Module 5Retail Affiliates
When a company offers an affiliate program, they very rarely run it in-house. They usually use a third-party company (affiliate network) that operates the program for them.
These are the affiliate networks I use but there are many more available (they also vary by country):
- rewardStyle (Top Earner!)
- Commission Junkie
- eBay Network
It’s worth signing up for all of the above programs and then browsing through their various advertisers. You can search by category and brand name. You may even discover new brands you’d like to feature on your site.
This is a sampling of some of the categories and brands available on the Commission Junction affiliate network:
As shown above, you can find a wide array of brands to work with depending on your blog’s topic and niche.
For example, if your blog discusses wellness or spas these would be some potential brands to partner with:
Here’s an example of some of the brands available in the travel category:
In the home and garden category:
Be genuine. This works best if you link to products or services you actually use. You’ll have more enthusiasm behind the product or service if you believe in it. But, whenever you mention a brand, always include a link; it doesn't hurt to try!
How do you sign up to become an affiliate?
- Decide which company you’re interested in featuring on your website.
- Go to the affiliate company’s website.
- At the bottom of the retailer’s website, you can often find a link for “Affiliates”.
- If you can’t find it on their website, Google search “X affiliate program”. (Not all companies offer an affiliate program, especially if they’re small and/or just starting out.)
- Once you find the company’s affiliate page (if they have one) they’ll usually tell you where to sign up. Many times they’ll direct you to one of the above networks.
Often, the affiliate link is in the footer of a brand’s website, as shown here.
Which affiliate network should you join?
In my opinion: join all of them. It’s free.
When you do find brands you want to link to, you’ll already be one step ahead of the game when you try to join their program.
Below is an example of what happens when you look for the affiliate program for Nordstrom. They ask you to join thorugh the the Rakuten (LinkShare) Affiliate Network. You can save time by already being a member of that network.
Is there an approval process?
For the most part, the application basically consists of clicking the terms and conditions and hitting apply. It’s pretty straightforward.
Some companies automatically approve all bloggers, but others manually approve them based on statistics. There are brands that will want to determine if you are the right fit. They’ll take a look at your website, assess your topic, decide if your site is appropriate or not relevant to their product, and manually approve you.
The rules vary greatly depending on the brand. When you're applying to affiliate programs, some will require that you have a minimum number of unique visitors or minimum page views. Many of them require that your blog has been live for at least thirty to ninety days.
If you’ve just launched a new blog, you might have to wait a month or two before applying. However, it doesn’t hurt to do the groundwork and start researching affiliate networks and programs right away.
Generally speaking, it's quite simple. It's rare that a company has a very detailed and restrictive process to become an affiliate. If they are, it's usually a premium company.
What if a company declines your application?
Just because a company declines you the first time you apply, it doesn’t mean they won’t approve you in six months. Don’t get discouraged.
If you feel that you are the perfect fit for a particular brand and they reject you, check their company profile in the affiliate network from which you applied and email them.
Introduce yourself and tell them exactly why you are the perfect fit and that you’d love to be considered.
How much commission can you earn?
Different affiliate networks and brands offer varying commission structures. Some will offer a percentage. I notice that most companies offer from 1% to 10 %, with the majority between 5% and 8%. Smaller start-ups may offer as much as 15-25% on a sale.
Some companies, like travel booking sites, might give you a set dollar amount if someone books a flight or hotel with your link. You could get $15 or $25 per sale.
BONUS TIP: You can connect with brands through Affiliate Networks
An unexpected bonus of using affiliate networks is that each brand has a contact person. If you play it wisely, this can be your “in” with a company you want to work with.
I’m not suggesting you pitch them your ad rates and try to get them to sponsor you. Many times that contact person has no access to a budget. However, consider it a possible foot in the door with that company in the future.
As your business and audience grows, or if you’ve established a substantial social media following, they might start contacting you and pitching you with unique opportunities.
They might send you emails and give you access to exclusive promotions or increased commission opportunities. When my website started getting over 150,000 unique visitors a month and over 300,000 monthly page views, they even started contacting me for paid advertising opportunities.
Here’s a trick I use when I want to get the attention from a brand. Maybe I’m not currently selling their product or I’m not currently talking about their product. If I’m interested in possibly working with them in the future, I apply to their affiliate network so they know that I exist. Maybe that can open some doors or be the beginning of a conversation.
What if a company asks me to join their program?
Once you start building a repertoire after using affiliate networks for a while, brands might invite you to join their programs or pre-approve you in advance.
For example, I don't use kayak.com or expedia.com, so I wouldn't apply for their affiliate programs. But because those two companies see that I’m signed up to Travelocity and CheapOair’s affiliate programs, they reach out and invite me to join their programs.
When companies start pre-approving you and inviting you to join their affiliate programs, you have the following options:
- You can choose to ignore and reject the invitation.
- You can accept, if it’s relevant to your content and audience.
- Or you can use it as an opportunity to start a relationship.
For example, I was contacted by a European car rental company inviting me to join their affiliate program on several ocassions. Eventually, I decided to send them a polite email explaining that I don’t feature travel companies I haven’t personally used.
And then a lightbulb went off in my head. I saw a potential opportunity!
In my reply to them, I said:
“Thank you very much for the invitation to join your program. Unfortunately, I only feature services that I’ve personally used. However, please let me know if you have any media opportunities in the future. I’d be happy to test out your service so I can see what you have to offer.”
Boom. And just like that – there was an introduction to a potential press trip.
They replied that they were interested, and to let them know when I’d next be in Europe so they could see if they had anything available.
Keep in mind that brands are still figuring out how to work with bloggers and influencers. They don’t yet completely understand how to get bloggers to link to their sites. It’s not just about throwing a link in a post, especially if it’s for a company you’ve never used.
Find clever ways to connect with brands and explain to them how they can work with you and what you can offer them. Remember, it’s not what they can do for YOU – it’s what you can do for THEM.
Can you link to a company even if your blog niche is about another topic?
You can link to whatever you want. However, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this product/service relevant to my audience?
- Is this product/service relevant to the subject matter of this blog post?
- Would this product/service seem completely out of place in my blog?
I previously mentioned that a car rental company contacted me to join their affiliate program. Even though car rentals aren’t super relevant to the subject matter on Travel Fashion Girl (packing tips), it would make sense for me to link to their service if I was writing a post specifically about car-related travel, like a road trip or cross-country journey.
While I don’t focus on general travel, I still do offer some travel tips within blog posts.
In another example, if I was writing about European fashion, I might mention that I use and recommend Airbnb when I’m in Europe, since I think they offer better value than hotels in this part of the world. I would then include my personal referral link to Airbnb.
People are less likely to buy a product or service that's not the main subject of your website or blog.
For example, because travel isn’t the main topic of my website, if I write about a hotel chain, my readers aren’t as interested. They are unlikely to book a hotel I recommend.
Ask yourself: Why do people read my website? What do they want to know?
That doesn't mean that I don't include travel affiliate links whenever I write about a relevant topic. Just be aware that people are less likely to purchase products or services that are not what they originally came to your site to learn about.
With that being said, I’ve had a G Adventures affiliate link on my site for a couple of years. I did a few tours with them a while back and really enjoyed them, so I’ve mentioned these tours in a couple of posts featuring destinations I visited with this tour company.
Those links sat unused for years…until one day, I sold two tours through their affiliate link. Those two tours earned me almost $550 in commission! I was shocked.
So, what’s the harm in having the link there? You might only make one sale and it just might be worth it!
Constantly try as many different monetization tactics as possible, because you might find that whenever you link to a car rental company, you make a lot of money. If so, you're gonna write more about cars and car rental!
When I notice that a topic is popular with my readers, I’ll start writing more articles on that topic. They’re happy and I’m happy, too!
TIP: When you find something that your audience responds to, create more relevant content, articles, product reviews, and services about that topic. This strategy was a game-changer for me.
How do you know if people are clicking your links and you’re earning money?
The affiliate network makes it simple: they provide reports showing how many people clicked on your links and how much money you made.
So if you want to add a product link, go directly to the affiliate network, find the link, and put it on your site. The network does the rest of the work for you, including tracking sales, impressions, and more.
Some even give you reports on broken links or those that aren’t working. Pay attention to those broken links, because if people want to buy something and are taken to an error page, you lose a potential sale.
Every quarter I update my links and replace products that are sold out.
BONUS TIP: A little-known fact is that bloggers can work directly with affiliate networks to grow their income.
CJ (aka Commission Junction) has been so much more than just an affiliate network—it's been a promotional partner. Many bloggers don't realize that affiliate networks offer these types of benefits.
They’ve helped me establish brand partnerships with their affiliates and sell advertorials and giveaways. They also help me get in contact with companies I want to work with.
In addition, CJ, Amazon and rewardStyle all send tips on how to make the most of their programs and alerts when related companies have special offers.
NOW, IT’S YOUR TURN TO BE THE SIX-FIGURE BLOGGER
Here are some advice from my contacts at the affiliate networks
Success in this space really is all about the relationships. Knowing your audience (as well as you can in a digital world), both when writing actual content, and when communicating pitches and partnerships, is crucial.
Since most of our relationship building is written, knowing the tone and degree of detail to send to a potential partner can mean the difference between being quickly skimmed and deleted to forming a long-term deal.
Understanding that the core of your blog is your readership will help dictate not only which partners you consider, but also the type of promotional opportunities that will genuinely serve your digital community (after all, many of them probably consider you a “friend”, to some degree!) while still making you money.
Attend events and conferences! Keep LinkedIn-stalking those potential business partners! But most importantly, know who you are and who also knows you (your audience) and convey that in all of your communications.