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Blogging has a number of great benefits, not only can you write about your passions which other like-minded people will read but you can also share your knowledge with others and build a thriving online community.
A common question that most bloggers will have is how do I monetise my blog? You’re creating great content and you have increasing visitors to your blog but you want to make money from it in order to make all your hard work worthwhile.
There are a number of ways of monetising your site which can include advertising i.e. using Google AdSense, sponsored posts, selling courses/services, consulting and affiliate marketing.
In this article we will cover a popular way of monetising a site which is through affiliate marketing.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing essentially means you promote a product or service which you like, you then earn a commission whenever your recommendation leads to a sale or lead. The commission paid can be a percentage of the sale that have been made or it can be a flat fee.
Unlike with advertising which works on a click-per-click (CPC) or pay-per-thousand impressions (CPM) basis, affiliate marketing works on a cost-per-acquisition (CPA) or cost-per-lead (CPL) basis.
Affiliate marketing is a great way to earn passive income. You can make money while you’re on holiday, out shopping, at work or while you’re asleep. For example, the blog article that you wrote a couple of years ago which only took you a couple of hours to write could be earning you a monthly income for the foreseeable future.
Another key benefit is you don’t have to buy any physical product to sell. Creating a blog will only cost you at most a few hundred dollars, you just need a domain name, hosting, a blogging platform such as WordPress and of course great content. While if you’re selling a physical product, you will need to worry about returns, dealing with customer queries, dispatching orders and sourcing products and much more. With affiliate marketing you just need to include your affiliate recommendations in your blog content.
The number of affiliate programs or networks that you can sign-up to is also unlimited, that means you can promote as many affiliate products/services as you deem suitable for your blog audience.
Difference between Affiliate Programs & Affiliate Networks
Users can sign-up to either affiliate programs or affiliate networks. An affiliate program is one that is set-up by an individual merchant such as Amazon Associates. When you earn commission you are paid by that particular merchant.
Affiliate networks on the other hand are essentially a group of merchants under one umbrella. The affiliate network acts as a middlemen between the affiliate marketer and the merchant. An affiliate network such as Awin may represent thousands of different merchants located around the world. It allows users to easily find a range of products and companies to promote without having to sign-up to different affiliate programs and just be paid by one company.
How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
1. Find a product or company that you have used in the past and really like, check if they have an affiliate program.
2. If they do have an affiliate program sign-up to it.
3. Once you have signed-up, you will be provided with a unique affiliate ID. You will use this affiliate ID in your affiliate links which you post on your blog to promote their products/services.
A typical affiliate link would look something similar to the following:
As you can see, it’s just a standard link but at the end it’s appended with affid=9876 which is the affiliate ID. Any traffic which you send over to the merchant website will be tracked using the unique ID that you have been assigned.
When a user clicks on an affiliate link, a cookie is installed on the user’s computer. This means even if the user does not buy the product straightaway, you will still get a commission as long as the cookie has not expired.
4. Once one of your users makes a purchase you will earn a commission. The commission you earn will depend on the fee structure of your merchant. For some products you may even get a recurring monthly commission this may be in the case when a user purchases a subscription type product.
5. The merchant will then pay out your commission once you reach a certain amount. Commission payments are normally issued between 30–45 days and is normally paid by bank transfer or through PayPal.
What Can You Expect to Earn through Affiliate Marketing?
The amount you can earn through affiliate marketing is really down to you. It’s not uncommon for bloggers to be earning 4 to 5 figures a month.
Earning potential depends on a number of factors, including the size of your traffic and the products you’re recommending. Your aim as a blogger is to write quality content which users find useful. As your traffic grows so will your revenue through affiliate marketing.
You may not realise but some of the most popular websites out there are ones related to affiliate marketing.
Let’s take a look at some examples:
The hugely popular financial website that was created by Martin Lewis and advises consumers on how to save money makes it’s revenue through affiliate marketing. It makes over $1.5 million in monthly revenue through affiliate marketing. In 2012, the website was sold to Moneysupermarket.com for £87 million ($113 million), not bad for an affiliate website which only cost Martin Lewis £100 ($130) in 2003 to set-up.
Kayak which provides travel information and prices on flight, hotels, and rental cars is another example of an affiliate site. It may be a more advanced version of an affiliate site but it still gets its commission from the booking site when a user books a flight or hotel. In 2012 it had revenues of $292m.
As you can see from these two examples, affiliate marketing can be very lucrative and it’s really down to you how successful you want to make it.
Factors to Consider before Signing up to an Affiliate Programs/Networks?
There are literally thousands of affiliate programs out there so choosing the right ones for your blog and audience is critical. Before considering signing up to any affiliate programme you will need to consider the following factors:
How Reputable is the Affiliate Merchant?
You only want to promote products that you trust and that are respected and well known. There is no point promoting poor products or services as you will lose credibility and will lose your audience.
What’s the Cookie Length?
What is the Commission Structure?
Commission rates can vary between the types of products. For example, for physical products, commission rates can vary between 1 – 15%. While for digital products it can be as high as 30% – 80%. Some affiliate programmes even pay out monthly recurring commissions. This is normally for subscription type services. As long as the user remains subscribed you will get a monthly commission every month. You should always check the commission rates for the products/merchants you’re thinking of recommending on the different affiliate programs, as they may vary. You want to be recommending the one that’s offering the highest commission rate.
What’s the Pay-Out Method?
You should always check what pay-out methods your affiliate program or merchant supports. The most common pay-out methods include PayPal, bank transfer and cheque. If for example, they only pay-out by cheque, and if the amount is in US dollars while you only have a UK bank account you will face issues. You really don’t want to be finding out that the 3 thousand dollars which you have earnt in affiliate commission, can’t be paid out as there’s no suitable payment method for your particular country.
What’s the Minimum Pay-Out Threshold?
Affiliate programmes normally have minimum pay-out threshold limits. For example, an affiliate may have a threshold of $100, if you haven’t reached the pay-out amount it means you won’t get paid. If the pay-out amount is too high, you may have to wait months before you receive any commission. Ideally you want to the pay-out amount to be as low as possible.
As you can see there is lots to consider before you sign up to an affiliate programme or network. Always take time to read carefully through the terms and conditions before signing-up, you don’t want to find out later that your account has been banned and you won’t be receiving your commission as you’ve violated one of their terms. For example, some affiliates ban users from promoting affiliate links through social media, while others will require that you disclose that you’re using affiliate links. Another important point is to check what support they can provide you with? For example, do they assign you an affiliate manager who you can contact directly if you have any queries? Always try to check reviews from other affiliates who have worked with the program/company to ensure there are no issues.
Should I Use Follow or NoFollow for Affiliates Links?
An important concept which you should understand is the difference between Follow and NoFollow links. This is especially important if you’re thinking of using affiliate marketing on your site/blog.
When you add a link to your site in WordPress, it’s classed as a ‘dofollow’ link. So if you add an affiliate link to an external site to one of your blog articles it will be a follow link such as the one shown below:
<a href="https://affiliatecompany.com/?affId=89725">Buy Now</a>
The above link is an affiliate link which when clicked generates traffic to the target site. Search engines such as Google use bots to crawl and index websites continuously. If search engines encounter that you’re using too many links that point to affiliate sites, you could get penalised. For example, you may lose your search engine ranking and you are therefore less likely to show up in the search engine results which is not what you want. The reason being, is they may think the target websites are paying you in order to boost their Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
In order to avoid getting penalised, you should use the NoFollow attribute “rel=”nofollow”” in all your affiliate links. With the NoFollow attribute you’re essentially telling the search engine bots not to follow the link to the external site so that it’s not tracked.
The above link with the NoFollow attribute added will now look like:
<a href=https://affiliatecompany.com/?affId=89725” rel=”nofollow”>Buy Now</a>
There are two ways to add the nofollow attribute to your links, one is manually through the WordPress editor and the other is by using a link cloaking plugin such as ThirstyAffiliates (we will cover this plugin later).
To make the change manually through WordPress, go to the “Text” or “Visual” version of your post and make the change manually.
Before the change:
After making the change:
Remember if you’re using affiliate links, writing a sponsored post or writing about product a company has provided you for free always use no follow links.
How to be Successful with Affiliate Marketing?
1. Content is Key
Let’s be honest without quality content on your site you won’t have an audience. If you write good articles that are helpful, informative and valuable, you will have a loyal audience who will visit your site/blog on a regular basis.
Try to also write timeless content, for example, if you write a travel blog and you have written a blog article titled “Best Holiday Destinations for 2014” your audience is unlikely to read it as they will deem it outdated. Try to keep your content updated, this will not only mean your article will be read by more people but it can also improve your search engine rankings.
2. Only Promote Products/Services that you Trust
It’s important that you only promote products from reputable companies that you have used in the past and like. Don’t just for the sake of it promote something just because you think it will generate a good commission for you. Users are not stupid they will clearly see through it and you will lose credibility and your audience may never come back to your site.
Always promote products/services that are relevant to your audience needs and will be helpful. Users are unlikely to buy products which they deem irrelevant to your content.
3. Always Use Disclaimers & Be Transparent
By law you should always disclose any affiliate relationships that you may have. You can put a disclaimer on your side bar of your website. If you fail to disclose that you use affiliate links on your site, your affiliate network or program could ban your account.
4. Track your Links
It is important that you track how you are doing on your blog/site. For example, you should be checking your page views on your affiliate posts, tracking how many people click on your affiliate links and what your conversion rates are.
If you find out that one of your blog articles is not being read by anyone, try to understand why that might be happening and try to resolve the issue. You should also be keeping a spreadsheet with your monthly affiliate earnings. If you see a dip in your earnings, work out why that has happened.
There are plenty of tools/plugins out there to help keep track of things. For example you can use a free plugin called Thirsty Affiliates to track and cloak affiliate links (we will cover useful plugins later on) and also use analytical tools such as Google Analytics.
You can’t just rely on getting organic traffic to your site. You need to do your upmost to get as much traffic as possible onto it, so that users read your blog posts which in turn should mean higher monthly revenues. Use social media such as Facebook and advertising such as Google AdWords to promote your site. Create an email marketing list so that you can build up a list of users. Your audience may read an article on your site but they may never come back. However, if you have their contact details you can email them once you have posted a new article on your post.
6. Don’t Lose Hope
Don’t expect to make thousands of dollars through affiliate marketing overnight. Like with a blog/site, when you launch it, you don’t expect that millions of people will visit it. You first will need to spend time creating content, building an audience, marketing it in order to gain traffic. That’s the same case for affiliate marketing. Affiliate revenue will grow over time as your traffic on your site improves. There are many bloggers out there making a 5 figure monthly income through affiliate marketing so don’t lose hope when you’re first starting out. Work hard on your content and you will be rewarded later on.
Popular Affiliate Networks
SkimLinks has been designed for bloggers who don’t want to spend too much time adding affiliate links in their content and messing about with different settings. The affiliate network provides a useful plugin which allows users to dynamically create affiliate links from their content. SkimLinks has over 2400 merchants, once the affiliate is approved they can work with any merchant/advertiser on their platform.
Commission rates and cookie duration vary by merchant. Signing up to the SkimLinks is free although they do charge 25% on all your earned commission and you’re not allowed to SkimLinks on social media.
Awin previously known as Affiliate Window is United Kingdom’s biggest affiliate network and was established in 2000. They have over 13,000 brands across all sectors including retail, travel, finance and insurance. They may represent major brands like Zara, Topshop, Mango, John Lewis, Boots, HMV, Etsy and many more.
When you initially register you will be required to deposit £5 which is added to your Awin balance. This will be refunded to you once you meet their minimum payment threshold.
You can find advertisers to apply to by entering their name, or searching by category. Cookie duration is set by the individual advertiser as well as commission rates which range from 2-10%.
Awin provides a number of tools including an easy to use dashboard where you can view real-time reports. It also provides a tool called Opportunity Marketplace where you can pitch to merchants in order to do such things as email placements, sponsored content, homepage takeovers, sponsored social media posts.
One of the major advantages of Awin is a low payment threshold which is just £25 ($20) which means you don’t have to wait too long to get paid.
3. CJ Affiliate
CJ Affiliate (formerly known as Commission Junction) was set-up in 1998 and is one of the oldest affiliate networks.
It has over 3000 merchants allowing you to promote a range of physical and digital products in every niche. It provides publishers with great analytics.
Vigilink is similar to SkimLinks in that it scours your posts and converts any relevant content to affiliate links. When someone clicks on your affiliate link, Vigilink will dynamically choose the best merchant to send your visitor to.
It has a good selection of merchants with over 70,000. Vigilink is the perfect affiliate network for those who want to concentrate on creating great content and not having to worry about managing all their affiliate links on their site.
ShareASale has been in business since 2000 and is an extremely reputable affiliate network. It has over 3,900 programs which covers 40 diverse categories. In 2017, ShareASale was acquired by Awin. Signing up to ShareASale is a breeze and it can be completed in a matter of minutes. An affiliate network that is highly recommended.
Popular Affiliate Programs
There are literally thousands of affiliate programs out there. If you like a product or service which you like, and would like to promote, we would recommend that you Google whether they have an affiliate program which you can sign-up to.
Below we have listed two of most popular affiliate programs out there:
1. Amazon Associates
Apart from allowing third-parties to sell physical products on Amazon they also have an affiliate program which is called Amazon Associates. You can literally make commissions by promoting anything from clothing to electronics. Commission rates can range from 1%-12% depending on the category you’re promoting.
Amazon tracking cookies last for 24 hours which is on the low side compared to other networks and programs. Commissions are paid 60 days after a sale has been made. Despite their 24 hour tracking period, they have great conversion rates and you can also earn commissions from residual sales that customers may make as well.
Another great aspect of the Amazon Associates program is that you can promote different Amazon marketplaces i.e. Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.fr, Amzon.de etc. In order to do this, you will need to set-up separate Amazon Associate accounts for the relevant countries.
Amazon won’t approve affiliates until you make at least three sales in a six period month. They also may review your site to ensure that you’re not breaking any of their terms and conditions. If you don’t make the required sales within the specific time period, Amazon will remove you from their programme. This is not a problem, as you can just re-apply again. It will mean that your tracking ID will change so you will need to update your relevant affiliate links in your posts.
Once Amazon has approved you, they will provide you access to their API. The API is useful if you want to use a plugin such as EasyAzon which helps you display the relevant affiliate link on the fly depending on where your visitor is coming from. If you’re not approved in a relevant country you can still add direct links in your posts.
If you are promoting different Amazon marketplaces, you may face the issue of having to create separate bank accounts in order to be paid in the corresponding local currency. You will also have to think about exchanging the money and transferring it your local bank account. Thankfully this is not as complex as it initially sounds, as you can sign-up to Transferwise’s Borderless Account. This essentially is a multi-currency account which allows you to keep money in over 40 currencies which you can then convert at the real exchange rate whenever you require.
If you’re interested in creating an Amazon Associates affiliate site, check out our comprehensive article.
2. eBay Partner Network
The world’s best known auction site has also got an affiliate program which is called eBay Partner Network. Like Amazon, it’s a well-known brand so conversion rates are going to be high and will have a large array of products to promote.
Unlike with Amazon where commission is paid on the actual sale price of a product, with eBay, commission is paid on the fee eBay make from the auction listing.
Once you’ve signed-up, eBay will provide you with their analytics tools which you can track your progress and the revenue that you have made.
Useful Plugins & Tools for Affiliate Marketing
If you monetise your site using affiliate marketing, you will probably be recommending lots of different products and services, keeping track of all your affiliate links and checking relevant analytics can prove challenging. Thankfully there are lots of different plugins and tools out there to help affiliate marketers.
Below are a list of helpful tools and plugins that we recommend:
The plugin is a link cloaking tool but it also has a number of other useful features such as being able to easily manage affiliate links which are kept in a central location.
If your affiliate network or program alters their affiliate link you just need to alter in one place instead having to change every blog post which saves lots of time. It also has a wide range of add-ons. For example, Geolocations allows you to target visitors based on their country they’re visiting from. This allows you to show specific affiliate links based on their location (see more about ThirstyAffiliates).
Check out the following article which covers how to install, configure and use ThirstyAffiliates.
2. Pretty Links
This plugin allows you to shorten your affiliate links so that they look cleaner and less messy. You can also convert your links to nofollow automatically. It also allows you to track where all your clicks are coming from through the links, and you can also filter by the visitor’s location and IP address and much more.
If you have signed-up to the SkimLinks affiliate network you should download their plugin. It allows you to convert existing text in your articles to their equivalent affiliate links automatically. This allows you to easily monetise your blog. It also has other tools such a reporting, URL shortener and much more.
If you promote Amazon products through Amazon Associates, you will definitely find EasyAzon a useful plugin to install. Instead of spending time on Amazon trying to find the correct affiliate link to use for a particular product you’re recommending, you can use the plugin directly from your WordPress editor, which allows you to search by the relevant keyword or ASIN.
As we have also mentioned earlier in the article, you can promote products from different Amazon marketplaces. EasyAzon’s localisation feature allows you to display the relevant product’s affiliate link depending on where your visitor is coming from. For example, if you’re promoting a fitness product on Amazon, if your user is a US visitor, the plugin will display the appropriate US Amazon product link.
5. Google Analytics
The free powerful analytics tool from Google allows you to do a range of things from seeing where your site traffic is coming from, tracking clicks on your site, learn what people are searching for on your site, see what devices your users are using and much more. Google Analytics definitely is a tool an affiliate marketer should not be without.
We have already mentioned the importance of creating an email list on your site in order to increase you affiliate revenue. With OptinMonster you can easily create sign-up forms on. For example, you can create slide in sign-up forms, sidebar forms, lightbox popups and much more. You can also use personalised popup campaigns depending on your visitor’s behaviour which should allow you to have higher conversion rates. It also integrates with a number of email newsletter tools such as MailChimp.
7. Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is an essential tool for making your WordPress site SEO friendly. Having an SEO friendly site will mean you will rank higher in the search engine rankings which in turn means more traffic to your affiliate site. When creating content it will warn you if it conforms to the best SEO practices. Just get it, you won’t regret it.