Affiliate marketing is still a great way to make money online, but the rules have changed in recent years. This is as a result of things having become so much more competitive than when affiliate marketing first began online nearly 20 years ago.
In the past, affiliate marketers would refer traffic directly to the vendors, without ever trying to capture the prospective customer information. They would also adopt a scattershot approach, promoting products that were higher priced in some cases, or trendy in others.
Over time, however, smart affiliate marketers realized they were missing out. They were working so hard to get traffic, only to give it away with no benefit to themselves other than an affiliate commission. And they were doing their best to promote products, but if the vendor’s sales letter wasn’t very good, there would be few sales.
Fast forward to the present, and affiliate have learned how to market a great deal more effectively, making the most of all their marketing efforts. In this guide, we will be looking at the most effective ways to grow your affiliate marketing commissions.
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is the chance to earn money selling products for reputable companies and websites in exchange for a commission. Top sites like Amazon and eBay offer huge variety in terms of high-demand products. Top companies like Apple also have affiliate programs, though there are sometimes thresholds for participating, such as how much traffic you get to your website.
To start as an affiliate marketer, you will register at the site of your choice, or at an affiliate marketplace such as CJ Affiliate, LinkShare and ShareASale for physical products, or ClickBank and JVZoo for digital products. Once you have been accepted, (sometimes this is automatic, and at other times you will be evaluated for certain companies), you will be able to form specially coded links.
CJ Affiliate – http://www.cj.com/
LinkShare – https://rakutenmarketing.com/affiliate
ShareASale – http://www.shareasale.com/
ClickBank – https://www.clickbank.com/
JVZoo – https://www.jvzoo.com/
Why Become an Affiliate?
Firstly, you are going to receive a high commission when you make a sale. The average commission for information products is between 50% to 100%. So for example, if the product price is $97 dollars, you can earn between around $48 and $97.
Secondly, one of the biggest benefits of affiliate marketing is that you don’t have to create your own product. There’s no need to do the research, develop the product, write the sales letter, set up the sales funnel for customers to purchase the item, and so forth. It’s all been done for you. Join an affiliate marketplace, and you can have hundreds of products to sell in a matter of minutes.
Thirdly, selling for a vendor is hassle-free for you because the vendor will be doing all the customer services work and support. All you have to do is drive traffic. And there are many ways to drive traffic, free and paid.
Lastly, creating content is optional (though it is highly recommended these days). It does help to have your own site or blog as a gateway for referring sales to the vendors, but some people just use social networks to drive traffic and affiliate sales.
Each time someone buys a product through your link, you earn commission. The best thing about affiliate marketing is that your links are earning for you around the clock – even when you are asleep, away from your computer, or on vacation.
Getting Sales from Your Affiliate Marketing
But how can you make sales? The answer is, by increasing the visibility of your links. There are a number of ways to accomplish this.
One of the most important aspects of modern affiliate marketing is to have your own site or blog where you produce content related to the products you wish to sell. Choosing a topic, or niche, helps you focus your efforts and enables you to connect with people who are genuinely interested in the affiliate products you are trying to sell.
If you already have a website and/or an existing business, you can add an all-new stream of income through affiliate products. You can also become an expert in your niche – one worth paying attention to because you know what products are hot and which are not.
If you are selling digital or physical products, chances are you don’t have a product line so extensive that you can cater to every customer who visits your site. Affiliate marketing can help you fill in the gaps, with products you already know are in high demand because they come from reputable companies.
Choosing Your Niche
Your first step is to choose your niche if you do not already have an existing business. Think of topics you enjoy and would like to learn more about. Also think about the kinds of products you and your family and friends buy regularly. Everyone buying through your affiliate link will make you money. If your partner buys from your link, that is an instant discount on that product.
Golf and pets are two high-paying niches that are also broadly popular. Each are worth around $70 billion per year, and growing. Could you make some decent money tapping into one of these niches? Of course you could. It’s just a case of getting organized and studying that niche.
Electronics, computers, and gaming are all popular niches as well. However, if you are going to choose them, you need to know what you are talking about.
Content as Context
In order to make an affiliate income these days, the best method is to have your own site where you create content related to your chosen niche. You can write general articles and provide links to suggested products at the end of the content.
You can also create your own content about each product. Reviews are very popular, as are product comparisons. The most important things to remember are that everything you write should have a ring of truth. This helps position you as an expert worth paying attention to.
Creating Pre-Sell Pages
Smart affiliate marketers will also often create what is called a pre-sell page. This has become common practice for a number of reasons. The first is that not all affiliate product pages convert very well. Those working hard to drive traffic to these vendors’ pages were getting frustrated at the lack of sales and commissions. So they decided to take matters into their own hands and created pre-sell pages that got their site visitors more excited about what was on offer.
Good sales letters list features, but the main focus should be on benefits. For example, car ads always mention leather seats as a feature. But what are the main benefits? Depending on the audience, you might mention that they are:
Or you might mention that they are:
* Easy to clean
* Holding up against kids and dogs
Chances are you would use the first set of words for a single young person in the market for a sports car, and the other for a busy soccer mom or an outdoorsy-type parent.
Your pre-sell page is therefore a chance to fill in any blanks that might be missing from the vendor page.
It is also a chance to capture more information about your site visitor before they click over to the vendor site and you never see them again.
Savvy affiliate marketers soon realized they were spending time and even money with pay-per-click ads in order to drive traffic to the affiliate sites so they could get commission. However, they were not getting any customer information in return. Now a pre-sell page is often used as a lead generation page, in which you capture the prospective customer’s name and email address before they click over to the vendor site.
Building an Email Marketing List
It can be difficult to build an email marketing list these days because people have such crammed inboxes and free newsletters are no longer the great lure that they once were. Having said that, knowing your niche and your target audience are two of the best ways to come up with an incentive they will be so eager to get that they would be willing to give you their contact information.
Two good incentives would be an eBook or eCourse on a hot topic related to your niche. Think of the kinds of problems people have in your niche, and create an information product which offers real solutions. An eBook is a good option because you can create a PDF and they can download it easily. However, they can also grab the download and unsubscribe, so you never see them again.
An eCourse is a better solution because you can line up a number of emails (for example, seven) in your email marketing platform’s follow-up area (autoresponder). Each of these emails can help you build a relationship with your prospective customers, positioning you as an authority. Each of the emails can also provide a context for a link to an affiliate product you wish to sell, giving you multiple chances to earn commission without seeming like a pushy spammer.
Being Discerning about What You Sell
You should not promote anything you would not use yourself, or are not impressed by. You don’t want to get the reputation of being an affiliate who will literally sell any old rubbish just to get a commission. Rather, you want to show you are in the know, with great deals on products that really work.
If at all possible, make sure you do actually try the products you are promoting. You can usually ask for a free item. If they turn you down, purchase the item if you think it will be something you will use regularly. Keep the receipt to write off the expense on your taxes in relation to your affiliate income. Once you start using the product, write an honest review. Consider creating a video review to show the item in action. This will give your opinion a lot of credibility, because seeing is believing.
Content as a Gateway
As we mentioned, capture each visitor’s contact information before you send them over. Your content should serve as a teaser for all you have to offer, and for the affiliate products you will be selling.
Keywording Your Content
Keywords related to your niche will help drive free traffic via the search engines. This is a marketing technique known as search engine optimization (SEO). Google and the other main search engines each have their own algorithm, or formula, for ranking sites and pages on the search engine results pages (SERPs).
All of the keywords should be related to your topic or niche and should be words that an ordinary person interested in your niche would search for. Keyword all media files such as images and videos as well. They can also be discovered by Google, which would give you the chance to get more than one of the top slots on the SERPs.
Avoiding SEO Penalties
Some marketers try to use shady tactics in order to try to get to the top of the SERPs, but this can backfire badly. Some try “keyword stuffing,” repeating the same keywords over and over to try to boost their relevance score. Others opt for “negative marketing,” creating pages that say, “Is X product a scam?” This can drive the page up the search engine and generate a lot of clicks, but it can also backfire. This ploy casts doubt on whether the product is worth it or not, no matter what the page actually says.
The best way to get to the top of the search engines is to write high-quality content as naturally as possible. It is helpful to keyword the titles of your articles and blog posts. You can also put them in the titles of any images you might use on the page. In addition, it is a good idea to link to the affiliate product page using keywords. Instead of saying, “Click here,” you could say, “Learn more about the ultimate puppy obedience training guide.”
This will give your page SEO credit and also boost the vendor’s SEO for that page.
When you are creating your pages, think conversions, as in subscribers or sales. Include all the elements on the page that will encourage your visitor to complete your call to action, such as subscribing or clicking through to learn more and hopefully buy the affiliate product you are linking to.
How to Find the Best Affiliate Programs
Now that you have a good idea of how to become an affiliate and promote your links, let’s look at how to find the best affiliate programs. We have already mentioned the main affiliate marketplaces that will give you access to dozens of vendors and hundreds or perhaps thousands of products related to your niche.
It is very important to choose the right products because you don’t want to waste your time and money (if you run ads) promoting low-commission products.
It’s easy to start with digital products, whether you are a beginner or an experienced business owner. They are great if you are an existing business owner because you can be pretty sure there won’t be that many items in direct competition with what you are already selling.
ClickBank is the main digital marketplace; it has gradually been adding some physical products as well. You can find products on almost any topic, and the products range from eBooks to multimedia eCourses.
Some products might also offer what is termed recurring revenue. A good example would be monthly memberships. Each time your customer signed on for another month, you would get additional commission. These products are worth looking out for because they are normally charged automatically on a credit card or through PayPal. As long as they don’t cancel, you will keep getting paid.
JVZoo is a popular affiliate site as well. Sometimes you need to request approval to become an affiliate, but most of the time you can sign up and promote most of the products on the site. Many of them are related to internet marketing, a very hot topic that can earn a lot of profits. This might be a good niche to start with if you are a complete beginner, if only because you will learn so much about the topic as you start to promote internet marketing products.
WarriorPlus is for IM products only. The basic products are very low priced, only $7, but they run penny sales, so the more items that are sold, the more the price increases. The basic products serve as a lure for higher-priced products, known as upsells. Upsells can be tens or even hundreds of dollars, so your commissions can be quite substantial.
Getting Paid Your Commissions
ClickBank usually cuts a check after a certain threshold, such as $100. Really successful affiliates get a check pretty much every week. JVZoo and WarriorPlus will deposit your money directly into your PayPal account. If you don’t already have one for your business, take the time to set one up so you can keep your business income separate from your personal money. It will make things a lot simpler at tax time.
Choosing a Product
There are several key things to look for.
1. Commission percentage – How much will they pay per sale? Don’t forget to see if it is recurring income.
2. An EPC of a dollar or more – EPC stands for earnings per click, and is one of the statistics you will see in relation to each product on ClickBank. Anything less than a dollar means the product is not selling well, so don’t waste your time on it. Also note that some products might not sell because they are out of date, not being fully supported, or have a newer version being promoted. More on EPC below.
3. At least one upsell – Look at the overall earnings. If you see $50 or more, for example, you know the basic product has a profitable upsell.
4. The quality of the product – You can determine this in a number of ways. The first is to get a free copy, or to buy it. The second is to look at the sales letter page that your customer will see. If the page is ugly or very basic, chances are it might not convert as well as a more attractive on.
When looking through the product, make sure it is up to date and worth the money your prospective customers are going to spend. The last thing you want is to drive lots of traffic (and even spend money on ads), only to end up with lots of chargebacks because customers want a refund.
5. How much demand there is for it – The EPC can help determine this. There is also a score called gravity. The higher the gravity, the more attractive the offer for customers.
6. Supporting materials for affiliates – Some vendors do a really great job of supporting their affiliates’ sales efforts. They will often give high-quality images, banners, free content (which you should always rewrite to turn into your own unique content), and more. Check to see if they have a section or support page for affiliates and make the most of what you find there.
They might also provide promotional emails, eCourses and other content. If they don’t, consider what content you already have that might enable you to promote that product successfully. If it is a case of massaging a report or PowerPoint into great free content to download or to read at your blog, then it is a product worth promoting provided it has met the other five criteria. If not, skip over it for now as you head for more “low-hanging fruit” that you can start to promote right away through the content that you do have.
Earnings per click is a key metric you need to understand if you are going to run a successful affiliate business.
Here is an example on how to calculate EPC when the commission is 100%.
Imagine you get 100 clicks over to the vendor’s sales page for product X, which sells for $50. From those 100 clicks, 4 people buy, meaning a conversion rate of 4% (which is average to good for affiliate marketing). Four times $50 equals $200.
Divide your commission by the number of clicks. $200 divided by 100 is $2 per click.
It is important to know this number because you need to track your expense versus profit. For example, imagine you want to run Facebook ads to promote your website and this particular affiliate product. At two to five cents per pay-per-click ad, you could get 100 clicks and prospective customers for $2 in total, leaving you with a substantial profit.
Here’s another EPC example. Imagine you get 300 clicks to the vendor’s website, and eight of them buy a $200 product that gives you $100 commission (50%). Your total commission is $800.
$800 divided by 300 clicks equals $2.67 dollars. Again, you can run ads easily and still make substantial commission.
This is why we suggest you never promote anything with an EPC of under $1. Your time and effort are valuable and you do not want to work for peanuts.
Looking for High-End Offers
The high-end offers are where the most money can be made. The basic offers act as a gateway to the higher-end ones. Savvy marketers will try to increase the dollar value of every new customer by adding offers onto the backend of the sales process for the basic product.
Digital marketers create up to four different kinds of offers:
* Limited-time offer (LTO) or one-time offer (OTO)
The basic item is cheap, with little price barrier for most customers. The upsell, as the name suggests, is more expensive. Some may be reluctant to buy because of the price. Others might be so convinced it is exactly what they need that they are happy to buy it.
The upsell is usually an impressive package loaded with value, such as a multimedia eCourse with all sorts of handouts and bonuses. But what if the customer really does have an issue with price? Some marketers offer a downsell, a similar package to the upsell, but at a lower price point that might be more affordable.
LTOs and OTOs, as the names suggest, try to stimulate sales using the tactic of scarcity. Studies have shown that consumers are more motivated by fear of loss, of missing out on something, than they are motivated by gaining something. Setting the “clock ticking” can be a great way to get customers to buy more.
Studies have also shown that it is a lot easier to get a customer to make a second purchase than it is to get a prospective customer to make a first purchase. This is because once they have bought from you, they have already gone through the logical and emotional processes involved in deciding whether or not to do business with your company. Since they have already made up their mind, it can be easier than you think for them to take up a full series of offers and buy everything related to the topic in question, which means more and more commission for you.
Walk through the sales funnel from basic all the way to the end of any products that you think look really useful to you and to your target audience. Take notes each step of the way as to what is on offer. Remember, you can always ask for a refund if you buy it. If you decide to keep it, file the actual receipt (not a credit card receipt) in a safe place to apply to your taxes in the future.
Consider copying the sales letters for each funnel so you can use them to create your own pre-sell content that will get your prospective customers excited about what is on offer.
Tracking, Analyzing and Tweaking for Better Results
As we have mentioned, it can be difficult to measure your affiliate marketing results because you are referring you visitors to another website. Some vendors will have better reporting than others. But it is important to take the time to study the results so you can be certain you understand your metrics, because they can serve as a dashboard for the success of your business.
Affiliate marketplaces are very handy because you can work with dozens of companies but get one paycheck at the end of each payment term. Take the time to study the reports for each marketplace.
Next, look at the logs for your site. Whenever you create a new page or post for your site or blog, see how much traffic you get. Then try to match that with any sales at the affiliate marketplace. If you don’t already have tracking software at your site, try Google Analytics. It will take some time to learn what all the numbers mean, but it is a very detailed program. Best of all, it is free to use.
If you have a blog hosted at a website service that gives you a cPanel (control panel) such as HostGator.com, you will have a couple of metrics reports to choose from. But since it is so easy to install Google Analytics, consider adding it as well just to cover all your bases.
In terms of your email marketing platform, these too offer varying degrees of reporting. You should look at the number of subscribers you get each day to see how successful your lead generation efforts are. In terms of promotional emails, check open rates and clicks. Try to correlate the clicks to any sales that might have been made for that product.
Social media clicks are a bit harder to determine if you are using free services at Facebook and Twitter, but their paid advertising is very cheap and highly targeted, making it easier to track clicks to the affiliate products you are trying to sell. Note that the Facebook ad system prefers you to send prospects to a URL within their own site, so you might consider creating product pages for some of your top sellers.
Once you have a baseline as to how well a piece of content is doing (Content A), you can then try to improve it by creating a second version to test (Content B). Areas for improvement include the headline, opening paragraph, and position of the Buy Now button and images.
If you are struggling to get clicks and sales, try the tool CrazyEgg (https://www.crazyegg.com/). It can show you what is happening at your page in almost real time, so you can improve it. Look at the Confetti report to see who is clicking where. It is cheap and fun tool to use that can help you market like a pro if you apply all you learn from the insights it gives you.
It can be pretty tedious to split test and tweak, but remember – even a conversion rate of a couple of percentage points or two can all start to add up.
When NOT to Promote Affiliate Products
Thus far, we have been discussing all the ways to promote affiliate products in order to make a commission, so it might seem odd to be talking about not promoting them. However, there are many occasions when holding back is the best policy. For example, you don’t want your entire social media account, or email marketing strategy, to relentlessly try to sell affiliate products. People will tune you out as a spammer.
You should not promote them on the same page as a lead generation capture page. Each page you create should have one goal, and therefore one call to action. Once they are on your list, you can try to market particular affiliate products to them.
Finally, do not promote an affiliate product if you already have one that is very similar. It is great to get a commission, but creating your own products and services that are as good as, or even better than, the affiliate product you are selling will give you 100% of the profits.
Automated Tools to Make Affiliate Marketing Easier
There are a wide range of tools that can make your affiliate marketing easier and more profitable. Here are several suggestions.
The Google Keyword Planner
This is a robust tool that is free to use. It is normally used to plan pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaigns in Google AdWords, but it is also invaluable for planning your content by unearthing words you might not have realized were popular.
Link – http://adwords.google.com/keywordplanner
This tool helps you find keywords for your niche that you can build content around. It can help you rank highly in the search engines for search terms your competition might never even think of.
Link – https://longtailpro.com/
Skimlinks for Monetization
Skimlinks creates automatic affiliate links for your site regardless of whether or not you are a member of that particular affiliate program. Suggest a product on your page and this WordPress plugin will take care of the rest. They do take a small part of your commission for this service, but it can save you huge amounts of time and boost your earnings.
Link – https://wordpress.org/plugins/skimlinks/
ClickMeter – Click Tracking
If you have had an affiliate site for a while, ClickMeter is perfect for tracking your clicks and being able to analyze your data. You can track all your links in one place, and even cloak them so no one tries to hijack your commissions. The reports show number of clicks, pages and countries clicks came from, plus broken links you need to fix. It also has a handy A/B split-testing tool to help boost your conversions.
Link – http://www.clickmeter.com/
Pretty Links and ThirstyAffiliates – Link Cloaking and Redirecting
These two WordPress plugins have free and premium versions, and make it easy to manage and cloak affiliate links. They offer basic tracking and are easier to use than ClickMeter. Pretty Links has simple A/B split-testing features. ThirstyAffiliates can help uncloak Amazon links and will integrate with Google Analytics.
Pretty Link – https://wordpress.org/plugins/pretty-link/
ThirstyAffiliates – https://wordpress.org/plugins/thirstyaffiliates/
Amazon’s Affiliate Tools
Amazon is the number one shopping site in the world. The commissions are not huge, but the selection is, and the trust value that Amazon has earned from online shoppers means it is much easier to make a sale through Amazon than any other site. They are constantly adding new tools and features to help affiliates become more successful, so take the time to learn how to master them and see what a difference they can make to your commissions each month.
Below are a few suggestions for other Amazon-related tools worth trying.
Publisher Studio Management
This is an Amazon Google Chrome extension that allows you to add Amazon product data to your website. When creating content, type “$$” before a word and the plugin will open up a search box of products from Amazon for that word. For example, type “$$Juicers” in a WordPress article and you will get a box showing you different juicing products. If your site visitor clicks on one of the products, it will turn it into an affiliate link and you can earn commission. At the moment, you can use this extension on WordPress, Blogger, Facebook and Twitter.
Link – https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/help/node/topic/202102400
Amazon LinkBuilder Plugin for WordPress
This Amazon WordPress plugin creates Amazon widgets showing different products directly on your blog. The widget picks up on the user’s location and directs them to the appropriate Amazon for their country.
Link – https://wordpress.org/plugins/amazon-associates-link-builder/
AmaSuite contains a set of tools designed to help find and analyze Amazon products that sell well. The “Top Product Analyzer” is ideal if you are looking for hot new Amazon products to promote.
Link – http://amasuite.com/members-home/
This tells you what’s hot and what’s not in the world of blogging and social media. Put in your keyword and see what is trending. Then plan your own similar content based upon what you find.
Link – http://buzzsumo.com/
The world of affiliate marketing has changes significantly over the last 20 years. It’s no longer about sticking up links that people will be curious enough to click. Nowadays, it is all about great content providing a context for the links, and a call to action and/or pre-sell material that will help turn browsers into buyers.
It is also about trying to build a relationship with the people who come to your site or social media accounts, not just send them over to the vendors’ sites, never to be heard from again. You work too hard to get traffic to just let it vanish without a trace. Use these advanced affiliate marketing strategies and tools, and see what a difference they make to your commissions.
To your success!