Sunday Morning Soliloquy - Musings of an Urbanite: Affiliate Marketing, the Basics. Is Affiliate Marketing Right For You?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Affiliate Marketing, the Basics. Is Affiliate Marketing Right For You?


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Affiliate Marketing - The Basics. Is Affiliate Marketing Right For You?

The past two years have been an interesting journey for me. In August of 2006, I purchased the URL www.hotbachelorette.com with the intention to build a content driven site dedicated to bachelorette party and wedding planning.
My first mission was to hire a web development company to build out an aesthetically appealing, CMS site where I could easily manage the back-end. As I shopped around, $5K was the average price I was quoted. Before dumping that much cash, I thought it would be best to research the reality of monetizing the site.

While shopping around for web development agencies, I asked a lot of questions, I paid very close attention to what the developers were telling me. I looked for holes and inconsistencies in their pitches. I wrote down terms I didn’t know or understand and then went home and researched the meaning. I found that a lot of the smaller web development shops were selling me hog wash. As I started to understand the landscape better, I learned that many small, web dev shops were IT guys or sales guys who decided to open a web development “agency” with little more experience than I had.

Eventually, with A LOT of help of a technology savvy friend and a graphic designer, I developed Hot Bachelorette on my own (well, it is still in progress). After the site had a skeleton and a bit of meat, I delved into researching SEO, PPC, affiliate marketing, and social media. It’s funny because most of what I talk about today is social media marketing but it was the last on my list of priorities when studying digital marketing. I am a social person by nature, and therefore, social media was the easiest channel from which to drive traffic. I believe in doing what you’re naturally best at and you will have the best success.



HB


When trying to determine how I might be able to monetize the site, affiliate marketing became a key concept. At the onset, I knew nothing and didn’t event have a site. My only digital experience was as an eBay seller (where I did well). I started by emailing affiliate managers and ask them questions, really stupid questions, and most were helpful in getting me started. The nice part of an affiliate manager is, they make more money if you make more money, as a result, they’re willing to arm you with a bevy of information. Many affiliate managers started as affiliate publishers so they understand strategies behind driving traffic, SEO, content writing, engagement, audience development better than most anyone else you will meet.

I opened my first account with LinkShare and then with Commission Junction and last year, after BlogWorld and New Media Expo , I got on board with shareasale.com. I also belong to a couple independent affiliate programs, I have an Adsense account and an Amazon Affiliates account.

Last week, I met with the Affiliate Development Manager for shareasale.com, Jason Rubacky, who has been tremendously helpful. He is kind, polite and enthusiastic about the business. For new shareasale.com affiliates who are here in Chicago (shareasale.com is based in Chicago), he will sit down with you and help you audit your site. Jason will take a look at what you’re doing well, what you could be doing better, assist you in finding the right merchants for your site(s) and show you how to best navigate the shareasale.com site.

Jason and I went over several things. SEO tips and tricks, some sites that help you find your backlinks and a great site for analytics. When developing a strategy, it is important to understand that these things take time, and not all things work for all people. Once you get started, you will find methods that work best for you and your particular content.

When looking at my site, Jason noted the same thing my friend @AirDisa had once noted, that my permalinks suck. If you are starting out with a brand new site, make sure that your permalinks are keyword focused and not random numbers and letters like b=299 or a million words long like mine are. If you don’t do this from the get-go, you will have to go back in and manually restructure your permalinks potentially losing all bookmarks and linkbacks you once created. If you're not sure what a permalink is, look below.


Check out some of these links on how to create Permalinks:

We also discussed where to buy URLs.  I personally do not like www.GoDaddy.com and refuse to ever search for URLs on www.GoDaddy.com Though I have no evidence, I suspect that they auto-purchase a URL you've searched on their site if you don't buy it right away. Then when you go back to purchase it, they sell it back to you at a premium. In my opinion, there are better places to purchase domains. I purchase mine straight from my host – Blue Host. Jason also turned me onto Bustaname and Domain-pop.com

Link building. I think we all know the importance of link building and how good linkbacks take time and effort. Jason gave me a few pointers on link building. Make sure your URLs are on all your social media profiles. When filling out your “LinkedIn” profile, do not put your URL in where it says “My Company” or “My Blog.” Instead, click “Other” and enter your URL in there.

Jason also made me aware of the site Dailybooth. One of the many reasons I became so involved with social media sites was to build links back to my own web properties. Dailybooth was a site I was unaware of and Jason said it was a great site from where to drive traffic.

Optimizing images. I’ve known for quite sometime the importance of optimizing images. But, what I didn’t know was the value of having the title, the Alt text and the description of the images EXACTLY THE SAME. I assumed that it was better to have them different, therefore creating additional keywords. Jason explained that it was important that the keywords all be exactly the same. He said that same for your Title post and your H1 (heading) – all the same keywords. I don’t know why this is better, I dont' ask, I just believe him.

More specifically regarding affiliate marketing, we talked about data feeds (see below for a definition of data feed). I didn’t know what a data feed was and Jason showed me some examples of data feeds. My initial thought was “But those sites are so ugly”. And Jason said, “Ugly makes money.” I need to get over my fear of the ugly site. I decided to purchase a few additional domains that are closely related to bachelorette parties and build them as data feed sites and then link them back to Hot Bachelorette.

We talked about duplicate content. Many of the shareasale.com merchants have pre-written content for their products. These are great for someone like me - a solo person, who runs a site that requires a ton of content. Jason asked if I was changing the content up at all and I said, “Yes, I correct spelling errors and grammar.” He then made it very clear to me that Google hates duplicate content. He said, “It’s not just changing one or two words, you need to go back in and re-write the content, make it yours.” Google will look for the number of words and paragraphs – you really need to keep the content original.

Jason also turned me onto a great site for real time analytics called Performancing Metrics. The information this site gives me about my visitors is insane in the membrane. In some cases, I know their names, in all cases, I know their IP address, where they live and how they navigated to my page (keywords, etc.). It also gives you the ability to “name” your visitors – for example, if I see an IP address navigate to my site and stay for a long time, I can “name” him/her something so I can more easily recognize them when they come back.

Jason also has a podcast about affiliate marketing on GeekCast.fm with information ranging for beginners to very high end SEO and marketing topics. You can check out Jason’s podcasts HERE OR you can visit his blog www.jasonrubacky.com 


Geek Cast Screen shot


My parting words for those who want to get involved with affiliate marketing. Though this is not an actual stat, I’ve surmised that about 90% of the money made by affiliate marketers is earned by 10% of the affiliates. The ones who earn money have either been doing it for a long time, they write on a very specific subject matter, they were already an expert in a particular area, they had an existing audience or they made themselves an expert at SEO and SEM. Also, don’t expect to get rich from affiliate marketing, I’m not saying you can’t, I am just saying the likelihood is slim. It has been done but not by many. Think of it as nice pocket change, my goal is to have it supplement my income. I am also a firm believer in the 10,000-hour-rule (Outliers: The Story of Success)


If you are wondering, “Is this right for me?” Ask yourself these questions…
  • Do I have a subject matter that I am highly dedicated to, exposed to, or interested in, to a point where I feel I can write a minimum of two blog posts a week on that subject matter?
  • Am I willing to work on something consistently for a long term without financial reward for an undetermined amount of time?
  • Am I willing to study and learn about subject matters related to digital marketing, SEO, PPC, some coding, social media 24 hours a day?

How do I personally know that affiliate marketing is right for me? I love it. I made slightly over $100 with my affiliate ads in ’09 and so far this year, I’m up about $170. I make like .01 an hour doing this stuff. Why do I keep doing it? I do believe that there will be a pay off in the future for me but I also enjoy learning about it. I’m intrigued by the digital marketing aspect of it, I can help my existing clients and gain new clients with this knowledge base and possibly, eventually, make more money myself from my sites.


Glossary of Terms:

    Affiliate Manager: Manages the affiliate programs and cultivates the relationship with the affiliate publishers and affiliate advertisers. This person may assist the advertisers in developing an affiliate strategy as well as assisting the publishers in developing marketing tactics for their sites.  
    Affiliate Publisher: The person who “publishes” the merchant ads on their sites. 
    Affiliate Advertiser: A small or large company who has a product they are selling online. They are the “merchant”. 
    Permalinks: Short for “permanent link” – a URL that points to a specific news story or web posting. A specific web address for each blog posting (or content that is frequently changed or updated) giving it a permanent address for bookmarking.  
    Data feed: a large file filled with lots of information related to an affiliate merchants products. The feeds are converted into product descriptions and links with images and prices. It is exponentially quicker to create web pages with data feeds but you do run the risk of having unwanted information fed into your site. Data feeds look like online stores. When visitors click on them, they are redirected to the site where the information originally lives and they make the purchase from that site. Once the purchase has been made, you, the affiliate publisher, are given a commission based on the pre-determined commission rate. 
    Linkback: a link on another site that links back to your site. 


Related Post:
Getting Started With Affiliate Marketing (from Blogworld)

Related Readings:
The Complete Guide to Affiliate Marketing on the Web: How to Use and Profit from Affiliate Marketing Programs

Successful Affiliate Marketing for Merchants
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