Jason Akatiff was a regular blackhat SEO making cloaked pages and having fun making money online until he purchased a failing affiliate network last June. I thought it would be interesting to do an interview with affiliate network Ads4dough owner about his network and the issues he is seeing starting his own network.
ShoeMoney: Jason tell us about your background and what made you take on ads4dough.com?
Jason: My background is I was raised up in a suburb of San Jose, CA and lived there until I was around 27 when I moved to San Diego. I wasn’t ever into computers much other then to play video games. Then totally stopped using them for anything other then term papers and stuff like that for about 10 years.
Being as I was from Silicon Valley I wanted to go into computer engineering but hated college and doing anything that wasn’t going to make me money or I didn’t absolutely love doing. So that whole college thing didn’t last to long. Went to Junior college for 4 years so I could kind of drift for a while. Then transferred to UC Santa Cruz to get a degree and dropped out a year later.
I had various jobs in between then and now like being a waiter, notary public loan signer, sold franchises and was a speaker for Tony Robbins.
I got into this whole line of business when I was working as a franchise sales rep for Blimpie Int’l the sub sandwich chain and they we’re about to go into bankruptcy and I got laid off my job. So I decided I was going to go into buying and selling of real estate which I created a site for it called enhousepayments.com. It actually expired the other day and doesn’t exist anymore. So I knew absolutely nothing about computers, online marketing, ppc, servers, really nothing at all to do with this business.
I picked up a copy of dreamweaver and a template from template monster and hacked together a site that I put on one of those cheap 7$ hosting providers. So i started reading around on how to get traffic and started to learn some SEO. Got my site ranking pretty well and a decent amount of traffic (which was about 5 hits a day at that time, which was decent for me then 🙂 ) And a lead would be generated here and there. So I was pretty happy. But but then the site got hacked and someone managed to put a bunch of spam pages on it which I had no idea about at the time. They were auto generating pages on my domain and and then using some sort of ppc xml fee to create search pages. I found this by checking in google and seeing I had 10k pages indexed and the site was only 10 pages. Needless to say the site eventually got banned and I was so pissed off as I’d put all this work into building it out and now it was junk in my eyes at that time.
I started to poke around and stumbled across search engine cloaker and the search engine cloaker forums And that’s what got me started in Blackhat SEO. Which I’d like to clarify is different then straight Blackhat. I think they get confused a lot. Blackhat SEO is the art of auto generating sites and links on a massive scale through automation. Blackhat can be construed as anything shady like fraud and hacking.
ShoeMoney: I disagree with your definition of blackhat but please continue.
Jason: One thing I was always sure of is that I never defrauded anyone and never broke any laws. So eventually after playing with search engine cloaker, blog solution and a few other pre-packaged software solutions I kept finding flaws in them and thinking to myself “If this software could only do this or that it would be so much better”.
At that point I had met some people through cloakingforums.com and syndk8.net and they had suggested that I try to hire some people offer the freelance boards. So I did.
Trying to use freelancers at that point was basically a joke as I had only a half baked idea of what I wanted. And most of the time would wind up with things that didn’t do what I need. That’s when I decided I needed to learn to code myself if I was going to stick in this business for the long term. To this point I’d been in the biz for about 4 months and honestly had no idea about anything. I just kept hearing about people talking about it.
I decided PHP would be the best way to go as that’s what most of the people I knew were using. And figured it would be better to chose a common language rather then something like PERL that might have been more robust. In short I learned to code and started automating all sorts of projects myself.
But that had it’s limitations. As a single person you can only do so much work. I had a lot of friends that had been trying to work this business for some time and weren’t seeing a ton of success like I had to that point. So what I decided to to is start taking on what I called “project partners.” Often times when someone tries something they only try half way, or there is just one hurdle they can’t seem to get over. Or they get stuck.
What I decided to do because I had that unfortunate experience trying to outsource was to work with people as partners and a project by project basis. We’d structure it as I usually had the idea, at least when first starting out, they’d do most of the coding but if they needed resources or got stuck I’d push them through. Then we’d split the profits. Often times I get the question aren’t you afraid they’re going to take the idea and go run with it themselves and take all the money? Sure that’s a concern but I think a lot of that has to do with how you pick the people you work with. I always worked with people that didn’t make 1000’s of dollars a day by themselves. Maybe they made 100-150$/day on their best day ever. Then I’d work with them and we’d make 500-1000/day on their project and so splitting half was still much better revenue then working by themselves. And in all honesty it’s much more fun to work in teams rather then in isolation.
This really lead me to figure out that I truly enjoy helping people make money and seeing them get excited when they have success. But in all honesty buying a network never crossed my mind even 1 time really until I was in #cakes on irc and someone posted a link to an ad for ads4dough.com on sitepoint.
Funny thing was I knew who started ads4dough.com, it was originally started by a couple for friends of mine Rick and Rob. And apparently they’d taken on a new partner to help them and he had listed it on sitepoint to sell.
That’s the first time I thought about owning a network in all honesty. I saw it on there and it seemed relatively cheap I think the price was like 30k and they had claimed it was making 10k/month so I figured it’d be a good investment and just something to do on the side with my other stuff. Little did I know what I was in for.
ShoeMoney: When was the date of purchase?
Jason: I purchased ads4dogh technically on June 1 although I started taking it over a couple weeks before that. So about 4 and a half months now.
ShoeMoney: During that time what was the most surprising aspects of owning your own network?
Jason: Well from an affiliates perspective it looks like a really simple thing to do. All you have to do is get some offers at one price and then get some affiliates to promote them at a little lower price and that’s it. That’s just not the case. There’s so much work that goes into it. It really is all consuming.
ShoeMoney: How many active publishers do you currently have in ads4dough.com?
Jason: I’d guess around 350-400 based on the checks I send out monthly.
Yeah I soooo love it. It’s the greatest thing ever for me personally. I get to share all my knowledge with affiliates and help them get going in the business and make money. And if they do well I do well. It really couldn’t be a better scenario in that sense. Honestly I think it’s the tip of the ice berg I’d like to take it as big as possible. I really think this industry is tiny and growing. There’s a lot of very very risky things about it. But I do love it.
ShoeMoney: Do you think your Blackhat SEO background helps you in running the affiliate network?
Jason: Oh 100% helps! I haven’t just done BH SEO. I’ve done PPC, Banner Buys, etc. But knowing as many aspects of the business as possible is very very important. How can I help an affiliate that’s doing BH SEO if I hvaen’t done it myself? How can I help a guy running content network if I haven’t done it myself? You get the picture.
ShoeMoney: Lets talk about a huge issue in affiliate marketing – fraud. How do you deal with it?
Jason: A huge thing about running a network is blocking fraud. There’s soooooo much fraud in this business. A lot of the stuff we built to get around things as BH SEO’s we utilize on the other side today. Such as building tools to hunt down fraud. It’s rampant and there’s a lot of different levels. There’s whole rings of people in China, India, Vietnam and other countries that apply to be affiliates. That’s the full out blatant fraudsters. They’ve gone as far as to hire actors to call in to the affiliate network to get approved, if you can believe that. So when affiliates apply they wonder why they don’t just get approved and it’s a free for all, that’s what we’re trying to stop on a daily basis.
As an affiliate you may think, well what’s that got to do with me. You’re just impeding my progress. But think about it like this – How long and how much money can it take you to setup a fresh campaign on adwords? A while and can be a good amount of money right? Well imagine there’s some fruadsters in the system that decide to start frauding the offer you’re running. The advertiser gets pissed and pulls the offer. Who loses? There’s other types of fraud as well. There’s guys that control botnets and stuff leads. So guess who this hurts, that’s right all the good affiliates. As the advertiser sees the value of the leads being worth less and less. Because they’re getting so many junk leads.
Those are just a few of the major types of fraud. You also have people that signup to be affiliates that have no money. So a 30$ comission to them is big money. So they use their CC and fill in a couple leads then immediately cancel the offers. This really is fraud too in my opinion.
ShoeMoney: wow thats a lot. So how are you trying to grow to compete with the bigger players in the industry?
Jason: In any marketplace you really need to differentiate yourself. But luckily in this industry most of them are truly terrible and rip off artists. So first off is we truly don’t shave affiliates ever. And to stand by that I’ve posted a split test script on the ads4dough.com blog so people can put us head to head with any other network on a straight split. I’ve had at least 10 aff’s do it and we win 80% of the time and tie the other 20%. I mean truly we’re putting the affiliates first. As they’re the whole driver of this industry. I always felt like a peon and I was the least important peice of the puzzle. But honestly that’s not true, we as affiliates are the most important peice. We’ll be releasing competitive research tools, split testing tools, multi-variant tools and eventually a bid management platform. All of it will be free to our affiliates. We want to earn our money by affiliates having more success. We also believe that will build loyalty to the network at the same time.
Also we only hire experienced Affiliate Managers. I know this could be looked at as a conflict of interest in a way. But it’s worked well for us so far. Kaveman from Wickedfire aka Brandon has been an affiliate himself for around 3 years and decided he wanted a nice steady job. So he’s got experience in most of the fields of AM and is able to help his affiliates under him the same as I do with the affiliates under me. It’s worked really well so far and people have really appreciated it.
ShoeMoney: So you think a lot of networks are shaving leads and stealing from affiliates?
Jason: It’s been proven time and time again. I always encrouage every affiliate to split test their offer from time to time. Even my own guys, if they say “hey this offer isn’t converting that well” I say “use the split test script and network x or y has it test against them”. As affiliates that’s truly our job. Split test everything. I know networks that have gone as far as shaving clicks to make conversions look better. So always go by the clicks at the advertising source and divide your revenue earned to get a true EPC. As EPC or eCPM is the only thing that matters really. Everything is else is just a component of those.
ShoeMoney: What kind of feedback are you hear from users on the social network platforms like Myspace and Facebook?
Jason: Facebooks and Myspace are doing amazing. My favorite part about the social stuff is it’s more roots, demographic based marketing. Rather then trying figure and fight over a keywords it’s much more find offers that convert to a general demographic. So what are things that convert to a general demographic? Weight loss, dating , tones, payday loans, halloween costumes, and the list goes on. I think it teaches people how to think for doing large scale CPM banner buys as well. Same ideas and mentality. From so many years as PPC affiliates most people are stuck in the keyword mindset and if you come to the social game with keyword mindset you’ll usually go home empty handed. From so many years as PPC affiliates most people are stuck in the keyword mindset and if you come to the social game with keyword mindset you’ll usually go home empty handed.
ShoeMoney: What are your biggest challenges currently with the network?
Jason: I mean there’s really a lot of financialy at stake as the payment terms are different. Most of the big affiliates want to be paid on weekly wires. Because they run massive CC debt to run their campaigns. Well most of the advertisers want to pay on the best terms at a net 15. So for big offers you can be floating 1-2 million at any given time. That’s a ton of risk if the advertiser decides they don’t want to pay for whatever reason. And do advertisers decide not pay? Oh hell yeah.
ShoeMoney: This has been a great interview! Anything else you would like to add before we go?
Jason: Networking is everything man. I know you’ve talked about it a lot but let me reinforce it. It’s the heart and soul of this business. It’s all about who you know at the end of the day. I hope this industry changes. I think think that a lot of affiliates are treated poorly and given the short end of the stick. I’m hoping to make a difference and put affiliates at the for front. And the networks are here to serve them. I’m hoping through word of mouth, helping and treating people right I can be a catalyst for change in the industry.
Special thanks to Jason for the honest interview. Check out Ads4dough for more information about his affiliate network.