I'm sure we have all dreamed of earning a little bit of extra income, and nothing is more alluring than the thought of residual income trickling into your bank account as you sleep. What is affiliate marketing and how does it work? It's basically a commission, typically 1-5%, that you earn for online sales. As someone with a myriad of interests, a background in computer science, and a curiosity for affiliate marketing's earning potential, I thought it wouldn't hurt to try it.
1. You Need A Platform To Climb The Barrier of Entry
I'm all about efficiency. While I love sharing my ideas, experiments, results, and lessons learned, I thought that earning little bit of compensation would justify my time spent. My first thought was, "I research, talk about, and recommend products all the time. I wonder if I would be able to earn a little bit of commission from my recommendations." And that was how I found my first hurdle. Affiliate networks will not even let you in the door without your own platform. So first, you need a platform and then an audience. This could be a Facebook page, YouTube channel, Twitch stream, almost anything where you reach an audience. Well, alright. I wanted to get better at web development, and I wanted to try my hand at WordPress anyway.
2. Disclaimers and ToS Make The World Go Round
I do a lot of reading and if you're like me, you may have noticed blogs with affiliate disclosures everywhere. I didn't quite understand it until I found another blog
, which I believe gifts the affiliate commission to the charity of your choice instead of a sales person.
[Insert your name] is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to [insert the applicable site name (amazon.com or myhabit.com)].
This disclaimer works for all sorts of affiliate networks.
3. Easy Come, Easy Go: Finding And Keeping An Affiliate Program
The disclaimer may be the prerequisite but it's not enough to keep your status in an affiliate network. As mentioned earlier, an affiliate network can cut you off at any time. And usually when they do it's permanent. Your platform and your audience, all get discarded in one go. Below are some of the affiliate networks I have used and my experiences with them.
- Amazon Affiliate Program is not the most generous affiliate program, but it's one of the largest and most well-known networks out there. I have heard stories of affiliates becoming cut-off for unknown reasons, but there are rumors that this only happens to affiliates who are not reputable. The huge inventory selection makes up for the low commission rate. This program and Etsy (have not used personally) are especially good for niche bloggers.
- Rakuten LinkShare - probably the second biggest affiliate program, in my experience I have seen this just as often if not more than Amazon because the profit share is higher. This program is best for professionals with huge audiences. One of the caveats is you have to apply to individual stores for approval and you will get rejected if your platform doesn't have enough readers / subscribers. However I can personally attest to getting kicked to the curb by this network. I do a lot of skincare product reviews (one of my many hobbies), and I copy-paste the whole ingredients lists for my reader's convenience. My best guess is this triggered a low quality post / plagiarism flag for Rakuten and they shut down my account. Or maybe it was because I didn't have enough readers. Or maybe it was because they weren't my only affiliate. I'll never know, and couldn't get a straight answer as to why either. The letter they sent only points to their ToS where they say you can be terminated at any time. Don't let me discourage you from trying out this network though! Just don't be surprised or upset when they block you either.
- eBay Partner Network - Very easy to use, similar to the other programs above. I'm not a huge e-bay shopper so I don't find myself using this often. But I was approved with no issue and haven't experience any problems with them.
- ??? - There are affiliate programs for almost everything! Go out and find your favorite shop that you truly believe in and inquire about whether they have affiliate opportunities.
4. Honesty is Everything. Except When It's Not.
Blogs are a great marketing tool. You see them everywhere now! Some of my favorite instructional blogs for my hobbies also sell a product. While this may not exactly be the same as the affiliate marketing business model, my credit card will attest that this marketing strategy works. From my observations, all too often I feel like the main way affiliate marketers make money is by selling instructional materials on how to get rich quick. In these cases they're making $10-20 of straight profit off of books or videos selling a promise of Return on Investment that rarely follows through because of steep startup costs. Another dark side to affiliate marketing is, the more expensive the product the higher profit potential on the commission. One of the reasons why my Amazon affiliate screenshot is as sad as it is is because I like to write about ways people can save money! As a result I'm "selling" really low priced goods and getting almost nothing in commission. This makes it tempting for dishonest marketers to recommend inferior high dollar products for a higher return.
Conclusion: Forget it, Just Use E-bates.
When my cousin first introduced me to e-bates I was really skeptical. Where does the money come from? It wasn't until after I began affiliate marketing myself that I realized e-bates is essentially profit sharing the commission with the consumer. So basically as an example, e-bates may take 4% out of a 10% commission and give you a 6% cash-back rebate to incentivize you to use their platform instead of another affiliate link. And usually the rebate percentage I get from e-bates is better than the commission percentage I could've gotten as an affiliate. Without a large audience base my family and I was the only one using my links anyway. Here are some tips for using e-bates. I'm sparing you a referral code (which is honestly a good way to make some extra income! Help one of your friends / family out by getting your code from them.)
- E-bates stacks with promo codes for major savings!
- The cash back comes in a check or through paypal quarterly, so don't expect an instant return.
- Using the browser plug-in is in my opinion the most convenient way to use the app.
So if you have a huge audience numbering in the thousands and a lot of influence them affiliate marketing is a great fit for you! But since most of us don't have that maybe just use e-bates. And don't fall for false promises of learning how to make money in your sleep for the low price of $40 except act now at 50% off! Comment below if you have your own story to tell about success (or failure) with affiliate marketing. I'm just a programmer so hey, if you're willing to share your success tips I'd love to learn as well. Just a friendly reminder that in person sales personnel depend on commissions as well. So if you're already an online shopper go ahead and save that money. But if you have the means, don't forget to support your local businesses.
Jennifer is a Masters student in the College of Science's Analytics program.