Affiliate marketing, when done right, is the holy grail for publishers and site owners who are looking to build a reliable stream of passive income.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re already aware of affiliate marketing. But for those that are new to this sphere, affiliate marketing is a simple process where publishers link to advertisers’ websites, receiving commissions on every sale they make.
The following diagram explains the process of affiliate marketing:
As an advertiser or merchant, the advantages of affiliate marketing – instead of running an expensive PPC campaign – is clear. Advertisers only need to pay once a sale is made, with publishers effectively running campaigns on their behalf. So no wasted advertising spend or worrying about return on ad spend (ROAS).
Meanwhile, the advantages of affiliate marketing for publishers is also simple. You can build a website around proven third-party products from recognised retailers and merchants, essentially foregoing manufacturing the product or dealing with the logistics of a full-fledged e-commerce or drop-shipping, website.
Affiliate websites come in all shapes and sizes – from coupon websites, to review websites, to big organisations such as The Guardian and The Daily Mail, who feature affiliate links within a selection of their articles. The Mail goes further by having a dedicated coupons section on their website, highlighting how profitable affiliate marketing can be.
How to Grow Your Affiliate Website
If passive income is your goal, affiliate marketing is the arena to be in. But as with anything in digital marketing, it requires time and dedication to get right – particularly at the beginning.
Here are a few of our top tips to start or grow your website, no matter the stage of its lifecycle:
Choosing The Right Affiliate Network
Before joining an affiliate program, you need to be part of an affiliate network. An affiliate network provides the technology needed for affiliates and publishers to set commission rates, distribute creatives, track conversions, generate insightful reports and generally manage their campaigns.
There is no hard-and-fast rule as to which affiliate network you should sign up to.
But if you own a general affiliate-based website with a wide range of products, it’s recommended to sign up to a range of networks so you can tap into the vast number of advertisers available on each platform.
If you’re in a specific niche, it’s advisable to join networks that have the largest number of advertisers within that industry so you have a greater pick to choose from – or use them all.
The top affiliate networks are Awin, CJ Affiliate and Webgains. All three utilise the latest technology for cross-device tracking and reporting.
Choosing The Right Affiliate Program
Once you’ve signed up to the right affiliate network for you, it’s time to find the right program for your website and its users. There are a few factors you must consider before choosing which programs to join and promote:
- Niche – On the whole, you should avoid joining programs that aren’t within your specific niche as your users won’t engage with products that they aren’t looking for or actively researching. Choosing a program that has products that add value to your users is the best way to succeed in affiliate marketing.
- Commission – Affiliates set commission rates to pay to their publishers. Some may pay a flat £5 commission, others may offer a tiered system based on the number of sales, whilst some pay 5%, 10% – or more – for every sale. The latter is especially beneficial to publishers if they are promoting high-value products.
- Reputation – You should avoid promoting merchants who receive mixed reviews and have an unfavourable reputation online. Research the company, look at their reviews and communications to see whether they are a good fit for your website’s users. Merchants with a shady reputation can commit an ‘exit scam’ of sorts by not paying out commission, so it’s hugely important to join programs that are widely-considered reliable.
- Merchant’s website – As a publisher, you will be driving traffic to external websites with the hope of a sale. While you may have a highly-optimised website, it’s crucial to see whether the merchant’s website upholds those same standards. If the website is slow, laid out poorly or lacking intuitiveness in its customers’ sales funnel, the conversion rate is likely to be poor and not perform as well as initially expected.
- Competition – Affiliate marketing is hugely popular, due to the prospect of regular passive income. Its popularity means there are affiliate-based websites in nearly every niche. Before deciding on which programs to promote, you should research if any big players are promoting the same program – and how you can stand out and offer something unique.
- Cookie duration – Cookies are how affiliate networks track conversions. Different affiliate programs choose how long to set the duration of the cookies stored on the user’s computer. For example, if an affiliate sets the cookie duration to 7 days and a visitor makes a purchase within that timeframe, you will earn commission on that sale. But if the visitor decides to purchase on the 8th day, you will not receive any commission for that sale. While most affiliate programs offer a 30-day cookie period, it’s crucial to check this figure, especially if you are planning to promote high-value items which require further research from the user before purchasing.
Paid advertising allows you to drive engaged traffic to your affiliate site. You can target users based on their age, interests, locations and much more, in order to get highly-qualified traffic that matches your niche. In turn, this increases the chance of conversions – especially so if you have a new website and are yet to reach your target audience(s).
There are several paid traffic options available, but the main ones are Google Ads and Facebook Ads. Within the e-commerce sector, where affiliate marketing fits in, Google Ads is the recommended platform as the user intent is heavily defined. For example, if your website promotes products within the gardening niche, you can target searches such as ‘buy gardening tools’ or ‘where to buy hedge shears’.
While Facebook is also a valuable platform to generate sales, where it truly shines is in brand awareness and engagement – two areas which newer websites tend to struggle with. With Google, you predominantly target keywords. But on Facebook, you can reach your intended audience based on their hobbies, interests and past interactions with other businesses like yours.
Some niches lend themselves to better conversions from Facebook and social media platforms, while others perform far better on Google. You will likely need to test both avenues before deciding on the best platform for your business.
You may be tempted to run a direct PPC advertisement to the merchant’s website with your tracking code, but this is usually not allowed and can have you suspended entirely from the program. Some affiliates do allow it, but it’s always good to get written permission before starting.
If you require help setting up an effective PPC campaign, specialist digital marketing agencies can assist you to unlock your website’s potential.
While paid advertising can be an excellent way to reach your audience quickly, it can be costly, and results may vary over time. Instead, employing an effective SEO strategy can yield greater results over the medium-to-long-term.
SEO stands for ‘search engine optimisation’ and entails increasing the amount of traffic your website receives through organic search results. There are many ranking signals Google looks at when deciding where to show your website, if at all, on its organic results.
While Google keeps its ranking signals close to its chest, SEOs largely agree the most important factors are:
- Domain authority – the number of links to your domain, the trust/quality of those links, PageRank, etc.
- Page authority – the quality of links to a specific page, the trust/quality of those links, anchor text distribution, etc.
- Page content features – content, content length, readability, uniqueness, relevance, etc.
- Technical features – page load speed, usability, server response times, sitemaps, TLDs, markups, etc.
- Social media metrics – quantity/quality of shared links, Facebook shares, followers, etc.
- Usage features – bounce rate, click-through-rate of queries, time spent on page, etc.
- Brand mentions – Usage of your brand name across the web
SEO requires a multi-faceted approach. Thousands before have tried to ‘game’ Google on the way to the top of their search rankings by artificially increasing these metrics. But their algorithms are constantly updating and improving, so your best bet is to play it safe and build a long-term plan.
If you haven’t considered an SEO strategy before, it’s never too late to start.
MORE: New to SEO? Here’s What You Need to Know to Get Started in 2020
As touched upon in the previous section, content plays a significant role in SEO and affiliate websites can utilise content marketing to move up the rankings and increase their conversions.
Most websites, no matter the niche, should have a blog section or similar, which allows them to push articles to their users and nudge them towards carrying out the action they desire.
If you’re promoting third-party products on your website, it’s a good idea to have detailed and thorough product reviews. While these reviews aim to get the user to purchase the product, you should look to write balanced articles that point out the product’s pros and cons. Writing transparent reviews help build trust with your users and ultimately lead to more conversions.
But writing engaging content for your audience can be challenging, not least because it takes time away from your other duties. Many websites choose to outsource their content development to agencies and freelancers, who have experience building effective content strategies that target high-converting keywords.
Creating high-quality content, like ensuring your SEO and PPC campaigns are up-to-scratch, can be daunting. That’s where we come in.
Key Business Marketing is a London-based digital advertising agency that helps start-ups grow their business. We can take care of your website, SEO, PPC, content and social media needs. If you’re interested in any of our digital marketing services, please get in touch with us today.