So you have a blog, or maybe you don’t just yet, but regardless you want to make money from blogging. There are a lot of ways you can go to make money from a blog: if you’ve visited SideGains before you may have read my previous posts on the subject. In this post I’m going to focus on affiliate marketing for bloggers, which is one of the most popular and profitable ways to make money blogging.
Here’s what to expect:
- An outline of affiliate marketing.
- How you make money from affiliate marketing.
- Affiliate programs and finding products to promote.
- Promoting affiliate products.
- Optimizing your blog for greater affiliate success.
I should reinforce that this will be an affiliate marketing guide specifically for bloggers, as there are other ways to promote affiliate sales online that I won’t touch upon in this post.
So… if you’re a blogger interested in affiliate marketing, the following guide will tell you everything you need to know to get you on the way to making your first affiliate sale!
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate Marketing is a way for sellers to promote sales of their products or services. A seller creates an affiliate program to entice affiliates to help them promote their products in return for a commission, should the affiliates deliver them buying customers.
As a blogger you might join an affiliate program to promote a specific product. You might write about that product in a blog post and insert links into it that point to the affiliate product you’re blogging about. These links will contain special code that identifies you and connects anyone clicking your links as a referral from you. If anyone clicks your links and ends up purchasing something from the seller’s site, as the referring affiliate you earn a pre-agreed commission.
It’s a simple model, and that’s perhaps a part of the appeal… as an affiliate marketing blogger you’re not involved in after sales support or problem fixing, you simply pass a visitor to a seller’s site and if that results in a sale you earn a commission.
That’s the end of your involvement.
Sellers are often very happy with affiliate marketing programs since unlike traditional advertising, where campaigns do not guarantee sales and therefore involve risk, a seller ONLY pays when a prospect converts into a sale.
As a blogger this can be a far more lucrative way to make money than by selling advertising on your blog. Because a sale is quantifiable and there’s less risk to the seller, affiliate commissions tend to be higher than making money through ads.
How Do Bloggers Make Money with Affiliate Marketing?
As I mentioned above, as an affiliate the visitors you send to a seller are tracked and identifiable as a referral you sent. Whenever a referral converts into a sale, the seller pays you a commision.
It’s important to determine what that means, since a sale could effectively be one of several things. It could be the sale of a physical product or service, however it could also be a pre-qualified lead or sign-up.
The affiliate program you join determines the type of conversion they’re looking for and the value of that conversion to them. This could be a fixed fee or a percentage of the total sale.
Why Do Affiliate Programs Pay More Than Advertising?
I touched on this above… the main reason is risk.
Take Google Ads, the system behind Google AdSense, which many bloggers use to monetize their blogs. With AdSense, you earn money either from the number of ad impressions your pages generate or the number of times the ads on your pages get clicked.
Ads appearing on blogs in Google’s content network may not be that targeted or relevant to the people that see them. As a result there is more risk for the advertiser since the potential for a visitor from an ad click to convert to a sale is often unknown.
Where there is more risk for an advertiser, the payment to the content publisher will decrease as a result. Because of this, you usually need thousands of visitors to your blog to make a decent income with ads.
By contrast, affiliate commissions involve less risk to advertisers because commissions only ever accrue at the point of sale. The cost for each conversion is known in advance: affiliate program advertisers understand their margins and determine what they are prepared to pay as an affiliate commission for a sale.
The basic rule is, that if an advertising medium involves more risk to the advertiser, the payments you can expect will be lower.
Setting Up Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers
I’ll deliver this part in steps, starting with setting up your blog and finishing up with tools to help you optimize your affiliate marketing efforts using WordPress.
If you already have a blog you can skip the first step about setting up your blog and move straight to Step 2 – Signing up to Affiliate Programs.
1. Set Up Your Blog
It’s an obvious place to start, but given I’m discussing affiliate marketing specifically for bloggers in this post, you’ll need to have a blog!
I’ve covered this in extreme detail before so I won’t replicate it in it’s entirety here and now. Instead I’ll give you the basics:
Choose a Niche
If you know what you want to blog about, then you’ve already decided your niche. If you don’t yet know, think about:
- What your motivations are.
- What you know about.
- What you enjoy.
I don’t subscribe to the view that you just need passion. In fact it make’s me nauseous whenever I hear people saying you “just need to follow your passions” as if that’s all that’s required.
There is some truth in this because It’s tough to write about anything in which you’re not invested. Believe me… it takes a lot more than passion to get you out of bed every morning to work on your blog if it doesn’t seem to be making any progress.
You will need passion, but it’s not the only thing that’s going to get you through. So if you can blog about something you enjoy, then that’s a big plus.
If you want to run a blog to make money (we are talking about affiliate marketing here after all) you’ll need to find a profitable niche in which it will be possible to do so. You might be uber passionate about bobby pins, but I’ll eat my hat if you can blog about that subject for 3 years and:
- Maintain your “passion” to write about them throughout.
- Find lots of interesting and unique ideas to write 2 to 3 blog posts per week on the subject.
- Make any substantial money doing so.
The niche you choose has to present you with enough ideas to make your content engaging to readers and offer lots of affiliate products for you to be able to market as a blogger.
There may be some opportunities for you to up-sell hair products in the bobby pin niche, but you’d need to extend your blog post ideas to be able to take advantage of them. Being really niche is great as long as there are affiliate programs to support what you’re blogging about.
Register Your Domain Name
You’ve thought of a niche, now you need to buy a domain for your blog.
Choosing a domain name that rocks (i.e. memorable, explains what you’re all about and is actually available to buy) is no mean feat and it can take you some time to figure out. When you’ve thought of a domain name and found it’s available, dong hang around… register it asap!
I register practically all my domain with Namecheap and have done for around 15 years. I’ve always found domains from Namecheap are reasonably priced and the process of purchasing and setting up my domains is very simple.
My recommendation is to buy a domain with a “.com” extension (these seem more prestigious) and register it for as long as you can afford. If you’re really committed to starting a blog, this is a statement of intent!
Choose A Host & Blogging Platform
You can start a blog for free, but I’d recommend paying for hosting so you can run a “grown up” blog! There are too many advantages to running a self-hosting blog to list here, but take it from me in the long run it’ll be better for your chances to grow visitors.
I currently use SiteGround for hosting as it offers incredible value, oodles of storage and very fast servers. Read my SiteGround review to find out the details.
In terms of blogging platforms, my preference is WordPress: in my opinion it’s hands down the best blogging platform around. Not only does it have many powerful features out of the box, but also there are thousands of extensions and plugins to help make it do even more.
Yes it does present a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it you’ll never look back.
The SideGains blog is built with WordPress and I use it for practically all the blogs I ever build now, including client sites. I recommend you use nothing else.
If you want to know more deciding on a niche, choosing a domain name, hosting, WordPress and WAY more, check out this post:
How to Start a Blog in 16 Simple Steps
2. Sign up to Affiliate Programs
To promote affiliate products, the simplest way is to join an affiliate network. Affiliate networks are agencies that manage the relationship between merchants promoting affiliate programs and people like you, the affiliate.
To join an affiliate network you have to register and apply for an affiliate account. You’ll need to supply certain information about yourself, your blog and how you plan to market affiliate products during the process, and the network will decide if you’re a good fit.
Once you’ve been accepted into the affiliate network, you then have to apply and be approved for specific merchant programs before you can promote them and expect payment for any sales you generate.
There are dozens of networks you can join, but here are some I recommend. These are some of the most reliable networks around and they have thousands of merchants and affiliate products to choose from:
How Are Blogger’s Affiliate Marketing Commissions Tracked?
When you’ve been accepted into an affiliate program offered by a merchant, you’ll have access to a series of creatives: banners, videos and text links that you can use in your blog posts to drive traffic to them.
These creatives contain a special link that includes your affiliate ID.
This ID uniquely identifies you and the visitors you send to the merchants whose products / services you promote. Anytime anyone uses your link and buys something from the merchant site, the sale is attributed to you and a commission assigned.
You can look in your affiliate network accounts and run reports against all the programs you belong to and see all the tracked visits you’ve sent and any commissions you’ve earned as a result.
It’s as simple as that!
3. Finding Affiliate Products to Promote On Your Blog
Since you’ll be blogging in a certain niche it makes sense to look for products to promote that people visiting your blog will likely be interested to hear about. It is possible to add any affiliate product of course, but the less relevant the products are to your reader, the less likely you’ll generate affiliate sales.
The relevancy of your affiliate products to your readership has a huge bearing on how successful you’ll be as an affiliate marketer.
Perhaps the best place to start looking for products is by browsing through the affiliate networks you belong to and searching for products / services you already use. You’ll likely have a good feel for these products and understand the pros and cons about them.
Since you know these products you’d be well placed to write reviews for them from your own experience. This is important because it’s hard to promote something you’ve never used.
If you can’t find the particular product or service in the networks you belong to, run a search in Google for them along with the term “affiliate program”. If they have an affiliate program, you might find more details about how and where you can apply to it on their website.
You might also choose to “spy” on other bloggers in your niche and look for the products they’re promoting. When you find some check if:
- The product has an affiliate program bloggers can join.
- There is a trial version of the product you can test.
Once you’ve tested a product, you’ll be in a position to review it and if you can join the affiliate program for it, your review can include your affiliate links.
4. Optimizing Your Blog Content for Affiliate Marketing
When you’re ready to start being a fully-fledged affiliate marketing blogger, you’re going to need to create blog content to start promoting.
I’ve touched upon reviews already. Reviews are a great way to introduce affiliate products to your readership. You test the product out, assess the benefits and drawbacks and present your findings.
Many people are looking for a shortcut to making a buying decision. They want to understand if a product is right for them and avoid making a mistake. Hence product reviews are useful… but only if they feel reliable.
How do you deliver a reliable review?
You have to know what you’re talking about and write about a product objectively. Most people are aware that bloggers make money from affiliate sales and so they understand there’s a potential conflict of interest… and this might mean your are an unreliable source.
So what does this mean for affiliate marketing bloggers?
It means you have to really understand the benefits of a product and how it can solve particular problems a potential buyer might have. Ergo, you need to know the product yourself.
When you write a product review, make sure you’ve used it. How can your affiliate product review be reliable if you’ve never used it yourself?
Furthermore, people understand the world is not perfect. So hitting people over the head with only the positive aspects will not play out as something real. People expect product reviews to highlight not only the benefits but also the drawbacks.
This doesn’t mean the product you’re reviewing will not be attractive, it just helps people determine whether they can live with the drawbacks for the benefits they get.
As a part of the decision making process, many people shortlist products they feel have potential to provide the solution they’re looking for.
They’ll want to know which of the products on their list is the right choice for them. This is where a product A vs. product B type comparison can be powerful.
Product comparisons place the pros and cons of two or more products next to one another and give the reader a clear guide on how they stack up. This can provide a decision “push” when the potential buyer is near the bottom of the purchasing funnel.
You might consider doing product comparisons instead of single product reviews, since your reader may be seriously considering multiple items. A comparison piece may give you a greater chance of securing an affiliate sale, since your reader may make a decision to purchase one of the products you’re comparing there and then instead of bouncing back to another site to make a purchase.
For a belt and braces approach, why not write a product review AND a product comparison for your affiliate products?
You could build links into your product comparisons and drive visitors to more detailed product reviews for each product you reference.
Product Review & Comparison Guidelines for Bloggers
In general, your product reviews and product comparisons should include the following.
Video / Images
It’s vital to include visual cues in your affiliate product reviews to help potential buyers engage with the product and make your content more appealing.
A detailed explanation of the product, what it does, how well it does it, the benefits and drawbacks. Readers will want to know what they’ll get from the product if they buy it right now. Include you personal experiences here.
Be sure to include an explanation of who the affiliate product will benefit, since your readers will want to know if it’s the right one for them.
Provide evidence that you’ve used the product and that it provided a solution to your needs. Use screenshots or video and explain in your own words what the product delivers or doesn’t deliver. Remember… people might not trust you’ve even seen the product let alone used it. You have to provide evidence that you speak from experience.
Readers will not trust your affiliate product review unless you point out the negatives. How can any review be considered objective if it doesn’t acknowledge shortcomings? If your review doesn’t feel objective, it will increase doubt in your credibility.
It’s a seemingly small thing, but people need a call-to-action! Tell your readers what they need to do next in order to encourage them to take action. Adding buttons to encourage a click through to the merchant site can mean the difference between a sale and a bounce.
Regular Blog Posts
Your regular blog posts present you with multiple opportunities to drop links to any affiliate product you mention.
While it may not be as powerful a way to generate affiliate sales as a review or comparison piece, not including affiliate links is a lost opportunity. The affiliate links I add into my posts regularly attract clicks and have generated sales.
You should also include banner creatives in your blog posts, especially where the products relate to the content on the page.
As with adding affiliate links, affiliate banners will likely not be as engaging as reviews since the reader is possibly not actively looking to purchase a product. However, the more relevant the affiliate banner is to the subject you’re discussing, the more likely it is that you’ll encourage a click through to the merchant site.
Are you collecting email addresses from your visitors? If you’re not you’re missing an affiliate marketing opportunity.
Building a newsletter list is a direct route to your readers’ inboxes.
Rather than relying on people remembering to return to your blog to see what’s new, you should actively work on sending regular newsletters to entice them back.
Your newsletter may contain affiliate links or they might simply drive subscribers to your blog posts, in which you present your affiliate offers. As such, newsletters are a super-important part of the affiliate marketing process for bloggers.
If you don’t yet use software to build a subscriber list, you can sign up for a free account to get you started. Examples might be:
5. Affiliate Marketing Plugins for WordPress Bloggers
Customer Sidebars – Dynamic Widget Area Manager
You’ll likely want to use your WordPress sidebar to place some ads, as supplied by the affiliate programs you join. The basic out-of-the-box sidebar will likely be sufficient to get you started. However a plugin will provide functionality over and above the default WordPress sidebar function.
Custom Sidebars – The Dynamic Widget Area Manager enables you to display custom widgets anywhere on your WordPress blog. This means you can add sidebars that contain content relevant affiliate display ads to your blog posts. This makes it more likely they’ll be clicked.
MonsterInsights is perhaps one of the most popular plugins to analyze what your visitors do when they hit your blog. This is a paid plugin that hooks up Google Analytics to WordPress. It’ll handle putting the Google Analytics tracking code on your blog posts and pull your GA data into WordPress itself.
When you activate it, you’ll be able to understand where you’re visitors have come from, the journey they take when they land on your blog and how they interact with your affiliate links.
MonsterInsights won’t help to generate more affiliate sales for you, but it will put all your Google Analytics data into WordPress to make it easier to see what’s working and what’s not.
For most bloggers, affiliate marketing is a potential goldmine. Having said this it’s a long-term game that’ll take time to build.
The main thing you’ll need to generate decent incomes is traffic. You’ll need lots of it to give your affiliate marketing efforts a chance to generate sales.
You’ll either build this traffic over time through social media activity and organic traffic or you’ll have to pay for advertising to drive traffic fast.
Either way there’s a cost: your time or your money.
Focus upon building high-quality content and always be on the lookout for opportunities to add affiliate offers to all your exisiting and new content.
That’s it for now… good luck!
Do you have specific tips on affiliate marketing for bloggers? Leave a comment below and share the love!
Excellent job paul. I have a question for you. How can I get Traffic to my blog. I created a blog after reading your blogpost. But I am struggling to get traffic.
Can you help me?
Hi Nitin… and thanks for your comment.
I guess the one piece of advice I can give is to be patient. It takes time (and a lot of it) to grow traffic to your blog. You’ll also need lots of high-quality content and authoritative backlinks to start seeing traffic from search engines… so start publishing posts regularly and look for opportunities to build links.
Many people I know also drive traffic from social media channels like Twitter… but again you’ll need to invest time in tweeting and engaging with others’ to build a following and ultimately drive traffic.
Keep at it and let me know if you need any other tips!
I wish you the best of luck.
James Pierce says
Very good introduction to affiliate marketing, Paul! It’s good that you pointed out how passion alone is not enough. As a matter of fact, even if you blog about your passion, when you see no results that passion can quickly fade.
Doing keyword research and market research beforehand ensure that you’ll target a profitable niche without too much competition. You and I are both in a very competitive niche and if it were my very first blog, I don’t think I could push through.
Starting in an easy niche is vital. And you can earn a full-time income in even the smallest of niches once you master the blogging & affiliate marketing combo.
One small question: In your section about affiliate networks, is there a reason why you didn’t mention ClickBank? Just curious!
Thanks James. No reason for not mentioning ClickBank… I just wanted to provide a few examples rather than a massive list!