You’ve no doubt read income reports from bloggers and marketers who earn tens of thousands of dollars a month through affiliate marketing. After reading one of these reports, you’ve probably thought about trying affiliate marketing, but maybe you never gave it a shot.
This guide will look at how you should get started in affiliate marketing. I’ll also discuss how to grow your affiliate income. These are strategies you can use to hit your first thousand dollars a month in passive income. Let’s dive in.
What is affiliate marketing, and who can do it?
Affiliate marketing rewards people who recommend a company’s products or services. The company provides a commission to incentivize affiliates to promote their products or services through affiliate links. Typical affiliates include bloggers and social media influencers, but anyone with a good online reach can do it.
Source: CyberCash Worldwide
Typically, there are three parties in affiliate marketing: the seller, the affiliate, and the consumer. Affiliates make some extra income, consumers get valuable recommendations, and merchants get new customers.
Busting the myths
Affiliate marketing is an effective way to drive sales. However, there is a lot of misinformation around affiliate marketing. Let’s look at some common affiliate marketing myths and clear the air.
1. “Affiliate marketing is expensive.”
All you need to start an affiliate business is a computer, an internet connection, and time. You should never have to pay money upfront to join an affiliate program, nor should you have to buy products. If the company asks you to do so, it’s likely a multi-level marketing company rather than an affiliate program.
While spending money on advertising can help, being successful in this field will not depend on how much money you spend but on the quality of your content and your ability to persuade your audience to take the desired action. Something as simple as learning to write high converting email copy can land you more customers than a host of mistargeted paid ads.
2. “Affiliates resort to shady sales practices.”
While some affiliates, unfortunately, give the industry a bad name, they are few and far between. Good affiliates are skilled marketers who engage in good faith and promote products and services they genuinely love.
3. “You can get rich quick.”
Affiliate marketers spend a lot of time building a good reputation. Driving people to your website and getting them to convert is an ongoing challenge that involves a great deal of optimization and planning. Once you have an established audience, you will start earning, but it takes time to get there.
So, how can you use affiliate marketing to your benefit? In the next section, we will look at how you can find the right affiliate program to join and start the journey towards your first commission.
Choosing a niche and the right affiliate program
Before you dive into affiliate marketing, you need to choose the right niche and program(s) to join. Let’s look at some of the things you should keep in mind before settling on the best affiliate program for you.
Align it with your interests
With affiliate marketing, you don’t need to pick a niche that interests you, but it helps. The best affiliate marketers provide useful insights and feedback to their customers about products they love, for a start. If you’re not interested in a niche, it’s going to be hard to provide great insights or show the value of a product or service you don’t use.
Secondly, you’ll rarely achieve overnight success, especially if you’re just starting out with affiliate marketing. Consequently, you will likely spend months or even years working on the niche. Again, it’s difficult to maintain that motivation if you’re not interested in the niche.
Start by making a list of your interests. Then, research the opportunities available. Sites like Flippa, where people buy and sell a website, is a great place to research the niche earning potential. You can see what affiliate offers a site is promoting, what approach they have taken, and the SEO strategy they’ve implemented.
You can take a similar research-based approach to Pay Per Click marketing. There are plenty of online tools that allow you to review the PPC strategies of people by niche.
While researching a niche, you should also look at the affiliate commissions being offered and, just as importantly the Earnings Per Click (EPC). The EPC is how much money you can expect to make based on the traffic volume you send to a site.
If you feel lost, the image below provides a snapshot of 20 of the most lucrative niches for affiliate marketers.
Check out the competition
Once you’ve decided on your niche, you need to research the competition. You should do a preliminary review of the opportunities, which essentially means the competition when you pick your niche. Before you start implementing your affiliate marketing strategy, it pays to do your research.
The type of research you do will depend on the marketing channel you utilize. If you plan to use PPC, your approach will differ from someone who wants to dominate the search results.
Let me give you an example. If I wanted to promote affiliate offers on my blog, and I was competing with Xiaomi Today, the site listed earlier on Flippa, I would do the following:
Review the website to see what products and services they are promoting heavily. For example, through banners, etc. Look at the top pages on the site
You can see a deals and discounts section on the homepage — the products listed in this section all use affiliate links. You can access this deals section through the main navigation bar.
It’s fair to assume that the products listed in this section generate sales for the website owner.
After reviewing the website, I’d head over to a tool like Wordtracker’s Inspect to analyse the top pages on the site.
You can see the top-performing pages on the site. If I were going to enter this niche, I’d review the top pages and list the content I want to imitate.
You can take a similar research-based approach to PPC. For example, you can look at Google Ads to check out the competition through metrics such as the average cost-per-click for popular search terms. You can also review the type of ads businesses are running on Facebook and even review their marketing funnels.
Thorough research of your niche and the companies operating in the sector will provide you with insights that will help you earn your first commission and grow fast. You can learn a lot from your peers.
What to look for in an affiliate program
The next step on your journey is to pick suitable affiliate marketing platforms. Many criteria make up a good affiliate program, but I recommend paying particular attention to the following:
- Commission rates. Higher is better. Some programs also offer higher rates for flagship products and preferential rates for top affiliates.
- Cookie lifespan. Thirty days is an absolute minimum standard, but longer is better.
- Tracking capability. Look for affiliate programs and networks that offer postback URLs (sometimes known as server to server pixels).
- Average Earnings Per Click (EPC).
- Acceptance criteria. Some programs want to review an application before accepting you as an affiliate.
Ideally, you should support companies that you buy from or use. That way, you’ll be able to talk about the products and services they offer authoritatively and make genuine recommendations.
What makes a good affiliate marketing website?
One of the critical factors in being a successful affiliate marketer is generating traffic and driving conversions. This section looks at how some affiliate marketers have created an engaging website that delivers excellent user experience, content, and optimization to climb up the search rankings.
Create top-notch content
Nerdwallet is a review affiliate site for financial products and offers content on topics ranging from housing finance to insurance. The content is genuinely useful and actionable to readers, whether they make a purchase or not.
The site markets itself as a one-stop solution for all your money-related queries, offering advice and tips rather than going for the hard sell. It has a carefully curated top picks section and clear guides and tips that demonstrate credibility and expertise. There’s even a free calculator that people can use to calculate taxes, mortgages, savings, and so on.
Nerdwallet’s great content has allowed them to target high-volume keywords with success in an extremely competitive market. According to a company statement, the site saw more than 140 million visitors to its site and tools in 2018.
Want to take a leaf from Nerdwallet’s book? Remember the golden rules of great content:
- Make it useful and actionable.
- Always check and double-check your facts, and cite any sources you use.
- Check your spelling and grammar, using a grammar checker if necessary.
- Break up long passages of text with paragraph breaks, bullet points, images, and white space.
- Write in a friendly but authoritative voice.
Building credibility with great content takes time, but there’s no substitute if you want to build a loyal audience.
Focus on user experience
PC Part Picker is an online resource for people who are looking to build their computers. The site offers a tool that allows people to choose the best parts for whatever model they are currently building. Each part then takes the visitor to the retailer via an affiliate link.
The site moves away from the usual guides and tutorials and gives the users a very useful, actionable tool that helps them build computers. The tool allows you to combine different computer parts and then provides insights regarding performance. The site offers a great user experience and is easy to navigate.
A great website with a stellar user experience is the critical component for any affiliate marketer. It should have the right content and use optimization tools to create a user experience that guarantees repeat visits and conversions.
Once you have the content in place, you will need to plug in the affiliate links to drive sales back to the retailer and secure your commissions. In the next section, we will look at how you can create engaging blog posts that educate your readers and earn you money.
Promoting affiliate links on a blog
Your blog can be a powerful channel to direct people towards purchasing through your affiliate links. If you want to be a successful affiliate marketer and plan to rely on SEO to generate traffic, you must start a blog.
There are various kinds of content you can use to attract the right people. For example, how-tos and detailed guides are very popular for technical niches. You may also wish to use shorter listicles that compare and review a variety of similar products. For in-depth, long-form content, you can use case studies, whitepapers, and ebooks to back up your points and further educate your audience.
You can also use visual, video, and audio content to engage with your visitors. For example, many affiliate marketers use YouTube and then share affiliate links in the description box. Infographics are another great way to create easy to read, shareable content.
Source: Vlogging Guides
While educating and entertaining your audience is essential, you also have to ensure that your content performs well in search rankings. Some keywords are competitive. Online tools help you identify relevant keywords, the search volume, and the level of competition. In the image above, we see that “dell computers” is a highly sought-after keyword when you type in “computer.”
Pro tip: target long-tail (longer and more specific) keywords. The overall search volume might be lower, but the level of competition is lower.
Promoting affiliate links on social media
You have a great website and content, but how do you get people to see it? SEO matters, as we’ve discussed, but it takes time to achieve good search performance.
Enter social media. Social media has become one of the most effective ways to reach a wider audience through organic and paid content.
Your social media content must be eye-catching and enticing enough to encourage readers to stop scrolling and engage with what you have to say.
Remember to use catchy headlines, strong images, and a great first line. Video content is ideal for social media.
Another way to use social media to your advantage is to join groups related to your niche and share useful content that cements your reputation as a leading voice. Take care to avoid being excessively promotional, or you will just annoy people (some groups even have rules against direct self-promotion).
Taking your promotion further
There is a range of different types of content you can produce that will help you generate affiliate sales. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can drive more conversions and build a loyal following.
- Educational content. A crucial part of building your affiliate marketing strategy is establishing your site as the go-to source for reliable and authoritiative content. One way to highlight your expertise is by offering webinars and online courses that will help your audience be better informed and allow you to highlight your knowledge and promote relevant products. Win-win!
- Discounts and offers. Everyone loves a good bargain. Give your followers a reason to shop through your links with exclusive offers, bonuses, and discounts.
- Repurpose content in different formats. We’ve already discussed blogs and videos as great ways to promote your links. But did you know you can repurpose content in numerous ways? For example, podcasts are a fantastic tool for building and engaging your audience. You can promote exclusive offers to listeners and include affiliate links in the show notes. It’s easy to repurpose a blog post or video as a podcast, and vice versa.
Ultimately, the best way to promote your links and content is to figure out what your audience wants and give it to them. See what works and what doesn’t by trying things out and tracking the results. In the next section, we'll look at how you can monitor your performance and keep improving.
Track your results
The only way to know for sure if your affiliate marketing efforts are paying off is by tracking your strategies’ results. With affiliate marketing, conversions happen both on and off your site. For example, when a person clicks on your affiliate link, that’s a conversion. The secondary conversion is when someone makes a purchase.
You need to use tools that can integrate with your analytics so you can get the full data picture. The core metrics you should monitor and correlate in order to make informed data-driven decisions are:
- Traffic sources
- Content source
- Conversion data and sales
Tools like Google Analytics can give you a great insight into your website, including the number of visitors, which pages get the most visits, and which pages have a high bounce rate. You can use this data to gain insight into the visitor’s behavior and subsequently improve the user experience.
Many affiliate tracking solutions enable you to track your conversions. Look for ones that integrate with Google Analytics to tie your affiliate revenues and conversions with the GA data. That allows you to attribute your SEO, social, and paid traffic to sales.
When you can see the actions people take on your site that leads to sales, you have the opportunity to implement considered on-site optimization changes. Meanwhile, if you can see what happens off your site, you can improve your ad targeting and run more effective retargeting campaigns. Furthermore, it allows you to track affiliate sales across multiple platforms from one dashboard.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to monetize your expertise and leverage your network to increase your income. As a strong and growing form of marketing, it is a win-win situation for the affiliate and merchant alike. It is a low-risk way to diversify your income as there are minimal start-up costs. All you need is a great website, a little know-how and determination, and some time.
It can take some time to see results when you get started, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t start making commissions overnight. You can do a few things to speed the process up, and we’ve covered many of them in this article. The most important starting point is to choose the products and services you love in a niche.
Showcase your expertise with engaging content on your site while keeping content optimization in mind. Target the right high-performing keywords and promote your content through additional channels such as social media, email marketing, and webinars.
Use the right tools to zero in on the best way to reach your customers by tracking how they behave on your site and what drives them to make a purchase (or not). Use these tips to create a strong affiliate marketing campaign that helps you use your expertise to earn more.
So, what are you waiting for? Here’s to landing your first commission!