The number one question that I frequently see posted in forums and Facebook groups, and get asked myself is about affiliate marketing and monetizing your blog. After taking the leap and starting your blog (congrats!), getting the hang of it (nice work!), and starting to see some traffic (high five!), most bloggers consider ways to produce an income from their blog.
There are many ways to potentially make money from your blog. And I encourage you to look at possible revenue opportunities before going ahead. Any monetization you do will require work to make it worth your while. You don’t want to be spread too thin with your time, you’ve got lots of blogging to do!
In this article, let’s cover the basics of affiliate marketing for bloggers and some tips for getting started if you think it’ll work on your blog.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is how vendors (think: Amazon, eBay, etc) compensate website owners, bloggers, content creators and influencers for referring sales to them online. Traffic sent by the affiliate is tracked by cookies and if sales are made within a specific time frame, the affiliate is paid a commission. Being paid by performance, there is only compensation when an action occurs. This action is usually a sale, but could be a different action like a signup or click.
Many of the programs offered are managed by a few big affiliate networks. These companies manage the entire affiliate process – links, creative, tracking and commission payouts.
The Benefits of Affiliate Marketing
As someone who has worked on both sides, there is an obvious benefit here for both the affiliate and the vendor selling the product. Here’s my top 3 benefits for affiliates and vendors.
Affiliate Program Benefits for Vendors
1) Added Exposure & SEO
The golden rule of relevant and qualified back linking is the key to SEO. Including product placement sweetens the opportunity. By having reviews of your store or products on many other websites, your reputation and page rank will improve. In the world we live in that is dominated by reviews, incentivizing honest reviews makes a lot of sense.
2) Paying for Performance
It makes sense to only pay for what you need, right? Affiliate marketing means you are only paying for actual sales. Other marketing has you paying for people to see your offering (display and traditional) or per click (PPC / SEM) that only gets someone to your product page.
By only paying for completed sales, affiliate programs can free up a lot of working cash that is needed for other things in the business; employees, inventory or development.
3) Access to Audience & Feedback
Having access to an audience is the most valuable for me, personally. This is also why influencer marketing is growing and providing a very good return on investment.
Being in touch directly with the influencer or affiliate, you get great feedback on how to communicate with your ideal customers, what questions they have and changes that might be required for your product. It’s hard to get this feedback in general, and usually most bloggers have a good two-way, open line of communication with their audience.
Affiliate Program Benefits for Bloggers
Any opportunity to make money is great for a blogger, and affiliate revenue can be one of the most lucrative, especially if you have evergreen content that can covert over time. This does depend on the content and the product you are promoting, but I like the chances of people checking out articles overtime, knowing that you’re affiliate links are there to make you money.
2) Brand Association
When you’re new, its hard to make a name for yourself, get traffic and grow your audience. One of the quickest ways is to piggy-back on other existing and popular keywords. This is where the affiliate programs can be a guide to what to blog about to get more traffic. How-to posts or reviews or smart hacks about the products you are promoting can bring a lot of traffic. The other bonus, sometimes you’ll get your article shared by the brand themselves and you’ll have exposure to their entire audience.
3) Building Authority
Typically, the first products you’ll choose to work with are ones that you already use and/or know that your audience will use too. Blogging about these things is an opportunity to let your expertise shine! Aligning yourself with the brands that you use puts you on a fast-track to paid promotions and influencer campaigns. Keep sharing your reviews, feedback or documenting how you do things and people will take notice.
Why does this matter for bloggers?
As a young salesperson, I remember being told the phrase, “take care of all your customers and they might recommend you to their friends and family. Those conversations can turn into referrals. Referrals are gold for your business because you have a sales force working for you.”
I love this simple idea of taking care of others and I see how it relates to affiliate programs because you are already taking care of your audience and adding value for them. Being able to monetize these recommendations is essential to becoming a profitable blogger.
As a blogger, you’re sharing your perspective and that’s incredibly valuable to brands. You are that customer giving the referral to a great experience you’ve had. That’s the core of affiliate marketing.
Take care of your audience and they will take care of you. That’s the difference between having readers and having a tribe. Your tribe wants to contribute to your success.
How do I get started?
If you’re still reading by now, you’re probably ready to act. Awesome! You’ve taken the first step already. Having a blog is essential. Regularly posting and actively building your tribe are two keys to generating strong affiliate revenue.
I must give you the honest stats.
There are many affiliates that are accepted into programs that never make a sale. It’s high, about 98% of affiliates never make a sale. This is for several reasons, some of which you can avoid, like choosing programs and services that fit the needs of your audience.
The following tips are designed to help shortcut the process to getting your first sale. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and these are some things I should have done first.
Research & Apply
Don’t apply to everything …Understand product fit
You have put a lot of effort into writing for your audience and understanding what they want to read. Now it’s time for you to think about what they want to buy. If you were to build your ideal reader on your blog…think about what’s around them. What is sitting on their desk as they read your blog post? What did they do that day? What do they do for work? How could you help them?
Understanding product-market fit is important for you to make sales, but it’s even more important for the application. Some of the best affiliate programs have very strict criteria to accept new affiliates and they want to know your details. Website stats, number followers, your activity and this profile of your ideal customer.
You are already increasing the likelihood of making a sale by knowing your audience.
Carefully Read the Terms and Compensation
There are a lot of great affiliate programs out there, but there’s also some bad ones. So bad, they are not even worth your time. Here’s a few things I look at:
Cookie Duration – the time frame you are given for a sale to complete. The lowest I’ve seen is 3.5 minutes (travel industry) and the longest are lifetime cookies that never expire. Here’s the thing, look at which cookie “wins.” If someone clicks on your affiliate link and one from another blog, which one gets the commission? Some are the “first cookie” others are the “most recent.” This makes a big difference based on the type of product. In some industries people buy immediately, others take time and decide to purchase later.
Commission Structure – this will always be a fixed dollar amount or a percentage. Check the currency if it’s a fixed amount to make sure it’s worth it, and look at the product pricing if it’s a percentage. Do the math. (Selling a $5 item with a 5% commission is only $0.25 per sale, a 1% commission on a $15,000 product is $150).
Commission Duration – this is VERY important for your cash flow on subscription products like some software. You can find some vendors that will pay at the initial transaction like a product sale on Amazon and that’s great. But, you can find some that pay recurring for the entire duration that the client is active. For products like web hosting or email service providers you could be making a commission each month for years if your referral continues to use their product.
Affiliate Referrals – if you’re in the space of recommending tools, read to see if you get compensation for someone signing up for their affiliate program. Its different for a business to get a new client or a new partner/affiliate. For example, if you are teaching people how to build websites, you might have someone in your audience that can benefit from the affiliate program too because she is a website designer and can refer her clients too. Some programs will allow it, some do not and others will have a separate affiliate link for referring other affiliates.
It pays to do your homework and find the programs that will reward you the most. There’s no single solution, you’ve got to find the best fit for you.
Don’t be discouraged by program rejections
Don’t be discouraged by a rejection. If you can respond to the email (if it’s an actual person) do so and ask what criteria you missed. Typically, they will reject applications that don’t have enough traffic on their blog or are in a different niche. It helps to know if you should circle back when you hit a specific traffic goal or if they just aren’t interested in your blog topic. Either way, its ok – there are lots of other opportunities!
Follow the rules
Each program will have a set of rules and regulations to follow. Know what they are because it can determine if a commission is rejected. The last thing you want is your work to be working and generating sales that don’t get paid out. Stick to the rules. Here’s a few guidelines.
Disclosure of affiliate links and programs is required by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and is constantly changing. Keeping up with their legal guidelines is a good idea. They are trying to find ways to regulate these programs and protect consumers. As a blogger, you will need to follow the rules so you don’t jeopardize your earnings.
You may have seen on blog posts a statement like this, “some of the links below are affiliate links. If you click on these links and choose to purchase, I will receive a commission with no additional cost to you.”
It’s important to explain this and it can be beneficial for you. Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income as mentioned that he often gets emails from people asking for his affiliate link because they want him to get the bonus for introducing them to a product or service.
Your audience is on your side, they take your advice seriously. Don’t be afraid (like I was) to full disclose the affiliate program because I though it would scare people away.
Follow the Content Guidelines
Each of the affiliate programs will have different guidelines for the type of content they allow. This isn’t to discourage you from creating, but sometimes they are discouraging comparisons. In very competitive industries, like web hosting, they frown upon comparisons side-by-side where you have affiliate links to other competing products.
Sometimes they will also be particular about the specific type of content. I have received more emails lately encouraging video reviews and reminders to include affiliate links.
When you sign up for affiliate programs, you are asked to provide your website, and usually your social media profiles. Most are fine with your links going anywhere, but some will reject sales that come from particular social platforms. Its getting better than a few years ago, but know if you can directly post to social, or have your audience click to your blog, then click through to the promo.
After all of that, I feel like we’re getting back to you blogging again! Here’s some tips for creating content, or as the affiliate programs say, promoting their links 🙂
Stick to your style and don’t over promote
Don’t change. No matter how valuable a sale and commission is, it’s never worth it to lose your tribe. They have bought into you, let them know that it’s still you that is talking. Recommend products and services that you have used, companies that you trust and explain why. This is your referral that you’re giving out. You and the product or service you are recommending are the same to most people. Your reputation is what your tribe is counting on, don’t jeopardize that by being commission greedy. While some templates will be provided by vendors, I avoid them specifically and just use them for inspiration.
Use different types of content
Create more than blog posts to promote the products. Have videos, webinars, freebies, anything that is allowed in the program. All the ways you would normally go about building your blog, don’t make exceptions. On the other hand, this could be an opportunity to try something new. If it works you will be financially rewarded. It’s why I did my first webinar 🙂
Mix pages with posts
There are some essential pages that can help your promotional efforts. Many affiliates have a resources page that is a collection of the tools they use, and it’s a mix of affiliate and non-affiliate links. Resources pages are a top converting asset for many affiliates and your blog needs one, regardless if you have affiliates to promote or not.
Another great idea is an FAQ page where you answer questions about what you use and how you use certain products. In your answers use your affiliate links as appropriate.
I hope this was valuable to you. I want to see you all blogging with a smile because you’ve successfully monetized your blog. Get started now and work on building traffic.