May 2012: Visiting Korea

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Boy my nephew smells good

Last year, I made my third trip to my parent’s motherland; it was over a decade since my last arrival. My special reason was my brother’s wedding ceremony. So, not only would I be seeing my brother and relatives again but also my new sister in law and nephew.

As a child, my older brother was my closest and only friend. Apart from a few friends at school, I didn’t socialize much. I was a really awkward, shy, and quiet kid. I didn’t have much of a voice as a kid, and I still tend to talk too low and mumble my words.

By the time I entered high school though, my brother was off to college. When I was in college, my brother moved to Korea to work. As children, we were extremely similar yet as adults we are really different. For a while, I held a grudge against him for leaving. Partly because his departure meant more responsibilities for me, but mostly I think because I just missed him. But I know he’s happier now. That’s really what matters most.

This would be the first time the entire family had ever been in Korea together at the same time. It had also been several years since all four of us were together.

To my surprise, Korea turned out to be a good time. I reconnected with my brother and got to remember that old rapport between brothers that I had nearly forgotten ever existed. I felt a connection to my sister in law and had the oddest feeling of my small family growing. And most of all, I felt a deep caring for my nephew that I wasn’t expecting. And a bit of shame that it had taken me so long to come to see him.

I also had a few adventures on my own.

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Path to the temple was really gorgeous

I went to a Buddhist temple along some rocky hills. I planned on doing a one night temple stay, but ironically I felt the temple was too “normal” with monks and laborers doing loud construction work. The scene contradicted the stereotype image I had about an Asian temple. I left after meditating and touring the grounds.

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I did a lot of walking and hiking including reaching Nasam Tower where I felt quite lonely. It’s considered a romantic spot with thousands of locks of love with special messages attached to a fence outside. But the view from the top of the tower is pretty spectacular, you can see all of Seoul in 360 degrees.

A few plans I had never materialized. I planned on renting a hostel and staying there away from the cramped studio apartment that my parents and I were sharing. I also wanted to take a bullet train to Busan, the second largest city of Korea.

But I did meet an old friend before leaving and spent the night in the Seoul nightlife consisting of beer pong, late night bbq, starcraft, and sleeping after sunrise. Thanks Chris.

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The wedding itself was a short, pleasant affair. I felt a little out of place, but I was surprised at the warm reception some of my cousins gave me. I also despaired to see how one of my uncles had aged along with one of my other favorite cousins who had introduced me to my love of computers and video games. I still remember crying in hysteria that I had accidentally overwritten his beautiful original SImcity saved game when you could only have 3 saved cities.

And then we were back in our homes in America. But only for a short time for me. A week later, I would move to Boston for the summer and then my final storied RV trek westward.

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I’m changing gears from the making money hustling series because those posts are surprisingly very difficult to write, but I’ll return shortly to them.

Confessions of a Failed Internet Hustler – Part 2: My First Hustle

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“Hey man, do you want a free iPad? How about a $500 gift card? No strings attached. You just have to fill out this quick survey, and we need your email to contact you.”

That was essentially my first hustle online.

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After my Korean clothing business idea, I wanted faster ways to make money online without entry barriers. My next stop was joining PPC Coach, a paid membership site. As a member, you got access to a private community of old and young hustlers along with information and tools. One of the advanced hustles they taught was selling information to new hustlers on how to make money online….Internet marketing at its worst is just figuring out how to be the hustler rather than the hustled.

PPC Coach taught monetized surveys as the first month hustle. First, you make a fake survey website such as, “Do you think Susan Boyle will win American Idol?” Once the user selects yes or no (it really doesn’t matter) then you redirect them to a real advertiser’s survey. The advertiser would pay around a dollar for each completed survey with an email address.

You might be asking a lot of questions now. How do you get visitors? Where do you find these advertisers willing to pay for email addresses? Why don’t you just directly send the visitors to the advertiser’s surveys? All this and more will be answered.

Getting Traffic – Pay Per Click (PPC)

Example of how much it costs for each click on Google Search ads for car insurance keywords

Example of how much it costs for each click on Google Search ads for car insurance keywords

Traffic is the life blood of the internet. There are different types of traffic including organic, paid, email, social, and so on. Most marketers specialize in just one or two types of traffic. PPC Coach focused on the specific paid traffic method of pay per click with Google Adwords.

Pay per click (PPC) means you are paying for each visitor that clicks on an ad and comes to your website. Google Adwords is split between the search engine ads and content network ads. The search engine ads were too expensive to make a profit. A search keyword like “car insurance” could easily cost $20+ per click. So, we focused on the content network where you see ads on people’s websites and blogs:

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Example of a Google Content Ad, you can find them everywhere

The cost of an ad depends on many factors including the quality of your website, quality of your ad performance, and most of all, your target keywords. To get the cheapest possible ads from five cents to twenty cents, we would create ads around recent news and gossip such as Susan Boyle. It was an art and science to tweak your ads to get the lowest possible cost. Even at the low cost of five cents per click that means a hundred visitors costs five dollars. So, how do I turn those hundred visitors to a profit?

Getting Paid – Cost/Commission Per Action (CPA) Networks

Luckily, dozens of CPA networks exist whose sole job is serving as middle man between the big advertisers and “publishers” like me. OfferVault has a database of networks and offers:

Search for Ad Offers

Search for Ad Offers

Each ad offer has its own rules and stipulations. Often, they won’t accept any direct traffic visitors which is why you can’t just send the paid traffic to them. That’s why we need a fake survey question first to filter users through.

To join a CPA network, you often have to be telephone interviewed to prove that you’re a legitimate “publisher” and not just some spammer or newbie. Luckily, PPC Coach helped teach the newbies like me what to say to pass membership. For example, a typical conversation would be:

Me: “Hi there, I’m calling because I just applied to join your CPA network. I’ve been an internet marketer for about three years and just started making a real profit in the past year.

Network: I’m glad you called. Do you have a website?

Me: Well, I sold my previous business and no longer own the site. It was an online shop for Korean clothing. It did pretty well, but I didn’t like the hassle of handling inventory and dealing with customer complaints. So, I’m looking to become an internet affiliate instead. I can send you my old business website though if you want.

Network: Sounds great, you’re in.

Once you pass membership, you have access to dozens of ad offers from email surveys that pay out a dollar to car insurance quotes that might pay $10+. Now, it’s just a numbers game. Traffic comes from my paid ads on Google’s Content Network. At its lowest, an ad would cost five cents per click. So, 100 visitors would cost $5. My CPA offer pays out a dollar for a valid email address. So, to make a profit, at least 6 of those 100 paid traffic visitors need to complete the form to make $6 in revenue or $1 in profit.

Of course, that would be too easy. All CPA networks are known to “scrub” profits aka lie to you by under-reporting the number of completed survey users. Sometimes, I could send over a hundred visitors to the CPA offer, and I’d get zero commission. The only way to find the profitable ads was by trial and error, all the while losing money because you’re paying Google for the traffic.

In fact, this entire hustle was a precarious balancing act. There were so many moving pieces that even when you struck gold, it only lasted minutes or hours before it died, or at worst, started losing money. Here are just some of the factors involved:

  • A new, popular keyword without much competition (I would probably do Syria Conflict, NBA Playoffs, or GitMo)
  • Tweaking your ad copy and website content to get the cheapest possible ad cost
  • Look through your CPA networks to find a suitable offer
  • Rotate through the CPA offers to find one that pays out and hasn’t begun scrubbing you yet
  • Rinse and repeat

Here’s a horrifying scenario. Imagine you find the perfect ad with a ton of cheap traffic and a CPA offer that’s paying out really well. For every $5 you spend, you’re making $10. It’s already 2am as you’ve been spending the last four hours watching and tweaking the numbers. You lost $100 on your last ad so you need this one to make up for it. So, you ramp up your Google Ad budget to get more traffic and thereby more money. You go to sleep dreaming of the riches you will wake up to. But when you wake up, you find that your CPA offers had stopped paying out, and now instead of $500 in profit, you have no revenue and owe $500 to Google.

When everything’s working, PPC gave the same rush of playing at a casino. There’s a lot of random factors outside your control, but you can see others are cashing out huge so you believe it’s possible. But, unlike a regular card game, everything is changing constantly. Any single piece could fail and ruin your entire empire and then you have to start all over.

After a few months and a few hundred dollars down, I stopped pursuing PPC and sought out a more legitimate method of making money online via search engine optimization (SEO) aka ranking high in search engines.