Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve most likely heard about the WTAFF newsletter … everyone across the affiliate industry seems to be loving it and for a good reason. Manu puts a lot of work into bringing his readers a quick sum-up of the most important things that relate to affiliate marketing, in one way or another.
NOTE: Just for the sake of making sure we are all on the same board … this is the newsletter I’m talking about : https://www.wtaff.co/
I know Manu for quite some time already, we met at the STM Forum couple years ago and we also met in person several times, be it for business at AWA or AWE, or just to have a few beers in Wien, for example. So I know that Manu is a great guy, very clever and business oriented … but you don’t know that just yet. That’s why I’m bringing you this interview, so get to know the guy who’s delivering the daily affiliate news straight to your email.
Happy reading …
1. Hello Manu, I would say that pretty much all my readers do know who you are by now, but still … let’s talk a bit about yourself … how you started in AM, how long ago was it …
Hey Matej and readers. I’ve been an affiliate for a bit over 3 years now, started with display back in May 2015. In those days, you could actually still run decent volume on display without misleading ads. It wasn’t super common but after testing a ton of geos and exchanges, I was lucky enough to find some profitable ones.
I started this after a project I had going here in Vienna, a software company, essentially failed. There was a disagreement between a few of us in the team so we went our separate ways.
Affiliate marketing came up as an option the ones that stayed to quickly test and see if we wanna continue down this path.
Results were good “quickly” and haven’t looked back since then. I say “quickly” between quotation marks because although I got my first profitable campaign in one month, I probably spent 80+ hours a week doing affiliate marketing related tasks.
2. I know you did great with POP traffic in the past, then moved to other traffic types … what do you focus on in terms of affiliate campaigns now, do you run any at the moment? Or have you moved all your focus on the WHAT THE AFF affiliate newsletter?
Right now we don’t run any affiliate campaigns anymore. WHAT THE AFF is the absolute focus for me. It got very good feedback from the community, which makes it much more enjoyable to do.
What’s also important, it shows potential also when it comes to the financial aspect. As much as I enjoy doing it, I’m very honest that if it doesn’t also make money, it’s hard to justify spending time sending a newsletter 5 days a week.
3. Let’s talk about WHAT THE AFF now … It’s only 5 months old now, judging by the announcement post you’ve made on the STM forum, I just checked and the exact date was 16th April. So when did you actually decide to build this service, was it an idea you had for a while or was it a sudden decision?
Haha, depends how you view the start date. I view it more like 23rd April, maybe 30th April.
There were a few phases.
In January this year, I had to really think through what I want to do in 2018. I was also much more involved in STM Forum’s internal business, as you know.
While it was very flexible compared to a regular job, it still felt too much like a job.
The team and I were still running campaigns too but that was also getting tougher, worse results than “the good ol’ days”, but with more work.
And what I really wanted to do since starting affiliate marketing was to create my own offer/project, that was actually useful, that provided something users found valuable and something where I could apply the AM skills.
We tried a few projects, including crypto related that showed some promise when we were just testing if it’s viable but then Google decided to ban crypto around early March too. We started that when we already knew FB banned it so we ran AdWords to create an email list.
Went OK but after Google announced the ban we decided that we should look into something else. More small things tested… Then came back to the industry that I actually know best – affiliate marketing.
This was late-March. Made a loooong list of things that exist in the industry, things that don’t, things that I could do, and things that I couldn’t.
At the same time, someone introduced me to a community for Wall Street professionals, called Wall Street Oasis. I checked it out, made an account and that’s where I found MorningBrew.com
I just loved that newsletter. It’s entertaining to read, the topics are well picked, it also has well-informed commentary. And then it hit me…
There’s nothing like this for affiliate marketing… Sure, the audience is way smaller than that of Morning Brew but we too have our typical lingo. We rarely have informed news/commentary, most content is trying to push the latest course.
There’s still a decent amount of mainstream news that affects affiliates but nobody really comments on that or brings it up. Stuff gets lost in Facebook groups, people don’t wanna spend hours finding small bits that are important.
So the concept of a short read every workday, that is actually carefully curated could prove useful.
First step was to test if we can even write it – so we just did it for a week in a Google Doc, for ourselves, to see if we have enough news and a decent tone.
Then I asked a handful of contacts with different positions in the industry what they think of the concept and if they would sign up for the closed beta test. The feedback on the concept was good, I worked out some kinks with that group, and on April 16th, I decided I can open it up a bit more.
That’s why I posted it on STM. More people signed up, feedback was very good still.
Then on April 23rd I opened it up by posting on FB and a few other places. Some of those in the initial testing group also gave me shoutouts, like Paul Jey, Servando Silva and Andrew Payne, which I can’t thank them enough for.
4. WHAT THE AFF… how did you come up with that name actually?
The name doesn’t have a very special story… So one idea was that this newsletter should be like your daily stack of papers. “The Daily Stack” was actually our internal name, before we told anyone else about the concept.
The issue we found with that name though is that people will very quickly think that Manu + STM mod/iStack team + name = iStack product.
Then looking at the writing style, and the news, it should make some people say “WTF”, and because we’re in affiliate marketing, it turned into WHAT THE AFF…
Funny thing though is that I quickly found out AFF stands for accelerated freefall, which has to do with skydiving. And that’s why we don’t have the .com domain…
5. Your newsletter is delivered daily, except for weekends … how do you manage to pull it off, without missing a single issue? I mean, it must be quite time consuming and skipping a day or two must be very tempting .. it certainly would be for me Are you doing all the work yourself, or is anyone helping you with it?
It’s certainly not easy – it’s all about discipline. Waking up at 6am sometimes to schedule the issue with the latest news, then head to Affiliate World Europe
A few other things I want to add here, on the topic of daily…
It’s also a reason I think others won’t be too tempted to compete with exactly this concept. Affiliates are known to rip and run, but I think the daily grind that’s needed right now will turn almost everyone off.
Next, we don’t skip any issue because I think trust is extremely valuable. If we promise to deliver something, we should. We had an issue early on… We decided on a fixed time to send – 11AM GMT, then ran into an issue with our email service provider and was late like 3-4 hours.
I actually was very disappointed, even mentioned it on STM, because I don’t like not following up on a promise like that.
So, making sure we send out daily is also part of proving to people that we deliver what we promised.
We also try to ask for as little data as possible from them, we don’t have the FB pixel on our website, etc. In general, I want to make sure we’re the sort of newsletter I’d like to read and create the sort of community I would be happy to be part of.
We want to keep our word and be as transparent as possible too.
Now, of course we will have days off at some point, or will mix the content to not be news only on certain days. The first example is the winter holidays – fewer people work, fewer will open their work related emails too. It’s not the end of the world for anyone if we mix it up then.
But until we reach that point, we want to send as planned. We also grow more on workdays when we send it than on weekends when we don’t send any email
6. According to your recent Facebook post, you had 2800 subscribers, what does it look like today? And if possible, give me some more data … how many people read the newsletter daily, do many unsubscribe, do you get new subscribers daily?
We are actually close to 3100 subscribers now, we have a steady daily open rate of 40-45% for a few weeks now too.
We don’t have many people unsubscribe. It’s only if we get a shoutout, and an influx of new subscribers that we get like 0.15% unsub rate for an email. But that’s understandable – some people sign up to check it out and decide it’s not for them. Totally fair I think.
And in terms of new subs per day, there’s steady growth with word of mouth, of around 10-15 readers. Like I said, when we send the daily email, people share it with others if some topics are just very relevant to them and then we get more readers.
On the weekends though, we’re lucky to get 2-3 new subs total, haha.
7. So more than 3100 subscribers already, that’s a lot man, especially when considering that the affiliate crowd is rather limited and you’re only running WHAT THE AFF for a few months. How did you collect your subscribers actually, did you pay for any ads?
We tried Facebook Ads but being that the product is the newsletter, and you kind of need to get the email before people truly see it, it didn’t work out so great there.
What did work very well was asking people to check it out and then share with their audience if they have one.
I found that people are quite open to spread the word about something they actually find useful, and it’s something I take as positive feedback.
8. Do you have any target # of subscribers that you would like to reach? Maybe some kind of a plan when it comes to the size of your audience?
Hard to set an exact target. There are a few ways to think about it…
You can see what big brands and bloggers in the industry have as numbers on their list, and try to aim for that. But you don’t know their engagement rate, so it’s just a rough estimate.
What we’re doing now is just trying to grow as much as possible and maintain quality of the content. We’re well aware that content is not 100% A+, but that’s relative. It’s tough to beat the news and entertainment from Zuckerberg’s Congress hearing for example.
My best case scenario is that we are part of a checklist for new people in the industry…
Usually it goes like:
Attend Affiliate World
Sign up to STM
Buy AdPlexity to spy
Something along those lines… My ultimate goal is to have “Read WHAT THE AFF…” on that list of must-haves that everyone recommends.
9. When choosing content for the newsletter, do you follow certain plan/scheme or you simply scout the web for anything related to affiliate marketing?
We have a list of like 20 sources that we check manually, then decide which are the best pieces. We’ve also started creating a backlog of content that is not time sensitive to help us when news is slow, like this Monday, September 3rd, Labour Day in the US.
There are also a few things where I’m the only one on the team that sees the connection to affiliate marketing and can add some interesting commentary to it. Those parts got us some great reactions, haha.
The most memorable one, for me at least, is a very early newsletter where we had the title “Which one of you guys pissed off Martin Lewis” – https://wob.activehosted.com/social/a5771bce93e200c36f7cd9dfd0e5deaa.37
The news was that this UK celebrity was being used for biz opp offers on FB and he sued FB… We spun it as “look at what you affiliates did, shame on you, lol”.
10. I like the style of the newsletter a lot, and based on the reaction of people I see, it’s generally received very well … To me it looks more like a blog post written by a friend, than a standard newsletter that most services provide. Why did you decide to handle it this way, were you inspired by some other newsletters, or was this basically your own idea?
Morning Brew, like I mentioned above. Especially early on, when we didn’t know what makes most sense, we just did what Morning Brew seemed to do and then we adapted.
The idea is indeed to have it like a friendly daily digest, from someone who actually looks at things from your point of view.
Most services provide newsletters talking only about themselves and we do the opposite – we almost only talk about things the readers care about. We really have to do that, because there’s no lead magnet… People sign up just to read the newsletter.
11. As an affiliate, I’d be interested to learn about one thing … recently, you introduced ads in the newsletter … how did the members base react? Did you see a lot of cancels? I think it’s absolutely fine to have a limited amount of ads, especially when done in such a non-intrusive way as you did it, but still, some affiliates seem to hate any kinds of ads …
It was a big moment because it’s the main way we think we can monetize the concept. Luckily, there was no backlash, and a few people even said they didn’t realize they were reading an ad… but not that they were fooled, they just liked the overall tone of it.
I think the fact that we are very transparent when we have a financial incentive (clear logo at the top of the newsletter, and big SPONSORED tag in the content) and we keep the same friendly tone makes people OK with it. We also try to provide good offers for our readers, like exclusive content, bonuses, discounts etc.
It’s still early days for the ads but so far, readers have not complained – they actually seem to click those ads pretty often.
We also have standard advertising packages so everyone can think about promoting their product to our readers, we don’t put up hidden affiliate links, we don’t “rent” our readers, we don’t sell their emails, etc.
It comes back to trust – it’s hard to earn, especially in this industry, so we do not want break the trust of those who support us.
This brings other challenges to the table, but it’s the only way I see this reaching the goal I’ve mentioned before
12. And one more thing I’m very interested in … you keep the copies of each newsletter on your site at www.wtaff.co, is a lot of people reading those … or do most of your readers consume the content in the email form? Do you think it makes sense to keep the copies online on your site at all?
Most people read the emails, that’s for sure.
We have the emails in our public archive to be able to link old posts there, and to slowly build our search presence too.
It’s far down the list, but it’s also so easy to do because we already have the content, that we decided it’s worth the extra couple of minutes a day.
It does get some traffic, but nothing spectacular. Still under 100 visitors a day there.
The content is most valuable when it is sent over email, because it’s new then. If you find it 2 weeks later, you’re not exactly going to be impressed, haha.
In other words, I don’t think our readers care too much about the website archive, but it’s easy to have, and does bring a few extra benefits.
13. One last “professional” question from me … what tools do you use to run WHAT THE AFF… did you get something custom coded or do you rely on third party solutions?
Nothing custom coded. I can probably list everything we use… Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Compress Or Die website, Adobe Photoshop, GIPHY, Meme Generator website, Active Campaign…
I think that’s it. And well, Slack to communicate in the team.
14. So what about the future of WHAT THE AFF, do you have plans prepared for it? Will it remain “just” a newsletter or you have bigger plans for it?
I’ve learned to not make very specific plans too much in advance. I have some ideas of several ways that this can grow but we don’t even know the limit purely as a newsletter.
15. I know that you have a giveaway running for affiliates who plan to attend Affiliate World Asia in Bangkok in December. Tell my readers more about it and how to take part in it please.
Sure can do! I’d say it’s even for affiliates who are just thinking about being in Bangkok around that time…
The idea was to create a prize that will help someone whether they are just starting out but super ambitious, or someone who’s been a full time affiliate and wants to keep growing. And I think we did a good job at that…
We are offering a dinner at a high end restaurant in Bangkok on December 3rd with 5 top industry people. We announced Paul Jey so far, a Facebook Mastery Live and Affiliate World Conferences speaker. The other 4 guests will be announced this month.
That’s just from us, and it’s my favourite part because you rarely get the chance to hangout in a small group and in a calm environment with such people.
In the same prize, we also have an affiliate pass for AWA from Affiliate World Conferences, 3 months of AdPlexity for free, 66% off for 3 months on ThriveTracker up to Enterprise plan (after the standard trial) and 2 invites to the Affiliate Business Club event in Bangkok.
We tried to put together the best networking opportunities and software tools an affiliate could need, regardless of traffic source, vertical or experience level. The dinner guests are also exceptional at different parts of affiliate marketing.
And to enter is very simple. You just gotta sign up to the newsletter using this link: https://gleam.io/DYyYC/what-the-aff-ultimate-marketer-bundle
END of Interview.
So that’s about it, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Manu, I’m glad you’ve put a lot of effort into this. Wish you all the best with your service and see you at AWA in Bangkok
Hope you guys liked reading this post, let me know in the comments or post on my FB account of page.
Thanks for reading!