Davis: Right?
Robert Brandl: That’s rarely the case. I had a couple of other ideas that didn’t work out, so you have to trial and error.
Chris Davis: You have to leverage, you have to leverage your efforts and your learned lessons to get to the destination that may look totally different, but feel way better than you initially anticipated, right?
Robert Brandl: Yes, yes.
Chris Davis: Another key for you, just one more thing Robert, a key for you [00:08:00] that I really want to highlight, is that you said you started reviewing page builders, but you didn’t start reviewing them until you had a deep understanding from usage of them.
Robert Brandl: Exactly, yeah, because too many times you see it in this space that people would just put up content and reviews for products that they don’t actually [00:08:30] understand. That hurts a little.
Chris Davis: Yes it does, especially the people who are new to the space, their sniff test isn’t as mature as someone else, right? They may be reading one of these websites that are really rudimentary with their assessment of the platform and all of that, and they’re like, “Okay, I’m going to sign up with that.” I can appreciate it, because and like I said, maybe you didn’t even know that these were the elements [00:09:00] that made affiliate marketing effective, you were just staying true to you.
You were saying, “Hey, I know about this, let me help someone.” To me Robert honestly it’s amazing how when I’m signing up for a new software tool and I have questions and then I search online, all of the websites, all of the blogs out there, rarely do any of them address the questions that I find from actually using it. I’m like, “What questions are they answering?”
[00:09:30] Hence, why websites like yourself, when there’s a real review from an applicable review, right? I’ve applied, or I’ve put this into practice and here is my review, those types of things stand out, and it resonates with people.
Robert Brandl: Yeah absolutely, it’s very easy to see if the person has actually used the tool, or if they have just collected from other reviews around the web, [00:10:00] and put something together, which is not really useful, because they don’t know the tool. I mean we have pretty high standards, when we put up a review we want to be able to answer the comments and questions.
Maybe you have seen on our website that in each of the reviews people can leave comments and ask us specific questions about the tool. Yeah, we pretty much always [00:10:30] can answer them, because we study them me and my team.
Chris Davis: Yeah, which speaks to the importance of transparency, right? It’s like hey look at what other people are saying as well? We’re not just putting our opinions out there, our knowledge out there and saying, “Don’t you say anything, just take it.”
Robert Brandl: Yeah, that’s also something I see over and over again, that they don’t activate comments. A review is so much better when people can [00:11:00] actually comment on it, because they will find errors always. When we put up something, even though after hours and hours of testing, we still make errors. Our readers, very often they find them, and then we can correct them.
Chris Davis: There it is, so for everybody who’s not familiar with Email Tool Tester, emailtooltester.com, that’s one of your affiliate sites, would you say that’s your largest affiliate site?
Robert Brandl: Together with Website [00:11:30] Tool Tester, yes.
Chris Davis: Okay, so the tool testers, walk us through what it is, what is Email Tool Tester?
Robert Brandl: Basically if you want to send out email newsletter’s, you land on our website, on our homepage, and then you can either download our free e-book where I explain really for beginners. It’s really basic, so you wouldn’t really enjoy this e-book I guess, but it’s really basic. [00:12:00] The feedback is really great on this e-book, sometimes I read it and I think that might be too basic, but I think you can rarely be too basically.
There are always people starting out completely new, and they want that kind of content. Basically yeah, that’s where you can start, or a lot of people would just get to the website by typing in a certain combination of [00:12:30] Active Campaign review for example, and then they our find test, and then yeah, they search for the information they need. If they find it, ideally they click onto your website, and then which counts as an affiliate click.
Chris Davis: Yes, go ahead.
Robert Brandl: Yes, and of course if there are any questions left as I said they can leave comments, or [00:13:00] can also send us a direct email, which we also will always answer with questions. Then because sometimes they just don’t know what newsletter tool is right for them. Some people maybe someone prefers a free newsletter tool, then we also have recommendations for them, or somebody needs a really good’s deliverability rate, which we can then proudly [00:13:30] recommend Active Campaign.
We just recently did a test on that on the newsletter deliverability, and you guys won.
Chris Davis: Great, great, and I tell you what, you’re true to what you’re saying, because as you were talking I went to your e-book landing page, and there’s 131 comments as of right now about the e-book. Of course, it’s in German, [00:14:00] and I don’t speak German, but I believe I’m going to butcher this, don’t judge me Robert, but danke, isn’t that thank you?
Robert Brandl: That is thank you, yes.
Chris Davis: Right, so I at least acknowledge that throughout almost every other comment, thank you, thank you, thank you, so I love not only the transparency, but the availability that you have with your company. The attractive part [00:14:30] of affiliate marketing is the idea that you can put something out there, people click, and then you get paid, right? They click a link, they go sign up somewhere, and you get paid.
Then at the end of the day you just got this money rolling, which can be the case, but it takes some work, right?
Robert Brandl: It really does.
Chris Davis: You’re not just putting stuff out there and then twiddling your thumbs like, “Come on everybody, click, click, click.” You’re answering emails, right? You’re engaging in the comments, [00:15:00] you’re actually continually learning so that you can write more intelligently about the topic.
Robert Brandl: Yeah.
Chris Davis: You’re approaching this like it’s a profession, which it is, right?
Robert Brandl: Yeah, it is, I mean it’s my full-time job, yeah. You mentioned the German website, we also have it in English which we started a bit later, I think two years ago more or less. Yeah, [00:15:30] for e-book we don’t have that many comments yet, but as you said it’s hard work to get people on the website, and to get them commenting. We are in the process of driving that up.
Chris Davis: Yeah, these are kind of little keys I will call them that aren’t highlighted enough, right? Everybody wants to talk about the big take away, like hey as an affiliate marketer you can get paid [00:16:00] blah, blah, blah, blah, but when you look at a company that’s actually doing it at a high level, and see anybody can go to your website and see all of the stuff that we’re talking about, right?
We haven’t even really highlighted the service that you’re providing with the website itself, right? Just being able to go to Email Tool Tester and test out, know that you’re testing, and read the reviews on what [00:16:30] you found, as well as actually look at a comparison test. This is a lot of value that you’re providing.
Robert Brandl: Yeah, it’s a lot of work too.
Chris Davis: It’s a lot of work, because I can imagine platforms are always updating. I know Active Campaign, we’re always updating.
Robert Brandl: Oh yes.
Chris Davis: I can only imagine Robert, any inaccuracy somebody’s like, “Oh, wait a minute, that’s not their pricing.” “Wait a minute, they can do this now.”
Robert Brandl: Exactly, [00:17:00] and the competition, that’s also something people probably underestimate when they first start out, because some industries like the newsletter software review space is super competitive. If you don’t update your reviews, you won’t rank on the first page of Google, but you will be pushed down to the second or third page if the information is not up-to-date.
Google is smart enough to know if the users are [00:17:30] engaging, or if they’re not.
Chris Davis: Right, right, yeah, it makes me think, I know when you started it you had an exposure from the agency as far as what affiliate marketing was. I’m interested to know when you’re in it full-time, or maybe it was before full time, what point along this journey did the light bulb go off and you realize, “Wait a minute, this affiliate marketing thing is working for me.” What was that point for you?
Robert Brandl: [00:18:00] I think it came really quickly like maybe the second month in already, because I had the luck, I had really big luck that I entered the website builder review space when there was nobody really doing it. Now the competition was intense, but back then there was hardly any competition, so that’s why I also climbed the ranking super quickly for the most relevant keywords.
[00:18:30] That of course helped a lot, because yeah, most people if they don’t get the results quick enough, they would just leave it, and they probably they don’t have the patience to wait for half a year, a year, maybe longer. I told you that we started two years ago with the English website of Email Tool Tester, and we’re still working on our way up. It just takes time, but [00:19:00] now I know that it can take time.
Chris Davis: Yeah, yeah, it’s always going to take twice as long as you initially planned, and cost twice as much. That’s what I go by, that’s what my mentor told me, because I was on the other end when I got started, like those impatient people, right? It’s been a month, where is everybody? Where’s the money? Come on people, open for business, don’t you see the virtual sign? I built it, why are you not coming? [00:19:30] All of those things.
Robert Brandl: It doesn’t work like that if you are relying on Google traffic. Of course on organic search traffic, if you have any other means of getting traffic to your website, maybe you pay for it, or you have a smart Facebook campaign set up, then things can go more quickly. If you are relying on Google being nice to you and ranking you high, that is going to take a bit of time.
Chris Davis: Yeah, which is nice, right? If Google [00:20:00] is sending traffic to you it’s essentially zero dollars to acquire an impression, or zero dollars per impression, or you could say the time that you spent.
Robert Brandl: Yeah, you have to invest a lot of time and also money of course for the content creation. Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s free, but it’s pretty nice because it stays even after you stop paying for your writers it will stay a bit. [00:20:30] Not like paid advertising, which by the second you stop your campaign you won’t receive any traffic anymore. SEO works a bit differently.
Chris Davis: Right, right, now when you first started with website builder, I can only imagine you were probably reliant primarily on organic traffic, is that true?
Robert Brandl: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
Chris Davis: Has that changed with Email Tool Tester, when you started Email Tool Tester was [00:21:00] that one majority organic traffic as well?
Robert Brandl: I think we still receive 95% of our traffic from Google.
Chris Davis: Wow.
Robert Brandl: Yeah, we don’t really do paid advertising. We have tried it, but it’s pretty complicated, it’s a science in itself, and yeah, at some point we decided that for us it makes more sense to just focus on SEO.
Chris Davis: Yeah, [00:21:30] which I’m glad you bring that up, because that is something that’s extremely important to think about, right? SEO is definitely the long term game plan, there is nobody who’s going to start writing today, and get ranked tomorrow, that’s not possible. You can start an ad campaign today and start getting visitors as soon as tomorrow, totally different.
However, using ad spend to drive affiliate sales is just such [00:22:00] a complicated equation, not just from the ad spend standpoint, but the amount that you’re paying for an impression to get to your site, and then hoping they convert, and then taking the percentage of whatever your affiliate kickback is from what they sign up for. Those are a lot of variables, and some of them uncontrollable, right?
Robert Brandl: Yes, and it’s very easy to enter let’s call it the dark side of affiliate marketing, of being a review affiliate [00:22:30] website, because if you are paying for your traffic you want to make the most of your expense. That’s when a lot of people decide, “Well, maybe I will just rank the provider who pays the highest commission first, and that’s going to be better business for me.”
I see that a lot unfortunately, especially with PPC affiliates. [00:23:00] That is a bit sad I have to say.
Chris Davis: Yeah, yeah, it’s almost like you’re paying yourself for your own opinion, right? It becomes about the money instead of you creating the general, I shouldn’t say the general, but the genuine content. You’re looking at those PPC numbers, or your ad spend, and you’re saying, “You know what? If I can get more people to buy this product, I can cut my costs, right? I can break even at least.”
Then even subconsciously, you may not be [00:23:30] aware of it. I don’t want to say everybody that does it is sitting down vindictively thinking, “I’m going to do this.” Just feeling that pressure, you could very much, “Okay, let me put a little more into this one.”
Robert Brandl: Yeah, unfortunately there are also companies that encourage that kind of behavior. More often than not we’re approached by some companies and they were essentially offering to write the review [00:24:00] themselves and pay us for it, which is absurd. Yeah, you get these offers, it’s a crazy world out there.
Chris Davis: Yeah, and I’m glad you’re staying true to your brand and your business, because I’m not going to do any name dropping, but I will say there was a previous user of ours that went to another tool and wrote this long review of the new tool, [00:24:30] like why they left us for this new tool. It was so lopsided, like anybody who read it you could clearly tell he was being paid by company B to talk about company A.
The really sad part about it was this blog post had hundreds of comments, and people were asking genuine questions. Now I go to your webpage, you’re engaging, you’re responding back, right? It was one way, it was just a list [00:25:00] of comments from everybody, and I’m just looking at this like this is the worst of the worst. This person is taking advantage of a tool that’s hot at the moment, writing about it with respect to another tool that a lot of people are using, which was us, and trying to capitalize on people’s shiny object syndrome.
I just say that to say I’m always glad to see [00:25:30] no matter what the business is, people using and doing business the right way, right? Staying responsible in their marketing, transparent, and operating their marketing with integrity.
Robert Brandl: Yeah, that’s key, and I think that’s also the reason why the more dodgy affiliates, they are relying on paid traffic. You can rarely see them in the top 10 of Google. I think Google is [00:26:00] pretty smart about ranking websites, and yeah, that’s the reason why it’s good to have your honest opinion, and not trying to game it basically.
Chris Davis: Right, right, and in closing if there was one bit of additional advice, you’ve already given so much just in our conversation, but if there is a piece of additional advice you would give somebody who is [00:26:30] looking to get started in affiliate marketing, and find the success that you have found, what would you give them?
Robert Brandl: I think what I heard many times is to use your unfair advantage. I think in my case it was that I had this background of affiliate marketing. I knew the space pretty well, and then combining it with affiliate marketing just worked perfectly, and also being [00:27:00] from Germany and having worked in an international environment back in the agency, I am also doing different languages of my website.
I would also call that an unfair advantage. Yeah, the advice I would be giving, search for your own unfair advantage, and use it to the fullest.
Chris Davis: That’s really good, and oh my goodness that applies to everything, right? That’s like [00:27:30] the statement that you keep in the back your mind when you’re thinking about your business and its strategic approach to the marketplace, right? What is my unfair advantage? For you like you said you speak multiple languages, why would you only do it in one language, right?
Robert Brandl: Absolutely, yeah. There’s a whole wide world out there that is not only English-speaking, but Spanish-speaking, French-speaking, German- [00:28:00] speaking. There’s so much more out there, and a lot of business potential of course also.
Chris Davis: Yeah, I agree, well Robert I want to thank you so much for coming onto the podcast, and really helping myself and our listeners get a better idea and deeper insight on what it takes to be successful as an affiliate marketer. We appreciate you of course as an affiliate of our product. The content that you put out is great, and as a user [00:28:30] as well we thank you. This was great man, thank you for coming on.
Robert Brandl: Thank you very much Chris, and of course I hope there will be a ton of comments that I can answer on this podcast blog post, and yeah, would be very happy to give more advice if needed.
Chris Davis: Yes, I know we’ve given the website, but just officially where can people go to find out more about you, what you’ve done, and connect with you.
Robert Brandl: Well, the website is [00:29:00] emailtooltester.com, where you can find newsletter software reviews. If you’re really starting out and you don’t even have a website yet, you could also go to websitetooltester.com and find advice about website builders.
Chris Davis: Great, great, we’ll have both of those links at the bottom in the show notes. Robert, appreciate it, great time man.
Robert Brandl: Thank you, bye.
Chris Davis: [00:29:30] Thank you for listening to this episode of the Active Campaign podcast, was Robert not great? Did he not do an amazing job with outlining and laying before us all how his success as an affiliate marketer can easily be translated into your business, right? If this was something that you wanted to get into like I said, it was an aspect of your business you wanted to add, or if this is the business that you wanted to start, [00:30:00] let this podcast serve as that blueprint.
I know I learned a lot just talking through it, and it was really refreshing to see Robert’s approach of integrity when it comes to affiliate marketing. When you go to any of his websites, I’m telling you it doesn’t feel sleazy or salesy at all. You don’t go there and you’re like, “Oh, this guy’s just trying to get me to click and buy something.” It doesn’t feel like that at all, and that’s because he’s using genuine content [00:30:30] to connect before he’s trying to create the sale.
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