I love creating gift guides. Honestly, I love this time of year period. For most bloggers, the next few months will be their highest earnings of the year. This is a welcome reprieve from the summer slump many of us go through. And many projections are showing this may be the best shopping season we’ve had in quite a while. That is good news for those of us who rely on that spending for our affiliate commissions!
If you haven’t ever created a gift guide, I wanted to share a few things I have learned over the years and what I am doing differently this year.
1. Let’s start with your avatar.
How much can they afford to spend on themselves or their nearest and dearest? Establish a top dollar amount and include a little variety. Include a few big splurges. Include a few things on the lower end for those on a strict budget.
2. Getting Niche-y With It
In year’s past, I have tried creating just one gift guide for the at-home crowd. They have always stunk at the end of the day. It’s just too hard to fit all of my readers into one box. Some are freelancers. Some are remote employees. Some are bloggers. Some are business owners. Some work remotely all the time. Some don’t. It was like trying to create a gift guide for moms and non-moms alike. They both could use really different things! Focusing on one or the other alone you could include really cool stuff, but instead, you just try to keep it all-inclusive and general. Boring.
So, this year, instead of creating just one list where I tried to include general things anyone would need, I choose a couple really targeted gift guide topics. In these, I was really able to dig down into what these individuals need and want. So. Much. Easier.
Really niche gift guides may not get the traffic a general guide would, but they will convert at a much higher rate because it’s speaking to precise needs and wants. It’s solving real problems. It’s not trying to please everyone. Sound familiar?
3. Next, let’s think about what is going to make their lives easier or better.
Even if we dream about some fancy $1,200 handbag, are we really ever going to buy it? Even if we had an extra $1,200 lying around? Not here, my friend. ????
The things we are truly going to impulse purchase are those things that we can justify. When I chose my gifts this year, I spent a lot of time thinking about what problems I suffer each day. The problems you suffer each day. Look around you. What “hurts?” What’s the one thing you and your readers dread every day? What products out there can help? Those are things they aren’t going to think twice about adding to their carts.
Honestly, I needed a little inspiration this year. I am one who really buries the “hurt.” I remind myself every day how truly blessed I am. I try not to focus too much time on what I want or need. So, what did I do? I pulled up Instagram! Look at what your peers or followers are posting and talking about. LOOK. AT. THE. ADS. I saw so many things I never knew existed but I totally need! (Some of those things, I now own. Thanks a lot Instagram!)
What’s Already Selling?
Another great place to come up with gift guide inspiration is to look through your affiliate reports and see what’s already selling. Pull up your Amazon Associates or best-converting affiliate dashboards and look at the individual product sales from the past 12 months. Do you see any trends? Are there any categories of items that are really hot?
You already know these items sell well with your audience. If there is a specific category of items – say, planners or educational toys or sassy t-shirts – maybe that category would make a great niche gift guide of its own!
What merchants should I choose?
One of my favorite merchants to link to this time of year is Amazon. The commission percentage may be on the lower side, but you just never know what's going to happen once people get over there. I have had links to $3 Kindle books turn into $1,500 purchases. That's a nice surprise! You should also look through networks like CJ, ShareASale, Pepperjam, etc. Look on your favorite merchant websites for Affiliate Program links.
Not every gift on your list needs to be an affiliate link. If something is awesome, include it. Also, know that many merchants have separate commission rates – or no commission rate in some cases – for gift cards. While it's still nice to include the recommendation if it fits, you may not want to make an entire gift guide around gift card suggestions if you aren't going to get paid for any of those sales.
Tip: If you are an experienced affiliate marketer, it's time to take things to the next step. This year, add tracking IDs to your affiliate links. This will allow you to see exactly how much money that gift guide – or email, or review – is generating. I talked a bit about sudIDs in this post. Tricia Meyer has a great cheat sheet here.
Don't go overboard. This applies to both your single gift guides and gift guides in general. Keep your gift suggestions to around 10-15 to keep people from getting overwhelmed (nobody wants to read through 100 suggestions). Also, don't create gift guide after gift guide after gift guide hoping something will stick. Especially if your site doesn't normally revolve around shopping. Stick to your regular editorial calendar and add in one or two shopping guides this season.
4. Create your calendar.
I spent some time digging around Facebook Groups to find out when everyone else was posting this year. A few people were told by brands to hold off until the end of November as people really aren’t spending or thinking about spending yet.
I also asked a few of the brands I am working with this year what promotions they are running this upcoming shopping season. I used those dates and recommends to determine when my posts will publish.
5. Did you want to know about working with brands?
First of all, you don’t have to own all of the stuff you recommend in your gift guide. Often, they are just as much your wish lists as they are for others. But, it never hurts to be able to speak about a product personally!
So, how do you get your hands of these goodies?
You can always buy them yourself. I did some of that.
Some affiliate networks like Commission Junction give affiliates the opportunity in September/October to let them know if you will be creating gift guides this year so they can pass it along to merchants. I did that. I have gotten a lot of inquiries from it, but only one was a good fit for my site. Which leads us to a big tip:
Don’t waste space on bad gifts!
If it’s a bad match, your readers aren’t going to buy it anyway. Then, the brand is upset they gave you something for nothing. Your readers wonder why you included something so irrelevant. You wasted your time and space. It’s a lose-lose situation. Thank them for their time and ask them to keep you in mind for future projects.
The timeline for gift guides is getting pretty tight, but you may be able to connect with a few brands through sponsor networks.
My personal preference, if there is something out there you want – within reason – ask. I spotted two really cool things on Instagram that I know will make my life easier and also pertain to some of the specific struggles many remote workers face.
I found the affiliate program for one of them. I signed up as an affiliate and then contacted the affiliate manager asking if the company was interested in gift guide placement this year and if I could get a product sent over for review. I had a “yes” within a few hours.
The other one, I didn’t see an affiliate program so I just went through their contact/PR page. Again, within a few hours I had a positive reply.
So, what did I say in those pitches?
6. Promote. Promote. Promote.
Especially if you ask for review product, it is so important you get as many eyes on your gift guide as possible. Create a special category or tag for your gift guide and link to it in your sidebar and/or the main menu through December.
Add a P.S. to the bottom of your newsletters through December.
7. Follow the Rules!
You already know to disclose your affiliate relationships, but you may not be clear on image usage. Some brands do not allow you to use images from their website or maybe you can use their images but not alongside other brands (ex. a collage for Pinning to Pinterest). Some may allow you to only use the image codes available to affiliates and not to download and upload images to your own site. Read those rules. And if you aren’t clear, play it safe. For your Pinnable images, use a pretty, seasonal image from Styled Stock Society or Ivory Mix.
You also shouldn’t mention prices for Amazon items as these can change daily or more often with the holidays. If you are using their Native Ads, which I highly suggest, they will automatically update. Otherwise, just give a general idea. (Ex. Under $20)
For other affiliate programs, your affiliate managers may let you know of any upcoming sales or coupon codes that you can include in your post. And you can always ask, too!
8. Just Do It!
Even if you have never created a gift guide before, I want you to commit to trying. You’ll never get any better at it if you don’t. You know my mantra, “Don’t look for excuses.”
Think about the potential! Gift guides live on your site all year long. Passive income, my friend! And, depending on your niche, you may be able to create guides for other holidays as well. This is a good skill to have.
If your blog is small right now, you may not hit it big with your first gift guide. But, it's still powerful in other ways. It will get you familiar with selling in an authentic and helpful way if you are including products you know, love and are certain will help your readers. Creating your first gift guide now is also going to help you out next year when your traffic is bigger and you are ready to start reaching out to brands for product samples and gift guide partnerships. Many will ask for an example of a buying guide you have created. So, create one!
Looking for even more great gift guide tips? I highly recommend Simple Pin Media’s How to Master Gift Guides course. It’s super-affordable and packed with great information!