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Affiliate Marketing

One of the best ways to make long-term income from your blog is to employ an affiliate marketing model. What is affiliate marketing? It’s when a business awards a blogger for promoting their product, service, or site.

Note: I include more methods under the affiliate marketing umbrella than most other internet entrepreneurs. I do so because the categorization makes sense — and I like consistency.

There are three or four parts of an affiliate transaction, depending on which model you use:

  1. Business, merchant, retailer, or brand
  2. Blogger, publisher, or affiliate
  3. Customer
  4. Network, broker (optional)

There are two scenarios with affiliate marketing. The first does not include a network:

  1. A merchant contracts with a publisher.
  2. The publisher promotes to the customer.
  3. The customer completes the desired action.
  4. The merchant pays an agreed fee to the publisher.

The second does include a network:

  1. A merchant contracts with an affiliate network.
  2. The publisher contracts with the network and applies to various merchant programs.
  3. The publisher promotes to the customer.
  4. The customer completes the desired action.
  5. The merchant pays an agreed fee to the network.
  6. The network pays an agreed fee to the publisher.

Affiliate marketing promotion generally occurs when the publisher provides special links for customers that have tracking code attached to them. The customers don’t pay more (and, in fact, sometimes get special deals or discounts), but each click or impression is linked to the publisher’s account.

There are a number of companies that have great affiliate programs and four main payment models, depending on the action the merchant is looking for. Below, I’ll list my favorite affiliate marketing programs and then discuss each typical payment method.

My Favorite Affiliate Marketing Programs

Amazon

Amazon Affiliate ProgramAmazon runs its own affiliate program. I make most of my affiliate income, by far, through the Amazon affiliate program. That’s not so much because they have the best affiliate program around. They don’t. They have a relatively low commission rate and an absurdly short cookie. But they have two big things going for them:

  1. Amazon has so many affiliate tools it’s almost overwhelming. And they are very simple and intuitive. You can create about any link you can imagine: text, banner, specific product. Widgets for MP3s, hot deals, product clouds, and even your own aStore are easy to create and post to your site.
  2. Amazon has more products than just about any retailer on the web. As a blogger, that means you can promote hundreds and hundreds of products — directly related to your niche — with only one affiliate program to manage.

ShareaSale

ShareaSaleShareaSale is my all-time favorite affiliate network. The site is user-friendly. It’s easy to find what you need, create links, get creatives, and get going. They have datafeeds, videos, widgets, and easy deep-linking to any page on a merchant’s site.

To top it off — unlike many other affiliate networks — the Share a Sale reports make sense without getting a degree in obtuse statistical deciphering.

If you only sign up for one network, make is Share a Sale. Sign up as an “affiliate” (business owners who want to pay for advertising sign up as “merchants”). Then look for merchants in your niche that “auto approve.” Your site doesn’t have to rank or have lots of traffic or content to get started promoting these products.

LinkShare

LinkShare AffiliateI have a love-hate relationship with the LinkShare affiliate network.

On one hand, it has some great merchants and an easy way to get standard links and creatives. I’ve never had a problem with payments or unpaid commissions.

On the other hand, the site is pretty poorly implemented. They’ve got an ajax dashboard that never actually loads for me — it just spins and spins. Trying to deep-link or link to specific products is often problematic. Perhaps most annoying is the fact that within your LinkShare account, you must sign up each of your websites separately, and apply for merchant programs for every site. So if, for example, I want to promote NutriSystem from two different sites, I have to apply twice. (And I may or may not be accepted both times.)

I definitely recommend LinkShare, but suggest you start with the Share a Sale affiliate network first.

Social Spark

SocialSparkSocial Spark is one of my favorite sponsored post services. Recently they have added some CPS “deals” and CPI “ads” to their offerings. I’ve been using them for the past month or so with acceptable results.

Overall, Social Spark is an innovative, responsive company to work with. I expect more good things to come from them and highly recommend them as part of your money-making blog portfolio.

eBay

eBayI’m sure you’ve heard of eBay, but perhaps you don’t know they offer a great internal affiliate program. It’s called the eBay Partner Network. The affiliate network has great tools to create links, generate creatives, add widgets, or access API.

Given the less stable nature of products on an auction site, many products aren’t worth linking to — because they won’t be listed for long. But if you find a good retailer who has an eBay store and a stable line of offerings, this can be a great affiliate to promote.

Another angle would be to link to search results that relate to your niche or post. For example, if I’m writing a post about popcorn machines, I might include that link to take readers to a page showing a variety of styles. (By the way, last Christmas I bought a popcorn machine from eBay for our rec room.)

Other Affiliate Programs

Other affiliate programs I use are:

Commission Junction

Commission Junction is one of the oldest, biggest, affiliate networks. They have a huge selection of merchants with a variety of products. The site is up-to-date, although a bit non-intuitive to navigate. Payout is generally reliable, but on occasion I have found I don’t get credit for legitimate affiliate purchases. Of course, I have no way of knowing how often that happens, but when you find out it has happened multiple times, it’s a concern.

PepperJam Network

The PepperJam Network has been around about four years, but I’ve only recently begun promoting their merchants. To be honest, just using the affiliate programs I’m already working with gives me more than enough really good products. But I always like to see what’s out there. PepperJam has a good reputation and may have some merchants that fit your site.

ClickBank

The ClickBank affiliate network offers tens of thousands of digital products, available for immediate download. Link creation is easy and they pay 75% commission on sales. They’ve been around for 14 years and always, always, always pay on time.

What’s not to love?

Well, the products. Clickbank has some really fine digital products — and they have a lot of absolute garbage. Clickbank doesn’t produce the content. Their vendors (read that: anyone who wants to produce a digital product) create it, upload it, and hope you sell it for them.

ClickBank is a great idea. Just make sure you thoroughly vet any products you plan to promote. You will lose credibility promoting scammy materials. If you do the research to find the jewels that are really worth their cost, your readers will come back for more.

Affiliate Marketing Models

Cost per Sale – CPS

Cost per sale is one of the most common — and possibly most lucrative — affiliate models. With this model, bloggers promote companies or specific products, and get paid a commission if the customer clicks to the site and buys something.

Cost per Click – CPC — also known as Pay per Click – PPC

With the cost per click model, bloggers add code to their sites that imports either graphics or text that are linked to the merchant’s website. The blogger gets paid a few cents for every time a reader clicks on the link and visits the merchant’s site.

Cost per Impression – CPI — also known as Cost per Thousand (Impressions) – CPM

The cost per impression payment model is based on how many times a merchant’s graphic is loaded on the blogger’s page. For example, if I have CPI code embedded on my home page, then every time someone visits (and loads) my home page, the image will record an impression. Payment is generally based on a per thousand basis, meaning you get paid a particular amount per thousand impressions or image loads.

Cost per Lead – CPL

With a cost per lead model, the merchant is paying to get new customer contact information that will hopefully lead to a future sale. CPL is less common, but works particularly well in certain industries. For example, an insurance company might pay bloggers who send customers to their sites who fill out a request for a free insurance quote. If you can find a CPL merchant that fits your niche, they tend to pay fairly well.