What is affiliate marketing? Put simply, it’s like being the middle man between buyers and sellers. You recommend products or services, and if visitors click through those links and buy, then you earn a stipend for that sale.
The customer is happy to have found a product or service to fulfill a need. The company is happy to have made a sale, and YOU are happy to have earned a commission.
Which Companies Affiliate?
Most large companies already have affiliate programs, and those that don’t will likely have one soon. Why wouldn’t they welcome affiliates to promote their products? Here are just a few of the BIG brand-name companies that now use affiliate programs to promote their products online:
Amazon * Barnes & Noble * Walmart * Dell * Dollar Rent-a-Car * eBay * Eddie Bauer * Gateway * Gap * KMart * New York Times * NBC * Old Navy * Patagonia * Payless Shoes * PetSmart * SONY * Sports Authority * Staples * TimeLife * USA Today * Verizon Wireless * Weight Watchers * Discover, Visa, MasterCard *
The list above is only a small sample. If you own, use and love products that are related to your website, then that might be a perfect affiliate relationship. Why are there so many affiliate opportunities? Simply because all sellers want internet traffic and sales, so they are willing to share profits with those who bring it.
My 3 Rules for Affiliate Marketing:
1) Affiliate partnerships include ONLY products or services that I own and use, ones that I’ve found helpful in a significant way.
2) I only recommend these affiliate partners in context, along with detailed information that is directly related.
3) Do not depend on affiliate marketing as a business model in and of itself. Affiliate marketing has recently been getting a lot harder, even though it can be lucrative if done with smarts (more on this in future posts).
Affiliate Marketing Advantages
* Becoming an affiliate is free.
* Selling without selling with no shipping, no stocking products, and no employees.
* Very low expenses, business overhead, investment, etc.
* NO hard sells or cold-calling. (You DO have to work hard behind the scenes getting traffic).
* NO shipping or storing of products, no customer service headaches. You don’t even touch the product.
Realities and Challenges of Affiliate Marketing
* Not a get-rich-quick scheme. Lots of affiliate marketers haven’t earned a dime. You cannot just throw links out there in a random way.
* NO guaranteed income. Income will fluctuate based on sales. Commission only.
* Keeping track of vendor data and updates can be significant.
* Learning curves: Markets and policies change, and effective marketing strategy takes time.
* The affiliate as a middle man is expendable. Google, product owners, customers, laws, and technology are all steadily stacking the odds against affiliates who market to strangers without their own following.
Affiliate Marketing: Recent History
It is free to become an affiliate and so the opportunities are endless. So droves of people were building mini web pages and filling them with affiliate links in the hopes of making money online. Many of these sites contained very little actual content beyond the ‘naked’ links. Yes, naked as in improperly clothed. The ‘clothing’ being the product review itself, unique content – not copy/paste amazon reviews or other trashy black hat tricks. Some sites had none at all, and became known as ‘link farms’. Google doesn’t like link farms.
So we got Google slaps with silly names like Panda and Penguin, and website owners were all up in arms. The link farms may have worked for awhile, but no more. The search engines can redirect traffic with changes in their algorithms that can shut down traffic to these sites. Google wants to see real websites, and in the end that’s a good thing.
Being an Affiliate with Integrity
Recommend only what you know about personally. Invest the time to explain in detail WHY a reader might want X product or service. Include benefits and features, but also be honest about any limitations. Include photos or videos, or even create your own. If you do use images that are not your own, give credit with an attribution link.
Responsible affiliates DO disclose in some way that sales result in payment to the webmaster. Just a disclosure statement somewhere on the website is enough. A short phrase such as the following will suffice for disclosure…’this webpage receives a small stipend for purchases originating here, thanks.’
Affiliate Networks VS. Individual Programs
Affiliate networks are like brokers for many different companies. Get accepted Large online retailers like amazon.com and eBay have their own affiliate programs that are huge and yet independent of other networks.
Once you are accepted into a network, then you are free to promote any of the products they represent. A few of the most popular affiliate networks are: Clickbank, Commission Junction, Shareasale and Linkshare.
One advantage of selling within networks is record-keeping. You need to keep track of sales & income for tax purposes, and the networks will have it all stored in their database. Also it is less overwhelming to work with just one network, rather than hopping around different websites.
Some companies offer their own affiliate programs independent of a network like those above. As long as they don’t ask you for a fee, this can work fine. They should provide you with the appropriate tools for promotion like links and banners.
While commissions are highest on Clickbank, they offer digital downloads only, or electronic information downloads such as eBooks. Clickbank payouts vary but at least 30% can be expected. Amazon.com commissions are lowest at around 7% (varies). Commission Junction programs pay 30% per sale or more.
How to Know if a Store or Company Affiliates
Look in the sidebars and footer of any website for the word affiliate, or it might be called associate or referral program. Most often it’s in the footer, so scroll all the way to the bottom. You can also type ‘affiliate’ into the search box if the site has one. Most make it easy to find, and once you click that link it will be simple to find instructions and apply. Most respond immediately though some affiliate programs are selective, so make sure the website link you give is a solid and well-established page.
Learn More from the Affiliate Marketing Queen, Rosalind Gardner
Some refer to Rosalind as the affiliate marketing queen, since she has actively taught affiliate marketing since 1998. She is trustworthy and has a warm and inviting style of teaching by example. I like the way she creates her materials in a way that’s personable and easy to understand. I’ve bought more ebooks online than I can count, yet ‘The Super Affiliate Handbook‘ (affiliate link) stands out as one of the most valuable ever. She issues updates and support regularly, keeping you up to date on the latest in the affiliate marketing world. No wonder this handbook has remained popular for well over a decade, highly recommended.
Example of a Recent Affiliate Strategy that Profited
I’m a dedicated researcher, and when I’m in the market to buy something I don’t do so in a random way. Sometimes I invest countless hours online researching and comparing products. This past fall I was concerned that cold weather was coming and the furnace in my home is a dinosaur, about 30 years old. Hoping to make it another year before replacing it, I wanted some good space heaters for a Plan B. So after researching I published my findings as an online product review.
I also got to thinking about a time a few years back when an ice storm forced a power outage, and it lasted for FIVE long cold days. Fortunately I had a fireplace and kept it going 24/7. But I’ve moved and no longer have such.
So I also researched space heaters that do not rely on electricity, and published those findings as well in a separate review. I featured the one I chose with detailed benefits. Sales started coming through and continued regularly for well over a month. Remember the tragic hurricane that hit the east coast during the fall of 2012? Traffic and sales soared right afterward, providing a nice boost – even if short-lived.
The best part of affiliate marketing is that you don’t have to create a product to sell. We naturally recommend products and services we use and value to friends. Creating detailed and honest reviews online as an affiliate is a similar kind of recommendation.
Common Ways Affiliates Break the Rules
Many jump into affiliate marketing too fast, and end up in trouble for breaking rules unintentionally. For example, Amazon affiliates are not allowed to 1) shorten links 2) place affiliate links inside ebooks and 3) buy from amazon via their own affiliate links. Yet these rules for Amazon affiliates get broken all the time. Risky business!
However, most of the tutorials available online do not address the perils of marketing to strangers. I’ve altered my strategies significantly, and particularly rely on the training at this group.
What has been your experience with affiliate marketing? Please comment below and do post any burning questions you might have as these will be considered for attention in future posts about earning as an afiliate.