Advertising is the first thing that comes to mind when trying to monetize a blog.
Trouble is, there's no money in it.
Well there is, but only if you write on popular topics with millions of pageviews. The atrociously low Cost Per Thousand-Impressions (CPM) model that's common in most display or banner advertisements means you're only making a few dollars each month unless you can get astronomically high traffic numbers. That's a deal breaker for niche topics, or ones with relatively low audience numbers.
It's also not a very effective model if you have a small, but dedicated following. It doesn't take into account your unique strengths, or appropriately value the worth of your loyal following.
Fortunately, there's another passive (or indirect) way to bring in revenue which does, and that is affiliate marketing.
In this article, we cover what affiliate marketing is, how to use it, and how to make money with this strategy. That way, you can add a much needed income stream to your blog!
How Affiliate Marketing Works
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing presents an easy way for publishers to monetize their blogs and bring in extra revenue. Making it a perfect option for small or micro businesses getting their enterprise off the ground.
It's essentially a revenue split, or share in the profits when something (typically a product) is sold. For example, you can get a cut of each sale made by simply sharing your latest favorite skin care mask with your health blog. That means you can find and represent products that you love (and may use) anyway, enthusiastically endorse them to your audience, and receive a percentage of each sale in the process.
Not a bad model, right? That's an affiliate marketing definition we can get behind!
Online affiliate marketing can also be a lucrative, 'passive' revenue stream because your links and endorsements can exist forever on your site, bringing in money each month from traffic that continues to come in through SEO and referrals from other sites or social media.
Most affiliate programs (or networks, which we'll dive into in a second), will provide unique tracking URL's that will register each time someone clicks on that link and goes on to purchase one of their products. These unique links automatically take care of all the tracking and reporting for you, again reducing the headache or overhead needed on your side.
While affiliate marketing sounds too good to be true so far, there's a bit more work involved in getting everything up and running to a point where you'll see significant results. Let's learn how to become an affiliate marketer and cover some of the basics in the next section.
How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing
The key to affiliate marketing effectively starts by finding and endorsing products you truly enjoy. Not only is this good ethically, but the results (i.e. the revenue!) will also be much better because you'll invest more time into promoting higher quality products. And ultimately people are buying based on value, not empty, thinly veiled attempts to sell whatever possible.
So it makes sense, the best way to get started with online affiliate marketing is to begin looking for products you already love, and see if they have a program in place already.
Many large independent brands will have their own affiliate network. For example, we here at Envato even have one. Our Envato Market affiliate program pays out more than $3 million dollars annually. That means if one of the readers of your site clicks on a referral link and purchases an item from our extensive network, you'll get 30% of that deposit or sale. Not bad!
But we also regularly run large contests where you can walk away with part of $20,000 if you're in the lucky winning group. And the best part is that we provide referral banners, logos, and other helpful resources to save you time and improve your results.
There are also a number of popular affiliate networks that contain hundreds (if not thousands) of products that you can browse through and select. Here are some of the most popular:
CJ (formerly Commission Junction) is one of the biggest affiliate networks around, with over 1,000 e-retailers to choose from. They also work with some of the biggest brands, which might make it easier to recommend and incorporate these products into your site.
ClickBank focuses exclusively on digital products, which means you tend to get a lot of software and information products on this affiliate site.
ShareASale has been in the business for over 16 years and provides a range of physical products, from Home & Garden to Fashion, Green, Business, and more.
Get Setup With an Affiliate Network
Once you've found products that are a perfect fit, the next step is to figure out how you're going to get these up-and-running on your site. Fortunately, each network will commonly provide a few different ways, so you can experiment with what's best. For example, ShareASale provides 'deep' links directly to products, coupons or deals, banner and text links, and even video creatives if vlogging is more your style.
These provided links will take care of all tracking information, and sometimes commonly include a 'grace' period of 30 days for example, just in case the visitor doesn't purchase on their first visit.
Each service will automatically split the payment and deliver it into your 'account', before paying out by check or direct deposit. The good news is that most networks typically work across many countries as well, meaning they can pay in pretty much any currency (as evidenced by CJ's direct deposit account below).
There are also services like Skimlinks that after setup on your site can automatically affiliate your commercial content, transforming outbound links to products into affiliate links which you earn an income on.
Operate Within FTC Regulations
While everything sounds pretty simple and straightforward up until now, there is one critical topic to cover before getting started: regulations. The FTC has weighed in on this topic, requiring any endorsement with links on your site where you earn a profit, must be disclosed. And it has to be clear or unambiguous.
Trying to bury these disclosures in random places like your Terms or on an About page doesn't cut it. A lawsuit surely isn't worth the headache, so be sure to always clearly explain that you will earn a share in the revenue made if someone makes a purchase.
Tips and Tricks to Increase Your Affiliate Revenue
We've covered the basics of getting started. Now it's time for the fun stuff. Let's look at how to start highlighting these products on your site.
The most obvious place to start is placing banners and other Calls To Action (CTAs) in your sidebar. These are a pretty standard place among all sites, which means their effectiveness is also diminished due to 'banner blindness'. So while it's a great place to start, you'll want to explore a few other areas as well.
1. Resources Page
Next up, is a basic 'Resources' page, where you simply list all of the resources you care about, use frequently, and would recommend to your audience to solve their common problems or needs. The good news about these pages is that you don't need to reinvent the wheel. You can simply list off the products, feature an image, and include a short explanation behind why you endorse the product and why it's useful.
2. 'Extension' Page
After a basic 'Resource' page, you can also use additional pages to go into a bit more depth on a particular affiliate product. For example, Patt Flynn from Smart Passive Income calls these 'extension pages', and uses them on his LEED exam site with a detailed page on Practice Exams:
3. Blog Posts
The best place to authentically sell affiliate products is right in your content itself. Admittedly, this is a delicate balancing act, but if done correctly, will also provide the biggest opportunities for making affiliate money.
The trick, is storytelling.
Instead of going for the hard sale and focusing exclusively on the product, you should focus on 'why'. What is the compelling problem or pain point in someone's life, that would lead them to need this solution you're selling?
Storytelling comes in by weaving a narrative around that primary pain point or topic, then slowly and methodically working your way down to the ultimate 'punchline' containing your affiliate product as the recommended solution.
Many times, sharing your personal experience with the product (or more importantly, why you decided on using the product in the first place) is one of the easiest ways to provide a candid 'sales' message—without feeling like you're selling at all!
And like all of the best movies or novels out there, there should be a clear difference between the before and after. Storytelling is all about highlighting the difference, and showing how the transformation happened while emphasizing the enviable after example.
You can even just use a basic call to action (CTA) at the end of a post, like this one from SugarRae.com (who we'll introduce in a minute):
4. Advanced Strategies
Once you've taken care of your sidebar, the Resource page, added Extension pages, and you've begun weaving the product(s) into your content, it's time to get a little more advanced.
There are two methods that will probably make up the bulk of your sales: SEO and email marketing.
Forrester Research analyzed over 77,000 online orders and concluded that search engines (both organic and paid) resulted in the most sales for new customers while email marketing was the best for repeat ones.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
While the full scope of SEO is beyond this article, there are a few tips you can use to get started.
One of the biggest factors in determining your affiliate SEO success is choosing the right keywords in the first place. Fortunately, SEO guru Rae Hoffman (or 'Sugar Rae') has a detailed blog post that walks you through finding the best opportunities.
Once you've found those keyphrase opportunities, it's time to strategically place them on your site. Look no further than Brian Dean's visual guide on the topic.
Affiliate Email Marketing
Chances are, you already understand how email marketing works. The real power though is using it to (a) automatically follow up with visitors, allowing you to (b) increase the frequency of messages.
That's a fancy way of saying: find a good reason to send people more messages about the product(s) you're endorsing!
For example, a free 'email course' does just that. It provides valuable content and storytelling on a particular topic, while also featuring the product as a solution.
The real advantages here are the fact that you can do the work once and set these up on autopilot to run forever. And they give you a convenient excuse to mention the same product over and over and over again, in a relatively short amount of time (while not annoying your normal readers who didn't sign up for this offer).
One of the best places to start learning more about email marketing is to sign up for a popular blogger's email list in your industry. Study the content they send to you to learn the ropes. You can deconstruct their approaches and see what resonates with you firsthand.
We also have a comprehensive jumpstart guide to email marketing, here are three tutorials to get started with:
- Email MarketingBusiness Owners: Why Email Matters More than EverDavid Masters
- Email MarketingHow to Create an Email Marketing PlanDavid Masters
- Email MarketingWhich Email Type Is Best for Your Business?David Masters
You can purchase Email Marketing Templates on our Envato Market, which will give you a quality email design to work with at an affordable price. They are quick to set up and customize. We have templates for all the major email marketing systems, such as MailChimp, CampaignMonitor, Aweber and more.
Get Started With Affiliate Marketing!
The chances of making any substantial revenue through advertising on your blog are extremely low.
The good news is that affiliate marketing carries much of the same positives (such as providing a 'passive' way to increase revenue without having to offer services or create your own product), and avoiding the negatives (like minuscule profits).
Getting started with online affiliate marketing is easy if you can think of a product you love, and they offer a program already. But if not, you can start with one of the large networks that will provide hundreds of options to choose from and take care of the 'heavy lifting' like tracking or creative elements to help you sell.
Work these products into your site. Add a few simple dedicated pages like a Resource or 'extension' page. And insert them into your blog posts by carefully crafting a compelling narrative.
Once that's all setup, pay extra attention to your on-site SEO and use email marketing to bring back repeat visitors and drive more sales on a regular basis.
This process might take some time to get up-and-running successfully, but the results will be worth it when you have a steady stream of income coming in on a regular basis.