What is Affiliate Marketing?
If you’re looking to start a home business, affiliate marketing has to be at the top of the list as it is one of the best online business ideas. The concept of Affiliate marketing is simple, you promote a merchants product or service and they give you commission on the sales you generate or the click-throughs you send to their website. This can be viewed as performance based marketing as affiliates don’t get paid without producing results. There are a number of methods that you can use to make money from affiliate marketing both on and offline.
For merchants, affiliate marketing is a cost effective way to get other people or businesses to promote your products and services by rewarding them with a commission from incremental revenue. This is similar to having an outsourced sales team that only receives payment once a referral or sale is made.
For a marketer, participating in an affiliate marketing program can result in a nice passive income with the potential to bring in thousands of dollars per month if scaled appropriately. That’s because, depending on your marketing skills, affiliate marketing can create a steady flow of income even when you are not in front of your computer. Because of this, affiliate marketing is probably one of the quickest and cheapest (but certainly not the easiest!) ways to start making money online as you don't have to create any products yourself.
How does Affiliate Marketing work?
When you join an Affiliate program and choose the products that you want to sell, sellers provide you with a unique affiliate code that you can use to refer traffic to the target site. Basically, you as a publisher will be rewarded when you help a business by promoting their products or services. What makes this topic so appealing to internet marketers is that there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to go about affiliate marketing, nor is there any sort of silver bullet. You must truly understand the target customer base, and communicate the merchant’s offering to them in a manner that builds trust and integrity for your website.
Affiliate Marketing is the most cost effective and viral channel of marketing for e-commerce companies. Because of this, many product suppliers set their commission levels high so that they attract more internet marketers. Unlike pay-per-click advertising, which charges merchants every time someone clicks on a link to their site, affiliate marketing costs nothing to the merchant unless there is a sale — at which point a commission, typically between 4 and 20 percent and sometimes as high as 100% (essentially they’re paying for the traffic), is paid.
What are the Best Affiliate Marketing Programs?
Everyday more companies are embracing affiliate marketing as an effective channel for driving traffic to their sites and converting readers into paying customers. Here is a brief overview of some of the top affiliate marketing companies:
Commission Junction is one of the longest-running affiliate marketing companies, and as such, it has attracted some very big brand names for promoters to apply to. While it certainly deserves to be on any list of best affiliate marketing programs for beginners, it has high expectations for affiliates to start producing results within six months of signing up, so the best time to apply is after establishing your site and gaining some experience with other programs first. By analyzing the competition, and reading e-books and articles about online affiliate marketing and signing up for some super-affiliates' email lists you will gain the knowledge needed to succeed.
With thousands of merchants utilizing their network, LinkShare has been a top Affiliate Marketing Network for quite some time now and has a great reputation in the industry. LinkShare has a wide range of products for marketers to choose from, and operates a user friendly service with excellent reporting abilities.
Amazon.com is one of the pioneers in affiliate marketing and continues to be a major player today in driving the industry forward. Their Amazon affiliate marketing program, better known as Amazon Associates, offers affiliate marketers the flexibility to promote practically any product listed on the Amazon Marketplace. Coupled with the brand awareness of the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon seems to be the most popular affiliate program amongst internet marketers.
ClickBank is well known for paying some of the highest commissions of any affiliate marketing network today. The ClickBank affiliate marketing program is well known to offer digital products in a wide range of niches, and is a great place to dive into affiliate marketing as they have a very simple sign up process.
How to start affiliate marketing and be successful?
To oversimplify the process a bit, all you need do is setup a site and choose an affiliate to associate with and then just let it run its course. However, your success will greatly hinge on your ability to fine-tune your online affiliate campaigns, which can include building additional landing pages, on-page and off-page search engine optimization (SEO), Pay Per Click (PPC) ads, A/B testing, etc.
Needless to say, successful affiliate marketing is not just about posting a banner ad or affiliate link on your website and then sitting back and watching the commission pour in. A little research will help you to understand the target customer, market/industry, opportunities, risks and emerging trends. Once you have a good grasp of your target customer and the merchant’s offering, affiliate marketing becomes more dependent on your marketing strategy and building trust and brand awareness with your target customers.
Prior to developing your content, it is best to determine the communication style (voice) of your website or blog (based on your target customer profile) and how transparent you will be with your readers. Many affiliate marketers attribute their success with being honest and open about the commissions they earn by offering links on their site to a merchant’s offering. Well known blogger and affiliate marketer Patt Flynn actually posts his income reports on his site smartpassiveincome.com, stating it is his “hope that you can read these and take something away from them that will help you and your current (and future) online businesses.”
This is a great way to show that you are more concerned with educating your readers rather than pushing a sale onto them. In fact, many people have admitted that they are more inclined to click-through to an offering on an affiliate website if they trust that the author truly cares about educating the reader and is open about their commission. Your aim should be to build a relationship with your readers. As Amy Lynn Andrews of amylynnandrews.com states when discussing her top affiliate marketing tips, “When a friend recommends a product to you, you listen. Not so much when just any old Joe does. In fact, if you’re like me, it makes you skeptical”.
To be a successful affiliate the product you are promoting should be relevant to the content of the site you are promoting from. Typically the more content and research you generate the greater the likelihood of you generating significant sales. Thus, it is highly advised that you choose an offering that you are passionate about, considering you will spend a lot of time developing content for your site.
Even better, pick a few merchants with offerings that fit within your main topic or niche but be careful as the first mistake a lot of affiliate marketers make is that they register with too many different affiliate programs and networks to promote everything. Not all companies offer affiliate program, but for the companies who offer Affiliate program, you can always check on their site or FAQ page. When you join an affiliate network or program and choose the products that you want to sell, merchants will provide you with a unique affiliate code that you can use to refer traffic to the target site.
After deciding what kind of affiliate site you want to create and structuring your content, your next job is to drive traffic to your site and make sure you are receiving quality traffic. The key to driving traffic to your affiliate site is to write highly relevant and keyword-rich content. Here is a great article from nichepursuits.com outlining 6 Ways to Create Content that Engages and Converts.
“A+ content is one of the best ways to boost your revenue per visitor.”
– Perrin Carrell of nichepursuits.com
Next you will want to launch effective promotion campaigns to get targeted traffic via paid traffic sources like Facebook and Google Adwords, or non-paid (organic) by optimizing your page for search engines and link building. The more traffic you're able to drive to your affiliate page, the higher your chances of making a sale by converting your traffic to clicks on your affiliate links.
Like any home online business, you will get out of affiliate marketing what you put into it. If you want your Affiliate Marketing Business to be successful then it’s recommended to spend at least 12-15 hours a week on developing and executing your strategy and synthesizing your learnings to rinse and repeat with tweaks of improvement. While there are always a few exceptions to the rule, this is not a “set it and forget it” monetization solution the way AdSense and other display networks might be. An important thing for any Affiliate Marketer to do is set up a strict schedule for your affiliate marketing business and stick to it. Successful affiliate marketing takes a lot of effort and time on a consistent basis. The main difference between those that succeed and those that fail in affiliate marketing is this: those that continue at it and don’t give up tend to be the ones who actually make money.
Top Affiliate Marketing tools
Anytime you jump into a new adventure such as affiliate marketing, it is always to your benefit to start off with the right tools for the job. Below is an overview of the types of tools you will want to invest in to start off on a good note, down the path towards success:
CMS and Web Hosting
First and foremost, you will need to choose a web hosting package capable enough to handle the traffic you expect to drive to your site. There are a wealth of services out there that are up to the task but the important things you want to look for when searching for a hosting provider are Uptime, Customer service response times, and the amount of bandwidth available on your server. I few good ones to look into are Bluehost, Hostgator, and Dreamhost.
Next, depending on your experience with web development you’ll want to choose a Content Management System (CMS) with user friendly features and a wealth of support from 3rd party developers. WordPress is one of the top CMS’ and you’ll never be hard pressed to find easy to use site themes and plugins to help you make an attractive site that’s appealing to your readers.
Keyword Research Tools
Google's AdWords Keyword tool is a common starting point for SEO keyword research. Keyword research can help you find keywords with high traffic and weak competition or any combination you are looking for. Most keyword research tools extract their data from the same source: Google Adwords. This is a great place to start as you learn how to build targeted keyword lists for your sites articles.
Once you have a good grasp of keyword research, there are a wealth of tools out there
Because Google algorithms are ever changing and places more value on sites that produce quality content for relevant search terms search engine optimization tools are highly necessary to ensure that your site is optimized well for good rankings. As an affiliate marketing, your goal is to rank highly on the first page of google for your targeted keywords. The higher your site ranks on the first page, the more traffic you will receive.
Here are a few tools to assist you in analyzing your site (and your competitors!) and optimizing your content for your audience:
Moz- Moz is regarded by most as a must need tool for search engine optimization. They have a wealth of free and paid tools to assist you in improving your seo, web analytics, link building, branding, and much more. They also run a pretty awesome blog keeping you up to date on the all things related to SEO which can be found at http://moz.com/blog.
SEM Rush – SEM Rush can be looked at as a swiss army knife of SEO tools. Not only can it assist you with keyword research, but you will also be able to spy on your competitors, conduct site audits, and backlink analysis. The depth of data at your finger-tips is huge with this tool.
HubSpot – HupSpot’s claim to be an “all-in-one” marketing software has proven to be pretty spot on by most accounts. In addition to SEO and analytics to help you track and manage your affiliate campaigns effectively, HubSpt’s marketing and sales platforms offer landing page generation, lead management, email marketing, and a wealth of other tools sure to help you get the job done.
The best affiliate marketing training is learning by doing. There will be a lot of trial and error when learning affiliate marketing but it certainly doesn’t have to be difficult as affiliate marketing isn’t as complicated as it may seem. Pay close attention to what other affiliate marketers are doing and focus on understanding what’s working and what isn’t as you work towards building a long term online business.