Before you jump right into the affiliate marketing business, it’s essential to have the right mindset. Many people look at successful affiliate sites and imagine how much sales commission they can pull each month, but the reality isn’t quite as simple.
You need to be prepared to put in a lot of work to become a successful affiliate. If you’re interested in the business, welcome to this guide on how to start affiliate marketing.
How It All Began
Before we begin, I’d like to share some background information. I’ve been in affiliate sales for almost a decade now. While I lay no claim to billionaire success through this, I’ve managed to do all right – at the very least, enough to live comfortably.
Things started reasonably sedately. I’d gotten retrenched from my job and was at a loss of what to do. Like perhaps many of you, I found not having to rely on a single employer fascinating. Of course, being able to work from home was an added advantage.
Being an affiliate, I also didn’t need to develop a product or stock inventory. All I had to do was promote something, and I’d earn a commission for each sale.
Not exactly. It took years of trial and error for me to sort through the details. After some time, I found what worked or didn’t – and it just rolled on from there. I hope that some of the things I’ve learned will ease your journey into this business.
Choosing Your Platform
Almost everyone today follows something (or someone) on the Internet. For example, if you’re an avid Youtube fan, you’re likely subscribed to a few channels. Or perhaps you’re an Instagram fan and follow certain personalities.
The idea behind this is that any platform has the potential for success. Whichever one you choose, it likely has an existing success story to serve as your role model. Some platforms to consider include:
Ideally, choose a single platform to start with and focus on that. Multi-platform does work, but it will be overwhelming to handle everything at the same time on your own.
Selecting a Niche
Now that you know what you’ll be using to promote stuff, you need to consider what you will be promoting. Ideally, choose a product niche that interests you. This way, you’ll have an easier time talking about it.
Remember that consumers today aren’t stupid – if you don’t know what you’re talking about, it isn’t likely you will convert many sales. That said, the niche you choose may also affect your revenue model.
Some affiliate categories offer minimal commission rates, meaning you have to sell many items to make a reasonable profit. Let’s consider some of the top-level item types:
These are generally non-physical products such as eBooks, service subscriptions, and digital software licenses. Many of these items come with high sales commission rates and are very popular among affiliates.
Most soft product affiliate programs are run directly by service providers. For example, if you want to help a web hosting company sell its plans, you need to approach them directly to see if you qualify to join.
Hard products are physical items like oven toasters, computer peripherals, or even golf clubs. Things like these sell in retail stores and online, the latter of which you’ll be promoting. The problem with hard products is most of them pay relatively lower commission rates due to lower hard product margins.
Perhaps the most famous hard product affiliate program is Amazon Affiliates. By promoting items sold on Amazon, you can earn a commission per product sold. The commission rate you make is based on item category but caps out at a maximum of 10%.
Understanding Demand and Value for Affiliate Marketing Products
Before choosing a niche based on this, do some groundwork to check out the market potential. Some tools can give indications based on Internet search data. For example, Google Trends can offer historical trends in what search queries.
If you’d like something a bit more accurate, Ahrefs offers a very comprehensive Search Engine Optimization toolset. It’s a paid service that can scan global search data to give you search-based information covering many areas.
Aside from demand, you have to see if the product has real value behind it. This value doesn’t refer to the value of a product. Instead, it serves as an indicator of how tough the competition is for that niche.
Let’s take Google Ads as an example of a tool you can use for research. It has a Keyword Planner, which serves this purpose nicely. Sign up for an account (it’s free) and launch the Keyword Planner. Next, type in the keywords for the product(s) you’re interested in selling.
What comes out will be a list of keywords associated with the product, including how many people are searching for them every month and how high the competition is for those keywords. The value of bids serves as an indicator of how much that niche can be worth – the higher, the more valuable it is likely to be.
Finding an Affiliate Program to Join
Once you’ve decided on the niche to promote, it’s time to determine where to sign up for the affiliate program. There are two main ways that brands run affiliate programs:
You will need to sign up for the affiliate program through the brand itself. This method is a bit more complex since you’ll likely need to manage multiple affiliate accounts. However, direct programs also often boast higher commission rates.
Via an Affiliate Platform
Many services integrate affiliate programs from multiple brands. Some examples include CJ Affiliates, ShareASale, and Impact. These sites make managing affiliate programs easier for you, but there isn’t a guarantee you will find the brand you wish to promote on it.
Google can help you find out how to join a particular affiliate program. Simply type:
“keyword” + “affiliate program”
Build for Success
Once you’ve got the platform and niche in mind, it’s time to consider how you’re going to start making sales. Ultimately, this boils down to two key elements: Visitor traffic volume and conversion rate.
Visitor volume is how many visitors your platform will attract over a fixed period. The more visitors you have, the higher your sales are likely to be.
Conversion rate is the percentage of visitors that purchase through your affiliate link. It is entirely possible to have a good traffic volume and poor conversion rate if things aren’t done correctly.
Satisfying both parts of the equation is where you will be spending most of your time. To handle it, this too has a rather specific recipe:
1. Build Great Content
Content is the heart of your platform and will be a big part of what draws traffic in and helps you convert that to sales. However, it’s not simply volume that counts, but you need to build great content that search engines trust to rank well in search queries.
You should also choose the right elements in the appropriate content, for example:
Your content also has to captivate your audience and convince them that “Product X” seems to be a great purchase. Of course, honesty is a keyword to keep in mind as well. Scamming visitors is a surefire way to draw public ire.
2. Search Engine Optimization
To extend the potential of your content, you need to look towards Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s a very complex art more than science and encompasses almost everything you do – from content structure to site design elements.
Ultimately, your goal is to tweak things so effectively that you push the content you have to the top of search rankings for as many keywords as possible. Anything lower than the first ten results on Google, and you’ll find a tremendous negative impact on visitor volume.
3. Social Media Networking
Social Media sites affect your traffic in various ways. For example, if you run an affiliate website and have an associated Facebook account, search engines will consider the social activity as an indicator for search ranking.
A social media channel can also be used for content marketing, extending your reach beyond search engines alone.
4. Paid Traffic
In some cases, it may be worthwhile to invest funds into advertising. Until you gain more experience in affiliate marketing, treat this with extreme caution. Only invest in paid traffic for specific marketing campaigns, keeping a close eye on Return on Investment (ROI).
Paid traffic can quickly become a bottomless pit you sink funds into if you aren’t calculating your returns.
5. Email Marketing
Another possible way to increase your reach is by engaging in email marketing. As you build up traffic over time, you can collect visitor information and build targeted email marketing campaigns. Do so with care, as spam will quickly get you blacklisted.
6. Outreach Programs
Although outreach programs are mainly considered a part of SEO, I list them separately since there is the potential to draw more traffic simply by guest posting on other websites. Outreach means reaching out to other sites online and asking them to exchange posts or allow you to publish an article on their site.
This process serves to increase your reach, but more importantly, embedding your link on other sites adds to your site credibility in the eyes of search engines.
7. Glowing Neon CTAs
Regardless of the areas you focus on, always remember to have clear Call To Action (CTA) elements. Netizens can sometimes be a little blind given the sheer volume of information bombarding them at all angles.
It can be easy for them to miss a relatively obtuse affiliate link embedded somewhere within your content. Don’t be shy of having clear, bold “Click Here” signs to encourage them to follow through – a missed click is a sale that’s 100% gone.
The segments I’ve shared above are only a brief explanation of the many possibilities. If you’d like to learn more, here are some other articles you may be interested in:
As you can see, the road to success in affiliate marketing is a long and arduous one. Yet, the many success stories in this $8.2 billion market offer hope. With the proper research and determination, you too can make it in the affiliate marketing business.
Founder of WebHostingSecretRevealed.net (WHSR) - a hosting review trusted and used by 100,000's users. More than 15 years experience in web hosting, affiliate marketing, and SEO. Contributor to ProBlogger.net, Business.com, SocialMediaToday.com, and more.