Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular monetization techniques for niche publishers and is being used by hundreds of thousands of sites in a wide variety of verticals. Affiliate marketing is popular for a number of reasons, including the potential for success with a relatively small audience and the deep pool of affiliate partners willing to pay to acquire new customers.
Affiliate marketing also is a very broad term; under this umbrella there are several different strategies that can be employed to generate affiliate revenue. The most appropriate and lucrative method (or methods) can depend on a number of factors, including your site’s niche and characteristics of your audience. Below is an overview of some of the most popular affiliate marketing implementations, along with examples of each.
Below is a screenshot from CouponMom.com, a site that emails members with ways to save money at the grocery store and other retail outlets. Note the numerous affiliate links on the site:
The value proposition of these sites is pretty clear; they provide visitors with access to coupons and tips for using them that can save money. If done correctly, they can be tremendously popular. (CouponMom.com claims over 6 million members!)
There’s also a very direct and logical tie-in for affiliates; these sites inherently cater to, and attract, visitors who are in the market for a product or set of products (ideally at a discounted rate). It’s the goal of the companies that make these products to get as many people as possible to clip their coupons and eventually make a purchase; so they make affiliate payments to coupon sites who are able to help them achieve this goal.
Here’s another example of a coupon strategy from a “mommy blogger” who writes about and reviews products for parents. Note the clear disclosure of the affiliate relationships:
Product review sites are another popular vehicle for affiliate marketing strategies. Because these sites are inherently focused on providing information about products in which visitors are likely interested, the affiliate tie-in is pretty straightforward. The author writes about a product, highlighting the features and addressing any concerns, and then includes a link where readers can go to purchase the product.
This model works with both physical products and “e-products” such as software programs or e-books. Here are several examples of this affiliate marketing model in action:
Note that all of the sites highlighted above are very transparent about any affiliate relationships, stating up-front whenever a post contains an affiliate link or is sponsored.
There is, of course, a pretty obvious conflict of interest in many implementations of this model. The affiliate only makes money if visitors click on the affiliate links and ultimately buy the products reviewed. But while there is an obvious incentive to write falsely positive reviews, that strategy generally has a pretty limited life expectancy. In order to be successful using this model over the long term, you’ll need the trust of an audience that can only be earned through integrity and transparency.
Many publishers present affiliate links in the same way others would run display ads on their site. Below is a screenshot from SugarRae.com, a popular affiliate marketing blog. Notice that the right rail is labeled as “Advertisement” and includes two ads (one for Raven and the other for Genesis). These look like banner ads, but they’re actually affiliate links–in the form of an image, not text. To most viewers, there’s very little distinction between a banner ad and an affiliate link here, but the compensation structure of course matters to the affiliate and the publisher.
This strategy can be interchangeable with more traditional banner ads, or can be used alongside other moentization strategies.
There are other ways to utilize affiliate links in the same manner many sites use display ads. For example, affiliate links can be housed in a section of a site presented as a “partner center” or “blogroll.”
Check out AffiliateTip.com, a popular site about affiliate marketing run by industry guru Shawn Collins. The right rail of his site features a “Blogroll” that contains affiliate links to a number of third party sites. While some of these sites have blogs, the links generally lead (through an affiliate link tracker) to landing pages where visitors can sign up for a product:
In this case, these are affiliate links to products and services that would be of interest to affiliate marketers (and webmasters in general). These are effectively right display ads, but presented in a way that implies an endorsement from the site (which is a highly respected industry publication).
This model can be used easily alongside other models. It’s probably most effective for sites that have a relatively large audience and are generally viewed as authoritative on a particular topic or industry.
The best example here is Shopzilla, a site that aggregates pricing and other information on a number of products. For example, the collection of digital camera prices and specs features affiliate links to dozens of third party sites where the highlighted products can be purchased.
Shopzilla adds value by aggregating pricing information and presenting an easy way for shoppers to see everything that is available to them. The revenue model revolves around these interested shoppers actually completing a purchase based on the information provided, giving Shopzilla an affiliate cut in the process.
BabyGizmo.com is another example of this model in action:
This is a unique model because the primary traffic acquisition model is not paid or organic search, but rather word of mouth–literally. Adam Carolla has a popular daily podcast and a very loyal audience, and he regularly asks his listeners to do their online shopping through Amazon and to click through the affiliate link on his website to do so:
The value proposition is a bit less direct in this case, but can still be very effective. Carolla provides a service to his audience in the form of free entertainment (the podcast) and then asks for support in order to pay the bills. In this case, the “ask” can be very effective since he’s just requesting his listeners to take a few seconds to get to Amazon through his affiliate link.
Wisconsin Public Radio has also embraced this affiliate marketing strategy; their site features a customized Amazon Affiliate logo, and the on-air personalities regularly mention that listeners can support the organization by clicking through to Amazon from WPR.org:
Of course, this model really only works if you have access to a large and loyal audience. But if you have such an audience who consumes your content offline, there can still be an opportunity to generate online revenue from them.
Within the realm of affiliate marketing, there are countless monetization strategies that can be implemented. Many sites use some combination or blend of the multiple methods mentioned above, and the optimization process often involves tweaking the settings of each to find an ideal implementation.
If you have more questions (or insights to share) let us know below.