Affiliate websites are a massively untapped potential source of income for anyone who has the time and interest. Once you've got your niche figured out and your website running, it's time to look for affiliate programs to monetize your content.
Why build a website first, then look for affiliate programs?
There are hundreds of thousands of affiliate programs out there. There's always going to be some kind of connection between the topic if your website and some kind of affiliate program. For example, if you had a home roasting coffee website, it would not be out of the ordinary to promote kimchi fermenting products. It all falls in the DIY niche.
That's an extreme example, but the point is clear. Once you start to branch out your website into more content topics, more affiliate opportunities will appear.
On top of that, once you start getting traffic and making sales, more opportunities you never considered or heard of will open up as well. Ebooks. Online courses. Joint ventures. Cross promotions. White label products. Sponsored content. It's all out there (and more).
Let's not put the cart in front of the horse just yet. You can also make an ass-ton of money just by using regular ol' affiliate program. Here's how to get those setup and making money on your affiliate site.
The Best Affiliate Programs To Promote
How To Find Affiliate Programs
Basic Google Search
Who would have guessed, the most reliable way to find a good affiliate program is with a simple Google search. This is not the only way, but it's a great start. Simply search for “my niche” + “affiliate program”. Not only will you see individual companies advertising their affiliate program, you'll also see lists and reviews that will provide deeper insight into individual affiliate programs and compare similar companies.
When you look in Google, be sure to dig deep into at least page 2 and beyond. Companies will list their affiliate program on their website, but not really make an effort to promote it. You gotta help them out!
Many companies will use affiliate software to run their program, or even develop an in-house solution. However, the vast majority of companies use affiliate networks to handle links, payments, and support.
When you sign up to one affiliate network, you instantly get access to thousands of affiliate program at once. You'll need to apply to each program individually, but many are set to just auto-approve as long as you have a functional website.
Here's a list of 25 affiliate networks. However, my favorites are as follows:
If you have traffic and rankings in Google, try emailing specific companies to see if they have an affiliate program they don't advertise. Some brands have exclusive affiliate programs that won't turn up in Google. They may recruit on other platforms, or just wait for enthusiastic individuals to contact them to ask. This way, they get the cream of the crop, and not a bunch of fake-discount-code websites damaging their brand.
Even if a company doesn't have an affiliate program, they may be able to create a discount code for you. This can track your sales, and they can negotiate how much they compensate you per sale or even per lead.
At the very least, they may be able to give you store credit for referrals and sales. If your website is about something you enjoy that store credit could be as good as cash if you actually use the products and services you'er promoting.
Before I was really into promoting Amazon, I was just paid in gift cards because I knew I'd spend the money each month no matter what.
9 Qualities Of A Good Affiliate Program
1) Large Commissions
As a marketer, you need to be honest about your recommendations no matter what you're paid. Even so, the size of commissions does matter. Will you set up a rockstar campaign for a $1 per sale compensation? Probably not. On the flip side, it's not unreasonable to take a few months to set up a comprehensive marketing strategy to promote something where you earn $1,000 per sale.
In other words, you need to take a close look at the percentage and dollar amount of you make by promoting each product.
Amazon pays a measly 4% commission. I am involved in a program that gives me 100% commission for the first sale and a 20%+ commission for recurring sales. I also promote for different program that pays 50% commissions, and another that does 25%. See if one of these 46 high paying affiliate programs could fit with your niche.
Also take a look at the actual dollar amount. 10% of $100 is less than 50% of $30 and 75% of $5 is less than 3% of $10,000.
If you are writing about products that cost the end user $5, you will have to sell tons of them every day to make a decent living. You need high traffic and high conversions to make decent income. Whatever it is had better be very popular, and you'd better rank well.
If you find a program that pays $50 per sale, or even $100 or $1000, then you have to just make one sale per day to start making some serious money. Here's a list of 44 high ticket affiliate programs just in case you think $1,000 commission aren't real.
It's a lot easier to convince one person to buy something for $100 dollars, than 100 people to buy something for $1.
2) Recurring Commissions
This has been my best discovery during my time as an affiliate marketing. Recurring commissions really, really add up over time. With one program I make 13% for every sale, and all sales are part of a monthly payment for the customer. The service is cheap, so I only make about $1 per sale. But over the course of 2 years I've grown my recurring commissions so that each day I have so many people that pay their monthly service fee that $1 per sale is over $1,000 per month.
If there is one suggestion I could make that would heavily increase your chances of success, it would be to find an affiliate program that pays recurring commissions.
3) Rewards for Results
Another thing to look for, which most programs don't have, is rewarding affiliates for results. Actually, a lot of places kind of leave you on your own and don't really care what you do as long as you don't spam. Basically, they want people to work for them, and are happy to pay them fairly, but they don't invest too much time into engaging with their affiliates.
Some of the higher quality programs with a good affiliate team have pretty cool rewards though.
I promote for one company that increases my percentage by 1% each time I get 10 new people to the service. So I start at 15%, but when I get 10 new people, I get 16%, and after 20 new people, 17%, and so on. It restarts each month, so there's always incentive to try to promote, and I know my efforts will pay off (in my pocket).
Other companies may increase your commissions after you hit a certain threshold, or just pay out bonuses for performance. One company I promote for sent me $212 extra because I was converting clicks into sales so well!
Some companies might even have drawings, bonuses, or other competitions. One time I won $1,000 because I had the 10th most sales within a product launch period!
4) Active Affiliate Managers
I don't always like my active affiliate managers, but there is definitely an advantage to them. As I mentioned above, most programs don't really bother you. I kind of like this because it allows me to do my own thing, and not have someone look over my shoulder.
Basically, it gives me freedom to so things my way, which fits into the whole ‘work from home' vibe.
Having an active affiliate manager can be a real asset to your business though. It means that you have support when you have questions, or things break. They might tell you when a new product is about to be released, or read your content and tell you about mistakes they find (spelling, or informational). This can increase your clicks, conversions, and bottom line.
Sometimes it's just nice to chat to someone that knows the product you promote better than yourself and can explain things about it you didn't know or fully understand before. I've even had some managers go out and outsource graphics for me to use on my site, or Skype me to explain some things about the product they're selling.
You are on the same team! When you make money, they make money. Working together with smart people is good for your business, and will definitely result in more sales, and a happier customer (then more sales after that).
5) Good Marketing Material
One thing I didn't look for at all when I got started, but have really come to appreciate now is the availability of marketing material.
Most affiliate programs will have a couple of banners. Some don't. Some places have 20 different sizes, links for different languages, tracking link systems, and even some insight into what type of material gets the most clicks.
Some provide separate landing pages to use with different markets, or allow you to create your own landing pages.
On the other hand, some companies just give you a raw affiliate link and you have to figure out the rest on your own.
6) Evergreen Niche
Let's step back a bit and look a bit at keyword research and markets. Before choosing a program, you need to take a close look at your niche. Is this something that you think you can write about for the next 5 years?
This is called an ‘evergreen niche'. Basically, it means that there's always a market for this, and there's always new stuff to write about.
Videos games is an ever green niche because since the 80's there have been a steady stream of new games, new technology, and more and more people are interested in video games all the time.
Fitness is another evergreen niche. You can write a million things about how to lose weight. Run. Lift weights. Walk. Yoga. Sports. Healthy eating. Dieting. Muscle Building. Food addiction. Trends. Dangers. Scams. I can go on forever.
iPhone 5 cases is not an evergreen niche. You pretty much cover the basics, and that's it. In 6 months, there could be a new iPhone, or you could be burned out writing about “cute pink iPhone 5 cases” and “leather iPhone 5 cases” and “durable iPhone 5 cases”…well, you get the point.
7) Good Tracking Link System
When you get a bit more advanced and start making some sales, you will start to wonder where those sales are coming from. Link tracking system allow you to know which links are converting the best so you can optimize your content for more sales.
Right now, you probably won't care about tracking links. Any money is good money, right? But when you have hundreds of links and make 20 sales one day and zero the next, you'll want to know what happened, and how you can fix it. Did you know that typically 80% of sales are made from 20% of links? I'll bet you wish you knew which 20% it was!
Some programs offer ways to set an ID for each link, so when a sale comes in, you know which link it was. Some places actually have ways of telling you which ad it was, or which page on your site it came from without any tracking on your side at all!
8) Reliable Payouts
Check to see how long the affiliate program has been around. Affiliate programs die out all the time. I've worked with a few that just closed their program after a few months (luckily I never made any sales for them!).
It's would be a huge bummer to spend lots of time and energy trying to promote one specific product or company and they just close down their affiliate program!
See how long they've been around, and Google for complaints about the company. Some complaints may just be disgruntled scammers trying to cheat the system, so take complaints with a grain of salt!
Also, check out how the programs pay. Paypal is quite common, but Paypal isn't available in all countries. Bank transfers are also common. Physical checks are less common, but may be available.
If your choice of affiliate program has been around for a year and has Paypal/bank deposit options you're very safe. It means they are seeing results with other affiliates and will continue to operate as normal.
Brand new affiliate programs can be a way to get special deals and incentives since these companies are hungry for affiliates, but you also run them changing their mind later on.
9) Good EPC Numbers
EPC means “Earnings Per Click”. It's a standard measurement to show which products are getting sold, and how well they are converting. This number looks at affiliates across the board, so EPC is a reflection of demand for a product.
Basically, it's looking at all clicks and all sales across all affiliates, how well is this product converting?
With a high EPC it means that many affiliates are making sales. It's a popular product!
Low EPC means that the products from this company are not selling very well, or at least have not been selling well compared to others.
EPC numbers do not provide a strict rule of what's good or not good to promote. It's just one way to compare similar products. For example, if you were looking at two companies that sell diet shakes, and one has an EPC of $2.50 but the other has an EPC of $0.30, there's a decent chance that the first company has a better conversion rate.
It might be that the products are just better. It could also be a more effective sales page, or even due to follow up email marketing campaigns.
You never know though. It might be just because the second company is newer and no affiliates have taken the time to do a proper campaign promoting them.
High EPC isn't always a good sign either! Though normally an indication that the products are converting well, it might be due to some weird data gumming up the real EPC. Also, check EPC over different periods of time.
You may be able to see a 7, 30, 60, and 90 day EPC, showing how the company products have converted in the last week versus in the last few months. Perhaps they ran a promotion recently, bumping their numbers, but long term you can see how it's performed in the past.
Rejected? Try This
Make Your Case
Assuming you have a website and traffic, most affiliate relevant programs will accept you. Some are super particular about their affiliates, but most are not. If your application is rejected, it may have been an automatic rejection for a dumb reason.
Contact the affiliate manager via email and ask if there's anything specific you can do to get approved. Many times, they just want to know you're human and actively working to promote their products, so will approv you right there.
Circle Back To Step 1
It could be that you just don't have enough traffic yet, or your website looks like garbage. In that case, just circle back to the training start working! More keywords. More content. Review old content and improve it.
You can even start doing product reviews and linking to the website with tracked links!
Next time you apply you can come back at them with statistics to show you have X amount of website traffic, a list of what relevant keywords you rank for, and what percentage of visitors convert into clicks to their website.
Traffic = Money (No Matter What)
Let's say you get rejected across the board for all the affiliate programs you wanted join. This is highly unlikely, but let's just say it happens. How are you going to make money?
Display ads can earn really good money with enough traffic. I have a site with 5k visits a day that earns $100/day from display ads alone. I have another site with 3k visits a day that gets about $80/day from display ads.
With 10,000 visits per day you could be earning $200+ per day without promoting any products at all. Just write whatever you want! Of course, all your content should be keyword optimized so you don't publish into a black hole, but I just mean to say that you don't have to be earning from affiliate links in order to earn money from your website.
Promote Alternative Affiliate Products
Lastly, you can just promote alternative products. Many times, Product A is not “better” than Product B. You just prefer it.
If Product A affiliate program rejects you, look at the market and see which audience prefers Product B. Can you change your content to suit that audience? What aspects make Product B a better choice, and can you highlight those?
You don't have to start trash-talking Product A to sway people into buying Product B. I just mean that you can rethink how you write your content to fit with an affiliate program that will actually pay. You can also use that data to get approved.
It's not unreasonable to approach an affiliate manager with your data. “Look man, I'm converting at 12% for Product B. I really want to promote your Product A because it's clearly better…”. You can also use this as a negotiation tactic if one company pays less than other similar affiliate programs.
What a lot of new affiliates don't realize, however, is that affiliates have the power, not the affiliate programs. New affiliate site owners are usually ecstatic to be accepted into their first affiliate program like:
“OMG. Amazon Associates just approved my account!”.
While it's nice to write your first product review and get a few clicks to your first affiliate links, as time goes on you'll realize that affiliate companies are desperate to work with effective affiliates. The 80/20 principle rings true in this case, and only 20% of affiliates actually bring in any significant revenue for companies.
If you can get your clicks and sales into that top tier of marketers, there's a lot of cool stuff waiting for you on the other side. Bonus payouts, special offers, higher commissions, and even free tickets to conferences are more common than you think.