A while back I posted My Approach to Monetization after I had been doing a lot of experimentation on various projects and for the most part it was well received, after I had posted this I ran across ProBlogger’s 10 tips for using affiliate programs, and I was amazed that I had a few of the same ideas. Now, keep in mind that I don’t consider myself to be an “expert” on anything because personally I hate that title, I have however been in this industry a long time but I continue to learn something new on a daily basis. I am leery of those that proclaim to know it all when it comes to the web because the web is such a dynamic animal, and it changes everyday…
I find myself consulting with more and more bloggers these days that are hoping to one day build up a following that will allow them to one day quit their day job. In most cases, Affiliate Marketing somehow plays into their dream somewhere, and far be it for me to to be the bearer of bad news, but in a lot of cases it’s harder to build sustainable income from blogging than it looks, but not impossible.
One of the things that really gets under my skin are the motivational materials that are out there teaching everyone how to quit their day job and start blogging for fun and profits, you’ve seen them. Most of the time these guys are just doing their best to get you to buy their books. Of course there are some real success stories out there, just Google ShoeMoney or ProBlogger and see what they have been able to do.
There are some things that these guys, the real experts, have in common and you have to figure them out on your own if you are going to be successful. Both have their own individual styles of course, but there are key ingredients that I think a successful blogger has to have. One positive thing is that both of these guys are willing to give back what they have learned over the years, here’s another example:
Darren’s first 10 tips, followed by 6 more that he added today…
1. Consider your Audience
It almost goes without saying – but it’s worth putting yourself in your readers shoes and consider what they might be looking for as they surf by your blog. Are they shopping for specific products? Might they be looking for related products or accessories? What would trigger them to purchase? Start with your reader in mind rather than the product. If you take this approach you could end up doing your reader a favor as well as making a few dollars on the side.
2. Genuine Recommendations and personal endorsements always work best
There are literally hundreds of thousands of products and services for you to choose from to recommend to your blog’s readers but making money from them is not as simple as randomly adding links to them from your blog. Your blog’s readers come back to your blog day after day because something about you resonates with them – they have at least some level of trust and respect for you and perhaps the quickest way to destroy this is to recommend that they buy something that you don’t fully believe will benefit them.
The best results I’ve had from affiliate programs are where I give an open and honest appraisal of the product – including both it’s strengths and weaknesses. The most successful affiliate program I’m involved with here at ProBlogger is Joel Comm’s e-book which I reviewed here. If you read the review you’ll see that I not only tell readers who I believe the book is for but I also mention those it is NOT for. In a sense I critique it. On a surface level one might think that this wasn’t a wise move and that I should have given a glowing review – however the sales that I’ve had through the program have proven otherwise. People want to know what they are buying first and even if they know a product has limitations they will buy it if it meets their particular need.
3. Link to Quality Products
We all like to make sure we’re buying the best products money can buy – your readers are no different to this and are more likely to make a purchase if you’ve found them the best product for them. Choose products and companies with good reputations and quality sales pages. There is nothing worse than giving a glowing review of a product only to send your reader to a page that looks cheap and nasty.
4. Contextual Deep Links work Best
When I started using the Amazon Associate Program I naively thought that all I had to do was put an Amazon banner ad (that linked to Amazon’s front page) at the top of my blog. I thought that my readers would see it and surf over to Amazon and buy up big – thereby making me a rich man. Nothing could have been further from reality – I was deluding myself.
I always says to bloggers that I’m consulting with that they should learn something from contextual advertising when it comes to affiliate programs. The secret of contextual ads like Adsense is that a reader is reading a post on a particular topic on your blog and when they see an advertisement for that same product they are more likely to click it than if they saw an ad for something else. The same is true for affiliate programs. A banner to a general page on every page on your site won’t be anywhere near as effective as multiple links throughout your blog that advertiser products that are relevant for readers reading particular parts of your blog.
So if you’re writing a blog about MP3 players and have a review for a particular product – the most effectively affiliate program that you could link to from within the content of that page would be one that links directly to a page selling that specific model of MP3 player. This is how I use the Amazon program today. It is more work than contextual advertising because you’re not just putting one piece of code into a template but rather need to place individual links on many pages – but I find that it’s been worth the effort.
5. Consider positioning of links
One of the things I go on and on about with Adsense optimization is the positioning of ads. I tell bloggers to position their ads in the hotspots on pages (like the top of a left hand side bar – or inside content – or at the end of posts above comments etc). The same principles are true for affiliate advertising.
6. Traffic levels are Important
While it’s not the only factor – traffic levels are obviously key when it comes to making money from almost any online activity. The more people that see your well placed, relevant and well designed affiliate links the more likely it is that one of them will make a purchase. So don’t just work on your links – work on building a readership. Not only this, consider how you might direct traffic on your blog toward pages where they are more likely to see your affiliate links.
7. Diversify without Clutter
Don’t put all your affiliate efforts into one basket. There are plenty of products out there to link to so there is no need to just work on one. At the same time you shouldn’t clutter your blog up with too many affiliate program links. If you do so you run the risk of diluting the effectiveness of your links and could disillusion your readership.
8. Be Transparent
Don’t try to fool your readers into clicking links that could make you money. While it may not always feasible to label all affiliate links I think some attempt should be made to let people know what type of link they are clicking on. I also think consistency is important with this so readers of your blog know what to expect. For example here at ProBlogger usually put a note beside or under affiliate links to simply let readers know that that is what they are. On my Digital Camera Blog I don’t do this because of the large number of such links make it clear by the text around the link that clicking on it will take them to some sort of shop or information where a purchase is possible (ie a link my say ‘buy the XXX product’ or ‘get the latest product on XXX’.
9. Combine with other Revenue Streams
Affiliate programs and advertising programs are not mutually exclusive things. I’ve come across a few people recently who have said they don’t want to do affiliate linking because it will take the focus off their Adsense ads. While there is potential for one to take the focus off the other – there is also real potential for both to work hand in hand as different readers will respond to different approaches. You should consider the impact that your affiliate links have on other revenue streams – but don’t let one stop the other.
10. Track results
Most affiliate programs have at least some type of tracking or statistics package which will allow you to watch which links are effective. Some of these packages are better than others but most will at least allow you to see what is selling and what isn’t. Watching your results can help you plan future affiliate efforts. Keep track of what positions for links work well, which products sell, what wording around links works well etc and use the information that you collect as you work plan future affiliate strategies.
Well, today I was reading 6 more tips that Darren had posted on his blog, and here they are:
11. Build Your Network Before You Need It
Perhaps the biggest thing that I’ve learned about affiliate marketing is that it works best the bigger and stronger your network is. I mentioned in my first list that ‘traffic levels are important’ – this is true, but connected to it is your ‘network’.
Whether it be loyal blog readers and subscribers, your email list, your Twitter connections, your Facebook friends or some other social network – the better your network the better you’ll do at driving affiliate sales.
It’s not just about size – the size of your network is only part of what I’m talking about here. Also important is the depth of relationship that you have with your network/readers and the amount of trust that they have in you. If you have consistently helped people and been useful to them over a long time they’re probably more likely to respond to your recommendations.
Relevancy/Focus counts – The other key part of your network is how relevant it is and how focused it is upon the topic that you’re doing promotions on. For example – I see some people on Twitter running competitions to build their follower numbers in a way that just brings in any follower that they can. The problem with this is that they end up with a large but unfocused network. I personally would rather have a smaller network who all shared the one interest than a large one who just signed up to get a prize.
Lastly, a network takes time to build – if you think you’ll be doing some affiliate marketing at some point in the future – start building your network now, before you need it. This gives you time to build the depth of relationships, trust and focus of your network before you begin promoting affiliate products.
12. Try different Mediums
I’ve alluded to this above already but one of the things that I’ve noticed over the last few years is promotions work differently on different mediums.
For example: some affiliate promotions seem to convert best in a blog post, others work best when you send an email to a list you’ve been building while others seem to take off on Twitter or other social media sites.
The key is to try different approaches, to have build up your network before you need it (see above) and to track the results for each promotion so you can check what is and isn’t converting.
13. Multiple Promotions of the same Product
I spoke about this at Blog World Expo last year in a session but don’t think I’ve written about it here at ProBlogger. Here’s what I’ve found:
If you write a single blog post promoting an affiliate product you’ll have a certain percentage of readers buy the product (the % varies a lot). If you are able to follow that up with a different type of post a few days later it can reinforce the promotion.
Here’s how I’ve done it on my photography blog:
- Blog Post 1 – a post announcing a new product, giving some benefits, sharing who the product is relevant for etc.
- Blog Post 2 – a post a few days later that is an interview with the person behind the product – exploring why they made it, expanding upon what it includes, who it’s for and giving the product context. I’d try to also include some tips or suggestions for readers who don’t buy the product in such an interview so it is a useful post for everyone.
- Email List – later in the week email out the subscriber list linking to the previous posts and reinforcing the promotion.
- Tweets/Followups – I would also include a few Tweets about the promotion through the week and would consider a 3rd blog post a week later – perhaps some reader reviews of the product.
The key is to not spam your network but to find interesting and useful ways to draw attention to the product multiple times over a week or two so as to reinforce it and give those who take a little longer to make a decision the opportunity to get the product.
14. Bonuses Work
There are many techniques that internet marketers use to increase sales of their products. I find some a little ‘cheap’ and ‘nasty’ but many do work. Two that I’ve found less offensive and/or manipulative are where you add value to the affiliate promotion by either adding a bonus of your own to the offer and/or getting the person behind the product to offer a bonus or discount just for your readers. I’ve done this a number of times on my blogs and have found that conversions are significantly higher.
15. It takes Time
A theme that regular readers of ProBlogger will recognize is that making money from blogs (through any method) takes time. While an affiliate program does have the potential to make you a lot of money very quickly – it almost always comes after a lot of work and once you’ve spent a lot of time and effort building out your network.
The early days of building your network may see very little (if any) results. I personally earned very little from affiliate marketing in my first year or two of blogging but as I mentioned above in the last year or two it’s really begun to exponentially increase – partly as a result of getting smarter with my promotions but partly just as my network grew in size and quality.
16. Timing is Important
One of the things I’ve learned over the last week of launching my own product is just how much difference there can be in the rate of sales at different times of the day and week. It would vary depending upon the location of most of a blog’s readers but for me sales have been significantly up during business hours in the USA and on weekdays. No real surprises there.
The lesson translates to promoting products – unless the product has a real focus upon the type of people surfing the web on the weekends or late at night you’ll want to time your promotions to those times of the weeks that your audience is online. Similarly – avoid public holidays – this last week even though we launched the workbook 3 days after Memorial Day in the US I suspect we lost a few sales as some people took the week off.
Disclaimer: I don’t usually reference affiliate marketing experts unless in my opinion they are truly experts, Darren Rowse fits into that category as an expert in my opinion…