Intermediate Affiliate Marketing Guide – How to Level Up Today
You’ve mastered the basics of affiliate marketing.
Now you’re ready to step up your game, right?
I remember when I first got going with affiliate marketing. I joined a bunch of financial affiliate networks/programs, added a few links to my site, and then waited for the checks to come rolling in.
As you can imagine, the checks didn’t exactly come rolling in. I quickly realized effective affiliate marketing is not a one-and-done project. I needed to continually work on it to make it a big success.
Thankfully, I did figure it out and years later my site (as you can see from this post) now makes more than $10k per month in affiliate revenue.
This guide, which I’m sharing with you below, outlines action steps you can take to expand your success beyond the basics. Plus, with some help from my friends, it explores strategies and options for your specific content channels (Youtube, podcasting, etc.).
So if you’re ready to advance your affiliate marketing strategy and monetize your content more effectively, read on.
If, however, you haven’t learned the basics I’d encourage you to check out our beginner’s guide here.
Okay, let’s dig in.
3 Ways to Make More Money With Affiliate Marketing
After establishing a solid foundation with affiliate marketing, it can feel overwhelming to determine where to head next.
Instead of trying as many new things as you can, make your next moves focused and strategic. Follow these three steps to help you make more money with affiliate marketing.
1. Ask your audience what they want.
Remember when phoning a friend was a lifeline? Surveying your audience is just as powerful when you’re a content creator in the 21st century. Putting together a simple Google Form (or fancy TypeForm.com) or a quick questionnaire in Survey Monkey is a fantastic way to find out what your audience is interested in.
As an example, back when my blog was just three years old, I polled my email list about their #1 financial problem, their favorite type of content (I let them pick from my blog categories), and I asked them what type of “make money” content (my favorite topic) they’d like to see more of.
As you can see, I used a mixer of open and closed questions to give me both types of results to peruse.
As a result of my survey, I doubled down on “make money” type content, and specifically, more ways to make money through “offline” odd jobs and part-time work. Since I’d be making more content in this area, I looked for advertisers with affiliate programs in these areas.
Then I planned out an entire content schedule around these topics which included reviews of gig platforms (Airbnb, Uber, etc).
To implement this for yourself, just include a survey somewhere in your content (i.e. insert a form below each post) or send it out in an email newsletter.
After a few days, comb through the results and evaluate.
Use the results to drive your next steps. As a bonus, your audience will appreciate knowing that their voices are being heard.
2. Go on a tangent with your successful offers.
Spend time researching what offers are already working well for you and then explore similar products and services.
The win is twofold: you know the additions are going to be useful to your audience, and your rapport will continue to grow as you make solid recommendations.
An example from my own site is my content around medical sharing programs.
One of the first programs to be released into the market was Medi-Share. I tried the program myself, gave it a review on my site (see my review here), and connected with their affiliate referral program.
After just a few months of simply promoting the offer through that review, I was seeing positive results. Since lowering health care costs is a passion of mine and something I know my readers should be doing, I decided to double down my efforts in this area.
First, I looked for other, similar programs to review. I got to work writing those reviews and joining any available affiliate programs. Now that I’ve reviewed a few, I’m putting together a big comparison of all of the programs on the market.
At the end of the day, I’ll have three or four pieces of content pointing at this offer.
Even if the other products and services don’t have affiliate programs themselves, this is still a good approach because it just gives you more opportunity to grab extra search traffic AND place your active affiliate offers on new posts.
One last point. Like the businesses themselves, affiliate programs are constantly opening and closing. So it’s good to be constantly building out new, tangentially related content and offers like this so you have something to fall back on.
To get started, determine which of the affiliate offers has been well-received (i.e. what’s making you money?). Brainstorm 3-5 additional products by starting with something as simple as a Google search for related products.
Then, review those new tangent products and services. Then, consider a comparison of the bunch.
3. Consider user intent to ensure high conversions.
Common advice that content creators get is to produce content for their avatar. That means that you’re focusing on a particular individual that represents your audience. Don’t lose sight of that.
Affiliate marketing does not need to be part of every aspect of your site. In fact, that’s when things can feel forced or even spammy. Instead, think about user intent, who they actually are, and when someone is likely to make a purchase decision.
Base your offer placement decisions around that in order to deliver real value to your audience. This could mean that the only time you mention an offer is on one particular post that’s bringing people in from search.
An example from my own site is my offer for premium NFL tickets. I’m affiliated with an advertiser who sells these types of tickets. Now, there’s no way I’m going to show this offer to 99% of the people that use my site.
But I do have one blog post where I talk about how to score sideline passes to NFL games (the post was actually written as part of a sponsored campaign I did with Barclaycard).
Anyway, this is where I place the offer and it performs really well with the people that see it. Why? Because they are in the process of trying to get tickets.
Don’t waste your time showing offers to people who don’t need the product or service.
In summary, don’t forget that the best affiliate marketing is actually providing a service to your audience. You’re taking the time to vet and recommend something that will serve a real purpose in their life.
Before you move forward with any affiliate marketing decisions, make sure you can answer these questions:
- How does this product or service help my avatar (or the exact reader of this post)?
- How could I explain the product or service to my avatar in real life?
- What questions might my avatar/reader have?
- Is the content/copy capturing my avatar just before they are about to make a financial decision?
If you’re asking these questions before you place your offers then your conversion rate is going to be solid.
Affiliate Marketing Strategies for Your Particular Channel/Medium
There are many affiliate marketing principles that hold up across all platforms. However, there is some nuance that is worth considering.
Let’s preview some of the content strategies that you might utilize depending on where you connect with your audience.
- YouTube – One of the simplest ways to make affiliate marketing work on YouTube is to include affiliate links to products and services that you review down in the description.
- Podcasts – In addition to working with show sponsors, you might also consider including affiliate marketing in your show (i.e. “Head to mysite.com/advertiser to sign up for…”), show notes, or even your podcast newsletter.
- Blogs – Of course, you can include text links throughout your blog posts. Additionally, you might consider dedicating a specific portion of a sidebar or a separate “recommended” page to your affiliate partners. Don’t forget links within reviews and also different comparison pages and charts. We’ll explore this one in more detail below in the “placements” section.
Each of these strategies requires a bit of testing. Be open to some trial and error, and don’t be afraid to take feedback from your audience as well. Now that you’ve explored some of the basics, it’s time to take a deeper dive into how marketing looks on visual platforms and how you can utilize multiple channels for even greater success.
A Deeper Dive into Affiliate Marketing on YouTube
Many people consider YouTube just another website. It certainly is, but it’s also something much more. It’s a search engine and a visual platform. That perspective should frame the way you approach affiliate marketing on YouTube.
YouTube expert Joseph Hogue suggests looking into tutorials specifically. That means making sure that you have several screen-share videos for each of your affiliates.
That’s right. You want to make multiple videos featuring the same product or service. Hogue says the reason behind this is simple. The more videos you create, the more likely you are to drive traffic. The more eyes you have on your affiliates, the more likely you are to see conversions.
So what does that look like for a YouTube content creator? Hogue says that after you’ve created a video walking someone through an account set up, another option would be to showcase how much money you make on the affiliate. See his “make money on Youtube” piece as an example.
Audiences want to know the product well, and this is an opportunity to do two things:
- You can show them how a product or service works, and
- also you point out why this is the best and most trustworthy option.
Go more in-depth on affiliate marketing and sponsorships with Joseph Hogue on the FinCon blog.
Try a More Direct, Active, Cross-Channel Campaigns Approach
I tend to preach a fairly passive approach to affiliate marketing – placing affiliate offers on content where readers are coming in through search.
However, one of the things you can try is to do a big push – a campaign – for an affiliate product to your customer base, just like it was your own product.
Do You Even Blog creator Pete McPherson recommends being very deliberate with affiliate products promotions. As a content creator, you probably know how to promote your work actively, not passively. The same can be done for affiliate products, says Pete.
Pete elaborates that the best way to do this is to run specific campaigns. Not only does this help shake up your marketing and excite your audience, but it also boosts your chances at conversions considerably.
Joseph Hogue echoes those same thoughts. He points out that you should see yourself as someone who is guiding your audience through a decision.
Highlight the issue, discuss options, problem-solve during the decision-making process, and leave them with a preferred solution–your affiliate.
By doing this, Joseph says, you’re going to see a higher conversion rate, and you’ll also draw in people from organic search who are at different stages.
Here’s a short to-do list for a campaign that packs a powerful punch:
- Write a review post on your blog
- Create a supplemental YouTube video tutorial
- Reach out to your email list with some helpful emails
- Schedule a series of posts on all of your social media channels
- Use sales copywriting as you share the products and services
That last bullet is key, even though it’s often overlooked, says Pete.
Sales copy isn’t just a sales pitch. Instead, it’s letting your audience know the “why” behind the product or service.
Let them know what’s in it for them. Explain how it improves their lives and how that makes the price a no-brainer. Instead of shying away from the sales aspect, lean into it honestly and thoughtfully.
Above all else, Pete says, try to “take an active approach to selling affiliate products.” The results might surprise you.
As you create your cross-channel strategy, snag more tips on email mailing lists from Pete McPherson.
How to Find the Best Affiliate Marketing Programs
One of the best ways to find an effective affiliate marketing program is to explore some of the networks that are already out there. Networks like FlexOffers, Aragon Premium, and Awin all connect brands with influencers and content creators.
Another tool to find the best affiliate marketing programs to elevating your blog monetization is to take full advantage of FinCon Marketplace. A platform like FinCon Marketplace does a lot of the heavy lifting for you by vetting the brands in advance.
What is important to remember about FinCon Marketplace, though, is that the offers are specific to this niche. Plus, FinCon negotiated special rates for affiliates. What does that mean for you? Higher payouts at no cost to you, your readers, or your affiliate partners.
If you haven’t done so yet, bookmark FinCon Marketplace now and come back to the special offers later.
A Quick Note About Cost Per Lead (CPL) vs Cost Per Action (CPA)
Another question you might be asking is how to decide whether to use lead-gen or lead acquisition programs. The first thing that you need to do is make sure you understand the difference between lead generation and lead acquisition.
In lead generation, sometimes called cost-per-lead or CPL, the focus is on creating a lead. A simple example of this might be an audience member who submits information through a form or joins an opt-in.
Lead acquisition, sometimes called cost per action or CPA, is slightly different. Rather than gathering the audience’s information, lead acquisition is about capturing a lead.
An example to help distinguish the two might be the difference between a reader who joins an email list for a fintech company compared to a reader who purchases a fintech product.
Certain advertisers might push lead acquisition, whereas content creators might prefer CPL. Joseph Hogue says that there’s a good reason to prefer to be paid for clicks instead of conversions.
For starters, it’s easier to gather data surrounding clicks from your end as a content creator. Plus, actions or conversions depend on your work, as well as the advertiser’s work. That means that if the advertiser doesn’t have a landing page that converts well, you might not get those conversions.
Hogue is also quick to point out the one drawback with focusing on clicks. Sometimes, he says, this incentivizes content creators to get as many clicks as possible, whether they are quality clicks or not.
It is worth noting that some advertisers are limited in terms of what they can offer you regarding commission structure. That means the debate between a CPL or a CPA commission structure is moot.
Still, it’s worth understanding both structures because you never know when new partnerships or different terms or conditions will crop up.
How Do You Actually Place Your Affiliate Marketing Offers?
Affiliate marketing can and should look different based on your specific content.
As a content creator, you know your audience best. You also understand the layout and design of your content. That means that you want to make sure that you choose the right affiliate marketing tool for the job.
Depending on your partnership with the advertiser, you can use text links, display ads, tables, embedded tools, and more.
Let’s explore some possibilities regarding the different affiliate marketing placement strategies you might select:
These links are probably what most people think of when they first consider affiliate marketing. As a content creator, you will weave in hyperlinks naturally within the text on your site.
Anytime you naturally mention an advertiser, add a link to their website with your affiliate code. Here’s a simple example:
“As a financial blogger, you probably want to be able to send emails to your readers on a regular basis to show them your latest posts and give them exclusive content. I’ve personally been happy with the email marketing software ConvertKit. They are worth the monthly fee for me because of their….”
In my opinion, if you are not linking using the brand name, you should try to make it really clear where you are sending the reader (i.e. “click here to get the discount and get started with ConvertKit”, “use my affiliate link”, etc.).
Respect them enough to tell them where they are going with that link. Don’t just link a keyword, like “email marketing software.”
Also, consider using a redirect tool or plugin to manage your text links. This will allow you to simplify your link (i.e. blogname.com/advertisername), edit your links at the same time in one place vs editing all your links individually, and simplify your tracking.
If you don’t already have a display network partner filling up your sidebar and content with banners, then consider tastefully inserting banners offered to you by your advertising partners.
As with all affiliate marketing, if the ad is thoughtful and adds value to your readers, the ads should be welcomed by your audience. Just make sure they don’t disrupt viewing or block any important site features, like sharing buttons.
Personally, I’ve found banners for affiliate offers to be poor performing and a poor experience for your reader. Consider them carefully before using. Certainly, avoid making them a priority vs text links.
You can also choose to incorporate offer tables into your content.
For instance, if you are comparing and contrasting features of multiple products for your audience, you could incorporate affiliate marketing into a comparison table on your site.
This might be appropriate within the text of a product review or a new post. You might also choose to house these tables on a separate site page.
See this example from my list of the best robo-advisors:
Some ad networks of affiliate networks may even create these forms for you.
Depending on your affiliate relationship, the partner may even offer different tools, such as calculators, for you to embed on your site. You might place these tools within the body of other content or you might dedicate a particular space on your site to the tools.
Related: Don’t miss these actionable tips on how to make “the NerdWallet model” work for your site.
More Affiliate Marketing Tips
After exploring different affiliate marketing programs and incorporating tools into your content, there are a few other tips to keep in mind.
In fact, these tips aren’t just about getting started. Think of this as a continuous homework assignment as a content creator. Revisit these affiliate marketing tips to keep your monetization plan on the next level.
1. Keep it balanced.
Online content creation seems like it couldn’t be more different from traditional work. That’s true in many regards. However, one of the commonalities between the two is the need for multiple income streams.
When it comes to online content creation, don’t rely on a single source of income. Instead, strive for a balance between the revenue that you generate from affiliate marketing and advertising.
It’s important to note that this balance requires a bit of planning. It isn’t as simple as setting up affiliates, turning on ads, and letting the Internet work it’s magic.
Instead, you want to make sure that ads don’t cannibalize affiliate performance. That means that if you are creating a round up featuring multiple affiliate links, it’s probably in your best interest to turn off display ads for that post.
2. Stay compliant.
In order to stay compliant, you have to make sure that you know what compliance means. To put it simply, compliance means that you are adhering to consumer-protection rules outlined by the government.
For more insight on compliance and keeping your content safe, review these tips from Liz Stapleton.
When you make the decision to start an affiliate relationship, consider the compliance issues specific to that product or service.
Keep compliance at the forefront of your mind with everything from insurance and investing to certain fintech tools and credit cards.
Of all the compliance issues, credit card affiliate relationships can be some of the most consequential.
If you want to get into credit cards, here’s what you need to know to stay compliant and perform well in the credit card affiliate marketing niche:
- Act in your audience’s best interest. Like any other product or service, the credit cards you recommend should be a good fit for your audience. If you wouldn’t recommend the card to your grandmother, your brother, or your best friend, you probably shouldn’t be recommending it to your audiences.
- Disclose your links. Proper disclosure is essential. Disclosures should appear around the link, not just in a heading or a sidebar. Your audience should be able to spot an affiliate link with ease.
- Review the details. Credit card company offers are very nuanced. Make sure that you’re clear on the specifications before directing your audience to them.
- Keep your site current. As programs, terms, and conditions change, it’s important to keep your site up-to-date. Remember, your affiliate marketing is providing a service to your audience; keeping those recommendations accurate is a key part of maintaining audience rapport.
Final Thoughts on Leveling Up Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is a powerful monetization strategy. Once you have cultivated one or more affiliate relationships, it is important to consider how you can level up your affiliate marketing.
Give careful consideration to your avatar and your audience, and stay focused on your content as well. Using a variety of affiliate marketing tools strategically should complement your content creation and enhance your audience’s experience.
Commit to growing your affiliate marketing by following one or more of the steps outlined here. Then, make sure to stay tuned here for advanced affiliate marketing content as well.