Affiliate marketing is an excellent way to create a scalable “always on” business from home, without investing large sums of money up-front. The process is simple: you earn by generating commissions from paying customers you refer to external products or services.
My own websites (including this one) earn from affiliate links. But I must stress that affiliate marketing is a whole lot easier said than done. There’s several problems you’ll inevitably face on the road to riches.
Here’s the main problems I’ve experienced.
1. Top Affiliate Programs only Work with Established Publishers
Do you build a platform before promoting third party products? Or do you promote those products and build a platform around it as you go along? It’s a classic case of the chicken or the egg.
The first ever lesson I learnt about affiliate marketing is that your site/channel comes first, before anything else. Companies judge your online presence (your website, social media channels etc) and decide if you’re valuable enough to them. They’re under no obligation to accept you as an affiliate.
This is the reason many affiliate marketers never get out of the blocks. It’s very hard to create a site that passes strict advertiser criteria, such as minimum traffic requirements, amount of content — not to mention other more subjective metrics.
Getting turned away by affiliate programs is, unfortunately, part and parcel of starting out as an affiliate marketer. As you build your audience and reputation, it tends to flip the other way round: people contact you to advertise, and you set your own criteria to work with them.
So what can you do to maximise your chance of being accepted to the best affiliate programs? Here’s my advice:
- Make your site look neat to compensate for lack of content. This is crucial because it shows where you’re heading, and that you’re taking your business seriously. You have to look like a prospect to the company you wish to promote.
- Write a compelling about page. Demonstrate what you’re all about — because your content (and lack thereof) might not make it clear from the outset.
- Let companies know what your intentions are. When you apply to affiliate programs you’ll often be able to write a little bit about yourself and how you intend to promote their products. Use this opportunity to prove that you have a solid marketing plan that will make them money without destroying their reputation. That’s the goal.
- If you use PPC, don’t shout about it. I’m not saying to be dishonest, but just be aware that many companies don’t want their advertisers to compete on PPC advertising. It’s usually written in the affiliate terms. You risk being rejected, or having your account terminated, if you’re caught using it.
- if you’re keen, write a sample about their product. Show them what direction you’ll go with marketing their product(s). It shows you’re proactive and motivated. Provided the content is good, it makes it harder to refuse you as an affiliate.
2. You Don’t Have the Relevant Skills
Affiliate marketers are online salespeople. And selling products (of any kind) requires skill.
So what skills must you acquire in order to succeed at affiliate marketing?
First and foremost, affiliate marketers have to connect with their target audience.
Content needs to be relevant and engaging. It has to ‘speak’ to its demographic, both literally in their native language, and figuratively with the appropriate style and tone.
If, for instance, you run a hair & beauty blog and Instagram account, then it’s likely to alienate your audience if you begin to post about politics. Voicing political views is not going to help you sell more hair & beauty products. Stick to your niche, and hit on the topics people followed you to learn more about.
Your content has to strike the right chord — otherwise you’ll struggle to convert sales as an affiliate marketer. Here’s some tips for this:
- Writing: How To Write Great SEO-Friendly Content For Your Website
- Audio/Video: What Makes A Good Vlogger?
Give the audience what they want, right?
Not exactly. If the audience knew what they wanted, then they wouldn’t be the audience.
Problem is, it’s difficult to convince people they’ll benefit from buying something — especially when they haven’t actively sought it out.
Focus on gaining the faith of your audience by providing some form of value. Then they’ll be more willing to accept your recommendations. I recommend that you provide:
- High quality content: blogs, articles, e-books
- Promotions: discounts and giveaways
- Help: answers, advice, assistance
Learn more on affiliate sales technique from my post: Give & Receive — An Online Marketing Philosophy
Promoting a product online usually entails distributing content over various mediums. Youtube, Blogs, Social media, and Podcasts, for example. This requires some level of skill — but nothing that can’t be learnt from the Marketing & Strategy section of this site.
The real challenge lies in determining what content you need to produce next in order to generate the most traffic, and of course — sales. Companies pay SEO and marketing agencies good money to strategise their sales campaigns. It’s big business.
So how can small-time affiliate marketers form an effective sales strategy without any prior experience? How can they compete?
Well, it’ll take persistence and a fair amount of trial & error. You’re unlikely to hit a home run on the first attempt. The following posts will point you in the right direction:
- Learn marketing basics: The Fundamentals Of Online Business
- Increase your traffic: How to Boost Your Website Traffic
- Increase your sales: 10 Ways To Improve Your Sales Conversions
- Make a U-turn: Adapt Your Online Business
- Identify improvements: Analyse Your Businesses Strengths & Weaknesses
3. Everything Takes Time
Successful affiliate marketing requires both content creation and promotion — which are both time consuming.
First off, you’ll need platform(s) to promote your content. For many affiliate marketers that’s the very first item on the agenda. It means setting time aside time to create a website — or at least some social media profiles.
Once you’re set up with your own platform, there’s still a very long road ahead. The platform itself is merely the frame; the content is the work of art which sits inside it. And works of art aren’t made overnight.
You need substance to sell products. This comes from the content you produce.
No matter what type of content you use to market your affiliate products — video, audio, written — it’s going to take time to produce. It involves planning & strategy, editing and, of course, creativity.
Even two very contrasting approaches to content creation require a lot of input:
- Professional front: some affiliate marketers are very specific about the brand or image they want to portray. They aim to produce concise, well-polished content behind a ‘front’. This approach requires additional planning and editing.
- Personable approach: human interaction is valued more than the aesthetics and overall presentation. Content appears ‘natural’. It’s a common approach amongst Instagram marketers. Again, this is also time consuming, as content tends to be high frequency.
Sure, you can outsource content development. But it certainly won’t create itself in the style you want without proper guidance. So there’s no real short-cuts on the content creation front.
You can however save yourself valuable time in other areas of affiliate marketing by reading the following posts:
- Development: How to Avoid Wasting Time & Money on Web Development
- Content types: Short-term or Long-term Content — What’s Most Efficient for You?
- Style: The Tricks to Creating a Successful Vlog or Podcast
- Outsourcing: To What Extent Can I Outsource My Tasks?
- Reusing content: How to Recycle Your Existing Content (coming soon)
If you focus on SEO to reach customers then, generally speaking, it’ll take around a year for your pages to achieve a page 1 ranking. Search engines tend to favour older, more established sites. SEO is a long-term approach.
Short-term, you should look to other, more direct marketing methods — such as social media or Pay Per Click advertising. These will grant you fast access to potential customers. It doesn’t however yield positive results on it’s own; there’s work to do.
With social media you’ll need to engage with potential customers by commenting and responding to messages. You’ll have to create eye-catching media related to your industry. It’s not a passive approach by any means. Getting results takes sustained input.
With PPC campaigns you’ll save some time. However, throughout your campaigns (and particularly during the early stages) you’ll need to intensively monitor the progress. It’ll require tweaks to determine costs and rewards.
Learn more about improving the efficiency of your marketing campaigns:
- SEO: Search Engine Optimisation Secrets Exposed
- PPC: How To Optimise Your Pay Per Click Advertising Campaigns
- Social media: Use Social Media to Make More Sales
In affiliate marketing you’ll often refer customers to a free or trial-period membership. Thus sales don’t necessarily convert right away.
Then there’s up-sells. You might refer someone to a basic product and they later upgrade that product to a premium version, for example. Usually this enables you to earn additional commissions. It’s a good thing!
But be aware that it can be a long wait before you begin to see the money rolling in. Thus don’t be too hasty in determining the viability of PPC, SEO, social media and any other marketing channels. You might be on the right track without realising it.
In the meantime, while you’re waiting for results, maximise the percentage of sales you make by following this guide:
4. Rules & Regulations
The internet is still relatively new, when you think about it. TCP/IP was first implemented on January 1, 1983 — but the web only burst into the mainstream during the mid-late 90’s.
Internet rules & regulations are constantly evolving as we respond to new challenges. Cyber crime, data breaches, and public security risks, are brought on by increased connectivity. Governments are pushing for the web to align with offline values. The 1990’s “Wild West” days are almost numbered.
This does however make it a little tougher to promote affiliate products.
The Internet is Tightening Up
Affiliate marketers have to be careful not to breach strict advertising regulations. This means no pushy sales tactics, spam, or misrepresentation — which wouldn’t serve you well long-term, anyway. The point is, now more than ever you’ve got to play by the rules.
However, the impetus on rules & regulations goes a little too far at times. The big guys (Facebook, I’m looking at you) have spoilt it for everyone else. Nowadays it’s all too easy to be penalised for doing, what is effectively your job.
For example, I advertised some affiliate products to my fully-consenting mailing list, and subsequently had my Mailchimp account permanently locked. Around the same time, my Facebook page was closed for posting about sports data. What was going on?
Well, it turns out that (a) affiliate marketing isn’t allowed by Mailchimp, and (b) promoting sports betting isn’t allowed by Facebook (now they’ve decided to clean their act up). Admittedly, I am partially guilty of (a), as I didn’t know this was a rule. But I’m certainly not guilty of (b), as i essentially discourage gambling on my sports blog.
Indeed the bid to clean up the internet poses new challenges for affiliates. But on the plus side, scam artists will find it increasingly difficult to compete in the future. That’s good news for everyone.
Anyhow, there’s a lesson to be learnt here: always check the fine print.
5. Non Payment Of Commissions
I’ve experienced non-payment of affiliate commissions on a few occasions. My friends have, too.
The fact is, some affiliate programs are better, and more trustworthy than others. The reliable ones correctly track your referrals and pay you on time. There’s not much more you could ask of an affiliate program.
Other affiliate programs, on the other hand, don’t track all referrals and delay payments without valid reasons. It’s often a result of a software fault, being understaffed, or (presumably) a lack of cashflow. Nonetheless, it makes affiliates feel underappreciated for doing what ought to be considered a vital part of the online business: marketing.
In one case a company I promoted stopped running its referral scheme without giving notice to affiliates. It took me a while to realise this. By then I had been promoting paid services for free, for several months.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to promote many services without receiving anything in return. But if a company makes agreements with affiliates, and those affiliates work to promote their products with the expectation of being paid, then it’s not on.
Reputable Companies Only
My approach is to remain highly selective in what products I promote. I aim to work only with well-established, reputable companies, offering industry-leading products.
Generally speaking, a legitimate company with a strong reputation to uphold is likely to pay affiliates on time. Furthermore, a company that treats their affiliates well is likely to value their customers, too. It works on all fronts.
I suggest researching affiliate programs before signing up, by looking for negative feedback in forums. Also check what products other major affiliate sites promote, as that’s usually a sign they’re paying up.
Quality over quantity is the way forward. It’s too short-term-minded to risk upsetting your followers with a poor recommendation, all for the chance to earn a quick buck. You want people to return to your site/channel in the future; it’s more profitable that way.