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Make Money Blogging: Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing works... when done well.

[This is a part of the Make Money Blogging Series.]

A large portion of many professional bloggers income is found in affiliate marketing and affiliate sales. Some full time bloggers have seen financial windfalls in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions, per year through this very basic system.

Essentially, affiliate marketing is where you, the blogger, markets products or services for companies in exchange for a commission. The commissions and compensation can range from a few pennies (literally) per sale to hundreds of dollars and can be based on a percentage of the sale or a fixed rate.

Other affiliate programs are based on some type of action that is achieved through the blogger’s marketing efforts, like signing up for a newsletter, or passing through a number of webpages to a particular destination.

These affiliate business or affiliate networks provide the blogger a specific URL or “affiliate link” that connects the buyer to the store; this link recognizes your important role and relationship in this buying process and rewards you upon a completed purchase.

Here’s a great visual of how this practically happens:

A visual of how this all works.

Of course, what sets apart those that have a full time living off of this type of financial model are the ones that spend just as much time building strategy around their efforts as they do executing on it.

You could honestly spend most of your day (and some do!) building your campaigns, tracking clicks, conversions, and returns, and more. It’s an exciting world with tons of potential, even for the newer blogger.

Interested? Here are some more things to consider and learn about:

Is Affiliate Marketing For You?

An eskimo's igloo!

Answering this question early on can save yourself a lot of time and energy since affiliate marketing isn’t for everyone. In fact, I know that within some contexts the word “affiliate” is still somewhat taboo and people feel “icky” when talking about it.

That’s fine! It’s just not right for them and perhaps it’s not right for you. But, if you’re comfortable with the term and you understand both the advantages and some of the challenges that an affiliate marketer can face, then you have the potential to be successful.

If you can answer “Yes” to some of these considerations then affiliate marketing through your blog might be for you:

  • You love to talk about stuff. You like talking in general. You’re passionate about what you’re passionate about and you like telling others that you’re passionate about those things!
  • More specifically, you love to tell others about the things that you like and use, whether it’s a product or a service or some type of lifestyle, and are willing to (and enjoy) educating them on the benefits of it.
  • There’s a natural “marketer” in your blood! You tell it how it is and people may have even told you that you would be a good salesman/saleswoman.
  • You have a penchant for selling stuff. You can sell snow to an eskimo.
  • You’re not interested in carrying inventory on items or managing anything related to customer service. You just want to talk about the products (and share how to get them).
  • You’re a relational person and people tend to trust your advice and suggestions on stuff in general; people may see you as a trusted advisor of sorts on matters related to different things.
  • You enjoy seeing other people prosper and be successful with the products that you recommend to them.

If you can say “Yes” to a few of these then affiliate marketing might just be a natural avenue for your efforts through your blog.

It’s All About Trust, All the Time!

Trust.

One of the quickest ways to be successful at affiliate marketing is remembering, at every single point of the process, that this is all about trust (see thoughts on Disclosure Policies for more info).

Naturally, one of the quickest ways to completely suck at affiliate marketing is abusing the trust you have with others and your readers and going overboard with too much “selling” and not enough of simply providing value for your readers.

You can quickly harm or destroy your trust (and brand) if you showcase terrible products or push too hard for them to buy; you instantly become a cheap salesman and not a trusted friend or advisor.

It can be a very touchy-feely type of thing so you’ll need to manage this tension differently depending on your readers and the culture and context in which you blog, and I personally believe it’s best to err on the side of not marketing a product or service if relationships are at stake!

So what is one of your primary goals as a new blogger (or a blogger who is new to advertising)?

Establishing readership trust!

This is one of the first and foremost goals of any good blogger and that’s honestly why I’ve opted not to advertise explicitly on this blog until I feel comfortable showing advertisements and feel like the community here knows me well and that I’ve earned their trust and the right to market to them.

It’ll also result in better returns for everyone in the community as well long-term. It’s a pretty simple formula actually: As readership trust deepens and gets stronger the more likely they are to respond to you when you suggest a product and service to try.

Relationship-marketing is a crucial and long-term developmental process that you must cultivate and nurture for your blog’s entire life!

The 5 T’s of Successful Affiliate Marketing:

Here are some of the factors that contribute heavily towards a great affiliate marketers success:

  • Trust – It is the most important part and without it you’re not going to move any product. The deeper (and sustaining) it is the better. Time is a very appropriate calculator here.
  • Traffic – The more the merrier. High traffic really helps, a lot.
  • Targeted Products – The type, quality, and relevancy of your products, services, and action-based campaigns all impact your conversion rates. The more targeted and relevant they are, along with higher quality offerings, the better. This seems obvious when I say it aloud but people seem to forget it all the time.
  • Timing – People aren’t always in the mood to buy and the better you are at knowing your audience the better. A true salesman knows nearly instantly when he’s fighting an uphill battle, and any good marketer knows that there are fruitful seasons and exceptionally dry ones; weathering them out when they’re bad and capitalizing on them when it’s go-time is important.
  • Technique – Your ability to make the right decisions, market and promote the right products, know your community’s needs, as well as create compelling copy and content all have to do with your expertise and affiliate marketing craft, or your technique. It’s something that’s developed over time, so don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have the chops yet.

We could even break these down more but that would be too much for this 101 and primer blog post. There’s a lot to learn and even more to work on so we’ll end with a few examples.

Amazon.com and Amazon Associates:

Amazon.com is the largest online store in the US and attracts more than 65 million customers a month. If you need to buy something (anything!) then there’s a extremely high chance that Amazon will sell it.

Naturally, becoming an Amazon Affiliate (or “Associate”) would be a natural place for a new blogger to start so that they can learn the art, science, and practice of affiliate marketing!

With Amazon Associates you can make money advertising the many products available through their marketplace. One of the best things about this is that you can market things that you actually use! And there’s nothing better than promoting something that you actually have experience (a “good” one) with!

Applying is easy and simple and in no time you’ll have the option of putting links, banners, sidebar widgets, or even creating your own customized “online store” with all of your affiliate links built right in:

Here are some widgets you can put on your blog:

You’ll have access to a robust (although slightly un-intuitive) reporting sytem showing you the products you’ve marketed, the amount of clicks, and ultimately your conversions (or people buying them) with the amount of money you make off of each sale:

Pretty sweet, right?

This is just the bare-bones of getting you started and there is much to be said about optimizing your Amazon Associates strategy but perhaps that’ll be another post.

For now, getting started with this (and early) will be a nice introduction of how affiliate marketing works and how you can start today on your blog. A few other reasons I recommend Amazon Associates to new bloggers or bloggers who are new to affiliate marketing:

  • Simple and easy to sign up.
  • The options for marketing are extensive (widgets, links, embeddable sites, etc.).
  • The products available to market are both vast and contextual! You can really narrow your focus according to your niche and community here!
  • All the reporting mechanisms are built in so you can get a good handle on payouts and financial planning/estimates.
  • It’s a good “first taste” of making a dollar through your blog via affiliate marketing.

So what are you waiting for?

A Few Closing Thoughts on When You Can Buy Your New Ferrari…

Whoops. Ferrari on Fire FTW...?

Oftentimes I find people asking me something like this after I share with them the potential of affiliate marketing:

If affiliate marketing is that easy then why isn’t everyone a millionaire?

That’s because it’s not even close to being “easy money.” Most bloggers who try can make a few dollars here and there but the vast, vast majority will never really make anything substantial (without concerted effort, lots of practice, and a boat-load of strategy).

Let’s put it another way: Unless you’re seriously interested in this model and dedicated to working it out then valiant one-time attempts with a link or two here and there will not result in anything you’d want to share at your next High School reunion.

And you know what? Success in affiliate marketing requires just as much work and effort as all of the other ways that bloggers make money too. But it’s worth a shot.

Good luck, and I’d love to hear your experiences with affiliate marketing! What’s worked? What have you learned? Got any advice for me and for others?

[This is a part of the Make Money Blogging Series.]