Did you know that you can now launch a site devoted entirely to marketing another brand’s products? Several years ago, this wasn’t really a thing. Fast forward to 2017, and affiliate marketing accounts for a $5 billion market in the U.S. alone. Though still in its infancy, affiliate marketing is quickly becoming a reliable side revenue stream for many sites, and has even spawned several dedicated affiliate sites that are turning huge profits.

There’s no one way or a specific order of operations when it comes to setting up an affiliate site. More often you start with researching a niche market, reviewing the affiliate offers available to you, assessing the competition and creating a website to capture interest in someone else’s product or service. Everyone has their own process, so in this piece I will give you mine. Here are the steps required to get your own affiliate website off the ground and start driving traffic to your promoted products.

Discovering The Right Niche

When deciding where to build a house, you first have to consider the location. The same holds true for affiliate marketing. Your site is only as strong as the niche it covers, meaning this research stage is extremely important.

There are hundreds of different products you can promote from hundreds of different industries. Camping equipment, fitness gear, handbags, books, bathroom products, the list is endless. Seriously, endless. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, fear not. As we will explain later, there is an affiliate program available to join for nearly every niche.

Choosing a niche isn’t strictly a numbers game. You want to find a balance between something you’re actually passionate about, and something that will turn a profit. Writing about a subject you enjoy will make your content more compelling to read, and it will compel you to produce more of it.

Keyword Research

According to Geno Prussakov, an affiliate marketing expert, over 50% of top affiliate programs fall into 4 categories: Fashion, Sports, Health & Beauty, Travel. How do you choose products within one of those four categories? Try gauging the popularity of products based on their search traffic.

As SEO expert Dan Thompson puts it, your keyword should be specific but broad enough to grow broadly. For example, if you are working out of the cosmetics niche—which is super broad and competitive—you know two things are true, a) there are many subcategories of cosmetics products from which to choose keywords, and b) there will be plenty of room for expansion.

Within cosmetics you might decide to produce your first batch of content related to eyeliners. But you’ll soon discover that there’s only so much to discuss regarding that product. What do you do next? Expand. Branch out into other narrow areas within the broader umbrella of cosmetics, like airbrushes, lipsticks, or make-up for instance.

Your goal is to rank for these keywords on search engines. Because of this, you should aim for keywords that have just a few thousand monthly searches but not too much more or less. Many experts assert that 1,000-4,000 searches per month is an appropriate range. This amount is enough to prove that the keyword is in demand, but it’s low enough that you’ll have a reasonable chance of getting highly ranked on SERPs.

How do we find the amount of monthly searches for a given keyword? The easiest way is to open up Google Keyword Planner and type in our idea.

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This provides us with a comprehensive list of keyword ideas along with their average monthly search count and overall competitiveness. You will likely need to spend several hours fine-tuning your niche research to choose a set of keywords that could be most profitable.

How many words should be included in your keywords? Think about it this way. Long-tail keywords (3-5 words) have a narrower scope but are more likely to attract leads—quality over quantity. Short-tail keywords (1-2 words) usually cover a much broader topic, which can be both good and bad. It’s best to focus more on your long-tail keywords in order to really hone in on your site’s specificity and uniqueness. I’ve found that long-tail research tends to breed many short-tail options from within the longer phrases. If you start with “oak dining room tables” you’ll be able to break it down to “dining tables” and ultimately “home furniture.” That’s a simplistic example, but you get what we mean. If you start your keyword research too broadly you’ll struggle to rank and generate traffic.

  • Analyze the Competition

If you want to be a better basketball player you should watch some highlights of Michael Jordan. Similarly, if you want to create a successful affiliate site you should analyze other successful sites in your niche. To do this, put yourself in your audience’s shoes. Open up Google and type in the keywords they would use to find your site, then click through some of the sites on the first couple results pages.

There are a few things to look for when studying other sites. The easiest way to study them is by using your eyeballs. Is the content written well? How is the formatting? Are the pages easy to navigate? Does it include too many invasive ads? Then there’s the part that isn’t available in plain sight—how is their link authority? For this information, you must consult a third party resource like Ahrefs.

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Here you can determine the quality of your competition’s content in relation to their ranking. If a site has a fairly high search ranking, but has a low word count and doesn’t offer much quality to the reader, that’s great news for you. It shows that there is space in this niche for improvement, and you can offer that.

You can also determine your competitor’s worth by analyzing their backlinking profile. If they have only a few backlinks from sources that offer little relevance to their content, you can probably outrank them eventually. On the other hand, if they have many high-quality backlinks it will be much tougher to beat them out.

Try this with a number of keyword sets to determine which ones will make you excel in your niche, especially as you move ahead with constructing your website.

Creating Your Website

By doing so much upfront research, you’ll have a much clearer idea of how you want to construct your site. If you found a bunch of profitable areas to explore then you’ll know how many pages you want to incorporate. The process of building and layering your site will be ongoing—in terms of content production and optimization—but to get things started let’s buy our domain name and hosting, then setup our site’s layout.

  • Domain Name

Your domain name is crucial. It carries the same significance as a sign above a brick and mortar store, in terms of introducing consumers to your site’s content and helping them decide whether to click further or to bounce. The domain name also has SEO implications if it includes certain keywords—although in 2017 this is proving less effective; users now associate keyword infused titles with spam sites, like woodentables.com, or fitnesskneebraces.com (these are fake examples). It’s better to focus on branding your site with a more real-sounding domain name.

  • Web Hosting

Web hosting can start as low as $4 per month with popular services like HostGator, Namecheap or BlueHost. They will provide you with tons of great resources for running your site from a central control panel.

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  • Installing WordPress

WordPress is used by over 25% of all websites. Not just affiliate sites, ALL websites. The reason is its simplicity and customer support offerings. As a content management system, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that offers such a helpful overall experience. Of the 300+ CMS sites monitored by W3Techs—a web technology survey site—WordPress assumes a 58.7% market share.

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Source: W3Techs

Most web hosting services offer a feature to install WordPress on their control panel, using the “famous” WordPress one-click install.

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WordPress makes the process extremely simple. Just enter your domain name, the name of your site, your email address, etc. and click “Install WordPress.”

  • Choosing a Theme

There are thousands of theme options to choose from in WordPress, many of which are free. However, buying a premium theme is advisable. These can range in price from $20-$200, but it’s only a one-time purchase. Premium themes not only look more professional, they typically come with enhanced support options. Considering you could pay thousands of dollars to a web designer for a similar project, spending a few on a WP premium theme isn’t a large expenditure.

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  • Plug-ins and Content

Another wonderful component of WordPress is its bevy of fantastic plug-ins that will take your site to the next level. One that’s a favorite of many publishers is Yoast SEO—an optimization tool that tells you how to make various SEO enhancements to your posts, helping the content rank higher in search engines.

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Now that you’ve done all the upfront research—finding your niche and exploring keyword possibilities—and setup your website, the next step in the progression is to start filling your site up with content, right? Well yes, but in order to do that you must find specific products to write about. Let’s get to the meat and potatoes part: selecting the products.

Finding Specific Products To Promote

You’ve found a niche with a good profit potential, performed keyword research, and created a website. Now it’s time to find actual products to start promoting. To do this, we will look at a few of the web’s top affiliate networks. You are allowed to participate in multiple affiliate programs simultaneously if you wish.

  • Clickbank

One of the most popular affiliate networks around, Clickbank is known for giving out higher than average commissions (50-75% on certain digital products), as well as having a massive product database from which to promote. Just by clicking on the “Affiliate Marketplace” section of Clickbank’s site, you will witness a myriad of products from all categories. Next to each product there is information about how much money you’ll earn for each sale and what percentage of the sale price makes up your final cut.

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Gravity is a metric that represents the number of affiliates who have sold the vendor’s products in the last 12 weeks. This is one of Clickbank’s most useful tidbits of information, telling you essentially which items are ‘trending’ of late.

Once you sign-up you can start promoting any product right away. Of course, it’s important to make sure Clickbank carries the products you’re looking to promote before joining—but out of the 12,000+ vendors and many more thousands of product offerings available on the site, chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for.

  • ShareASale

ShareASale is another one of the large affiliate networks. Founded in 2000, the SharaASale platform has about 4,000 merchants listed, of which over one thousand are exclusive to them. What sets the network apart is its proprietary technology used to connect merchants to an extensive network of established affiliates. Then they allow merchants to decide their commission structure and only pay affiliates if a customer makes a sale.

ShareASale also includes an extensive array of management tools for affiliates including real-time reporting, suggestions for improving your site, and auto-depositing for commission payments.

  • Commission Junction

We’d be remiss not to mention Commission Junction, who currently reps over 3,000 of the world’s top brands including H&R Block, Home Shopping Network, and The Home Depot. They offer a fairly bare bones pay-per-sale service but it does have a few additional layers you can add for a price. Like ShareASale they offer robust reporting and tracking tools so you can differentiate and see what links are receiving the best ROI.

  • Amazon Affiliate Program

Given that Amazon is the world’s largest internet marketplace, their affiliate program is used by a great many sites. In 2015 Amazon.com revenue surpassed $100B, and it’s affiliates likely generated $10B of it. This doesn’t mean Amazon is necessarily the best fit for your site though. Commission rates are fairly low (4-10%), which means if you’re promoting a cheaper product it could take you awhile to see positive ROI. That said, Amazon is a good option to explore because of its sheer quantity of items and brand reputability.

Consumers don’t have to purchase the product you promoted in order for you to get a commission. All they have to do is click on the Amazon link you provided and make a purchase from Amazon.com within a 24 hour window.

Signing up is easy, and free. Once approved you can start promoting Amazon products right away.

Within the Associates admin panel you’ll find helpful features to help you increase CTRs on your site. Amazon frequently lists bargains and special offers for the week which are always effective to share with your audience. People like deals.

If you aren’t HTML savvy, or you just enjoy saving time, then there’s a WordPress plug-in called Easy Azon that will make your blog posting a lot easier. It lets you research and add product links directly from inside your WordPress dashboard, rather than having to jump back and forth to Amazon’s website. There’s a paid version with even more enhanced features, like the ability to use it on an unlimited amount of client websites.

When choosing your affiliate program(s), don’t use the commission fee as your only deciding metric. Check that the program offers a wide base of products within your niche, and whether there’s sufficient room for expansion. Additionally, you want a service with a helpful interface and a bevy of support options to make your job easier.

Home stretch time! Let’s get the content flowing and the commission payments rolling in.

Start Driving Traffic and Earning Commissions

You’ve decided which products you’d like to promote initially, so now let’s do some writing. There are a few things to keep in mind as you begin creating content.

Firstly, it needs to be well-written. We’re not advocating you write like Shakespeare, but make sure your content looks reasonably well-thought out and uses correct grammar. Secondly, don’t make ‘selling’ the product your sole focus in each blog post. This tends to produce a disingenuous tone won’t make your readers want to click on any affiliate links. Instead, offer a fair insight about the pros and cons of each product, leaving the final decision up to your reader. It’s even a good idea to add a short bio or mission statement somewhere on your site to prove your humanness.

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Driving traffic to your affiliate site can seem like an impossible task. Many new affiliates will throw hundreds or even thousands of dollars towards AdWords, Amazon display ads, or various other CPC ventures expecting big returns. It’s okay to spend a little in this area for some initial exposure, but your ROI is going to be VERY low as a brand new site. Plus, you need to have lots of content already on your site to have any hope of retaining leads. The best strategy is to go organic. Write a high-volume of high-quality product reviews with proper SEO and you’ll slowly start to build your audience.

To help you grow faster and keep your headaches to a minimum, you should enlist some help from freelance writers across the web. Resources like UpWork and Freelance Writing Gigs are great for finding quality writers at fairly low costs. UpWork is especially useful at guiding you towards the right candidates, because it has them answer specific questions—set by you—when they apply. You’re looking at anywhere from 25-50 articles to get the ball rolling. Why not delegate that task so you can focus on other important things?

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Conclusion

This is only the beginning. Affiliate marketing is getting more competitive by the year, and affiliate sites are a dime a dozen. In most affiliate programs less than 10% of affiliates drive 90% of traffic and conversions. As your site grows, continue to study the competition and dissect what their doing successfully. Then recognize their deficiencies and find ways you can do it better. A successful affiliate site begins and ends with great research, but it comes down to understanding your audience and giving them content that is worthy of their click.