Has someone told you how awesome affiliate marketing is and that you should get in on it? Not sure how to get started or what exactly it even is? You’re in the right spot. Welcome to affiliate marketing for beginners, a “101” introduction plus some ideas you can use to get started.
Alert: there are affiliate links ALL OVER this article. Like a cow patty in the prairie, you’re probably going to step on one. If you’re worried, here’s my full disclosure. This post is based off a presentation I gave for the Fort Worth WordPress Users Meetup.
— Marc Gratch (@mgratch) March 16, 2018
I love affiliate marketing. As a self-employed person, I’ve always tried to keep my eggs distributed among multiple baskets. In the world of finance, I believe this is called diversification (sort of). I like to have multiple revenue streams and, for me, affiliate marketing is a no-brainer way to add meaningful income to my business.
Now, anyone who tells you affiliate marketing is easy passive income is lying. It takes work, but your up-front investment of time and effort can earn you long-term recurring revenue. Who doesn’t want that?
If you’re already familiar with the concept of affiliate marketing, skip to the bottom of the article for some affiliate marketing ideas for your content.
First, what is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a commission-based relationship between a merchant and the person recommending their products and services.
Here’s an example: Gravity Forms (merchant) makes an awesome forms plugin for WordPress. I recommend them. And if someone buys through my link, I earn a commission (typically percentage-based, but sometimes a flat fee). Gravity Forms gets a sale they might not have made otherwise and I get a little kickback. Yay? Yay!
So who’s all involved in this process? Here’s a quick rundown:
- The merchant – the person who has something to sell
- The affiliate – the person who does the recommending/referring to the merchant
- The customer – the person who buys something from the merchant via an affiliate’s link
- The network – the clearinghouse or program that manages affiliate transactions
For that last one, the merchant must decide what type of affiliate program they want to use to manage affiliates. They range in price and complexity.
For instance, if you’ve got a WordPress site, you can install the AffiliateWP plugin and have an affiliate network that’s easy to manage and inexpensive to get up and running. On the other end of the price and complexity spectrum, there are programs like Shareasale. It’s more feature-rich and does things like automatically send out affiliate payments and tax documents.
How affiliate marketing works
I wrote a more in-depth article on how affiliate programs work, but here’s the digest version:
Let’s say you want to be an affiliate. You find a product or service you like and then look to see if they offer an affiliate program (Googling is the easiest way to find out). If they have an affiliate program, you apply, the merchant (hopefully) approves your application, and then BOOM you’re an affiliate for that merchant.
From there, you’ll have access to unique links (via the affiliate program used by the merchant) you can use and share those links to recommend those products and services. If someone buys via your link, you earn a commission. That commission is determined by the merchant ahead of time.
Once you reach the “payout threshold” (as set by the merchant and the affiliate program), you get money sent to your PayPal account or direct deposited into your bank account (depending on payout options available that you configure in the affiliate program).
You’re already doing the hard part (creating content)
If you already have a blog on your website, odds are you’re regularly publishing content (if you’re NOT, make it a priority!). If you’re already making the effort to write or record or otherwise share your knowledge with the world, why not monetize it with affiliate marketing?
Get paid to talk about what you love
I bet there are products or services you love. You use them and recommend them – no incentives required. But what if some of those products and services have affiliate programs? If you’re talking about them anyway, why not earn an affiliate commission for it?
There’s no question in my mind – you should.
Small trickling streams add up
If you’re just getting started with affiliate marketing and you don’t get a ton of traffic to your website, you’re not going to immediately rake in the big bucks. BUT, every dollar you earn via affiliate marketing is a dollar you wouldn’t have otherwise. Not all revenue streams have to be flowing rivers. Lots of little trickling streams add up to bigger revenue, so why not get a trickle going?
Affiliate marketing via awesome content
Let’s get something straight: Affiliate marketing, like organic SEO, is a LONG GAME. If you’re looking to make a quick splash, turn a buck, and move on to the next set of unwitting buyers, we have a different business philosophy and my suggestions below aren’t for you.
Content marketing is about providing value (over time) and building trust (with time). It’s about building a relationship with your readers and becoming a trusted resource. With that framework in mind, I’d like to share 5 affiliate marketing ideas for your blog.Five ideas to get you started with affiliate marketing (via your content) Click To Tweet
1. Write a comparison
A good ole’fashioned product comparison is a really easy way to help your readers understand the pros and cons of a couple products and offer affiliate links for the products you recommend.
Here are some examples of product comparison articles on this blog that heavily feature affiliate links:
Genesis Design Palette Pro vs Genesis Extender – This is a comparison of two products that look similar on the surface (they’re both used to help users customize themes for the Genesis Framework), but the products are actually quite different. The goal is to help readers understand which product is best for their scenario.
WordPress Hosting Review – This is a comparison of three different WordPress hosts. I highlight my favorite features of each one, include a feature comparison table, and make recommendations based on what the reader most values (i.e. price vs support vs tech).
2. Write a review
Bought a product? Tried a service? Read a book? Write a review about your experience! Of course, if your experience was crappy, you don’t want to include affiliate links for that. Reserve your review posts for things you liked. 🙂
Here are examples of reviews I’ve written on this site:
Book Review: Duct Tape Marketing – I love reading business books and other personal/professional growth books. Every once in awhile I get my act together and write a review that captures my primary takeaways. As a side bonus, writing book reviews serve as a way for me to solidify key points in my mind and recall them later.
Beaver Builder Review from a Developer’s Perspective – This type of review takes a product and looks at it from a very specific point of view. It won’t appeal to everyone (in this case, people who aren’t developers won’t care about this review), but the specificity makes it ultra-helpful to people who identify with developers and are interested inBeaver Builder.
3. Write a case study
Did you build something awesome or solve a problem using a particular set of tools? Write a case study about it (and, of course, use affiliate links where you can for those tools)! At it’s simplest, a case study is just two things: The problem you were trying to solve and the way you solved it.
Here’s an example of a case study I’ve written on this site (I’ve got 2 more drafts of “case study” posts, but you know how that goes…):
Behind the scenes: The making of a WordPress membership site – There are hundreds of ways you could tackle building a membership site with WordPress. In this case study, I outlined the specific needs of my project and describe the tools I used to meet those needs.
If you’re building sites for clients, every project you do is an opportunity to write a case study. Heck, you could even turn those case studies into your portfolio.
4. Write a tutorial
Tutorials and “how-to” articles might just be the easiest way to write a post that includes affiliate links. Of course, keep in mind that if you’re writing about how to do something using a particular tool, odds are high that your readers already own that tool. In that case, you have the opportunity to suggest complimentary or ancillary products.
What do I mean by that?
Here’s an example of a tutorial for the Genesis Framework. Presumably, if someone’s Googled “how to add an author avatar using Genesis” and lands on that post, they already own Genesis. I still use an affiliate link for Genesis, but I also mention a plugin called Genesis Extender that people can use to implement the code in the tutorial if they’re not quite comfortable mucking around in raw code. It’s a natural tie-in to a product I’ve used in the past and that people reading that tutorial might find helpful.
Here’s another tutorial for working with WP Engine Staging Sites. Again, someone reading this article probably already uses WP Engine. BUT, here’s where I go into Affiliate Inception mode and invite current WP Engine customers to become an affiliate. WP Engine has something called a “two-tier” affiliate program, which means that if someone signs up to be an affiliate through my invitation, I get a commission. Isn’t that fun?
5. Write a recommendation
Ever wonder what tools Wes Bos uses in his development? He’s got a page on his website that lists them all. Or about how the programs and tools Sugar Rae uses in her affiliate marketing adventures? Yep, she’s got a page for that.
I think you get the idea. 🙂 Create a page for the tools or resources you use and recommend. Affiliate programs won’t exist for all of the things you want to include, but you’ll at least have a few.
A final word: Buyer Beware
You may have noticed at the beginning of this article that I disclosed the fact that the article contained affiliate links. There’s a compelling reason I do this: the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says I have to. Here’s a great article from Amy Lynn Andrews outlining what you need to know about affiliate disclosure.
Of course, that applies to sites that fall under the jurisdiction of USA law. Different countries, different laws, so do your homework to find out what rules apply to you.
Here’s my unofficial take on disclosures: I’m writing content with the intent of providing value and building trust. I don’t want to trick anyone into clicking an affiliate link because, hey, I’m not a douche.
Regardless of what the FTC says, disclosing affiliate links feels like the right thing to do. I’m not going to do it for every link in an article (that’s incredibly distracting and not a good experience for anyone trying to read an article), but I try to always include a disclaimer near the top of an article. The bottom line? Be good to your readers and they’ll be good to you.