Affiliate Marketing: What is affiliate marketing
[clickToTweet tweet=”Affiliate marketing basically is adding a link to your blog or youtube channel to a product or service that you recommend. When the reader or viewer clicks on the link and buys you will receive a commission from the product seller.” quote=”Affiliate marketing basically is adding a link to your blog or youtube channel to a product or service that you recommend. When the reader or viewer clicks on the link and buys you will receive a commission from the product seller.”]
It’s one of the most effective ways to help your readers and start monetizing your blog at the same time.
And it’s an engine that can power your blog’s earnings for years to come.
Ready to find out more?
Table of Contents
- What Is “Affiliate Marketing,?
- How Affiliate Marketing benefits
- The Types of Blogs that are best adapted to Affiliate Marketing
- How to Sell Affiliate Products (Without Selling Your Soul)
- Behind the Hype: The Realities of Affiliate Marketing
- How the Affiliate Marketing “Engine” Works
- The Three Levels of Affiliate Marketing Mastery
- How to Decide Which Products to Promote
What Is “Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is acting as an agent for a supplier of goods or services and taking a commission.
The role of the blogger is to amass a large trusting audience who follow the advice of the blogger and buy what he recommends to them.
Its one of the least risky and surefire ways to earn money from blogging
Affiliate marketing is a really quick way to offer products and services without creating them yourself.
Bloggers, use their expertise and experience to find products they find useful and they promote it to their readers and earn a profit on each sale that is made.
The idea is not complex and we can help further explain it by showing some concrete examples.?
Let’s see an example.
Blogger Gardening Jones is upfront about how she has partnered with several companies as an affiliate. She lets her readers know that if they purchase any of the products she recommends using her links, she’ll make a little money from the sale.
Then, throughout her site, you see links like this:
These graphics look like normal ads, but they aren’t.
They are affiliate links.
Most readers might not be aware of the difference, but you as a blogger, soon will.
Putting ads on your site will generate revenue when someone clicks on them, whether that someone ends up buying or not. The advertiser is essentially renting out space on his blog, just as he would placing a billboard on his land.
In order to make a success of this, you really need to have an incredibly high amount of traffic to your site to see any real income at all from advertising. The reason being is that cost per click on display advertising is not expensive so the share that goes to the blogger is small.
When you’re an affiliate, you only get paid when someone clicks the link and goes on to purchase. However, commissions paid to affiliate sellers are usually a lot higher
This is a real game changer
Text links can be slipped into blog posts, or added to banners and much more:
There are different types of affiliate links, Bloggers can include links in emails, sales pages, and much more as well. We’ll get into all the possibilities in this post.
For now, though, it’s important that you know exactly what affiliate marketing means — as well as its potential for you as a blogger.
How Affiliate Marketing Benefits Bloggers
At Smart Blogger, we’re big fans of selling affiliate products and services.
Here are three compelling reasons why we think you should look into it, too:
- You can monetize your blog sooner than you would if you created your own products from scratch.
- You can learn what types of products your audience is clamoring for, reducing the risk of any future product launch of your own.
- You can get your readers used to the idea of buying from you — and increase their level of trust (as long as you pick the right products and services to sell).
All pretty significant advantages to you as a growing blogger.
But that’s not all. There are additional benefits to affiliate marketing as well.
- It’s easy to implement. You share a link with your readers and that’s it. You don’t have to worry about tracking sales, providing customer service, setting up payments, or anything else. All that support is handled by the merchant.
- It doesn’t require you to have a support team in place. Affiliate marketing is completely doable even if you’re a one-person show.
- It doesn’t require specialized expertise. You don’t have to be a world-renowned expert in your niche. You only need to be familiar enough with your topic area to know what products are good and worth recommending to your audience.
- It’s low-effort and low-risk. While affiliate marketing isn’t exactly passive income, it doesn’t require a significant time or money investment on your part.
Sounds pretty good in theory, right? Let’s see if affiliate marketing is right for you.
Types of Blogs that are best adapted to Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate income can look pretty attractive, but you need to have a few things in place first if you want to succeed.
For instance, don’t jump into the deep end if you’re just starting out and have not launched your blog or started growing your email list yet.
Instead, make sure that:
- You’re producing regular content on your blog. You have to give a lot of free value to your readers to build your credibility before you start asking for sales.
- You have an email list with at least 500 subscribers. If you can attract and keep 500+ subscribers engaged around your topic, you have a foundation with earning potential.
Hold Off on Affiliate Marketing if…
If you already have a list of at least a few hundred people and are planning to sell services like coaching, consulting, design, writing or other professional services (as in legal advice, finance, or real estate) in the short term, it’s probably best to hold off on affiliate marketing.
That’s because for service providers, your best bet is selling services first. It’s simply your most profitable way to start monetizing.
You can consider adding affiliate offers into the mix once your money-making machine from services is running smoothly.
Still with me? Great!
How to Sell Affiliate Products (Without Selling Your Soul)
Affiliate marketing has gotten a bad rap in some circles because of unethical marketers who annoy their readers with junk ads, offers that don’t apply to them, or general spam.
These bloggers have given affiliate marketers an unsavory reputation.
But when affiliate marketing is done right, it’s a positive, powerful “engine” for generating value for you and your readers.
The bloggers who succeed understand this simple truth:
Your relationship with your audience, and the trust that you build with them, is your single most important asset.
The importance of trust can’t be stressed enough. You have to invest the time and effort to constantly nurture trust with your audience — and take care never do anything to betray that confidence.
So whenever you’re tempted to cut corners or venture into the murkier regions of affiliate marketing, just remember you’re risking the relationship with your readers. In other words — don’t do it!
The Simple Golden Rule for Success
Here’s our foolproof rule for success as an ethical affiliate marketer:
You should only become an affiliate for products that you have personally used — even if that means purchasing a product so you can kick the tires and decide if it’s something you can recommend.
Why? Because your reputation’s on the line.
Think about it: what’s the first thing you do when you need a new doctor, mechanic or building contractor?
You ask for recommendations from people you trust. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing tools.
But when you get advice from friends that turns out to be bad, you can’t help but wonder, “What on earth were they thinking?”
You probably won’t value their opinion as highly the next time around — if you even ask them at all.
As a blogger, you can’t afford to have your good name damaged because you didn’t do your due diligence and check a product out thoroughly.
And doing it right makes everything so much easier.
When you can honestly and wholeheartedly recommend a product or service that you’ve tried and liked, your marketing will simply work.
You won’t feel sleazy or unethical. You’ll be legitimately excited about the product — and your audience will appreciate your authenticity and feel confident buying from you.
That’s a good place to be — for both you and your readers.
But in case this is all sounding a little too to good to be true, a few cautions are in order.
Behind the Hype: The Realities of Affiliate Marketing
Most good things have a downside, and affiliate marketing is no exception. But if you’re aware of the potential trade-offs and pitfalls, you can enter into it with your eyes open.
So let’s start our reality check with a few cautionary points.
Quick and Easy to Set Up Doesn’t Mean Instant or Free
Selling affiliate products is certainly quick and easy when compared with creating, marketing and delivering your own products. But that doesn’t mean it’s a breeze.
You’ll have to take care in choosing which products to represent — and you’ll need to invest time and at least some money into finding the best affiliate products for your readers.
And you can’t expect miracles or overnight successes. You’ll need some trial and error to discover what works and build a mix of offers over time.
Earning While You Sleep Doesn’t Mean “Set It and Forget It”
No blog income is truly, completely passive. If you’re looking for an “easy button,” don’t become a blogger!
Even when you’re set up with some affiliate offers, you have to continue the work of growing and engaging your audience — and that means creating great content and building trust with your readers.
Without a loyal and engaged audience, you’ll struggle to find success via affiliate marketing. And without a growing list you’ll quickly “burn out” the audience you already have.
The best way to think of it is like this: affiliate marketing is a money-making add-on to a successful blog, not an alternative to a successful blog.
Even Smart Bloggers Can Make Dumb Choices
Many bloggers have been fooled by unscrupulous merchants. If an opportunity seems too to good to be true, it probably is. Even if a merchant is above-board, they might not be a good fit for your audience.
Likewise, you shouldn’t let yourself be seduced by the tactics of less ethical affiliate marketers. You can find numerous tips and tricks in affiliate marketing forums that might help you make a quick buck but could quickly break trust with your audience.
Here are some quick tips to help you stay safe:
- Never pay a fee to become an affiliate — that includes membership or setup fees. Merchants who charge you fees are running scams on rookies who don’t know any better.
- Don’t let yourself be pressured into using “black hat” strategies to drive traffic to your site — e.g., aggressive SEO tactics that focus exclusively on tricking search engines instead of pleasing humans. This kind of activity can alienate your audience and get you banned from search engine listings.
- Don’t promote a product until you’ve subscribed to your affiliate partners’ email list and know exactly what your readers can expect in terms of follow-up marketing. Your potential partner may have a more aggressive style than your readers are used to, and that can reflect poorly on you. If there’s a big mismatch, don’t promote the product.
Now that you know the pluses and minuses of affiliate marketing, let’s dig in for a behind-the-scenes look.
How the Affiliate Marketing “Engine” Works
Even though it’s based on a simple idea, affiliate marketing can be complicated, especially when you start getting into the nitty-gritty details.
The section will help you understand the most important concepts without drowning you in technical detail.
Let’s start with some basic definitions.
Affiliate Marketing Glossary
Affiliate marketing has its own terminology, which can be confusing at first. But if you become familiar with these concepts, you’ll be well on your way.
Here are a few terms it’s important to know:
Affiliate — the partner who promotes the merchant’s products for a commission. Also called the publisher.
Affiliate agreement — a contract that both parties agree to specifying the rules, responsibilities, rates to be paid and other legalities.
Affiliate link — a trackable URL that identifies the affiliate as the source of targeted traffic to a merchant’s site. (A click on an affiliate link counts as a referral.)
Affiliate network — an online marketplace where merchants list their products and where affiliates can find products to sell.
Affiliate program — a program set up by merchants to pay commissions when affiliates refer people to their products.
Commission — a percentage of the total sale that is paid to the affiliate for referring the sale.
Cookie — in affiliate marketing, cookies are used to assign a unique ID to the buyer in order to tag the purchase as being referred by you. Cookies usually have a predetermined lifespan, so that even if the buyer doesn’t purchase right away, you will still get credit for the sale if it occurs within that timeframe (often 60 days or more).
Customer — the end user or purchaser of the merchant’s product or service.
Merchant — the owner or creator of the product or service. Also known as a retailer or brand.
Referral — credit for a click or a sale that occurs when the affiliate sends traffic to the merchant’s site.
The Mechanics of Getting Paid for Promoting Affiliate Products
Affiliate marketing can get pretty technical. Fortunately, you don’t need to know all the details to get started.
The actual mechanics run in the background, thanks to the merchant’s affiliate program software.
But here’s a quick look behind the scenes:
- When an affiliate joins the merchant’s program, he or she is given a unique ID and a specific URL to use when promoting the product.
- The affiliate includes the link in their blog content and/or subscriber emails and invites readers to click it to find out more.
- When a potential buyer clicks on the link to visit the merchant’s site, a cookie identifying the affiliate is placed on their computer. The cookie ensures that the publisher is credited with the referral sale even if it occurs days or even weeks later.
- Whenever a buyer completes the sale process, the merchant checks the sales record for a cookie identifying the source of the referral.
- If the merchant finds a cookie with an affiliate ID, the affiliate is credited with the sale.
- The merchant makes reports available so that the affiliate can see their referrals (clicks) and sales.
- The merchant pays the affiliate commission at the end of each payment period.
Here’s a graphical overview to help you visualize the process:
The flow is pretty straightforward once you understand it, and it works the same no matter what kind of product you’re promoting or how established you are as an affiliate marketer.
So let’s look at the typical progression for a blogger who’s serious about making affiliate marketing a major source of income.
The Three Levels of Affiliate Marketing Mastery
As you mature as a blogger and affiliate marketer, you’ll pass through three distinct stages — each one with its own strategies and typical earning levels.
Knowing what level you’re at is important. If you try to skip ahead and use strategies you’re not ready for yet, you’ll likely fail.
Use these descriptions to figure out where you are in your blogging journey and build from there.
Stage 1: Getting Started
You can start selling to your list once you’ve proven that your topic has legs — i.e., you have enough engaged subscribers to prove your blog is a viable money-making platform.
Generally speaking, you’re ready for this stage once you have 500-1,000 email subscribers and at least 10% of them are opening your emails. At this point, you can start testing products to see what your audience is likely to respond to.
Applicable strategies: Experiment with a few products or services to find a “core earner” and round out your affiliate offers with a few complementary digital products (ebooks, packaged services, download products, etc.).Typical earnings: Up to $250/month, enough to cover your expenses and maybe the occasional treat.
Stage 2: Ramping Up
Once your blog is more established and you have a few thousand subscribers, you’ll be ready to up your affiliate sales game.
At this stage, you’ll be publishing quality content on a regular basis and continuing to grow and engage with your email list. You’ll be starting to build relationships with influencers serving similar audiences.
You’ll also now have some experience selling to your subscribers, and you’re beginning to understand what they like and need from you. You’ve found at least one product that’s earning consistently and may also have plans for your own products.
Applicable strategies: Continue to look outside your core offers to find additional solid-earning products and services. Seek to identify additional smaller-earning offers that also sell consistently.Typical earnings: Around $500–$2,000 per month — a nice part-time income.
Stage 3: Full Time Earner
You’re now considered a top-tier blogger, with an email list of 10,000 subscribers or more.
It’s easier now to network with the big influencers because of your accomplishments and reputation. You’ll be invited to participate in major product launches and promotions.
You’re also a pro at selling to your readers, building sales funnels and writing sales pages.
Applicable strategies: Build closer relationships with the “big name” authorities, participate in high-ticket product launches, and run your own major email campaigns.Typical earnings: You’re now making a full-time income from your blog!
Of course, relatively few bloggers will successfully progress to this final stage, but you can still achieve significant success and satisfaction from the earlier stages.
Also, some bloggers may deliberately deviate from this path. For instance, if you’re serious about creating your own products, you might start to replace affiliate products with your own offerings around Stage 2.
In other words, you can start monetizing your blog with affiliate sales, using the experience to generate revenue and learn what your audience will buy, then pivot to your own products with a much greater confidence in your product focus and your subscribers’ willingness to buy.
Now that you know the typical stages bloggers go through on their affiliate marketing journey and figured out where you belong, let’s dig into how you find the best products to promote.
How to Decide Which Products to Promote
You can represent many different types of products and services as an affiliate.
Some are more profitable than others, but usually most of your affiliate income will come from one or two “ringers” — core products that just about everyone in your audience needs and which also pay a good commission.
As you progress, you can add complementary products to round out your offerings and help your audience in new ways, but identifying your core earners is an essential first step.
We highly recommend that you start with digital products, services and courses for this simple reason:
They usually have greater earning potential.
Digital products generally pay higher commissions than physical products because there is much less overhead to produce and distribute them.
They also have the advantage that the merchant is often an individual rather than a company, so you can build a personal relationship with them that will increase your status as a blogger and future success as an affiliate.
That said, physical products can be a good option for certain niches, but we’ll focus on digital products for the most part (although we revisit physical products below).
So what’s a potential ringer?
Your best bets are mid-priced ($200–$2,000) courses or services that could potentially benefit almost all of your readers at some point in their journey.
Once you start generating steady affiliate income, you can offer other similar products, hosted services or ebooks that allow you to help more people (or help everyone more thoroughly).
Let’s look into the product options for bloggers.
Option #1: Digital Downloads
Digital downloads are online resources that your readers can access instantly, without having to wait for a package to come in the mail (as is true for physical products).
They could be audio or video files, PDFs, ebooks or even links to webpages where the content lives online.
- Books or ebooks — Books that are either self-hosted on your merchant’s website or downloaded from Amazon, iBooks or other online sellers
- Software — Downloadable programs, games, apps, plugins and cloud services
- Mobile applications — Some of the hundreds of apps that are available through the iTunes Affiliate Program and other mobile app affiliate networks
- Music, movies, TV shows, and more — Media offered through Amazon as well as the iTunes Affiliate Program and others
- Digital downloads are an easy way to get started and help your audience with pressing problems.
- There are no overhead costs of production, shipping or storage.
- Your buyer can access and begin benefiting from their digital product immediately.
- Many ebook, software or other download products are relatively inexpensive. You’d have to sell a lot of them to make any significant money.
Our recommendation?Do it! But expect higher earnings from other options on this list.
Option #2: Online, Hosted and Professional Services
When it comes to selling services as an affiliate, it’s important to concentrate on those which will be accessible to your entire audience no matter where they’re located (as opposed to service providers who serve local customers only).
In other words, don’t limit your earning potential by geography.
Your best bet is to represent online, hosted or professional service providers/influencers you’ve worked with in the past and have full confidence in.
Examples of professional services:
- Media or creative businesses (Media Content Advantage, John Melley Voice Overs & Production, Music Radio Creative)
- Marketing services (Sprout Social, Hootsuite)
- Masterminds and membership sites (Serious Bloggers Only, Freelance Writer’s Den, Digital Marketer)
- Research or consulting services (Questia, Touchstone Research Store, Snow Consulting)
- Accounting, finance, or legal advice (as permitted by law) (Find Legal Forms, Motif Investing, Greatland)
- Niche specialties – pop culture, travel, tourism, nightlife, crafts/artisans (Pet Care Supplies, zChocolat, Silvercar)
Examples of online/hosted services:
- Website platforms (Wix, Squarespace)
- Lead generation services (Thrive, Leadpages)
- Email service providers (AWeber, Constant Contact)
- Website services (e.g., hosting, anti-spam, security, etc.)
- Media (Wistia, Vimeo, Telestream, various WordPress plugins)
- Course platforms (Zippy Courses, Ruzuku, Teachable)
- Virtual Assistant or customer service support (Zendesk Partners program, VA Affiliates, TempsASAP)
- IT support, cloud-based storage, backup, security or other technical services based on monthly subscriptions
- It’s easy to become a service affiliate, and it helps your audience manage important tasks that require specific expertise.
- There’s likely a higher earning potential than from digital downloads because services are usually offered at a higher price point.
- Many hosted services will offer a recurring commission – meaning you’ll get paid for as long as the customers you refer continue to use the service.
- Some of your favorite professional service providers (ones you have experience with) might not have affiliate programs in place.
Our recommendation?Do it! Especially if you can find an excellent service provider who can potentially help nearly everyone in your audience at one time or another and who can be a strong, steady income generator.
Option #3: Online Courses
Online courses are an important subset of digital products, especially for bloggers, and the market is huge. They’re so popular that they deserve their own category on this list.
Online courses exist on just about any topic you can think of. They range in price from free to thousands of dollars, with higher-priced programs promising big results for students.
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids – How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
- My Garden School
- Suze Ormon’s Personal Finance Online Course
- Courses are one of the best ways to help your audience achieve a goal that’s important to them or move past a roadblock that’s been keeping them stuck. You can deliver incredible value with little effort on your part.
- Courses are often offered at a higher price point than other digital products, so your earning potential is higher.
- Courses are popular. It should be easy to find other influencers in your niche whose courses can help your readers.
- You’ll have to spend time working through and reviewing courses to make sure that they deliver on their promises (to protect your reputation).
Our recommendation?Do it! Help your readers in a big way, and earn big at the same time.
Option #4: Physical Products
If you decide to represent physical products on your blog, your best bet is to choose high-quality, distinctive products that that will appeal strongly to your specific audience.
Avoid commodity products that your readers can buy anywhere — the commissions are so small you won’t make worthwhile money unless you can drive tremendous traffic to your site.
Commissions on physical products are usually fairly low because of the overhead of production costs, storage costs, shipping, etc. So unless you are planning to build a large review or shopping site, physical products will probably be a very small portion of your blogging affiliate income.
However, if you have a favorite tool of your trade, a must-have gadget that will make your readers’ lives easier, or a high-quality recommendation that you’re sure people will be thrilled with, go ahead and offer it.
You’ll build goodwill even if you don’t make a lot of money.
- Niche shopping — Product Review Mom (parenting), Compost Mania (gardening), Roemer’s Workshop (hobbies), Pinch of Yum (food)
- Tech or gadgets — Engadget, Gizmodo, Craziest Gadgets
- Cool stuff — This Is Why I’m Broke
- Once you have an established blog, companies may approach you and offer you free product in exchange for a review. (You should always disclose this, as it could be seen as a conflict of interest.)
- If you can afford to purchase products on your own in order to test them, you’ll be seen as a truly objective reviewer.
- Commissions on physical products are usually a lot lower because of the overhead, so you’ll have to sell a whole lot more product to make a decent income.
- Buying products so you can review them before promoting them can be expensive.
Our recommendation?Offer physical products only under certain circumstances:
- They’re directly related to your blog topic and something your audience absolutely needs.
- They’re not commodities. Specialized and distinctive products reflect better on you, boosting your reputation and credibility.
Products might be a good fit for how-to, hobby, fitness, cooking, fashion, food blogs and similar niches.
You should now have plenty of ideas for types of products you can represent.
Here’s how to go about finding the best options for you.