Affiliate sites are here to stay.
But let me define what I mean by affiliate sites.
I look at affiliate sites as those that address a very specific buyer problem. A problem that bigger guys have ignored because there are not sufficient people.
The sites may be about all the baby strollers that I find useful, the mower I find better than the rest, the most effective online money-making coaching I can get today, or even the shavers I love to use on a daily basis.
A buyer is looking for specific information on a product, or a range of products. He/she is looking to decide quickly, make a buy, and get on with other important things in life.
Affiliate sites help people with that buying decision at the right time, with the right information, and in a transparent manner.
As an affiliate site owner you don’t need to worry about the supply chain, drop shipping, customer support etc. You just need to provide the best information available about the product, let users choose a product, and there on lead them to the main site (e.g. amazon.com) to make the final buy. Buyers very well know what they are getting into when they do this. They will directly deal with Amazon, or any other supplier for all future transactions.
Shady past of affiliate sites
Affiliate sites earned themselves a bad name in the past. You had razor thin sites that link bombed products, services and whatever living thing they could find.
Even decent sites that started with good intent were lured into the auto-blogging hype. 100s of products loaded quickly on a weekly basis, and too many useless articles that cared only about the single click that matters. Rest of the stuff did not matter.
But to no one’s surprise, it did matter to the readers and audience.
No one likes to see what is promised to be potentially valuable information, but only find a bunch of links, or a single page describing why a product is God.
Search engines recognized this problem. With a slew of updates Google penalized such sites, and everyone was happy.
Everyone, except the site owner.
Don’t be that owner, avoid the negative impact of *any* Google updates. Learn to build a killer affiliate site that users love to come back to, and trust to purchase recommendations.
Dispel the myth
Let me start by saying this – “I don’t believe in making X,XXX in XX days”. Or better still, hand me over the $$ tomorrow after learning the art and science of affiliate sites.
Building affiliate sites is easier than building technosanct 🙂
But, it isn’t easy.
Less than 50% of all people who start affiliate sites see any money from them. Less than 5% see money in the very first month.
Affiliate sites require a good amount of time and energy from you to get started up. They periodically require your love – this let’s your readers know that you are serious about the topic. This is important.
Let’s now look at how to build affiliate sites that earn money. I will take you the entire process, so don’t hold your breath.
Not all affiliate sites are equal. Before you go ahead spending money on websites, research. Know your market, and know it well. It is going to make or break your business.
Choose what you want to sell
What is your chosen niche?
Explore what people are doing online, what they are interested to buy, how do they do their own research on products, and how they are buying the products.
Having passion in the field helps. For example, I am passionate about cameras and find it interesting to keep myself updated about the latest technologies, trends and prices of DSLRs. This makes it a snap to maintain a DSLR affiliate site focused on various products, services, and what not about cameras.
If you don’t have the passion, make sure you have the passion for making money. I am sure that is not in short supply since you are reading this in the first place.
Choose an affiliate program (or two)
Affiliate programs are given out by almost everyone these days. Who doesn’t want an army of yay-sayers who are set to explore every nook and corner to get hold of that elusive buyer.
Affiliate programs can be for specific products, or all products offered by the company, they can offer anywhere between 4-100% commission rates for a sale.
They can appear really healthy but may not earn a single dime to you.
Choose an affiliate program depending on what products you want to sell, and how, and based on your experience level. If you are beginning with affiliate programs or an intermediate, I recommend only two programs that make it an easy bet –
1. Amazon – they payout really well, have every product under the sun, and I love them
2. ClickBank – almost non-existent barrier for entry. They have a wide variety of products to choose from
The best thing about affiliate sites is that you don’t need to stick to one supplier, or a single product/service. Just choose all products that are interesting for the topic. People are smarter than you think – they want to check out multiple options before zeroing in on a buy. So, why not let them do that in your own site?
Plan your budget
For some strange reason none of the newbies I talked to had a budget plan. Never be that person.
View affiliate sites as a serious business opportunity. Although you could wait for money to pour in before you provide professional touches to the website, that is unlikely to happen. It transforms into a classic case of chicken-or-egg story.
You will not invest money -> the site looks bad -> your site makes no sales -> you will not invest money.
Long periods without money will demotivate you. You will not bother about the health of your website, and push it further down the spiral.
Bootstrap your business by all means. But have a decent enough budget for building the website and maintaining it for at least 6 months (at a higher end). See below to get an idea on how much do you need to budget for.
Plan your website platform
I am a strong proponent of using WordPress, but I completely understand that it may be intimidating at first. Don’t fear that beginner phase.
WordPress is easy to set up and maintain. What’s more – there are a bunch of plugins that transform WordPress into an affiliate machine that responds to all your commands in a jiffy.
Do not waste time by going to other platforms that promise drag & drop nirvana, use WordPress.
Build affiliate sites that earn money
The logical next step to your painstaking plan – put everything into action. The planning part has laid down the foundation, while execution will get the final product out. Stay focussed!
No matter which niche that you choose, there are products that have not got the attention that they deserve. People are searching with these words and are looking for answers.
Be the guy who can provide those answers.
For example, you want to write about dogs. You have to check how many people are searching for dog care, what are the things they are searching for, and what can a good product to sell them.
- The best and simple keyword research tool – Google AdWords. In AdWords you will find a tool that is fast, tell you which keywords are people searching for, and whether it is in any demand by the advertisers
- I use Ultimate Niche Finder, and absolutely love it. Once you get a hang of it, you can apply keyword research for everything you write (and even think). UNF tells you not only what keywords are being searched, but also what keywords related to the main keyword
Write, write, write
Content is the most important part of an affiliate site.
The way content is written, and the way you use persuasion to sell a product makes the difference between a sale and frustration. Evaluate all options for your content.
Read up content from other successful affiliate sites. How have they presented information? How are the links distributed within the site? What are the external sites they refer to?
There are a few kind souls who also tell you what did they do to become successful. While you will find a lot of these guys in the forums, a few successful marketers are really popular in the community. Go through what they have to say. You can find two good influencers at viperchill.com, nichepursuits.com.
Listen to everything, but make your own judgement. What may have worked for thousand others may not work for you. Every human is unique, and so is every affiliate site!
I use only WordPress editor to write all my articles. The biggest advantage of WordPress editor is that it can save your posts automatically, you get to quickly see how the post looks (preview the post), and you get help from a gazillion plugins.
I use WordPress SEO to check whether my articles will be kindly seen by Google.
Do not give up if you cannot write to save your life. You can get plenty of writers who are waiting for your work. Staring from $5 to $20, you will get good quality, unique articles from decent writers. For the best quality, and maximum flexibility as a buyer, try iwriter.com.
iWriter allows you to cancel articles if you don’t like them. You can also establish relationships with established writers whom you like. With 4-5 orders, you will perfectly understand how the system works, and how you can save a lot of time by getting the articles written.
For a really good examples of niche sites that have readable articles and are successful, refer to:
Consider on-page SEO while introducing the articles on the website. This is simple, really –
- Make sure the title of the article (and the URL) has the keyword. WordPress SEO plugin automatically checks all this and gives you recommendations
- Have at least one image with the keyword in “alt” tag
- Link to related articles within the article. Make use of anchor text of the link to describe what the destination article is about. Try to link at least a couple of articles within the website in this way. Also provide links to external “trusted” sources – this includes any books, Wikipedia articles, about.com articles, and so forth.
Google the topic to find out more authority sites on the subject
Decide on the look and feel of your website
If you are using WordPress, this is fairly easy. Just choose a theme that reflects the soul of your website, take time for some basic drag and drop arrangement of various elements on the front page, and you are all set.
The theme provides a professional look to your website at reasonable cost. Be careful about the selection of your theme. You do not want to change it for at least 12-18 months.
Add some spice
Ok.. so you have the website set, you have installed the theme, and you have the articles with you. The next natural thing to do is introduce those articles in the website.
But you will see that the site does look bland if you just upload articles as-is. The themes I recommend for affiliate sites come with their own set of goodies to eye-catching elements to your articles.
If you have some other theme, consider the following free plugins that go a long way in improving the readability of the site:
- KK Star Rating
Affiliate sites will have a lot of products, and information on those products. Introduce some factors that are specific to that the niche, and rate the products as you write articles. KK Star Rating plugin provides an easy way to rate the products, and show those ratings.
It is a given that products are compared as buyers weigh in the factors and consider the benefits of one product over the other. TablePress is a plugin that lets you add a flexible, easy-to-use and beautiful table so that you can easily show a comparison of two or more products. The resulting table is intuitive, pleasing on the eye, and provides information that is easily understandable.
Get a decent logo. Not like the one that is used on this site, but the one that looks professional and almost talks to the user to trust the site.
You can get the images for the individual products featured on your site directly from the supplier. For example, if you are comparing shaving equipment, you can use the images that are used on Amazon or from the seller website. Since you are promoting that product sellers typically don’t have issues with that.
For generic images –
- Use Google image search, and look for images that are flagged as “for commercial reuse”. You will see this option while doing the image search
- Use CreativeCommons search to find images that are allowed for commercial reuse
Focus on the brand
Remember about the logo? I wasn’t kidding.
Google respects brands.
Choose a logo that can be easily recognized, and which can be associated with your website. Choose a name that is brandable (=easy to remember, easy to associate with your topic).
Brand the website everywhere. Provide an uniform experience on the site, in the comments, when you are interacting on forums, or when you are talking to fellow bloggers.
Launch the site
Finally, launch the site!
At launch time, choose a front page article, and 4 more articles to accompany it. No more.
Get about 30 good articles that people love to read, and introduce them every week, or month depending on your niche and the traffic to your site.
Launch your social media presence
Choose one or two social media sites – e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Establish your brand presence.
Upload the same logo, tag line and try to get the same brandable name on the social media sites. This will improve brand retention in the readers’ minds.
Once you have established the sites, don’t slack. Be active on them. Engage your readers in interesting ways. Announce a competition just for your fans. Give away freebies that are of interest to the topic.
All this gives you more readers. More readers = even more readers. Word of mouth marketing works.
Monitor your site
Monitor the most popular topics. Edit them to suite the times, and link other useful articles from those topics. You want your readers to get all the information that there is in your own website.
Never assume the work complete.
- When you see declining readership, carefully investigate the matter. All you need is to ask the readers nicely, and listen to them. A single statement asking the users to leave feedback, and incentivising that feedback works well.
- When you see a significant increase in number of readers, consider a faster hosting.
- Invest in additional content that can continue to add significant value to the site.
- Consider a SEO service from professionals that can help identify hidden gems, and unearth (and resolve) problems that you never knew existed.
- Give away freebies that will keep readers coming back for more.
Keep thinking about the future direction for your business, and take action.
That was easy enough, wasn’t it?
While you enjoy the fruits of your labour, carefully document all the lessons learnt from the exercise.
Do not stop at the first affiliate site! Investigate more such topics, and start building a network of them. You will see that gradually you can build a steady income from the affiliate sites.
And, that is the time to seriously thinking about that trip to Madagascar that you had been planning for a long time.
Have other tips that can help fellow affiliates out there? Comment!