When I posted my September blog earnings of $10,899.83 a few readers replied asking for advice with affiliate marketing. Given nearly $4,400 of that income was from affiliate sales – the largest single source of income – it’s easy to understand why people want further explanation in this area.
I’ll be frank with you, the area I make money from affiliate sales, is a highly competitive one, and I would probably make about twice or thrice as much money if I was doing what I do in a different niche. Selling affiliate offers to people interested in making money online is one of the hardest markets to sell in because it is over saturated and people are very skeptical. Unless you are the Rich Jerk or John Reese, two guys with huge email lists of people who love to buy Internet marketing products, you will struggle in this industry.
If I didn’t enjoy the topics of blogging and Internet business (especially combined together) and I was more interested in affiliate marketing just for the sake of money, I’d enter other affiliate markets like dating or ring tones (although these are quite saturated too) or go hunting for under serviced niche markets, where Internet marketing techniques will work even better because people are not used to them. A search of the various products you find at affiliate networks like Commission Junction and AzoogleAds provide plenty of inspiration for industries to enter as an affiliate marketer, beyond selling make money online products.
Not surprisingly, the Internet marketing industry is one of the most mature when it comes to Internet marketing tactics and as a result, the customers are over exposed to all the techniques we love so much, such as – namesqueeze pages, email marketing, sales copy, testimonials, etc. That’s not to say there is no money to be made, but you really need to be on top of your game. Other industries will be more forgiving.
I’ve been tempted many a time to jump ship after experiencing conversion rates lower than 0.1% on promotions I’ve done for Internet marketing products, although that might be more to do with the type of person I attract rather than the market itself.
The lesson here is that if you plan to enter the affiliate marketing arena and focus on Internet marketing products expect serious competition, and you better know how to find people who buy, which is an art form in itself!
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at how you can use a blog make affiliate income.
It Starts With The First Sale
The first money I ever made from affiliate marketing came from my blog. The grand total – $13 – and that was a couple of days after posting the article I had spent two hours slaving over hoping to make some big cash.
At the time I had an audience of 500 readers a day, although that may have been over exaggerated because I was using Webalizer to track my numbers, which generally provides a higher total compared to other statistics packages (Google Analytics for example shows less than half the visitors that Webalizer does). I was told about 2% is a reasonable conversion rate from people who know these things, so I assumed that would mean I would get at least 10 sales based on 500 readers.
I was like – Wow! if I can get 10 sales of an affiliate product that pays me $13 per sale, then all I need to do is write a great blog article to make $130 bucks! Do that a few times a week and you have a pretty darn good income, was what I thought to myself.
Rather than put in a half-hearted effort I wanted to be genuine and recommend something I knew was good, which I had used myself, from someone I respected and wasn’t too expensive (I didn’t think my readers had a lot of money at the time). I wrote my blog post, talked about how good the product was, used a little bit of scarcity because I thought the product offer was due to finish at the end of the month (turns out it wasn’t), published the article and then went to bed.
You can see the article here (incidentally the offer is still active – so much for scarcity!) –
I woke up the next day, powered up my computer, opened up my browser and email, and excitedly looked to see if I had made any sales during the night.
The grand total was: $0
Not a single sale. I felt a bit sad but I didn’t give up because it was too early, not even 24 hours had passed since I put up the blog post, my hope was not crushed yet.
Unfortunately after 24 and then 48 hours passed no sales came through and by then I was about ready to give up blogging, wondering why I couldn’t convert even one sale while this guy Darren Rowse was, at the time, showing off his $15,000 AdSense checks.
A few days later I was over my slight depression and happily blogging again, content to do it for fun, when low and behold an email came through telling me I had made a $13 commission. Then another came through and a few more continued over the coming days, all from that one blog post.
Audience Size and Conversion Rates
I was far from blown away by my initial results at affiliate marketing, but I felt at least a little vindicated that I could make some sales. That initial affiliate product was a recurring subscription, so those first five or so sales I made kept bringing in a little over $60 a month, so it was certainly a good start, if less than what I was expecting at the time.
What it did teach me was the importance of audience size and what sort of conversion rates I could expect. Although there is a big case to be made about the quality of visitor you attract and the type of marketing you use to promote products, as far as I was concerned it was all about the numbers. If 500 people brought me $50 in sales, then 5,000 people should bring in $500 in sales.
Presently as I type this article, more than two years after my first affiliate promotion, I actually have 5,000 blog readers, so does my initial theory hold true?
At times a single affiliate promotion can bring in $500, in fact it can be as much as $2,000 with my audience, but on the flipside some promotions still bring in zero sales. Based on an audience of 5,000 prospects other affiliates report higher or lower numbers depending what they sell and how they promote, so there really are no guarantees.
Despite all the variability there is a simple rule that applies to affiliate marketing in almost all cases – the more people you can reach, the more money you make. The quality of visitor plays a huge part, and as I have learned, what you offer to people, how much it costs, how you pitch it and how you initially attract the visitor, has as much impact as the raw numbers, but you at least need *some* numbers to make it work.
One issue that a lot of bloggers face comes as a result of the nature of blogging. One of the “laws” of successful blogging is to give away as much free great content as you can. Unfortunately this activity tends to attract an audience that expects information to be free, so when you go suggesting they buy information they don’t have the money or are simply not buyers.
Blogs that cover consumables usually don’t have the same issue. If your blog is about laptops or mobile phones or PDAs or iPods or cars or sporting equipment or…you get the picture, there is a natural inclination of the reader to be a buyer. You generally don’t read a blog about cameras if you are not intending to buy a camera or camera accessories at some point in the near future.
Blogs about consumables have the advantage of obvious choice for affiliate products to sell. If you just reviewed a certain pair of shoes, then you can stick an affiliate link to sell the shoes. Blogs that are not specifically about products don’t always have as congruent a choice when it comes to affiliate products to promote, but I would argue there is always something to sell if you think laterally.
All blogs exist in an industry and attract people. As much as some of you might hate to admit it, we are all consumers and all people who read blogs buy things. This means that there are products to write about no matter what your blog is about if you understand the demographics of the person who reads your blog.
In my case I blog about Internet business and as a result I can focus on the tools needed to make money online. I happen to buy many tools myself, so there is a natural congruency between what I personally use, what I review on my blog and thus, how I make money from affiliate sales.
It’s all very congruent and natural. I have a problem I need solved. I buy a product or service to solve that problem, experience the results, hopefully solve my problem and then write about my experiences on my blog. My readers, many of whom are following in my footsteps or at least interested in the same things I am, tend to have the same problems I do, and a select few will purchase on my recommendation.
I’m convinced that reviews are the key for successful affiliate blogging because they offer a soft-sales pitch style of promotion. You provide value in the form of advice, people learn from your experience and you get paid for any referrals you make.
As an added advantage, reviews tend to rank well for product searches, so provided you build a popular blog the reviews you write should bring in highly targeted visitors from the search engines. Search visitors hunting for product information are generally buyers, they may not stick around your blog for long, but they will click affiliate links and buy things if shopping is the motivation that originally brought them to your blog.
As I have recently become very aware of, most people have no idea how to write a review that sells. That’s understandable of course, most people are not born writers but make comfortable progress learning as they go along practicing each day to become a better blogger.
Unfortunately when writing reviews, there is a big difference between a good review and a bad review when it comes to the one metric that really counts – conversion. A bad review makes no sales. A good review makes a few, but an archive full of great reviews can make you rich.
A poorly written review comes across as a thinly guised sales pitch and it’s easy to spot. When you read a review and you have questions in your head about a product and the reviewer meanders on and on about how good the features are (usually just reinforcing what the sales copy already says) you don’t benefit from the time spent reading.
Reviews need to answer the questions posed by the reader about a product. Actually, that’s not quite right. Reviews must address specifically the problem a person has and how good the product is at solving the problem. For a blogger to truly understand how to write a review that sells, they need to understand the problem.
This is where authentic experience comes in. When you have experienced the problem, attempted to solve it by using a product, then you are in a position to inherently understand the questions your readers are asking. If you can’t draw on authentic experiences and a genuine understanding of where your reader is coming from, it is difficult to write a review that sells.
Authentic content is the topic of one of the key lessons in Blog Mastermind and to be honest I think it’s probably the most important lesson in the entire course. If you want to read more on the topic of authentic content, please consider working with me in Blog Mastermind.
As I learned with my first affiliate promotion, once is never enough. If you really want to make money from affiliate marketing you need to promote many products, many times.
Making this work without drowning your blog in affiliate promotion after affiliate promotion is a fine art. As stated in the beginning of this article, the first ingredient necessary is traffic, and you won’t attract an audience simply trying to sell products all the time, although really good writers can pull it off.
Affiliate marketing is a balance and it’s also heavily dependent on what you want your blog to be about. If money is primary to you, then you keep promoting until the point that it hurts your traffic. Unfortunately many affiliate bloggers over emphasize affiliate products using methods that turn people away, but if you are subtle with how you do it, it’s possible to promote products extensively without putting in the hard sell in every blog post you write.
In my case I have used a combination of reviews, product launches and kept the number of products I promote to a minimum. I can’t explain the entire system in this already long blog post, but if you stay tuned, I’ll have more on this topic very soon.
What is important is that you understand that affiliate income grows because you show your readers how much they need something if they want to achieve a certain goal, and you do it over and over again. In some industries there are must have products if you want to master certain things and you can mention these products over and over again as you write new blog posts.
For example, whenever I talk Google AdWords pay per click advertising I’m bound to mention Perry Marshall’s free e-course. Whenever I talk about systems in my business I mention Rich Schefren’s Strategic Profits course. If I talk about blogging for money, I talk about Blog Mastermind.
I won’t cover recursive income extensively in this article because, as readers who know my Blog Profits Blueprint understand, I rely heavily on recursive affiliate programs. If you haven’t got a copy of the Blueprint, I suggest you go download it now – it’s free.
It should be obvious to you – if you can make a sale once but get paid again and again, wouldn’t you focus on affiliate programs that are subscription based and pay a recursive commission?
Higher Priced Items
One area of affiliate marketing that surprised me early on was the potential to sell high priced items. Shortly after selling a $13 product I made a sale that brought in $150 then another that brought in about $450, if memory serves.
Later in that same year I managed to sell a couple of tickets to an event with the commission nearing $800 each, which was an insane amount of money for me at the time. I didn’t make many sales at that price, but I can tell you I was jumping for joy the two or three times that it happened.
Even today I don’t sell many high commission items, but I can see why so many affiliates gravitate towards products that pay three and four figure commissions. It surprises me how each month I still manage to generate a commission above $500, sometimes without even focusing on it, as my previous referrals buy new things.
That’s beauty of affiliate marketing, sometimes a single customer will spend thousands of dollars with the one business and you will get commissions long after you initially referred them.
If you were just getting started with affiliate marketing I’d focus on attracting the type of person who buys higher ticket items and seek out programs that pay commissions for all product sales in their sales funnel, not just the first sale.
Segmented Email Lists
If there was one piece of advice I recommend all bloggers who plan to use affiliate programs to make money take away after reading this article, it is build an email list.
Most of my affiliate income is not actually generated from my blog directly, it comes from combining my blog with an email list. My email list has been created thanks to the traffic my blog attracts, so there is a very symbiotic relationship between the two.
Email marketing, as I have written about before, is superior to other forms of online marketing because of how much attention people give to email and the speed of response. People read emails constantly and will do so as emails come in. Blogs command attention too, but people consume blogs when they want to, it is not a form of forced attention like email is currently consumed.
I use a combination of blogging, email marketing and reviews to drive affiliate sales. Not all promotions involve all three methods, but in most cases the biggest profits are made when I combine all three in a cohesive campaign. In fact, my entire online business currently leverages these resources and using them alone I generate over $200,000 a year with no employees, and compared to some, I’m a small fry – there are millionaires out there that use just these tools.
If you are interested in getting into email marketing AWeber is the email autoresponder I use and recommend. You can read my review of AWeber here if you want specifics, but I can save you time – there is not much wrong with AWeber and if you are serious about affiliate blogging you must have an email list, so go sign-up with AWeber now.
There is a lot to talk about when it comes to affiliate marketing with blogs, or as I like to call it – affiliate blogging. This article touches on many of the key lessons I’ve learned so far and I hope you got something from it.
Unfortunately as I browse around the blogosphere I’m frequently disappointed by most bloggers who go about affiliate marketing. I expect very few make much money from it and are very frustrated about the whole process.
Here are some common affiliate blogging mistakes you should avoid:
- Slapping up banners for affiliate promotions hoping to make it rich, then wondering why you don’t make any sales. Not surprisingly, banners don’t convert well, even less surprising – banners on a blog with no traffic, make no money.
- Copying promotional content and posting it directly as a blog article. Many affiliate programs provide sales emails and content you can use, but as all good bloggers know, sales copy does not make good blog content.
- Writing promotional reviews that over-praise the product hoping that if you talk about how good something is you are bound to make more sales. This may seem counter-intuitive, but if you tell people the bad points about a product or service you will actually make more sales.
- Jumping on board every new product launch and promoting anything that’s new and “hot”. Sometimes you have to say no to a promotion in order to make more money. There is a limit to how many blog posts your readers want to see about a certain new product or website or service and if you just add to the noise, you risk damaging your credibility and losing readers.
As always, here’s to your blogging success.
Blog Mastermind Mentor