Dating back to the earliest days of ClickBank, affiliate marketing is one of the oldest revenue models on the Internet, and continues to live on in the form of sponsored partnerships for blogs, YouTube creators, social media influencers and more. Nowadays, the landscape for affiliate marketing has changed dramatically with the advent of tools like Shopify and global retailers like Amazon.
In 2018, affiliate marketers face three distinct challenges to entering the market and making a reasonable amount of profit:
- Competition – more partnerships are available to affiliate marketers than ever before, broadening the number of products which they can tap and sell. At the same time, the number of people involved in affiliate marketing has also increased exponentially, raising competition to new heights which make market penetration difficult.
- Market trends – the best affiliate marketers seize on an untapped niche, and create a market where there wasn’t one before. As niche markets are quickly snatched up, finding one with potential can be difficult. Trending products arise quickly (fidget spinners, hoverboards) and disappear quickly; moreover, these are seized quickly. The only way to ride a trend is to be first in line.
- Decline in blogging – while Silicon valley dreams of a future dominated by virtual and augmented reality are still far-flung, online media has definitely evolved in dramatic ways since the first Internet retailers opened their doors. Visual content has surpassed text as the most popular way to share and consume information on the web. Today, blogging is on the decline, making it difficult for affiliate marketers to utilize traditional channels for advertising partnered products.
Together, all these reasons can combine to discourage an aspiring online marketer, especially when they are tempted by booming revenue models like dropshipping, subscription boxes, course development, etc.
But when one door closes, a window tends to open. There are compelling reasons to start an affiliate marketing business nowadays, and even more compelling reasons to continue an ailing one:
- New media creates new opportunities – because affiliate marketing is so entrenched in online culture, some entrepreneurs feel limited by the old way of doing things. For instance, they believe it is necessary to create a site laden with SEO rich blog content. However, even as new media challenges the old ways, it creates rich new opportunities for marketing affiliate products.
- Niche targeting is better than ever – early affiliate marketers often depended on AdWords or similar services to isolate members of a niche, and bring traffic to a website customized for their tastes. A lot of guesswork and error was involved. This technology is primitive by today’s standards: AdTech has evolved to the point that customers can be effectively targeted based on extremely narrow criteria.
- Old media untapped – as new forms of advertising becoming popular, old forms have gone neglected by marketers. Ironically, these forms continue to remain the most effective at converting potential customers. A good affiliate marketer can find tremendous potential in simply reviving old trends that have fallen out of popularity.
In this article, we will talk about some simple ways that you can bring your current affiliate business up to snuff if its faltering; if you’re a new freelancer, this advice will help you to move miles ahead of the competition. Let’s get started!
1. Email Lists
Although on the decline, email lists are still relatively popular in many online markets. That being said, it’s almost ridiculous how underutilized email lists are by affiliate marketers as a group.
There are a few very simple reasons you should introduce email marketing into your affiliate business if you haven’t already:
- When it comes to leads and conversions, email leads all marketing channels. That’s right: email is more successful than any other form of advertising.
- Out of 7.4 billion people in the world, nearly half (3 billion) use email. This makes email users a vastly broader and more diverse audience than even social media users, which clock in at 2.3 billion.
- Studies indicate that on average and across industries, for every dollar spent on an email campaign, $44.00 is made in return. This is an insanely high ROI.
Email has become so ubiquitous that it’s merely a fact of life. This shouldn’t deceive you into believing that it’s not important when statistics indicate the exact opposite. If you have little or no experience with email marketing, it’s very easy to get started as well.
2. Better Products, Better Audience
It can seem like niches are impossible to find when you and 100,000 other marketers are looking for them. However, this simply isn’t true: a niche is a niche because it isn’t obvious or easy to find. You likely belong in several niches that you haven’t even identified yet, and simply by looking at your unique needs you can easily stumble on an untapped market.
As mentioned earlier, there are a tremendous number of tools now for discovering and segmenting a niche audience. If your affiliate business is currently faltering, it may be that you simply haven’t provided a unique product at an attractive price point. In that case, you need to focus on discovering a better niche and providing for its needs.
If you already have an affiliate business, take a good long look at the data you have on your audience. Your website should already have a basic version of Google Analytics, or third party analytics software like MonsterInsights.
If you run any social media pages – especially on Facebook – your dashboard will give you highly specific details about your audience and what they find interesting. From that point onwards, shift your marketing strategy to specifically target the groups you are already most popular with. Find a product that they are interested in and shift your attentions to it.
3. Solicit Reviews
Soliciting reviews is controversial, because BlackHat marketers have been coercing positive feedback to artificially boost the perceived value of a product since Internet marketing first became popular. However, soliciting reviews is also a perfectly honest and reasonable tactic used by reputable marketers.
Not only do 91% of your prospects research a product or service before they commit to a sale, but up to 84% of prospects trust a product review as much as they trust the recommendation of a friend. This makes it extremely important for positive feedback to surface when your prospects research your product online.
Naturally, this means you should do everything in your power to encourage customers to leave feedback. There a few dos and dont’s of soliciting reviews to keep things kosher:
- Specifically ask customers to leave honest feedback. Include a polite note in your packaging which requests feedback, and follow up with emails requesting feedback as well.
- Contact influencers in your niche, offering something in exchange for a review. This is a very common advertising practice, and also very effective.
- Ask for positive feedback. This is when soliciting reviews becomes dishonest. If you have faith in your product, you won’t be afraid to ask for honest feedback.
- Incentivize feedback without disclosing the fact that it was incentivized to potential customers. In the U.S, offering discounts or payment for reviews is fine, as long as you don’t hide the fact that you paid for them. The latter violates federal law.
4. Product Comparisons
Earlier in this article, I noted that blogging is in decline. That’s definitely true, but it’s equally true that consumer research is going nowhere. One of the most effective ways to use your blog is sponging up traffic from people who are deciding between two or more products.
If you aren’t sure what a “product comparison” is, here’s an example: suppose you are an affiliate marketer selling phone cases from a manufacturer on Amazon. You can compare several different brands, and title your post something along these lines:
“Which phone case is stronger? Brand X or Brand Y?”
“The Best Value in Phone Cases: Brand X vs. Brand Y”
If your customer is interested in buying a phone case, they are also interested in the best phone case, and they would like to know the pros and cons of every option. As usual, it’s important to be honest in the information you compile.
Research your competitors, and present their strengths and weaknesses without bias. Statistically, the traffic you gain will more than compensate for customers who – for whatever reason – decide to go with your competitor instead.
5. Commission Case Studies
One of the most basic elements of marketing is the distinction between features and benefits. Even if your prospect knows everything about your product, they may not know what it can do or what it’s capable of. This is where case studies come in: a case study is an overview of a real life problem that your product helped to solve.
Case studies are much more academic than ordinary content, and they should be treated with a level of objectivity and respect even when used as marketing tools. Here are the basic elements of a case study:
- A basic summary and introduction of the problem, and what your brand did to help it.
- A more detailed examination of the problem, and the context of the problem. If your client struggled with preventing their phone from breaking, provide statistics on the number of phones that break.
- A detailed summary of how your solution fixed the problem: if you stopped phones from breaking, say how many. Compare the number of phones that broke with your product to the number of phones that broke without it.
If you aren’t sure how to write a case study, it can be a good idea to hire a professional. If you aren’t sure what your case study should be about, poll your customers, find those who had luck with your product/service, and ask about their experience.
6. Dynamic Content
While blogs are on the decline, that doesn’t mean that people don’t still read them. And even if they didn’t, there is still a tremendous variety of ways to use content for attracting prospects, especially as the available forms of Internet content increase considerably.
Think about what you do when you aren’t working. Do you visit YouTube? Scroll through your Facebook feed? Spend a little time on Instagram, or Reddit? What captures your attention most?
More likely than not, you are attracted to visual and dynamic content. This includes:
- Interactive websites
Every one of these media forms can be used by an affiliate marketer. For instance, most popular YouTubers today are partnered with an affiliate program like SquareSpace or Audible.com. If you have an audience that is interested in the tutorials, comedy, or informational videos you provide, you have tremendous affiliate marketing opportunities at your disposal.
7. A/B Testing
Out of all the technologies developed since the oldest days of affiliate marketing, A/B testing is probably the most versatile and widely used. Once, web designers had to base their decisions on instinct, ask friends, and consult users directly. Nowadays, you can determine from a variety of analytics which designs are most prone to converting customers, and which deter them.
The basic concept of A/B testing is very simple: compare two similar but different designs, and see how well they both succeed. Pick the one that succeeds best, the generate further A/B variations based on it. Over time, you will evolve a perfectly designed web-page.
A/B testing can help you to determine what landing pages convert the highest number of customers, which product listings get clicked on the most (and therefore which to prioritize), and how much time visitors spend on each of your posts/pages. This is indispensable information for optimizing your sales funnel, and converting more customers.
When it comes to affiliate marketing, heat maps are a very useful application of A/B testing. These simple diagrams will show you what parts of your site users are most interested in, and tell you what to display most prominently.
8. Quora / Forums
If affiliate marketing is boiled down to its most essential form, it means getting a special link from a retailer, and sharing that link with people who are likely to click on it and buy the product. You pocket some of the profit.
Beyond building your platform, there are highly effective ways of finding people who need your product the most and sharing it with them. Many affiliate marketers turn to forums dedicated to a particular subject.
For instance, if you were affiliated with a company that sold pool filtration systems, it would be a very smart idea for you to join a forum dedicated to DIY pool installations. Another great option is Quora: Quora is a website where self-appointed experts answer questions on a variety of questions.
When browsing Quora as an expert, the website will recommend you questions based on the categories you are interested. If you sell phone cases, you may find many questions about how to prevent phones from breaking. All you have to do is provide a detailed answer with a link to your affiliate site – if your answer is highly rated, you will get exposure to thousands of highly targeted viewers.
Quora also provides a built-in blogging platform, which is another great way to get your brand out there.
9. Improved SEO
Most affiliate marketers have a website, but the ones who do aren’t always too concerned about bringing in visitors. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to do if you haven’t optimized your content for web surfers.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) involves three basic steps:
- Identifying keywords that are popular in your niche audience through research and analytics about your current audience.
- Targeting those keywords by featuring them prominently in the titles, headers, and paragraphs of your content, and in the alt-text of your images.
- Bringing in traffic to your site from other highly influential sites in the form of backlinks.
Today, SEO is very different than it once was. Online influencers were once very interested in targeting short, specific keywords like “phone cases”; as search engines have become smarter, it has become more important to target general phrases like “good phone cases for construction workers”. Google and other popular engines will pick up on those phrases, and bring them up for similar but non-identical queries.
Take the time to research modern SEO best practices and integrate them into your workflow.
10. Lists, Lists & More Lists
As long as blogs still exist, you should use them well. The most viral and popular content on the Internet continues to be “listicles,” or list-based articles that organize topics according to number. You’ve probably seen them before on entertainment websites:
“10 Hilarious Plastic Surgery Fails”
“5 Parents Who Were Embarrassed by Their Kids’”
This format works excellently for marketing as well. Returning to our example of phone cases, it’s a no brainer to create cornerstone content on your site with titles like:
“10 Best Phone Cases For Extreme Conditions”
“7 Ways to Keep Your Phone Safe From Water Damage”
Lists like these are fun to read. They give you an opportunity to get your product in front of people who are interested in reading about it.