Let’s talk about that holy grail of bloggers everywhere —
Making money while you sleep.
This is how you imagine it’ll work…
You’ll launch a blog, get some readers, and sell them stuff.
People will snatch up your cool offers, and before you know it you’ll be retiring to an island retreat somewhere.
Because that’s how blogging works, right? Well, maybe.
But if you’ve ever tried to monetize your blog, you’ll know it can be more difficult than you expected.
It takes time to build an audience, discover what they want and then create products they’ll crave.
Even then, you can invest time and money to create something amazing, and launch what you think is a sure thing — only to have it flop. Not pretty.
But the thing is, once you have the beginnings of an audience, every day that goes by that you’re not offering something for sale that will make their lives better is a missed opportunity.
It’s not benefiting them, and it’s not putting money in your pocket, either.
Fortunately there’s a solution:
It’s one of the most effective ways to help your readers and start monetizing your blog at the same time.
And it’s an engine that can power your blog’s earnings for years to come.
Ready to find out more?
Table of Contents
- So What Is “Affiliate Marketing,” Anyway?
- Why Affiliate Marketing Rocks for Bloggers
- The Types of Bloggers Most Likely to Succeed with Affiliate Marketing
- How to Sell Affiliate Products (Without Selling Your Soul)
- Behind the Hype: The Realities of Affiliate Marketing
- How the Affiliate Marketing “Engine” Works
- The Three Levels of Affiliate Marketing Mastery
- How to Decide Which Products to Promote
- 7 Simple Steps to Affiliate Marketing Success
- Start Up Your Affiliate Marketing Machine and Get Monetizing
So What Is “Affiliate Marketing,” Anyway?
As you’ll know by now, bloggers make money by building an audience that trusts them, and then offering products or services that will genuinely help that audience.
Affiliate marketing is really just a quicker way to offer products and services without creating them yourself.
In practice, it’s a modern interpretation of a very old idea — getting a commission on a sale. You introduce your readers to products or services from trusted companies or individuals and get a commission on any sales to customers you send their way.
For bloggers, that means you find a product or service that you like, promote it to your readers, and earn part of the profit on each sale that you make.
Simple idea, right?
Let’s see an example.
Blogger Gardening Jones is upfront about how she has partnered with several companies as an affiliate. She lets her readers know that if they purchase any of the products she recommends using her links, she’ll make a little money from the sale.
Then, throughout her site, you see links like this:
These particular graphics look like ads, but they aren’t.
They’re affiliate links.
Average readers might not be aware of the difference, but as a savvy blogger, you should be.
You see, when you put ads on your site, you get paid when someone clicks on them, whether your visitors end up buying or not. The advertiser is essentially renting space on your blog, like they’d rent a billboard along a highway.
But the problem is that you usually earn only fractions of pennies for clicks. You have to have an incredibly high-traffic site to see any real income at all from advertising.
On the other hand, when you’re an affiliate, you only get paid when someone clicks the link and actually purchases.
However, commissions on the sales that you refer are usually much higher.
It’s a slight difference, but one that can make a big impact on your income.
In addition to graphical links and banners, text links can also be slipped into blog posts, often followed by an indicator that it is an affiliate sale — like this:
You’ve probably seen both types of affiliate links. Bloggers can include links in emails, sales pages, and much more as well. We’ll get into all the possibilities in this post.
For now, though, it’s important that you know exactly what affiliate marketing means — as well as its potential for you as a blogger.
Why Affiliate Marketing Rocks for Bloggers
At Smart Blogger, we’re big fans of selling affiliate products and services.
Here are three compelling reasons why we think you should look into it, too:
- You can monetize your blog sooner than you would if you created your own products from scratch.
- You can learn what types of products your audience is clamoring for, reducing the risk of any future product launch of your own.
- You can get your readers used to the idea of buying from you — and increase their level of trust (as long as you pick the right products and services to sell).
All pretty significant advantages to you as a growing blogger.
But that’s not all. There are additional benefits to affiliate marketing as well.
- It’s easy to implement. You share a link with your readers and that’s it. You don’t have to worry about tracking sales, providing customer service, setting up payments, or anything else. All that support is handled by the merchant.
- It doesn’t require you to have a support team in place. Affiliate marketing is completely doable even if you’re a one-person show.
- It doesn’t require specialized expertise. You don’t have to be a world-renowned expert in your niche. You only need to be familiar enough with your topic area to know what products are good and worth recommending to your audience.
- It’s low-effort and low-risk. While affiliate marketing isn’t exactly passive income, it doesn’t require a significant time or money investment on your part.
Sounds pretty good in theory, right? Let’s see if affiliate marketing is right for you.
The Types of Bloggers Most Likely to Succeed with Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate income can look pretty attractive, but you need to have a few things in place first if you want to succeed.
For instance, don’t jump into the deep end if you’re just starting out and have not launched your blog or started growing your email list yet.
Instead, make sure that:
- You’re producing regular content on your blog. You have to give a lot of free value to your readers to build your credibility before you start asking for sales.
- You have an email list with at least 500 subscribers. If you can attract and keep 500+ subscribers engaged around your topic, you have a foundation with earning potential.
Hold Off on Affiliate Marketing if…
If you already have a list of at least a few hundred people and are planning to sell services like coaching, consulting, design, writing or other professional services (as in legal advice, finance, or real estate) in the short term, it’s probably best to hold off on affiliate marketing.
That’s because for service providers, your best bet is selling services first. It’s simply your most profitable way to start monetizing.
You can consider adding affiliate offers into the mix once your money-making machine from services is running smoothly.
Still with me? Great!
How to Sell Affiliate Products (Without Selling Your Soul)
Affiliate marketing has gotten a bad rap in some circles because of unethical marketers who annoy their readers with junk ads, offers that don’t apply to them, or general spam.
These bloggers have given affiliate marketers an unsavory reputation.
But when affiliate marketing is done right, it’s a positive, powerful “engine” for generating value for you and your readers.
The bloggers who succeed understand this simple truth:
Your relationship with your audience, and the trust that you build with them, is your single most important asset.
The importance of trust can’t be stressed enough. You have to invest the time and effort to constantly nurture trust with your audience — and take care never do anything to betray that confidence.
So whenever you’re tempted to cut corners or venture into the murkier regions of affiliate marketing, just remember you’re risking the relationship with your readers. In other words — don’t do it!
The Simple Golden Rule for Success
Here’s our foolproof rule for success as an ethical affiliate marketer:
You should only become an affiliate for products that you have personally used — even if that means purchasing a product so you can kick the tires and decide if it’s something you can recommend.
Why? Because your reputation’s on the line.
Think about it: what’s the first thing you do when you need a new doctor, mechanic or building contractor?
You ask for recommendations from people you trust. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful marketing tools.
But when you get advice from friends that turns out to be bad, you can’t help but wonder, “What on earth were they thinking?”
You probably won’t value their opinion as highly the next time around — if you even ask them at all.
As a blogger, you can’t afford to have your good name damaged because you didn’t do your due diligence and check a product out thoroughly.
And doing it right makes everything so much easier.
When you can honestly and wholeheartedly recommend a product or service that you’ve tried and liked, your marketing will simply work.
You won’t feel sleazy or unethical. You’ll be legitimately excited about the product — and your audience will appreciate your authenticity and feel confident buying from you.
That’s a good place to be — for both you and your readers.
But in case this is all sounding a little too to good to be true, a few cautions are in order.
Behind the Hype: The Realities of Affiliate Marketing
Most good things have a downside, and affiliate marketing is no exception. But if you’re aware of the potential trade-offs and pitfalls, you can enter into it with your eyes open.
So let’s start our reality check with a few cautionary points.
Quick and Easy to Set Up Doesn’t Mean Instant or Free
Selling affiliate products is certainly quick and easy when compared with creating, marketing and delivering your own products. But that doesn’t mean it’s a breeze.
You’ll have to take care in choosing which products to represent — and you’ll need to invest time and at least some money into finding the best affiliate products for your readers.
And you can’t expect miracles or overnight successes. You’ll need some trial and error to discover what works and build a mix of offers over time.
Earning While You Sleep Doesn’t Mean “Set It and Forget It”
No blog income is truly, completely passive. If you’re looking for an “easy button,” don’t become a blogger!
Even when you’re set up with some affiliate offers, you have to continue the work of growing and engaging your audience — and that means creating great content and building trust with your readers.
Without a loyal and engaged audience, you’ll struggle to find success via affiliate marketing. And without a growing list you’ll quickly “burn out” the audience you already have.
The best way to think of it is like this: affiliate marketing is a money-making add-on to a successful blog, not an alternative to a successful blog.
Even Smart Bloggers Can Make Dumb Choices
Many bloggers have been fooled by unscrupulous merchants. If an opportunity seems too to good to be true, it probably is. Even if a merchant is above-board, they might not be a good fit for your audience.
Likewise, you shouldn’t let yourself be seduced by the tactics of less ethical affiliate marketers. You can find numerous tips and tricks in affiliate marketing forums that might help you make a quick buck but could quickly break trust with your audience.
Here are some quick tips to help you stay safe:
- Never pay a fee to become an affiliate — that includes membership or setup fees. Merchants who charge you fees are running scams on rookies who don’t know any better.
- Don’t let yourself be pressured into using “black hat” strategies to drive traffic to your site — e.g., aggressive SEO tactics that focus exclusively on tricking search engines instead of pleasing humans. This kind of activity can alienate your audience and get you banned from search engine listings.
- Don’t promote a product until you’ve subscribed to your affiliate partners’ email list and know exactly what your readers can expect in terms of follow-up marketing. Your potential partner may have a more aggressive style than your readers are used to, and that can reflect poorly on you. If there’s a big mismatch, don’t promote the product.
Now that you know the pluses and minuses of affiliate marketing, let’s dig in for a behind-the-scenes look.
How the Affiliate Marketing “Engine” Works
Even though it’s based on a simple idea, affiliate marketing can be complicated, especially when you start getting into the nitty-gritty details.
The section will help you understand the most important concepts without drowning you in technical detail.
Let’s start with some basic definitions.
Affiliate Marketing Glossary
Affiliate marketing has its own terminology, which can be confusing at first. But if you become familiar with these concepts, you’ll be well on your way.
Here are a few terms it’s important to know:
Affiliate — the partner who promotes the merchant’s products for a commission. Also called the publisher.
Affiliate agreement — a contract that both parties agree to specifying the rules, responsibilities, rates to be paid and other legalities.
Affiliate link — a trackable URL that identifies the affiliate as the source of targeted traffic to a merchant’s site. (A click on an affiliate link counts as a referral.)
Affiliate network — an online marketplace where merchants list their products and where affiliates can find products to sell.
Affiliate program — a program set up by merchants to pay commissions when affiliates refer people to their products.
Commission — a percentage of the total sale that is paid to the affiliate for referring the sale.
Cookie — in affiliate marketing, cookies are used to assign a unique ID to the buyer in order to tag the purchase as being referred by you. Cookies usually have a predetermined lifespan, so that even if the buyer doesn’t purchase right away, you will still get credit for the sale if it occurs within that timeframe (often 60 days or more).
Customer — the end user or purchaser of the merchant’s product or service.
Merchant — the owner or creator of the product or service. Also known as a retailer or brand.
Referral — credit for a click or a sale that occurs when the affiliate sends traffic to the merchant’s site.
The Mechanics of Getting Paid for Promoting Affiliate Products
Affiliate marketing can get pretty technical. Fortunately, you don’t need to know all the details to get started.
The actual mechanics run in the background, thanks to the merchant’s affiliate program software.
But here’s a quick look behind the scenes:
- When an affiliate joins the merchant’s program, he or she is given a unique ID and a specific URL to use when promoting the product.
- The affiliate includes the link in their blog content and/or subscriber emails and invites readers to click it to find out more.
- When a potential buyer clicks on the link to visit the merchant’s site, a cookie identifying the affiliate is placed on their computer. The cookie ensures that the publisher is credited with the referral sale even if it occurs days or even weeks later.
- Whenever a buyer completes the sale process, the merchant checks the sales record for a cookie identifying the source of the referral.
- If the merchant finds a cookie with an affiliate ID, the affiliate is credited with the sale.
- The merchant makes reports available so that the affiliate can see their referrals (clicks) and sales.
- The merchant pays the affiliate commission at the end of each payment period.
Here’s a graphical overview to help you visualize the process:
The flow is pretty straightforward once you understand it, and it works the same no matter what kind of product you’re promoting or how established you are as an affiliate marketer.
So let’s look at the typical progression for a blogger who’s serious about making affiliate marketing a major source of income.
The Three Levels of Affiliate Marketing Mastery
As you mature as a blogger and affiliate marketer, you’ll pass through three distinct stages — each one with its own strategies and typical earning levels.
Knowing what level you’re at is important. If you try to skip ahead and use strategies you’re not ready for yet, you’ll likely fail.
Use these descriptions to figure out where you are in your blogging journey and build from there.
Stage 1: Getting Started
You can start selling to your list once you’ve proven that your topic has legs — i.e., you have enough engaged subscribers to prove your blog is a viable money-making platform.
Generally speaking, you’re ready for this stage once you have 500-1,000 email subscribers and at least 10% of them are opening your emails. At this point, you can start testing products to see what your audience is likely to respond to.
Typical earnings: Up to $250/month, enough to cover your expenses and maybe the occasional treat.
Stage 2: Ramping Up
Once your blog is more established and you have a few thousand subscribers, you’ll be ready to up your affiliate sales game.
At this stage, you’ll be publishing quality content on a regular basis and continuing to grow and engage with your email list. You’ll be starting to build relationships with influencers serving similar audiences.
You’ll also now have some experience selling to your subscribers, and you’re beginning to understand what they like and need from you. You’ve found at least one product that’s earning consistently and may also have plans for your own products.
Typical earnings: Around $500–$2,000 per month — a nice part-time income.
Stage 3: Full Time Earner
You’re now considered a top-tier blogger, with an email list of 10,000 subscribers or more.
It’s easier now to network with the big influencers because of your accomplishments and reputation. You’ll be invited to participate in major product launches and promotions.
You’re also a pro at selling to your readers, building sales funnels and writing sales pages.
Typical earnings: You’re now making a full-time income from your blog!
Of course, relatively few bloggers will successfully progress to this final stage, but you can still achieve significant success and satisfaction from the earlier stages.
Also, some bloggers may deliberately deviate from this path. For instance, if you’re serious about creating your own products, you might start to replace affiliate products with your own offerings around Stage 2.
In other words, you can start monetizing your blog with affiliate sales, using the experience to generate revenue and learn what your audience will buy, then pivot to your own products with a much greater confidence in your product focus and your subscribers’ willingness to buy.
Now that you know the typical stages bloggers go through on their affiliate marketing journey and figured out where you belong, let’s dig into how you find the best products to promote.
How to Decide Which Products to Promote
You can represent many different types of products and services as an affiliate.
Some are more profitable than others, but usually most of your affiliate income will come from one or two “ringers” — core products that just about everyone in your audience needs and which also pay a good commission.
As you progress, you can add complementary products to round out your offerings and help your audience in new ways, but identifying your core earners is an essential first step.
We highly recommend that you start with digital products, services and courses for this simple reason:
They usually have greater earning potential.
Digital products generally pay higher commissions than physical products because there is much less overhead to produce and distribute them.
They also have the advantage that the merchant is often an individual rather than a company, so you can build a personal relationship with them that will increase your status as a blogger and future success as an affiliate.
That said, physical products can be a good option for certain niches, but we’ll focus on digital products for the most part (although we revisit physical products below).
So what’s a potential ringer?
Your best bets are mid-priced ($200–$2,000) courses or services that could potentially benefit almost all of your readers at some point in their journey.
Once you start generating steady affiliate income, you can offer other similar products, hosted services or ebooks that allow you to help more people (or help everyone more thoroughly).
Let’s look into the product options for bloggers.
Option #1: Digital Downloads
Digital downloads are online resources that your readers can access instantly, without having to wait for a package to come in the mail (as is true for physical products).
They could be audio or video files, PDFs, ebooks or even links to webpages where the content lives online.
- Books or ebooks — Books that are either self-hosted on your merchant’s website or downloaded from Amazon, iBooks or other online sellers
- Software — Downloadable programs, games, apps, plugins and cloud services
- Mobile applications — Some of the hundreds of apps that are available through the iTunes Affiliate Program and other mobile app affiliate networks
- Music, movies, TV shows, and more — Media offered through Amazon as well as the iTunes Affiliate Program and others
- Digital downloads are an easy way to get started and help your audience with pressing problems.
- There are no overhead costs of production, shipping or storage.
- Your buyer can access and begin benefiting from their digital product immediately.
- Many ebook, software or other download products are relatively inexpensive. You’d have to sell a lot of them to make any significant money.
Do it! But expect higher earnings from other options on this list.
Option #2: Online, Hosted and Professional Services
When it comes to selling services as an affiliate, it’s important to concentrate on those which will be accessible to your entire audience no matter where they’re located (as opposed to service providers who serve local customers only).
In other words, don’t limit your earning potential by geography.
Your best bet is to represent online, hosted or professional service providers/influencers you’ve worked with in the past and have full confidence in.
Examples of professional services:
- Media or creative businesses (Media Content Advantage, John Melley Voice Overs & Production, Music Radio Creative)
- Marketing services (Sprout Social, Hootsuite)
- Masterminds and membership sites (Serious Bloggers Only, Freelance Writer’s Den, Digital Marketer)
- Research or consulting services (Questia, Touchstone Research Store, Snow Consulting)
- Accounting, finance, or legal advice (as permitted by law) (Find Legal Forms, Motif Investing, Greatland)
- Niche specialties – pop culture, travel, tourism, nightlife, crafts/artisans (Pet Care Supplies, zChocolat, Silvercar)
Examples of online/hosted services:
- Website platforms (Wix, Squarespace)
- Lead generation services (Thrive, Leadpages)
- Email service providers (AWeber, Constant Contact)
- Website services (e.g., hosting, anti-spam, security, etc.)
- Media (Wistia, Vimeo, Telestream, various WordPress plugins)
- Course platforms (Zippy Courses, Ruzuku, Teachable)
- Virtual Assistant or customer service support (Zendesk Partners program, VA Affiliates, TempsASAP)
- IT support, cloud-based storage, backup, security or other technical services based on monthly subscriptions
- It’s easy to become a service affiliate, and it helps your audience manage important tasks that require specific expertise.
- There’s likely a higher earning potential than from digital downloads because services are usually offered at a higher price point.
- Many hosted services will offer a recurring commission – meaning you’ll get paid for as long as the customers you refer continue to use the service.
- Some of your favorite professional service providers (ones you have experience with) might not have affiliate programs in place.
Do it! Especially if you can find an excellent service provider who can potentially help nearly everyone in your audience at one time or another and who can be a strong, steady income generator.
Option #3: Online Courses
Online courses are an important subset of digital products, especially for bloggers, and the market is huge. They’re so popular that they deserve their own category on this list.
Online courses exist on just about any topic you can think of. They range in price from free to thousands of dollars, with higher-priced programs promising big results for students.
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids – How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting
- My Garden School
- Suze Ormon’s Personal Finance Online Course
- Courses are one of the best ways to help your audience achieve a goal that’s important to them or move past a roadblock that’s been keeping them stuck. You can deliver incredible value with little effort on your part.
- Courses are often offered at a higher price point than other digital products, so your earning potential is higher.
- Courses are popular. It should be easy to find other influencers in your niche whose courses can help your readers.
- You’ll have to spend time working through and reviewing courses to make sure that they deliver on their promises (to protect your reputation).
Do it! Help your readers in a big way, and earn big at the same time.
Option #4: Physical Products
If you decide to represent physical products on your blog, your best bet is to choose high-quality, distinctive products that that will appeal strongly to your specific audience.
Avoid commodity products that your readers can buy anywhere — the commissions are so small you won’t make worthwhile money unless you can drive tremendous traffic to your site.
Commissions on physical products are usually fairly low because of the overhead of production costs, storage costs, shipping, etc. So unless you are planning to build a large review or shopping site, physical products will probably be a very small portion of your blogging affiliate income.
However, if you have a favorite tool of your trade, a must-have gadget that will make your readers’ lives easier, or a high-quality recommendation that you’re sure people will be thrilled with, go ahead and offer it.
You’ll build goodwill even if you don’t make a lot of money.
- Niche shopping — Product Review Mom (parenting), Compost Mania (gardening), Roemer’s Workshop (hobbies), Pinch of Yum (food)
- Tech or gadgets — Engadget, Gizmodo, Craziest Gadgets
- Cool stuff — This Is Why I’m Broke
- Once you have an established blog, companies may approach you and offer you free product in exchange for a review. (You should always disclose this, as it could be seen as a conflict of interest.)
- If you can afford to purchase products on your own in order to test them, you’ll be seen as a truly objective reviewer.
- Commissions on physical products are usually a lot lower because of the overhead, so you’ll have to sell a whole lot more product to make a decent income.
- Buying products so you can review them before promoting them can be expensive.
Offer physical products only under certain circumstances:
- They’re directly related to your blog topic and something your audience absolutely needs.
- They’re not commodities. Specialized and distinctive products reflect better on you, boosting your reputation and credibility.
Products might be a good fit for how-to, hobby, fitness, cooking, fashion, food blogs and similar niches.
You should now have plenty of ideas for types of products you can represent.
Here’s how to go about finding the best options for you.
7 Simple Steps to Affiliate Marketing Success
Follow these seven steps and you’ll be well on your way to building your own affiliate marketing machine, even if you’re just starting out.
Step 1: Identify the Desirable End Goal
The key to finding products that your audience wants to buy is knowing the goals they hope to achieve and the obstacles that are holding them back.
Once you understand your audience’s aims and what’s keeping them from achieving them, you can find products that help them get where they want to go.
Don’t worry — you don’t have to be a mind reader. You just have to know how to listen to what your audience is already telling you.
The easiest and best thing to do is to tap your current readers for details, but even if your list is small, you still have lots of options.
Let’s see how to discover your audience goals and roadblocks.
1. Mine Your Readers’ Emails and Blog Post Comments
Gather up and read through feedback you’ve already received from your readers through email or comments on your blog.
2. Go Ahead and Ask Them by Email
Send your readers an email and ask them what their biggest frustration or obstacle is right now, and how you can best help them.
3. Look For Clues Left in Public Places
Read the discussions in online forums in your niche as well as on sites like Quora. Amazon book reviews on your topic are also enlightening.
Whatever source you use, look for statements that start with phrases like:
“I’d love to…”
“Someday I’d like…”
“I’m frustrated by…”
“I can’t seem to get past (barrier or challenge)…”
“I hate it when…”
Collect your responses into a spreadsheet or document and look for commonalities.
Then choose a much-wanted accomplishment that you know your readers can achieve if they complete certain steps.
- Gardeners — Grow a year-round indoor herb garden
- Personal finance — Build an emergency fund
- Career — Get your next promotion
Step 2: List the Steps Needed to Reach the Goal
Once you’ve found a desirable end goal, list out all the steps that your readers need to take to get there from where they are now.
You’ll find your audience’s objectives, stumbling blocks and challenges in these steps. Once you know these, you’ll be able to look for products to help your readers along their way.
Let’s use our example of the indoor herb garden.
The steps your readers need to take probably look something like this:
- Find sunny or well-lighted spots in your home
- Get the right kind of pots with drainage
- Use a good potting soil
- Choose plants that will thrive indoors
- Find a good fertilizer
- Transplant properly
- Water and humidify correctly
Sound about right? Good.
Now you can start identifying your audience’s needs.
Step 3: Determine What They Need to Get Ahead
Look at each of the steps you’ve outlined and figure out what types of tools or resources your readers need to accomplish each step.
They might need physical products such as fertilizer, or they may need software, services or knowledge that they can get from a course or book.
Any tools or resources that are either essential to success or dramatically increase its chances (or provide greater ease or speed) are good candidates for affiliate sales.
Here are some examples for specific groups:
- Gardeners — pots, tools, fertilizer, potting soil, reference books, a course including how-to videos
- Emergency fund builders — a separate bank account, places to sell their old stuff, tips for making money on the side, financial planning services, an ebook on saving money on major purchases, a course on changing money habits
- Job seekers — a book on salary negotiation, resume rewriting services, a course on professional networking using LinkedIn
Here are some recommendations for each of the main blogging niches to help you generate ideas of your own:
- Business and Entrepreneurship — Productivity apps, business growth courses, masterminds, books and books
- Career — Resume and cover letter services, aptitude or personality assessments, courses and ebooks on networking and negotiation, mastermind and networking group memberships
- Creative Endeavors — Media services, website and online services, marketing courses, virtual assistant services
- Freelancing — Writing and marketing courses and memberships, ebooks, training programs
- Gadgets and Technology — Physical products, apps, software, games
- Marketing — Lead generation tools, CRM services, email services, website services
- News, Culture, and Entertainment — Movie streaming apps and memberships, restaurant/food review apps, music subscriptions, toys, games, hobbies
- Parenting — Physical products, courses, support groups, memberships to discount sites
- Personal Finance — Budgeting or accounting software or apps, courses, membership sites, newsletter subscriptions
- Self-Improvement — Books and ebooks, courses, tracking apps, coaching services, masterminds
- Social Media and Blogging — Hosting services, WordPress themes, email service providers, web services, media services
Using these examples as a guide, brainstorm a list of all the products that you think would help your audience the most.
We’ll narrow down your list in the next step.
Step 4: Choose a Product to Promote as an Affiliate
As an ethical blogger, you’ll always be constrained in the products you choose to represent in one of two ways:
- Either you’re limited by your experience to products that you’ve used and liked, that have affiliate programs and that are a good fit for your audience, or
- You’re constrained by the products you can get access to in order to evaluate them, either by buying them outright or getting a free sample or trial.
No matter which approach you take, expect to have to invest time and money into researching the best products for your audience.
Here are your three options, listed in order of preference (with your best option listed first).
Option #1: Promote Products You Already Know and Love
This is probably the most common way bloggers get started with affiliate sales.
You become an affiliate for something that you’ve used yourself, had a good experience with, thoroughly tested and feel good recommending. You should be fairly confident that others will get the same results you did (or better), as long as they do the work.
If you’ve found great success from a course, mastermind, or ebook that your readers could also benefit from, it only makes sense for you to spread the word and share your results.
Do an inventory of the products, services and courses you already have experience with. You might have a list of a dozen or more.
Which of these would you be thrilled to promote? Cross out any that don’t fit the bill.
Now simply check to see if the merchant has an affiliate program (some won’t but you’ll probably be surprised at how many do).
Do a Google search for “affiliate program” + [product name], or simply email the merchant and ask.
Then run your remaining options through this Good Affiliate Product checklist:
- You’ve previewed the product so you know its quality (given, in this case).
- They have a solid refund policy that you trust they’ll honor.
- They provide good customer support (and you’ve tested it).
- You have a good story to share about your experience with the product.
- The offer fits your audience’s needs and won’t abuse the trust you’ve built with them.
The products that tick all the checkboxes are your best opportunities for affiliate income. As time goes on, add as many of these products to your mix as you like.
You’ve found your first product! Apply using the merchant’s process and start promoting.
If you’re just dipping your toe in the water of affiliate marketing, this first option may be enough to get you started.
However, most bloggers will want to try one or both of the next two options, too.
(And you’ll have to explore these options if you don’t have an existing product you love that is also a great match for your audience and offers an affiliate program.)
Option #2: Partner with Influencers to Represent Their Products
As mentioned earlier, one of the best ways for you to build relationships with the authorities in your niche is to promote their products to your audience.
So if you don’t have any product, course or service in mind already, try this approach next.
Start by asking for recommendations from people you trust. Spy on your favorite influencers’ sites to see what they have to offer. Check each product’s social proof and testimonials and see if they pass the Good Affiliate Product checklist above.
Bloggers who have affiliate programs will often have an application process (sometimes formal, sometimes not) that you can go through to be approved.
Usually, you’ll need to show that:
- You have a decent-sized email list.
- You’re serious about producing content on a regular basis.
- There’s a good fit between your audience and the influencer’s audience.
If you have all of these things in place, you can approach the influencer and simply ask. Sometimes — especially if they already know you — they’ll even approach you first and offer.
Also, it helps if you’ve been building a relationship with the influencer prior to asking them to become an affiliate.
If you want to work with top influencers doing huge, Jeff Walker-style launches, you might need to invest months or years in building those relationships.
Good product candidates (ones that could become core offerings) will fill a vital need for your audience:
- They’ll move them past some step that they’re struggling with.
- They’ll provide assistance that your readers ask you for all the time in their emails and comments, but that you don’t (or can’t) yet provide yourself.
- They’ll be tools or resources that are essential to completing the steps they need to take to succeed.
If the influencer is serious about building affiliate relationships, they may have program information on their website and/or they may have already mentioned the opportunity in emails to you.
If not, just ask!
Let them know that you’re familiar with their work and whether you’ve had positive experiences with their other products.
Here’s how to approach an influencer and get the scoop:
Hi [First Name],
I’m wondering, do you have an affiliate program for [course name, ebook, your services]?
I have a blog at [your blog] helping [audience] with [mission]. I’ve got [X number] email subscribers and good engagement from my list.
I’ve [followed your blog/read your book/taken your related course/used your related service] and [say a little about the results you’ve achieved]. It seems that [prospective affiliate product] could also be a good fit for my audience.
Is there any way I can review [product] to be sure?
Let me know. It would be great to be able to help my readers [achieve desirable result] with [product name].
If you don’t already know any influencers in your niche offering what you’re looking for, try a Google search for
For example, a search for “affiliate build emergency fund” shows these results:
Out of this list, the Busy Budgeter looks promising.
You could check their site to see whose products they are promoting, and look into whether it would be right for your readers, too.
If you find some excellent products using these first two options and want to stop here, you’re all set.
However, if you want to keep exploring opportunities (now or in the future), go ahead and move on to Option #3.
Option #3: Find Products via an Affiliate Network
If you don’t have any direct experience with or knowledge of products in your niche that could help your readers, you can often find good affiliate products on affiliate networks.
But be aware — this approach requires that you invest time into research and money into purchasing products to try out, more so than the first two options.
That’s because there’s less trust and prior knowledge involved from the outset. You have to do your due diligence to protect your reputation and the credibility you’ve built with your readers.
When you work through a network, you typically won’t know the merchant ahead of time and usually won’t build a relationship with them (your business relationship is with the network).
As one of the biggest affiliate networks, Clickbank represents physical products as well as digital downloads. Be sure to research and test potential affiliate products the best you can before signing on. There’s a lot of junk on Clickbank, but there are high quality products as well.
Buy products that look promising and test them. Most aren’t very expensive.
As usual, review all potential products through the Good Affiliate Potential checklist.
Here are a some specific tips for finding affiliate products on Clickbank:
- Review the steps your readers must take and decide what major category your solutions will fall under — for example, business, computers, health and fitness, etc.
- Look for a gravity score of 30 or more, because these products have a proven track record of selling well for a number of different affiliates. Products, especially new products, with gravity scores under 30 may work but are more risky. Gravity scores of greater than 100 mean the product’s popular. You could have competition, but don’t worry about that. The important thing is that there’s lots of demand.
- Look for commissions of 65% or greater, or at least $18 per sale.
- The product’s description will specify if they offer a $1 trial (not all will).
- Check out each product’s return policy as well.
[If you’d like more information specifically on Clickbank, check out this comprehensive guide from Authority Hacker.]
Here are some tips for finding affiliate products on Amazon:
- You can find digital downloads, including books, courses and more, in the Amazon Associates affiliate program.
- Look for at least 20+ reviews. Read the reviews carefully.
- Again, if you decide to promote physical products, try to find high-quality, high-value, specialized or unique products that your audience will appreciate — mediocre or poor-quality products will reflect badly on you.
You can review and vet products on your blog for quality and value, saving your readers time and headaches. You may even be able to claim a tax write-off for the expense of any purchase.
Aside from Clickbank and Amazon, there are many good networks to find physical goods:
- Many online retailers have affiliate programs, including Target and Walmart. Your best bet is to check with your favorite retailers.
- Commission Junction has a wide range of products from mostly quality sellers.
Once you find a product or two that are likely to be great offers, you need to apply and get approval.
Step 5: Get Yourself Set Up as an Affiliate
Whether you work directly with a merchant or through a network, you’ll have to apply, be approved and provide certain information so that you can be paid.
At a minimum you’ll need to provide:
- Your personal/business contact information for tax and reporting purposes
- Your bank account where commissions will be sent
In turn, the merchant must provide you with:
- An affiliate link. Whenever you post about the product, you’ll use this trackable link. It will have a long tag at the end of each link that includes your affiliate ID.
Here’s what some typical affiliate links look like.
Example link that directs to the merchant’s home page
Example link to another page on the merchant’s site
You’ll also usually get some tips and useful assets for marketing the product (often found in a welcome guide or on the affiliate reporting site).
These could include:
- An affiliate guide as well as instructions on how to use the platform and summary of policies such as payment
- Marketing tools like banners and sidebar graphics
- Sample email/webpage swipe copy
- Ongoing communications from the merchant about promotions, new products, etc.
If you use a network like Amazon, you’ll get your own link for each of the specific products you promote.
Be sure to check your specific network’s help or support pages for more information.
Step 6: Start Promoting Your Chosen Affiliate Products
Few things destroy a good relationship with your audience as quickly as too many pushy sales messages. The last thing you want is for readers to think you care more about squeezing every last penny out of them than you do about helping them succeed.
So make sure to balance out your offers with lots of valuable non-promotional content. Every once in a while (say, every one in four emails) you can include a specific call to action to ask your readers to buy a product.
Remember, free content builds a reservoir of goodwill with your readers. Keep filling that well by giving and people will be much more open to sales-related emails when you send them.
In addition to emailing your list, you’ll also cross-promote your offers in many different ways, at different times and through different media.
Many of these promotional efforts will be “soft sells” — links, reviews, resource pages or informational posts added specifically to gently guide your readers toward products that they may need.
Start off by collecting all the social proof that you can:
- Quotes from readers on their successes using the affiliate products
- Testimonials from others (i.e., not your readers) who’ve enjoyed success
- Your own results using the product
Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income recommends becoming an authoritative, credible source of information on the products that you sell.
But what does that mean exactly?
Well, people are often a little skeptical of the information they find about a product on the merchant’s own site, assuming it’ll always paint a glowing picture. This means you have an opportunity for your blog to become the go-to destination for more even-handed information about the product, describing its positive and negative points.
Let’s see your options for promoting your affiliate products.
Option #1: Add Affiliate Links in Key Places on Your Blog
Don’t let your biggest asset go to waste. Make the most of your website’s real estate by using these tried-and-true methods to get your readers’ attention:
- Use a Resource page — Resource pages can be very effective when you drive traffic to them from posts, guest posts or other promotional efforts.
- Promote your products in a sidebar on your blog — Sidebars are less effective than they used to be, but using one may still be worthwhile.
- Use Hellobar or a popup or exit gate — These marketing tools (often WordPress plugins) can be very effective.
Here’s an example of ProBlogger’s resource page:
Option #2: Create and Promote Custom Content
Custom content strategies will be the backbone of your affiliate promotional efforts.
Use as many of the following different strategies as make sense for your blog and audience.
A) Write Reviews
You can write detailed reviews of products, courses, books or software products you promote as an affiliate.
Your reviews can focus on a single product or compare competing products side-by-side.
The second approach arguably builds more trust and gives you the opportunity to promote multiple products at the same time, giving your readers the information they need to choose between them.
B) Write Definitive Content on a Related Topic
You can write a definitive, comprehensive post on your site to educate your readers and “soft sell” your products.
For instance, you could write an ultimate guide to setting up a WordPress blog and include your affiliate links to your favorite hosting providers.
Whatever the topic, make sure that it’s evergreen content — information that’s likely to be useful and valuable for years to come.
You can create blog posts, videos, infographics or anything similar — but whatever you do, it should not be a sales page.
C) Write Guest Posts to Promote Your Definitive Content
The advantage with writing content for someone else’s blog is that you get to tap into their (hopefully large) audience.
When looking for potential targets, make sure that the host blog’s readers are likely to be interested in your post’s topic and looking for solutions to problems your affiliate products can solve.
Also, do your research to check that the host blog gets a fair number of comments and/or social media shares and that they credit and link to guest authors.
Most blogs won’t allow the author to include their own affiliate links (but it’s worth checking). The next best thing is to link to the definitive content on your own blog, either naturally within the body of your post or in your author’s bio.
D) Conduct Interviews
You can interview people who’ve had great success using the product so that your audience can hear their stories — think of it as a kind of audio testimonial.
If the merchant is an individual rather than a company, you can also invite them to chat about how their product works and why your readers will find it useful.
E) Create Valuable Bonus Content
Assuming it’s allowed by your affiliate agreement (sometimes it’s not), you can create bonus content, exclusive to your readers, that helps people get even more value from the affiliate product.
People love bonuses! You can create many types of bonuses fairly quickly and easily while still giving your readers excellent value.
By the way, this is a fantastic way to differentiate yourself from other bloggers representing the same products.
Here are some example bonuses you could offer:
- Step-by-step checklists
- Quick-start guides
- Video overviews or demos
- Complementary or discounted services (e.g., coaching calls)
Option #3: Craft Promotional Emails for Your Subscribers
Your email list is your biggest asset when it comes to driving traffic to your offers.
Assuming you’re already emailing your list on a regular basis — for example, every Tuesday, every two weeks, etc. — you can also run occasional promotions where you email your readers more frequently.
If your mailing list software allows it, you can segment interested readers onto a separate interest list, so that only people who raise their hands will receive your free informational and promotional emails.
But even if you can’t segment your list, you’ll want to provide lots of valuable content and build anticipation for your product offers.
Here are some quick ideas:
- Promote your offers indirectly by sending emails linking to your free content (blog posts, reviews, etc.).
- Offer occasional special deals exclusive to your readers (discounts, bonuses, etc.).
- Run “social proof” giveaways — ask your readers to share their experience with your process or product in return for a chance to win.
If you’re promoting a low-priced product like an ebook, digital download or hosted service on an ongoing basis, you might do something as simple as using a P.S. or signature link in your regular emails, with occasional emailed links to custom content.
For courses, masterminds, services or higher-earning products, you might do something closer to an official launch once per year with softer launches once per quarter.
And of course, always follow your merchants’ lead. If they run major launches twice a year, for example, you can participate in those and take advantage of the natural momentum these launches often create.
You may have a different promotion plan for each product.
Example Email Sequence
Custom email sequences are especially effective for your core products.
You’ll usually send out a series of five to seven emails spread out over a timeframe spanning a week or two.
These can be run in parallel with your normal blog emails or you can “pause” your regular content for the duration of the sequence.
A sample seven-email series might look like this:
- A welcome email (if they’ve joined a new interest list) or a content-rich email talking about the problem the product solves
- More helpful content (no selling)
- First mention of the product, positioning it in relation to the problem, with a link to a sales page
- More free content with advice that’s valuable regardless of whether the reader buys the product, also including another link to the product
- A “bigger sell” to incentivise the reader to buy using scarcity (e.g., “Only 50 places available”) or time urgency (e.g., “This deal ends in 48 hours”) *
- Additional helpful information, testimonials and/or social proof, and a reminder that time is running out
- An eleventh-hour last call to let readers know that the offer is closing soon
* Warning: Only use scarcity or urgency tactics if they are genuine and you intend to stick to the limits or deadlines. Telling readers a deal ends for good at midnight, then offering it again the following week, is a surefire way to lose their trust.
The important thing here is to try different approaches for each product, see what your audience responds to best, and don’t give up!
Option #4: Run Exclusive Live Events
Finally, you can run live events to introduce your audience to your products.
Webinars are the most popular way to do this, and you can host them on your own or as a joint venture with the merchant. (Usually, though, merchants will only participate if you can attract a certain number of attendees.)
If there’s already strong interest from your readers in a particular product, you can make it the focus of your webinar, giving attendees one of the following:
- An interactive walk-through showing how you use the product, including tips and tricks you’ve learned along the way
- A demonstration of specific features of particular interest to your readers
- A personal case study of the results you achieved using the product
More typically, the webinar will focus on a particular outcome that the audience wants to achieve and then position the product as a way to achieve those results more easily or quickly.
A common way to separate webinar content from product content is using the webinar to explain what you need to do to achieve a certain goal, and leaving the product to dive into (or facilitate) the how.
Importantly, the webinar should be valuable even to people who don’t end up buying the product.
To give an example, if you were promoting a software product that automates blogger outreach, your webinar could talk about high-level strategies for outreach that attendees could implement manually, then position the product as a time-saver that lets you focus on the relationship-building instead of the initial outreach.
Don’t Forget to Track Everything to Discover What’s Working Best
Whichever options you choose for promoting your affiliate products, you’ll want to know which are producing the best results.
Pat Flynn recommends Pretty Link for this. You can create clean, easy-to-use-and-remember links plus get analytics so you can see exactly where people are coming from and what strategies are working best for you.
Most importantly of all, be patient. Don’t expect to get any of this right the first time out. Keep building a strong foundation of content and continually test and try new things.
Step 7: Comply with Legal Requirements (and Best Practices)
In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires that you let people know you’ll earn a commission.
But even if it isn’t required by law where you’re located, we recommend it. It’s just good business.
Don’t be afraid to be transparent. People will appreciate your honesty and want to support you to repay you for making their lives better.
So wherever you share an affiliate link, whether it’s in blog posts, web pages, or emails, let your readers know that you stand to earn a small commission if they buy through you — and if they choose not to use your link, no worries.
Assure them that you wouldn’t recommend any products if you hadn’t used them yourself or were confident they could help them.
It’s also a good idea to create an Affiliate Disclaimer page on your website.
Here’s an example of our own disclaimer page at Smart Blogger:
We’re also clear on how those affiliate links might look within blog posts.
And finally, thank people before and after for using your links.
Start Up Your Affiliate Marketing Machine and Get Monetizing
That dream you’ve had of making money while you sleep isn’t just a silly fantasy.
It’s a completely achievable reality.
Sure, it’s not as easy as pushing a magic button, but with a little knowledge and persistence you can definitely do it.
Affiliate marketing is one of the best ways to start earning an income from your blog once you’ve gotten a respectable following.
And the best news is that it’s so easy to get started. All the steps are spelled out in this post.
Simply identify the one big thing everyone in your audience needs to reach their goals and start there.
Choose a great digital product that you believe in and share it. Tell the story of your successes.
Provide lots of valuable content that helps and educates your readers, and take care not to be too salesy.
Be honest and transparent. Nurture the trust that readers place in you.
And finally, be patient.
All your efforts will pay you back with that sweet “cha-ching” of overnight deposits into your bank account.