Why Advertising Doesn’t Work for Bloggers

image of the words buy now

You might have heard that you can’t make money as a blogger.

A few bloggers can manage if they generate superhuman levels of traffic, like Perez Hilton or ICanHasCheezburger (the LOLCat blog).

For ordinary mortals like you and me? You’ll be lucky to pay your Chipotle bill from advertising. You need a model that works in the real world.

First, take a look at a post I wrote on exactly this topic, called Why You Can’t Make Money Blogging.

One of the things I talk about in that post is that, for those who aren’t seeing stratospheric traffic, we need to solve real problems in order to make a decent living.

Copyblogger, even though it’s one of the most popular blogs on the web, takes this approach. We don’t go the “blog celebrity” route, because that’s subject to fads and fashion, and we like to build our business on something more enduring than that.

Instead, we provide lots of solutions to real-world problems with our free content, and we offer additional solutions involving paid products, both our own and other people’s.

A lot of people associate affiliate marketing with sleaze, scams, and high-pressure sales techniques. But there’s no reason in the world to leave affiliate marketing to the bottom-feeders.

Affiliate marketing is one of the smartest ways to start monetizing
your high-quality content. But you have to do it right.

5 keys to better affiliate marketing

As you probably already know, affiliate marketing is the practice of finding new customers for an existing product or service that you didn’t create.

Even if you’re a product-creating rock star and you’ve got a fat catalog of great stuff for your readers to buy, none of us can keep up with our most passionate customers. They’re always going to want more than we can provide. This is where a smart, thoughtful affiliate program can fill the bill.

And if you don’t yet have a great product of your own to offer, you can still give your audience the information, physical products, and services they’re looking for, and make some money for yourself while you’re at it. It’s just cool all the way around.

Generally, the vendor does all of the “selling” for you — you’re just providing a lead. In reality, though, a little judicious pre-selling on your part can make affiliate marketing work better for you.

When you’re looking for an affiliate product to review or promote on your site, here are some of the guidelines that have worked well for us on Copyblogger:

  1. Only promote products that are so good, you would promote them whether or not you were paid to. Many “gurus” will tell you to find a Clickbank product in your niche that’s doing well and promote that. While that’s a useful way to tell if a particular topic is viable, it’s also a great way to destroy your relationship with your audience unless the Clickbank product is terrific. Only promote great quality, whether it’s a $17 product or a $17,000 one.
  2. Make sure you’re selling something your audience wants. This seems obvious, but it’s where a lot of marketers fail. You can’t just offer something people need or could benefit from. They also have to want it. Don’t be afraid to promote products that are already popular in your topic. They’re popular because there’s a strong desire. You’ll use your own relationship and content to make people want to buy with your link.
  3. Look for high-dollar-value products. This is especially important if you don’t have tons of traffic. It might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true — you won’t necessarily sell more of a cheaper product. It’s not uncommon to find that a $197 product sells as many copies as a $19 one.
  4. Give some background. Reviews tend to do very well for affiliate offers, because they give the buyer some additional background on the product’s strong and weak points. Never be afraid to honestly address flaws in a product you review. You won’t hurt sales, and you will build your trust and credibility with your audience.
  5. Always disclose your affiliate relationship. Not only is it a good relationship-building practice to be honest with your readers, but the FTC also now requires bloggers to disclose that you’re receiving financial compensation for your endorsement. This can get you into some very ugly hot water if you ignore it, so don’t. (If you want a model for a graceful way to do that, scroll down and click through to the post on how to make affiliate disclosure into a selling point.)

More killer strategies for affiliate marketing

Brian wrote a terrific series on Copyblogger about how you can make more money with affiliate offers and improve your relationship with your audience while you’re at it.

Remember, relationships are the first pillar. Make them your priority, or the rest of your business won’t be able to grow and thrive.

The headlines speak for themselves. If affiliate marketing will be part of your income mix, each of these is a must-read.

Can you still make this work if you aren’t writing about online marketing?

A lot of people believe that this affiliate marketing stuff is only for people writing about online marketing.

That’s actually one of the worst niches you could get into, so don’t go there unless you have a huge passion for it (and something new to add to the topic).

If you write a food blog, review kitchen gadgets, gourmet ingredients, and cookbooks. You can link to all of these with affiliate links from both Amazon Associates and Commission Junction.

Remember to talk about the bad as well as the good. If the $2400 espresso machine sucks and the $89 one is fabulous, tell the truth. And use an affiliate link for both. If someone’s going to saddle themselves with the crummy one after you’ve given all the information, there’s no reason for you to short yourself on the commission.

If you write a humor blog, take your best material and put it on t-shirts, hats, or bags with CafePress.

If you’re a mommy blogger, you can review toys, clothes, diaper bags, or even online parenting courses.

Blog about relationships? Find a great online course or ebook about becoming a better husband, wife, parent, adult child, friend, or just a happier, more fulfilled human being. There’s some great stuff out there just waiting for you to help get the word out.

Jennifer Michelle has a blog for pole dancers. She sells her own workout gear designed just for pole dancing (called “Pole Skivvies,” how cute is that?), and also offers dance poles on an affiliate basis. See? I told you anyone could apply this.

What’s the best way to score review copies?

Physical stuff you’ll probably have to actually buy. If your blog gets decent traffic, you can always ask for a freebie. But your credibility goes up a little if you pay for it.

For ebooks and online courses, you can nearly always get your money back if you decide the product isn’t worth a review, and you should definitely get in the habit of getting a refund if it isn’t any good. (Check the fine print before you PayPal to make sure, of course.)

Why you’re going to be better at this than most people

Remember, you have some gigantic advantages in this business over the more typical “make money now” system guys.

  1. You’ve got a unique voice and point of view.
  2. You care more about your relationship with your audience than you do about some affiliate commission. (Even a really sweet one on that expensive espresso machine.)
  3. You’re building tons of high-quality content (not auto-generated or scraped junk) on your blog, that’s creating a content net to support buyers over the long run and keep them coming back. If this offer isn’t a good fit for them, the next one may be.

This means your “ads” for these products don’t look like ads. They look like honest recommendations from a friend. Which is exactly the way you should think about them.

Will there ever be affiliate offers in this newsletter?

Of course there will! :)

As we come across really good stuff that we think will make your business work better, we’ll absolutely let you know about it. And if there’s an affiliate program for it, we’ll take our commission. Fair enough?

We’ll also let you know from time to time about products, tools, or services that we create. Sometimes, when we’re frustrated at not finding exactly the right tool to support our businesses, we make one. (The Genesis theme framework for WordPress being a great example of that.)

And when we do, we’ll share it with you.

Would we ever let you know about something we didn’t believe in? Of course not, because this is Internet Marketing for Smart People, not Internet Marketing for Clueless Idiots. The dumbest thing we (or you) could do is to promote garbage.

Your assignment for the week

Do some serious thinking about where you’re going to find really high-quality affiliate products that you could discuss and, when appropriate, recommend to your audience.

Clickbank is the biggest marketplace for information products — just be aware that there’s a lot of junk mixed in with the gold. Commission Junction is where to go for physical stuff — everything from collectible movie posters to gardening equipment to great coffee. And if you’re in the information and advice business, see if the better bloggers in your topic have anything you might promote.

Next up on the newsletter, we’re going to circle back to relationships, and talk about how to develop a persona that lets your readers and customers create a stronger connection.

Sonia Simone


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