Affiliate marketing was one of the first methods people used to make money online. Everyone involved with internet marketing has heard countless success stories or even generated some affiliate income themselves. However, as with any successful business model, there is often a downside to the vast potential benefits on offer.
Generating a regular income from affiliate marketing is the dream of many aspiring internet marketers. Although this is achievable, the industry tends to attract some negative press due to a minority of affiliate marketers looking to make a quick buck.
Focusing back on the positives, however, this type of business can hit the heights of success for internet marketers who stay true to their values and morals — ethical behaviour that some people easily forget when hiding behind their computer screens. Before we delve deeper into what ethical affiliate marketing actually is, let’s look at the standard definition:
“A way for a company to sell its products by signing up individuals or companies (“affiliates") who market their company’s products or services and in return receive a commission, which is usually a percentage of the sale."
It’s a simple concept. Once you make a sale, you get paid. However, depending on the affiliate network/program, you may need to wait a while before your money arrives:
- New account (first payment delay, typically 30 days)
- Money back guarantee period (to avoid returns and chargebacks)
- Affiliate network (merchant delay with topping-up accounts)
Most affiliate companies will pay your commission via PayPal, cheque, or direct deposit. Other options may also include Payoneer, Skrill, Paxum and Bitcoin — currently some of the most popular payment methods.
Popular websites for finding affiliate products or services to promote include:
- Commission Junction
- Affiliate Window
Affiliate Marketing Website Samples
Hundreds of affiliate websites with different goals are launched every day. Some people will try to make a quick buck through any means possible. Other marketers will have a rough plan and spend time working on their site, only to let it lapse once success doesn’t immediately arrive.
Then there are the successful sites. Success is measured differently by everyone, but many sites will provide a steady extra income for people or enough for them to live the lifestyle they choose. Then there are the big money earners who bring in six and seven figure earnings a year.
Here are a few smaller websites that on the first impression, you may not realise are affiliate sites.
ECIGSUK was launched in 2014 and has quickly become the authority on e-cigarettes due to the quality of their articles, reviews and guides. Their electronic cigarette reviews provide useful and in-depth product information that aims to enlighten consumers with as much detailed information as possible about vaping.
WheresSharon.com is a travel blog that eventually began monetizing through affiliate articles. By establishing an audience and authority within just a few years, Sharon now posts articles with targeted buyer keywords related to products in her niche (travel) whilst converting interested buyers into customers.
UAV Coach is a site that took advantage of the increasing demand for drones. When the site first launched, the drone niche was already competitive but by simply being better than the competition, UAV Coach transformed their website into the number one resource for anything and everything related to drones.
The one piece of content that kick-started their success (link above) continues to generate thousands of dollars each month as they continue to build the rest of their site.
The Attraction of the Affiliate Marketing Model
The huge attraction of the affiliate marketing model is the potential for passive income. By using SEO to get articles to rank highly for popular buyer keywords, you can sit back and wait for the traffic to arrive. People click on your links (assuming your content is strong enough) and you earn a commission whenever they make a purchase from your promoted vendor sites.
For most people, the idea of working and generating an income from anywhere in the world on a computer is just awesome. Essentially, you’re an outsourced marketer for the various companies you’re affiliated to. There’s no need to source products, handle the goods or any other logistics required when a product or service is sold.
There’s no obligation to deal with customers — any problems regarding product purchases will be directed to the customer support team to deal with. You can offer to help those people who buy through your links in a variety of ways, but there’s certainly no obligation.
Affiliate networks are reasonably lenient with their terms and services which mean flexibility when it comes to marketing tactics. If you do happen to get banned from one program, it’s not usually such a big deal as you can simply sign up to another affiliate network or an in-house program offering the same or a similar product.
If you have a product in mind you’d like to promote, there’s a good chance there is already an affiliate program out there for you. Two ways to quickly find out if a product has an affiliate program:
- Head to the website of the product and check to see if the words, affiliates, partners, or XYZ are in the footer of the website.
- Head to Google and type in product name + affiliate. This may lead you to their website or the affiliate network they are associated with.
Some affiliate networks will pay you for simply getting people to click on your links. This is known as lead generation. Once companies get people onto their website it means they have already entered their sales funnel. With their sales funnel mastered, they know their conversion rates and will make a profit if you send them enough quality leads. You may even get a slice of the sale in addition to the money earned from someone clicking on your link.
Negatives of the Affiliate Marketing Model
Like the infamous Nigerian royal family email scams, affiliate networking has developed a reputation for unscrupulous marketers. The reason is due to some of the downsides of affiliate marketing as a business model.
Anyone can be an affiliate marketer. All you need to do is signup (free) to an affiliate network and start promoting (often free) the products or services you choose. You don’t even need to be an online affiliate; you can put up notices in the local supermarket with your referral code and potentially receive a commission from there.
Given the low entry barrier, competition is high. So how do you get people to click on your website (most genuine affiliate marketers have a website)? The most effective way is to differentiate yourself from the hundreds and thousands of affiliates marketing the same product. You can offer bonus items, training videos, create better content or even give cash back. The more creative and valuable are the incentives on offer, then the higher the traffic to your site.
Ongoing maintenance of your affiliate links can be time-consuming. It’s all well and good to have affiliate links on your website, but these links require management. Not all affiliate programs are a permanent fixture: without consistent link management, you may find yourself promoting products that no longer exist or links that are broken.
Some affiliate programs have a cap on how many sales you can make a month. You might be able to generate 100 sales a month, but that’s not exactly beneficial if there’s a maximum of 10 sales a month each affiliate can earn commission on. Such caps are mostly seen in lead generation campaigns but are not so commonly used these days.
Your sole aim is to generate leads. Once someone clicks a link on your site the rest is out of your control. The website you refer them to must be optimised for sales. You can drive hundreds of leads to a website, but unless they can close a sale, you won’t make any cash.
What Buyers Need to Know when Purchasing an Affiliate Marketing Website
Buying a website from a random person on the internet requires a lot of trust. You need to know as much information about the website as possible. There are so many features to a website that if you’re not careful, you may end up being misinformed.
It’s like buying a used car and, unfortunately, there are plenty of dubious websites for sale.
An affiliate website is usually a member of various affiliate networks and individual affiliate programs. You will need to find out what these are and check if there are suitable backup affiliate networks should these be required in the future.
As mentioned earlier, you need to find a way of differentiating your website. Buying a run-of-the-mill affiliate website that may make a few sales isn’t going to be particularly inspiring. Choosing a well-established website with a high level of authority will work much better for you. Ideally, the branding will be planned out in advance.
Note: If an individual is the face of the website, can you replicate this person? Often the face of the website will be irreplaceable, therefore making the site a lot less valuable than the standard rate.
There are many variations of affiliate programs that have a portion of their members classed as ‘super affiliates’, who usually receive a higher commission from a sale. When buying a website based on the income generated for this special rate, you must make sure that these extraordinary arrangements are transferred to you.
What Sellers Need to Know When Buying an Affiliate Marketing Website
Given the low entry barrier to affiliate marketing, the greater the authority your site has, the more valuable it will be to buyers. Website value is usually measured in terms of monthly revenue although your site can still be valuable if it has a high authority that hasn’t yet been fully monetized.
You can build an authority via strong social media presence, epic content, and unique videos. Can this authority be transferred to potential buyers?
Selling a website involves listing your site in a marketplace that brings buyers and sellers together. Occasionally, someone may offer to buy your site when you weren’t intending to sell it, but usually, you need to make it clear that the site is for sale.
Having good tracking systems in place on your website will make the sales process smoother. If you’ve been making affiliate sales, you could be a part of a dozen affiliate websites and have hundreds, if not thousands of affiliate links on your website. Knowing the income that your links generate is essential information for buyers. The more information you can provide on link clicks, conversions, affiliate networks and other products you can be an affiliate for, the better.
Affiliate marketing has a low entry barrier but by working closely with affiliate managers you will be able to build relationships that may later reward you with higher commissions. If you can negotiate even a few increased sales percentages, this could generate hundreds of dollars per month and significantly increase the sales price.
When preparing your website for sale, it is common courtesy to let all your affiliate networks know you’re selling your website and the buyer will want to be transferred over to the current deal. Any issues should be dealt with swiftly and if needed, alternative solutions found. Again, if you have built solid relationships with various affiliate managers this will make the process much easier.
What Buyer Persona Best Fits the Affiliate Marketing Business Model?
With such a low entry barrier coupled with the potential for a significant passive income, affiliate marketing attracts many different types of internet marketers.
There are affiliate marketers looking for a regular income, which doesn’t have to be five figures, just enough to comfortably live on. The buyer for this type of site will usually utilise SEO to gain higher rankings and then watch the income roll in.
Some marketers like to have an income from a variety of resources and an affiliate marketing website may just be another slice of their pie. These people like to hedge their bets to make sure that if one revenue stream has a bad month, they can rely on the other streams to continue generating income.
Other people love working on and enhancing affiliate websites. This type of marketer will purchase a website, treat it as if it were their child and increase its overall authority as the income continues to rise.
Some personalities and brands will purchase websites for strategic purposes. They may already be successful with an income and acquiring an affiliate website is just another slice of the pie to confirm their standing in the industry.
The last type of marketer who might be interested in buying your site makes a living from buying affiliate websites, improving them and then selling them on for a profit. They may have lots of questions but the fact that they buy sites regularly often makes them excellent buyers.
Growth Strategies for Increasing Affiliate Marketing Income
When you earn your first commission from affiliate marketing, light bulbs suddenly light up as you find yourself quickly generating income. However, it’s not unusual to hit a ceiling in your affiliate income where you just can’t seem to grow your earnings. Some strategies you might want to consider are:
Ask for a higher commission
The amount you earn per sale is often a fixed percentage of the sales price. Companies set commission rates at a level where they still make a high enough margin so the more affiliate sales they make the better for them. Given this margin, you may be surprised at how willingly these managers will increase your commission if you ask. They won’t want to risk losing a valued sales affiliate. This is yet another reason to build a relationship with your affiliate manager.
Optimise your site
This is a sure sign of a professional affiliate marketer. You should always be running one A/B split test at a time. You may even be able to afford to drive paid traffic to your website and continue to profit once enough people land on your site.
Test your site
Consider testing headlines, calls to action, button colours and the timing of any pop-ups. There will always be something new to test — even a small improvement in conversions can result in a large increase in income.
Offer a promotion
Depending on the products you sell, you may be able to assist people post-purchase by offering free training, guides, coaching, or consulting. These will all help to convince buyers to click on your affiliate links and buy the product you’re promoting.
Check your commission rates
Many products are offered on more than one affiliate network. Locate all the different programs the product is on and check the commission rates offered as they aren’t always equal. This is an easy win.
If there are two similar products, one of these products might generate a significantly higher commission than the other. You'll need to be careful as demand may be tiny compared to the other product. Tread carefully before changing the products you offer; again, testing will tell you what results are best.
Resources to Learn More
Affiliate marketers can be found everywhere, many of whom conduct themselves ethically and are successful by doing so. Some even make good teachers. Here are some resources and leaders you can learn from.
If you want to follow an affiliate marketer, Charles Ngo is one of the big hitters. He began writing his blog in his early days as an affiliate marketer that had plenty of ups and downs. Now one of the leading authorities on affiliate marketing, he continues to encourage people to follow in his footsteps through his blog.
Looking for inspiration? Pat Flynn is an internet marketer who inspires with words and action, specifically through his affiliate income reports. His first ever affiliate income was unintentional and it still generates a large portion of his earnings even though it is now no longer his main focus. He began to generate an affiliate income simply by becoming transparent about what he was doing.
Podcasts are great if reading isn’t your thing. If you search for Charles Ngo (above) in your podcast player you will be able to find episodes where he has been a guest and talks about different aspects of affiliate income. One of the best affiliate marketing podcasts out there is Affiliate Buzz.
All in all, there’s a lot more to it but this should at least give you an in-depth look into the standard affiliate marketing model so hope it helps.