I’m going to go out on a limb and say that affiliate marketing is the easiest way to make money online. You don’t have to create a product or develop a service, you don’t need huge amounts of focused traffic the way you do with AdSense, (I started using AdSense a year ago and just recently passed the $100 minimum payout), and you don’t need to do a ton of advertising or SEO to make it work.
All you really need is an audience to whom you can refer products and services.
Of course, the above statement is true in the same way it’s true that you only need food, water, and shelter to live. It’s technically accurate — but personally, I’d like to have Netflix and a few Twix bars, too.
I made around $20,000 in my first six months from affiliate marketing, and the following are a six tips I’ve found that will take you from bare bones to a legit affiliate income.
1. Establish trust
Technically, you can make a few bucks here and there even by tossing out links to people who don’t know and/or like you. I think of these as “cookie toss” sales, because most affiliate setups dictate that each time a person clicks on an affiliate link, that affiliate’s cookie (which identifies the customer as “belonging” to that affiliate) overwrites any previous cookies on the customer’s computer. If you’re on Twitter during a launch and toss out a bunch of affiliate links for the product that everyone is promoting, there’s a chance that your link will be the last link someone uses before buying. You didn’t really refer the sale; you lucked into it.
A far better way to go is to actually have some credibility with your readers, audience, and peers. If you have a blog, work on building bulletproof trust with your readers. If you’re on Twitter, tweet with some integrity, and be a real person rather than a selling drone. If your people like and respect you, they will believe you when you say a product or service is worth buying.
2. Promote only products you honestly believe in
Don’t be a shill. Once you start promoting as an affiliate, you’ll quickly discover how many things are out there to promote. If you hop on every one, your people will turn away because they’re always being sold to. Worse, they won’t believe that your recommendations have any merit because you’ll recommend anything. There are plenty of good things out there, so be a true “raving fan” of a product you like rather than a hawker.
3. Don’t promise the moon (i.e. tell the truth)
No product or service is perfect, so don’t pretend it is. There is a strong tendency (especially in online marketing) to oversell. Everybody’s course will triple your income in two days; every program is guaranteed to whiten your teeth and wax your new Ferrari while filling your hot tub with supermodels. People are smarter than to believe the BS, so don’t feed it to them. (And as a bonus, if you tell the truth, you’ll sleep better at night.)
If you want to go really nuts with this principle, you can take the contrarian’s approach like I did when I promoted a course by pointing out its foibles and the fact that you may well totally fail online. (By the way, I ended up being the top-selling affiliate for that course.)
5. Disclose your affiliate relationships
This really isn’t a bonus item anymore, actually. The Federal Trade Commission is now saying that bloggers must disclose that they will make money if people buy through their affiliate links.
The good news is that disclosure can be a good thing if you’ve established trust already. Loyal readers won’t care that you’ll benefit if they believe that your praise of the product is honest, or if they were planning to buy anyway.
6. Offer bonuses
This is a great one. Recently, I offered to give my $297 Zero to Business program to anyone who used my affiliate links to buy Copyblogger’s Teaching Sells course, which I honestly think is spectacular. Because my course added almost $300 in value to their purchase, customers loved it. And because the commission for Teaching Sells exceeded the price of Z2B, I loved it.
I think the biggest, simplest key to affiliate marketing is honesty and integrity. If you lie, yes, you may make sales — but those people who were lied to will never buy through you again. If on the other hand you build relationships and tell the truth, affiliate marketing results in a natural synergy. You refer people to good products that they will enjoy and benefit from. When they buy, you benefit, too. And when they benefit, they come back to thank you from the referral. In all likelihood, they’ll trust your future recommendations in the future — and then everyone benefits again.
Hey, it beats a plain old “food, shelter, and water” existence, right?
Johnny B. Truant writes about online business, turkeys, and occasionally SpongeBob SquarePants’ pet snail at JohnnyBTruant.com. He invites cool folks to join his laid-back Jam Sessions call series and to connect with him on Twitter @johnnybtruant.