Affiliate Marketing 101 Part 3 – Getting Started

If you have read the first two parts of this series and are ready to get started with affiliate marketing, we list the next steps for your project.

The next step is to define the niche that you wish to focus on. Whether you are building a site with a product catalog or a blog, the site will always do better in the free organic search engine rankings if the site is focused on a theme. General blogs covering a range of topics or a web site trying to sell a wide range of products generally do not rank well. Focus on a single theme, such as fishing, kitchenware, recipes, wine tasting, auto repair, etc. The theme is represented by the search phrases for which you ideally want to see the site rank well. The closer you can focus a web site on a narrow range of search phrases, the easier it will be to get it to rank well.

Determine the web site platform you wish to use for your affiliate marketing site. WordPress blogs are popular and work well with advertising networks, such as Google AdSense. If you want to launch a product catalog, you may have to have a web site custom designed to work with a data feed provided by a merchant you are affiliated with. Not all merchants provide data feeds, so once you select the niche or theme you wish to focus on, you will need to find a merchant with an affiliate program that offers product information in a format that you can use. Most merchants offer product links and small and large banner ads that can be easily placed on any web site.

What is the easiest type of affiliate marketing site to build? That would be a blog. Anyone with a little time and minimal technical skills can put together a WordPress blog, start writing content, and then add affiliate links or advertising. The most difficult to do is a fully automated site using a data feed. The primary reason that the data feed site is more difficult is that everything in a web page tends to be generated automatically by the script. That means that the HTML title tags, meta tags, content display, product layout, menus, and all aspects of a web page needs to be controlled and generated by a script.

If you have gotten this far, you are ready to choose merchants for your affiliate relationships. Some people may wish to work backwards with this and choose the merchants first. That is because it can sometimes be difficult to find good merchants that focus on your chosen niche. Plus, not all merchants will approve an affiliate relationship with you and not all niches have merchants engaged in affiliate programs. Many will want to see a web site before they agree to a relationship. It therefore pays to have a blog already set up that focuses on the same niche as the merchant.

While some merchants run their own affiliate programs, most are part of one or more large affiliate networks. The network manages all of the data feeds, links, commission payouts, etc. A network manages hundreds or sometimes thousands of merchant affiliate programs, so they are a good place to seek out relationships.

Here is a list of some of the most popular affiliate networks.

  • Amazon Associates program – The commissions paid by Amazon are relatively small, but they offer a huge range of product niches, plus their real time XML data feeds. If you have a good script to work with, Amazon sites are easy to set up and they manage themselves. We have several Amazon affiliate sites that we built based on a free open source scrip that we have modified and improved considerably over several years.
  • AvantLink – One of the smaller networks, but also one of the easiest group of people to work with. They offer free data feeds for all of their merchants, along with a nice set of tools that help make it easy to fully automate an affiliate marketing site.
  • Commission Junction – This is the largest affiliate network with thousands of merchants, but they are also one of the most difficult to work with. They will charge you $200 to set up access to a data feed or wait until your sites generate a sizable amount of orders before offering a data feed for free. Can you say chicken-or-the-egg? We do not do very much work with Commission Junction and do not recommend that you start here.
  • Google Affiliate Network – This was formerly know as Performics before being purchased by Google. This is one area where Google has made substantial improvements to the old Performics network. Google Affiliate Network has a nice selection of merchants and they offer free data feeds for merchants who provide them.
  • ShareASale – Also known as SAS, ShareASale is another fairly large network that tends focus on smaller merchants. Many merchants do offer data feeds, but the quality and freshness of the data varies substantially. We find some SAS data feeds easy to work with, while others are impossible. Nonetheless, they are an easy network to work with and most merchants approve your application immediately, so it can be a good network to start with.

A couple of final issues to mention are:

  • Affiliate marketing is not an easy road to riches and you need to have reasonable expectations when you get started. It is a business where 95% of the affiliates make peanuts while the remaining 5% pull in tens of thousands of dollars in commissions each month. Success is found with experience and/or a uniquely successful plan.
  • As mentioned previously, it frequently takes a lot of promotion to drive enough traffic to a web site in order for it to make real money. The real successful players have lots of affiliate web sites, with each bringing in a certain amount in commissions each month. If you only plan to set up a few sites, consider commissions from affiliate marketing to be supplemental income. Most people cannot survive on the commissions from one or two sites. But is you already have a successful site, it can be a very good way to earn supplemental income.
  • Patience and perseverance are critically important success factors. Most people give up easily as soon as they start putting promotional work into a web site and do not see immediate results. SEO and efforts put into building unique content have a cumulative effect over time. Most affiliate marketers report that it takes 2 to 3 years or more before a site starts to generate a significant income from affiliate commissions.