First and foremost, I do need to disclaim that finding a resource that is relatively impartial about affiliate marketing is a hell of a challenge.
Most online resources, posts, articles, and websites are incredibly positive about the concept, sometimes a bit too much. This does not mean they are wrong. I just hoped I’d find some more objectivity in the subject.
Fear not, Fab is coming to the rescue! I want you to have a clear idea of what affiliate marketing is and how you can benefit from it.
I personally endorse a few tools (all tools that we personally use in our business), as well as joining a few affiliate programs for apps like Audible — which I’ll be using as some of my case studies.
“A customer talking about their experience with you is worth ten times that which you write or say about yourself.” ― David J. Greer, Wind In Your Sails
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing essentially means you are promoting a product as provided by a third-party website or source.
Depending on the way the relationship is set, a link will be given to you that you can use on your post. Affiliate cookies are then dropped on your visitor’s computer once they visit your site or the link provided to you. Once a sale has been made through you, you are then given a commission.
Pretty straightforward, right?
What are the benefits of being an affiliate when you are a writer, entrepreneur or blogger?
Perhaps the biggest benefit of affiliate marketing is the ability to earn money in your sleep — well, that’s the dream, isn’t it? Of course, regular updates and work are required, but once you’ve set up a successful site, those sales will keep coming in.
If you’ve built a solid online database then you’ve already done the hardest parts of affiliate marketing:
- You’ve got traffic — This is the biggest struggle when starting out. It’s much easier to add in relevant product reviews and content to start monetising current traffic.
- You’ve built trust — Already having established relationships with your visitors or readers means they will be more likely to follow your recommendations.
- You’ve got motivation — Simply having the drive to sit down and work on something unprompted is tougher than you’d imagine. If you’re a writer, creator, or blogger, you have this key element already.
People who are incredibly successful as affiliate marketers are usually sitting in one of these categories:
- Bloggers and creators
- Course creators
- Public figures and personal brands
If you are not part of these categories, it does not mean you have no chance to become successful as an affiliate marketer. However, people used to create content have better chances at creating a compelling story for their audiences.
I love the example of Pat Flynn and how he has a full page of recommended resources, most of which are affiliate partners.
Obviously, when it comes to showcasing these resources or incorporating them into a list, it’s key that you disclose your intent. Once again, providing an example from the same page on Pat Flynn’s website.
You can book your affiliate marketing efforts by:
- Writing regular quality content promoting products you are passionate about
- Nurturing trust with your audience
- Always learning! The industry moves so quickly, you need to keep up with SEO trends and Google algorithm changes.
- Choosing a network with the right support. A talented affiliate specialist/manager can make all the difference.
- Helping and learning from other affiliate marketers. Use forums or Facebook groups to connect, share ideas and help each other.
- Venturing into new ways of promoting your content and widening your reach such as paid advertising, email marketing, or social media marketing.
Do I need a website or blog to be successful at affiliate marketing?
Very important. People turn to social media for recommendations, opinions, inspiration, and, of course, verification.
Similarly to writing, affiliate marketing very much depends on your relationship with your readers, which is often built through your openness and honesty on social media. A strong social media presence allows people to learn more about you and your brand.
You are increasing the chances of connecting with your audience as well as engaging with them on a regular basis. The more they know, the more they’ll trust your opinions.
Even without having a website — what they need is for you to tell them WHY they need to trust what you have to say.
You’ll need to create a strong story
In the early days, an affiliate marketer could build a quick website with low-quality content and use black hat techniques to drive enough traffic to convert. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.
An affiliate needs to consider its brand identity. In such a saturated, competitive market a strong brand identity will give you the edge.
Affiliate marketing is no get-rich-quick scheme as it is often perceived: This is because it’s assumed you already have built an audience that trusts you, and you’re able to create compelling stories around the products you are trying to push.
You need to trial-and-error the products you promote and sometimes consider different niches. It’s important to keep doing this until you know exactly what your audience is interested in. Once you do, focus your attention on growing your most popular niche.
Possibly the most nerve-shredding news for affiliate marketers is the constant change in SEO and algorithms, and how they will affect how often your audience will see your content.
However, if you’ve consistently worked to provide helpful and quality content without incorporating underhand techniques, you’ll most likely survive.
How can you build trust with your audience to make conversions?
By only promoting products in which you believe and are passionate about. Writing about a product that you have the first-hand experience with is beneficial for you; not only will it be easy for you to write about the product, but the content will naturally contain relevant and high-ranking keywords.
Telling a story is also essential — as a company, we personally love to spotlight the benefits of a product for our audience.
In the following guide on how to use Tailwind Tribes, we disclose our affiliate status in a very fun way (to make it feel more relatable to our audience), and we provide true value from our content, giving people a clear idea of how the product can benefit them directly.
What are the best ways to earn commissions?
Now that we cleared out the most common questions, there are two main ways you can earn a commission:
Pay Per Click — A very basic way to do affiliate marketing is the pay-per-click solution. In this case, you get paid regardless of whether the visit ends in a sale (which usually means the commission itself can be insanely low).
Pay Per Performance — This, on the other end, is one of the most lucrative in terms of affiliate marketing, as you will be paid only when an action is completed or when a visitor has made a purchase. This can either be fulfilled as pay per sale (very common via the use of discount codes, and reflecting as a commission or percentage based on that sale) or pay per lead.
Very common with software and online solutions, for example, this type of marketing happens when companies are looking to grow or expand their business through generating leads. You usually hear these sponsorships via podcasts, for example.
Pros and cons of different affiliate solutions
I would consider this the most old-school solution, as these are programs with massive networks that give you access to hundreds of programs — they are objectively a marketplace — and their job is to provide you with everything you need to set up your links.
What I have noticed is that most of the affiliate networks are very crowded or overwhelming, and most people tend to sign up and never use them. Some of the pros include the fact that the network will provide you with the links of the products you want to promote and metrics to track your performance as well as payouts the moment you join.
Merchant affiliate program
Merchant affiliates are networks that are linked to a big marketplace and therefore more specific on the type of products.
This one is believed to give you higher commissions, but you have to go after a program on your own. Think about Amazon affiliates, ASOS, or even LikeitKnowit or Reward Style.
These are personally my favourite solutions, as they are big enough but inspire loyalty both in you and your audience. They also provide the best products when done correctly.
Easier to be introduced in recurring conversations and content, they are a favourite among fashion bloggers.
Internal affiliate program
These are the smallest scale and usually set up by individual companies (again, the discount codes/ambassadors), so most times they won’t be called affiliate programs at all.
These work well for companies with either products you use every day, or companies with different product ranges. Can be a lot of work for little return of investment.
We personally work with a few tools that give us great incentives and allow us to pay for the software itself. It’s very easy for us to recommend them since we use them on a daily basis.
Should you join an affiliate program?
In our humble opinion, there are three ways to make the most of affiliate programs:
- Score a big deal with a big company selling well-priced products, allowing you to make big bucks on commission. Examples can be Vitamix or a big software company, as they tend to be more generous on fees.
- Create your own shop section on your website and link back to merchant solutions like Amazon, RewardStyle, and similar platforms. This almost turns into a favourite-picks solution, and it’s very beneficial for you and your audience. The shop will link out to the specific websites (e.g., Amazon), and you’ll get your commissions handled for you. In this case, the new Instagram shop function may come handy. Remember to add disclaimers on the website or on the page about your affiliate status.
- Create a type of post, e.g., outfit of the day or books of the month. This is the article version of the shop. In this case, remember to disclose your involvement at the bottom of the post.
As an example, we run a recurring series of articles with Audible.
I am a big fan of the product — I love listening and reading books — and it fits perfectly with our current audience. Unsurprisingly, conversions from these sorts of articles are incredibly high.
Should you look into affiliate marketing for yourself?
Overall, affiliate marketing can be worth the work, but it’s important to remember that it does require a certain level of skills and overall expertise in order to make it fruitful.
Affiliate marketing taps into the idea that word-of-mouth marketing has simply evolved to fit the online world.
Entrepreneurs like Pat Flynn have made affiliate marketing an integral part of their business strategy.
“Affiliate marketing is something I’ve been involved in ever since 2009 on my very first website. On that site, an architecture-related website, I promoted an exam software product that has generated more than $200,000 in commissions over the years.” — Smart affiliate marketing strategies
Combining an effective content marketing strategy with an affiliate marketing plan could help you bring in some residual income at little cost — and pay for a few extra coffees along the way.