Zac Johnson Talks About Affiliate Marketing, Entrepreneurship & How You Can Earn Money on Internet

by Umair Qureshi  October 20, 2016

Zac Johnson is one of the few pioneers from the field of Affiliate Marketing. He is the man behind Blogging.org, where he shares his experience of how he made a living out of blogging. Zac has been making money online for nearly 20 years now and would love to help you do the same.

Zac has shared over 1,000 original and real life experiences on a number of topics. In this exclusive interview with Cloudways, Zac talks in detail about how he started making money online using affiliate marketing and blogging. He takes us through his journey of ups and downs and in and outs of affiliate marketing. You can not wait to read what Zac had to say, and I don’t want to keep you waiting! Let’s get started!

zac johnson

Cloudways: Zac, let’s begin with an introduction. Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Zac Johnson: It’s a story and journey that is 20 years in the making. I first started making money online in the mid-90s, mainly with affiliate marketing and building my own sites. I really started to see success when I built out a celebrity directory site and referred visitors to Amazon.com to purchase celebrity movies and music. This resulted in over six figures in sales with Amazon… all while I was still in high school. After that, I discovered I could make a lot more money with CPA-based affiliate marketing — where I was getting paid a commission for people to complete a specific task, versus needing them to pull out a credit card.

This was the model for several years, as I went on to build various sites and also grow a mailing list to over 2 million subscribers. In 2006, I launched a social network resource site that made over $800k in profit in just 4 months. Then in 2007, I decided to launch my own blog and brand at ZacJohnson.com in an attempt to help others learn how to do the same.

Since launching the blog, my business (and life) has completely changed, and I’ve also helped my audience earn millions of dollars in the process. In 2014, I also launched Blogging.org as a resource to help my readers walk through the process of launching a website or blog within just a few minutes time — while also providing them with free course material and step-by-step methods to find their own success in a very busy online world.

Cloudways: You are a major influence in the world of Affiliate Marketing. Why did you decide to step into affiliate marketing? What was the biggest challenge you came across in affiliate marketing?

Zac Johnson: Affiliate marketing is the best option out there because you don’t need to handle any orders, hold inventory or even deal with the end customer. For marketers, this is great — as you can focus solely on marketing and how to get offers in front of the right audience.

The biggest challenge to affiliate marketing is trying to build a long-term model that works for you. Most campaigns will die out over time as offers change and competition increase. A great way to find success in affiliate marketing is to get extremely niche focused and build a resource site for that audience. This way you will always have something in place and won’t die out like individual affiliate offers.

Cloudways: How did you start off with Affiliate Marketing? What was your first successful business venture?

Zac Johnson: The very first affiliate programs (or money making opportunities) were ones that were just introducing “affiliate marketing” and money making opportunities online. Remember… this was in the mid-90s. A few of them were Pacific Coast Pillow Company (paid a horrible .01 per click, and you wouldn’t get paid till you earned $100… which is 10,000 clicks!), another was AllAdvantage (which paid you to “surf the internet”)… and then another was called AdGraphix, which was a hosting company that paid out 33% commission on all referred sign-ups.

I was pushing the web hosting offer in AOL chat rooms and trying to get businesses set up with a site of their own—all of this was before I started my own sites and got serious with Amazon.com’s affiliate program. Check out this article on the history of affiliate marketing to see how it’s all changed over the years.

Cloudways: Long-term strategies are essential to success. What strategies are evergreen that helped in generating a smooth flow of revenue?

Zac Johnson: If you are trying to build a brand or business around yourself, find what you are good at and establish yourself as an authority in that space. At the same time, you want to try and niche down as much as possible. This is the advice I recommend everyone follow when trying to start any time of affiliate marketing or business online. You can follow my blog monetization guide that walks through this complete process.

Also, if you are trying to establish a new site or brand following, take advantage of experts and authority sites around you. You can see a perfect example of this can be done through the use of expert round ups. A recent one that I ran on BloggingTips.com asked the question of “What’s Your Best Blogging Tip?” to more than 100 online marketing experts. Over 80 of them replied, which made for some great content — while also generating over 400 social shares in the process.

Cloudways: A lot of people can learn from you. What mistakes would like to point out that, if avoided, would help emerging affiliate marketers?

Zac Johnson: One thing I would change is not buying a house on the water a few years ago. Four years have passed and we are still dealing with the aftermath of Super-storm Sandy. I do have a post on mistakes and failures as well; however, for the most part, all of them are learning experiences. If you want to find success with online marketing and affiliate marketing, you need to go extremely niche. There is way too much competition online today and if you are going to stand out from the crowd and compete with heavily funded companies, you need to be the best at what you do.

Cloudways: What advice would you like to give to newbies looking to generate formidable income from affiliate marketing?

Zac Johnson: My best advice is to have a thick skin and if you aren’t ready to put in endless hours of work for no immediate return, the world of entrepreneurship simply isn’t for you. Everyone thinks this is easy, but it’s the complete opposite. For every success story you see, there are hundreds of failures you never hear about.

Cloudways: Which resourceful websites would you like to recommend for people starting out with affiliate marketing?

Zac Johnson: It’s tough to recommend a single source, since the industry is changing at all times. I would recommend doing Google searches on whatever it is you are looking for, then find the most recent articles. At the same time, keep up to date with the game changers and best people in the industry. I highly recommend following everyone I’ve interviewed on my podcast. Nearly all of them are close friends and excellent at what they do.

Cloudways: For affiliate marketing to be successful, you need to know about internet marketing. What useful tools do you recommend for running an online business?

Zac Johnson: I’m a big fan of SEMRush. It provides me with all of the information I need to track and manage my own sites, while also allowing me to keep an eye on the competition as well. As for my sites, before 2007, when I launched my first blog, everything was 100% straight HTML. Once I started using WordPress, it changed everything. I also recommend OptinMonster for increasing mailing list signups and engagement on your own sites.

Cloudways: Who do you consider among your best buddies to hang-out with in the affiliate and online marketing niche?

Zac Johnson: I have a lot of friends in the industry, some of the closest ones being guys like John Chow, Jeremy Schoemaker, John Rampton and Syed Balkhi. Being in the industry for 20 years, I’ve met a lot of people and have built some awesome relationships along the way. However, the most impactful and meaningful one has been with my Dad, who occasionally attends events with me and is also well known in the industry… simply for being my Dad and coming to events like Affiliate Summit.

Cloudways: Events and Meetups are great for networking with the right people. What events would you like to recommend for affiliate marketers? Do you have any personal favorite event that you never miss out?

Zac Johnson: Affiliate Summit is one of the most important and impactful events that you can attend. I’ve been attending and speaking at them since they started over 15 years ago. You can see a great post I did on Affiliate Summit moments, along with contributions from many speakers at the event. I also recently spoke at FinCon, which was a great event — less affiliate marketing focused, but offered a whole new audience for reach, advertisers, and monetization. I personally don’t attend many local events, but I’m sure they are great as well.

Cloudways: Hosting is an essential part of Affiliate Marketing. How crucial is the role of Managed Cloud Hosting providers, like Cloudways, for the online marketing and blogging industry?

Zac Johnson: Hosting is always going to be important, as you can’t really create your own content without it. In terms of importance for affiliate marketers, the answer is short and sweet—you simply can’t afford to have your web hosting go down at any time if you have an active audience or making money from your traffic. Think about it this way… if your site was down for just 1% of the time during the course of a year, you are looking at more than 3 days of downtime. No one can afford that.

Cloudways: Everybody needs to have some time off from work to relax. What do you do in your free time to unwind yourself?

Zac Johnson: When I’m not working online (which is most of the time), you can find me spending time with my wife Reena and our dog Foxy. I also make sure to get in at least 5-10 hours a week of basketball.

Cloudways: Finally, just for our readers, can you please send us an image of what your desk or workspace looks like!

Zac Johnson: Interesting story here… You can actually view this post on the evolution of my office for pictures, but as I mentioned earlier — we are still dealing with Sandy flood damage nearly 4 years after it happened. As I’m writing this, we are in yet another temporary apartment location while our home is being elevated. Here’s a quick summary of how my office has looked over the years:

  • 1995-2006: Home office at my parent’s house
  • 2007-2012: Home office in my own house
  • 2012-2013: Office in temporary housing during Sandy rebuild
  • 2014-2016: Back in home office after rebuild
  • 2016: Back in a new temporary apartment during home elevation

zac-johnson-office-space

Long story short: Expect the unexpected, appreciate everything, and know that you can run an internet business from anywhere!

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About Umair Qureshi

Umair Qureshi works as Assistant Digital Marketing Manager for Cloudways- A Managed Cloud Hosting Platform. He loves combining creativity with skills and marketing with technology.

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  • Awesome interview and I have been following him since the year 2000 when I stepped into Affiliate marketing.