Let me get straight to the point.
If you’re a blogger, and especially if you’re a new blogger, the best way to monetize your blog is through affiliate marketing.
If you’re new to affiliate marketing or have never heard of affiliate marketing, well, hold tight because I’m about to give you all the deets on the best and the fastest way to monetize your blog! And while we’re at it, you may want to bookmark this post so you can easily come back to it in the future as needed.
Without further adieu, let us jump in!
Affiliate Marketing: The Basics
Let’s first start with some definitions and terminologies.
What the heck is Affiliate Marketing anyway?
It is, in my humble opinion, the best monetization model for bloggers of all levels, but especially those who’re just starting out.
In short, affiliate marketing is introducing, promoting and referring products and/or services by companies or individuals you trust to your audience, and earn a commission if and when your referral converts into a sale.
What’s so special about it?
Well, you see, out of all the blog monetization techniques you can possibly think of (such as offering services yourself, creating and selling courses, digital products or physical products, selling ads, what have you), affiliate marketing is by far the easiest to run with and actually make a significant sum of money when done right.
Let’s just say that it’s the easiest avenue to generate revenue in a hundred percent passive way!
There’s no pressure on you to make something yourself, you are not responsible for providing customer support, or collecting payment from individual buyers. All you have to do is introduce and promote, and direct your audience to the product or service you’re an affiliate for. If someone you refer ends up buying the said product or service, you get paid. It may be a percentage of the cost of the product or service, or it may be a fixed amount set by the company or individual. Pretty easy, right?
As I mentioned, it is a great way to create a passive income stream for all bloggers. But especially so for newbies because new bloggers likely have no product of their own to sell. But with affiliate marketing, they can start selling from day-1.
The challenge is, of course, getting people to buy. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Great, but how does this actually work?
The basic idea is simple. You mention a product (or service, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll continue to say ‘product’ here on forth) and link it to the website from where people — your audience — can purchase the product.
The link here is key. It’s called an “affiliate link”. This link is unique to all affiliates and it is how merchants (companies or individuals) know where the referral came from. The merchant provides you with this unique link at the time you sign up to be an affiliate.
If someone clicks on that link, a cookie is placed on their browser, and if they make a purchase, the merchant knows to reward you for the referral.
For example, In the post where I show you how to set up a self-hosted WordPress blog, I also mention who my favorite hosting company is. As a matter of fact, I’m an affiliate of this hosting company. So, in the post mentioned above, there were several places where I mentioned the name of this company, and in a few places, I linked the name to the hosting company site where my readers can go and purchase a hosting plan (as you can see below).
And that’s it. It’s as simple as that! When one of my readers clicks on that link and subsequently makes a purchase, I make a commission off of that sale, paid to me by the hosting company itself, and at zero additional cost to my reader.
There are some etiquettes to mentioning an affiliate product, and I’ll be discussing them shortly, so keep reading!
Can we go over the terminologies first?
Of course! Let’s see…
Affiliate: The one promoting the merchant’s product, in this case, the blogger. An affiliate may also be referred to as a “partner”.
Merchant: The company or individual whose products and/or services you’re promoting.
Commission: The pre-determined amount set up by the merchant to be paid when a referral turns into a sale.
Affiliate link: A unique, trackable link provided by the merchant to the affiliate. This link is key to affiliate marketing as this is how merchants verify that a lead came from a certain affiliate. Typically, you’ll be provided with this link when you sign up to be an affiliate for the merchant.
Affiliate program: It’s a program set up by merchants, also sometimes referred to as a “partner program”. This program is through which all affiliate marketing parameters are set up, such as commission rates, payment schedules, and all other rules and specificities. Affiliate program parameters vary from merchant to merchant.
Affiliate network: Often some companies will have set up their own affiliate program and manage the program themselves. However, some other companies may decide to use a third party to manage their affiliate programs. This third party is typically in charge of managing several affiliate programs by different merchants, and referred to as an “affiliate network”. You may think of an affiliate network as a marketplace where merchants list their programs, and you can go and choose which ones you want to be an affiliate for.
The Best Time to Start Affiliate Marketing is…
As early as blog launch day. And as late as… anytime you want. It’s never too late to start.
And that’s the beauty of affiliate marketing.
However, do keep in mind that just because you can start linking to your affiliate products from day-1, doesn’t mean you’ll start making money from day-1. Essentially, selling anything requires an amount of trust between the seller (you), and the buyer (your readers). A brand new blogger, therefore, cannot just expect to start making money right away. You need to put in some work first to build a relationship of trust with your readers.
You create trust by creating amazing content and by providing as much value as possible.
Here’s the thing. Your readers are smart. If you think they’ll blindly click on an affiliate link and buy a product just because you said it’s an amazing product, well, think again.
So, why do I say that you can start on day-1? Well, because, why not? There’s no way to tell when someone will trust you enough to buy from you. Someone may trust you after reading the first blog post you’ve ever written. Someone else may need to read 20 posts before they’re fully convinced of your integrity. I made my first affiliate sale on my second month of blogging. On the third, fourth and fifth months I sold zero products. And then starting from month-six I started to sell at least a couple of products every month. This number has gradually grown since then, making my total affiliate earning close to $800 last month (April 2019), my 11th month of blogging.
Not bad for a side-blogger like me considering I only spend a few hours a week on this blog creating content and promoting.
The success of your affiliate marketing depends on the growth of your blog. The more time you spend strategically growing your blog, the faster you’ll start seeing more and more money roll in.
The key here is “strategically”. I’ll talk more about strategies shortly.
How to Become an Affiliate Marketer: New Bloggers Edition
You start a blog. You sign up for some affiliate programs. You create content around your affiliate products. You then add links to your affiliate products. You add some disclosure. You promote your content. That’s it.
Let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we?
Decide What to Sell
Many people start a blog and then wonder how to monetize the blog. In my case, however, I decided how I’ll monetize my blog before I even knew what I wanted to blog about.
The thing about affiliate marketing is that, no matter what your niche, you’ll likely find some affiliate products to market on your blog. When you decide a niche, and as you’re creating content for your launch, you could also, simultaneously, do some research on which products you’d like to promote. The decision and eventual success of your affiliate marketing endeavors will depend on being able to choose the right products.
For example, if you blog about digital photography, you probably should not be promoting, say, gardening tools. However, your readers will likely benefit from a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software. So, see if there’s a CRM software you like that’s great for photographers, and also has an affiliate program. After a little poking around, I’ve found that a tool called Freshbooks is really popular with a lot of photographers, and the affiliate program is one of the best — $55 per sale! If you can sell 20 of these every month, that’s $1,100 per month!
Pretty neat, right?
The challenge, however, is selling 20 of them. And that’s where the strategies come into play. But more about that later.
You can find more affiliate products in affiliate networks. For example, one affiliate network I like a lot is ShareASale. They have a lot of high-quality merchants that you can browse through and decide which ones may be useful to your audience.
Some merchants manage their own affiliate program. So, if you know of a company/business that you really like and know for sure that your readers will find the product(s) useful, you can always go to their website and search for an affiliate program. I often just Google “company name affiliate” to see if the company offers an affiliate program.
Another advice I have for new bloggers is this: you don’t need to sign up for a bazillion affiliate programs, at least not in the beginning. Start with a few core products that you know for sure will be popular with your reader base. And then go from there.
Last but not least, be genuine! Do not promote crappy products. You should only promote products that you have complete faith in, something you yourself have used before and loved, or at least know a lot about. If you’re not sure about a product, don’t sell it.
Apply to be An Affiliate
Most affiliate programs require you to apply to be an affiliate. The process is usually really simple but can be different from merchant to merchant.
Once your application is approved, you’ll have access to your unique affiliate link(s). Some merchants provide you with graphics and banners as well that you can use to promote the products.
Start a Blog
I always suggest that all serious bloggers should choose self-hosted WordPress as their blogging platform. It’s not only a great platform, but you can actually do things on this platform that make affiliate marketing easier.
If you need help with starting a blog, I strongly suggest you read the following blog posts:
Setting up a blog the right way is important because a well-designed, well-performing blog will help strengthen the trust between yourself and your audience. And trust = more sales!
Create Content Surrounding Your Affiliate Products
You have your blog, and you have your affiliate links. Now you have to promote the products in your blog. The best way for bloggers to do this is by creating content.
Create Content in Your Blog
Write a blog post reviewing a product, or write a detailed how-to guide or tutorial explaining how a product is used (works best when the product is a software.) The Freshbooks CRM in the earlier example is a product for which you can write a how-to guide. Explain in detail how the software needs to be set up, how certain features work, how to send clients reminds for payments and other important details, etc.
The goal is to demonstrate why a certain product is good for your audience and then convince them that using the product will significantly benefit them in whatever course they’re pursuing.
I also like adding a “Resources” page to my blog. In TSB, if you check the main navigation, you’ll see a page called “Resources”. I have listed all of my affiliate products (and more) on that page. Since I blog about blogging, the products I promote are all related to successful and productive blogging experience, and I believe all of these products are extremely useful to all bloggers, and some especially to new bloggers.
The goal is that when a potential blogger needs to find resources for starting (or improving) their blog, all they have to do is go to that resources page, and voila! Everything they need will be at their fingertip.
It’s convenient for them, and means more money for me! Win-win, right?
Mention Affiliate Products on Social Media
You can also create content in your social media, and link them to the products using your unique affiliate links. These can be shorter and more to the point content. For example, share one reason why you like a certain product, and then link to the product.
Personally, I refrain from directly using affiliate products in social media. Instead, I link to a blog post where I’ve promoted the product. This way I do not come off as super salesy.
The idea is to provide value. As a blogger, whether or not you’re promoting affiliate products, your goal should be to give away as much as possible. That’s how your readers will trust you — when they’ll see that you provide quality value.
Often, if your sales tactics come off too strong, it can be a put-off. Instead, do soft sales. Guide your readers to a blog post that will genuinely help them. And if they find your content useful, they’ll likely be more open to accepting your suggestion and buy from you.
Mention Affiliate Products in Newsletters
Newsletters are also a great way to promote your affiliate products. Often when some of the merchants I’m affiliated with have sales and discounts, I send that info along to my subscribers via a newsletter.
I also often link my promotional content in the newsletters, just like I do in social media. Instead of directly linking to the products, I direct my subscribers to my review blog posts or how-to guides and tutorials. Again, soft sales! Give value first, sell later!
To summarize, here’s the entire affiliate marketing process:
- You apply to be an affiliate.
- Merchant approves your application.
- Merchant provides you with your unique affiliate links and other promotional materials.
- You create content surrounding the products to promote them (such as product reviews, how-to guides and tutorials, a resource page, etc.)
- You add links to the affiliate products within your content.
- You can also promote these products within your newsletter or social media.
- A potentially interested party clicks on the link.
- A click to an affiliate link triggers the merchant to place a cookie in the browser of the interested party.
- When the interested party makes a purchase within the cookie lifespan, the merchant identifies the affiliate based on the unique identifier based on the cookie. (You really need not worry about this part because the merchant’s affiliate program software takes care of this.)
- You earn a commission based on a pre-determined rate. Basically, you make bank!
Legalities and Best Practices
Now, a few things you need to know about affiliate marketing to comply with the law, and certain practices that’ll make your life easy in the years to come.
Disclaimers and No-Follow
You’re required by law to let your audience know when you’re using affiliate links. I do this in a few ways. First, if you notice, at the beginning of all of my blog posts I have a disclaimer that says “This post may contain affiliate links. Please read the disclosure for more info.”
The “disclaimer” link takes them to a page where I lay out what an affiliate link is and I disclose that I earn a commission when they purchase following my affiliate links.
Typically, the wording goes something like this (feel free to add your own spin and voice, but make sure the message is clear):
“Some of the links below/The link below/Some of the links on this blog are affiliate links, meaning, if you choose to click on a link and make a purchase, I will earn a commission. This commission comes at no additional cost to you, and paid 100% by the merchant.”
I often also distinguish an affiliate link by using the word “[affiliate]” following an affiliate link. If you notice in the very first image above where I showed you an example affiliate link on my site, it appears something like this:
You’re also required to make all your affiliate links “no-follow” links. A no-follow link is one that search engines do not follow (does not pass SEO juice, so it’s good for you). Making a link no follow is simple enough. All you have to do is add a rel (relationship) tag as shown below:
<a href="link" rel="nofollow">Merchant Name</a>
Make Your Affiliate Links Pretty
Typically, affiliate links tend to be super long and ugly! However, if you’re using self-hosted WordPress as your blogging platform, then you can easily remedy this.
I love a plugin called ThirstyAffiliates for this. Using this plugin, you can clean up your affiliate links and make it into something easy to remember. Also, sometimes merchants tend to change up affiliate links. This can be a pain because then you’ll have to hunt down all the places you have used that link and change them. If you miss one, you’ll end up with a broken link.
ThirstyAffiliates helps you manage all of your affiliate links in one place. Because it used a custom link and then redirects the custom link to your actual affiliate link, all you have to do to change an affiliate link is change it in the plugin settings, and that will take care of all the links sitewide.
You can also use this plugin to track your links and see where your sales are coming from and which strategies are working best for you.
The More Traffic You Have, The More you’ll Sell
The cardinal rule of selling anything online – drive more traffic!
For beginner bloggers, my preferred method for driving traffic is via Pinterest. Here’s a blog post on how to drive massive traffic to your blog with Pinterest.
Grow Your Email List
Your email subscribers are your biggest assets. They’re the ones most loyal to you and will likely purchase from you first! I can’t say it enough…
START BUILDING YOUR EMAIL LIST FROM DAY-1
And here’s a blog post on how to build and grow a thriving and engaged email list.
A lot of us start a blog in the hopes of creating a passive income stream. And affiliate marketing is the best of them all. First of all, you need not create your own product, so that saves a lot of time. And because these are not your products, you are not responsible for customer support, product refund, or any of the tediousness that comes with selling your own products and/or services.
Also, that thing you’ve been fantasizing about? The thing where you make money while you sleep? That’s totally possible with affiliate marketing! So, what are you waiting for? Find a few products that you love and you know that your readers will love, and start selling!