Monetization Boot Camp Day 2: Affiliate Programs
Welcome back to Boot Camp, attendees!
Today’s topic: Affiliate Programs.
We’ll talk about finding programs, signing up, inserting links onto your blog, publicizing your unique URL, and more. While the financial results will vary from site to site, the underlying principles are the same.
Remember – This is an intensive course; the posts are somewhat lengthy, but we think the information is extremely useful. Feel free to digest each post bit by bit, or all at once. Don’t forget to get up and move around as you read through.
We’ll leave the entire boot camp course up for you to refer to in the future.
This a huge topic, and we have a lot of diverse ground to cover, so let’s jump right in.
Many of you are already familiar with major affiliate programs, such as Amazon’s. The essence of an affiliate program is this: People sign up with a program and receive a unique identifying URL, which they use to advertise the vendor’s products or services. Depending upon the program, the blogger may get paid per click, or paid per sale. The amount will vary substantially from program to program, but a 1% to a 10% one-time commission is common. Black Chicken Host’s affiliate program offers an ongoing 3% monthly commission for the lifetime of referred accounts.
As we learned yesterday, one of the nice things about using affiliate programs as opposed to random ad programs (like Google’s AdSense,) is having a greater degree of control over which ads appear on your website. While AdSense allows for blocking certain broad categories and specific companies, they may still pop undesired ads onto your site. We also learned affiliate programs also tend to pay more than pay-per-click programs.
Why do companies offer affiliate programs? It’s not out of the kindness of their hearts, certainly – you are advertising for them! In addition to their paid-for ads elsewhere which they’ve set up themselves, they also have a network of affiliate minions who are doing a lot of legwork for them in venues they might not have otherwise known about. It’s a mutually-beneficial relationship.
Depending upon the vendor’s policy, how long a person has to make a purchase and still have it “count” toward your commission varies. Some companies, like Amazon, will place a browser cookie on the reader’s computer and if that person makes a purchase within 24 hours, it counts as a purchase made via your site. Other companies may require a purchase to be made during the initial visit from your site.
How does a blogger get started with an affiliate program?
It’s usually quite simple. Find a company you want to work with and see if they have an affiliate, reseller, or partner program on their site. You may need to search the site to find the program, if it exists. The sign-up process varies from company to company, and acceptance to some is not guaranteed. Some vendors will manually approve each application (either to ensure no inappropriate content is displayed on the site where their ads will appear, or to see if your site’s content is attractive to their customer base,) while others will automatically allow any participants.
We had our sister site, Homestead Geek, apply to an unlikely vendor to see what the rejection letter would say:
“We regret to inform you that Vera Bradley Designs, Inc. has chosen not to accept you into their affiliate-marketing program at this time. There could be a variety of reasons for this decision including:
* The advertiser was unable to access your Web site
* Your Web site is not yet live
* Your traffic levels are too low
* There is inappropriate material on your site”
Vera Bradley Designs would have no reason to accept a homesteading-oriented site into their fold, and to be completely honest, the Homestead Geek traffic levels are probably too low for them, as well.
In addition to signing up individually with specific companies, bloggers can also sign up for group affiliate programs, such as Link Share and e-Junkie. These groups have many vendors’ affiliate programs conveniently located within one website, so it’s easy to find and to sign up for multiple affiliate programs in one place. Typically, you can search for specific vendors, or you can search by category, program type, payout percentage, et cetera.
The information required at signup will usually include your name, mailing address, email address, website URL, and phone number. Sometimes, additional information may be required, such as a PayPal email address for payouts, the general category of your website, et cetera.
There is a nearly endless variety of affiliate programs in which you may participate – far too many to cover in detail here. Thus, we’ll show you the basics of one program, and then move along to more general topics.
While Black Chicken Host does not currently maintain an affiliate status with third-party vendors, Homestead Geek participates in several programs, including Link Share. Thus, we can share with you some screen shots of what their interface looks like. Many affiliate programs will have similar interfaces, but they will of course vary from site to site.
This is a portion of the screen listing two of Homestead Geek’s affiliate vendors. You can see a description of the vendor, when they were established, what their affiliate payouts are, how long funds are held in the event of a return, and what the affiliate status is:
Applying for new affiliate programs is very easy – simply click the “Apply” button next to a vendor you’re interested in:
If the company accepts your application, a new screen becomes available, showing the various banners and buttons offered by the company. There will also be a snippet of code displayed to insert into your website:
Once you’ve selected the ad you wish to display, simply copy the code appropriate for the image you want, and paste it into a widget on your site. Easy-squeezy! (We’ll go into more detail on how to insert the code below.)
Select ads for products and services you like personally, and those you think will be interesting to your blog’s audience.
It may be tempting to load up on ads – after all, more ads means more opportunities to earn money, right? Not necessarily true. Most people will be annoyed by or suspicious of a large number of ads, especially if they are of the animated type (or worse, if they have sound.)
It’s very important to strike the right balance. We’ll talk more about ad placement and volume tomorrow in Day 3, but for today, just bear in mind how many ads you’ll tolerate before your eyes begin to glaze over and you navigate away from a site rather than stay on it and be subjected to whatever unpleasantness you perceived. Find attractive blogs, and notice how they balance monetization with content. Find unattractive blogs, and determine what makes them unattractive to you – then stay away from doing that.
Google AdSense will only display three Google ads per page – if it detects more than three pieces of AdSense code, numbers 4 and up will not display at all.
In addition to making your site aesthetically appealing, balancing ads with content will help your Google SEO (Search Engine Optimization.) According to this article from Mashable, too many ads may cause your website to disappear from Google’s search results – place ads judiciously!
Personally, we find we can tolerate a lot of static, non-flashy/animated ads – they are somewhat innocuous and don’t demand attention. We may notice particularly eye-catching images and even click on them if they’re interesting. We make a point never to click on annoying or offensive ads – we do not want to encourage them.
Not all animated ads are gratuitously irritating. Take this example from Gaiam:
This is a well-designed ad, as the animation stops playing after a certain number of rotations (indeed, it likely will have stopped its animation by the time you read this far; refresh the screen and scroll down to see it.) It’s not overly-flashy or obnoxious, and the colors are relatively subtle.
In our opinion, one (or at most two) ads of this type per page are not problematic. However, even these less-eye-grabbing ads will grate if there are too many of them. The worst thing to do is to allow your site to be dominated by bright, flashy, animated nonsense – take this deliberately awful example – how long did you stay on that page before closing it out with bleeding eyes? Mm-hmm. Don’t be that guy.
Before we move entirely away from that Gaiam ad, place your mouse over the ad and look at the link that displays in your browser’s bottom corner: http://click.linksynergy.com/fs-bin/click?id=CjfowrTq6Bk&offerid=208108.10002093&subid=0&type=4
We left Homestead Geek’s affiliate link in place as an example to show you. There is a lot of information in that URL, most of which we can only guess at. The “click?id=” part is likely Homestead Geek’s unique affiliate number. The “offerid=” is likely linked to the specific offer in the ad – 20% off yoga products. “Type” may be the size or style of the ad.
Once you know what you’re looking for, you can spot affiliate URL’s quite easily in most cases. They may have elements such as “affid=” “aff=” “referrer=” “partner=” “click=” and so forth, like the following:
- http://www.plantoeat.com/ref/gdtg3zmkvg – the “ref” followed by the long string of alphanumeric characters is the affiliate id there
- https://www.e-junkie.com/ecom/gb.php?cl=105994&c=ib&aff=200119 – the end bit, “aff=” is the unique identifier
- http://www.culturesforhealth.com/starter-cultures/yogurt-starter.html?a_aid=4f36df9e54b6e&a_bid=e0b6767e – Here it’s the “aid=”
Sometimes, however, we may not want people to know we’re affiliated with a given vendor – we’ll cover how to obscure these obvious links on the last day of this boot camp, in the post called “Advanced Topics.”
Thus far, we’ve covered finding and signing up for affiliate programs, selecting the right kind of ads and images for your site, and how to spot affiliate URL’s on other sites.
Next, we’ll talk about actually inserting the ad code into your WordPress blog. A note: We consider WordPress to be the best blogging software out there. As most of our customers use WP, that’s where we focus our tutorials. However, the general principles will apply to other blogging platforms, such as Blogger, but the terminology may be different.
The ad code your vendors supply may be able to be inserted right into your WordPress posts and pages, or it may have special code that requires a widget. As we mentioned yesterday, widgets do not have to follow the same rules as posts and pages within WP, earning them the name “little ‘do whatever the frick you want’ boxes” from our Web Guy. If you try inserting the code into the HTML tab of your post editor, click “Update” and have it disappear, chances are WP stripped it out due to security policy reasons.
Instead of putting it directly into your post or page, try using a widget instead.
Most ad code will do just fine in a “Text” widget. Text widgets can contain plain text, or HTML. These can be inserted anyplace where your theme allows widget placement. Some themes have more widget areas than others, but most will at least allow sidebar widgets. Theme selection is another very important aspect of blogging, and that will be a separate Boot Camp. For now, we’ll show you two examples of different theme’s widget areas.
Many themes will not allow header or footer widgets, which is one good spot where those nice leaderboard banners can be placed. If you have questions about widget placement within themes, please leave a comment with your question.
Some affiliate programs will dictate where certain ads must be placed – Foodie BlogRoll is one of these. They require certain of their ads to be placed “above the fold;” remember waayyyyy back when paper newspapers were how most people got their news? “Above the fold” referred to the first thing folks saw – the top half of the first page; the big story area. In the blogging world, “above the fold” means the area that first appears without having to scroll. Some programs may require ads to be placed in the header or footer of each post. To see where “above the fold” falls on your site, you can use this tool.
Because it’s their program, they can dictate where they want the ads to a certain degree. Before you agree to their terms, be sure to read them carefully to make sure you are willing to comply.
In a widget, you should be able to post nearly any code and have it display correctly. Here’s an example – The “Great Gardening Stuff” is the title of the widget, which may be left blank. The body of the widget contains the code clipped from the affiliate program’s website, and contains the affiliate URL as well as a link to the image.
This results in the following appearing on the Homestead Geek site:
Once you hit “Save” in the bottom right-hand corner of your widget, the ad should appear immediately, with some notable exceptions: Some affiliate networks need to have your code connect to their server before it will begin serving ads, and others must manually approve your widget code before allowing ads to flow through. This can result in a “placeholder” image being shown, a broken image, or a blank space until the vendor begins sending ads your way. Be sure to read their terms of service and policies to know what will show up.
In addition to WordPress’ standard widgets, you can use add-on widgets to assist you with using affiliate links and ads. Our favorite is Ad Injection: This plugin allows you to set up ads in the headers, footers, and between paragraphs of pages and posts. It is a feature-rich and highly-customizable piece of software. Indeed, it probably warrants its own separate post in the future. For now, we’ll just show you one of its screen shots (click to view larger size,) and include the link to its site.
There are many other options to use either instead of Ad Injection or in conjunction with it. WP Affiliate Pro has received notable recognition, as has Amazon Tools (for Amazon affiliates.) Another fantastic plugin plugin for Amazon affiliates is Easy Azon. This is a paid-for plugin ($47) which makes attractive Amazon links with built-in affiliate information. You can see an example on Homestead Geek.
In addition to image-based ads, don’t underestimate the power of text links in your posts. If you’re writing a recipe, include affiliate links to important equipment or ingredients; if you’re writing about gardening, do the same for your equipment, seeds, et cetera. These in-line links may be even more effective than image ads when used correctly, because it is content-relevant.
We’ve talked about finding and signing up for affiliate programs, selecting ads for your site, how to spot affiliate URL’s on other sites, and inserting affiliate links and ads into your WP blog. Next, we’ll talk about publicizing your affiliate links.
The more you get your affiliate link out there, the more chances you’ll have for monetizing. As with all things, it’s important to strike a balance. While you can leave affiliate links in comments on other sites, how would you feel if someone had done that on your site, particularly if they are promoting a brand for which you are also an affiliate? Civility and politeness is key: Direct people back to your blog to see your affiliate links.
Use social networking as much as possible, without being obnoxious. We feel one of the best ways to both leverage your affiliate links and not be obnoxious about it is to write reviews, or “Favorite Things” posts. Then, you can Tweet your blog entry, post it to Google+ and Facebook, and have people come to read legitimate content, and also see your embedded affiliate links in the process. Posting a link on Google+, Facebook, or other social media that is just an affiliate link is a little tacky. Entice readers with quality content.
As you build up readers’ trust and loyalty, they will be more likely to take your recommendations seriously, thus clicking on your links more often, and with luck, making more purchases from your affiliate links.
We have covered a LOT of territory today! Did you remember to get up and stretch?
If you have found today’s boot camp helpful, we hope you’ll let us know! As always, please feel free to leave questions, comments, or concerns in the comment area.
Check out the rest of the series here:
Day 1: Basic Training – Some of the methods you can use to monetize your blog, how they compare and contrast, and how not to be a total sleazeball
Day 2: Affiliate Programs – Why it’s a good idea to be selective, and how to participate
Day 3: Ad Programs – How to determine how many ads are right for you (aka: Do you want your site to look like a NASCAR vehicle?)
Day 4: Social Networking – How to leverage Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more
Day 5: Advanced Topics – Advanced Topics, and Summing It All Up