You have a blog and you’re considering ways to make money from it. Your goal might be simply to generate some side income. Or perhaps you are thinking bigger and want to turn your blog into a money-making machine. Either way, you’ll want to weigh your options. Maybe you’ve heard about affiliate marketing as an option, but aren’t sure it’s a right fit for you. Let’s dive in and gain a better understanding of how to start affiliate marketing.
Related: How to make money blogging
What is affiliate marketing?
First off, you might be one of those people who are slightly uneasy when they hear the term affiliate marketing. But, if done right, in ways that always keep your customers’ needs foremost, it can become a profitable new income stream. It’s a simple concept. You are a reseller. You share or write about someone else’s product or service and if a reader clicks on the link and purchases it, you make a percentage of the sale.
There are affiliate marketers out there that run dozens — if not hundreds — of sites, but today, let’s focus on your existing blog and ways you can harness the power of affiliate marketing.
How to start affiliate marketing
Community, fans and traffic. These three are essential to the success of your startup efforts in affiliate marketing. It is best if you focus on all three, but they can stand on their own as well.
As your blog has grown, you have built some kind of community. It might be a regular readership. You might generate a lot of conversation through blog comments. It might even have an external community, such as a Facebook group, where you funnel members through to your site.
Whatever the case, your community is committed to your content and can be a perfect vehicle to help you start affiliate marketing.
Fans will likely grow, either out of this community or through services you offer on the business side of things. These are the people who know and trust you. They depend on you for solid, helpful information. They might have become such loyal fans that when they want to purchase a specific product or service, they will seek you out first to see if you have an affiliate link. This happens to us and it’s the definition of a true fan.
Traffic grows as your community and readership does. If your target market is solid, the more traffic you have, the more income you will generate.
A smaller number of highly devoted readers can also positively impact sales. Typically, I recommend that people aim for decent traffic numbers. That way, the odds are in your favor.
Related: How to get traffic to your website
Who are your readers and what is your niche?
Obviously, these two directly complement each other because your readership will develop from your niche.
This seems obvious, but I still see many sites that go outside their content boundaries with affiliate marketing.
Target marketing applies here, too — with both your niche and your readership. As tempting as it might be, don’t throw in links to stuff that make people wonder if all you want to do is make a quick buck.
Your credibility is on the line here.
Be selective. For example, say your blog is about working remotely. You talk about your home office and how you have it set up to work for you. Don’t make every link an Amazon affiliate link: the desk, the chair, your bookcase, the movie posters on your wall, that sofa where you take your afternoon naps. Don’t start creating posts just so you can add a dozen affiliate links within them.
Choosing your affiliates
You might be surprised to learn how many products and services have affiliate programs, everything from razors to credit cards. It’s pretty amazing. You can find several affiliate opportunities on large sites. For example, ShareASale and CJ Affiliate have hundreds, if not thousands, of options for companies that have affiliate programs. The other option is by site and/or vendor: smaller companies frequently run their own affiliate programs.
Should I only be an affiliate of products I use and trust?
There is a fine line here. First, let’s be realistic. If you want to help your readers and provide them with enough options, can you expect that you will have used every product or service? No. But you need to have a level of trust in a product you are tying your brand and reputation to.
But again, the key is not to become an affiliate for the sole sake of making a few bucks.
What affiliates offer
As you choose to move ahead, you will want to know your affiliate partner’s policies on:
Depending on the program, some will require you to get approval. If there is an application, the questions they ask will again depend on the affiliate. Don’t become discouraged if you get turned down. Remember, they want it to be the right fit — for them and for you.
Most are based on a certain percentage of the sale, which might vary. And once you start having success with a program, contact them to negotiate a higher percentage. Remember, you are doing them a favor. Unless you are gaming the system and doing things that will get you removed from their program, you have the advantage here because they only pay you when you make them a sale.
Some pay a straight, one-time percentage. Others do it on a scale: the more you sell in a given period, the higher your percentage usually goes. Still others pay smaller commissions, but on a repeat basis. For example, if you choose a monthly fee, those commissions are smaller but will be repeated each time the subscriber renews the product or service.
Tracking with cookies
Affiliate payments might come to you via PayPal, direct deposit or some other method. Also, do not expect immediate payment. Most sites have a waiting period, say two to three months, to be sure the customer does not ask for a refund.
How and where to use affiliate links
In most cases, affiliate links are used in a couple of ways:
- By placing banners in your sidebar, footers or somewhere within the posts.
- Through text links within your post.
You might find that one or both of these are the route to go on your blog. Testing, which I explain later in this post, will help you make that decision.
In using affiliate links, keep in mind that most successful blogs are all about helping their readers. Showing your readers how an affiliate product or service can help them solve a problem is probably one of the best ways you convince them to click on the link, assuming, of course, that you have first earned their trust.
Sometimes writing a comparison post might seem to be helping your readers, but not only are they frequently left confused (think a review of 10 hosting solutions), but if each hosting provider has an affiliate link, people will be skeptical. Which company do you actually recommend?
For link placement, I have found two to three within a post work the best.
As mentioned above, many sites have found that the banners in sidebars and at the end of posts are effective, but it is something you will need to test. From months of testing on our site, we found that sidebars are more of a distraction than anything.
If you are serious about an income stream, you must test and also keep an eye on your analytics. The following three tools will help you get started:
This is a great testing option, especially if you are using banners within posts or in sidebars. There are many options out there for heatmaps, which allow you to see where people are clicking on your site. Crazy Egg is one option.
Like some of the others, Crazy Egg also offers screencast shots that let you watch what users are doing while moving their cursor around on your site. It can be very enlightening to use these tools to track the placement of affiliate links.
There are services and, if you are using WordPress, plugins, that track clicks on your links and graphics. If you set these up correctly, this not only tells you what is working where, but which links are getting the most action.
If you use Google Analytics or something similar, you can see what your traffic is doing on your site, which will add to the success of your affiliate marketing. Your most popular posts are ripe for an affiliate link if one does not already exists.
If you find a post is helping your readers do something to solve a problem, but it’s more of a generic solution, it might be time to add a specific product or service that will do the trick. But it needs to add value to the post and not be just an ad.
How to start affiliate marketing with WordPress
If you are using WordPress for your blog, it’s a natural fit for affiliate marketing.
Here are a couple of plugins that will help you:
Thirsty Affiliates Link Manager
Thirsty Affiliates Link Manager plugin helps you manage all of your affiliate links. For example, let’s say that an affiliate changes their URL or links — it happens. Or perhaps you just want to switch out a link. But if that link is in dozens of posts, that can be time consuming and unless you have kept track of them all, it’s almost impossible. This plugin lets you edit the URL in one place and also shows you every post that a specific affiliate link is in.
The Advanced Ads plugin helps you manage and control banner ads. It gives you options for displaying affiliate banners during specific dates or different locations.
There are many other plugins out there that can help you manage your affiliates. No matter what you choose to use, I would suggest using one. It will save you tons of time down the road.
Don’t forget the disclaimer
If you use affiliate links, you are legally bound to let your readers know. This doesn’t mean you have to put the words “affiliate link” after every link, but you should make it clear to your readers. This can be done on your privacy/disclaimer page as well as in your footer — or other parts of your site. We have a disclaimer after every post and you can see that and read more about the importance of it in our post, “Why You Need to Include Affiliate Disclosures and Where to Place Them on Your Blog.”
On a final note, with the onset of ad blockers, AMP and responsive themes, banner affiliate ads might not appear on some users’ browsers and won’t be seen if you are using AMP. Responsive themes often push sidebars to the bottom on mobile and users seldom take the time to scroll down. Keep this in mind as you plan your affiliate marketing strategy and do your testing.
Used properly, it’s just another legitimate way to bring in an income stream. Find what works for you and your readers, and you’ll be on your way to making significant inroads in monetizing your blog.