First of all, what are affiliate links and why should you care?
Many, many businesses — big and small — have affiliate programs that you can sign up to. Pro tip: Scroll to the bottom of their website for a link that says “Affiliates.” When you sign up, you’re given a special tracking link that you can use on your website to link to their products. If someone purchases the product after clicking your special affiliate link, you will make a commission of the sale.
Commission rates range pretty dramatically based on the company – some are as low as 5% and others can be as high as 50% or more. There are also programs that deliver a set rate per sale, so instead of making a percentage, you’ll make the same amount of commission for every transaction you induce.
Why earning money from affiliate links can be extremely awesome
Aside from the initial time investment of writing a blog post that promotes a product you’re an affiliate for, using affiliate links is very passive. Unlike running a typical business, there is very little, if anything, that you need to do or maintain to continue making an income from affiliate links. No emails. Nor webinars. Neither salesy tweets. This can be a great thing, because it means that you only need to put in some work up front in order to receive a monthly paycheck. #zomg
The problem with how most people use affiliate links
Here’s how I thought affiliate links worked when I first started my blog: I’d mention any sort of product on my blog, use an affiliate link to link to it, and then people would be so starry-eyed and excited that they’d buy it.
Well, that didn’t work. Like, at all. It was actually kind of an arrow to the heart at the time. “Whaaaa? People aren’t buying these things that I recommend? But I thought this is how blogging works? What now!?”
Then, after I’d been blogging for a little while, I assumed that this is how affiliate links worked: Since I’ve grown my audience a bit, now they’ll be ALL over the things I suggest because people only buy from people they trust and my audience trusts me!
This is a better way of thinking about affiliate links (or starting an online business in general), but it is also not the most lucrative or effective path. It also kind of makes you sound like a narcissist (no offense, self). I did earn an affiliate income during this phase, but it was small — around $400 at its absolute BEST (rare), but more along the lines of $50-100 during a typical month. This is certainly better than nothing, but it’s just not the best strategy and won’t earn you the highest income. Even on my best months, it wasn’t “livable.”
Finally, I’m in something we’ll lovingly call “Stage 3 Affiliate-er.” The stage that actually works. The stage that I’m going to cover in this blog post. #yeahbuddy!
Unlike my first two affiliate ventures, I don’t sift for affiliate links every single time I mention a product on my blog because I know that people aren’t going to buy something just because you linked to it once in a random, unrelated post. They need a reason. Better yet? They need a tutorial. Say what?
Using tutorials to earn money from affiliate links
So, here’s the reality, my friends: unless you have zillions of raving fans visiting your site everyday, who are willing to fan you with a palm leaf and feed you grapes inside a cabana…you’re probably not going to make a huge affiliate income on the day you publish your affiliate post. People are not mindless drones ready to buy a product they’ve never heard of, on a whim, just because you recommended it in a blog post.
Yes, it’s possible to make an affiliate income the moment you hit “publish.” Some of your followers may read your post, be really into the product you’re promoting, and buy it. But it hasn’t been the most effective strategy in my experience and I wouldn’t rely on it.
TO CREATE A SOLID INCOME FROM AFFILIATE LINKS, YOU NEED TO WRITE A POST THAT WILL DO WELL ON A SEARCH ENGINE.
For me, that has proven to be “tutorials.” It makes sense — people are always Googling things like “how to…” in order to figure out how to do something. The best part of using tutorials and SEO as your affiliate strategy is that the people who visit your blog to read your tutorial are ready to buy. They Googled your specific affiliate product (or something similar) in order to get to your post, so they’re already familiar with it. Now, you have the opportunity to show them how to use it, which will get them interested in making a purchase.
HERE ARE A FEW EXAMPLES OF HOW TO DO THIS FOR A VARIETY OF NICHES AND PRODUCTS:
- How to Start a WordPress Blog (A Step-By-Step Guide) // (Tech/Info Blogger – Webhosting Company)
- How to Contour Your Face With [Brand Name] Product // (Beauty Blogger – Contouring Product)
- How to Use a Spiralizer to Make Zucchini Noodles // (Food Blogger – Spiralizer)
Using SEO to your advantage
The key here is using excellent SEO so that your post appears higher in search rankings. Here are some SEO basics that you should consider for your post:
1. Research your keywords. A keyword is the word or phrase that you think people will search on Google in order to reach your post. Therefore, you should use it in your post’s text, the post title, the URL, etc. In order to get the most out of your affiliate post, you should do some keyword research.
To do this, you will want to visit Google Adwords Keyword Planner. You’ll need to create an account, but it’s free to use and can be very helpful. Once you login, here’s an example of the first page:
I use the second option: “Plan your budget and get insights for keywords.” Type in as many keyword ideas as you’d like. Remember, these should be words or phrases that you think people might be searching for to find your post. You’re testing them to see which ones are best.
**By the way, I thought of these keywords in about two seconds just so I could show you. I’d recommend spending a bit more time brainstorming what someone might be searching to find your affiliate post.
Now, you’ll be taken to a page that looks like the one above. The “avg. monthly searches” refers to how many times people searched for that exact phrase on Google. “Competition” can be a good indicator of how many posts you’ll be competing against for one of the top spots in a search engine ranking (“low” or “medium” are good). Personally, I would recommend using the keyword that is most relevant to your post and has the highest amount of monthly searches with the least amount of competition.
2. Once you’ve got your keyword, make sure to add it into your post several times. Ideally, you want to use your keyword about 1% of the number of words in your post. So, if your tutorial is 1,000 words, aim to use your keyword (or a derivative of it) about 10 times within your post.
3. Name your picture file names the same as your keyword, too. So, instead of “IMG0567.jpg,” your image might be named “WordPress-setup-tutorial.jpg” (obviously, using your own keyword).
4. Add a persuasive, keyword-rich description to your image’s “alt text.” The text within your image’s Alt Text is what will display when someone shares your image on Pinterest. Pinterest is a search engine, too! So, write your Alt Text, knowing that it will be the description that appears on Pinterest.
The problem with earning your income from affiliate links
This method earns me several thousand dollars each month, but it does have some drawbacks and I don’t recommend making it your primary business model. Here’s why:
1. SEO takes awhile to start working. It is not the type of thing that you can implement one day and immediately see results on a week later. Generally, SEO takes a few months to really start working and it usually gets better and better as time goes on. So, your affiliate tutorial may take 4-6 months to bring in an income. The beauty after that is that if you’ve done a great job of implementing SEO, then your post will climb in the rankings in the following months and years.
I have just one post that brings me a majority of my affiliate income each month. It took about 6 months until I started earning much of anything from it. And it took 10 months before I earned $1,500+ consistently. Now, it earns $3,000-5,000 monthly. So, there’s a chance to make a good income from affiliate links and SEO, but you have to be patient.
2. It’s inconsistent. I wish I could tell you that affiliate links were a super stable way to make an income, but there is nothing truly stable about making money by promoting other people’s products. It’s not uncommon for a company to close down their affiliate program, change the terms so you earn less money, or go out of business altogether. I highly recommend choosing a stable, trustworthy company for your affiliate tutorial to avoid these risks and to also use your affiliate income as a way to supplement your other income streams (such as selling your own products).
But on the flip side of inconsistency is the pay: Last month I earned $4,500 from my affiliate post. This month I earned $3,000. I didn’t do anything differently, but my commission was less. So, while affiliate pay can be great, it can also be a little sporadic.
3. You’re not paid right away. Lastly, most affiliate companies have a waiting period before you will get your money. This is likely to account for returns — they want to make sure that people are buying and keeping the product before they pay you your commission. Most waiting periods are 30-120 days. Luckily, once you pass the initial waiting period and get your first check, you should be paid consistently each month — you’re just paid for your affiliate commission 30-120 days prior every month (hopefully that makes sense).
Earning money as an affiliate can be an incredible way to make an income by doing almost nothing. Ha! The beauty of this strategy is that it relies on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) to promote your post for you, so that you don’t need to promote it yourself. Again, make sure that your tutorial is something that people are looking up on Google (using the free Keyword Planner) and then implement solid SEO strategies to ensure that your post ranks highly in a search engine.