Affiliate Marketing Strategy with Amanda Williams and Jeannine Crooks | Mediavine On Air Episode 43

Mediavine On Air Logo

There’s hundreds of things you need to do as a content creator: strategizing your outreach, building your audience and scaling efficiently chief among them.

But how do you do that in today’s world, where everything moves at the speed of light? We’ve got the answer.

Enter affiliate marketing, an often underutilized revenue stream.

On Summer of Live 2019, Mediavine On Air host and Senior Director of Marketing Jenny Guy picked the brains of two affiliate marketing experts. Amanda Williams, a Mediavine travel publisher and affiliate ace on her website A Dangerous Business, and Jeannine Crooks, Partner Acquisition and Development Manager at Awin, a global affiliate marketing network.

Listen in and get ready to earn as Amanda and Jeannine tell us all in today’s episode of Mediavine On Air!

Helpful Resources

Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] JENNY GUY: Hello. Welcome. It is Wednesday, August 7th. It is the final month of the 2019 Summer of Live. And even though it is hot and dry most places around the world right now, we are making it rain here at Mediavine and continuing our focus on monetization.

Welcome and thank you for joining us. I am Jenny Guy. I am the marketing manager for Mediavine. And I have two amazing guests that I’m going to talk more about here in a second. But what we’re focusing on today has the potential to be a really highly lucrative revenue stream for content creators. But it also has the potential for being complicated and challenging to get going. We are talking about affiliate marketing.

What did you think of when you heard the term? Did you have excitement, dread, bewilderment? Well, luckily, my two incredible guests, when they hear affiliate marketing, they also hear cha-ching, because they know how to earn. They are experts from different sides of this equation.

So first, I have Mediavine publisher Amanda Williams. She has one of the top travel blogs on the internet, a Dangerous Business, which she started in 2010. In 2018, a Dangerous Business was awarded a silver award for Best Travel Blog in the 2017-2018 Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Competition, which is hosted annually by the Society of American Travel Writers, SATW for the acronym.

So not only is the content on her site phenomenal, a Dangerous Business helps drive more than $35,000 in sales to its affiliate partners every month. Amanda is also killing it with ad revenue and relationships with brands and tourism boards. Hello, Amanda. Welcome to the Summer of Love.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Hi. Thanks, Jenny.

JENNY GUY: Yay. We’re so glad you’re here. So she’s on the blogger side of the equation, clearly. And I also have Jeannine Crooks. She is the partner acquisition and development manager at Awin, a global affiliate network. She is especially experienced in affiliate marketing and internet marketing and creating successful partnerships and developing effective, profitable websites that generate immediate involvement and results.

She’s a frequent conference speaker everywhere from Affiliate Summit to TBEX and the Military Influencers Conference. She’s also a travel writer herself. And her work has appeared in most of the major newspapers across the US and Canada. Thank you for joining us, Jeannine.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Well, thank you for inviting me. Glad to be here.

JENNY GUY: I’m so excited to have you both here. So I know that there are a lot of questions out there about affiliate marketing. So please make sure to post in the comments. And I will make sure that we ask the questions to my wonderful guests. But let’s start with the more general question, ladies.

So you’re both extremely well-traveled, both literally and figuratively, with your education and your careers. So how did you get this expertise that you both possess in affiliate marketing? How did you become experts? What about affiliate marketing made you decide it was worth your while? And let’s start with Amanda.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: OK. So I was trying to think of when I actually started implementing affiliates on my site. And I think it was fairly early, like within the first year I started adding Amazon links to my site, but I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, this was back in like 2011.

So like nobody was really talking about SEO, certainly nobody in the travel blogging industry was really talking about affiliate marketing. So it was kind of just like hit or miss for the first couple years. And I got serious about it, I want to say probably about 2015. That’s the year that I went full time with my blog as my only career.

So I knew that diversifying my income was going to be really, really important. And it has been, because in this industry, things change all the time. So having as many income streams as possible is really ideal. So I knew that affiliate marketing was going to be a good one, because it’s something that there aren’t as many barriers to entry as some other forms of monetizing a website.

So I knew that I could get started right away and I knew that I had already built up a large enough audience to where I felt like they would trust me to recommend things. And that’s really just kind of where I started. And again, I knew it was going to be worth it as a passive income stream, because I was already recommending stuff to my readers. And so I figured, well, if I’m already recommending things, why don’t I add some affiliate links and try and actually make some money from those recommendations that I’m already like authentically making? So yeah.

JENNY GUY: It seems to be something that really goes hand-in-hand with being a travel blogger. That’s what people are coming there for is to get your experience, the benefit of your experience, for you to make those recommendations for them. And so it’s a natural fit for all bloggers, affiliate marketing, but it seems to be an especially great fit for people in the travel space for sure.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yeah. And I think as Google algorithms have changed and things like that and more bloggers are getting more of their traffic from SEO, so from searches, so if you have people that are searching for places to stay and tours to take and that sort of thing, it is a really natural fit to work in some affiliates for things that you’re probably already writing about.

JENNY GUY: Love it. Great answer. OK, Jeanine, same question to you. Why affiliate marketing and how did you become an expert?

JEANNINE CROOKS: Well, while I was travel writing, especially when I was first starting, I was also working a regular job. And I was always the marketing person at whatever company I was at. And I actually went to a company and inherited managing an affiliate program. And so I learned an awful lot about it fast and loved it.

I mean, I just loved all the possibilities on there. And that love has continued to grow. I’ve been in affiliate marketing now for over 20 years. I’ve been an affiliate. I’ve been a merchant. I’ve been a vendor. This is my second time with an affiliate network. And I can’t imagine doing anything else in my life. I just literally love it that much.

And I think the biggest reason why is because I’ve seen so many times when affiliate marketing has changed someone’s life, when all of a sudden, they are making their mortgage payment with it or I mean I actually saw someone go from homeless to homeowner, because of affiliate marketing.

I mean, that was a guy who was really determined, but he did it. And just knowing that anyone can do that and hopefully I can help them be part of that. Just makes it very fulfilling for me to be part of it. So that’s one of the biggest reasons why I love affiliate marketing.

JENNY GUY: We love that answer. I mean, it’s a lot of why we do what we do here at Mediavine. It’s so incredibly amazing to hear the stories of people who are having their lives changed by creating the content that they create. It’s so exciting. So are you of the opinion– you said a little bit– but you believe anyone can do this? Is that right, Jeannine?

JEANNINE CROOKS: Oh, yes. I mean, if you’re writing on a blog– and the thing is too is you don’t have to have huge numbers to be successful. You need to have more engaged readers. That’s the part. So I mean, I’ve seen blogs that don’t seem to have a large audience do incredibly well.

And it’s because they’ve developed a sense of trust with their readers, so that if they say, hey, this is a great widget. You need to have this. And the people go out and buy the widget. They get the commission. But it’s because they really believe it and the readers know, I can count on this person to recommend something that’s good.

And so that’s powerful. I’d rather have a blog that has 5,000 engaged readers or even 2,000 engaged readers rather than somebody who’s 100,000 eh. The 100,000 eh are not going to buy stuff. And that’s kind of the key for affiliate marketing. You do need to get them to buy things.

But if it’s stuff that you recommend and you know that it’s going to improve their lives, whether their hobby becomes easier or whatever, then it’s good. Then, you’re helping them. So you’re helping them and, hopefully, affiliate marketing is helping you.

JENNY GUY: Love that. There’s actually a lyric for Broadway song that’s “I would rather be nine people’s favorite thing than 100 people’s ninth favorite thing.” So that sounds a lot like what you just said.

JEANNINE CROOKS: I love that.

JENNY GUY: Yeah. I love it too. And I also think that it’s very encouraging to hear that affiliate marketing is mimicking what the sponsored posts and influencer marketing is and that brands are really starting to take notice of that engagement as well. And that’s something that converts for the brands and has great value for them, as opposed to just numbers. So it’s exciting to hear that there’s another revenue stream that really focuses on cultivating those intimate relationships with your readers. I think that’s great.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Yeah.

JENNY GUY: So between creating content, social media platforms, relationships with brands, conferences, video, speaking, et cetera, we know that influencers are constantly pulled in a million different directions and you could make a full time job out of learning the algorithm shifts for Facebook, which is one tiny piece of the huge influencer pie.

So why do you encourage affiliate marketing as a place for influencers to really invest their time? What do you love about affiliate marketing for influencers? And Jeannine, you kind of went into this. But specifically, why do you think it’s such a strong choice for influencers to learn about it? And we’ll start with you, Jeannine.

JEANNINE CROOKS: OK. Well, one of the things is affiliate marketing doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It’s a little bit more than set and forget it. Matt and I were just joking about that a minute ago. But what I encourage them to do is when you’re getting to the end of a post that you just wrote or something like that, take five minutes to figure out what the right affiliate links are to put into that post. And then, publish.

And it really doesn’t have to take a lot longer than that. There are a lot of tools. I can speak most about Awin. That’s who I work for. But we have a bookmarklet. We have a Chrome extension that will let you pull the deep link for whatever product it is you’re looking at so you can just copy and paste. It’s no more complicated than that. But by doing that, you have the opportunity now to make money on a post that you just wrote.

And even if it’s a sponsored post, you can go back to posts that you did six months, a year or longer than that. You’ve probably got some posts that are doing great that are old. You got paid for the sponsorship. But now, you can actually swap out those links for affiliate links and start making money from it again.

So it’s those kinds of things that I think are just wonderful opportunities for influencers. Their content is already there. It’s already amazing. Now, this is one more way to earn from what it is that you’ve already created. How nice is that?

JENNY GUY: It is.

Amanda, why as an influencer did you– I know that you talked about diversifying revenue streams? But it sounds like– is affiliate marketing a huge piece of the pie for you?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yeah. It is. I’d say it’s probably 40% of my income.

JENNY GUY: That’s amazing.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: So yeah, it’s a big chunk. And I think why I would recommend it, I kind of already touched on it, but I mean there’s no barrier to entry. In most cases, you don’t need to have any like minimum numbers or anything like that. You can kind of just get started. And you have control.

I mean, it’s not like someone else is throwing links on to your website or anything like that. You’re deciding what you’re recommending and what links you’re adding and where. But I think it’s great for someone like me, I travel a lot. So affiliate marketing, along with ad revenue, is one of those things that kind of, once you set it up, it’s there. And so I’m able to make money even when I’m not at work. So I can be traveling and still earning money and that’s great.

But I think another thing that often kind of gets like a little bit overlooked is that I think affiliate sales and knowing what kind of sales you’re making can actually be great proof of actual influence. A lot of times, when we talk about influencer marketing, we talk about, oh, but how do you measure ROI and all of these things?

For me, I can say, well, here are some of the brands that I am an affiliate for. And here’s how much in sales I make every month. And so I can find out what my readers are actually buying, what kind of posts they’re actually reading and then making purchases from.

So it helps me grow my income, but then also helps me decide which brands are going to be a good fit for my audience. And so it’s just kind of like win-win for both sides. But I think also in this ever changing world of influencers and bloggers, just being able to say like, hey, my audience actually buys X, Y, Z is proof that you actually have some influence over them.

JENNY GUY: And I love that as a pitching strategy, to go in and– is that stuff you’re including in your media kit, Amanda?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yeah. Yeah. I have a line in there saying like this is the amount of affiliate sales I make a month. I find that more and more brands are– it’s starting to click that like, oh, hey, we could work with people as affiliates on top of like sponsored posts and things like that. So I hope that that’s kind of the direction that the industry is going to go.

JENNY GUY: That was always the ultimate goal. Before I came to Mediavine, I started the influencer program for a brand in Chicago. And it was a European brand that was US brand. And it was always the goal to have someone write a post, fall in love with the product, and then become that long-term relationship, where they were wanting to write and then encouraging them to stay, kind of become almost a member of the family as an affiliate. That’s always the goal I think. And I think that they nicely dovetail and are a great way to take that one-off post and extend it into a long-term relationship. I love that.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Definitely. And I’m much more likely to consider working with a brand, if that’s an option. Like we’re not just talking about a one-off sponsored post, but we’re also talking about a good affiliate program that’s longer term. And so I think it’s important on the blogger side to think long term, to think, OK, well, it might be nice to make x amount of dollars to publish this sponsored post. But what can I do with this content a year from now, when like the sponsored post money is long gone? Then, what happens to that content? So yeah.

JENNY GUY: And the beautiful thing about blogger content anyway is that it’s evergreen. It’s existing out there. And affiliate marketing and ads are a way to continue earning on those posts long after you’ve done the work of writing them. So we’re just having a big old love fest for affiliate marketing. I love it.

So yeah, I figured that you guys would probably not be against that tact. So there are a million different ways to engage in affiliate marketing. Amanda, you mentioned you started out with just Amazon links, but then there’s ShareASale. There’s Awin. There’s a million different platforms, programs out there.

And then, there’s also building that individual relationship with the brand who is managing their own affiliate platform. So what are your favorites? I know Jeannine might have a little bit of a slant here. But how can our audience start using these platforms? How do you vet a platform? Could you come up with some red flags that if someone is contemplating entering an affiliate relationship with a platform or a program they should look out for? Jeannine, we’ll start with you.

JEANNINE CROOKS: OK. I think there’s some things that you can definitely look at. Yes. I do have my favorites. They’re Awin and ShareASale.

JENNY GUY: Fantastic.

JEANNINE CROOKS: There are a lot of other good networks that are out there as well. But I think that it’s important. One of the things that you can do is take a look at who the merchants are that each network is working with. Are those names that you recognize? Or does it seem like it’s Joe’s Bar and Grill and Insurance Leads? Might be a little skeptical about that.

JENNY GUY: Move on.

JEANNINE CROOKS: But like for us, some of our names are like Etsy, HP, StubHub. If those kind of customers have chosen to work with this particular network, there’s got to be something good about that network, because they can choose anybody. And they chose them.

So I mean, it’s those kinds of things that I always try and take a look at. There’s enough blogger communities that are online where you can just go on there and say, hey, who liked this one? Have you worked with them before? Are they good? And I mean, it’s up to us as networks to make sure that we do maintain our reputation with bloggers, by supporting them, by helping them by providing the tools that are there that they need.

And so I mean, that’s actually one of my personal responsibilities for Awin. I love doing it, because I feel that that’s very important to do. But it’s those kinds of things that you want to take a look at. Look for name brands I think is the big one. You’re going to be able to get a sense probably from their website too. Is their website like one page and looks like it got thrown together? Are there typos on it? Those sorts of things.

Does it look like the company’s got a good size? Has a reputation for paying their publishers like they’re supposed to? Because there’s some, where, all of a sudden, they’ll just disappear. So have they been in business for a while is also something. I mean, there’s some new good ones. They tend to be smaller.

But if you’re first starting out and you want to make sure that you’re going to be securing your income, kind of work with the better known networks, I would say, and the better known merchants, the merchants who’ve had a program for a while, or else are so big that– like Etsy just started their program I think three years ago. So it’s not that it’s a program that’s been around for 10 or 12 years, but most people have heard of Etsy. Go figure. So they’ve got like 300 million products on there. So it’s things like that I think to look for.

JENNY GUY: Fantastic.

JEANNINE CROOKS: If it’s somebody you would buy from.

JENNY GUY: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I’m sure that of their website is causing you to feel trust, then that’s something that your clients, your readers will also feel. Amanda, same question to you. What type of affiliate platforms are you associated with, beyond just starting with Amazon? And then what types of things do you look for specifically before you engage with someone in that way?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yeah. So I mean, I think that, obviously, platforms and programs are going to vary depending on your niche and your audience. So for travel bloggers, we’re going to be using affiliates a little bit differently than say a beauty blogger or a food blogger.

But I would say I’m on all of the big platforms, so ShareASale, CJ, Awin, all of those. Amazon, we already talked about. And then, I’m in some direct programs for some travel-specific affiliates, so like hotel affiliates and travel insurance and that sort of thing.

But just like Jeannine was saying, I think when you’re kind of deciding which programs to join, I always tell people, start with programs for brands you’re already recommending, companies that you’re already using, and finding out where they have their programs.

Trust, again, is always a huge thing. If it’s not something I would buy, I’m not going to recommend it to my readers. I get emails pretty much every day inviting me to join like a new affiliate program for a product or brand I’ve never heard of before. So yeah.

It can be tough when you’re first starting out to figure out where to start. So I usually say, start with those handful of products and companies that you already know, you love, and that you could recommend without any trouble. And then, find out where they are.

A lot of brands though are on multiple platforms or they might be on one of these affiliate platforms and then also have their own direct program. So in those cases, then it comes down to the nitty gritty details of what are the commission rates like and how are they paying you and all these other things that you might want to think about.

But I think the good thing about joining programs through these larger platforms is that everything’s kind of aggregated in one spot. It’s usually a little bit easier to know you’re going to get paid every month. And it’s just, I think, a safer place to start, because there are so many programs to choose from, if you’re using like a ShareASale or something like that. So yeah.

JEANNINE CROOKS: I think you just brought up a couple of really good points, because I’ve seen a lot of publishers who just say, oh, I’m going to join their in-house program. And that’s fine. God bless. But one of the things to keep in mind is that every program has a payout threshold.

And so for us on Awin, that threshold is $20. And so any combination of commissions that you receive from all of your merchants, that hits $20, triggers a check. If you’re just on an in-house program, their threshold is $20 or $50 or, in some cases, $100. You have to sell $100 through their program before you get anything.

And so I’ve had a lot of folks, especially when they’re just getting started and commissions are a little bit slower to arrive, because they haven’t kind of filled up that particular pipeline of links on their site, it might be easier to perhaps work with a network where you’ve got a lot more chances to hit that threshold.

JENNY GUY: Yeah, absolutely. And so it sounds like you’re advocating for casting a wide net, in terms of the products that you– so you’re saying that, in terms of coming on one of these networks, you have the options for many different products with many different brands and you can kind of scatter your links out more broadly and have a better chance at converting.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Oh, absolutely. Well, ShareASale has 4,000 merchants. So I mean, if you go on there, you’re going to find somebody selling just about everything you could ever think of. And so by doing that, they’re threshold’s a little bit higher than ours, but nevertheless, it’s attainable. And they’ll help you. You can see.

What you said was so true, Amanda, about being able to just kind of log into your account and being able to see what merchants are performing. If you set up your links the right way, we recommend deep links, we recommend adding things like click refs in there, you can actually know that you made this sale from this mention of this product on this page on this date, which perhaps was right after you did a social media promotion or something like that.

And so if you start studying those analytics, you really can optimize your results. So part of that is are you a numbers nerd? Do you get into that or not? Some people do. But I mean, just even seeing that, I tell a lot of people they can just spend 15 minutes a day on affiliate marketing and really start getting a good foundation on it.

And sometimes, what that means is to go through and take a look at some of the links and say, you know what? I’ve never sold this particular item. Maybe if I switch to this version of that item or get that item from this seller instead of from that seller, I might start selling it. Because different sites will convert for different people. So like Amanda was saying, getting to really know your audience and what they respond to is kind of one of those things to take a look at as well. But put in the links. That’s the most important thing.

JENNY GUY: So the first thing you said– well, you said this a couple of times. Deep link. Say what?

JEANNINE CROOKS: A deep link means that instead of just sending someone to, for example, the merchant’s home page, so instead of just sending them to LonelyPlanet.com, you’re sending them to LonelyPlanet/50greatthingstodoinThailand. So it’s write the exact thing that you just said was great. So that’s a deep link. So it’s deeper into the merchant site that you’re linking to it.

But one of the things to keep in mind is that, OK, great, so you just sent me to buy this book on 50 Great Things in Thailand and, instead, I decided I wanted to buy The World Of Beer book from Lonely Planet, which by the way, is a great book. You still get commission from that. You still earn money, just because you managed to get them to the merchant site, regardless of what they buy. They don’t have to only buy what you sent them there for. And so one of our merchants– I don’t think that’s me.

JENNY GUY: It sounded like voices that I knew and loved.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Yes. But I’m hearing myself again.

JENNY GUY: Very creepy, but exciting.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Well, I’ll tell you, like one of our merchants is Etsy. And I see a lot of people who link to a lot of things on Etsy and I can also– Etsy gives you deep product information. So you can literally see what product it was that you sold in each case. And I had one woman who was linking to a particular dress. It was like a maternity dress for– you know how people like to get those really pretty pictures when they’re like in their seventh or eighth month or something?

And so she, over the course of the next month, had like 20 sales on Etsy. And not one of them was for the dress. She sold Margarita glasses. She sold a customized dog collar. She sold party supplies. She sold a really pretty dresser lamp. She never sold a single one of the dresses, but it didn’t matter. Cause you know what? That check cleared. You know, it worked out well.

JENNY GUY: So Amanda, how do you determine what your audience will buy? And it’s sounding like you don’t even necessarily have to determine what the exact product is, but what product line or website they’re going to buy from. Do you test that? Is there a A/B testing? How did you make those determinations?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: So some of it is just testing. And some of it is just like– I’m not like a huge data nerd, but I do pay attention to my analytics and to where people are from and that sort of thing, which is sometimes important for some affiliates if they have different programs for different regions of the world. That’s something you have to sometimes keep in mind. Like Amazon has programs for several different countries in the world and you have to kind of like pick which ones you’re going to join.

But another thing I always recommend doing, that I don’t think enough bloggers think to do is to actually just ask your audience. I try and do a reader survey at least once a year. And now, granted, not everybody who reads your site is going to participate in a survey. But even if you just get like a couple hundred responses, that’s enough to kind of extrapolate the data from.

So for example, I asked general things about my site and about how my readers travel and that sort of thing. But I also asked really specific questions that are just geared towards my affiliate strategy. So I’ll ask them things like, when you travel, do you purchase travel insurance? What sites do you use to book your hotel or search for flights? Do you read reviews on TripAdvisor before you book something? And these all kind of have to do with how I’m using affiliates.

For example, the last survey I did, I asked people whether they read reviews on TripAdvisor before booking a hotel, because TripAdvisor was an affiliate I was thinking of implementing and was just like, well, I don’t know if people are actually going to click over or not.

But 93% of people who took my survey said they either always or sometimes will read TripAdvisor reviews. So that was a no-brainer then for me to go ahead and start putting TripAdvisor links into my destination-specific posts. And now, it’s one of my highest affiliate earners.

So even just asking your audience, you might think you know what they’re using to book things and you might actually have no idea. You might think that they’re using Amazon only once a month, but they might be using it like 10 times a day. You don’t really know unless you take the time to ask. So I definitely recommend if you’ve never surveyed your readers about how they’re actually booking or buying things, do it. It’s definitely going to help your affiliate strategy.

JENNY GUY: I love that. That is so smart. Genius. OK. So the multi-million dollar question or the homeless to home owner question. What converts? For Jeannine, what type of content do you encourage your clients to create, that they really want to sell? And then, Amanda, what works for you with your audience? Let’s start with you, Jeannine.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Well, what I really do is encourage you to find the words about the products that you just talked about and turn those into deep links. So put it right into your content. Affiliate marketing does not mean putting a display ad on the side.

That’s going to be your least successful way. And usually, when I talk to someone who said, I tried affiliate marketing and it didn’t work, it’s because all they did was put up banner ads. That’s not going to do it. You’re going to do much, much better from text links.

I always say that any noun, especially a proper noun, can be an become an affiliate link. And that’s really true. I mean, if you’re specifically mentioning a brand name, turn that into an affiliate link. Find a good source for that product. It’s not always the manufacturer, by the way, who may have an affiliate program. Sometimes you might need to go to an online department store. So maybe you’re going to Ali Express or Alibaba or something like that, someplace that sells it and be able to do that.

And the other thing that I would say is don’t turn every noun into an affiliate link. Scatter them prudently. So maybe put two or three. If it’s a really long article, maybe put five in there. But not every single word. But by doing that, it’s also kind of a pipeline thing. That’s what I was mentioning before.

What you want to do is scatter those links throughout your posts on your blog, so that there’s lots and lots of opportunities for people to buy, because what you will find is that on Monday, you sold from article 1 and article number 7. And on Tuesday, you made three sales and it was articles number 5 and 14 and 27.

And it’ll work that way. Because it depends on who your reader is on any given day and what they’re ready to buy. But the biggest thing that you’re doing is giving them the opportunity to buy. And that’s what having affiliate links all over the place, that are links that makes sense, that are genuine to products that you know and you love or services that you’ve used or you have really looked into.

I mean, I know it’s not possible for you to buy every single thing that you do. It’s not possible to stay at every single room that’s recommended by TripAdvisor, who’s one of our merchants by the way. So thank you so much for that. But you can definitely really research something and then also talk about it. Ask your friends. Ask your co-workers. Ask other bloggers that you trust to be able to do it. But text links I think will way outperform anything else. That’s what I’ve seen consistently. Amanda, did you find the same thing?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yeah. I would definitely say text links over images or other banners. I mean, it’s something that you can test, obviously, because what works for one audience might not work for the other. But I think, in general, most people will say that text links are the best performers. Were you done, Jeannine? Because I don’t want to–

JEANNINE CROOKS: Yes. No. Go ahead. You go, Amanda.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: I think another thing though that’s really, really important to talk about when we’re talking about affiliate marketing is actually having intention with the sort of content that you’re creating for affiliates. So yes, you can absolutely add affiliate links into just about everything. And I feel like most people who are doing this regularly do anyway. I mean, any sort of destination post that I’m writing, I’m going to be putting some affiliate links into it.

But it’s also really important, from a strategy standpoint, to think about the buying process or the booking process, if we’re talking about travel, which is what I know best. Because obviously, different people write different types of posts. And not every type of post is going to be right for affiliate links. Sure.

You can put affiliate links into every post. But if you’re writing a post say about the worst bus ride I’ve ever taken in my life, the sort of person who’s going to come and read that post isn’t necessarily the sort of person who’s looking to book a bus trip necessarily.

JENNY GUY: Unless it’s for like what? Motion sickness medication or something like that?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: So you do have to think of reader intent. So those kind of personal narrative type stories are great and like readers love them. But those aren’t going to be the ones that are going to convert the best. So you do need to think about, what is someone who is actually looking to book something or purchase something, what are they searching for? And then, kind of tailor your content to that.

So in travel, for example, instead of writing “Five Reasons Why I love Cleveland,” I might write, “The Top Five Places to Stay in Cleveland,” if I’m trying to do something that’s a little bit more geared towards selling something. And in that case, you’re going to be recommending hotels.

That’s just a random travel example. But I think you probably get the idea. So reader intent really does matter when it comes to affiliates. And if you’re focusing on– especially search traffic that’s coming in, so when people are searching for something, especially if it’s a where to stay, things to do, products to buy to maybe do a certain thing, whether that’s cooking or baking or doing some sort of DIY craft, if people are searching for those sorts of phrases, those are the people who are actually looking to buy something, rather than just read a story about something. So I think that that’s important to keep in mind too.

JEANNINE CROOKS: One of the things that I used to do when I was writing more, because we wrote for a lot of newspapers, and we always had to do and “If You Go” section. And so you can do that online as well. So at the bottom of your article, even if it was the worst bus trip in your life, there was still something you liked about that city, I’m going to guess, or you wouldn’t be writing about them.

And so in the bottom, you can just say, for more information, here’s a place to find great hotels in Pittsburgh. Here’s a place to find whatever. And just kind of list those things out. So even if you want to do it as kind of a little tiny round up at the bottom, just a paragraph with a bullet point for this, this, this, however it is you’d like to do it and what fits your style, that’s always one place where you can also tuck in some links. And you can be surprised what kind of things can happen from that. And you know what? If they click through on the link to Pittsburgh and they decide that they want to go to Cleveland instead, you still earn the commission.

JENNY GUY: Excellent. So I’ve got a few reader questions, two audience questions. They’re not reading. I mean, they are reading, but they’re not reading. They’re hopefully listening to us. So Diana Hanson said, how do you naturally do text links without saying, quote, get it here and linked to here?

JEANNINE CROOKS: You can literally turn the word or the name into the link. So you don’t have to say by it here. Usually, a lot of times, you know, because you’ve turned it into a link. People can hover over it. So usually, they’ll be able to see what the name of it is. You can do something like Pretty Links.

So you can say backslash Adidas, backslash Under Armor, backslash Lonely Planet or eBags, or whoever it might be. So that’s what you can do. You don’t have to say buy it here to actually do it. Turn the name itself or the noun itself into the link.

JENNY GUY: And that’s actually– sorry. Go, Amanda.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: I was just going to say, but I will say that using action language and telling your readers what you want them to do with that link is actually a really good strategy for affiliate links. So not to say you should have, buy it here interspersed randomly in your paragraphs.

But if you’re writing, let’s say like a roundup of products or some sort of gear, maybe at the bottom of each section, you could have a button or a link that says, buy it here or check prices or something like that. I find that we often think our readers can read our minds. And they can’t.

Sometimes they actually need to be told what to do. And it could just be as easy as get yours here. An example that I use when I’m mentioning hotels. I don’t do a full on hotel reviews, but if I’m doing one of those kind of where to stay guides or even just adding a small section in a post about where to stay in the destination, I’ll write like a paragraph or two about the hotel and then I’ll put two links.

I’ll put one that will say like read reviews on TripAdvisor. And that’s where my TripAdvisor link will go. Or a book or room here. And that’ll go to whatever booking site that I’m using. Because the two have different commission structures. And we don’t need to get into that. But I’m actually telling people what to do with those links. So sometimes very clear calls to action are a good idea to use.

JEANNINE CROOKS: And if I can just trust one thing in here a little bit. It’s a little bit of an embarrassing story, but I’m game to share it. My husband and I were fortunate enough to go to Prague a couple of years ago. And so we had read this wonderful blog post about this hotel that this blogger just loved. So we wanted to stay there. But she didn’t have a link in her article to that.

So I went to another site, booked a room. And when we went there, I remember looking at the front of the hotel going, this isn’t it. And it turned out we were at a place a block away. I didn’t speak Czech. So to me, the name looked the same. And it wasn’t.

And so every day on our way to Old Prague, we got to walk past the hotel that we wanted to stay at, which was really frustrating. So really putting in those kinds of links is a service to your reader. If you’re telling them that something is wonderful, make it easy for them to buy.

Don’t just say, and here’s the whole internet. Good luck finding it, because that’s what happened to us. If she had put that link in there, I would’ve stayed where she said was wonderful. I mean, we still a good hotel, but it wasn’t the same one. And she would’ve probably made about $60 in commissions from our hotel room.

So it would’ve served us and it also would’ve served her. So don’t be afraid to put those links in that you’re doing something that’s not a service to your readers. I absolutely see it as a way to improve their experience in reading your post. If they want to duplicate what you did, they want to stay where you’re at, make it easy for them. Don’t make them crazy.

JENNY GUY: They want to have your outfit. They want to have your makeup look. They want to bake your cake. They want to make your chair, whatever it is, they want to refinish your bar door, whatever the thing is, they want to re– I mean, there’s a reason that it’s– as you said, I mean, that it’s sharing your influence.

They’re reading your post for a reason. They want to use your expertise. And so rather than feeling that hesitation to be sales-y or disingenuous or whatever is causing you to hesitate from sharing those things, I think it’s just another part of you sharing your expertise and enabling you to continue creating the content that your readers are consuming.

So vanish those thoughts. Wash those nasty thoughts out of your head. That’s no problem. And then, what I was also going to say is that there is a reason calls to action are such a hot topic in marketing and why people talk about having strong calls to action, then phrasing of your calls to actions, and formatting your calls to action. It’s because people need calls to action. So that’s something that people need to be told. So I think that sharing that too is not something you should feel hesitant to do.

And then, finally, what we were talking about in terms of linking on the proper nouns and linking on more than just action words, not feeling like you have to create a special place to do that, but linking on the words. That’s actually something that we preach really strongly in our SEO strategy, as well.

When you’re doing interlinking with your own posts, rather than saying, if you want to read more about my trip to Bangkok, please click here, you can just say, I took a trip to Bangkok in 2014 and just having people click on that link. It’s much better for your SEO and something we highly encourage.

So again, all of these strategies go together. And we’re always preaching things that are not only going to help you monetize your content, but also help your readers to have a better experience. We had someone– W. Miskara Miki asked about Etsy and signing up to be an affiliate for Etsy. We posted that link in the comments. So we’re already set on that. I have amazing colleagues. They’re already all over it and we love it.

I wanted to ask this too. I’ve heard from many affiliate marketing experts that email is really where they converge. Is that something that you guys find to be true? How is email playing a role in your affiliate marketing strategy? We’ll start with Amanda there.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yeah. So I think this is another one where it totally depends on your niche and it depends on your audience and who’s on that list. It also depends on the affiliates, because there are some affiliates, famously Amazon, that do not allow you to use affiliate links in emails. So this is the time where we’re going to say, read your program terms.

JENNY GUY: Absolutely.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: No matter what affiliate program you are joining, make sure to read the terms to know where you can use the links. Most programs now are fine with you using links on social media. And it’ll be in the program terms if for some reason you’re not allowed to.

And email is another one of those places where some affiliates might say not allowed to do that here. Some email providers, like Mailchimp and stuff like that. They have some things in their terms where you’re not really supposed to send out emails that are just full of affiliate links.

Yeah. So you just have to like kind of pay attention to what you can and can’t do. But if you’re doing it correctly, email can be a great way to do it. I know a lot of people in the travel niche will actually just use their email list to drive traffic to posts on their blogs that have affiliate links. So that’s a way to kind of work around the no affiliate links in newsletters rule that some affiliates and email providers have.

So that would be like if you’ve written a post about like this great recipe you just made and you want to tell people how to find the ingredients, instead of listing everything in an email you send out, you’re just sending out the email with the link to the blog post. And you’re sending them there and then they’re buying through your links that way.

So I think that’s probably the safest way to do it. But if you do have products where you can just send links and emails, I mean, your email list is kind of gold. I mean, just ask any internet marketer and they’ll tell you that your email list is– these people have given you their email address, which is like a very private part of them. And so if you’re sending them things that they’re interested in, they’re much more likely to buy through an email than through just something they’re going to find on Google. So yeah, if you can do it right, definitely a good strategy.

JENNY GUY: Jeannine, same question to you. What role does email play?

JEANNINE CROOKS: No. I mean, there are people that are very good at it. And that’s kind of one of those things too, where you really want to test a lot. You want to see what does your audience react to. So if you’ve got links scattered throughout your content, that’s fine.

I know some people, including travel writers, who at the bottom of each one of their emails will just say, new things I love and then talk about a product and just do kind of a one or two sentence review. And so people are kind of like, this is kind of fun. Let me check it out. And I’ve seen a lot of success doing that.

There are some people that just absolutely sell an incredible amount on email. But they’ve worked hard to make sure that their email list, that whatever topic it is that they’re showing and offering, is tailored to their email list, that that’s going to be something that people really want to buy.

So it may take a little bit of experimentation, but I mean you really don’t have anything to lose on it. You’re sending the email anyway. So toss in a link or two. Maybe try the things I love strategy or whatever it is. It’s not going to hurt you. It shouldn’t affect your delivery rates or anything like that.

If you’re being compliant on everything else, an affiliate link’s not going to stop you from getting through. Although I do agree with Amanda, you don’t want to sound like 100 links. That doesn’t go over well. Google doesn’t like it, neither do the email providers. But some strategically placed links can be very successful.

JENNY GUY: So you mentioned something very important, Amanda, that we always preach in any kind of relationship, which is read your contracts, read your terms and conditions, make sure that you know everything that’s going on. So I would say, just based on my prior experience, that probably the two most important things to really paying attention to would be your commission rate, your payment scale, or your payment terms.

And then, also, cookie length, I think, would also be a highly important thing to pay attention to. What about you guys? Do you use lawyers? Do you have a standard agreement that you like to look at? Talk to me about all that. And then, as we always love to negotiate and preach negotiation and everything, can you negotiate these things?

JEANNINE CROOKS: Do you want me to start first?

JENNY GUY: Go for it.

JEANNINE CROOKS: OK. So with us, one of the things that I really love about working with Awin is that we really do spell out all the terms and conditions. And those are all shown to a blogger, shown to an influencer, before they actually join the program. It’s part of the application process that’s shown to them one last time before they say, yes, I want to apply. And that information is always available to them.

And the other thing that you can do is you can always reach out to the merchant, the affiliate manager, to whoever it is that’s managing the program and ask them questions. I’m not sure. Can I do this? Yes or no and be able to reach out and do that. So I think that that’s very important to do as well.

And I love that you brought up cookie length. Thank you for asking that question. One of the challenges that can occur in working with Amazon is Amazon has a 24-hour cookie. It is one day. Period. Most merchants with their own programs or on a network, usually are much longer than that. Three days is a rarity. Seven days is even a rarity. Most of them are 30 days.

And so for me, for example, Lonely Planet on Amazon is a one-day cookie and a 4% commission. Lonely Planet on Awin is a 30-day cookie and a 15% commission. So if you want to use Amazon, that’s fine. God bless. I get that a lot of people will shop there. I hate Amazon. I never buy there. But that’s my choice. They’re making me choke.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: They know.

JENNY GUY: They’re probably on Amazon.

JEANNINE CROOKS: I mean, that is kind of one of the things to know. I mean, I’ve talked to a lot of publishers who were like, oh, it’s so easy to do Amazon, because you just have that nice little window and the link just pops up and you could just grab it and copy it.

Yeah, but if you’ve also got that open, Amazon knows everything you’re doing. I mean, they know every email that you sent. They know every website that you visited. You’ve given them permission to keep track of all that. And they do. They have so many data points on you, it’s wicked scary.

Because I’ve been on webinars on the other side where people are talking about how you can use all this vast amount of data that Amazon has on everybody to really target your audience. So it’s really scary. That’s kind of one of the things to do. But yeah, do, by all means, take a look at cookie length. Take a look at commissions.

If it’s an impulse product, Amazon may be right. I was talking to someone last night, a travel blogger, and she said that when it’s sunglasses, she’s going to send him to Amazon instead of Sunglass Hut, because they’re used to just clicking on Amazon and buy one now.

Good. That works for her. She’s tested that out and she knows. And I think that that’s an important thing too, is to test out and see how your audience responds to each merchant. Like Amanda was saying before, do your testing and see what it is that they like.

But it never hurts to kind of offer them more than one choice as well. You know if you want to do that, some publishers will do that where they’ve got, buy it on Amazon, buy it on the Lonely Planet website. And let the person kind of pick. Because if you think about it too, the individual merchants has spent a lot of time and a lot of money to make sure that their site converts. Because otherwise, they don’t eat. So it’s one of the things.

Their whole livelihood depends on that. Amazon presents every product virtually the same way. And so that’s kind of something to keep in mind, because Amazon’s like, great. You don’t want to buy this, you can buy that. I mean, they’re all over the place. So just take a look at all those kinds of things and see where you think people are going to convert more.

JENNY GUY: Amanda, how about you?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yeah. Just ditto. No. The things that I look at what I am looking at like a new affiliate program would be, yes, commission rate, cookie length. If there are any other strange terms in there, like there are some affiliates that allow you to buy through your own affiliate links. So they’re very few and far between, but they do exist. So that’s a good thing to know if that’s in your program terms, that you can make some of that money back if you’re going to spend it through an affiliate.

And you mentioned whether you can negotiate any of these things. I would say, if you’re just joining a program and, obviously, if you’re joining through one of these larger platforms, it’s not something you can negotiate out of the gate. However, if you’ve been an affiliate for a while and you’ve been a successful affiliate, you can absolutely negotiate things, like higher commission rates.

So I’ve done this with a couple of my bigger affiliates who, again, these are brands that they kind of have realized that working long-term with bloggers and offering really good affiliate deals as opposed to just sponsored posts or free trips or whatever is a better long-term strategy. So in some cases, these brands have been like, hey, you’ve sold a decent amount for us. How about you maybe add in some more links and we’ll bump you up a couple percentage points in commissions?

So that’s certainly something you can do, especially if you can prove that you’re actually selling something. Yeah, so more commission is always something that’s negotiable after you’ve had some experience and you have a good track record as a good affiliate.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Absolutely. And there’s also things like custom coupon codes that can really help you try and sell more things. Sometimes you can just start off that whole relationship with something like a sponsored post or a sponsored social media campaign or something like that.

You can reach out to them and say, look at all this stuff that I’ve sold for you. Would you consider? And make your pitch. The smarter merchants are going to read that. And they’re going to take a look at what you’ve done for them. And if you’ve been good for him, oh yeah, they’re going to talk to you.

JENNY GUY: Yeah, definitely. And I think that the really unique thing about affiliate marketing and the whole influencer space is that when you talk about the power of the influencer and the power of blog posts, in terms of marketing, most of the time, it’s for brand awareness.

Most people preach that this is for brand awareness, not for direct sales. And let’s be honest. Brands want sales. That’s what they want. That’s what the name of the game is for everyone out there is they want to convert. And when you can actually prove that you’re converting and making them money directly, as opposed to just, I got you this mini website, which is great, and a lot of brands are looking for that and that’s a great strength of influencers.

But this is the one revenue stream where you can say– I mean, I don’t know if it’s the one– but it’s a revenue stream where you can actually, say this is dollars and cents. I made this with my content. Period. So I think that it’s huge I think it’s such a great thing and another wonderful, wonderful revenue stream for influencers.

Kat Damass just said, well done, ladies. Sharing some excellent info. Thank you, Kat, for watching. We appreciate it. So how do you decide which posts need affiliate links? Is it a spray and pray? We’ll just toss them out there like seeds and see which ones take root.

I mean, you’ve talked some about strategically knowing. We often encourage people to optimize a season ahead. So looking in their analytics, seeing which posts are performing well in every Easter, every Thanksgiving, and then going ahead and adding those links? Is that a proactive way to do it? Amanda, how do you do that?

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Yes. I think if you’re starting out with affiliate marketing– so let’s say your blog has been around a little while. You have content. And now, you’re trying to figure out where the heck do I add affiliates. I always tell people go into your analytics and start with like your top 10 to 20 posts and see which of those would be a good fit for affiliate links. Like I said before, not every single post needs to have affiliate links.

You can certainly go the spray and pray route. But let’s face it, we don’t have time to add links to every single piece of content, especially if– I mean, I know some bloggers out there who have been blogging as long as I have. And if you’ve got 8 to 10 years worth of content on your blog and you’re just now trying to add affiliates, it’s going to be very, very time consuming to add to every single post.

So I would start with probably the top 10 to 20. Go through those. Audit those. See if there are any natural fits for affiliate links. And then, from there, maybe think seasonally. And then, going forward is when I would say, start thinking more strategically about the type of content you’re writing.

So maybe every season you come up with a post that’s kind of like affiliate driven. Or when you’re writing whatever new content you’re putting out, maybe you’re doing something like Jeannine suggested with adding a section at the bottom of your posts that could have some helpful affiliate links in it, if the post content itself maybe doesn’t lend itself to affiliates. So that’s where I would start.

JENNY GUY: Fantastic. Same question to you, Jeannine.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Let me see, Amanda. To copy you, ditto. That was really good solid information there. One of the things too that you can see is if you’ve got existing links on your site that aren’t monetized, try and see where people are leaving your site and going to in your analytics.

And if they’re going from your site to some other place, because you had a link in there anyway, because you had loved the product before and you put that link in, now turn it into a monetized link. There’s actually some technologies, on certain networks, that will automatically monetize the link for you. We have a WordPress plugin, for example, that’ll do that. So in that case, that can make it easier for you.

But see what it is. Whether it’s our network or a different network, what are people clicking out from to go to and see if you can turn that into an affiliate link. Because obviously, you have inspired them to go find out more information about that product. Let your cookie go along and hopefully collect a sales commission on it.

JENNY GUY: Absolutely. If they’re going to be leaving your site, make some money on it. Why not? OK, ladies, I can’t believe we only have four minutes left of our time together, which is such a bummer. You’ve been sharing such incredible information. I could talk to you guys all day.

But I want to kind of give a final question to be. If people are wanting more information on affiliate marketing, if they want to learn, if they want to become gurus, experts, where would you recommend that they go? And I’m sure some of the platforms offer education.

But if there are specific e-books courses, YouTube channels, podcasts, be thinking of those please. And then, also, if they want to find you, where could they find you? So that is what I’m going to send you guys away with. But think for a moment. I’m going to tell you about next week.

So today is Wednesday. We have another Summer of Live next Thursday, which is I believe the 15th. So we’re halfway through August already. Next Thursday, we are talking about SEO. And we are talking with one of our Mediavine co-founders and the co-host of the “Theory of Content” podcast, which is all focused on SEO. And we are, in addition, talking to a Mediavine publisher who focuses on SEO, who is Morgan McBride of Charleston Crafted. We’re going to have the both of them here.

We all know that SEO is something that everyone talks about and ask for more information about pretty much constantly, nonstop, every single conference, every time we’re talking about it. SEO, SEO, SEO. So we’re talking about it next week I’m really excited to have them here. And final thoughts from my two amazing guests. Jeannine, let’s go with you first.

JEANNINE CROOKS: OK. Well, there’s a lot of conferences that you go to. So if you enjoy going to conferences, you can usually find– almost every conference now is having at least something that’s talking about monetization. And often, that’s affiliate marketing. So I always do kind of strongly recommend that.

There’s one conference called Affiliate Summit, which happens twice a year. In January, it’s usually in Vegas. And usually in October in New York City. So it actually starts in a couple of days. But there’s 5,000 people there talking about affiliate marketing. And it’s appropriate for everybody from a newbie to– I mean, I learn new stuff. And I’ve been doing this for 20 years. Because to me, that’s part of the fun of affiliate marketing is you can say, oh, that’s so last week. And it’s true. A lot can change.

But so that’s what I do. There’s a lot of great groups, like on Facebook and stuff like that. A lot of the networks have their own Facebook groups. I know the chair of sales does. We do at Awin. And I’m sure that some of the other guys do as well, where you can go in and ask questions. But there’s a lot of places like that.

So do try some different groups. People are always happy to kind of share their best information with each other. So do you want the contact me information now?

JENNY GUY: Yeah, please. Go ahead.

JEANNINE CROOKS: So anybody wants to contact me, my email is just simply jeannine.crooks@awin.com. So if you’ve seen my name on here, just put a dot in the middle and an @awin.com at the end. I am on Facebook. I am on LinkedIn. I am on Twitter, all with my name. Reach me anyway. I get pinged all the time, all different ways, and I love it. So please feel free to just reach out and ask me questions, send me an email. I will do my best to help you and answer any questions that you’ve got.

JENNY GUY: And where can we catch you speaking? Any upcoming speaking engagements?

JEANNINE CROOKS: Well, I’m going to be speaking at a Affiliate Summit. I’m going to be speaking– yeah. It’s going to be fun. I will be attending Fin Con. I will be speaking at Card Con, which is about credit cards. And I’m speaking at the Military Influencers Conference. I’m speaking at the TBEX Conference in Billings, Montana, so the Travel Bloggers Exchange. And then, I’m speaking at the SATW Conference in El Paso in October.

JENNY GUY: So no. You’re not speaking anywhere?

JEANNINE CROOKS: No, no. I’m just sit at home and knit.

JENNY GUY: I mean, knitting is good, as long as you’re posting about it and posting affiliate links for yarn.

JEANNINE CROOKS: Exactly.

JENNY GUY: All right. Thank you, Jeannine. And same question to you, Amanda.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: So affiliate marketing resources, there are some podcasts out there that are really good. Everyone’s probably heard of Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income is a great website, podcast resource center, if you just want to learn about affiliate marketing in general.

There’s also some courses out there. I know there’s one called Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing that’s really popular. I have a course that’s just for travel bloggers to kind of get started with affiliate marketing. So it is very beginner based, but it’s just on Teachable that I made a couple of years ago. And yeah. I think Jeannine covered everything else.

So if you want to find me online, my travel blog is called a Dangerous Business. That’s dangerous-business.com. And then, you can find me on social media at dangerousbiz, with a z, on all the networks, so Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, everywhere.

JENNY GUY: Fantastic. We’re posting up all those links. So those are going to be in the comments on Facebook. You guys have been wonderful. And I certainly consider you even more expert than I did when we started, which is a difficult feat. Thank you so much for joining me.

Everyone else, thank you for being here with us for another week. Next week, we’re talking SEO. We are so excited to continue our Summer of Live. If you’ve got ideas for content in the future, post them in comments. Comment on our Facebook. Come at us on Twitter, YouTube, wherever you want. Just let us know. We want to provide you with the content that you’re interested in seeing and that’s going to help you grow your business. Everyone, have a wonderful day. Thank you to my guests.

AMANDA WILLIAMS: Thank you, Jenny.

Related Posts