Affiliate marketing success in 2020 requires a healthy appreciation for that ever-present chasm between expectations and reality. Too many affiliates hear the words “passive income” and get hung up on the “passive” part, thinking they’re setting up revenue streams that work like rainwater collectors — you might get a little more or less yield depending on external factors beyond your control, but basically you can set them and forget them.
This kind of approach might work for offsetting your monthly coffee expenses, but it’s not a way to make serious income or position yourself as a viable partner. Amazon might be happy to let you keep their affiliate links up to make the odd buck or two, but marketers with tighter budgets and stiffer competition are less likely to dilute their marketing messaging by maintaining relationships with affiliates who are only putting in minimal effort to discuss and promote their products.
Affiliates who take their role seriously may understand what it takes to succeed, but that doesn’t make it any easier. If there was ever a golden age of affiliate marketing, we may now be in its period of decline. While graphs like the one above attempt to demonstrate that affiliate marketing is growing. It is misleading. Overall the industry’s growth is stagnant. While smaller affiliates continue to sprout up, the larger ones are hitting a ceiling.
Nevertheless, affiliate marketing remains a big digital industry — spending is set to exceed $6.8 billion this year, in the United States alone — only a small percentage of affiliates are reaping truly significant rewards. Nearly half of affiliates make less than $20,000 per year from their commissions.
While the road to success may be getting harder, there are still plenty of good reasons for affiliates to stay the course. For one thing, merchants aren’t likely to turn away from affiliate marketing anytime soon — on average, 23% of an ecommerce merchant’s revenue comes from affiliate programs, putting it on a tier alongside SEO and pay-per-click advertising. On the publisher side, affiliate programs typically account for 20% of their annual revenue.
It’s still a great time to be an affiliate, provided you forget about “passive” income and commit to working smart and setting yourself and your partners up for success. If you’re resolved to become a better affiliate this year, we’ve got your next steps covered. Here are eight things you can do to earn more commissions and grow your affiliate revenues.
1. Dig Deeper Into Your Niche—and Know It Well
Nobody with a mind toward purchasing a product is searching for broad, generalist takes on it. When people offer up their search terms to Google, they’re hoping the results provide them with experts, deep knowledge, the kind of insights and critical analysis you can’t find just anywhere.
Often, the problem with underperforming affiliates is that their niche isn’t tightly focused, or they don’t understand it well enough. Anybody can find an underserved market, do some cursory research, and start a blog. That’ll bring in the first wave of searchers. As time goes on, however, you risk losing that audience to anyone who knows the subject matter better and can provide more relevant commentary and insights. Want to keep them around, clicking your links? Specialize further and upgrade your knowledge base.
2. Optimize Your Website (and Other Channels, Too)
Your reviews may be engaging and thoughtful, your industry news timely and relevant, your research probing and well-informed, but if visitors click on your link and find themselves confronted with a WordPress template from 2007, you are undermining yourself.
Content may be king, but a bad presentation (or worse, display and compatibility issues) will instantly discredit you in some leads’ eyes. Wherever your content is hosted, make sure it’s up-to-date, load quickly, plays well with modern devices and browsers (especially mobile), and looks professional. Tools like heatmaps and speed testers can help you analyze your site to identify weak points.
3. Optimize Your Content Distribution
Conversely, you can have the most readable, accessible, coolest site on the web and still see only a trickle of daily traffic if all you’re doing is waiting for search engines to send visitors your way. Passivity will kill you here—you need to be proactively reaching out to your leads, whether that’s via paid ads, social media, or discussion forums.
Optimizing content distribution can be easier said than done, partly because there are so many distribution channels these days and the answer isn’t to saturate the market by utilizing all of them. Instead, you want to focus on the right channels — the ones that will reach the very specific audience segments you’re trying to connect with. If you’ve done the work to identify the personas, demographics, and interests that define your target audience, you can choose the ideal channels for your content.
4. Employ Automation
Giving your affiliate site the care and attention it needs doesn’t have to be a grueling, time-consuming process. There are all kinds of apps and tools available that are designed to automate various parts of the content publishing process, whether that means posting to social media or even creating the content itself.
Too much automation can lead to a formulaic approach that turns audiences off, but the right amount will ease your workload by taking repetitive site and content management tasks off your hands.
5. Review Your Partners and Networks
In affiliate marketing, as with all endeavors, it never pays to get stuck in a rut. If you can’t identify the ways in which your partners, affiliate networks, or solution providers are creative positive and profitable outcomes, it may be time to replace them.
Making big changes to a functional affiliate site can be scary, but if the audience’s interest is there, diversifying your offerings can open up new opportunities. Analyze what’s working and what isn’t, and don’t be afraid to let go of business relationships that are no longer benefiting you.
6. Review Your Model
All affiliate marketing is not created equal. There are actually four different models of affiliate marketing, and if you’ve never given much thought to which one you fit into, you might be engaging in suboptimal practices better suited to a different affiliate marketing model, wasting money and missing out on conversion opportunities.
Most affiliates default to the “niche market” model, creating a site that focuses on a particular industry or interest. This operates differently than the influencer model, where the affiliate connects with their audience on more of an aspirational personal level than as an expert advisor. There’s also location-focused affiliates, who target hyperlocal audiences, and the “mega-mall” model, in which the affiliate serves as a one-stop shop for a variety of products from different merchants.
If you’re not sure where your site fits in, it might be time for some self-examination.
7. Respect Your Users (and Regulations)
If you want to succeed as an affiliate, then be an affiliate and focus on giving your audience interesting, relevant, share-worthy content that grows your stature as a voice in the industry and respects their time and intelligence.
It can be tempting to look for other ways to monetize site visits, but in the long run you’re much better off treating your users with respect and not giving them any reasons to feel taken advantage of. Most importantly, make sure your site is compliant with all applicable privacy and security regulations. It takes a long time to build trust with a loyal user base—don’t risk throwing that away for any short-term gains.
8. Embrace User-Generated Content and Influencers
When a customer or fan wants to engage with your site, creating content and promoting your affiliate links for free, you should be doing whatever you can to encourage them. Embracing and promoting their content will motivate other users to get involved, and can help keep their messaging on-brand in the ways you want.
You always risk losing some control of the message when you invite organic user-generated content, but the potential payoffs of growing an enthusiastic and engaged audience far outweigh the risks of the occasional misstep.
9. Bonus: Avoid Affiliate Fraud
Just don’t do it. It’s 2020 and there are too many solutions that can track you down and get you kicked off of marketplaces like Amazon, Google, or Walmart. In fact, our parent company GeoEdge is pretty good at it too. So, forget about redirects and using apps that inject affiliate links.
If you have no clue what I’m talking about then just remember if an affiliate marketing agency approaches with a deal that is too good to be true that’s because it is. You can check those affiliate links using Pangeo’s link checker (free trial here).
There’s a low barrier to entry for becoming an affiliate, which means that there’s a lot of competition out there, but by taking a few simple steps to ensure you’re making use of best practices for affiliate marketing, you can set yourself head and shoulders above most of them.
Good affiliate marketers aren’t looking to make a quick buck or create an income stream that runs on a few keyword-laden posts every few days. A good affiliate site can become an integral part of the web and ecommerce ecosystem simply by treating its audience with respect and striving for high quality content based on real expertise.