I received a question last month about how I use affiliate programs and realized there is a lot of information I could share about this area of my business. In general, I think the more we do to lift the "curtain" surrounding the business of blogging - the better! This is a real job and a real industry...it's okay to admit that. In this post I will first cover a few facts about my blog and affiliate programs in general (because I think it's valuable to know where I am coming from) then I'll dive into what I actually do.
My blog gets between 160-180K visits and 240-300K pageviews a month. I share this to give you a baseline of my reach. This is not the most popular blog in the world (obviously) but that's a decent size and I would say that my audience is more engaged than "average." Remember, I have been blogging since late 2005 and consistently since early 2010.
I get about 100 "sponsored post" or "sponsored link" or "product review" or "giveaway promotions" or "affiliate membership offers" a month and say yes to maybe one of them. I share this to note that for me it's about quality over quantity when it comes to affiliate programs. I never enjoy saying no, but it's in everyone's best interest - mine, yours and the company - if I only recommend what really love and what makes sense with my brand/life.
In 2013, affiliate revenue made up 14.5% of my net annual income. I share this because that's a very decent portion of income. To give you an idea, rubber stamp sales made up about the same amount of net income and took much more work. (Remember, net is total income minus expenses.)
So...what's the deal with affiliate programs?
Basically, it's a commission system that online shops/brands set up to encourage people to share links and promote their business. When I personally sign on as an "affiliate" for something I am saying, "I use this and like it." I embed (within a post or on my sidebar) a link that has a special tracking code. If you click through and buy that product or something else on the site I make a small commission (usually between 5-15%).
I consider affiliate programs "free money" because I am always going to be trying new things and writing about them. I am constantly going to be answering the "where'd you get that ________?" question. It's the nature of the blogging beast and since I'll be linking anyway, it's just one extra step to go through an affiliate program and perhaps make a commission off purchases.
Personally, I work from the product backward. Meaning, if I try something new (like a Pinhole Press book) and love it, I'll search to see if there is an affiliate program I can join before I blog about it. If a company doesn't offer an affiliate program, I will still blog about it but it might not get a full, in-depth post or it might not be a "priority" post for me to write.
I do not go searching for a random company that has a high affiliate payout and then write about that random product in the hopes that it will result in a big commission. Mostly because that's boring but also I cannot muster up the energy (much less the passion) to write about something I don't really love. (This is also why I say "no" to so many of the opportunities that come through my email inbox.)
I am an affiliate for many different shops through four major programs listed below :
- Amazon Associates
- Commission Junction
I wish that there was just ONE place to go for all the affiliate linking, but different programs attract different brands. I also belong to a few smaller programs that are brand specific (meaning they don't use a big program and have just set up something on their own)
You can create an account with the programs (I think rewardstyle is the only one that has to "approve" your account) and then apply within to different brands that you're interested in working with. Some brands will approve right away and others actually take the time to review your site and see if it's a good fit (sometimes they decline!). Once you are approved, you are able to link to various products or pages pretty easily (the process varies, but it's fairly intuitive). Each site has tracking information as well so you can see daily how your links are doing and the traffic you are generating.
Payout is usually by check or paypal and is paid out monthly OR once you reach a certain dollar threshold. Like all income, this revenue needs to be reported on your tax returns and if you hit a certain amount, you'll be provided a 1099 by the company.
I have affiliate images on my sidebar (these are usually provided by the program) and sometimes I will include affiliate text links into a "normal" post when I need to share a source for something. Other times I will write posts that deliberately include a lot of affiliate links (like a product round up or a book report or a product review). These are posts are always for things that I am actually interested in; I have learned that cannot "fake-it" for the blog without feeling lame or worse, tossing and turning at night.
Overall, I find the affiliate process easy and stress-free. It's a great way to make a little extra money from something that you are going to do anyway AND recommend products that you really love.
In today's podcast episode I am talking with Amy T Schubert of Lemon & Raspberry about how she uses an affiliate program to SELL her own products. This was something I knew nothing about and loved getting the inside scoop on! Subscribe to ELISE GETS CRAFTY on iTunes or stream the episode here. Fun fact - I got a fancy new jingle for the podcast lead-in!