5 Tips for Affiliate Marketing Beginners

What’s one of the most reliable ways to earn an income online?

If done right, affiliate marketing is a hard model to beat.

Problem is, there’s a lot of bad (and unethical) advice out there on how to approach it. So, I’ve invited Sonia Simone and Jessica Commins to jump on the line today to counter that bad advice, and offer their best strategies for effective, ethical, and profitable Affiliate Marketing.

Where do you begin? How do you attract customers? What are the pros and cons of various Affiliate Marketing business plans? How do you make money by building a loyal audience?

Let’s find out …

In this episode we discuss:

  • What is Affiliate Marketing?
  • The best way to make a living as an Affiliate Marketer
  • The vital element your Affiliate website and/or content must include
  • How to choose an Affiliate Program
  • Why content creation is key to profitable Affiliate Marketing
  • Affiliate Marketing legal issues you need to understand

Hit the flash player below to listen now:


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Please note that this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and grammar.


Robert: You’re listening to Internet Marketing for Smart People Radio. I’m Robert Bruce. Today we are talking about one of the most effective ways to earn a living online, which is affiliate marketing. I’m joined by Copyblogger Media’s Chief Marketing Officer, Sonia Simone, and Copyblogger Media’s Affiliate Manager, Jessica Commins. Sonia, I know you were in Vegas last week. Did you change your title again down there?

Sonia: Yeah. I’m now Chief Flamingo Feathers and Glitter Officer.

Robert: Oh man. Jess, congratulations on your relatively new gig here at Copyblogger. How are you doing these days?

Jessica: Loving it.

Robert: Before we give these fine listeners the skinny on affiliate marketing 101, let me ask you a question. If it were possible to pick up a world-class education in email marketing, content marketing, key word research, copywriting, and yes, affiliate marketing all in one place and at no charge, would you do it?

Sonia: Absolutely, Bob.

Robert: (Laughs) Yeah.

Sonia: (Laughs)

Robert: You’re ruining the professionalism of my ad, Sonia. You would be a little crazy not to jump on this right? Well, thanks to the hard work and the expertise of Ms. Simone there, who you just heard, this is possible. If you’re looking for an unfair advantage in applying all the topics I just mentioned to your business, we offer a completely free course called Internet Marketing for Smart People.

What is it? In a nutshell, it’s a systematic overview of the very best of copyblogger.com, dripped out to you about once a week right into your email inbox. If you want to learn how to use the online marketing strategies and tactics that actually work, that Copyblogger has spent over 6 years using to build this business, get on the bus with over 63,000 other folks; just pop open a new page on your browser, head over to copyblogger.com, no really, I’m going to wait. Go ahead.

Sonia: He’s waiting.

Robert: I’m waiting, you there? Okay, everybody’s there. Now, scroll down to about the middle of the page until you hit the headline, ‘Grab our free twenty part internet marketing course.’ You’ll see a few bullet points there and a form to pop your email address into. Just drop your email in there, click the red button and we’re going to take care of the rest.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Alright guys. Let’s have a nuts and bolts discussion about affiliate marketing 101 and the best place to start is to ask Jessica. Briefly, what is affiliate marketing?

Jessica: It’s basically an online version of business referrals. You know, any time a business is ready to reward you for customer or visitors, chances are good that’s an affiliate sort of relationship.

Kind of like, you know real estate agents where you have a real estate agent and they give the lead to another real estate agent. The second agent doesn’t pay the first agent unless the house actually sells, right? Well, that’s pretty much what affiliate marketing is all about.

You refer sales and if it turns into say, an email address opt-in or a sale, that’s a successful transaction made by affiliate marketing.

Robert: So, an old school term people may be more familiar with if you aren’t familiar with “affiliate marketing” might be a commission situation correct? I’m sending people to your company, and we’re talking online here through a link of course, and if something is purchased through that link from my site to the other company’s site, they’re paid a commission.

Jessica: Exactly, but you know, that’s how all of our programs work because we pay cash money but (laughs)…

Sonia: By cash, we mean PayPal.

Jessica: Yeah. It all spends the same. But sometimes, you know there are companies that will reward you just for bringing somebody to their website and perhaps giving their email address, and they’ll give you a standard amount of money for every email address you refer. So there are different ways that affiliate marketing can work out as far as what the reward is and what triggers it. But yeah, it’s pretty much all the same.

How to Choose an Affiliate Program

Robert: Okay. I want to do a very basic intro on how somebody might get into this. What are some of the most important things an online publisher needs to consider when they’re approaching an affiliate program thinking about signing up to an affiliate program, just the very beginning steps of what to look for. What type of affiliate program? How to determine what type of affiliate program they might join up with?

Jessica: Well the first thing I think a potential affiliate needs to consider is how much time they want to devote to this. You know, what kind of affiliate business are you trying to run? Are you trying to build a whole bunch of separate assets where you have product-specific websites built for the different programs that interest you or whether you’re going to find only products that are relevant to your current niche and audience, and then basically work that into your content strategy? I think it really depends on you.

Robert: Yeah, it depends on you and also depends really heavily on what you’re doing, right? What you’re publishing or maybe in the case of if you haven’t got anything going already in terms of content production and a specific website, what you’re interested in and want to do.

Put your audience first

Sonia: Something people may want to keep in mind, especially with the post Panda update on Google’s part which really did a lot of damage to a lot of people whose primary business is affiliate marketing. I would advise people if you want to do this for the long haul, if you want to really run it as a business and not just as a little project, to start thinking about your audience, really think about who you serve, who you talk to.

Have your loyalty be to your audience first, your readers or if you do videos, you know your viewers or your listeners, and consider creating something like Brian created at Copyblogger, so an authoritative site, a comprehensive site, that talks about different elements of a well-defined topic and that, first of all, gives you a ton of flexibility so you can talk about different kinds of products on an affiliate basis. You can, you know, kind of come and go.

You can really base what you promote based on what you think is best right now, which I personally think is the way to go. You know, don’t promote anything that you don’t think is awesome, but that gives you a little bit more of a robust site that you’re going to find is not going to be quite so subject to the ups and downs of the search engines because you know the folks, very, very smart, smart folks, SEO’s out there who are trying to keep these super, super narrow sites running.

Why content creation is key to profitable Affiliate Marketing

It’s very challenging unless you can create a lot of content. You might be able to create a lot of content about one piece of software, if the piece of software is complex and you know, and has a lot of nuances to it, but think about being able to create lots of content and really think about your audience.

Who are you serving? The affiliate marketers who serve their affiliate product first or their commission first, I find are not as successful as the affiliate marketers who serve their audience first; first and foremost.

Robert: So you are basically shattering, kind of destroying the make money fast, make online money fast right now in three weeks kind of paradigm. You’re saying, talking about a much more holistic…

Sonia: Yeah, I mean…

…the truth is if you don’t have a customer, you don’t have a business.

So if you burn the customer because you’re promoting something that’s not very good but has a great commission, your business has a very short shelf life. That’s just my observation.

And yeah, I mean affiliate marketing is the traditional way to make money fast, but there’s a lot of other people out there swimming in that same tank who would also like to make money quickly. I would rather have you build something really reliable plus my new favorite thing that I wrote in on an SEO post the other week is, ‘don’t take short cuts; it takes too long.’

The vital element your Affiliate site and content must include

Robert: (Laughs). You know, we’ve got a lot of tutorials that people can through, our Copywriting 101 discussing the ins and outs of copywriting, but I want to ask you specifically, how does copywriting fit into a really good affiliate marketing campaign?

Sonia: Yeah, I mean copywriting is really—and understand that copywriting also refers to things like scripting your videos, doing outlines for your audio content so it’s not just text. Copywriting also is about your multimedia content.

Solid copywriting and solid content marketing, which are related but are not totally identical, and maybe we can put that post in the show notes, solid writing is really how you build that relationship with that customer. It’s how you educate them. It’s how you help them understand what they need to know in order to make the purchase. It’s how you address the objections. All the basics of copywriting come into play with affiliate marketing because affiliate marketing is not different from a “real business.”

Affiliate marketing is a real business, and just the same way copywriting supports a business if you were a graphic designer or you know, you had a catalog for your clothing line, it’s the same when you’re an affiliate marketer. You need to use your writing to build a relationship with the customer and educate the customer about the product.

Why content creation is key to profitable Affiliate Marketing

Robert: This goes back to the bigger picture, holistic, long-term approach when we get into talking about content creation and content marketing. How can this help drive affiliate sales? And second part of that question would be for both of you, we’re not going to talk about specific examples but maybe let’s give some general examples of how content might work and what types of content work.

Sonia: Yeah, I’m going to give you an example of how we did on Copyblogger in text, and then I’m going to throw it to Jess and she can talk about some of the things that she’s seen with video if that works for everybody.

You know, we do a fair amount of this on Copyblogger. We don’t do as much affiliate promotion anymore because we have so many products of our own that we don’t have a lot of promotional band width in our calendar but we actually did two different posts on how to write an ebook. They both did incredibly well and they were posts that, first and foremost, were educational to the reader. So they talked to the reader about why do you even want to do an ebook in the first place? What’s the point? What do you get out of it?

And then, you know, what are some of the key things you have to make sure you include in there? Then they had links to more full-fledged products about how to write and sell ebooks.

You can sort of tell they were good content marketing because they delivered value to the reader even if the reader didn’t buy the product. They were inherently valuable and that’s how you keep that audience coming back next time. Maybe they don’t pick up this product, maybe they do, but they come back next time.

You know we pointed people to the most valuable resources we found on the topic so we didn’t point them to junk. It’s just not worth our reputation to do that.

They had clear calls to action so it was very clear, like when it came time to go click over to the affiliate offer it was very clear like, “Click here to find out more about it and pick it up today.” They also gave a little bit of the features and benefits of the product so they had described a little bit of you know, “What’s your end result? What do you get out of writing and selling an ebook? What’s better in your life because of that?” And we talked a little bit about that as a way to presell the end product to some degree.

Robert: So classic attraction, valuable content, you keep repeating these. There’s like a theme here, Sonia, that I’m picking up on which is valuable content marketing.

Sonia: Yeah, the thing is, you absolutely must get out of denial about this. There are a billion other things people can be looking at other than your affiliate marketing site. It has to be worth reading.

Robert: In and of itself.

Sonia: In and of itself. It has to be worth sharing. It has to be worth tweeting and Face-booking and Google Plus-ing. If it’s not, you ain’t going to make it. There’s just no way, there’s no way around that. So yeah, you’ve got to make it valuable in and of itself. That’s the #1 most important thing you can do to get results on the ‘click here and add to cart’ side.

How to make Affiliate Marketing work for you

Robert: Jess, you see a lot of stuff out there and we’re not going to talk again, specifics about anything that we’re looking at from our affiliate program anyway but can you give us some general examples of how a beginning affiliate can begin to think about what kind of content works for people and really works for an audience?

Jessica: I think for new affiliates, there is a big lure to go “pay per click”. I hear a lot of people talking about it. You know, why would I want to spend all this time creating content for a website when I can just bid on some words? To that I would say it’s a really great way to make money, sure, through affiliate marketing, but long term you will always be paying money to make money.

With content marketing, if you’re doing it right, you’re creating a good mix of evergreen, tried and true lessons and information, but you’re also creating relevant and timely things as well that speak to, perhaps, an update. People will do this through articles or tutorials or reviews of perhaps a new feature, but when you’re looking at pay per click versus content creation, I would say content creation’s always going to win because you can increase your traffic and you also increase trust because Sonia’s talking about that.

You know, you buy from people you know, like, and trust. The most effective affiliates that we have definitely have authority and trust with their audience. That’s what makes people click on their affiliate link and they’ll tell you right out, “Hey this is an affiliate link.” It makes people want to do it because they know, like and trust them. They’d rather give them the commission.

But as far as other good content creation, there’s a really good article that Brian Clark wrote: Five Effective Copywriting Tactics. I think you’re going to include that in the notes, but he talks about endorsements and bonuses as well. Those are also really good strategies but speaking as both an affiliate manager and somebody who buys things online, I buy because of words, personally.

Good words and understanding how you use it, telling me why I care about, telling me and doing the homework for me, helping me understand why this is better than that one, that’s what’ll get me to buy, and it seems to work for our affiliates as well.

Robert: So that’s a really, really good point. Two things that I want to just follow up on briefly; you are a person who loves words. People are different and people respond to different media in different ways, so find out who your audience is goes back to that right?

It might be text, it might be audio, it might be video but there are all kinds of ways that people interact with content and you want to be in tune with, one, what you want to be doing, but also who your audience is and what they want, even more importantly.

Is pay per click worth it?

But quickly back to the PPC thing; pay per click ads and buying ads to drive affiliate programs.

Very good point Jess, and Sonia, you and Brian have talked about this before. I wonder if you could just expand on it for just a moment. We know that pay per click works, I won’t put words in your mouth but let me just do that right now, I think I’ve heard you say, “We know it works but it’s a tough game. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.” Right?

Sonia: Yeah, absolutely. Pay per click really rewards people who are willing to stay on it, you know? And keep running tests and keep split testing your headlines and keep split testing your landing pages.

One thing that has definitely emerged out of pay per click marketing is if you can send people into a rich content experience, and especially if you can do that with an email list, so you’re sending them into like an email auto responder, you get much better return on the investment of that click.

So instead of buying a click, you’re really buying a lead. You know, you’re really buying somebody who’s interested in your topic and you can make more than one offer. The thing about pay per click is its quite expensive and again, the better you are at the game, the better your clicks, the better your pricing is.

The other part of the pay per click game that’s starting to be more of a factor than it ever is how much you pay for that click is partially determined by the quality of your website.

So if you have a rich, high quality, good content website, I’m not saying you have to have 2,000 posts; you don’t. But have enough content there to really cover the subject and keep adding content regularly. Google looks at that. If you’re using Google pay per click, they look at that and that’s one of the very important factors they use when they decide how much they’re going to charge you. They would give you a deal if you have a better quality website so there are great reasons to focus on content even if you are doing pay per click. I think pay per click is a good way to get traffic; it’s pricey.

We don’t do it because we have this amazing content asset of copyblogger.com so it makes more sense for us to focus on that but I don’t have anything against pay per click, just realize that you can use it better if you pair it with content and you’ll get a lot more out of it.

Robert: If you’re just showing up to Copyblogger, if you’ve only been here for a little while, if you just picked this radio show off the wild, wild web and you’re wondering what all this means, drop down on the post where this podcast appears. I’m going to have a lot of links to all the things: content marketing, copywriting 101, all these things that we’re talking about that we just don’t have time to get into right now. So never fear it’s all there for your taking, but be aware this is just kind of the 10,000 foot overview. We’ll get into this more in detail later.

Jess, as far as I know, you are not in an attorney, correct?

Jessica: (Laughs) Only in Vegas.

Sonia: No secret law degree in your background?

Affiliate Marketing legal issues you need to understand

Robert: Yeah. Well with that knowledge, I wanted to ask you, just real simply and quickly, there are some very clear legal issues that folks need to be aware of when it comes to affiliate marketing. What are one or two of those? This is not exhaustive. Again, we are not attorneys. You need to research this on your own and hire an attorney if you’re concerned about these things but can you give us a quick hit on what people need to be aware of, first and foremost?

Jessica: Well, first, we do have a recovering attorney as our CEO and he already wrote about this, so definitely go check out his post on the subject. But the Federal Trade Commission wants bloggers and affiliate marketers to tell people that they are taking money or goods in exchange for reviews and endorsements.

It makes perfect sense from both a business perspective and just a good old-fashioned relationship perspective. I’ve seen affiliate marketers do very well by just outright saying, “Yes, this is an affiliate link. Please click it so I can make a commission.”

You know, if you are the kind of affiliate who is providing some great information or a valuable resource for free, people will value that, and they will be more likely to click a link if you just outright say, “Hey I will make a commission if you do this.”

Bottom line is, disclosure is usually a good thing. It helps create that trusting relationship that you want with your customers and in the long run, it will help both of you.

Robert: And if you want more on this, yes, Brian did write a great post on this and I’ll link to some other resources in the show notes. Any last words from you ladies on affiliate marketing 101?

Sonia: I would recommend if your topic does have anything to do with doing business online, and some of our listeners do and some of our listeners don’t, if you are interested in checking our affiliate programs and seeing the products we have, we strive to make them the best on the market, but you can make that choice for yourself, get in touch with our dear friend Jess, who is our Affiliate Manager. She is awesome. She takes great care of our affiliates and she really helps people more one on one figure out how to do this stuff and how to make good use of your time. So I’m going to give a little pitch for Jess here.

Jessica: Well yeah, all of our programs are open and free to join. I think Robert’s going to put a link at the bottom too. If you’re new and you like to read, I would recommend Traffic and Trust is a really good book if you’re just getting started out. It was written by Nick Reese with experienced commentary from Chris Brogan.

If you’re the kind of person who likes to learn in person, Affiliate Summit is a really great conference with incredible sessions. So you know, don’t be afraid to dive in. It’s really a cool way to make money both actively and passively depending on your chosen approach.

Robert: Great and yeah, I will drop this link in the show notes as well, but this is copyblogger.com/affiliate-programs and on that page, two things, you can take a look at just a basic overview of our programs, but at the bottom of that page, you can contact Jess directly through a form there, ask her any questions you want. As Sonia said, make your own decisions about these things.

Alright guys, let’s get out of here. Thanks for listening everybody. If you like what’s going on here, the best way to say thank you is to head over to iTunes, give us a rating and a comment over there and we really, really appreciate it if you do that. Thank you very much Ms. Simone, Ms. Commins, Mr. Ogilvy would be proud. Thank you.

Sonia: (Laughs) Thanks Robert. Take care.

Jessica: (Laughs) Thanks.


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About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.