9 tips for affiliate earning success & an invitation!

One way I earn (a little bit of) money as a blogger is through affiliate sales, an aspect that's increased a lot in the past couple years as I've refined my affiliate techniques.

Affiliate marketing for bloggers is using text links, image ads, and posts that direct your readers to certain stores with whom you have an affiliate relationship. When a reader clicks your link and then buys something at the affiliate store, you as a blogger get a certain percentage back. Amazon Associates (see our bloggers' links here and link up if you haven't already!) is the most well-known program available to bloggers (and a profitable one), but there are many more besides. If you're not familiar with affiliate programs at all, check out this article at Acceleration Partners.

Today I'm going to offer you some of my go-to tips for affiliate marketing as well as recommend my top-earning affiliate programs to you to join.

Best tips for affiliate marketing success

  • 1. An ad in the sidebar isn't going to cut it:
    As soon as I started blogging in 2007, I put affiliate image ads in my sidebar. I'm able to track those through the various programs, and I'll give you the hard facts here: TWO of those ads have ever been clicked on and then followed by a sale. Plenty more have been clicked on; don't get me wrong. But very, very, very, very few of those clicks resulted in any money to me.

    Takeaway: If you're trying to define ad space on your blog, feel free to put up some affiliate image ads. That way, potential advertisers can see where ads go, and your blog looks professional (as long as you're not overwhelming readers with ads all over the place). However, once you get paying ads from real live sponsors, do not allow those affiliate ads to take up prime ad real estate. Take 'em down. They're not earning you anything, trust me.

  • 2. What does work is contextual text links:
    Instead of hoping a hit-or-miss visitor will wander to your sidebar and feel the urge to shop, hit them where they already are: in your blog posts! For one thing, most everybody nowadays is reading blogs on phones or in RSS readers. Some of your faithful visitors will never even see your sidebar!

    I make an effort to have at least one affiliate link in every post I publish. Does that sound like overkill? It's really not, and it's easy enough to do, even if all you do is stick with Amazon Associates, since they have nearly everything under the sun.

    If you're blogging about your home renovation and saying you needed to run out and buy a hammer — link to a hammer! (Bonus points if it's the one you actually bought and recommend. Then you can say so, and readers appreciate authentic recommendations.) If you're discussing your baby's cloth diaper stash, link to a cloth diaper store or, even better, a specific brand you love.

    "I'm editing my novel now, and I've been very pleased with All-Star Writers Writing Software {made-up company with affiliate link}. The software has been easy to configure, although I've had a few issues getting my novel to import." {Give your honest opinion — both pros and cons — of any product you recommend to keep it authentic.}

    "Today we're baking Slime-Drenched Goocakes. You'll need to gather your organic slime {link to your favorite brand} and preferably a raw, unsweetened goo {same deal here}."

    The good news is, it doesn't matter what you link to if your reader is interested in buying from that store. Any purchase during the click window will net you affiliate earnings. (By "click window," often called "tracking gap," I mean that each store sets its own timeframe between click and time-of-purchase that an affiliate sale will be credited. For many of the smaller affiliates, the window is 30 days or more. Amazon's is a measly 24 hours, but you take what you can get!) So if you link to a book on Amazon, but your reader wants to buy undies within that 24-hour period, you'll still get the referral credit.

    Takeaway: No matter what your post or blog topic, you can find something to link to within every post. Try not to make it unrelated shilling; instead, let it be woven into the topic at hand. Be persistent, and make a goal to link at least once per post, potentially lots more if posts are product-heavy.

  • 3. Another definite do is to write specific blog posts:
    This is a suggestion for those of you who seriously want to make some money, not just supplement your blogging in a more organic way. I started a review blog because I wanted to do giveaways and was at the time prohibited from having them on my main blog due to advertising terms with BlogHer. (They've since lifted those restrictions.) Since I had the site going, I went ahead and put up blog posts about my affiliate deals and coupons as they came along and I had the time and energy. (Everything takes time, after all, so I don't do this very consistently.)

    I've found that posts that are just about shopping, coupons, and deals eventually show up in search engine results, and then people click on my links. It might be a post from a year ago (and the coupons might now be defunct), but someone will find the post, probably by searching for coupons for the store or for product reviews.

    If you don't want to make an extra blog, you can certainly do similar posts within your current blog(s). For instance, in this here post (gasp!), I'm talking about affiliate programs, hoping to attract people who are interested in affiliate programs so that they'll click on my referral links to join those affiliate programs. (I'm so transparent!) At Hobo Mama, I like doing roundup posts of books my kids like or baby gear favorites — I write the posts because I'm genuinely interested in the topics and truly want to pass on the information. And then I include the affiliate links for the products, and those sorts of posts can get high visibility in search results. Two of my enduring popular posts at Hobo Mama are a stupid throwaway post I wrote about a maternity coat that amused me, and a post giving ideas for finding maternity clothes. Clearly those were stellar keywords, because people keep finding them!

    Takeaway: Consider writing posts about specific products or stores that would be of interest to your readers, or taking it one step further and starting a blog just for that purpose. Anytime you write a product-heavy post, seek out affiliate links or programs that would be relevant.

  • 4. Not all affiliate programs are created equal:
    I belong to four big multi-affiliate programs:

    These large affiliate programs encompass thousands of individual stores that you can then apply to to become an affiliate for them.

    In addition, some products and stores have their own affiliate programs, either that they manage individually or through smaller affiliate programs like E-Junkie. (If you're trying to sell your own ebook or other product online, I'd recommend looking at them as an affordable affiliate option.)

    Some individual affiliates I promote:

    I'm sure everyone's experience will be different, but here are my opinions on the above programs:

    >> Amazon Associates is a must-have. They have so many products, including third-party sellers, and people are shopping there every day anyway. Amazon has international programs for Canada, UK, Germany, France, and Japan. Linking is straightforward with the Site Stripe, and readers are familiar with and tolerant of Amazon affiliate links. Payout is a reasonable $10 for gift card or direct deposit. Downsides of Amazon: They offer some of the lowest commissions of any affiliate program, and their click-through window is very short (i.e., visitors have to check out their cart within 24 hours of clicking one of your links for you to get credit). But what Amazon lacks in generosity it makes up for in quantity. Most of my affiliate sales are through Amazon, and those few cents per sale add up over time. Remember, Teresa of Spirit Grooves and I have a linky for Amazon (and other) affiliates — add your link, and support bloggers by clicking one of the links every time you're going to check out at Amazon.

    >> ShareASale is one of my favorites. I find the interface usable. You can make custom links to specific products or pages easily. (There's much greater return linking to a specific product or category rather than to a homepage — even if the clicker doesn't buy that product after all!) The reports are readable. For whatever reason, a lot of the affiliate managers there (each store will have its own manager of the affiliates; it might be the owner for small companies, or a larger one might hire it out) are very engaging and helpful. I don't know if ShareASale recruits the best companies or managers or if it's just luck, but that's what I've found for my niche (parenting products). I'll often get emails from ShareASale-related companies that give me my affiliate links right in the body of the email — so, say they're writing to tell their affiliates there's a sale on. They might email us and say:
    "We've got a 25% off sale. Here's your specific link to the sale page with your affiliate code embedded. Here's a banner with your code embedded. And here's a sample blog post to promote it."
    It makes my life so much easier not to have to go to the affiliate site and try to search out all that information myself, and I suspect ShareASale's interface must be very usable for the companies on that side as well for them to be able to do that for their affiliates. I wish all affiliate programs were so easy to work with! Plus, a lot of popular brands work with ShareASale. For instance, I've gotten good sales and had good experiences with ModCloth indie fashion, BabyLegs leg warmers, Earth Mama Angel Baby natural care products, Waxing Poetic heirloom jewelry, Tea Collection children's clothing, Tiny Prints stationery (including Treat greeting cards and Shutterfly), momAgenda planners, and Amy Adele custom stationery, all ShareASale brands. There are tons more to choose from, too, so search their merchant lists for your keywords to get started. ShareASale does have a payout threshold of $50, which could take awhile for small bloggers to reach — however, earnings don't expire, so you can take your time getting up to the threshold, and payment is easy through direct deposit. Each store sets its own policies for what affiliates they accept, their click-through windows, and their commission percentages, but they're decent overall, and you can always pick and choose the ones that suit you.

    >> Commission Junction is meh. For one thing, their payout is $50 even with direct deposit, and to add to the pain, they deactivate your account periodically if you don't get at least one commission every six months. You can reactivate, but you lose any commissions that were earned to that point. So, basically, I have never gotten paid by Commission Junction! ShareASale has the same payout threshold, and I've done just fine with them, but CJ keeps kicking my butt. I think it must be related to lower variety at CJ, less interactive affiliate managers, and a clumsier interface. To add insult to injury, I get nagging emails from CJ and related merchants whining about how I'm not selling anything for them — but they're not making it easy! I also get rejected more often by CJ merchants, probably because bigger names tend to go to CJ and they can afford to be picky about what bloggers they work with. I've earned commissions (but not been paid, you understand) for Smilebox e-greetings and Robeez baby shoes. If you know your blog is hopping and CJ has an affiliate business you've just got to have, go ahead and try it out. If you're small to medium in size, you might just give this one a miss and save the hassle and heartache.

    >> LinkShare is in the middle. I find the interface unintuitive but usable. There are a few stores there I really like, and then not much else. A big plus is the minimum payment threshold of (wait for it) $1! However, I can find only a handful of stores there to work with, and many of the ones I used to work with have left the program, so I no longer receive any commissions on those links. I don't know if LinkShare is not good at holding onto businesses or what. In general, I also find the emails I get from the managers less helpful than the ShareASale ones, though there used to be one amazing affiliate manager for a couple of the programs there who's left. So it's not necessarily LinkShare — it likely depends on what specific stores you affiliate with, because I know it's possible for managers there to send out specific links and banner codes in an email. My biggest earnings there, since my other venues have left, are from Destination Maternity (a store that, even though I do shop there when pregnant, I have many ethical qualms with and have since stopped promoting — I'm not sure if I should even take down that link) and MyPublisher, the store we buy our own photo books through.

    >> I really hate Google Affiliate Network. There, I said it. The interface is so obnoxious. You'd think a site like Google could simplify matters, wouldn't you? And you'd think intersecting it easily with Blogger would be a no-brainer, right? No chance. Blogger does have this new in-editor gadget that replaced the former Amazon Associates gadget (sigh — that thing was golden), but I can't ever find anything useful when I search for products from it. The emails are constant but useless, requiring you to go to the (terrible) site if you want to post. The upside is that huge (as well as moderate) companies use GAN: Target, Kohl's, Melissa & Doug, Diapers.com, and so on. But I've yet to get an affiliate sale through them, and as I understand it, payments are directed into your Google AdSense account, where the payout threshold is a steep $100. Quite honestly, I've been blogging for 5 and a half years and just got my first AdSense payout — woo! So, like, don't hold your breath.

    >> eBay Partner Network is worth using. It's unique in that it allows you to link to used items and collections of items. The interface takes some getting used to, but it's quite functional, allowing you to target your links to individual listings (not a great idea, since they'll expire), individual sellers (for instance, yourself on eBay!), or, as I like to use it, search terms (e.g., "maternity clothes lot" in the Clothing, Shoes, & Accessories category). I like using links to eBay whenever I suggest looking for a product secondhand, especially as a way for readers to save money. eBay Partner Network also pays you not by purchases made through your links but from some sort of per-click calculation. I don't understand it; all I know is that I get regular micro amounts filtering into my bank account from them. According to the FAQ, the payout is supposed to be $25, but all of my payments have been under that amount (confusing, but I'll take it). Honestly, I don't use eBay links very often, but every little bit of income helps.

    >> As for the little guys? I do recommend joining them. Often the payout thresholds are low or nonexistent (meaning, if you get a commission, they'll pay you the next time they pay out affiliates, whether that's quarterly or monthly or whatever; this is not always the case, so read the affiliate agreement before joining). You can find niche stores that suit your target audience (you'll notice I went with cloth diaper and maternity boutiques as well as relevant ebooks). Downsides to the little guys: They pretty much never have a professional affiliate manager, so you're usually on your own. I subscribe to the regular store emails that are available, or to the bloggers' feeds, and just keep track of sales and deals that way. Another drawback is it's rarely possible to link to specific products, making it hard to use links contextually. For instance, if I'm writing a post about wool diaper covers, I can't link to a specific cover at Kelly's Closet {<--homepage only} but can at Amazon {<--one of my favorite covers, by the way!}. A reader is much more likely to click on a link to a product than just to a store's homepage where she'd have to comb through the site to see what's available. I've even written these smaller stores about including that functionality and been turned down! I think smaller businesses don't understand the click-through value of targeted links. Unless I'm talking about cloth diapering stores, to continue my example, I will just link to a product on Amazon, then, rather than to a homepage of a boutique. I'll sometimes see bloggers put a general note on any posts, "I buy my cloth diapering supplies at Kissed By the Moon and hope you will buy yours through my affiliate link!" But I suspect they don't get much juice from those lines, especially from casual (not site-loyal) visitors. So, I find I do best with small companies when I do specific blog posts or sections within a post just about that store or product, instead of trying to do in-context links within a post on an unrelated topic. For instance, I'll post on my review site about coupons at Kelly's Closet (and earn all right with that), whereas if I'm writing a blog post on Hobo Mama proper about cloth diapering options, I'll mostly link to Amazon to target the links. I also got burned by ERGO when they closed their affiliate program when I was one sale away from the payout threshold, so that sort of thing can happen with small-time programs, which wouldn't be an issue with the conglomerate programs. As with Commission Junction's disappointments, sometimes you just have to swallow the frustration and think, "Easy come, easy go."

    Takeaway: I highly recommend Amazon Associates and ShareASale, and I suggest eBay Partner Network if you're ever going to recommend used items (on eBay or Half.com). It's worth poking around LinkShare to see what stores they have that are relevant to your blog, and anytime you want to recommend a smaller store or product that you love, it's worth checking to see if there's an in-house affiliate program you can join. A tip is to look at blogs in your niche and see what affiliate banners and links they have up, because then you'll know what's available that's relevant to your readers. I don't recommend Commission Junction and Google Affiliate Network because of my blah experiences with them so far, but they might work out better for you.

  • 5. Choose your affiliations to match your blog:
    As primarily a natural parenting blogger (on HoboMama.com), obviously I've connected with stores that are parenting- and eco-centric. You can tailor your affiliate memberships to whatever stores make sense for your niche.

    If you blog about pets, find pet boutiques. If you write about car engine repair, find auto parts stores online. Wedding planner? Link to stores selling invitations or travel agencies promoting honeymoon destinations.

    If you blog about something less clearly marketable, consider your target audience and what their shopping interests might be. Use a site like Google Analytics to gather data on their average ages, marriage status, global location, and level of education, and then make your best guess as to what sorts of stores might interest them. For instance, if you blog about writing, a lot of your readers are probably interested in books and writing classes. If you share your fashion successes, you couldn't go wrong linking to your favorite shoe and clothing stores.

    Don't join just any affiliate program under the sun. It's tempting, particularly at ShareASale, where the amount of choices is astronomical. All those affiliate emails will just clutter up your inbox and leave you fretting about which stores you're not promoting. It's better for your mental clarity to pick businesses you truly resonate with and can recommend freely; your readers will come to understand your loyalty for those businesses and will associate you with them.

    Takeaway: Be choosy about what affiliate programs you join, and target them to your blog's niche.

  • 6. Don't be shy about linking:
    If you're just starting out with affiliate linking, you'll likely feel sheepish, and like you have to apologize to your readers that you're trying to make money. Do whatever feels valid to you, but remember some key truths: It's ok to make money. Even if you're a writer. Even if you're a woman (not saying you are, but even if!). Even if you're just a small-time blogger. I feel like all those groups of people have been told that it's ok to write as a hobby but that somehow monetizing is dirty. It ain't. It's perfectly reasonable to want some return on the investment of your writing.

    So link early, and link often. You might even go back through old posts and add in links to products you've spoken about in the past. Just speak with your same authentic voice when you talk about products, keep your blog balanced, and keep the regular content coming, and your readers will keep on reading.

    Takeaway: Affiliate linking is a clean and likable practice. Be confident about your decision to use affiliate links, and promote the products and brands you love.

  • 7. Be open about affiliations:
    Now, at the same time, you don't want your readers thinking you're trying to sneak affiliate links past them — and the FCC agrees. So have a blog-wide disclosure that's prominently linked to in your sidebar. Then, on posts that rely on affiliate links, link again to your disclosure at the end.

    This isn't legal advice, because I don't know all the ins and outs of the FCC rules, but that's what I do to keep things aboveboard with my readers.

    Takeaway: Have a blog page disclosing your affiliations, and let readers know that you're using affiliate links on your site or in specific blog posts.

  • 8. Set up direct deposit:
    I don't know if you're shy about storing financial information online, but if it's possible, go with the ACH deposits. The payout thresholds are almost always lower, and the convenience can't be beat.

    I know for some non-U.S. bloggers and for some small affiliate programs, direct deposit isn't an option. But it's lovely when offered.

    Takeaway: Go directly to the bank!

  • 9. Yes, it's a numbers game:
    When you first start out blogging and don't have very many visits, what money you make is going to be limited. As your blog grows and the search engines start pulling your affiliate-linked articles up to the top of the results, your affiliate earnings will grow, too. I can't tell you how long that will take, but be patient and keep linking away! The more links you have within your quality content, the more likely your affiliate earnings are to take off eventually. The best part is that your affiliate earnings on old posts make for passive income. Those links are always sitting in cyberspace, just waiting for someone to find them and be inspired to make a purchase. Some of my biggest affiliate orders have been through old posts that talked about sales that are long over — it doesn't matter as long as the link is still clickable!

    Takeaway: Keep linking, and don't get discouraged by early low returns. Your investment will pay off in the long run.

An invitation to join me at Tea Collection

Above is a lovely affiliate banner from Tea Collection!

I have to credit Tea Collection with this blog post idea. Did I mention ShareASale managers tend to be awesome? The Tea Collection managers emailed their affiliates that they've instituted a new referral program for Tea affiliates and suggested we get the word out. That made me want to write this whole post!

I love Tea Collection — and my boys wear the charming clothes — for their quality and their appealing, modern style for boys, girls, babies, and women. When I write a post about them, I earn 8% of all sales that are generated from their affiliate links on my sites.

If you're a blogger whose audience consists of parents or women, you should definitely consider joining their affiliate program. They now pay affiliates $10 for inviting their friends to join the affiliate program, so once you're a Tea Collection affiliate, you may invite your friends to join just like I'm doing now and you'll earn $10 for every friend who joins. Click here to join the program.

Tea Collection has been a consistent high earner for my affiliate efforts. They send out regular, helpful email newsletters with tips, links, and blog post suggestions, making it easy and effective to get your affiliate links out there. They have banners that auto-update with the latest sales or highlighted products, which means you don't have to constantly be pulling and reinstalling your image codes. They have a fully searchable database of all their products so you can link to any one of them. Plus, they offer bonuses for promoting their sales and deals. They're truly one of my favorite affiliates to work with, so I highly recommend partnering with Tea Collection!

For my other recommendations, see my notes in the section about different affiliate programs.

A reminder: For the love of affiliate income, please enter your affiliate links in our linkies! We encourage all our bloggers to share their affiliate links with us (both Amazon and other affiliate links), and all readers to consider using those affiliate links when shopping to show a blogger some love.

What are your affiliate earning tips and tricks? What sort of success have you had with affiliate income?

Image credits: Svilen Milev (coins) & Jakub Krechowicz (laptop)

Disclosure: You'd better believe as many links as possible are affiliate links!
These are companies I've vetted both as a blogger and as a shopper.
Note that Tea Collection did not sponsor this post; they just inspired it.
See my full disclosure policy here.


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