There are a million products out there in the big city, and it doesn’t take much to find one to paste on your blog with dreams of cash spewing from your monitor.
For those of you who don’t know what affiliate marketing is, Darren Rowse of Problogger.com gives a solid definition:
Perhaps the simplest way to explain affiliate marketing is that it is a way of making money online whereby you as a publisher are rewarded for helping a business by promoting their product, service or site.
There are a number of forms of these types of promotions but in most cases they involve you as a publisher earning a commission when someone follows a link on your blog to another site where they then buy something.
Within the first few months of my blogging career, an amazing blog entrepreneur was launching his signature product. It was Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity, and the product was his wildly successful signature course called The Empire Building Kit.
I knew of Chris and had been following his blog for a few months. So I decided to apply for his affiliate program and try my hand at making some affiliate marketing income.
With only a few hundred subscribers and my very first shot at affiliate marketing, I made $1000 in 3 months. I was ecstatic! I immediately started extrapolating what that would mean for me as my subscribers grew. When my subscribers doubled, I’d make $2000 in 3 months! Then I’d make $4000, $8000, oh my God — I’m going to be rich!
When I was naive about affiliate marketing!
Needless to say, my initial affiliate income did not grow exponentially. Nor did I make anything close to what I made with Chris’s product with my next attempts at affiliate marketing.
- Yes, I did immediately put up banners on my blog with other nice products from other bloggers.
- Yes, I did start to scour Clickbank for products that would work on my blog and try to find ways to include these products in my posts.
- Yes, I did sign up for Amazon’s affiliate program and began offering recommended books and products.
What I made from those efforts, plus a dollar, would have bought me a non-fat grande skinny latte at Starbucks. Maybe a little more than that, but not much!
I was naive.
And I was very lucky to have stumbled upon Chris’s launch and product — and Chris himself, a super-smart entrepreneur with great integrity.
So why did I experience some success with one product but not so much with the other products?
This brings us to the 7 Golden Rules of Affiliate Marketing. Had I known then what I know now, I could have saved myself a lot of time and wishful thinking!
Affiliate Marketing Rule # 1: Few Subscribers = Few Sales
I was naive in the basics of blogging — I assumed if I promoted it, they would buy. Or at least most of them would. Conversion rates can certainly vary depending on many factors, but an industry average benchmark is between 1-2% . You will often see higher conversion rates for product launches and big promotions. (A conversion rate is the ratio of visitors who convert content views or website visits into a desired action, ie: buying something.)
So if you have 100 subscribers, that’s one sale at 1% or two sales at 2%. If you have 10,000 subscribers, that’s 100 sales. For a $20 product, that equates to $2000. For a $200 product, that equates to $20,000.
As I proved with the Empire Building Kit, you don’t need thousands of subscribers to make money. But you do need to convert more sales. I’ll talk about that in a minute.
For now, remember that the more subscribers you have, the more opportunity for sales you have. Your early months of blogging should focus primarily on building subscribers if you want to be successful in affiliate marketing down the road.
Affiliate Marketing Rule #2: Know Your Subscribers Really Well
One of the first affiliate products I put on my blog, Live Bold and Bloom, was an ebook on how to write ebooks. My blog is a personal development blog. My readers (generally) don’t come to my site to learn how to write ebooks. They want ideas and inspiration for personal growth. I didn’t sell one of these ebooks and eventually removed the banner from my blog.
I later learned to spend a lot of time communicating with my subscribers via email broadcasts and posts asking them what they needed and wanted. I used this information to look for affiliate products that would meet those needs and desires. Why waste your time, or more importantly your readers’ time, trying to sell them something they don’t want?
Affiliate Marketing Rule #3: Build An Email Marketing List From the Beginning
This is a blogging basic, but just in case you don’t know it, start building an email list of your subscribers with an email marketing program like A-Weber. Your email list is one of the primary means of marketing to your subscribers, and you want to capture as many of those subscriber emails as possible.You’ve probably heard the saying, “the money is in the list.” It’s true for the most part.
We use A-Weber here at bold blogging income because of their state-of-the art auto-responder and broadcast functions, as well as the ability to segment lists. For example, you can send an email to only those subscribers who indicate interest in receiving product information. (This will increase your conversion rates and make your readers quite happy!)
A-Weber also has a great blog called A-Weber Email Marketing Tips that has really great articles on using email to market. Just click on “blog” in the nav bar.
If you are not using an email marketing program, right now is not too soon to start.
Affiliate Marketing Rule #4: Win Your Readers’ Trust First
People don’t want to buy from someone they don’t know and trust. Before you start selling them things, they need to trust you as someone who provides useful information. They need to believe in your authority and credibility. They need to see you as a real person, not a hyped-up salesman just after their money.
There are a variety of ways to do this but in general, remember that you’ll need to give away far more information than you sell. Once you start using email to promote affiliate products, be sure that for every one sales pitch, you send three pieces of free content (either useful posts or just informative emails offering a free product, no strings attached).
When you do send a sales pitch, offer the product or service as one friend to another — without screaming, in-your-face, over-the-top language or tricks. Be real.
Affiliate Marketing Rule #5: Offer Useful Products That Your Readers Want
This seems obvious, but sometimes the lure of making quick money or simple confusion about who your reader is, can lead you to promoting the wrong products.
This is where I got really lucky with Chris Guillebeau’s Empire Building Kit. At the time, I didn’t know that I had stumbled on one of the best, most thorough and useful products on the Internet. Chris is a master of creating great products, full of value, with several price options. He also offers a 100% money back guarantee. His landing page for the product was beautifully designed, easy to navigate, and enticing without being salesy.
Also, he made it ridiculously simple for affiliates with thorough communication about the product, great banners, and ideas for posts and emails.
Affiliate merchants should let you have a copy of the product prior to your promoting it (or at least a portion of the product that you can see). If they don’t offer it, ask for it.
Never, ever promote something that you haven’t seen yourself! Look at it to make sure it is the quality you expect for your readers and that it well-represents your blog. What you sell is a reflection of you and your blog.
Affiliate Marketing Rule #6: Offer Great Value
If you can give your reader a great product at a great price, you will convert far more than 1-2%. Sometimes you can give them something that is “too good to be true.” If you do this on occasion, your readers will think you are a rock star.
A great example of this is Adam Baker’s Only 72 promotion. I participated in this promotion and made over $3000 in 3 days. They rounded up 22 personal development bloggers (myself included) and ask them to contribute their course, ebook, or other product (not free products). They accumulated over $1000 worth of amazing products, but offered all 22 products for $97. The sale last only 72 hours (hence the name), adding an element of urgency to the sale.
They offered the affiliate marketers who contributed products an 80% commission (amazing), which motivated us to really promote the hell out of the event.
For the reader, this was an amazing offer — $1000 worth of product for less than a tenth of the cost. If you find a product like this to promote, jump on it!
Affiliate Marketing Rule # 7: Don’t Be Afraid To Test
More often than not, what you might think will entice your reader to open your email, click through, and purchase your product, is not the winning formula at all.
Sometimes the smallest tweaks to copy, headlines, design, and pricing, can make a huge difference in your conversion rates. There are some “industry standards” that historically help with conversions, but other times, it is simply trial and error when finding the right formula to entice your readers and dramatically improve conversions.
This is where testing comes in. Just hoping, guessing, and trying random things isn’t going to get you very far. You need to collect some real data about what works and what doesn’t. Google offers a free conversion testing tool called Google Website Optimizer. Here’s a great article on using this free tool and learning the basics of testing. Optimizely says it’s an A/B testing software you’ll actually use, while Visual Website Optimizer says it’s the easiest and allow you to visually design A/B test variations. They’re price is similar and they offer a free trial as well.
Don’t be afraid to test or shy away from it. If you want to create serious online blogging income, this is a must.
(Please note: we are affiliates for Chris Guillebeau’s products, and A-Weber.)
Have you had success with affiliate marketing? Please share your winning formulas and promotions marketing affiliate products on your blog.