These days passive income is all the rage, and for good reason: most of us have to work hours or per project in order to make our living. Passive income promises a way to break that grind.
One of the most common types of business models you’ll see promoted in the world of passive income is affiliate marketing.
There’s good reason behind that.
When it comes down to it, affiliate marketing is the way that most people who want to make money online get started. So if you’re in the business of… well, looking for a business, let’s dive in and see if we educate you a little bit on this cornerstone of online revenue.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is pretty simple once it’s been broken down for you:
Affiliate marketing is the process of earning a commission by selling someone else’s product.
It’s pretty attractive for a lot of people, since you don’t have to work directly with the infrastructure that’s needed for most business models. Instead of having a physical product, or even writing out your own information product, you just sell someone else’s products.
Sounds easy enough, right?
Here’s one thing you’ll need to keep in mind: affiliate marketing requires a ton of time and work in the beginning to get profitable. It’s not a get-rich quick scheme, no matter what other “gurus” tell you.
In practice there are generally a few different parties involved. Three or four depending on the model you’re looking at.
In the three person model you’ll see the merchant, the affiliate(this is you), and the customer.
Some models add in the network, which is totally valid in many cases. There are large networks of affiliate offers which bring everything together for you in a simple manner.
The important thing to remember is this: your mission, should you choose to accept it, is going to be selling other people’s products. You’ll collect a commission per sale, or per action in some cases, and that’s pretty awesome for everyone involved.
Affiliate Marketing Networks
Undoubtedly, the most common network associated with affiliate marketing is Amazon Associates.
It’s definitely not the best paying, of course, but Amazon is a trusted vendor and has a mind-bogglingly huge range of different products to choose from. They’re the largest retailer on the planet after all.
As things currently stand, you’ll be able to earn about 4% of most sales. That can add up to quite a bit if your copy is good and the rest of your business is in order.
Amazon definitely isn’t the only contender in town when it comes to promoting products, there are a ton of different sites like ShareASale, but the small commission is barely a factor when you count the amount of trust you’ll get from working with them.
There are also a plethora of CPA Networks which are a bit different.
CPA revolves around selling leads or other singular actions for which you earn a commission, many of them will also have information products or even physical products among their offers.
Some people build their entire sites around one form or the other. Some combine the two.
How you choose to do things is up to you and your niche, some niches lend themselves best to one or the other or both.
Building Your Affiliate Empire
If you know the basics of doing business online, you’re already in good hands when it comes time to get started.
If not, then you might be surprised at how simple things look on paper:
- Create a website with content. In this case, reviews are often the most profitable way to begin.
- Get as much traffic to the website as possible through advertising and SEO techniques.
- Get an e-mail list going in order to promote your new content and specific products directly.
- Collect money as things begin to roll in.
Of course, things are rarely that easy. The first two steps can be quite a bit harder than you’d think, especially if you’ve never done anything like this before.
Most people working with affiliate marketing have a tendency to create a lot of reviews to get started. It’s a good strategy, since it lets you monetize your site immediately.
For the most part, you’ll need to make sure that your keyword research is on point but you don’t want to limit yourself to just reviewing things to sell.
For one thing: Google has a tendency to penalize sites which consist of little more than affiliate links.
It also looks super commercial, which can turn people off since they’ll feel that you’re pushing sales on them.
There are actually quite a few different models that people use in order to generate affiliate sales other than the standard blog posts.
Your imagination is the only real limit here. Video channels, for instance, tend to do quite well. Direct comparisons of products. Goofy reviews of unique products. There are simply too many methods to generate money from affiliate sites for us to list all of them here.
The important thing is that you offer real value, especially for your first site.
While you can make money off of targeting niches that you have no real interest in, it’ll be a lot easier to stay involved with a project you’re passionate about. That emotion can show through and with good content creation behind it, you’ll be in good hands.
It’s a little bit less important if you’re outsourcing the content, but make sure that whatever you do end up using is engaging to the reader.
If you’re short on ideas, think about doing the following:
- Buyer’s guides paired with information on the subject at hand are one of the most tried and proven methods.
- Video reviews tend to do quite well, but you’ll need to have the product you’re selling on hand to do things properly.
- Comparisons and lists with lots of data is a great way to make sales for technical items like electronics. Even better if you can make it so a table can be organized in multiple ways.
- Personal testimonials about products and services are another great method, particularly if you’re working with CPA products to generate leads with trials for different services.
Traffic and content are the lifeblood of pretty much every online business model.
Without good content, you can’t convert your would-be customers.
Without traffic… there’s no one to buy anything.
The methods of gaining traffic to a site are pretty immense, but most people find that organic traffic is the way to go. This is particularly true if you’re on a short budget, since advertising through social media or AdWords will raise the costs of operating your site by quite a bit.
This means that you need to have your on-page and off-page SEO in order. It’s also a long term strategy, between the time it takes Google to rank and then maintaining your ranking for keywords once it’s been accomplished you’re in for the long haul.
Stick with white hat methods. Black hat and grey hat methods, even the newest and most innovative, aren’t viable for a long term strategy since they inevitably get shut down and sites often get penalized heavily.
If you’re in a hurry to get started then social media can be a great way to go about things. Your site should probably have a Facebook page at the very least, since it will allow you to reach more customers.
Direct social media advertising can be quite effective if you’re savvy in that area but unless you’re a huge brand already it takes a certain amount of skill and creativity to strike it big.
For beginners, the best route is undoubtedly your SEO. This means great on-page SEO, snagging backlinks through guest posts, and whatever else you might need to do.
Once you have a bit of traffic, and maybe even the start of a fan base, you’re ready to start up a list.
Building Your List
You’ll often hear marketers talk about building their list.
It really is one of the most important assets you can have for your page, but you also need to wait until the right time to spring it.
Most people ignore opt-in boxes as a matter of course, especially when they don’t offer anything of value in the first place.
So make sure you offer some value which can’t be found on your pages along with your list.
Information products are great for this. You can even outsource a small e-book about your niche pretty easily if you don’t feel up to creating it yourself.
Indeed, even a relatively minor added value can get people to sign up. Some will inevitably disconnect from the list as soon as they’ve got what they want, which is fine. Don’t make it hard to opt-out or you’ll get a bad reputation fast.
From there, we get into e-mail marketing.
Ideally, you’re working with an actual fan base at this point. If that’s the case, then you’re going to want to make sure that you don’t try for the hard sell through your e-mail list. Maybe one or two “hidden” affiliate links in most of the letters you send out will be fine.
If you’re unsure of how to approach e-mail marketing, we have a real hint for you.
“Borrow” from other people in your niche.
If your niche is men’s style, for instance, go sign up for a couple of different lists on the subject. Maybe even create a new e-mail to do so. As long as you’re sure that the sites are profitable, you can see what they’re doing to make it work.
You’ll get the hang of things quickly. Just keep an eye on your conversion rates, and don’t hard-sell through your list. Make sure it offers continuous value in order to keep customer retention high.
Chances are a lot of people might never buy anything, so the size of your list is probably the most important part. If you don’t keep your customers… then you don’t have anyone to sell to.
Keep it Up
Once you’ve reached this stage with your site, all you really need to do is keep it up.
If you’ve got a smaller, less personally interesting niche you may want to consider selling the site at some point once it becomes profitable.
But to make a truly successful affiliate marketing empire, you need to be personally invested in your project. If it’s your baby, and it’s profitable, then you’ll find it a lot easier to keep up all of the maintenance and content generation and consistent marketing that you’ll want to do to make sure that you remain that way.
The key to making affiliate marketing is to remember that it’s still a job. The more you put into your site, the more you’ll get out.
At this stage you may also want to consider running paid advertisements. The concept is pretty simple: decide on a percentage which is acceptable to you and then re-invest the money.
And keep the receipts to write it off as a business expense, of course.
The Dirty Little Secret
One thing that you won’t find in most books or seminars on affiliate marketing is this: not every site is destined for success. You may fumble through and give up entirely.
The dirty little secret is this: never give up. Keep at things consistently, but make sure that you learn from each and every mistake. Watch your metrics, compare them to your content, and really analyze every mistake… and success as well.
That’s the real key to making this what you do, instead of just a mildly profitable side hustle.
Passive income is an achievable goal if you’re willing to put in the work, and affiliate marketing is definitely one of the best ways to go about it. Instead of having to grind, start building your empire today. A domain, a bit of knowledge, and an undefeatable appetite for success are really all you need to get going on making your dream a reality.