I started my digital marketing journey with affiliate marketing 15 years ago. I used to own a high ranking website in an extremely competitive industry: online gambling (I've since sold it for multiple 6 figures). Navigating through the competition and SEO headaches made me truly understand how to make affiliate marketing work.
My first website endeavor provided a lot of affiliate offers.
After pouring everything into what I had learned about affiliate marketing, the site was successfully sold 7 years later.
Through the entire process, I gained a lot of expertise in affiliate funnels, what can make affiliate marketing work, and learned how to effectively monetize a website – without having to create any product to offer any service.
So, you may be asking yourself…
Can affiliate marketing make money?
My answer would be yes.[If you're just starting out, you might want to sign up to the Free 100-Day Affiliate Bootcamp.]
When you have your own product or service you hold a lot more control of the funnel from beginning to end. But I’ve worked with many marketers to help them better control the best affiliate marketing funnel with banner ads, blog posts and social media. Once people move from those elements to the sales page – I help them control their message and email marketing campaigns and everything behind the scenes.
You don’t want to put in all the effort but then have a funnel that just does not convert. So I’d like to help you out with 7 examples of affiliate marketing for optimizing your funnels for higher conversions. It’s likely that you are using some of these techniques – but hopefully you will find some valuable information below that you have not heard of before and can help you really move the needle.
It’s not only an affiliate marketing guide for beginners but also gives some techniques for the advanced affiliate marketer.
Here is my list of affiliate marketing ideas that work.
STEP 1: Niche Research – Knowledge is King and THE Key to Your Success
I know… Research… It’s boring.
But if you can turn that sentiment into your own empowerment – you’re going to see results.
I mean you can’t just offer a bunch of products or services without some good solid knowledge on the subject.You need to know… who is my target market? What are the ins and outs of this industry?
It’s all about prep work. And that's really how you make affiliate marketing work these days.
And if you think that this is something you can skip entirely…think about the wisdom Abraham Lincoln shared:
“If you give me 6 hours to chop down a tree, I’m going to spend the first four sharpening my ax.”
Do you want to be the marketer that struggles the entire 6 hours with a dull ax that won’t do the job effectively?
Or do you want to be the one that knows exactly what your market wants, their pain points, their needs, and can tell them how your product or service will eviscerate all their problems?
Your research should be split into 2 elements: choosing the right affiliate marketing offers and understanding the customer mindset.
How to Make it Work: Choosing the Best Affiliate Marketing Offers
The last thing you want to do is put a ton of work into an offer that nobody wants.
Large ventures such as ClickBank, Commission Junction and JVZoo will provide stats that show how popular an affiliate marketing program has become, how many marketers are choosing it and if it’s converting or not.
However, keep in mind, these stats won’t tell the whole story. They won’t tell you where the traffic is coming from, how the affiliate is marketing the offer (deadly important), if they are coming in through social media ads, email blasts or if they are being fondled through blog posts.
But if stats are showing a higher success rate on some affiliate programs over others – that could give some good indication of the quality of these offers.
It’s also important to know who is selling the product or service. If you don’t know who is behind the product that would be a huge red flag.
A trustworthy entrepreneur won't mind being the face of his product. When someone hides behind his or her website, you have to ask yourself why…
In-House Affiliate Programs
Another route to affiliate marketing is to work directly with the companies that have their own in-house affiliate marketing programs. Many will display their affiliate program right on their website and then you typically know who’s behind the product or service.
The downside is that these types of programs sometimes don’t have a lot of stats to give you an idea of the success rates. However, you might be able to ask to review the copy so you have an idea of how strong the marketing message is. How strong their eBook or course is. Etc.
You can also study their funnel. Are there upsells? What is the price point? Do they offer a continuity program? And, how much money do you get with each sign up or sale?
It’s also important to research their payout structure. Not all payouts are the same and tier affiliate marketing often offer different payouts. Some might pay you on the first offer but pay you nothing on any upsells. Ideally, you should be paid for every transaction. In doing your research, you’ll find out which affiliate payout structures are the most profitable.
It’s also possible to ask them to see some data on their conversions in the form of a screenshot.
Some other red flags are when the sales page provides alternate payment routes. Some might have a button that directs buyers to ClickBank but also a PayPal button that directs them to PayPal. If the buyer chooses PayPal… Well guess what? All those purchases cannot be tracked and you will not receive your portion of the sale.
That said, check the funnel and look for those things. And if you’re working with a company’s in-house affiliate program, Google them to see if there are any complaints from affiliates saying they didn’t get paid or possibly other problems.
Getting into the customer’s head
We talked about choosing the right offer – but now you need to be able to align the right customers with that offer by understanding their mindset – this includes their frustrations, objections and likes. And ultimately, which audience should you promote the offer to.
The offer and the customer must align in order for sales to occur.
Also check out competitors. If there are competitors it tells you that the need exists and there are players who are currently filling those needs.
You might even want to call competitor phone numbers to listen to the sales scripts they repeat to you to gain understanding. A lot of these companies will do great at converting on the phone but don’t do the same on their website. You can go the extra step by making sure that your website sells as well as the phone script.
Once you call them, try to find out where their prospects hang out in regards to blogs and forums. What do they write about? What questions come up for them?
You might be able to use that info as an angle to get in.
Do you see why research is so important here and why it’s my #1 step?
STEP 2: Choosing Where to Start Pushing Your Affiliate Product
Now that you’ve chosen an offer and done the research, it’s time to decide where you will promote it.
If you don’t have cash available for paid traffic, a good place to start is with a blog.
If you choose this route you’ll want to use some SEO and social media to bring in organic traffic. And make sure your blog post offers fit with the entire theme of the site. If there seems to be a mismatch, visitors might be less likely to buy.
For example, if you already have a blog on gardening, it will look bizarre if suddenly you are pushing an eBook on being more productive at work, even if it’s a good product.
If you’re going to promote your offer through an ad network, choose the ones that best suit your offer.
Or perhaps, choose the best one where your target market is more likely to respond to your ad.
Where do they hang out? Older folks aren't on Snapchat. Think about this first.
Even if you choose Google, ask yourself if it would be better to display the offer on the content network or in search engine results. Because there are two different mindsets going on here.
And there’s a different mindset with Facebook or with using your own email list. Understanding those differences will save you money and make sure your campaign is better optimized from the start.
Finally, check the landing page of the merchant where you are sending the traffic to – to see if it complies with Google or Facebook. Some don’t allow pop-ups for example and can get you banned if you send traffic to a page with one. (You’ll see in a moment why you shouldn’t send your traffic directly to the merchant)
STEP 3: Creatives – Don’t Use Banners Provided by Merchants
Why? Because they are usually terrible.
Sometimes the copy is awful or the call to action is.
You can probably create something much more effective.
You did the research, right?
To make affiliate marketing work, you know what pain points the offer is trying to solve?
The only caveat is that you need to know a little bit of html code to be able to link to the offer yourself. (it’s easy)
Some merchants that do a good job of creating banners. But make sure you really look to see if you can create something better.
STEP 4: The Money is in the Pre-Sell Landing Page
Ok, so you’ve chosen a good offer, researched the market, decided where to promote the offer and you’ve evaluated the creatives and decided if you could create stronger banners and other marketing collateral.
Now comes the fun part.
It’s also the most important part.
The pre-sell page.
If you want to make affiliate marketing work, this is the step you need to focus on the most – after the research.
You don’t want to run an ad and then send the prospect to the merchant. Send them to your pre-sell page first. Here’s where you have the most control of converting the visitor.
On this page, you want to convey the benefit. And you want to do it in a way as if it were your own business.
Provide a strong attention grabbing headline and great copy. Don’t just throw in a review and think you’re done. But you definitely want some strong endorsements here as well.
When you create your copy, don’t be afraid to go really long. Be thorough. Sell. Add your own inputs as well. Your thoughts on the product and how it helped you.
If you’ve positioned yourself as an authority, your opinion will matter. That said, make sure you aren’t pushing crap. Because it will tarnish your rep.
Add all the trust builders that you can to the pre-sell page – endorsements, testimonials, media mentions and case studies.
And test the call to action that you use on this page. Test headlines, copy, layouts. It’s all in your control at this point.
So here is where you really push the sale and make affiliate marketing work. But you also want the transition from your page to the merchant’s page to be seamless. So that the flow is effortless.
You can make this transition better by using the merchant’s website colors, font and template so that it doesn’t feel so much like you’re going from one site to a totally different site. This makes for a much smoother customer journey and can truly make affiliate marketing work.
Of course, this might not be possible if you are using your own website or blog, but if you are using dedicated landing pages outside of your website, like with tools such as ClickFunnels or LeadPages, you can build them to look like the merchant’s site.
STEP 5: How to Make Affiliate Marketing Work: Unique Landing Pages
The best merchants allow you to have a dedicated landing page displayed on their actual website.
This means that the merchant will create a page unique to you, on their website. Where anyone landing on it will get tracked to your affiliate account and you’ll get credited for the referral.
This way your visitors are on the merchant’s site, meaning you can leverage their Brand authority and build a lot of trust in the process. This also helps to make the transition smooth.
You can also potentially display your logo and possibly pieces of copy here and there. This helps to maintain trust as they go from your ads and pre-sell page to the dedicated landing page.
As an example, here’s a landing page from PokerStars, where you can see the affiliate’s logo displayed within the page. This allows for continuity in the funnel and makes the journey seamless for your visitors.
These kinds of pages are rare unfortunately, but when you find one offer with it, it means the merchant understands marketing a whole lot, and probably indicates his messaging will convert visitors better.
STEP 6: Capturing Email Addresses in Your Funnel
There are several areas where you can test how well you capture an email address.
Test capturing it before the pre-sell page. Test capturing it between the pre-sell page and the merchant page.
Keep in mind, they might not buy your promoted offer today. But obtaining their email address may help gain a sale further down the road.
It’s not always on the first attempt that a sale is made. Often it’s after prospects become more familiar with you.
So have patience and you'll make affiliate marketing work for you.
And if they don’t purchase the offer after you’ve emailed them – consider selling them on other offers.
Also, asking for the email address might cause friction and blow the sale. So test it all.
STEP 7: Marketing Gold: Tracking
In an ideal affiliate funnel, you’ll want to be able to track each ad separately – so you can gauge the effectiveness of the ad.
And if you’re going after several different audiences, you’ll want to be able to track which converts better.
This is basic stuff.
But this is how to make affiliate marketing work.
You need to track.
If you want to take it further, tools such as ClickMagick, Proper 202 and iMobiTrax will help track from the ad to the pre-sell page and then to the merchant page. And all the way to the conversion point if the merchant provides that functionality.
This can be done with a pixel, which is a snippet of code that you can put on your thank you page and is provided by the merchant. Once a conversion is complete the code is triggered and can bring you back to a tool such as Prosper 202 to show which part of your funnel converts best.
This comes in really handy when you’re running a bunch of ads. You’ll want to know which ones are most effective. So you can use them with other ads. Because out of say 20 ads – maybe 5 were making you money. But then say 15 were losing money. You’ll want to know.
Without tracking, you’re leaving money on the table. And hemorrhaging it on ads that are failing.
You can do affiliate marketing the easy way and just hope it works.
Or, you can really put in the work and increase your chances at higher conversions.
There are some simple tools out there and there are also some very complex tools available.
For example, there are tools that allow for ads to only be displayed on a iPhone6. That’s precision. That’s a laser-focused audience, and that’s when you can kill it and make affiliate marketing work these days.
[If you're just starting out, you might want to sign up to the free 100 days Affiliate Bootcamp.]
So that’s how you nail down affiliate marketing in a nutshell.
Do the research. Spend about half your energy and time on this.
Understand your potential customer and audience base. The best offer means nothing if your audience doesn’t want it.
Decide where to promote the offer.
Check out the merchants’ creatives and decide if you can do better.
Put a lot of effort into the pre-sell page. This is where the money is. Also make the transition seamless.
Look for merchants who allow dedicated pages on their sites.
Test the whole process of capturing emails.
Without data, you’re just playing guessing games.
And “guessing” is certainly not the best way to make affiliate marketing work!