Does Affiliate Marketing Really Work?

When you first come across the concept of affiliate marketing, one thing that crosses your mind is whether it really works or not.

After all, why should someone buy through your affiliate link rather than someone else’s link or just go direct to Amazon or wherever?

The off-the-cuff answer is “it varies”.

Think about other things you buy – soft drinks, burgers, etc.


internet marketingChances are that you don’t buy them direct from the manufacturer but instead via a middleman in the shape of a store or whatever.

That entity takes a commission on the sale – sometimes in the form of a retail margin, sometimes just a flat percentage of the price charged.

Affiliate marketing is the same in principle.

Except rather than the store or manufacturer getting the money directly, you (the affiliate) get in the way.

Affiliate marketing is the art of introducing potential buyers and getting paid for it

If you’ve ever bought a product as a result of a friend’s recommendation, they were acting as an ambassador for the brand. They probably weren’t getting paid for the introduction but if they’d done the same thing online, they could have been given a cut of the profit.

That’s basically what affiliate marketing does: you get paid for introducing buyers or potential buyers to various companies.

But does affiliate marketing work?

In a word, yes.

I get commissions from all sorts of different places on a regular basis as a result of affiliate marketing.

So do lots of other people I know.

Depending on your definition of an affiliate, you could even argue that a lot of the products sold on Amazon are effectively affiliate sales. They don’t own all the stock they hold (they even charge entrepreneurs for the warehousing of some of it) and simply take their “cut” when the item is sold.

How well affiliate marketing works is up to you.

You need to start somewhere – preferably with your own website so you’re in more control of your destiny.

Then you need to attract potential buyers and encourage them to click through to your affiliate partners.

That’s it.

Of course, as ever the devil is in the detail so let’s look at what needs to happen in a bit more detail:

Decide on the products you want to promote and apply to be an affiliate

This can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be.

It’s best with your own domain on your own hosting. You can then install WordPress, make your site look nice and put some content on it.

Quite a lot of affiliate programs like to check out things like that before they approve you to promote their products – that happens in bricks and mortar stores as well, not every shop can sell every product even if they wanted to – perfume is traditionally quite fussy about where their brands are stocked, with the exception of high-volume airport shops which don’t necessarily offer the expert advice you’d get from a high street location.

Even if your chosen affiliate program doesn’t have particularly high standards – or even has an automatic acceptance process – it’s worth taking the time and effort to make your website as enticing and user friendly as possible.

One big advantage of using WordPress is that your content and the design of the site are kept separate. This is good practice and means that you can change the look and feel of your site instantly. So don’t fuss too much about the initial design – you can always change it at a later date.

The best products to choose for affiliate marketing are ones that “fit” with you.

If you’re young in years, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to relate to products aimed at seniors. You won’t talk their language (we don’t really understand text speak or emoticons or even some of those weird sounds you call music) and unless you’re a young person caring for an older person (in which case aim your affiliate marketing at people like you) then you probably won’t know much about the problems encountered in later life.

Likewise if you’re getting on in years then it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sell products aimed at youngsters. My Scouts laugh at me because I don’t use my thumbs to type on my phone. Even some of their instructors – who are often only a handful of years older than them – use references that sail straight by them and that’s with an age gap of less than 10 years.

Most of the time it just doesn’t work.

Sure, there are exceptions. Mums and dads who write children’s books for instance – but they’ve got the first hand experience and can see the reaction from their audience before they go to print.

But most of the time you’ll have more success – and find it easier to create content – if you stick to what you know.

Choosing a market without doing enough research can cramp your style and your potential earnings.

You need to make sure there is enough demand for the products you’re aiming to promote – that can be as simple as checking Amazon and seeing how many related products are listed. If the figures shown are in the hundreds or thousands, there’s a very good chance you won’t need to do much more research, especially if it’s an area you already know a bit about.

And if you spend money in the niche, that’s also a good sign. It’s one of the reasons I like self help products: I know the amount of money I’ve spent in that niche over the years on everything from meditation MP3’s to multi-day courses.

I’m not alone in that (the fact that the courses I attended had lots of other people on them shows that) so I felt safe promoting the niche. Plus I can speak from experience which resonates with the target audience.

Create content for your website

Whilst you’re waiting for the various affiliate programs to accept you, start creating content for your new site.

Some affiliate programs will check over your site before deciding whether they want to be associated with you.

If all you’ve got showing is the default “Hello World” post then it doesn’t show much commitment on your part.

It’s best to have at least a handful of pages on your site (I’d suggest 5 or more) before applying to any network that checks your site before deciding whether or not to accept you. That will help your chance of success.

There are some networks such as Clickbank that don’t do much (if anything) in the way of checking apart from ensuring that you’re in a country where they can pay you.

Others are much fussier and you should be prepared for the occasional “no”. It’s nothing personal and there’s rarely just one choice so move on when that happens.

Content on your site is critical.

Google and the other search engines crawl round the internet and use the content they find to decide where to show the pages in the search results.

There are no magic tricks involved – it’s a mixture of the things you can control (page titles, page content, that kind of thing) and things you can attempt to influence (typically links pointing back to your site).

A lot of it takes time – it’s thought that there are around 2 million new pages of content created each and every day, so your site is by no means alone.

Keep plodding away!

Generally speaking, longer content works best.

The days of throwing out 300 word or 500 word articles are long gone.

The days of even 1,000 word articles are numbered.

If you don’t believe me, do a search for something in your topic, click through to the top few results and copy the page into your Word processor. Then run a word count.

Chances are – even for fairly uncompetitive niches – you’ll find pages that are around 2,000 to 3,000 words long.

That’s a lot of content to write.

But it makes the difference between earning money as an afffiliate or not.

The more (relevant!) words Google can index, the more opportunities it has to show your page in the results. It seems to go in a virtuous circle.

But you need to create the content.

If you’re not too good at writing, use a service like iWriter to get it written for you.

Although images are conspicuous by their absence on this site, a lot of people suggest that you brighten up your pages with images. Just be careful where you get them from as the copyright owners from the big image libraries such as Getty are very possessive about protecting their rights.

Another thing you can do to create content is videos.

Simple screen capture videos using a program such as Screencast-o-matic are fine.

Or your webcam or the camera on your phone work nicely as well.

Personally I tend to create slideshow style videos – they’re easy, they’re informative and I don’t get stage fright because I’m not on screen. I’ve written a tutorial about how to make them here.

Put the videos on YouTube (remember they need a decent length description) and use the code that YouTube give you to embed them on your web pages as well.

This helps with the eye candy factor as well as increasing the number of views of the video once your site starts to attract visitors.

The whole idea of your content is to warm up your site visitors to the idea of buying something via your affiliate link.

You’ll notice that some of the links on this page go off to more information and others go off to products and services I think are useful.

Do the same on your websites – that’s how affiliate marketing works on the internet nowadays. Gentle introductions with the option to purchase (or be “just looking”) rather than the buy-now-or-else approach that was used years ago.

Build a list of interested people

This is something I wish I’d done a lot earlier in my affiliate marketing career.

Back when I started affiliate marketing, you could place adverts on Google and send them directly to the vendor’s site.

It’s easy and I made plenty of commission doing that.

But it’s lazy and it means you’re only ever going to get a handful of sales.

Sure, some affiliate programs I promoted (and still promote) tag me as the introducer and I get commission further down the line if someone I introduced buys again.

But those programs are relatively rare.

Most affiliate programs only pay the first time you introduce a customer.

This is usually done with a “cookie” and the length of time that referral link lasts varies considerably.

Amazon cookies last a day.

Clickbank cookies 2 months.

Other cookies last different durations.

Some programs give commission to the first person who introduced the lead, even if a different affiliate clinched the sale.

Others (most in my experience) pay the commission to the last person to send the click.

And if visitors clear their internet history and then type their search direct into Google then tough luck – most programs can’t or won’t track that and you won’t get commission.

But building a list helps get round that.

You can build a list in a number of different ways:

  • Subscribers to your YouTube channel
  • Followers on Twitter
  • People who’ve joined a page you’ve created on Facebook
  • People you’ve linked up with on LinkedIn
  • Followers on Pinterest
  • People who’ve joined a list you run yourself
  • Various other sites that let you build up a crowd of followers

With the exception of the list you run yourself, you’re not in control of those lists which then puts you at the mercy of the sites you’re using. If they’re being friendly, it’s fine. If their computer system takes a distaste to you for any reason, you’re snookered. And if the site changes policy then they may decide to remove the list option altogether.

So in my opinion it’s far better to run your own list. Even though it’s slightly harder work than using one of the free options.

I say slightly harder – whichever method you choose, you’ll need to communicate with people on your list on a regular basis. Otherwise life will get in the way and they’ll forget about you.

Depending on who you believe, you need to do one of these to keep your list happy (some are mutually exclusive, there’s not really any “right” way):

  • Only send them information for the first week to 10 days, then start sending offers, maybe mixed in with informational emails
  • Send emails daily
  • Send emails several times a day
  • Send emails less frequently – anything from every few days to weekly or even less
  • Send only promotional emails
  • Send emails that are informative but lead on to affiliate products, often along the lines of “tell them what to do, sell them how to do it”

In reality, the style of your list and how often you promote will be down to you.

Find a mix that you’re comfortable with.

Not everyone will go along with you – you really can’t please all the people all the time – those who don’t like your style or list frequency or who change their minds at a later date will fall by the wayside.

List building is a numbers game, even though you should do your best to write each email as though you were only sending it to one person, not tens or hundreds or thousands.

But even with a relatively small list you can make a regular affiliate income. So it’s worth persevering.

Stay focussed with your affiliate marketing

It’s easy to get distracted in internet marketing.

There are so many “must have” offers, many of which seem much less attractive somewhere between leaving the sales page and reaching the download page.

Internet marketing – and a lot of other areas on the internet – are highly profitable and attract highly paid copywriters to create the copy and hit as many of the readers’ “buy” buttons as is humanly possible.

It’s far too easy to chase rainbows.

Keep records of what you do each day so that you know the time you’re spending with your affiliate marketing really is being spent there, not spread amongst lots of non-productive (but maybe enjoyable) tasks.

A piece of paper is fine – maybe even preferable because unless your desk is a complete mess, the paper will be visible more than a computer file.

But whatever you use, log what you do.

And every now and then (that doesn’t mean every 30 minutes!), go back and check whether it’s showing signs of working.

Then apply the Pareto (80/20) principle to what you do so that you’re gradually spending more time on the most productive tasks and less time on the least productive tasks – the ones you probably should pay someone else to do or even stop doing altogether.

Ultimately the answer to whether affiliate marketing really works is down to you.

If you put the time and effort in then it most definitely can work.

If you prefer to play around the edges and not really focus on it then – like most other things you dabble with – it won’t work.

But likely nor will anything else you try until you put the effort into it.

Ultimately it’s your choice but there are lots of people (myself included) who get a nice income from affiliate marketing.