Can you really “get rich quick” with affiliate marketing?
That’s literally the million-dollar question.
Bloggers and gurus might tell you that you can.
But I’m going to be honest with you.
Affiliate marketing can work extremely well when done correctly.
Just because anyone can get an affiliate link doesn’t mean that person is going to be successful.
Using affiliate marketing to really grow your brand takes a lot more than that.
It takes time, strategy, and a ton of hustle to see results.
It’s not going to happen overnight.
The harsh truth is that a lot of people won’t see the results they’re hoping for.
There will be times when it just works and other times when it falls flat.
So will you be able to find success as an affiliate marketer?
Here’s what you need to know.
What’s the deal with affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is an agreement between a merchant that wants to sell a product and a marketer who wants to help get people to buy that product.
Let’s take a quick look at the two characters in play:
- The Merchant — also known as the seller, brand, retail, or vendor — has something they want to sell.
- The Affiliate — also known as the marketer or the publisher — is someone who can make money from the merchant by promoting certain products.
Affiliates can be anyone, really.
You find a lot of affiliates in the blogging world.
They usually review products and then include affiliate links in their video descriptions.
The blogger makes a small commission each time someone clicks on that link to purchase the product.
Take this video from The Deal Guy reviewing Jet.com versus Amazon:
This might be affiliate link overkill.
But at least you know that he’s an affiliate marketer.
An affiliate is usually given a link with a tracking ID. You’ll notice that, in the above examples, those links are hidden with a bit.ly link.
Technically, you should disclose the fact that you’re an affiliate.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) now requires this for anyone who promotes a product and receives some form of compensation.
Once someone clicks the link, they’re taken to the merchant’s site.
Typically, a cookie is placed on the visitor’s device for anywhere from 30-90 days. So if they do end up purchasing the product in the future, the company can see which affiliate sent that customer.
Fairly straightforward, right?
So why doesn’t everyone do it?
As with anything, there are pros and cons to being an affiliate marketer.
First, I’ll go through some of the reasons why you might want to participate.
Then I’ll also give you a few reasons to steer clear.
When affiliate marketing a great idea
There are a lot of benefits to being an affiliate.
For one, there’s relatively little cost to get started.
With Amazon’s affiliate program, for example, you just signup for an Amazon Associates account and fill out a tax form.
Once you’re approved, you get your own dashboard:
And presto chango, you’re an affiliate marketer!
You also don’t pay anything if your links are unsuccessful. You simply don’t make a commission.
So there’s little downside. It’s about as low-risk as you can get.
Let’s take a look at five reasons you should consider doing affiliate marketing.
1. When you have a strong connection to the product
Nobody likes a smarmy salesman.
It can be obvious when people are pushing products they don’t believe in.
You don’t want to become an affiliate marketer if you don’t believe in what you’re selling.
It will be instantly obvious to everyone.
The same is true on the other hand, too.
If you love the product, people will respond.
For example, CIO.com reviewer James A. Martin gives his “3 reasons you’ll love Amazon Echo”:
His affiliate link is in the first paragraph.
You know it’s an affiliate link because the URL looks like this:
An affiliate link in the very first paragraph seems suspicious, right?
Except that, when you read the article, you can tell James really likes the Echo.
He’s not just trying to trick you or make a quick buck. He loves the product and believes more people should have it. So it’s a win-win.
Affiliate marketing is an excellent opportunity if you truly believe in the value of the product you’re selling.
Because many times, you can make money off of something you would probably recommend anyway.
2. When you want to provide additional value for your audience
You can add multiple offers to your mix without creating a new product.
This could include a bonus on something you already use or recommend, or it could be a discount on the product itself.
Take this example from beauty blogger Jamie Page:
She tells her followers the exact makeup she uses. But she only provides a discount for one of them.
That’s because it’s a popular product. It’s a fan favorite.
So she became an affiliate to offer a discount for her readers. She’s hooking them up, in essence.
The best part is that she doesn’t have to set up an e-commerce account and sell the product herself.
But her audience still benefits from the affiliation just as much as she does.
3. When you’re okay with taking things slow
Affiliate marketing won’t get you rich quick.
You need a large audience that loves clicking on your content.
Or you need the patience to promote that content over a long period of time.
Because your income might come in slowly.
Check out the math on each of those sales. You’re making somewhere between $10 – 30 per purchase.
Obviously, there are affiliate products that will pay you more per sale. However, the point remains the same.
You’re going to need to sell hundreds, if not thousands, of products just to make a decent monthly income.
But if you’re okay with either (or both) of those things, affiliate marketing can be a great way to make relatively ‘easy’ side money.
There’s little financial risk on your end with affiliate marketing.
4. When you have a good reputation with your audience
Affiliate marketing works best when there’s trust between the affiliate and the visitor.
If you’re well respected in your niche as a voice of reason, you’re going to do better as an affiliate marketer.
Take a page from popular tech reviewer Marques Browlee:
He has 4.9 million YouTube followers. And each of his videos regularly receives millions of views.
The only affiliate link he has on his video is to the video equipment he uses.
Every so often, he’ll link to a product he’s reviewing. But his audience knows he’s going to give an honest review whether he’s an affiliate or not.
The lesson you can learn here is this: If they trust you first, they will trust what you’re promoting.
5. When you have a good relationship with a merchant
There are a lot of companies that really value their affiliate marketers.
For example, Amazon works with a lot of affiliate marketers, and they have a lot of products you can get affiliate links for.
You want to be able to trust the companies you’re working with, though.
Your reputation is on the line, after all.
When done right, you can make a lot of money without investing in employees or inventory.
However, when done incorrectly, things can quickly backfire.
Here’s why you shouldn’t do any affiliate marketing.
When affiliate marketing is definitely not so great
Of course, nothing is perfect.
There can be drawbacks to affiliate marketing if you’re not careful.
A big drawback is that your merchants can compete for brand-related organic searches.
One study found that 60% of affiliate marketers use pay per click as a way to promote their affiliate links.
Search is one of the top traffic sources for affiliate marketers.
You might also come across some dishonest merchants.
Some affiliate vendors will promise high commissions to attract new affiliates, only to then drop commission rates after a few weeks.
If you’re working with untested affiliate networks, it could be a risk, too.
Here are a few other situations when you may not want to use affiliate marketing.
1. When you need a reliable source of income immediately
Affiliate marketing is a great way to make extra money by promoting products you love.
But it’s not a replacement for a regular income.
For example, it’s often sporadic income, at best, in the short-term.
If you’re new to the affiliate program, or if you don’t have that large of a follower base, you’re probably not going to make much income.
At least not at first.
Like I said earlier, don’t think of affiliate marketing as a way to get rich quick.
It’s going to take years before you start seeing consistent five-figure monthly returns.
2. When you’re worried about security
“Link hijacking” does happen.
Basically, someone can steal your commission by replacing the ID of the affiliate links with their own ID.
For example, if your affiliate link was “productdomain.com/?affID,” the hijacker would simply replace your link with something like “newID.”
You would see something like “productdomain.com/?newID” instead.
This can happen if someone hacks into your website or gains access to your social channels where you feature your affiliate links.
So if you’re already antsy about a break-in, you might not want to add affiliate links.
Otherwise, beef up your security.
They’ll do additional security checks, regularly back up your site, and also optimize site performance to increase page speed and conversions.
There are also a few plugins you can use to safeguard your site.
3. You don’t want to manage an affiliate account
An affiliate marketing program can be a lot of work to maintain.
There are a lot of things involved in the process sometimes.
For example, the affiliate marketing business really relies on strong relationships with your audience.
You have to make sure you’re working with the right partners and that you’re updating your content regularly.
Let’s say you do a product review in March of 2016. Things will undoubtedly change over the next few months.
The product performance will get better or slip off. New features will be added.
That means that you’ll have to regularly go back to improve these old pages several times a year to make sure everything is still relevant.
It can be even more work if you’re running your own affiliate network.
If you don’t have the time or energy to manage your accounts, monitor your links, and so on, affiliate marketing might not be for you.
How to get the most out of your affiliate marketing
Let’s say that you’ve weighed the pros and cons and you’re in.
There are a few things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most out of your affiliation.
1. Get to know your audience.
The most successful affiliate marketers know what their audience wants.
Your best bet for generating income from affiliate links is targeting content (with those links) to people at the “purchase” stage of the buying cycle.
Successful affiliates promote the products and offers that are in demand to people who want or need them right now.
If there’s no urgency to buy what you’re recommending, sales will never take off.
You might have to go after a different market or try promoting different products altogether. So there’s always some experimentation required.
2. Do your research on affiliate products.
In an ideal world, your love for a product would lead you to create an affiliate link.
That’s probably how it should be.
If there are things you promote all the time, why not get paid for promoting them?
Sometimes, affiliate marketers start the other way around, though.
Companies or merchants might approach them and ask them to promote their products.
I’m not saying that you have to turn these offers down. But you will want to research what you’re selling before you promote it.
The last thing you want is to sell an inferior product.
Promoting cheap, unreliable products is the best way to forever ruin your audience’s trust in you.
And your ability to sell anything in the future will be jeopardized once that’s gone.
If you’re not the one approaching the merchant for a link, test the product first. Don’t promote something that you can’t stand just for the money.
3. Try different affiliate programs.
You’re not stuck with just Amazon or whatever affiliate network you do end up trying out first.
If one particular affiliate program doesn’t work for you, there are a ton of other ones to try out.
Every affiliate program offers different products, services, and payment structures.
Check your favorite vendors to see if they run their own affiliate programs.
Sometimes, you can go directly to the source, too.
You can partner with an individual brand you love instead of sifting through a ton of different products in one network.
4. Be transparent about your affiliation.
People often take different approaches to promoting their affiliate links.
As a general best practice, you should tell your audience what it is.
Some merchants also have strict rules about where you can and can’t use links and how you cite them.
For example, Amazon Affiliates won’t let you use links in emails, pop-ups, PDFs, guides, or e-books.
A lot of users will use plugins or link shorteners to hide the ugliness of the link itself.
That’s OK, depending on the situation.
Just remember that you’re not trying to deceive your audience into giving you a commission.
They should trust that you’re promoting something of value. In which case, there’s no reason to hide.
5. Above all, be patient.
Affiliate revenue will grow over time.
Focus on referrals and building your audience.
Even if you promote a product that only makes a $5 commission every month, you can improve those numbers over time with more sales.
The more you can promote the link, the more opportunities there are to make money.
But sometimes it really is a waiting game.
Don’t let that put you off, though.
Affiliate marketing is still a great way to generate income given enough time.
There are plenty of reasons why you should participate in affiliate marketing.
It’s a great way to make extra income promoting the things you love or that your audience loves.
Look for partnerships with merchants that are reputable, give you a decent commission, or hook your readers up with discounts.
You will also have some control over the process.
Don’t be shy about including affiliate links wherever you want.
Just remember to promote things that you’ve tested and that you truly believe in.
You’ll never get rich off the first or second sale. It might take hundreds of sales to make any major difference in your income.
So take the long view to create amazing content that people truly relate to. Nurturing an audience’s trust is the first step to eventually creating an affiliate empire.
Have you decided to do affiliate marketing to sell products? Why or why not?