How to Run a Successful Affiliate Campaign Without Being a Douche

Raise your hand if you’d like to make a little passive income off your website? Yeah, me too. Affiliate marketing is a great way to do that.

Trouble is, you don’t want to accidentally be a smarmy douche in the way you implement your affiliate campaign. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the rules of affiliate advertising (I’m serious – there are actual rules) as well as tips to help you make some extra cash without irritating your readers. As a matter of fact, if you do it right, your readers will happily click your affiliate links ’cause they want to help you.


Here’s the topics we’ll cover:

  1. The #1 most important thing needed for a successful affiliate campaign
  2. How to select affiliate programs
  3. How to properly disclose affiliate links
  4. How to integrate affiliate links into your content
  5. Where to put affiliate banners/ads
  6. How to split-test affiliate banners

The #1 Most Important Thing Needed for a Successful Affiliate Campaign

First things first. In order to make any money from affiliate ads, you need visitors on your site. Right? No visitors, no clicks, no cash. Well, I’m gonna tell you the secret to getting more visitors to your site.

You ready?

Scroll down.


Here goes:

(and bonus points if it’s great content)

If you’re willing to invest in your site via writing regular authoritative content, you’re a bajillion times more likely to have success with an affiliate campaign.

My goal for this site is to publish a post at least once a week. Some people are so awesome they write daily. How often do you publish new content on your site?

How to Select Affiliate Programs

There are loads of products and companies that offer affiliate programs, but you don’t want to pick just any ole merchant. The key to success is selecting products that you personally love (and love to talk about), whether you’re an affiliate or not.

It’s so much easier to promote a product you genuinely like, plus you can integrate affiliate links more naturally in your content (more on that later). Getting all selly sales pitch for products you’ve never used makes you look like a douche.

Do your most likeable products offer an affiliate program?

Here’s a couple of easy ways to find out:

  1.  Go to that product’s website, scroll to the bottom and look for tiny print (or just hit CMD+F/CTRL+F to search the page for “affiliate”). For example, here’s what Amazon’s affiliate link looks like:
    Become an Affiliate
  2. Do a Google search to the effect of “COMPANY/PRODUCT affiliate program”

Once you figure out whether a particular company or product has an affiliate program, just follow the steps to become an affiliate. There’s typically a short application to fill out. Once you’re approved, you’ll be notified by that company via email on how to proceed.

How to Properly Disclose Affiliate Links

Disclose Affiliate LinksThere’s two reasons we have to disclose affiliate links:

  1. We don’t want to look like a douche, trying to secretly lure people into clicking our affiliate links (think sites like this)
  2. If you’re in the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission says we have to (here’s the legal-speak FTC doc and here’s an interpretation for normal people)

Honestly, to fully implement FTC disclosure rules strikes me as overkill. The spirit of the law is to disclose and be transparent with your readers. The letter of the law means a post littered with ugly disclaimers that break up natural content flow and distract readers.

I include a disclosure on every page (see my footer), have a static page with disclosures/links to all my affiliate programs, use a “disclosure box” on posts like this (go ahead, see if you can find it), and occasionally use in-line disclosures when I randomly throw out praise for a product like Genesis Framework (that was an affiliate link – see what I did there?) . If I’m tweeting a direct affiliate link, I include the #aff hashtag (that’s probably not official) or otherwise state it’s a promotional tweet.

Bottom line: Find a disclosure style that works for you and disclose those links!

How to Integrate Affiliate Links Into Your Content

This is the easiest part of an affiliate campaign for me and can be for you, too.

Write about what you love

Assuming you’re only participating in affiliate programs for products you use and love, it’s only natural to talk about those products when you write. If you’re not talking about them, then start.

The most obvious way is to write a product review. Here’s a review for ManageWP that’s a legit introduction to a product I enjoy and thought my readers would also find valuable. That post is swimming in (disclosed) affiliate links. Am I a douche? I hope not. I wrote that post with you, my readers in mind.

Another way to incorporate affiliate links is to write a “how-to” or tutorial for a product. For example, here are some practical ways you can use Gravity Forms or a guide for setting up the home page of the Utility Pro theme. Teaching your readers how to use (or ways to use) a product is a great way to naturally include affiliate links in your content.

Use pretty links

Here’s a test. Which link would you rather click on:

  2. http://www.carriedils/go/managewp
  3. I don’t pay attention to links and couldn’t care less. 😉

Maybe I’m the only weird one in the bunch, but I hover over a link and look at a URL in my browser status bar before clicking. I LIKE TO KNOW WHERE I’M GOING. Let’s face it, some links look sketchy. I’d rather present a neat link with a meaningful name.

Additionally, using “pretty links” makes it easier to manage links in your content. If you’re into outbound link tracking, you’ll appreciate the nicer links, too.

I use a free plugin called Redirection to set up my affiliate links.

Where to Put Affiliate Banners/Ads

Where to put your ads according to Bon Qui QuiSo far I’ve focused on incorporating affiliate links in your content, but there are times you’ll want to use a banner ad (not all affiliate programs offer ad graphics, but most do).

Where do you put ’em?

The short answer is anywhere: They can go in your header, your sidebar, on your archive pages, in individual posts, etc. Anywhere. But don’t go crazy.

Just like affiliate links, you should use banner ads judiciously. Remember: the point of your site is to communicate and engage through great content. Your affiliate campaign is the gravy, not the mashed potatoes.

At the time of this post, I’ve got two banner ads in my sidebar that rotate monthly. I also include a banner ad at the bottom of single blog posts. You’ll probably want to experiment to find which locations (and types of affiliate ads) works best for you, which brings me to my last point:

How to Split-Test Affiliate Banners

This is fun!! I use the free version of the AdRotate plugin. You can set up ad groups consisting of multiple individual ads and then declare where on your site to display that ad group (i.e. your sidebar or after the first post in your archive).

After you’ve established those details, set a block of time for your ads to run (the lower your traffic, the longer block of time you’ll need to get meaningful statistics). I usually set my ad blocks for a month.

The AdRotate plugin will automatically display a different ad on each page view and track both page views and click-thru’s. It’s a great way to test how well a specific ad works.

Chris Strom from Marketplicity first taught me to do this and has an interesting experiment testing two variations of a Genesis Framework banners (that’s not an affiliate link – surprise!). His post also walks through the details of how to set up your split test, so go read it.


How Successful is Your Affiliate Campaign?

This is the part where I kick it back to you and ask you to put some tips from this post into action on your own site. If you have other tips (or even just a different opinion/experience from mine), please leave a comment and let’s discuss!

36 thoughts on “How to Run a Successful Affiliate Campaign Without Being a Douche”

    1. Agreed. I’ve done promotion of some products via affiliate programs, but always for something I have tried myself and actually believed in.

      It’s also good to listen for feedback from your users/readers. I had been promoting a WordPress plugin that I did really like, but my users informed me that the developer was not responsive to support requests..

      Giving the developer the benefit of the doubt, I contacted him regarding the comments I was receiving. I did not hear anything back for a week or so, I emailed him again and he responded that he was sorry and he had been busy on another project.

      Yeah – that was the end of my promoting his product. If the developer isn’t going to provide support to the users, it doesn’t matter how good it is. Service and followup is part of the total package.

      So I had to go back to my users and tell them (1) he was responsive with support when I tested out the product, (2) evidently that was when it was new and exciting to him, (3) I was no longer recommending the plugin, (4) they should ask for a refund.

      Moral: you (meaning me) can still end up being a douche even when you are trying not to be.

      Anyway, great post Carrie; and excellent point Susan.

      1. Hey Chad,

        Great example and point about listening to your readers! I’d argue you were the OPPOSITE of a douche. You reached out to the developer, used a little friendly social pressure, and, when you didn’t get the best response, you went back to your readers and reported what you found. Good on ya. 😉

        I’ve also dropped products from my affiliate round-up if they’ve ceased to deliver on service or quality. I haven’t gotten the feedback from readers about a poor experience with a product like you have, but I really hope my readers would let me know if that happened. Not worth alienating my audience to make $15!


  1. Pingback: Digital Marketing Roundup: Links from around the Web - Edition 1.0

  2. Hey Carrie, great post as usual 🙂

    And yes, it seems as if it’s a no-brainer, but I am glad to see you reemphasize using affiliates of products you know and trust. I will not do one myself unless I have used it for some time and experienced it myself. I get people always asking me to push their WP product when I haven’t even used it.. Ugh!

    I also like the idea of writing posts about the products, as you suggested. Have done that a lot as well. And one other thing I have found really helps is creating a resource page of your affiliates and telling your readers why you love this product and recommend it. I have done that on my sites from day 1 of using affiliates. My page is here (sorry about the link),

  3. Pingback: When A WordPress Plugin Review Is Not a Review

  4. I was pleasantly surprised when you came in one day on an email and announced that you are demystifying WordPress. Happy days! Most of your readers are way ahead of me as I am a newbie (dumber than a fencepost) when it comes to operating WordPress.

    I have an unusual problem that probably no one on earth has and I thought I’d bounce it off of you to see if you could point me in the right direction without memorizing the WordPress encyclopaedia. Up to now I’ve had 3 webmaster “experts” do most of the work on building my blog and the blog is kind of in a mess. And never making one dime of income I am being forced to try and learn it myself.

    My big concern at the moment is how to remove things (junk) which are useless from the blog. And, conversely how to insert ads, banner ads and other things into open places in the blog without interfering with anything else. I don’t know a thing about html codes or any of that stuff. Maybe I should switch to a more SIMPLER WordPress theme and would you have any suggestions? Presently I’m using the “Karma” WordPress theme which I was told was quite acceptable and flexible???

  5. This is a novice question but if there are specific companies, organizations or products that you are passionate about and want to link your user community with, do you reach out to the companies/organizations individually and how does that usually work in terms of is there a standard agreement or middle man?

    1. Hi Kari,
      Thanks for your comment and question. I don’t have any formal methods, but I have (even a minimal) relationship with folks behind the companies/products I talk about. If someone doesn’t offer an affiliate program, I pester them about why. 🙂 If you use Twitter, it’s an easy, low-key way to connect with the people behind the products.


  6. I just came across this article and it helped me very much. I am starting to do some affiliate campaigns on my website, and I learned something here to help me get started.

    Thanks a lot

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Carrie Dils uses Accessibility Checker to monitor our website's accessibility.