Developing an Affiliate Marketing Strategy for Growing Your Sales: A Primer
The main goal of online businesses is to turn as many of their audience into paying customers.
But to get there, you must determine what you plan on selling to them to make money.
If you don’t have a product for sale yet, you can sell products of others and make money off them.
However, to do this, you need to have a good idea of what affiliate marketing is.
Thankfully, this post covers everything you need to know about affiliate marketing and how businesses can profit from it.
In the end, you should know what kind of affiliate model you need for your business and the tactics you must implement to generate more sales.
A Breakdown of the Affiliate Marketing Model
Affiliate marketing refers to the symbiotic relationship between a company and several affiliates.
In an affiliate business model, there are four main parties:
Merchants - Also known as the advertisers, vendors, creators, or retailers, they create the products or services and pay the affiliates the commissions for each purchase made through them.
Affiliates - Also known as the publishers, they receive a commission from merchants for every successful transaction they make from the product or service they’re promoting.
Networks - These are intermediary platforms between merchants and affiliates (Amazon Associates, ClickBank, and others) where affiliates can choose products to promote from their database.
Consumers - These are people that affiliates want to target and convert into buyers of the products to get their commission.
For merchants to know who was responsible for referring a consumer to their business, each affiliate is provided a unique link to the product page that they must promote to consumers.
Whenever a customer buys the product using the link, the network will tag the correct affiliate as the referee. This way, he or she can get the commission fee from the site.
The commission fee can range between 5-30% on average. Because a single affiliate sale won’t amount to much, their goal is to get as many customers as possible to use their links.
To do this, they need a platform where they can effectively promote these links.
That’s why most of the successful affiliates have a sales funnel in place. Below are the most common stages involved in an affiliate sales funnel:
Preparation - Build a website, blog, or social media page.
Segmentation - Join affiliate programs of products geared towards the target audience and start building your customer base.
Awareness - Create content about the products and services to educate more people about them.
Lead nurturing - Encourage people to sign up to your email list or become your social media followers so you can push your products.
Types of affiliate marketing models
Using the sales funnel above, there are different approaches affiliates can use to get the most conversions for the product or service they’re selling.
Below are some of the most popular ones:
This model is arguably the easiest one for affiliates to get started with and tends to be used by most publishers.
A great example of a niche-focused affiliate model is Own the Yard, which is a public case study website run by Spencer Haws over at Niche Pursuits.
The site is geared towards the backyard niche. Therefore, it covers anything related to the backyard: games, design, gardening, and others.
As the name suggests, Own The Yard doesn’t go beyond backyard-related topics, which makes the site focused only within its niche.
This reason is what makes niche-focused affiliate sites advantageous. Site owners can center all their energy on creating topically relevant content about a specific subject.
At the same time, its limited reach is also its flaw. There’s only so much you can talk about a niche that it prevents you from growing your site once you’ve exhausted all possible content ideas.
Influencers talk about their user experience with the affiliate products and earn money if their followers make purchases through their affiliate links.
Mostly are bloggers, YouTubers, social media influencers, and even celebrities.
For bloggers, Adam Enfroy comes to mind.
Instead of focusing on a particular niche, Adam made himself the center of attention on his website.
And from the high-quality content and reviews he churns out from the site, he’s able to get the trust of readers online about the latest and best SaaS tools to help grow their business.
Income School is another influencer that is one of the most trusted Youtube authorities on making money online.
Their video content discusses different ways on how to turn in a profit at the comforts of your home.
Most of their videos are informational and jam-packed with value. However, they will have relevant affiliate links on the video description to help monetize their efforts if people click on the link and make a purchase there.
The influencer model is advantageous if you’re comfortable in putting yourself out there in public and establishing yourself as an authority in your desired topics.
More importantly, achieving authority status allows you to perform tasks at an unconscious competence state.
Since exerting your authority over time would naturally come to you as a result, you can perform things at a level unmatched by your peers.
For example, by writing the best blog posts and emails to your audience and subscribers regularly, you can slowly but surely get in the good graces of your audience.
You’re no longer in the trenches with the rest of the affiliates. Since you’ve built yourself up as an expert in your field, people will look at you as such.
From there, you can sell products much easier before you speak from a position of authority.
However, aside from affiliate products, you can also launch other services relevant to your business that you can monetize thanks to your newfound fame.
For example, an SEO mastermind group is a dime a dozen on Facebook and other community sites. Everybody can send in their request to join for free and will be approved by one of the mods in a few minutes.
However, you can’t say the same for Traffic Think Tank, a paid mastermind group spearheaded by Matthew Howells-Barby, Ian Howells, and Nick Eubanks, all of whom are authorities in the SEO industry.
For a minimum of $99/month, you gain access to resources, webinars, and a network of experienced professionals to help grow your SEO business.
This goes to show the value that authority brings to the table. It encompasses affiliate marketing and other types to help increase your bottom line.
If you’re looking for personalized insurance offers to cut down on your expenses, you may have stumbled upon MoneySuperMarket.
The site helps its visitors find the best insurance deals that suit their needs.
As an affiliate site, it recommends products to visitors and earns a commission for every successful referral.
However, compared to other sites mentioned, this affiliate model curates the best deals for visitors.
This way, they can provide value to people by having the most relevant and useful deals on the site. And as a result, you can convert more visitors down the line.
Mega-mall affiliate sites are ideal if you have connections with different affiliate programs related to your site.
Also, you need to invest in building an authoritative site to help you build credibility fast and to generate more conversions this way. That said, you will need help from backers and angel investors to fund your site, which is a different topic altogether.
Therefore, if you don’t have any of the above, it’s best to stick with the two previous models since they are much easier to build and achieve while working on a limited budget.
Most of the problems arising from the models are the competition you have to overcome.
Since you’re just starting with your affiliate site, it’ll take you years to be within reach of your competitors, let alone surpass them.
This also means you have to work hard and smart in building your site as any mistakes you make will set back your progress.
Therefore, instead of chasing the tail of big affiliate sites in your niche, narrow down your affiliate project by location.
By creating an affiliate site using a non-English language, you immediately corner a market that consists of people who speak that language.
This way, you can get those people to convert better since they understand your content better compared to content written in English.
The risk with the location-focused model is you limit your affiliate opportunities based on your location. For example, a product you want to promote may not be shipping in your area or locations, so you can use its links to promote it on your site.
What are Best Sales Tactics for Affiliate Marketers
In the past, making money through affiliate marketing was much easier due to less competition.
However, marketers need to level up their game to reach the heights that the most successful affiliate sites in their niche are at.
The tactics listed below require you to develop a plan for each so you can maximize the impact of your affiliate efforts.
Since you’re just starting, it might take a few months and years before you can see results. However, once that happens, there’s no way for your site to go but up.
Below is a list of tactics you need to implement for your site.
As an affiliate marketer, you need to spread your wings as wide as you can. What I mean here is you should promote as many related products on your affiliate sites.
And to showcase them on your site the right way, publish content optimized for your target keywords on your website containing links to your affiliate products.
There are two ways you can do this: roundup posts and product reviews.
NerdWallet does both types of posts on its site.
It does so successfully that it is one of the most popular review affiliate sites for financial products. They cover everything from credit cards to insurance.
One can easily attribute its success to the content it produces, starting with its resource pages.
For example, its “13 Best Cash Back Credit Cards of January 2021” post features in-depth information about the different cards to help you decide which among them is the right one for you.
The page contains affiliate links to the best cashback credit cards online.
If readers are convinced about getting a card from the list, they’ll click on the link and purchase there. That way, Nerdwallet earns a commission for every transaction.
Due to the quality of the information found in the post, it’s attracting approximately 106,000 monthly visitors for over 106,000 organic keywords.
Aside from credit cards, it has guides for mostly all financial products you can think of: insurance, student loans, investing, and more.
This way, they’re not just focused on credit cards, which could severely hamper the growth of the site by limiting their monetization opportunities by covering a specific niche.
Similar to roundup posts, product reviews allow you to create content that analyzes a product or service based on how you used and experienced it.
The goal of this content type is to share your unbiased and objective views about the product to help provide readers with an informed decision about it.
An affiliate site that does reviews correctly is TheWireCutter.
As a highly regarded affiliate site, it publishes excellent reviews about electronics, gadgets, and consumer goods.
A hallmark of its authoritative reviews is that it pulls no punches.
Keep in mind that 82% of online shoppers look for negative reviews as they could not distinguish between real good reviews and fake ones.
Therefore, it’s in everybody’s best interests to tell people if there’s something wrong or not good about the product.
No matter how small or inconsequential the flaws of the products are, TheWireCutter writes it down in the review.
In this case, it’s not a matter of giving a product a flawless review. Rather, it’s providing people with the correct information so they can decide on their own.
More importantly, it puts the product on review to the test.
It’s not just rehashing things mentioned online about the tool. Rather, the reviewer got a copy of the product, tried it out, took photos of it, and gave his or her expert thoughts about it.
It’s relatively easy to fake through reviews for products you haven’t tried because you can simply spin what has already been saying about it online.
However, what separates the great and high-converting affiliate reviews are the lengths you are willing to take to create a review that is light years more unique and insightful than anything seen online.
Let’s face it: most customers hate the feeling of being sold on. By continuously advertising a product on your site or blog, you only push them away instead of piquing their interests.
The only way promoting your affiliate products is acceptable is via email marketing.
Whether you’re selling affiliate products or just sending updates, they’re all eyes and ears with what you have to say!
However, you have to get them to sign up to your email list first before this happens.
The idea behind email marketing is they trust you enough with the information you provide that they are compelled to join your mailing list.
It starts with creating content consistently that people will find valuable and insightful, which we already discussed above.
Next, you need to set up sign-up forms in strategic locations of your site to convert visitors into subscribers.
From here, you may need to implement unique ways to get more subscribers to your email list.
Finally, you need to learn how to craft emails that convert, plain and simple.
The process may seem straightforward, but the execution isn’t.
For one, you need to be generating hundreds and thousands of visitors on your website or blog to build your email list fast. If your site isn’t attracting enough traffic, make sure to optimize your content to help them rank higher on Google.
Also, don’t just publish transactional content. Focus on providing value to your audience by writing informational content as well.
This shows to your audience that you want to provide solutions to their problems instead of selling them your affiliate product.
Eventually, you should be able to rank these pages on Google and get more signups to your list in the process.
From here, you also need to consider segmenting your list according to the topics on your site. This is where lead magnets come in handy.
A lead magnet refers to a free item or service a person can get from businesses in exchange for their contact details.
Examples of lead magnets are, but not limited to:
The goal of lead magnets is to turn visitors into email subscribers by giving them something of value.
The fact that these resources are free should already get their attention. However, what’s more, important is the topic of the magnet and whether or not it’s something that they need.
Therefore by creating a highly targeted lead magnet for your audience, affiliates can quickly identify and create their audience list for each segment.
HubSpot is a site that exemplifies the correct use of lead magnets to their business. Each of their blog posts has specific lead magnets depending on the topic.
When you click on their lead magnets, you must fill out your contact details before you can get your hands on the free resource.
From here, HubSpot will use your contacts to send you emails relevant to the topic of the lead magnet you downloaded.
And if you visit another HubSpot posts about another topic, you will also see a different lead magnet for it:
If this method is applicable in your business, then you must create different lead magnets and feature them on related topics on your site.
From here, you will be able to create different segments in your list allowing you to send targeted emails to these people.
For example, you are an affiliate for a software company in the digital field. To have a clear idea of what your current audience is looking for, you can make two ebooks. One is about the best social listening tool, and another talks about web analytics tools.
Anyone who downloads your ebooks has to confirm their email address. Now you have two subscriber categories with different concerns and needs.
From here, you can send affiliate links to social listening tools to the first list and web analytics tools on the other.
By sending them relevant emails with links to affiliate products in line with their interests, you can expect to increase your conversions.
Finally, you need to create emails that will make people purchase the product that will help them solve their problems.
NicheHacks was able to do that before when it launched its NicheReaper email campaign.
After 11 emails within five days, NicheHacks was able to garner over $6,700!
The reason for sending multiple emails about the same deal is it helps drill the deal down to your subscribers’ consciousness. From here, they’ll actively be thinking about whether to take your offer or not.
According to Dave Schneider of SelfMadeBusinessman, sending the email twice can increase the open rates by 50%.
This can be considered an essential task for nurturing your customers before you're able to convert them.
Have a look at the email series sent by Chris Spooner, a blogger promoting design tutorials.
Out of the eight emails he sent, only two refer mostly to promotional emails for his courses. The rest focused on providing added information relevant to the audience.
Also, the time he waited to send a new email ranged between 2-6 days.
There’s no rule as to how soon or later you want to send your emails. It all boils down to how interested they are in receiving them.
So, if you have something that they want to read and learn more about, even sending multiple emails about it within the day shouldn’t annoy them.
Thanks to the advancements in technology, sellers can communicate and interact with their customers in new ways. And one of these is using videos as part of your marketing strategy.
Let’s say someone is interested in an affiliate product you’re selling from your site. However, they want to learn more information about it before deciding whether to purchase it or not.
Instead of sending them emails or writing blog posts about it, affiliates can hold a live video with other people in real-time at a set time and date. Or they can even publish a video on platforms like Youtube and get clicks from there.
The videos should educate these people by holding a presentation about the product and answering all their questions and concerns about it.
After the video, the person is better equipped with information that would help him or her make a purchasing decision.
As a content marketing tactic, webinars are a great way to close leads into sales.
Aside from being able to product operate in real-time, the engagement factor with the visitors and host comes into play as well.
That’s why 60% of webinars turn leads into loyal customers.
When considering a webinar, keep in mind your audience and determine if this is the right approach for turning them into customers.
Another study shows that 29% of webinars are held by tech and software companies.
If you’re selling physical products, for instance, you might want to take a different route of closing leads.
An example of how this is done successfully is by running webinars about SaaS tools to educate the masses.
Saastronaut Life is a Facebook group where people can get their hands on lifetime deals (LTDs) of the latest online tools and software.
The products promoted on the page are fairly new, thus people will have lots of questions about them. Therefore, holding webinars with the product founders as guests help quell these concerns and provides them with better information about the deal.
Aside from webinars, you can create review content on Youtube.
Here is how Sara Dietschy, a Youtuber with 682k subscribers, promotes her affiliate product.
She made a video about the iPad that should be brought in 2020. In this video, there was a short screen, she used her iPad with the affiliate product - the new MX Anywhere 3 and talked about her user experience.
A common misconception in social media marketing is to post updates on Facebook and Twitter on top of paid ads.
If you’re doing these in the hopes of getting sales, then you’re barely scratching the surface because social media is more than that.
Just like any marketing channel, you need to plan for a strategy on social media involving different tactics and techniques.
For example, aside from posting on social media, you must know the best times when to schedule your posts. This way, more of your followers will be able to view your posts and engage with them.
Keep in mind that the best times to post on social media depends on the followers you have. Thus, you need to analyze your followers and check for the dates and times when they replied or retweeted your posts the most.
Next, find influencers in your niche to build relationships and work with.
70% of millennials likely get more influenced by bloggers than traditional celebrities.
Therefore, you need to spot the top influencers in your topics.
Using a tool like Buzzsumo, you can see the best influencers to reach out to based on their follower count, retweet ratio, reply ratio, and other metrics.
From here, you’ll have to message them and pitch your ideas on how to work together that would be beneficial to both parties.
But before you could do that, you must befriend them first by becoming their followers and engaging with their content. The goal is for influencers to become familiar with you before you can send them your pitch.
To forego all these tasks, you can sign up to influencer marketing platforms instead.
Upon signing up, choose which among the influencers in its database that fit your audience you should reach out to.
The beauty of using these platforms is everybody is waiting to work with brands like yours for a price. There’s no need for you to familiarize yourself with influencers - just pitch your campaign and price and wait for their replies.
From here, you can facilitate the progress of the campaign from your dashboard to ensure that all terms are met.
Customers are always on the lookout for good deals. That's why you’ll see lots of promotional offers during Black Friday and the holidays.
Holding discounts and promos is one of the best ways for businesses to drive affiliate sales.
If you’re signed up to an affiliate program, the merchant will email you regarding the discounts they’re offering at the moment and the materials you can send to your subscribers or promote from your website.
Here’s an example of an email notification regarding an upcoming promo:
From there, you must find a way to properly promote discount products. Some brands would include a drip-email campaign you can use to send to your list.
Another way to offer discounted prices to your audience is by reaching out to the merchant and personally asking for exclusive discounts.
To be eligible for an exclusive promo, however, you need to have a sizable audience. For example, your site needs to be generating thousands of organic visitors or have thousands of subscribers and following in your email list or on social media.
The reason is that merchants want to maximize their sales opportunities as well. And they can only do that if your audience size is more than enough to convert some of them into customers.
Here, email marketing and webinar should help you promote the offer to your audience effectively. If not, you may consider using any advertising channels as well.
Look at how a Youtube channel works when its owner delivers a promotion code with 30% off for anyone to use his code to buy at Adidas.
Wrapping It Up
When done correctly, affiliate marketing can be a very profitable revenue stream. It’s just a matter of getting lots of people to click on your affiliate links and make a purchase from there.
But first, you need to clearly define what your affiliate model is. From here, you should have a clearer understanding of what needs to be done to maximize your affiliate opportunities.
The sales tactics I discussed above should give you ideas on how to approach your strategy. You can focus on a specific tactic to implement on your site or you can combine multiple techniques into your plan.
The goal is to always convert more people into revenue so do what you feel will take to get the job done.
Huy Đào Quang