You don’t have to launch your own product to earn income from your blog.
You don’t even need a huge audience (although audience size does help).
Today I’m going to show you exactly how to make money with your blog using something known as affiliate marketing.
I’m also going to show you some real examples of how this works in practice (with actual sales figures) AND I’ll give you 10 ideas for products you could sell through your own blog.
Oh, and I know that talking about the “M” word (money) is uncouth and awkward. We don’t do it around here all that often.
If you’re working towards building a business online, you can learn so much from a little transparency and disclosure.
None of the details below are meant to brag or show my unclassy side. I share this to help you realize what is possible so you can get closer to supporting yourself from your online projects as well. Money certainly isn’t our only goal, but we shouldn’t shy away from talking about it from time to time either.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
In case you haven’t heard of affiliate marketing before, here are the basics.
Affiliate marketing essentially means earning commissions for customer referrals online.
Thousands of products and services online have “affiliate programs” (sometimes also called “partner programs” or “referral programs”).
As an affiliate, you sign up to have your referrals tracked (using a special link just for you). When you use the link in blog posts or email, you earn a commission if someone who clicks through your link ends up purchasing.
It’s really pretty simple.
Most affiliate programs are open (anyone can sign up), but some are closed (by invitation only). As you grow as a blogger and make more friends and contacts online, you’ll hear about more and more opportunities. If you haven’t been invited to a particular affiliate program, it doesn’t hurt to ask directly.
Commissions can range from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars per referral. Commission percentages can range from 5% to 80%.
Affiliate marketing is nothing to sneeze at. You can earn some serious income with affiliate marketing through your blog.
In 2011, about 40% of our total revenue came through affiliate marketing. This includes both offering other people’s products for sale ourselves, as well as having other people sell the products we released. Affiliate marketing works both ways and can be a powerful way to make more sales of products you create.
You don’t have to blog about marketing to make money using this model. There are great products and guides to be sold on health, travel, personal development, personal finance and plenty of other topics.
Signing up for affiliate programs and getting your links is easy.
Making tons of sales is the hard part. That’s what we’re going to cover today.
Many bloggers think affiliate marketing is just about slapping up a banner ad, and they’re missing out. If you have tons of traffic that might work, but most bloggers will have a hard time making a single sale using banner ads.
There are much better ways to promote affiliate products…
An Example of an Affiliate Program
Why would a product creator offer an affiliate program?
Here’s an example.
For our recent launch of How to Start a Blog that Matters, I knew that other bloggers (including some friends of mine) had audiences which would also be interested in the course.
By creating an affiliate program, I was able to sell many more copies of the course than I would have been able to myself.
I set up the affiliate program and offered a 75% commission (purposefully a very high commission set as an experiment). Before the launch, I reached out to several bloggers to let them know about the launch and our affiliate program. Several of them ran special promotions during the first few weeks of our launch.
We sold over 500 copies of the course in the first month. About 1/3rd of those came from our audience directly, and another 2/3rds came from affiliates.
The pie chart to the right showsthe distribution of sales by affiliate for the first month (names hidden to protect the innocent). You can see the biggest pie are sales from us directly (167). The maroon pie at the bottom are sales via our other blog Expert Enough (27). The rest are each individual affiliates, some of whom had impressive sales numbers.
Affiliates have sold over 350 copies of the course. Those are sales we wouldn’t have made ourselves otherwise. Affiliates have earned over $22,600 in commissions and bonuses by selling this one course in just over a month, and I’m happy for every dollar we pay out.
It’s a win-win-win situation. The product creator makes more sales, the affiliate earns commissions for referrals and the buyers get an incredible product (and sometimes extra bonuses – see more below).
To see how this all works sign up for the Start a Blog that Matters affiliate program. You don’t necessarily have to promote the course (unless you want to). Just register to see how it all works.
What Should You Promote?
Selling affiliate products can be a win-win-win situation, but only if the product is incredible AND relevant to your audience.
On the other hand, if you pitch mediocre products just to make a buck, you’ll damage the trust you’ve worked so hard to establish with your audience.
So you have to be selective and always focus on helping your audience.
The best affiliate offers are based on recommending a product that was undeniably helpful to you already.
Think about the products, services, courses, etc. you’ve used and benefited from over the past year that might also be helpful to your audience.
For example, I recently fell in love with the BackupBuddy WordPress plugin (my affiliate link). I’m now using it to run nightly backups of all my blogs (and sync with Amazon S3). BackupBuddy has been a godsend when it comes to migrating WordPress sites to other blogs.
Backups are something you don’t want to mess with. One mistakenly deleted file or server disk failure could take your WordPress site down for good. Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way.
After using manual methods for backing my sites up and various free plugins that never seemed to work for more than a week or two, I was ecstatic to find BackupBuddy.
This is exactly the kind of situation you should look for when thinking about affiliate programs to promote on your site.
BackupBuddy is the kind of thing I would and have gladly recommended to other WordPress site owners. We mentioned it in a recent post and made 5 sales as a result.
Sure, we won’t pay the rent with those 5 sales, but that’s just one of a few dozen products we’ve sold as affiliates over the past year.
It all adds up.
When you come across a product, course or service you absolutely love and want to tell your blog’s readers about, do a quick Google search for “product affiliate program”. For example, here’s what I found when I Googled for “backupbuddy affiliate program:”
Try this for products you love and want to recommend.
Google for your product’s “affiliate program” or “partner program.” If you don’t find anything, you can write the product owner directly or search on affiliate networks like ClickBank, Commission Junction or ShareASale.
5 Steps to Earning Tons of Affiliate Commissions through Your Blog Posts
At the end of this post I have some ideas of things you can promote (and affiliate programs). For now, let’s assume you’ve found something you’re excited about sharing.
Remember what we said before about just slapping up a banner ad with your affiliate link. You might make a sale or two by doing that, but actually probably not unless you have a big audience.
To make significant sales, much more effort and planning needs to go into your affiliate promotion.
Here are 5 steps I follow to turn an affiliate promotion from forgetful to incredible.
You don’t have to follow every one of these steps. In fact, just one or two might be enough to make your next promotion successful. Include all 5 for the greatest impact possible.
Step 1: start with something you really use and believe in
We already talked about recommending products you’ve used and love.
Don’t skip this step.
You might be able to make some quick sales by recommending products you’ve never used, but you won’t build long-term trust from your audience.
If you want to promote something but have never used it, buy the service or product or ask the owner if you can demo the product as an affiliate.
Make sure everything you recommend is top notch and your audience will thank you for the referrals.
OK, now let’s talk about how to put together an insanely effective promotion.
Step 2: tell your story
Think about how you can tell a powerful story about how the product you’re promoting made your life better or helped your business.
You don’t just have to talk about the specific product you’re promoting. Tell your broader story as it applies to the overall topic the product is about.
*** Affilate Promotion Example #1: Travel Hacking ***
When Chris Guillebeau announced his Travel Hacking Cartel last year I was definitely interested to see what he had to offer.
I got advanced access to the program and liked what I saw. I knew the Cartel would be a fantastic resource, but there was just one problem. The Cartel was brand new. I didn’t have direct results to share from using it.
Instead of sharing my direct results, I decided to share my personal travel hacking story. Here’s part of what I wrote in my post How to Become a Travel Hacker, Get Free Flights, First Class Upgrades and Complimentary Hotel Stays:
For about five years from 2000 to 2005 I flew almost exclusively first class and took about 150 flights around the country and to foreign destinations. Most of that travel was for work (I was a business technology consultant to Fortune 500 companies) and I flew hundreds of thousands of miles and stayed in hotels nearly 200 nights a year some years.
My company didn’t pay for first class tickets, but I managed to nearly always fly first class. I had to upgrade the flights myself, and after learning the ropes from my seasoned traveling colleagues, I quickly figured out how to never fly coach again.
That was my introduction to travel hacking. Back then it didn’t have such a cool name, but all of us at the company knew some tricks for getting free perks.
My wife and I took a lot of vacations during those years as well. Sometimes we traveled within the U.S. (New York and New Orleans were favorite destinations), and sometimes we went out of the country. We took quite a few trips to Hawaii and went to Puerto Rico, Buenos Aires and Mexico.
We took probably 12 to 15 vacations in total, and almost never paid for a flight or hotel room. Almost all of the flights were first class (even international).
Share the dream. Show people what is possible.
This one blog post has earned over $1,300 in commissions and continues to make sales each month.
What personal stories can you tell about the product your promoting or about the subject in general?
Stories are powerful. Try using one in your next promotion.
Step 3: share results
If you know the person behind the product personally, disclose that relationship. Talk about how awesome your friend is and explain why you believe in what he or she is doing.
I’m going to share an example here with you of one of the most effective blog post affiliate promotions I’ve ever seen.
*** Affilate Promotion Example #2: Scott Dinsmore ***
When I launched the Start a Blog that Matters program I didn’t give affiliates as much advance notice as I should have. That didn’t stop Scott Dinsmore from putting together an incredibly effective blog post with just one day’s notice.
Scott has been the #1 affiliate for Start a Blog that Matters, and he doesn’t have the biggest audience.
Scott has sold over 100 copies of the course in just over a month. With a 75% commission rate on a $97 purchase price, I’ll let you do the math.
How has Scott sold so many copies?
He wrote an incredible blog post called The 4 Pillars to Starting a Blog that Actually Matters (& grow it by 160x in 2 years).
In this post, Scott does a number of things incredibly well (including most of the steps listed here). One special thing Scott did in this post was to share the concrete results he achieved by using my strategies.
Scott explains how blogging has changed his life, how he built his blog, and (importantly) how the strategies in the Start a Blog that Matters course helped him grow his blog from 111 subscribers to over 11,500.
It’s a powerful story. Scott achieved impressive results using my blog-building strategies and he simply told that story in his blog post.
Share specific results if you can. People are hungry for results.
Study Scott’s post and see if you can understand why it was so effective.
Step 4: include a bonus
Here’s a technique that can work very well. Sometimes an affiliate commission will be high enough that it’s worth giving away a product or service to anyone who purchases through your affiliate link.
This is a more direct sales approach, and it can lead to big results.
*** Affilate Promotion Example #3: A Big Bonus ***
For example, when Baker and Karol announced the latest Only72 sale, I jumped at the chance to include a special “lite” version of Traffic School in the package.
As a participant in this sale, I wasn’t compensated directly, but instead Baker and Karol offer an 80% affiliate commission on any packages sold.
To help make sure I sold a decent number of Only72 packages, I decided to include an extra special bonus of a complimentary 30-minute one-on-one business strategy session with me.
You can see exactly how I made this offer in this post: Traffic School “Lite” Opens Today in the Biggest Entrepreneurship Sale of the Year.
I was the top affiliate in this round of Only72 sales because of this blog post (a version of which I also ran at my other site). This blog post earned just shy of $8,000 in affiliate commissions.
The top affiliates for How to Start a Blog that Matters have all included bonuses as well. Every one of the biggest affilate promotions I’ve done has included a bonus.
This technique works, but use it sparingly and smartly or it can come of desperate and backfire. Make sure the product remains the focus, and that your bonus is really a bonus.
Step 5: use case studies and examples
Your own story can help sell the product you’re pitching, but so can other people’s stories and case studies.
Done well, case studies and examples can also help your post become popular on social media, which will give you even more sales opportunities.
*** Affilate Promotion Example #4: Case Studies ***
Over at Expert Enough last month we decided to offer the How to Start a Blog that Matters course as an affiliate. We tracked sales separately so we could see how well the course would sell through that blog.
(Side note: check out the Million Dollar Blog Project to see how we’ve been building Expert Enough as a case study blog-based-business).
Instead of telling our personal story for this post, we decided to do a round-up of case studies on how 10 other people had used blogs to become recognized experts in their field.
This blog post has earned $1,543 in affiliate commissions so far and continues to make sales nearly every week.
The post also became popular on social media, with 143 retweets (quite a few for Expert Enough at the time).
See this example affiliate promotion here: 10 People Who Used Blogs to Become Recognized as Experts in Their Field
Think beyond your own experience for your next affiliate promotion.
Who else can you point to as a case study or example for your blog post?
Step 6 (bonus step): the soft sell
If you’ve followed the steps above, your promotion doesn’t need a hard sales pitch. In fact, a hard sales pitch will hurt your sales.
Follow the steps above and let your story, your results, your bonus and the product do the selling for you.
End your blog post or page with a simple link and soft sell. Tell people that you’ll still love them even if they don’t purchase.
The last thing you want to do is to turn off your audience and lose people over one hard sell. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
Always look out for your audience’s best interests and don’t trade a few quick sales for your self respect or long-term relationships.
10 Ideas for Things to Promote in Your Blog Posts
Like I said a couple of times before, the best place to start looking for things to promote is with the products and services you already use.
If you’re still coming up short on ideas, you can also try out new products and services to see if anything is worth promoting to your audience (hint, if you don’t like a product or service you try, you can usually get a refund within a period of time).
Here are 10 products and services I’ve used and recommend which have affiliate programs (I’ve promoted most of these at some point, some with great results).
If you blog about travel, lifestyle or entrepreneurship…
- Live Off Your Passionby Scott DinsmoreAffiliate sign up for Live Off Your Passion
- Unconventional Guidesby Chris GuillebeauAffiliate info for Unconventional Guides
If you blog about productivity…
If you blog about marketing or blogging…
- Hosting (BlueHost, for example)Affiliate details for BlueHost
- How to Start a Blog that Matters by me, Corbett BarrAffiliate details for Start a Blog that Matters
- WordPress Themes (like WooThemes or Thesis)Affiliate programs: WooThemes / Thesis
- BlogWorld Expo (in LA or NYC)
Affiliate details for BlogWorld Expo
If you blog about personal finance…
Some other ideas…
- Language Hacking Guide and Speak from Day Oneby Benny LewisAffiliate program for the language hacking guide
- Your Big Beautiful Book Plan(or anything else by Danielle LaPorte)Affiliate program for YBBBP
Here’s one last tip. Some of the best affiliate programs will have instructions and resources for you as an affiliate. Look for those when you sign up.
For Further Reading
Pat Flynn over at the Smart Passive Income blog earns the majority of his income through affiliate marketing (over $38,000 in January alone).
And finally, this isn’t related to blogging, but our own Affiliate Marketing for Beginners course can teach you the basics of affiliate marketing for niche sites.
Questions about these steps or how to get started with affiliate marketing as a blogger? Ask below and we’re happy to answer.
I’d also love to hear about your most effective tips for promoting affiliate products in blog posts.
Let’s hear ‘em below.
If you have other affiliate programs you recommend checking out, please tell us below about those as well.