What is Affiliate Marketing?
In short, affiliate marketing is a revenue-sharing concept, whereby a person with some kind of audience (the affiliate marketer), using a special link (called an affiliate link), directs their readers or viewers to a product or service of another company (merchant). If the person they direct to the product or service buys that product or service, they make a percentage of the sale (called a commission).
It’s a method of monetizing a website, social media platform, or email list that tends to be passive in nature. You spend a short amount of time writing a post or creating content with an affiliate link and earn commissions whenever someone buys through that link.
Many prefer this method of monetization over alternatives, such as banner advertising, as they are less obtrusive to their audiences, and most people only recommend products or services they truly believe to be of benefit to their audience.
The Five Simple Steps To Start Affiliate Marketing (The Free Way)
Now you know what affiliate marketing is and know that it can make you a good passive or semi-passive income, how do you get started with it exactly?
Well, these five steps are a surefire way to take you from zero to affiliate marketing success.
First off, we need to decide what niche or topic we focus on.
Step 1 – Pick a Niche
The first step to making money online with affiliate marketing is to decide what niche or topic you are going to target.
It needs to be a topic that you are at least somewhat interested in, as you will need to be able to create content based on it. This may be blog articles, social media posts, videos, podcasts…
Now, that doesn’t mean you need to be an expert on the topic. No one is born with knowledge. If you are willing to put in the time to adequately research and teach yourself more about the topic, it can still be a good option for you.
Secondly, your chosen niche also needs to have some level of demand and interest. There are a number of ways you can see if your chosen niche has enough interest to make it worth your time. You can do keyword research on the topic (this is a fairly simple process but beyond the scope of this article, so more on that in a different post). See if there are keywords you can target with high search volume and low competition.
You can also look at trending or best selling lists on Google, Twitter, Amazon, and similar websites. Are people talking about the topic? Would anyone even be interested in the content you create on the topic?
And lastly, is it profitable? For it to be successful for affiliate marketing, there needs to be products or services that people are likely to buy, which you are then able to join affiliate programs for (more about that in step 3, for now, we just need to see if there are products or services available). Look on Amazon. Do Google searches. If it is a topic you are familiar with, do you know of many products and services based on it? Also consider if people would be motivated to buy online, or would they just add it to their next grocery shopping list?
For example, a good niche idea that could fit these criteria is a specific hobby, such as jogging. There would be a significant level of interest in jogging but may still have low competition. Plus, you would be able to create a lot of content on it, such as how to jog faster and longer, best clothing to wear when jogging, top 10 chaffing creams or lotions… You would also be able to link to courses or clothing/creams on Amazon.
A niche that may not be a good one to go for is a health ailment that there is no cure for or really much you can do about, such as styes. They are also not very common and will go away by themselves after a few days.
Also note that with recent Google algorithm updates, topics such as health, fitness, or finance may be a tough area to rank well in, especially if they are not well referenced or goes against common wisdom. They also tend to be very competitive, so do keep that in mind.
Step 2 – Create Great Content
So you have an idea for a great niche.
Now it’s time to create great content.
You should already have an idea of what content you can start creating, as one of the prerequisites of a niche is that you can create a lot of great content based on it.
So now it’s time to start creating that content.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is organic, and therefore free, traffic from search engines, such as Google. When you do a search, results show up. The higher up the rankings of a website or piece of content is the more people that are going to click on it. So you should be creating your content with both people and search engines in mind.
Search engines are ever-evolving and there are constant updates to their algorithms. Most recently, and most likely to remain consistent in the future, the best way to rank higher in search engines is to write or produce content geared towards people, that is helpful and of value. This is especially true on social media platforms, where links and views are a part of the algorithm and determines how highly your content ranks.
So create content that people will want to consume.
If you are interested in the topic, what would you like to watch, read or listen to? What problems do people face related to that topic? What advice can you give? Could you write or create ‘how-to’ type articles or videos? What is trending in the topic right now?
Look at the keywords you obtained when doing keyword research. Look specifically at the low competition, high search volume keywords, as they will be easier to rank for and the best ‘bang for your buck’ so to speak.
But don’t focus solely on them. Also create content that is high competition as well, but can provide great value to your audience. Someone may find you with a low competition keyword and then look around at your other content. You want to be providing as much content and value as possible.
Step 3 – Build an audience
Now, you could have the perfect niche with the best content out there… but if no one is looking at it, you aren’t going to make any sales.
So next step is to start building an audience. And how you do that depends on the platform you are on, but the general consensus should be to create great content consistently and to interact with people that would be interested in your content.
There are many ways to drive traffic to your content once you have created it. As mentioned before good quality content put out consistently will begin to rank well over time. But then what? You shouldn’t wait around for that to happen if it ever does. SEO also involves a lot of luck, at the end of the day.
The best piece of advice is to go to where the people interested in your content are. If your niche is male fashion, go to where people interested in male fashion will go. Almost everyone is on Facebook, so you can’t ignore that. Facebook has interest groups, so join those, provide value, and occasionally link to your content (if that is allowed in the groups you join). Pinterest is also a great way to reach people interested in niches that are visual in nature, so male fashion would be a great niche to target on Pinterest. Keep creating and sharing Pins. Go to forums, go to fashion blogs and offer to write free content if they link to your website or social media platform (having those links out there is also great for SEO).
This part of the process takes time and should be a constant effort. The bigger your audience, the bigger your income potential. So don’t stop!
Step 4 – Join affiliate programs
You’re doing great! You have chosen a niche, created amazing content and people are starting to notice you!
Now is the time to start monetizing your content with affiliate offers.
You have two options when it comes to affiliate programs.
You can join affiliate networks, which are marketplaces for several different products and services. Examples of these include Clickbank, ShareASale, Commission Junction, and Amazon Associates. And I would highly recommend you join at least 1-2 of these, as they are great to search for great products and services that are selling well.
However, you also should not discount products or services you can’t find on these networks, as more often than not, a company may have its own affiliate program. There are two ways you can find these individual affiliate programs. Firstly, you can do a google search for ‘[product name] affiliate program’ and you should find it fairly close to the top of the Google rankings. Alternatively, scroll right to the bottom of any product webpage and look for a link labeled ‘Affiliates’ or ‘Affiliate Program’ (there are also several other names it could be listed as, such as partner program or referral program, so have a browse if you don’t immediately see something).
Now, before you start joining every affiliate program out there and begin to spam your audience until they all leave, stop.
You want to use affiliate offers sparingly. Only recommend products you truly believe in. There is nothing more damaging to your brand than recommending an awful product or service. It may make you some money, but it’s not sustainable and we’re in this for the long game. We want long-term consistent passive income.
So only recommend a product or service you’ve tried and truly adore. This is where choosing a niche you are actually interested in is helpful. You probably already know a bunch of products and services that you want to scream from the rooftops about how great they are. Add those into your content. Write the ‘top ten’ list of products or services to help solve pain points.
Consider your conversions, yes, but focus primarily on your reader/listener/viewer. If you help them, there is a greater likelihood they’ll stick around and listen the next time you recommend a product or service.
In terms of how often, make it natural. Don’t link to something in every sentence, but there will be natural places that a recommendation will fit.
Step 5 – Continue to Build Your Audience and Create Good Content
Now, the third and final step to becoming a successful affiliate marketer is… [drumroll, please] … rinse and repeat steps 2 through 4 continuously.
And then perhaps start it all again with another niche.
Sorry, that wasn’t exciting. But that’s the truth. To consistently build an audience and subsequently an income, you need to continue pumping out great content. That doesn’t sound very passive, I know, and over time (typically a few years), you may be able to step back and be able to make a consistent income by doing nothing more, but more likely than not, it will tail off after a while and you’ll gradually lose that income.
So how do you make it passive (or at least semi-passive)?
Hire freelance writers to write your content. Hire freelancers to create videos for you. Hire freelancers to do the uploading, the optimizing, the backlinking…
Will you still need to coordinate everything? Probably.
Will you still need to check things? Almost definitely.
Will that take you hours and hours every day? Probably not.
Are you willing to put in a few hours a week to maintain 3-4 $1,000/month blogs?
If the answer to that last question is yes, then the best thing you can do now is to continue your education in the field of affiliate marketing.
My favorite course on affiliate marketing, by far, is Empire by Fergal Downes.
And for a limited time only, you can get access to this incredible training for only $1!
Also, if you have some money and would like to know more about accelerating your earning potential with paid advertising, then read my article on Affiliate Marketing with Paid Ads.