Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers – A Beginner’s Guide

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.

Blog Monetization

Affiliate Program Benefits for Bloggers

1) Revenue

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.

Don’t have a blog? Click here for step-by-step details on “How to Start a Blog for Business.”

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.

How to Make Money Blogging

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.

Full Disclosure

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.

Know where your links can go

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.

Promote

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.

Get started!

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.

A Beginner's Guide to Affiliate Marketing
Beginner's Guide to Affiliate Marketing [INFOGRAPHIC]
A Beginner's Guide to Affiliate Marketing

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44 thoughts on “Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers – A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. Chris, what a well thought out and composed guest post. I’m just starting to sprinkle in affiliate promotions into my marketing. To do honest, I never really thought about the “first”/ “most recent” affiliate link.

    Like you mentioned it’s important to do your due diligence when signing up for and promo affiliate products. Mailchimp will even ban your account if they find out you’re sending affiliated links from blacklist sites to your subscribers.
    http://kb.mailchimp.com/accounts/compliance-tips/about-affiliate-links-in-mailchimp

    A resource/ recommendations page is high on my to-do list for next week. To get extra traffic to my resource page, I’m creating 2-3 “pinnable” images to the page.

    I’d love to know if you’ve seen higher ROI on webinars (which I hope you repackaged a free mini-course 😉 ), videos or blog post for affiliate sales?

    Repinned post!

    Reply
    • Hi Kate,

      I’m glad you’ve checked out the terms, wouldn’t want to lose out on the commission 🙂 My advice is to get your resources page up quickly, you can improve it over time and take your spin on it. I’ve seen many different types from just a bulleted list of recommendations, to a full review of each. No matter what you choose, your resources page will be something that you will naturally link to more in your blog posts.

      To answer your question about different content, it has been very dependant on the audience and how related it is to the product. Webinars, videos and podcasts are great if its a product that needs a lot of guidance and help. I’m personally having a lot of success with webinars to sell coaching packages and I know its because a webinar is just like the group coaching environment.

      I would also recommend you have as many touch points as possible when you have something that you really want to promote. Make your links easy to click. If you’re doing a webinar, for example, have a blog post explaining what you’re discussing, a signup or intro page, the webinar itself, and a recap page. All of these are opportunities in addition to your followup emails. Create a funnel where ever possible 🙂

      Thanks for reading!

      Reply
    • You’re welcome, Nicole!

      Don’t be afraid to try different formats for your resources page. I tried a couple different styles before settling on grouping by category (website / marketing tools / online course resources / communication tools / online store) and it will always be a work in progress 🙂

      The FAQ can be really easy (and super profitable) – start by going through your sent email items and looking for frequent answers or recommendations you’ve given to others one-on-one. It starts as a rocking FAQ, and it can quickly be turned into blog post ideas if you ever hit writers block!

      Reply
    • Thanks MomJonz,

      If you’ve signed up and been approved, wrap up all of your affiliate links in a resources page. Even if you don’t have all of the content yet, its somewhere you can reference and potentially make a sale 🙂

      Reply
  2. Lots of helpful info here. I am just starting out with Affiliate marketing and I didn’t know about Commission Duration. The Resources and FAQ pages are great ideas as well! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Annika,

      You’re welcome! Glad the post was helpful, the commission duration is important for comparison, but also for the type of posts that you write. No matter the commission duration, try to stick with evergreen content so you always have an opportunity to make a sale, regardless of it being the day you posted or 5 years from now.

      Reply
  3. This is a great post. I’ve been blogging for years and just decided to get serious about monetizing. I had no idea there were so many different cookie durations for these things.

    Reply
    • Hi Terri,

      Thanks for reading! Great time to start monetizing, after years of blogging, I’m sure you’ve got a lot of great content. Be sure to double back with old articles that may have an opportunity to add an affiliate link.

      Reply
  4. What a great primer! We’re at this stage now – we’ve built a sharp site, built a decent-and-growing following with lots of good content, and now need to take the next steps to revenue. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  5. Such great info from your guest poster. I’m nowhere near ready to monetize my blog(if ever), but this info is really helpful for the future if I ever have the opportunity. I’ve also looked into the Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing course before that you mentioned. I’m seriously considering that if my blog has the potential to be monetized.

    Reply
  6. Thanks for sharing! It is good to have an honest understanding what affiliate marketing does and how to use it. I am a new blogger so I appreciate this info!

    Reply
  7. I’ve got to day, the timing of this article was perfect for me. I’ve just finished setting up two blogs, and I’m ready to start the process of monetizing them. This is very helpful as I take this next step in the process. Thank you!

    Reply
  8. This is so helpful. I started my blog at the beginning of this year and was planning for it to just be for fun. But being a sahm I’m becoming more interested in being able to make some income. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply
    • Thank you, Ashlyn! I haven’t received a lot of comments on the infographics on my blog posts, so I appreciate the feedback. 🙂

      Reply
  9. Thank you for the great advice. I am a photographer who is looking to start this marketing but I don’t want to jump in without doing the research. Nothing annoys me more than ads that have nothing to do with the blog. I want clean ads that work with my site as well as with my readers. I’m going to use these tips and get started. Cheers!

    Reply
  10. I guess I am a little late to this post. Great information. I totally agree with promoting products you use, I have actually had great success with a referral link for something I use.

    Reply
  11. Really very good explanation about affiliate marketing and i read your complete blog i found something new here so thank you again and keep posting and update with new things.
    and please can you share some more about affiliate earning.

    Reply
  12. Thanks for sharing the informative post about affiliate marketing for beginners. Yes, we know that affiliate marketing is not easy but with your amazing post, it is easier.

    Reply

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