This Affiliate Program Tutorial aims to give you a quick overview.
by: Allan Gardyne
It's your road map to success as an affiliate.
I've been earning a good living from affiliate programs since 1998. Based on that experience, this tutorial tells you the 18 steps to take to generate a useful income from affiliate programs.
No tricks. No gimmicks. Just solid, reliable methods designed to work for years.
You have the choice of many different ways of earning affiliate commissions.
In my experience, you'll have your best chance of success if you do the following. Find a niche and create a useful, interesting, content-rich, keyword-rich website on one topic and weave in affiliate links and AdSense ads.
This method – with the more recent addition of AdSense ads – has worked beautifully for me since 1998.
I urge you to master this basic method. It's a bit like serving an apprenticeship.
As part of your apprenticeship you'll learn SEO (search engine optimization) skills, copywriting skills and various other Internet marketing skills which will prove to be invaluable, whatever route you choose next.
With any luck, you'll have a bit of fun, too! I do.
I include Google's AdSense in this tutorial. Strictly speaking, AdSense is an advertising network. However, in many ways it's similar to an affiliate program. I think AdSense is fantastic. It's free to join, free to use and easy to use.
It's often much easier to earn good money from AdSense than affiliate programs, so it's essential that you include AdSense in your plans.
OK. Let's get started...
1. Set a goal.
you want to go somewhere, you need to know where you're going.
Let's start with a modest goal. Say you aim to earn a total of $300 (US) a month in affiliate commissions and AdSense revenue. Imagine what you could do with that money. A holiday? A better lifestyle?
I've kept the amount low, because it's important that you believe you can do this. Achieve small successes first, see the money in your hands or in your bank account, and then increase your goals.
Perhaps you have much larger goals. That's OK. Whatever your goals, I strongly recommend that you serve your apprenticeship by taking these 18 steps. They'll give you solid knowledge and experience on which to build your affiliate business.
2. Find your niche.
Ken Evoy's free
Affiliate Masters Course
and use the excellent advice in it to find a niche that suits you and your
Print out the Affiliate Masters Course, find a quiet, comfortable spot and read it several times.
Spend a lot of time thinking carefully about this and jotting down notes. You're planning a business, so don't rush it. It's very important.
You'll probably avoid Internet marketing topics because that field is so overcrowded and competitive. It's much easier to succeed if you locate a less competitive niche.
Choose a topic that is easy to write about.
Even if you've already chosen a niche, I urge you to read the Affiliate Masters Course. It might make you change your mind.
You can follow your passion or chase the money. With luck – and a bit of keyword research – you may be able to do both.
Don't decide definitely on a niche topic until you've taken the next two steps...
3. Choose a profitable niche.
some research on Google AdWords and
to choose the most profitable niche from among the ones you've chosen. Because
you're planning to use AdSense, you want valuable keywords or key phrases, if
possible ones that people are paying at least 50 cents per click for on AdWords
and Yahoo! Search Marketing.
You're going to build a site the search engines love, so you also want to find key phrases that many people are typing into search engines. You don't rely on guesswork.
You must do this BEFORE you start building your web site. That's critically important.
Here's a useful free tool I like using for quick, rough keyword research: pixelfast.com/overture/
Type in a phrase, for example, "hiking boots", click "Go", follow the instructions, and you can see how much advertisers are paying per click for that phrase on the Yahoo! Search Marketing (formerly Overture) network of websites.
You can also see how many people searched for the phrase the previous month. For a number of reasons, this figure is often unreliable and can be grossly exaggerated. That's why I double check results using Wordtracker.
Wordtracker's free trial is fairly limited. Fortunately, they allow you to subscribe cheaply for a day or a week at a time. It's very fast, so you can do an awful lot of keyword research in a day. I use the annual subscription now.
Go to Google's AdWords and find out how much advertisers are willing to pay for the keywords or key phrases you're interested in. You can do that by playing around with Google's free Keyword Tool.
For example, try putting in a keyword or phrase, such as "recipe" and click on "Get More Keywords". Pretend you're willing to pay the maximum per click the tool allows - 100. (It won't work properly if you ignore this.) Over on the right side of the page, make sure that "Cost and position estimates" is selected.
The tool will calculate for you the estimated average CPC (cost per click) for a whole lot of words and phrases. Try entering a different word, say "debt" or "hosting", click on "Re-calculate" and watch how the CPC changes.
You don't HAVE to choose a topic which has expensive keywords. Often topics that have expensive keywords are very competitive. You may do better choosing a less competitive niche with cheaper keywords.
If you use Site Build It you'll find the brainstorming tool in it awesome to help you come up with ideas and phrases you wouldn't have thought of without it.
Beware: If you choose certain topics, Google will not allow you to place AdSense ads on your site and you'll miss out on a very lucrative opportunity.
Such topics include gambling, firearms, ammunition, balisongs, butterfly knives, and brass knuckles; beer or alcohol; tobacco or tobacco-related products; and prescription drugs.
For a full list of topics you may wish to avoid see: https://www.google.com/adsense/
Publishers can choose to have their ads displayed only on Google or also on a large network of sites. Will AdSense ads you see on Google appear your pages? To get an idea, find web pages that have material similar to the content you're planning to create and look at their AdSense ads. You can also use AdSense's preview tool to see which ads are being displayed to people in different countries.
4. Research affiliate merchants.
research to see if there are suitable affiliate merchants which match your
You want ones that have excellent products, excellent reputations and sites that look as though they're good at selling. You can search the AssociatePrograms.com affiliate directory for ideas.
Consider aiming for lifetime commissions.
If you're lucky, you'll manage to select a web site topic that has affiliate programs which pay lifetime commissions or residual commissions – the sort reviewed at LifetimeCommissions.com.
You'll earn repeat commissions when "your" customers make more purchases.
5. Build a useful, interesting web site on your niche.
Create a content rich, keyword-rich site, designed to be found in search engines.
Show your personality. Have a bit of fun. Be memorable. You need to connect with your visitors. Remember that people like buying from people they like.
There's no space in this affiliate program tutorial to describe how to build a web site. For that, you'll need a good instruction manual.
If you're short of money, you can hunt for free information on sites such HTMLGoodies.
You'll save yourself an enormous amount of time and frustration if you take the plunge and buy a good instruction manual written specifically for affiliates.
Here are the two best options:
For keen do-it-your-selfers, I recommend Rosalind Gardner's Super Affiliate Handbook.
Rosalind is a real been-there-done-that super affiliate.
Her instruction manual shows you how she builds very successful sites using web authoring software.
It starts right at the beginning, discussing topics such as myths about doing business online, mistakes to avoid, how to choose the best topic, how to choose the right domain name, etc.
The book, updated in May 2006, takes you step-by-step through the whole process.
One particularly useful feature is her explanation of how she achieves high conversion rates (visitor-to-sales ratios), achieving conversion rates of 4% or 6% while most affiliates are happy with 1%.
Another of the strengths of the book is her descriptions of a wide variety of ways to get traffic to your site. This is important - too many affiliates rely on just one or two traffic-generating methods. The more traffic-gemerating methods you have, the safer your business is.
Rosaland is genuinely successful, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Now she's also a very successful author, with sales of more $1 million from her book, which is excellent value.
When you learn from her, you're learning from a winner.
Learn more about Rosalind's Super Affiliate Handbook here.
For affiliates who want to simplify things as much as possible and automate the tedious techie stuff, I recommend Ken Evoy's Site Build It (SBI).
SBI is a site-building, site-hosting, site-promoting suite of tools, all in one place.
Once you have SBI, you don't have to go scurrying all over the Net adding more tools and software. You have almost all you need in one package, so you can concentrate on the fun part – creating useful, interesting content.
(Once you have SBI, the only addition you need to buy occasionally is a cheap, one-day subscription to Wordtracker. It's useful to double check the SBI brainstorming results against Wordtracker results.)
SBI comes with a newly updated, truly comprehensive instruction manual, a step-by-step Action Guide.
SBI is the tool I give my assistants.
Ken Evoy's instruction manual is doing my work for me. First it taught Rupert and now it's teaching Ros how to build a high quality, successful, revenue-generating site.
You could build a site without SBI, but using it saves you time and effort by simplifying the process.
SBI teaches you how to optimize your web pages so they'll be found in search engines. After building a page, you click the "Analyze It" button and it tells you what you need to do to improve it.
The SBI technique really works. Two of the SBI sites that Rupert built are included in the case studies on the SBI site.
See the proof in the SBI case studies
6. Add affiliate links.
you write the articles for your site, weave affiliate links into them. Always
have a typical visitor in mind as you write the articles. Speak to that visitor.
Your task as an affiliate is to help your visitor decide what to buy.
One successful technique is to gradually lead your visitor towards a purchase. Start by outlining a problem, discuss a good solution that has worked for you, and end the article with a link that is a call to action, such as a hyperlink that says, "Find out more here."
Your task as an affiliate is NOT to sell (that's the merchant's job) but to presell, to warm up your visitors. You want your visitors in a ready-to-buy frame of mind when they arrive at the merchant's site.
For superb advice on preselling, I strongly recommend you join Ken Evoy's 5 Pillar Affiliate Program. It's free to join.
Ken is an absolute whiz at preselling and he's renowned for working extremely hard to help his affiliates succeed. He has a superb program. It's been No.1 in my Top 10 for several years.
7. Place AdSense ads on your site.
Here's an excellent free
If you have a good, popular site, it's remarkably easy to make good money with AdSense.
8. Get links.
First, link to other sites. Choose sites that have similar or related themes,
and invite those sites to link to you.
This is hugely important. Search engines love sites that have many links to them – especially if those links come from sites which are themselves popular.
Now you see why I said build a useful, interesting web site. If you do that, people are more likely to link to your site.
Here's an article I wrote describing how to get reciprocal links.
9. Anchor text.
You'll also need to understand the importance of
the words you use to link to pages on your site, the words people use when they
link to your site.
To search engines, anchor text is very important.
10. List your site in major directories and niche directories in your industry.
You probably already know about Yahoo! (good but expensive), DMOZ (often takes months to get into) and Zeal (tricky to get into; for non-commercial sites).
Here are some more directories (some charge a fee):
Looksmart (probably too expensive)
Best of the Web
Guides to web directories
David Mahler has a Guide to Web Directories. It's a good list of recommended web directories.
Here's another list: http://www.strongestlinks.com/directories.php
How to find niche directories:
Go to Search It! (It's a very handy free research tool.)
Scroll to the Search Category, "Specialty Hubs and Directories"
Choose one of the 4 options in STEP 2
Read the "Click Here for Information..." help before proceeding
Complete STEPS 3 and 4, and then click on Search It!
Read the tutorial. It tells you what to do with the search results
Get your search results. You should be able to find relevant, themed hub sites and directories which will list your site. Some charge a fee, some are free.
11. Write articles and distribute them to article directories (fairly easy) and try to persuade newsletters and other sites to publish them (more challenging). This step isn't absolutely essential, but it helps enormously if you do it. Now you understand why it was so important that you chose a topic that was easy to write about.
12. Add more pages and get more links.
Keep adding useful,
interesting, keyword-rich pages (you do research at
for this) and keep encouraging more sites to link to your site.
Make friends with other web site owners, and more people will link to you...
13. Be patient.
your new site is typical, nothing much will seem to happen for the first couple
of months or so, and you'll probably become frustrated and find it hard to
believe that this is going to work.
You're likely to feel annoyed, cheated and ready to quit. You're likely to be a prime target for people selling get-rich-quick junk.
Many affiliates give up at this stage. Stick with it. If you're persistent and get the details right, the process I'm describing works beautifully.
Learn something new every day. Do something to improve your business every day. If you do that, success is inevitable.
14. Expect to see signs of success.
Eventually, because of all
the links to your site on other sites, Google, Yahoo! and MSN will find your
site and start sending you traffic.
Perhaps around the three-month or four-month stage you'll be receiving 100 visitors a day. Visitors will like what they see and some site owners will start linking to you and asking you to link to them.
Keep at it. You're just getting warmed up.
15. The payoff...
About six months down the road, after little expense but quite a lot of hard work and research, you hit your magical $300 a month mark, from affiliate sales and from AdSense ads on your site.
Depending on the niche you've chosen and the skills you've learned, you might earn considerably more than $300.
Perhaps after 12 months, you'll be earning $500 to $1,000 a month from your site.
The checks keep coming in, month after month, even when you take a little vacation. You start telling friends how easy affiliate marketing is, and are puzzled when they're not convinced.
Of course, it's not really easy. It just seems easy after you've done the hard work.
...or the NON-payoff
If you've merely scanned the instruction manual and jumped right in without doing any research and built a "Make Money on the Internet" site, you'll probably earn very little. A search on Google for "make money" displays more than 4 million pages. If one of those is yours, you have a LOT of competition.
If you did this and it isn't working for you, go back to step 1 and start again.
16. Tweak your site.
To boost your conversion rate (your visitor-to-sales ratio), try little experiments, one thing at a time.
Try changing the heading on a page, the words, the colors, the placement of your links. With each change wait until about 1,000 visitors have seen the change, and monitor your affiliate commissions to see if they rise or fall.
You do this because you understand that if 1% of your visitors are buying and tiny changes boost your success rate to 2%, you'll DOUBLE your commissions.
17. The future
When you reach your goal of $300 a month, you wonder whether you should expand your site, perhaps adding a newsletter, an autoresponder course or two, a forum, RSS newsfeeds, a blog, a whitepaper, a report to sell ... and turn it into a portal. You dream big. Perhaps you even start dreaming of having your own affiliates promoting your reports for you...
Or perhaps you just research another little overlooked niche and start on your next simple little, low-maintenance money-generating site.
It can be done. The main ingredient needed is persistence. Been there, done that, and I have a very nice lifestyle to prove it.
The $300 a month target is very conservative. If that's all you earn, you've done something "wrong". You haven't chosen profitable keywords carefully enough, you haven't built enough attractive, keyword-rich pages, you haven't learned the basics of optimizing pages for search engines, or you haven't attracted enough good quality links to your site.
That's the wonderful thing about this business. You can make lots of mistakes and still earn useful money. Just don't make TOO many mistakes.
18. Take the first step.
That's the one that
I suggest you go back and read through this affiliate program tutorial again.
Picture yourself owning a successful Internet business. Picture yourself opening letters and finding checks in them.
Imagine enjoying yourself spending the money, perhaps even giving up your day job so that you can concentrate on your own business.
Now take the first step.
And when you've quit your day job, please write and tell me. I love getting emails like that.