How can I make money with an affiliate website?

by | Jul 16, 2020

If you have ever searched for “passive income” online, you have probably come across a type of website called an affiliate. An affiliate based website generates income by partnering with a company, product, or service to promote products and services in exchange for a payment for the promotion.

With enough time and hard work, you can make a site earn a sizeable income through affiliate links. I personally worked with someone who made hundreds of thousands in affiliate revenue monthly, but at that level, the income is hardly passive. Let’s say you are interested in giving this a shot – where do you start?

Step 1 – Pick a Niche

Affiliates with income potential require a lot of hard work upfront before any earnings start to come your way. You want to choose a niche that (1) you have advanced knowledge and/or interest in the topic, (2) has a sufficient traffic/earnings potential ratio, (3) doesn’t face impossible competition from big brands, and (4) has expansion potential.

Here is an example niche I looked into a while back: Super-Automatic Espresso Machines. Using an analytics tool (SEMrush), I performed enough keyword research to see the earning potential for affiliate traffic around the term “Super-Automatic Espresso Machines” was enough to consider creating a website. These machines start at about $1000, plus average monthly traffic for keyword variations totals around 12k, and the keyword difficulty is tough but largely populated with mid-competitive affiliate sites. Furthermore, I looked at some potential “competitors” and saw their websites were easily capable of generating upwards of $30k/mo in revenue (by expanding further into the greater coffee affiliate niche).

With quite a few people working to make money on affiliate websites, you are unlikely to find an “easy” niche, but the good news is the barriers to entry are relatively high to keep people with short attention spans out of the competitive landscape.

Step 2 – Choose a Domain and Get to Work

Choosing a domain seems easy enough, but trust me, it is a crucial first step that will determine your speed to success. New domains take months for search engines to trust, but if you are looking for a long term hobby, this shouldn’t be a big deal. Some people expedite the process of “aging” a domain by looking up expired domains (that used to have websites) or by purchasing old websites on sites like flippa or empire flippers. If you choose to go that route, I recommend finding sites that are at least 3 years old and have glaring opportunities to improve (like adding an SSL certificate) – that way you can start strong. Avoid websites that look like their SEO fell off a cliff unless you know how to get penalties lifted through Google Search Console.

Your domain does not have to be incredibly related to your niche, so don’t waste too much time picking one that will suit your needs.

Now that you have your domain picked out, you will need hosting and a CMS (Content Management System). I highly recommend keeping this straightforward and simple. My recommendation is GoDaddy Ultimate Managed WordPress Hosting is a solid pick in terms of speed, capacity, and cost. You can work like a developer by using a staging website, and the one-click backups and SSL are a great way to avoid a devastating site crash. There are other WordPress hosting options like WP Engine, A2 Hosting, Fastcomet, Siteground, Liquidweb, and many more. Most successful affiliates choose WordPress over Wix, Squarespace, Weebly etc, because of the advanced customizability (which poses a bit of a technical learning curve).

If you choose WordPress – I recommend a theme (for me I always use Divi from Elegant Themes) that allows you to work simply without worrying too much about customizations and extraneous plugins. Once you have established your website, you are ready to do the real heavy lifting.

Step 3 – Create a Simple Site Structure and Build Content

Before you write paragraph one of your website, you should know what kind of content you want to create. Have a roadmap including your key articles planned out. Typically, your site “base” will likely be comprised of your home page, an “about” page, a blog page, and about 100 blog articles with 3-4 cornerstone pieces of content that links to the deeper articles within the site. 

At this point you might be thinking “do I REALLY have to write 100 ARTICLES?” and my answer would be almost definitely. Depth of knowledge and content will set you apart from pretenders in the space, so if you shoot for 100 articles, you will set yourself apart from people who are looking to get rich quickly. Two articles a week would give you this depth of content in a year, so it really should not be too daunting of a task. Working on a plan before writing the articles will allow you to create a cohesive website structure. If you want to take your outline a step further, you can include two blog posts that you want each of the non-cornerstone articles to link to. An effective internal link structure is crucial to good SEO practices. 

Create your static page content, then create your “big articles”, and once you have these items squared away, you can start writing your deeper content. Your cornerstone articles should be 4500 words minimum, and your regular articles need to be at least 1500 words. This is the lion’s share of the work required to start getting keywords and traffic for your website. 

Step 4 – Backlinks and Engagement

Along the way, you might start performing research into SEO best practices. You might hear phrases like “black hat” and “white hat” SEO and learn about complex strategies to game the system and rank at the top of search engines quickly. I have seen people perform all sorts of SEO trickery to game the system, and increasingly, Google has found a way to penalize people who don’t play by their rules. 

In terms of SEO success, you want a site that is relatively fast and has great content first, then you will want to focus on backlinks and article shares. If your site has great content, your site’s bounce rate should be low and the average time on site should be high. People who see value in your content might share an article, or perhaps they will link to your website on their own site to help others learn about the niche you are working on. If someone links to your site, you will have a “backlink”, which is online social proof. Think of it like this – the more people talk about your website online, the higher it should rank in Google. Furthermore, if a subject matter expert or authority website mentions you on their website, a search engine will appraise your website to be more valuable than a site that isn’t referred to anywhere online. 

The process of obtaining backlinks organically is difficult, but if you pay for a backlink or start using spam sites to get easy links, you will find no improvement if not penalization for your efforts. Reach out to websites where you think your content could benefit their website. This is a process known as backlink outreach. 

Step 5 – Affiliates and Partnerships

Let’s say you have started to see traffic on your website – at this time, you will want to start working with affiliates and partners to sell products. Do not start this process before your site has traffic. A site that generates no sales has no value to an affiliate, so your relationship might be terminated before it starts. Instead, let your traffic grow and gather information on your visitors to display value to potential partners. If your site gains good traction, you might be able to negotiate better affiliate rates for your products and services. 

Big companies will usually have fixed affiliate rates (and low ones if they already have great traffic on their own), so don’t expect to get a great rate with a powerhouse company like amazon. Your better affiliate rates can come from direct partnerships with products and services. A personal relationship can also help you promote a brand as you might get special permission to offer discounts and use proprietary assets. 

In Summary

Over time, if you write a boatload of great content about a narrow subject category, you will likely achieve a good amount of organic traffic. If you can gather backlinks along the way, you can get more traffic at a faster rate. If your website is able to hit “critical mass” and get enough visitors to generate revenue from affiliate products and services, you can make some serious income. I would hardly call this income “passive”, but if you want to have a fun hobby that has income potential, a niche website could make a lot of sense.

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