A common way to make money online is through affiliate marketing. As of this writing, affiliate marketing is my largest income stream. But what is affiliate marketing? Let’s back up one step…
How to really make money online
There are essentially two ways to make money online:
- Sell your own stuff.
- Sell or promote someone else’s stuff and get paid for doing it.
In this post, we’ll tackle affiliate marketing which falls under #2. (If you want to sell your own stuff, I recommend starting with an ebook.) Note there are affiliate links in this post.
The 3 basic steps in affiliate marketing
- You recommend a product or service to people (your followers or people you know).
- Some of those people purchase the product or service based on your recommendation.
- You get paid a commission for those purchases.
That’s it. Simple, right?
How does affiliate marketing work?
- You have a blog, website, email list or some other online presence where people listen to what you have to say. (If you want a blog or website here are my steps to get yours up and running in 15 minutes or less).
- You partner with the company that sells a product or service you’d like to recommend. As their partner, you are their affiliate (sometimes referred to as an associate, partner, internet marketer or affiliate marketer).
- You recommend (sometimes referred to as market or promote) this product or service to your followers. You might do this by writing a post about it, placing a button or banner ad somewhere on your site, mentioning it in your email newsletter or talking about it on social media. You include a special link to the product or service so followers can check it out for themselves. But you don’t just use any link, you use your affiliate link. It contains a special number, your affiliate ID, which is unique to you.
- A follower uses your affiliate link to check out the product or service and they decide to purchase it.
- When their purchase is complete, you earn a commission.
- You receive a payout of your accumulated earnings after a specified period of time, or when your earnings reach a certain threshold ($100 is common).
Six important things to remember before you become an affiliate
- Always tell your readers when you are using affiliate links. Read my post Are You Disclosing Properly? for more.
- Choose only products or services you can recommend without reservation. Seek out the best. Products or services you’ve used yourself are great since you can speak from experience.
- Note that you can become an affiliate for large companies once, and then promote any of their products. For example, you can become an affiliate with Amazon (“Amazon Associate”) once and promote any of their products.
- Choose products or services that are relevant to your niche. If your site is about children’s books and you promote car insurance, at best you’ll look like you don’t know what you’re doing and at worst, you’ll be branded a “spammer.” Once you develop a bad reputation as a spammer or an “out to make a quick buck” type of affiliate marketer, it’s incredibly difficult to go back. Start out with high standards and you’ll be fine. Simply put, promoting bad stuff makes you look bad and will hurt you in the long run.
- Look around for the best affiliate deal. My friend Carrie tipped me off to this and after searching around, I realized one of my affiliates paid almost 30% more if I went through a different network.
- Experiment, experiment, experiment! Experiment with different networks, types of content, ad sizes, text links vs. images, placement on your page, etc. Sometimes there are vast differences in revenue when small changes are made.
- Always know the Terms of Service for the programs in which you are participating. For example, some programs do not allow you to include affiliate links in emails like Amazon Associates (this even includes links in posts that get sent to subscribers via email).
Four ways to find affiliate products or services to promote
When you’re looking for things to promote, be creative. Every product or service you use and love might very well be affiliate-worthy. Here are some ways to find out whether or not there’s an affiliate program attached to the things you talk about and use:
- Think of a product or service you already like and go to the website of said product. Look for a link (often in the footer) that says “Affiliates,” “Affiliate Program,” “Referral Program” or something similar. Follow the links to sign up.
- Search for terms like “[product] affiliate program.” For example, “Target affiliate program.” If your first search doesn’t turn up anything, try again. Don’t give up too easily. Sometimes there are slight variances in word usage or terms.
- Take note of the affiliate products others in your niche are using. Look at their sites. Read their posts. What’s in their sidebar? What are they linking to? If you see a product or service they talk about that jogs your memory and you can ethically promote it too, find affiliate information by the methods described above.
- Another way to find things to promote is to join an affiliate network and browse through their available campaigns. In fact, many companies offer their affiliate program via an affiliate network, so many times as you are searching for possible products to promote, you will have to join an affiliate network anyway. This will often work to your advantage since you’ll have access to a lot more products, all in one fell swoop. Like this…
What is an affiliate network?
An affiliate network works like this:
- An affiliate network is like a middleman. They provide a place where advertisers (i.e. companies that have products or services to sell, sometimes called “vendors”) are matched up with publishers (i.e. you, the blogger or website owner; also referred to as “affiliates”).
- Advertisers approach an affiliate network and say, “We will reward any of your publishers $XX who promote Product X and it results in a sale.”
- If in agreement, the network lists that campaign (or offer) on their website.
- Once you, the publisher, join an affiliate network you can log in and see the available “Campaigns,” “Offers,” or “Marketplace” to promote. Sometimes you have to apply to be part of the specific campaign for that product, sometimes you don’t; it depends on the affiliate network and advertiser.
- Once you are cleared to promote a particular product and you understand the terms for that campaign, you look through the list of available buttons, banners, text links, etc. for that product. You choose the one that you like most and copy the code they provide for you. This code has your unique ID in it. Use this link when promoting the product.
Affiliate networks are nice for advertisers because the advertisers don’t have to run the affiliate program themselves. Affiliate networks are nice for publishers because it’s like one-stop shopping and they don’t have to hunt for individual programs. Of course, affiliate networks are nice for the affiliate networks because they are acting as middlemen and getting a piece of the profit pie.
What are some affiliate networks you can join?
There are many affiliate networks. Many are easy to join. Some require you to apply. Some are by invitation only. Different affiliate networks provide different products so you’ll want to hunt around to find the one(s) that are the best fit for you.
Here are some affiliate networks I am a part of, along with a sampling of the types of products, services or campaigns they offer:
- ShareASale – A large network offering such things like Genesis Theme for WordPress (my favorite!! and if you use Genesis, you might as well make that link in your footer an affiliate link, right?). Sign up for ShareASale here. Use the Product Discovery Bookmarklet Tool to make linking to products easier.
- Escalate Network – Another network similar to Logical Media (good for families) offering many of the same things. Sign up with Escalate Network here.
- Commission Junction – This is a HUGE affiliate network with a bazillion affiliate programs such as Moo Cards (super cute business cards) and Bluehost & HostGator (web hosting). Sign up as an affiliate with Commission Junction here.
- Amazon Associates – Who doesn’t love Amazon and the fact that you can get almost anything there? (Plus, it’s a handy place to spend all those Swagbucks gift cards!) Of course, they have much more than books like a Kindle, or even computers like Macs (be still my heart), Pirate’s Booty (we’ve been known to buy these by the case) and textbooks (stop here before the college bookstore!). Sign up with Amazon Associates here.
PPC, CPM, CPA…huh?
When we’re talking about ads and affiliate links, there are different types of ads. Sometimes, getting paid depends on which type of ad your site has. You will inevitably encounter a whole host of acronyms as you delve into the world of making money online.
CPA = Cost-Per-Action (sometimes referred to as CPL = Cost-Per-Lead)
Much of what I talked about previously would fall into this category. It works like this:
- You put a CPA ad on your site. A reader clicks on it and is asked to complete some sort of action such as purchasing a product, signing up for a newsletter, providing an email address, printing a coupon or subscribing to something. You get paid when the reader completes the required action.
PPC = Pay-Per-Click (PPC)
Pay-Per-Click is different. As the name suggests, Pay-Per-Click works like this:
- Each time one of your readers clicks on a PPC ad on your site, you get paid. The amount you are paid (CPC, or, the Cost-Per-Click) largely depends on your keywords and how much advertisers are paying for those keywords.
The most popular PPC program is Google Adsense which is a cinch to set up and use. You simply sign up, walk through the setup process and paste the provided snippet of code onto your site. That’s pretty much all that’s required from you. Google will then “read” your site, match the keywords it finds in your posts with advertisers that want to target those keywords and then ads will automatically pop up on your site accordingly.
CPM = Cost-Per-Mille or Cost-Per-Impression (sometimes CPI)
The “mille” here is Latin for 1000 and “M” is the Roman numeral for the same. So, some refer to this as Cost-Per-Thousand—thousand impressions or pageviews that is. It works like this:
- You put an ad on your site and you get paid a predetermined amount for every 1000 pageviews on your site. So for example, let’s say you are working with an ad network that pays $2 CPM. Every time their ad is shown 1000 times on your site, they pay you $2. Pretend your site gets 50,000 pageviews a month (and a particular ad shows up on every one of those pages). That means you will be paid $100 that month for that ad because $2 for 50 thousands (times it is “viewed”) is $100. Make sense?
When is PPC, CPM & CPA right for me?
Perhaps it’s obvious, but all of these advertising options work best for sites with high traffic since they are all dependent on lots of eyeballs seeing the ads and either clicking or completing actions.
Having said that, don’t be discouraged. My recommendation is to try all kinds and see which works best for you. All blogs are different and all bloggers have different levels of success when it comes to the types of ads they use.
What if I don’t have a lot of traffic?
Well, you have a few options:
- Increase your traffic.
- Diversify. Use PPC, CPM and CPA ads as one of your many streams of income. Even if you don’t get a whole lot of money, a little is better than none. There’s nothing that says you can’t start advertising now, even if your traffic isn’t huge. In fact, it might be even better so you can work the kinks out of your system while your blog is still small.
- Do some research and find the campaigns that pay the most. For example, some CPC ads pay $.05 per click while others pay $10 per click. If you capitalize on the bigger ones, you’ll obviously make more.
How do I maximize my profit from affiliate marketing?
I hate to sound like a broken record, but again, it’s all going to be unique to you and your blog. But if you’re stumped and truly aren’t sure where to start, take a look at the bigger blogs in your niche. How are they utilizing advertising? What types of ads do they use? Where are they placed on the page?
Ask around. In my experience, if you establish a good relationship with other bloggers (and especially if you are giving more than you are taking in that relationship), over time, most are more than willing to share tips and hints about what has and has not worked for them.