Fancy working for yourself? Think about it: no more bosses, as much vacation time as you want, and ultimate flexibility about when and where you work. Self-employment is extremely popular in a world where businesses are becoming much more reliant on external help, and with the help of the internet, there are now more opportunities than ever before to pick up extra work on an independent basis. Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways of fulfilling this dream.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Marketing has changed almost beyond recognition over the last 20 years, and the internet now plays a huge role in the success of businesses both large and small. The need for a web presence is a must, but earning visitors is more difficult than it has ever been. More competition in the market and shorter attention spans mean that customers are more likely to go for the quickest and cheapest options, and spending time trawling through websites is no longer the favored method of finding goods and services. This is where affiliate marketing helps to drive more web traffic, turning into a $24 billion industry from a standing start.
How Affiliate Marketing Works
Essentially, businesses who are looking for new website visitors are happy to pay, often big bucks, for any web traffic that directly leads to a sale. The webmaster can spot this by monitoring an affiliate link – a specific URL that contains the affiliate’s ID or username, or some recognizable element that confirms their identity. In affiliate programs, businesses use these links to monitor the traffic that is sent to their website from the affiliate. When visitors to the affiliate’s site click on the link that takes them to the business’s website – the affiliate then stands to receive a commission if that leads to a sale.
A website visitor can soon be turned into a sales conversion, but getting visitors to react to adverts, emails and even special offers is becoming more challenging as consumers have more choice. This is where websites can offer to share some traffic, either via a link, article, special offer, promo code, video or pretty much anything else imaginable to encourage visitors to one site to visit another one. This ‘traffic sharing’ benefits both parties. But how?
How Affiliate Marketers Earn Money
For the affiliate, you start earning money once customers start clicking on these adverts and making purchases. Best of all – you get to do this without having to do any extra work for the business you’re promoting. For example, you don’t have to worry about locating the products, keeping them stored safely, delivering them to customers or handling feedback from customers. Your sole focus is on linking to their website in the most persuasive and natural way. And all you need to do that is an internet connection, a site that gets traffic and minimal upfront investment.
For the business you’re promoting, they get more visitors – and therefore more people who will buy their products and services. Their focus is away from the marketing (which the affiliate is taking care of) and more invested in product stock, delivery and customer service. Affiliate marketing operates on the basis of compensation by results, so by using an affiliate to promote their products and services, businesses are saving on their marketing budget by only paying for proven results. Paying affiliates commission based on actual sales – whether that’s by revenue sharing or pay per sale – is a more cost-effective form of marketing, as it saves on unnecessary marketing expenses. So it’s win-win for both parties involved.
What Successful Affiliate Marketing Looks Like
When affiliate marketing is done right – it really pays. Here are some of the many successful affiliate marketers who’ve made a lot of money over recent years.
- The Points Guy was started as a website where founder Brian Kelly showed visitors how to travel for almost nothing, just using points. Now it’s a full-blown affiliate site for flights, hotels and credit cards. Kelly gets between $50 and $400 for every credit card he signs up for – and The Points Guy is now owned by stock-listed company Bankrate.
- Consumer Search is part of the Amazon Affiliate program. Its website analyses hundreds of Amazon reviews and aggregates them, providing customers with honest, detailed and useful feedback on high-quality products. It’s developed high consumer trust, and recently sold its business to the New York Times for $33 million.
- You’ll have definitely heard of TripAdvisor, which is essentially an affiliate marketer for anyone listed on their site. Because it’s so trusted, people don’t consider TripAdvisor as an affiliate, but make no mistake – its main purpose is to provide traffic to so many hotels, venues and attractions across the world.
How to Get Started in Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing programs aren’t just limited to small-time outfits and websites trying to climb up the ladder. The mighty Amazon have an affiliate marketing program for vendors and websites who can help drive traffic to their product pages. Amazon offers an affiliate program called Amazon Associates, where website owners and bloggers can earn referral fees for every customer who clicks a link on their website and ends up making a payment. Amazon offer as high as 10% for referrals from registered affiliate marketers, making for potentially huge returns just for sharing traffic.
Amazon Affiliates has a simplified earnings structure that’s based on your percentage commission – therefore, your earnings will be based as a percentage of the price. However, there is sometimes a flat fee. For example, on electronic items such as laptops, you could earn a flat rate of $25 per sale, regardless of the price. The best thing about Amazon Associates is that they reward you for performance, boosting your commission depending on how many sales you make.
Joining this affiliate program is very easy. Just submit an application and it’s likely to be approved even if you don’t have a website of your own. You can just use free blog platforms like WordPress and Blogger. It also gives you ultimate choice about which product to promote, with over 30 categories ranging from smartphones to TVs, to home gardening tools. Popular brands such as Nike and Apple have their own Amazon stores, making it possible for you to sell popular products like trainers and the iPhone – giving you even more opportunities to make money. And don’t forget, you’ll get to take advantage of Amazon’s wealth of seasonal discounts, including on Black Friday, Valentine’s Day and around Christmas.
eBay also has a decent affiliate program that pays you quickly through PayPal – unlike Amazon, which can take up to two months. However, it’s not as easy to apply (you need a website of your own, for starters) and can be tricky to calculate your earnings.
An Easy Business to Launch
To see why affiliate marketing can be so lucrative, we need to look at what it actually takes to be able to offer affiliate marketing as a service. The affiliate doesn’t need to be a site with millions of visitors every month, and it doesn’t even need to be related to the website that wants to link to it. It can be anything from a blog about hobbies all the way to a local news site, and pretty much everything else in-between. As long as your blog is focused on business you’re promoting and themed around the industry you’re operating in, and your content is persuasive enough to not only drive traffic to a particular business but convert the visitor into buying – businesses are willing to pay for this extra exposure.
Compare this to self-employment in something like the manufacturing industry. Online affiliate marketers don’t need to buy anything physical. They don’t actually create anything except web content, they rarely have outgoings on machinery, parts, or consumables, and they certainly don’t have risks that come with making products and selling them on to potentially picky or market-dependent customers.
But the biggest advantage affiliate marketers have over other business is the speed with which you can get success. While sellers have to spend time on the logistic demands of stocking and delivering goods, you can focus purely on your website’s content. It really doesn’t take long to build a successful website these days – and you can soon work out how to make your content visible, especially by following these tips and tricks. Although setting up and getting hits isn’t difficult, maintaining regular visitors and ensuring solid content is added regular is the challenging part.
If you’ve got a successful blog, website or even company page with regular monthly traffic in the thousands, then you should definitely consider affiliate marketing. It can sometimes even act as an additional income, so it’s worth exploring whether it’s worth having additional piece of subtle text or even a dedicated page that could earn you extra traffic in place, and be paid for the pleasure of doing so. Either way, affiliate marketing can mean big bucks if you go for it, or could even just pay your website costs at the very least.
By Samantha Acuna
Samantha Acuna is a writer based in San Francisco, CA. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, and Yahoo Small Business.