Learn secrets and strategies to affiliate marketing success from Robert Brandl

Robert Brandl is the visionary behind ToolTester and EmailToolTester. With his fingers on the pulse of the digital world since 2009, Robert has dedicated himself to reviewing and unpacking the best of web tools. In this exclusive interview, we’ve asked Robert about his business, best practices and the future of affiliate marketing.

Below you can read the edited version of the interview, for the unedited version, watch the recording above.

Máté Zilahy (GetResponse):

If you’ve ever looked up product reviews for a SaaS product, you’ve likely read an article from Robert Brandl or his team. Through Tooltester, Robert delves into affiliate marketing and is an affiliate marketing partner of GetResponse. Robert, can you tell us more about yourself, how you started Tooltester, and the story behind it?

Robert Brandl (Tooltester):

I started Tooltester in late 2009, so it’s been around for some time. I’m 43 years old and have amassed experience in SEO and affiliate marketing. I’m originally from Germany but live in Barcelona, where my business is registered and our team is based. My journey with affiliate marketing allowed me to make this move and live in this wonderful city.

At, we mainly review website builders, e-commerce platforms, and other tools like SEO tools. We also have EmailTooltester, which reviews email platforms, including GetResponse. EmailTooltester has been active since 2012 and has been quite successful.


I once read that you came up with the idea of Tooltester during a getaway to Asia. Can you share that story?


Yes, the original idea was to create a website documenting my travels. This was in 2009 when platforms like WordPress were not as prominent. I struggled to find a proper platform, which led me to discover emerging website builders like Wix, Weebly, and Squarespace.

I couldn’t find reliable information on them, so I started my own site, reviewing these builders. It began as a passion project, but I soon noticed traction with hundreds of visitors. Recalling affiliate marketing, I embedded links into my reviews. Two months in, I made my first sale which was exhilarating. From there, the website grew.

We began in German but then expanded to English and other languages. This internationalization tapped into a global need, especially in non-English speaking regions where there was limited information on website builders. This expansion significantly contributed to our growth.


Amazing story. At what point did you decide, “This is my full-time job now”? It seems like in the beginning it was more of a side project for you, but when did you realize you could make a living from it?


It took about half a year for me to fully dive into it. I was still employed full-time, but I saw the sales increasing month by month. The first month I made around 50 dollars, the next was already 100, and it almost doubled each time.

By the time I was making roughly 500 dollars, I thought this could really be something. In Germany, I secured some entrepreneurship funding for about nine months. With that and my affiliate income, I felt confident about its future and decided to quit my job. So, after about six months, I transitioned into affiliate marketing full-time.


Half a year seems like a rapid success. Given the online landscape today compared to 2009-2010, do you think achieving such quick success in affiliate marketing is still feasible?


I believe it’s still possible, but it might be tougher now due to the heightened competition. Back then, the blend of review content, SEO, and affiliate marketing was a relatively untapped formula. People looking for reviews on Google were usually close to making a purchase, so it was beneficial. Now, even for us, it’s challenging competing against big names like Forbes and PCMag.

However, I’d argue that nowadays, it’s easier to learn these skills than it was 10 or 20 years ago. While the competition has grown, the accessibility to information has also expanded. If someone is proactive, they can find what they need online. For beginners, I’d advise exploring emerging fields like AI tools. While many might not stick around, some are here to stay. If you can identify these new tools and genuinely have an interest in them, you can establish authority.

Your passion for a topic can develop over time; you don’t need to be instantly passionate.

Even if you grow to love it because it’s profitable and interesting, that’s valid. So, while achieving overnight success might be harder now, it’s not impossible, especially with the ever-growing online audience.


Do you think it’s risky for someone to start affiliate marketing without any experience?


It can be risky. Google’s algorithms are continuously changing, and traffic fluctuations can be stressful. If you’re just meeting your living expenses and a Google update hits, that’s indeed a risk.

My recommendation would be to diversify.

Maybe offer consulting if you’re an expert in your field, perhaps even related to your affiliate work. For example, at EmailTooltester, we offer consulting services for email marketing. Diversifying can help manage the risk. If your income is barely covering your expenses, a sudden loss could be problematic.

Another thing to consider is branching out across multiple channels. Find out which channel works best for you, be it social media or SEO. Although SEO might be the most profitable, brand-building is equally important. SEO isn’t the best for building a brand. Platforms like video, TikTok, YouTube, and LinkedIn can be more effective for that.

If people aren’t searching for your brand name on Google, you are in trouble. Brand-building should be a consideration from the onset.


With so many affiliate programs available, how do you choose the right one to align with both personally and in terms of your brand?


There are indeed many potential affiliate partners, which gives you a lot of choices. If I’m familiar with the brand, that’s a good start. I’d then check keyword search tools like SEMRush or Ahrefs to see if there’s significant search traffic, especially for terms like “brand name review”. High search demand is a positive sign.

Also, you should look into the specifics of the affiliate program. I find programs with a recurring model, like GetResponse, very appealing because you can build steady revenue. This can minimize risks as you have consistent income. Such models are common with software products but not with physical ones.

However, be cautious with very sales-driven companies that promise high commissions.

They might be here today and gone tomorrow. It’s good to explore new niches as they can be less competitive, but there’s a risk these companies might not last if they don’t find their market fit.


Do you try to connect with the people behind the product? 


That’s an interesting point.

Some are drawn to affiliate marketing thinking they can just work behind the scenes without interacting, but the reality is, building relationships is essential.

At Tooltester, we partner with many companies, and we make an effort to engage with them. This can provide benefits like valuable backlinks and product insights.

As a review platform, we need to maintain some distance to remain unbiased. But if you’re not running a review site, you can foster even closer relationships. It’s good to have regular communication with your affiliate manager, although the experience can vary. Some are very supportive, while others may be harder to reach.


Tooltester aims to provide unbiased reviews, ensuring your brand’s credibility and longevity. But you also have financial incentives with some reviewed brands. How do you strike a balance between these two aspects?


That’s not too difficult, as most companies nowadays have affiliate programs, which makes our job simpler. We can promote the best tools without overly focusing on the financial aspect. The rankings are based on quality. I’ve observed that sites solely chasing payouts tend to lose credibility in the long run.

Sacrificing credibility for short-term gains isn’t a sustainable strategy.


That makes sense. However, for a lot of people who are just starting affiliate marketing, it can be difficult to stay focused and not to always chase the next big thing.


Yeah, shiny object syndrome is definitely real. It’s tempting to jump after the next new product. But you have to look at the raw data. If you’re getting traffic to a landing page and people aren’t signing up, or they sign up but don’t convert, after a while you have to realize that maybe the product isn’t the right fit.

You can only try for so long. It’s not completely wrong to try different avenues and find the one that works.

Once you have something that works, you should double down on it.

But especially in the beginning, it’s maybe not the worst idea to start different projects and see which one sticks.


While on the topic of promotion – what do you think is the best channel for promoting affiliate products?


There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, unfortunately. It will probably involve a lot of trial and error.

Generally speaking, the more attractive, ‘cool’ products tend to work better on social media, while more ‘boring’ stuff, like software, is usually better for SEO.

You really have to find your channel. We use sales funnels, which is a good way to avoid losing people after they visit your website once. If they can’t remember you, they won’t come back. If you get them to sign up for a free ebook, you can email them and have more touchpoints, building trust over time. With every visit, they’re more likely to click on your affiliate link.

You can set up funnels creatively. We use quizzes on our website – for example, a quiz that helps you find the best website builder for your purposes. This is a fun and interactive way to ask for our visitors’ email addresses.


What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people make when they start their affiliate marketing journey?


Lately, I’ve seen a surge in websites built entirely on AI-generated content. While they may attract traffic initially, they tend to lose momentum quickly. Using unedited AI content isn’t sustainable in the long run, especially once visitors discern that the content lacks utility.

Another mistake I’ve noticed is the neglect of building an email list.

People often say they don’t have a list, but that shouldn’t deter them. With a sales funnel and an autoresponder sequence, you don’t need a vast list initially. Over-relying on a single channel, like SEO, is risky. It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket.

Also, from a brand-building perspective, entering a market with a clear narrative is essential. If you start affiliate marketing purely for quick gains, it won’t resonate as strongly. A genuine story stemming from interest, passion, or personal connection can foster a consistent narrative that resonates with your audience and potential journalists.


Are there any books or resources you’d recommend for someone just starting in affiliate marketing?


With twin kids at home, my reading has taken a backseat. However, I recall finding “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferris quite motivational. It provides insights on structuring a business for automation and location independence.

As for affiliate marketing, I enjoy the Authority Hacker podcast, even if it might lean more towards advanced users. Matt Diggity also has some informative affiliate and SEO videos on YouTube. On the subject of self-improvement, “Start With Why” offers insights on the importance of purpose in business.


One last question: What do you see as the future of affiliate marketing? Any trends that might emerge next year?


I believe AI will play a significant role. Tools like GPT-4 and Surfer AI are already being utilized to generate content.

While AI can speed up the content production process, human editing remains essential.

The use of AI-driven chatbots on websites is another trend I foresee, although they currently have their challenges. Branding will also become more crucial in affiliate marketing. Engaging in meetings and being visible, like we are now, can significantly boost brand building and personal branding. Non-Google traffic sources will gain prominence due to the unpredictable nature of Google.

Investing in paid ads, while more expensive, provides more predictable outcomes. Lastly, sometimes engaging in things that don’t necessarily scale, like offering consulting, can provide valuable insights that enhance content quality.

Join the Online Marketing Certification Program
Get informed about all the latest resources and webinars. Join our newsletter!