In this section I’ll look at affiliate marketing in more detail, because I believe this is the most successful alternative to AdSense.
If there are two golden rules of successful affiliate marketing, then they are:
Having said that, I know a lot of people who will happily promote all kinds of sites and products. Bear in mind though, that these guys (and they’re almost always guys) are normally highly experienced, and really know their stuff.
If you’re just starting out though, you’ll find that it’s much easier to promote products you believe in, and that you’re passionate about. Your enthusiasm will pay off and it will show in your writing.
In my niches I tend to promote the market leaders. Why? Because their products are good, trusted AND their offers convert. On the downside, you’ll find that the market leaders don’t often offer breath-taking affiliate commission rates. Indeed, Amazon only pay 6.5%. Do a lot of digging, and you’ll find some offers that pay 80 – 90% of the revenue from a sale.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in this guide, a good way of finding products to market is to see which advertisers appear in AdSense adverts if you have (or had them) on your site.
It’s not the only way though! If you’ve lost your AdSense account, then simply find one of your competitior’s sites, and see which advertisers are advertising on there (ethically it’s best to copy down the URL’s rather than click on all the ads!).
Another way of doing some research is to take a look on the Potential Ads/Traffic Sellers SEMRush report for your website (or a large site in your niche if it comes up blank for your site).
One thing I cannot stress enough, is that you have to be your own man (or woman!). DON’T follow the herd. Find products to market that nobody else is marketing! This is a great way of making money. Back in 2012 I hit marketing gold with a little known product on ClickBank. It had a gravity of about 5, and very few people were promoting it. Yet I sold dozens of copies of the product, and earned around $20 a sale. It also opened up a huge niche for me, and was the perfect niche for a 100 page mini-site. In the end I never did get around to exploiting that niche, because it wasn’t something I wanted to write about.
In 2012 I did much the same thing. I’ve found out that one topic I’d written about converted like crazy when it comes to affiliate products. And the nice thing here is that it was also incredibly easy to get traffic in this niche.
I'll also add that I’ve had plenty of failures! I failed to sell any ClickBank eBooks about building chicken coops, or getting a better night’s sleep, or making silly money from Facebook. When it comes to affiliate marketing, you do need to know when to cut your losses. This goes for specific affiliate products, and entire niches.
With my current sites, I’ve tested out about 20 affiliate offers. 5 have been scrapped as they just weren’t converting. You need to be ruthless like this. One vendor sent me new ads for his product, but I refused to use them because his product was junk.
And bad demographics?
*This may or may not be true, but they sure as hell don’t buy eBooks when they can find them for free on Torrent /Filesharing sites or can find other information for free.
You’ll find that if you want to add affiliate offers to your site, then there are two major choices:
I’ll point out that quite a few vendors are members of various affiliate networks, plus they might also have their own affiliate scheme that they run themselves.
Which is best?
As far as earnings and commission go, it’s almost always better to go with the vendor’s own scheme. To give one example, I’m an affiliate with a vendor who pay me $30 per sale through their own scheme. They’re also in an affiliate network. But make a sale through this network and I’d only bank $22. So you see, in this case the affiliate network have taken their cut of the commission.
So what’s the downside?
Obviously if you use a vendor’s scheme then you have to do a bit more work setting up your account, deploying the ads etc. than if you used a single ad network. But this is normally worthwhile if the payout is bigger.
On the downside, some vendors have better tracking tools than others. One of my best affiliate schemes has a very simple reporting user interface. They basically just tell me how many user registrations I’ve sent them each month, and how many of the users have ordered products.
Another vendor has a better system, and I can at least see CTR rates on their ads I use, plus conversion statistics. This usefully allowed me to calculate my earnings per click from this scheme vs. my AdSense clicks.
Well here all I can do is to suggest you have a good hunt around Google and seek some out.
If you’ve got a niche site, with AdSense on it, then examine the ads and write down the URL’s of the advertisers you see on your site most frequently. Then see if they have affiliate schemes for their products. Incidentally, even if they don’t then they’re probably going to be interested in buying links or advertising on your site.
OK, here’s a grey hat tip which might or might not still work. Actually it might be white hat, but it’s a little sneaky.
If you’re marketing an affiliate product, then the keywords you MUST try to rank well for in search results are:
I call this front-running the affiliate scheme. Anyone searching for these keywords is likely to want to buy that product. So if they visit your site just before they buy, then you’re likely to get the commission.
Again, I cannot stress highly enough how important it is to rank for these keywords!
There are a whole load of affiliate networks out there. The good thing about these networks as they act as an umbrella for all kinds of networks. They also aggregate your earnings from a wide variety of vendors.
Here I’ll look at a few networks I know about. This is not an exhaustive list, and I strongly recommend you seek out others. One secret of affiliate marketing is that the less well known the affiliate scheme, the easier it is to drive traffic to it. Remember that while everyone was selling Acai berries, Forex courses and Weight Loss eBooks, I was making a killing from software.
Also bear in mind that some networks are choosy about who they’ll take on. In fact, it’s not really worth joining any of these unless you can drive plenty of traffic to their offers. In the case of Commission Junction and ClickBank, there are financial penalties if you don’t make a certain level of sales.
I used to be in this programme years ago, and I did actually make a few sales (for web hosting plans). Sadly I didn’t make enough sales, and they closed my account.
I’m not sure ClickBank qualifies as an affiliate network, but I’ll include it here anyway.
Most Internet marketing folk have heard of ClickBank. It’s a place where people sell products, usually eBooks and digital goods, but mostly eBooks!
Good things about ClickBank include the fact that there are some very high converting products on there. There are also a wide range of products.
On the downside, most of the best converting products are in highly competitive, fairly spammy niches.
This one is one I've personally made quite a bit of use of. They have some good bizopps, competitions and dating offers on there, and they’ll pay you $1-$8 for a lot of their offers.
There are dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of networks out there. Here are nine more of the best. These networks (together with PeerFly) were named the top 10 by Performance Marketing Insider:
I haven't linked to them as they tend to come and go as the industry consolidates.I can’t really recommend any one over the other for you. It really depends on your niche, levels of traffic, and many other variables.
Online affiliate marketing is lucrative, and where money is involved, fraud will also happen.
Sadly there are plenty of shady merchants and ad networks out there. Don’t be surprised if you get ripped off, or your account is closed for no reason. It happens, if it does, then move on and promote something else.
The key things to keep in mind are:
Let’s take a look at dating offers. These are extremely numerous and you’ll find thousands of CPA offers out there.
Dating offers are run through both CPA networks or directly with the dating site. I strongly recommend that you cut out the middle-men because a CPA network will take around 25% of your earnings for themselves.
Some dating sites will offer you money simply to send people to their sites. However, you’re probably going to only make $0.08 a click from this – far less than you would from AdSense.
CPA offers are better. The downside is that the visitor has to do some interaction with the dating site. This means that you’d better send the site some targeted traffic. If you’re promoting a Senior Citizen dating site for example, then don’t send them young people!
CPA offers can be cash cows. Some dating sites offer between $1 and $8 for every signup you send them. Read the terms and conditions though because sometimes you’ll only get payout if that member registers and activates their email address, or they upload a photo or something.
For far bigger payouts, look for CPA offers that only pay you if the user joins the site as a paying member. Dating sites will offer you either a flat rate for this (e.g. $30, or a percentage of the user’s enrolment fees). Particularly attractive offers can include up to 100% of the member’s first payment (you’re laughing if they pay for 12 months in advance as you could earn over $100 from that customer). Other sites can pay out 50% lifetime commission. Again, if the person subscribes to the site for a whole year then this can be quite lucrative.
With all these offers, check the eligibility for getting paid per action! You will find that many sites will only pay you for signups of certain demographics (e.g. men, people from the USA, rich men, older men). Pay particular attention to the user’s location, as most dating sites won’t pay you for traffic from countries outside the USA, Canada, Australia, UK etc.
As far as pay per membership plan go, well you’re wasting your time if you send Indian men to an American Seniors dating site for example. They simply won’t buy subscriptions!
For this reason, if your site is large, it’s worthwhile using geolocation technology to sniff out where your visitors are coming from, then only showing them ads which will allow you to earn money.
Top Tip: To get started with dating site offers, join Peerfly, who have some really great offers on their site.
OK let’s look at another case study – software.
I’m mainly talking about desktop computer software here – mobile apps are a slightly different proposition.
Most computer software is sold online these days. The purchaser will buy the software online, and then be given a link to download the full version. This means that it’s a great niche for affiliate marketing.
Most software vendors sign up to a digital download service that handles the payment processing and software download process. I myself signed up my software products to a company called RegNow.
When a customer wanted to buy my software, they would be taken to a link on the RegNow site, input their credit card info, then download my software from their site. RegNow took about 8% of the software ticket price for themselves. But I felt that was a reasonable fee for their services.
Now the good thing about RegNow is that they allowed all software vendors to set up an affiliate scheme. In my case I offered my affiliates 25% of the sale price of my software.
My affiliate scheme was reasonably successful. The larger download sites like SharewarePlaza [site no longer accessible] made some good money out of selling my software, and I benefited from their marketing efforts.
As always, to market software the best way to do this is to write about a problem (computer virus on PC, need software to do company accounts), then include affiliate links to software that will solve that problem.
Some software vendors have their own affiliate schemes. But you’ll also find that affiliate networks are convenient due to them offering so many products for you to market.
Software affiliate networks usually have directories of software you can promote. Examples to check out include:
My own software products are currently in Avangate, although I’m not longer in an affiliate scheme. I found that most affiliates were lazy and just didn’t do any marketing of my software. Nobody ever reviewed it, or wrote an article like 5 tools for documenting your computer source code, or emailed some news about my products to their lists.
Well this is good news for you, because you’ll probably find that software is incredibly easy to market. I’ve been able to get a top 10 Google ranking for a software product name, and all with no link building. The key is to find a good product that converts well. This is usually quite easy, because RegNow at least used to show conversion rates of all their offerings.
More secret insider tips from my 10 years of selling software online:
If you want to see what type of software that sells, then check out BitsDuJour. This site has been going for years and offers discounts on daily software deals. Hmmm, sounds like a great idea for a niche site!
These are the current most popular broad niches being researched by users of the Niche Laboratory.
Key: = riser, = faller, = non-mover, = new
View more data on the Insights page.
Stuck for niche ideas? Try writing down everything you've done in the last year, then narrowing down that list to 2-3 things you'd enjoy blogging about. You don't even need to be an expert in these things, but it is useful if you have a desire to learn more about them.