If you follow me around the web, you know I love to talk about affiliate marketing. It’s what pays my bills and has provided me with an income greater than I could have ever expected when I started working from home.
Affiliate marketing can be a little overwhelming to beginners, however. There’s definitely a learning curve and things can go wrong quickly if you aren’t careful. Here is some of my favorite information and best tips for how to make money blogging with affiliate marketing.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing pays on a performance-based model. You are paid per lead or per sale that you refer to the business offering the affiliate program. Because referral marketing is so successful, most online retailers offer affiliate programs.
As a blogger, affiliate marketing is my preferred means of creating an online income. I have always been an advocate of performance-based pay. Why trade time for money when you can make substantially more working on commission – and working the hours you choose? And I’m not alone in being able to create an income far greater than was ever achievable in a traditional employee role. There are many, many others like me:
- Michelle from Making Sense of Cents is earning over $50,000 per month
- Rosemarie from The Busy Budgeter is earning over $20,000 per month
- Pinch of Yum is bringing in over $50,000 per month
- Pulling Curls most recently raked in over $9,000 in one month
As you can see, there is a lot of potential here. And no, you don’t have to be talking about making money to make money blogging. These just happen to be the bloggers most openly sharing their income. What would be the motivation for a beauty blogger or kids crafting blogger to share their income?
Setting Up Your Blog for Success
You likely aren’t going to make a dime if your plan is to slap up a site with a few banners and go about your merry way. #sorrynotsorry You need to treat your blog like the beautiful space it is. You need to plant the seeds and nurture it as it grows.
Great content is absolutely essential. You won’t grow much of a following posting sales pitch after sales pitch. You need to provide your readers with valuable information that doesn’t always have a pitch behind it. Solve their problems for free. Direct them to the resources they need – free and paid. Be the resource you would want to see as a reader.
Great promotional strategy is what is going to get the word out about your valuable message. Learn where your target readers hang out and join them. That may be forums, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Periscope, LinkedIn… You don’t need to be everywhere. You just need to be on the preferred platforms of your audience positioning yourself as an authority on your topic.
Great tools are what will show you what’s working and what’s not. They can help you uncover where your audience is hanging out and the topics they are looking for. They can allow you to communicate better and make more money. A few essentials to get you started:
- Domain name and hosting – most affiliate programs want to see that you are committed enough to your craft to purchase a $15 per year domain name and $4 per month hosting plan. Bluehost is inexpensive and will give you both as a package deal. I personally started out on Hostgator and was very pleased with their service for many years though you will need to pay for your domain in addition to your hosting plan.
- Newsletter service – you need to start collecting those email addresses ASAP. You can start with a free option like Mailchimp or MadMimi as long as you aren’t in a restricted industry or sending affiliate links by email. When you are ready to take things to another level, I recommend AWeber or ConvertKit.
- Link Shortener – there are a number of reasons for directing your affiliate links through a link shortener. For starters, you will have a much cleaner and more memorable link. Second, if your affiliate program moves or closes you only need to update that link in one place as opposed to every instance on your blog. I use Better Links. Both a free and paid version are available.
- Google Analytics – you’ve got to keep track of your traffic if you want to make money. This will not only keep you moving in the right direction, but you will also be able to see which topics are really resonating with your audience.
- Usability testing – this one may sting a little bit, but it’s necessary to know how visitors feel about your site. You can’t make money if they don’t want to stick around. Do they know right away what your blog is about? They should. Are they able to easily navigate to where they want to go or what they want to find? Does your color scheme burn their retinas? Does your site display correctly on different devices? Is it loading in a timely manner? Super important stuff! And you can find out free with peek.
Great affiliate marketing plan of action is next on your list. You won’t succeed by trying to promote everything under the sun and at every waking moment. Devise an editorial calendar that will make sure you are balancing promotional content with uncompensated, evergreen posts.
Note: We can’t cover all of the nuts and bolts of blogging in this post, unfortunately. If you need help with the basics, I highly recommend Building a Framework. Abby can get you on the right track to a regular and consistent overall strategy.
Choosing Your Affiliate Marketing Programs and Networks
The best advice I can give you as a new affiliate marketer is to choose your programs carefully. You are going to encounter a new affiliate program around every corner. People are going to start emailing you. Promoting everything is going to dilute your efforts. You will run yourself ragged trying to keep up on a million programs.
Identify your top 5 or 10 picks that relate to your blog’s main categories. These should be things you have used and loved. They should be things you would feel confident and comfortable promoting over and over in your content. That’s what sells. Don’t bother with things you will only mention once. You can use an application like Viglink to cover those one-off links.
When you know what you want to promote, there are a number of places to look for the merchant’s affiliate program – if they have one.
The Big Networks – these cover hundreds of affiliate programs across all industries. Once accepted to the network, you will need to apply to individual programs of interest.
- CJ – Also known as Commission Junction, you will find a lot of the big retailers in here. They also have a new Content Certified program. If accepted into it, you will be automatically approved for a lot of great programs and have access to invite-only opportunities. Use referral code 2891324.
- ShareASale – similar to CJ, a lot of big names are in here
- Impact Radius – most notably perhaps, Target is in here. It isn’t a huge network, but more companies seem to be moving here.
- eBay Partner Network – This one used to be known as Pepperjam before being purchased by eBay. You can’t promote eBay here, instead, it contains a lot of big retailers just like CJ and ShareASale
- FlexOffers – eBay! And lots of great clothing merchants
- Affiliate Window – Etsy!
- OfferJuice – surveys
Amazon has almost everything and welcomes most new bloggers. They have a tiered earnings program. The more you sell the more your commission. Even with this site, I earn quite a bit with Amazon. People may click through on a book on Kindle I recommend but go on to purchase their holiday shopping list. That’s a winner!
e-Product Marketplaces – if your audience is looking for in-depth learning as opposed to physical products, you can promote ecourses, eBooks, printables, etc.
- JV Zoo
The Back-Up Plan – there will be times you can’t find an affiliate program, don’t get accepted or plan on only mentioning a company or product once and don’t want to hassle with the application and links. I love Viglink for these instances. The software, once installed on your site, will automatically affiliate direct links (just link to the site as you would if you weren’t affiliate marketing) to covered products and websites and split the commission with you. You get 75%. If you find you are making quite a few sales through these direct links, you can apply to the program later or ask to be reconsidered if you were previously declined. Viglink covers most merchants found in your big networks.
If you want to start slow and strong, I recommend going with Viglink, Amazon and one network chosen based on your industry and the merchants they cover.
Note: Need a way to keep track of the programs you’ve been accepted to? Pick up my Blog Success Kit free which includes a great printable!
Creating Your Links
Each network has their own place for grabbing links. In CJ and ShareASale, you will find them under Links. In Amazon, you can find it under Product Linking or use Site Stripe to grab links and images right from the store.
Whenever you are speaking about an individual product, you will want to try to “deep link” to that product page as opposed to linking to the store homepage which is what is usually provided to affiliates. Most networks make this easy.
- In ShareASale, you will click the Create Custom Link tab and add the link to the product under Destination URL.
- In CJ, you will see Destination URL when you Get Code.
- In Affiliate Window, go to Link Builder and add the product link under Deep Link URL.
- In Impact Radius, go to View Ads > Get Code > Customize Code > Send traffic from this ad to a specific landing page.
If you ever don’t know how or where to get a link you are looking for, almost every network has amazing tutorials available to affiliate in their help section.
Inserting Your Links
So many bloggers give up on affiliate marketing long before they make a dime. My theory: you are starting your process from the wrong direction. Instead of trying to write new posts around the products you want to promote, you have much easier options – and they will probably convert a heck of a lot better, too!
Old but popular posts are where I make the majority of my blogging income. I told you earlier that I have a few top picks for each of the main topics on my site. I weave in these recommendations naturally when creating new content, but I also revisit my most popular posts every three to six months to make sure they are up to date and properly monetized. This is your #1 honey hole! Get those links in your most popular posts. Note: get my entire strategy for primping my old posts here.
Buying guides can be fun to create, but their traffic potential can vary greatly depending on your niche. If it’s a really trendy topic, it may age quickly. See my gift guides post for examples.
Reviews are not my favorite thing to write. They can be really tricky. Sing the praises of something you are promoting too loudly and your reader may question your authenticity. Say too many potentially negative things and you may turn them away from a purchase entirely. If you like writing reviews or buying guides, I recommend taking things one step beyond text to convert better. Create a video. Take screenshots or your own photos.
Autoresponders and email newsletters can convert like crazy if you are able to establish trust with your newsletter subscribers quickly. Just don’t overdo it. Remember, Amazon prohibits the use of their affiliate links in email and digital products (ex. eBooks or .pdf files). Always read through the terms and conditions of your affiliate offers before promoting anywhere offsite.
Traditional ad spots like sidebar banners don’t perform the best anymore. People prefer contextual advertising that tells a story. They still have their place on many blogs, but don’t count on them to pay the bills.
Special placements like sliders, pop-ups and hello bars can work wonders, but should be used sparingly and only if you love looking at your analytics. However, they can work magic if you are promoting a limited time offer or doing a special push to meet a deadline. Use something like SumoMe that will allow you to set display rules so people aren’t seeing it over and over and will provide good stats. If things start going south, you will need to pull them.
Social media advertising is something I have very little experience with, but I’m more than willing to invest a few bucks into a paid ad if it converts. If you know of any great social media ad courses that target affiliate marketers, please let me know in the comments.
In the last section, I told you that I don’t earn a lot of my income from brand new posts. That doesn’t mean I don’t put links in them. Instead, I opt for a “planting seeds” strategy. You see, most affiliate programs have a lengthy cookie duration. It may be 30 days, 90 days or even lifetime. I don’t need to do a hard push every time I link to something. They don’t necessarily need to make that purchase today. I just need them to click and get interested. If they go back to that site and buy a month or two down the road, I’m still getting paid.
This comes in handy with programs that only open registration a few times per year like Elite Blog Academy. I don’t wait to promote until those one-week periods roll around. That’s when everyone else is going to be bombarding their audiences. Instead, I add my link to posts and emails throughout the year. My cookie is already set when enrollment comes around. In the case of Ebates, my favorite passive income opportunity, I just need them to enter their email address and if they make a qualifying purchase within 12 months of joining I still get paid.
Tracking Your Results
You can’t scale your success if you don’t track your stats. Every month, you should be tracking your blog income. I break mine down by program so that I can see how individual programs are performing. Are people buying more DIY supplies or done-for-you products? Are they more interested in courses or do-it-for-you tools?
In addition to income, there are a few other things I look at every month:
- Referring URLs will help you identify which pages and posts on your site are converting. From there you can dig deeper into why they may be performing better than others. And, you can promote the heck out them.
- Sub IDs are little identifiers that you can add to your affiliate links. This can help you track offsite affiliate clicks such as those in your emails, autoresponders or freebie gifts. You have to add these yourself, but it’s super easy and worth the two seconds.
- Invalid Clicks shouldn’t be overlooked. They are so important that most affiliate networks will let you know right on your dashboard how many invalid clicks you have had over the past month. Invalid clicks may come from closed programs, outdated links and more. Switch those out for something that will pay you.
If you aren’t able to find these things yourself, take some time to consult the affiliate network’s Help section. Most have amazing knowledge bases for affiliates that can teach you everything you need to know – and then some.
I’m a total stat junkie. Don’t forget to pick up my Blog Success Kit before you leave which includes some great printables and spreadsheets for tracking your progress.
Legalease and Best Practices
Making money online doesn’t come without a few rules.
- Always disclose. The FTC requires bloggers to inform readers when they click a link it results in you being compensated. This doesn’t need to be difficult and you shouldn’t be afraid to disclose. If a visitor is offended you make money from your time, you don’t want them as a reader. I have mine hard coded to display above every post. If you use Genesis framework, just add this verbiage to the genesis_before_entry in Simple Hooks. You have to have this disclose BEFORE your affiliate link. You cannot add tiny little text to the end of your post.
- Nofollowing links is required by Google anytime you may receive compensation. This prevents the passing of Page Rank from your blog to the advertiser which could potentially help the advertiser rank higher in search engines. Again, this isn’t difficult. Just add rel=”nofollow” to your link HTML.