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Affiliate marketing is an exciting and rapidly growing industry. It’s one of the most rewarding ways to make money online, and there is no limit to how much passive income you can make. It’s fun and challenging, and it requires strategy, creativity, and effort. I’ve been an affiliate marketer for years, so I know what the position entails. Here are some ideas and steps to help you get started.
How to Start Affiliate Marketing
- Understand the fundamentals
- Consider what it will take to succeed
- Conduct what-if scenarios
- Set realistic goals
- Select a target market
- Choose primary and secondary platforms
- Plan and execute
- Search for and join affiliate programs in your niche
- Track your results
- Review, reflect, and pivot
- Keep learning
Understand the Fundamentals
Perhaps you know what affiliate marketing is and how it works. If you don’t, check out my introductory post. You’ll want to understand concepts like a cookie, conversion period, action, tracking, deep linking, earnings per click (EPC), and so forth. Commission Junction (CJ), a top-rated affiliate network, has a glossary that is worth skimming. You might also take a course or watch a few videos on YouTube to help build your foundation.
Consider What It Will Take to Succeed
Have you thought about what it will take to succeed in affiliate marketing? Have you scanned the landscape to see what publishers are doing? You should. Like any job, the role of an affiliate marketer requires hard work and commitment. If you’re starting out, expect to work full-time. Part-time hours might come later.
You’ll need traffic. Traffic in marketing circles equates to the number of visitors and users to a website. For example, 1,000 people visit your blog each month. Selling is a numbers game so the more traffic you can get, the more clicks and conversions you can expect. Most publishers use a combination of marketing/sales strategies and techniques to get traffic.
Find affiliates to emulate. It’s difficult to know what affiliates are doing well. Some marketers publish fraudulent income reports whereas others rent homes/cars for YouTube videos to imply they’ve “made it.” (Some marketers will do anything to gain your trust and loyalty.) Successful affiliates create fantastic/insightful content and attract thousands of visitors to their sites. You can get a sense of a site’s traffic through SimilarWeb and Alexa.
Conduct What-If Scenarios
Suppose you want to make $10,000 a month (everyone does). You must get enough visitors to your blog, YouTube channel, or social media profile to reach your income target, for example:
- Traffic: 50,000 users
- Clicks: 40,000 (80 percent of users click at least once)
- Conversion rate: 0.50%
- Sales: 200
- Average commission: $50
- Income: $10,000
See how easy it is to generate $10,000 a month. Wait! The world isn’t perfect, and neither are examples. Here are some items to consider:
- Summer months and holiday seasons typically experience less traffic, clicks, and conversions
- Conversion rates fluctuate for any number of reasons, for instance, changing market trends, new pricing, new competitors, and changes to a product/service
- A product that converts today might not do well in a year or two
- A merchant can change its terms or deactivate its program
- Your website could go offline for a few hours because of technical issues. Merchant sites can go down too.
I’ve experienced all of the above and realize that many variables impact my results. That’s the nature of marketing and sales. Therefore, I apply conservative estimates like a conversion rate of 0.10 to 0.30 percent and an average commission of $20. Naturally, what-if scenarios and estimates will vary among affiliates because we promote different items and focus on different niches.
Set Realistic Goals
No matter the online endeavor, sales begin with traffic. If you don’t have a website or aren’t getting enough visitors, it’s unrealistic to forecast commissions in the thousands. You should base your targets on how much traffic you receive. Secondly, you should be conservative with your projections to avoid disappointment. Kidding yourself won’t increase your conversion rates, but traffic and dedication will.
Select a Target Market
Choose a market segment for your marketing activities. A market segment is a group of people who share one or more common characteristics, for example, college-educated females aged 25 to 45 or stay-at-home dads living in the United States.
Your target market can be broad or niche/narrow. Affiliates frequently target people they can relate to and who have similar characteristics, passions, and interests. My target audience includes male and female digital nomads, remote workers, global citizens, online marketers, WordPress users, freelancers, and so forth.
Choose Primary and Secondary Platforms
As an affiliate, you need digital properties and platforms to deploy links. After all, you must place links somewhere. Primary platforms include websites, blogs, and YouTube channels. For example, many YouTubers add affiliate links to their channels, descriptions, and videos. Secondary platforms include email marketing, landing page funnels, and social media networks.
A primary platform will enable you to get enough traffic whereas only using secondary channels will likely lead to failure, for example, only posting affiliate links on Facebook. You might be able to get enough clicks on social media alone, but it’s highly unlikely. Most marketers promote through multiple channels. However, you might spread yourself to thin by focusing on two primary platforms equally or too many channels. I stick mostly to one primary and one secondary platform. Lastly, some channels are better than others for generating sales.
Plan and Execute
With your platforms chosen; you need a plan. Your plan should outline what you’ll do daily/weekly to reach your content/traffic goals. For bloggers, it could be posting twice a week, and for YouTubers, it might be uploading two to five videos. As you create your content and add affiliate links, consider the FTC’s disclosure guidelines. Aim to create a transparent and fair platform, which will increase trust in your brand and recommendations.
You can be broad or narrow with your blogs and videos. I recommend picking four to six related categories that you want to cover to give yourself options, for example, health, fitness, lifestyle, and nutrition. One or two categories may yield very few topics to cover. As an extension of my target audience, I create content about working online, marketing, money matters, WordPress, and YouTube. Those are my main categories.
Search for and Join Affiliate Programs in Your Niche
Consider which products/services appeal to your target market and join a few programs, like five to ten. In this post, I discuss how to choose affiliate programs. The top affiliate marketing networks have more than thirty program categories like automotive, clothing, computers, education, business, travel, and more. Networks make it convenient for publishers to review, apply, and join programs. Private networks and portals are available too. Once you get the hang of things, participate in as many programs as you can manage efficiently.
Having a website makes getting accepted into programs a lot easier for four reasons.
- A website ties you to a digital asset and online platform.
- A site creates a level of accountability and credibility.
- Affiliate managers can accurately track and analyze data from your site.
- Your site can be reviewed for compliance.
Many affiliate managers check to see if publishers have websites. They do this to weed out uncommitted marketers and potential bad actors. If you don’t have a site, you don’t exist in the minds of most managers. A social media profile is not equivalent to a website.
An affiliate manager can decline your request/application. Reasons for declines vary, and you can email the program manager for more details. You want to ensure it isn’t because you don’t have a website since you might not get a second chance to register.
Your website can be simple and should have a few standard pages such as an about page. Also, it helps to have some content published before you begin applying for programs. In this post, I cover websites, domains, hosting, and WordPress.
Can you do affiliate marketing without a website? Yes, a website isn’t mandatory, but having one will increase your program approval rates, support relationship building, and expand your online footprint. The critical question is, what portion of high earning affiliates operate without a site? Probably a low percentage in the single digits.
Track Your Results
Traffic and income are two items you should monitor. They indicate how you’re performing in real-time.
Google Analytics (GA) is a suite of free tools to track and analyze site data. It’s an essential tool for affiliates and online marketers. It measures five traffic sources, i.e., organic search, direct, referral, social media, and email. Suppose five people click on a search engine result and come to my site. GA will record that. Google provides free training for GA, and I recommend taking Google Analytics for Beginners.
I track my income on a spreadsheet. When I receive payments, I record them. I check affiliate networks and programs daily to quarterly depending on my activities and expectations. For example, I login quarterly to review programs I hardly promote.
Review, Reflect, and Pivot
Like any business, you should review and reflect on your plans, activities, and results. Each month I assess my traffic, income, marketing strategy, search engine rankings, website design and functionality, competitors, and existing content. Additionally, if a program starts producing above average commissions, I’ll focus on it more.
Pivoting and changing priorities is a way of life for many affiliates, entrepreneurs, and ambitious individuals. As you review your activities and experiment, be open to change and new opportunities. For example, you might start off as a travel vlogger than shift to blogging because you prefer the writing process. I’ve made hundreds of big and small pivots with more forthcoming.
Lifelong learning and developing new skills are the paths to take. Successful affiliates are well-rounded critical thinkers who understand online marketing, search engine optimization, web design, partnerships, persuasion methods, e-commerce, money matters, sales, and more.
Identify your strengths, weaknesses, and what you must learn. Then, create a learning plan to develop your skills. There are many free and paid educational resources, for example, blogs, YouTube, and e-learning sites like Coursera and Pluralsight. You won’t become a super affiliate overnight, but perhaps one day if you keep at it.