The $7620 Blog Post (Plus, my First Real Facebook Ads Experiment)

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

facebook ads experimentIn January I published a post called The 134 Best Udemy Courses for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and Side Hustlers.

The post was a pretty blatant affiliate play, and I made a point to admit that at the very top. Still, it ran in conjunction with a killer site-wide promo Udemy was running, and I hoped it would perform well and earn a lot of commissions.

It did: to the tune of $7620 in January, which is undoubtedly the most profitable post in the history of Side Hustle Nation. 

And on top of that, it earned several “thank yous” in the comments for compiling the resource, showing me even heavily monetized content can be highly valuable.

(And indeed, highly valuable content is probably the only type of content you should try to monetize. I thought this was a great deal and even bought a couple courses myself.)

Anatomy of the Post

Now of course I’m really happy with the results of the post, but it’s not like I slapped together 500 words and put it up on the Internet. The courses featured were curated from my 2015 Udemy affiliate reports — they were the courses that side hustlers already had shown a proven demand for, and the data was a year in the making.

I’d estimate the post took more than 20 hours to compile, write, and format. I had my virtual assistant help with some of the screenshot images. It topped out at more than 4500 words.

Note: As a Udemy affiliate, I had advance notice of their New Year’s promotion, so I worked on this in December so it would be ready to rock when the offer was live.

Phase One Marketing

After the post was live, I spent another day doing manual outreach to each of the instructors featured. I had my VA put their instructor page link in a spreadsheet to save a little time, but this added another several hours in the “promotion” column.

Here’s a sample email I sent to Phil Ebiner, which actually sparked the conversation that led him being on the podcast last month:

Hey Phil,

Happy New Year! Hope all is well.

I featured a couple of your courses in today’s (hopefully) epic list post, The 134 Best Udemy Courses for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, and Side Hustlers.

The Complete Adobe Premiere Course and the oh so meta Teach Online Courses Course both made the list. Nice work! 

If you think your audience would find the article valuable, please feel free to share.

Cheers,

Nick Loper
SideHustleNation.com

I didn’t really know how the instructors would react, since I was essentially asking them to promote a giant affiliate link farm to their audience (at least that’s what the negative voice in my head told me).

But many instructors DID share the post, which helped give it more reach than I could have achieved all on my own:

udemy post tweets

I also sent an email to my subscribers and pinned the post to several entrepreneurial Pinterest group boards, where it’s done pretty well:

udemy post pinterest

And that was my initial marketing plan.

Initial Results + My Lightbulb Moment

As I sit there anxiously hitting “refresh” on the commission report in my Linkshare dashboard, I realized the performance results were not going to be updated in real time. Nuts.

But after the first couple days, I knew I was onto something. I compared the revenue numbers in Linkshare (the affiliate network that hosts Udemy’s affiliate program) with the pageview numbers in Google Analytics.

For the first two days after I hit publish, the post had generated $1941 in affiliate commissions:

udemy post first 2 days commission

On the first two days the post was live, it generated 1683 unique pageviews:

udemy post first 2 days

A little back of the envelope math says that each unique visitor to that page was worth $1.15. My “lightbulb moment” was realizing I should spend some money — up to $1.15 per click in theory — to drive more traffic.

So I thought this would be the perfect time to throw some money toward a Facebook ads experiment. In the name of science, right?

Phase Two Marketing: Facebook Ad Trials

Now I should say I’ve dabbled with Facebook ads once or twice in the past, most recently in an ill-fated attempt to sell a t-shirt design on Teespring. I’m excited by the awesome potential of reaching a HUGE targeted audience, but really haven’t spent a ton of time or money attempting to figure it all out yet.

Still, I reasoned I’ve got this asset (the monster Udemy list post) that’s a proven performer, and a limited time to execute (it was Wednesday and the promo ended the following Monday), so let’s see if I can get a few more visitors to that page.

Note: If you think you ever might run Facebook ads in the future, I think it makes sense to install their retargeting pixel on your site TODAY. This allows you to reach a “warm audience” of people who’ve already visited your site. I installed mine last summer “just in case” an occasion like this popped up.

Boosted Post

The lowest hanging fruit when it comes to Facebook advertising is to “boost” a post on your page. The Side Hustle Nation Facebook page is garbage compared to our awesome community group, but it’s my understanding a page is still a requirement to run ads.

Since 2013, the page has attracted around 4000 likes, and had around 3300 when I ran this first set of ads.

total fb page likes

Hockey stick growth? If you use your imagination.

But the cool thing is you don’t need a giant Facebook page to run ads. You can target your fans, friends of your fans, OR a targeted audience of your choosing:

boost post

The first ad I ran, I targeted only people who liked my page. Because of that it had a very limited reach and a very limited budget. I spent $30, which bought me 1617 “reach” (what does that even mean?) and 85 clicks.

original boosted udemy post

The clicks are what I cared most about, and $0.35 per click was solidly beneath the “expected value” of $1.15 per visitor. (This post also had some healthy organic engagement by tagging some of the instructors I knew in the post.)

Image Ads

The next set of ads I ran were 3 image ads, all with the same headline and the same goal: to drive website clicks to that Udemy list post page.

Targeting

I targeted 3 different audiences:

  1. People who’d visited Side Hustle Nation in the last 90 days, but weren’t subscribed to my email list. (Generated using the Facebook retargeting pixel.)
  2. People who were subscribed to my email list.
  3. People who were interested in entrepreneurship AND interested in Udemy.

For this first experiment I figured these were about the safest possible groups to target; the ones with the most likely positive ROI. The first two audiences were theoretically already familiar with Side Hustle Nation and the content, and the last group seemed like the perfect match for this type of post.

Note: Facebook allows you to upload your email list to create a custom audience. The reason I like this targeting method is even though I’d already sent an email about this offer, not everyone opened it that message, so here’s another touch-point.

The Ads

One of the hurdles to overcome in this experiment was to actually create the ads. I know — crazy, right?

For each audience I tested 3 different image ads, and kept it VERY simple; no text on the image at all. I found the images on my go-to royalty-free attribution-free image site, Pixabay.com.

You can search by keyword, and I probably typed in some keywords like “learning,” “books,” “laptop,” or similar. These are the 3 I used:

shn udemy image ads

Do any of those look familiar? Maybe you saw one or more of them during the campaign :)

Results

I set a daily budget of $20-40 for each of these audiences and let ‘er rip. After a day or two, you’re supposed to go in and pause the under-performing ads or audiences to divert more budget to the stronger ones, but I wasn’t really sure how to interpret the data.

If one of the images had a significantly lower cost per click, but had a much lower “reach,” did it make sense to pause the other two? Or would that kill my reach?

So I let them all run their course.

(If you’re curious, the girl reading on the iPad had the lowest cost per click for two out of the three audiences.)

In total, I spent $325.51 on this campaign, and it generated 643 website clicks. That rate of $0.51 per click was still below my estimated value of $1.15 per click, so I was fairly confident it was a profitable campaign.

winning ad campaign

Between these image ads and the boosted post, my total spend was $355.51 for 728 clicks, or $0.49 apiece.

“Fairly Confident?”

The problem I had in the analysis phase was I think this was profitable traffic, but have no way of knowing for sure. I can’t distinguish the affiliate commission performance of the Facebook ads traffic versus all the other traffic that hit the page during the promotion.

During the time period of the campaign, the post saw 2200 unique visitors and $4660 in commissions, but only 728 of those clicks were from the ads.

More than $2.00 per unique visitor!

In hindsight, I’m thinking of ways that would have been better to test. One way would have been to create a separate Linkshare tracking account, and replicate the post on a fresh URL. Kind of a pain though, right?

Curious, if you’ve run Facebook ads to monetized blog content like this before, how did you track the ROI?

Should I have linked directly to Udemy instead?

Phase Two Marketing: An Attempt at a Video Ad

Later in the month, Udemy announced another $10 promo, only this time proclaiming it would be their last offer ever at that price, and it would only last for 3 days.

The only difference between the two sales was this offer was not site-wide; a coupon code was required. I updated the post to mention the coupon code at the very top, but it was not auto-applied with every link like the New Year’s deal, which may have hurt conversions. (More on that below.)

Still, given the success of the last $10 offer, this was an opportunity to test drive more paid traffic.

Plus, in the meantime, I had another secret weapon: Jerry Banfield’s Facebook Ads Udemy course, which I had acquired during the last sale.

facebook ads course udemy

I’ve barely scratched the surface of the course content, but one thing Jerry advocates for is this:

The most cost-effective form of Facebook advertising at the moment are video “post page engagement” ads.

So I set out to create a video post page engagement ad. The first thing I needed? A video.

Creating a Video Ad

Not having a video ready to go, and not having a ton of time to shoot one, I turned to the cool resource Pexels Video. They’ve got a library of royalty-free video clips you can use.

After some browsing, I decided to go with this one:

  • It was 38 seconds long, which seemed like a good length for my “commercial.”
  • It had some fun action, with people jumping into a river.
  • It had people in swimsuits, which I figured would always be an attention-getter on Facebook, especially in the middle of winter.

I used Windows Live Movie Maker to add text to the video, describing the offer and what people could expect if they clicked through to the post. This was important because while Facebook auto-plays the videos in your Newsfeed, the sound is disabled by default so if I just did a voiceover most people would never hear it.

For those who un-muted the video, I did add some music. It was a royalty-free track from Incompetech.

Here’s what the finished version looked like:

Targeting

For this to be a more pure experiment, I wasn’t going to send the offer to my email list or do much to drive external traffic. I wanted to test the effectiveness of this type of ad to this type of content.

I set up the same 3 target audiences as before:

  1. People who’d visited Side Hustle Nation in the last 90 days, but weren’t subscribed to my email list. (Generated using the Facebook retargeting pixel.)
  2. People who were subscribed to my email list.
  3. People who were interested in entrepreneurship AND interested in Udemy.

And added a 4th:

  • A “lookalike audience” based on my email list.

A lookalike audience is a cool feature on Facebook that allows you to target people demographically and psychographically similar to people you already have some relationship with: fans, customers, website visitors, or email subscribers.

facebook lookalike audience

The only challenge is Side Hustle Nation is really diverse (young and old, black and white, rich and poor, male and female), so I was curious how Facebook’s algorithm would find and match me up with “lookalikes” to target.

Results

Overall, this campaign delivered 42,000 post engagements for a cost of $381. 25 — less than a penny each. I thought that was great! That’s a ton of people watching my little makeshift video!

But here’s the thing: Facebook counts a post engagement as anyone who views the video for at least 3 seconds. That’s not nearly long enough find out about the killer deal that was going on.

How many people stuck around to the end?

7,671 people watched to the 95% mark, which takes my “deep post engagement” (a metric I just made up) to a cost of about $0.05 each.

facebook video ad results

A day into the campaign this time, I did pause the targeting segments that had a higher cost per post engagement (a whopping $0.02 … a little rich for my blood!).

Interestingly, the Udemy + Entrepreneurship and the Lookalike audience targeting performed better than the SHN “warm” leads on this one. It could be due to “offer fatigue” since this was only a couple weeks after I’d already targeted them.

But people “engaging” with the video is what I wanted Facebook to think I wanted to happen. What I really wanted to happen was to have people click the link and order a course. Did they?

Only 244 people did. All of a sudden my nickel per engagement wasn’t looking so good. That’s $1.56 per pageview, getting dangerously close to my $2 optimistic value of what each pageview might be worth.

During the course of this campaign, I saw an additional $587.50 in Udemy commissions, which on the surface makes this look like a profitable campaign.

BUT, the Udemy post had 646 unique pageviews over those days (WAY more than the 244 paid clicks), so it would stand to reason that the majority of commission was earned from non-ad traffic, making this campaign a loser.

Overall, the post performed at a value of just $0.90 per pageview during this offer. So while I’m “fairly confident” the first campaign was profitable, I don’t think this video one was.

Note: I originally thought the coupon requirement would have decreased the conversion rate, but the conversion rate on Udemy (clicks to purchases) was actually higher during this second test. Not sure why a very similar offer with very similar traffic would have such strikingly different performance.

What’s Next?

Overall, it was still a tremendously profitable post; even if I probably lost a few dollars on my advertising experiment.

The good news is I’ve already done the leg work in creating the post; that was the most labor-intensive part. Now whenever Udemy runs a big sale, I can try and drive more traffic to it.

I’ve got lots of variables to play with on the ad itself:

  • Tweak the targeting?
  • Send traffic directly to Udemy?
  • Test a shorter video?
  • Tell Facebook to optimize for website clicks instead of post engagement?

Your Turn

Have you ever run Facebook ads to an affiliate offer like this? Any glaring mistakes in my strategy?

Think you could implement a similar affiliate play in your niche?

Let me know in the comments below.

7600 blog post

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26 thoughts on “The $7620 Blog Post (Plus, my First Real Facebook Ads Experiment)

  1. Wow – great detailed analysis of your campaign!

    I’m not surprised that your video ad didn’t perform as well. I think people like looking at videos but not engaging with them. I have no data but that’s my feeling.

    Bookmarked for future reference :)

    • I think you’re right Steve. Some of the comments on the video post weren’t related to the offer at all, but more like “where is this?” or “looks fun!”

  2. Great post Nick!

    I’ve never tried a big affiliate product roundup like this because I had the (clearly wrong) assumption that it wouldn’t be well received. Now I’m definitely going to consider trying it out at some stage.

    Not being able to track affiliate conversions from FB ads is a tough one. I’ve always just done as you mentioned and created a separate affiliate link / page specifically to drive FB ads to.

  3. Really amazing results. I have stayed away from affiliate marketing for too long and it’s a pity. With a smart plan, there’s a lot to be earned.

  4. Jerry Banfield’s course is AWESOME….but I had trouble finding the best application and just ended up getting a bunch of FB likes for my page. (I didn’t try that hard to do anything else, however.) This is an EPIC post, Nick! Thanks for writing this!

  5. Thanks for the detailed breakdown, Nick.

    A decade ago, Steve Pavlina calculated that the average value of each blog post on his site was $2400, in terms of overall revenue.

    I have a professionial client I ghostwrite for who gets about 50% of his income directly from appointment requests on his website, driven by articles. Doing the math on that one, each article I write for him is generating at least $8000 in business over time. Of course, I did his website too, and the revenue comes from the aggregate of the site, the article and social media exposure, but it really adds up in the right business. We didn’t get much from trying FB ads. For his business, SEO has been more effective.

    It always surprises me that more people don’t recognize the value of effective content that’s SEO’d properly. Unlike paid advertising, it draws traffic over and over. A “evergreen” article written well (in the right business) can generate traffic for years.

    You’ve proven that even one with a tight time window can generate significant revenue, if you promote it effectively.

  6. Big bucks! Funny you mention Teespring. I was giving a Teespring employee a ride and he urged me to try. Not worth it yeah?

    I’ve learned that FB advertising works best on social after consulting for a couple startups for two years with very large budgets.

    Sam

  7. Good stuff Nick.
    Question about Pinterest: I understand that to pin to a group board you need to have been invited by the admin. Could you share your process on finding relevant group boards & getting invited to pin on them please? Also, how many times did you pin your article yourself & where there any other strategies that helped get you to 400+ re-pins?
    Thanks!
    Chris

  8. Thanks for a post well written with all the details that some just ignore and leave out.Really impressive
    I have wanted to advertise on facebook but I’m always worried of not getting quality clicks.
    Will give facebook a try just to see how it goes.

  9. Really interesting post, Nick — love the fact you really exposed the thought behind the experiment, outreach, and results. Thanks man – incredibly valuable insights! …Makes me want to give it try!

  10. Hey,

    I just applied the same thing. Made $400+ already and its still running. :)

    However, I have a doubt. Does UDEMY allow to BID on such ads ?? Like you used the word UDEMY in your facebook ads.

    I read their terms and it’s mentioned that you cant bid for any brand name (which does include Udemy).

    What are your words on this ?

    Please answer to this :)

    • Hi Iftekhar,

      That’s a good question. I interpret that to mean no trademark bidding on AdWords and other services where you have to specifically select the keywords you want your ads to appear on. On FB, you’re not really bidding on their brand, but targeting other audiences you choose.

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