1. Time is a Major Factor
The $119,000+ that I’ve earned from Amazon has only come over 6 years. While this last 12 months has seen me earn over $50,000 of this it took 5 years of building to get it to that level.
That was partly due to traffic but it was also partly due to my regular inclusion of affiliate links in my posts over time. I don’t promote Amazon in every post I write but in an average week I’d say that I’ve linked to Amazon in at least 5 posts. That adds up to 250 or so posts per year and around 1500 posts over 6 years.
These posts are each a doorway into the Amazon site and over time as their number have grown and as my blogs have begun to rank higher in Google and my loyal reader numbers have grown the number of people going through these ‘doorways’ into Amazon has grown – hence the escalation in earnings.
2. Start Early
As a result I do recommend that bloggers start to use Amazon’s Associate Program early. In doing so you’ll be populating your blog with links into the store that may not convert brilliantly early on before you have readers – but which can potentially convert for years to come as your blog grows in popularity.
The other good thing about starting early is that you’ll learn a lot about affiliate marketing. Most of the lessons and tips that I’ve shared in this series of posts have come directly from my own experimenting with Amazon’s Affiliate program.
In the early days of using it I knew so little and made a lot of mistakes – but each time I messed up I learned another lesson that has helped me to grow my Amazon earnings into a more significant part of my own business.
3. Experiment with Widgets and aStore
I largely rely upon Contextual links to promote Amazon. I find that these convert best – however I do know of a few bloggers who’ve successfully incorporated a variety of the widgets that Amazon gives their Associates to use into their sites.
Similarly – I know some readers who do pretty well with aStore which is a tool whereby you create your own little online store using Amazon’s technology.
I’ve tried a couple of times to use this and have had a little success with my photography one and my ProBlogger Bookstore but know I need to do more with it to take it to the next level.
I guess it comes down to experimenting with the tools and seeing what works best with your audience. If you’ve used some of these widgets I’d love to see examples of where you’ve had them work for you – please share links in comments below so we can all learn!
4. Transparency with Readers
There is always debate about the topic of transparency when the topic of affiliate marketing comes up. Should you disclose that your links are affiliate links or should you not? Each blogger has their own stance on this and with a lot of talk about laws changing in some parts of the world it seems that some bloggers are now being forced to make such disclosures.
I personally don’t disclose every link on my blog in a direct way but do have disclaimer/disclosure pages on my blogs. I also have written numerous times on DPS about how the links to Amazon earn us money and help the site to keep growing and be free.
I was nervous the first time I mentioned this to readers and expected a backlash – however what I found was that most readers not only accepted it but encouraged us to do it. In fact a few of our readers tell me that if they’re going to make some kind of purchase at Amazon that they always come to DPS to click on one of our links to do so! Transparency isn’t as scary as you might think (although this might depend upon your audience a little).
5. Don’t Hype – Put Your Readers First
Whatever you do – always keep your readers best interests at heart when you engage in any affiliate marketing.
I’ve been critiqued for taking this stance lately by a group of bloggers who take a different stance and seem to put the priority on ‘making money at all costs’ – but while you certainly can make money without a focus upon quality content or building community on a blog and by hyping up the things that you promote – my approach has always been to put the reader first.
I do this because I want to build a solid reputation and a loyal readership who trust me rather than simply making money at all costs. I’d rather make less money and still have a reader than make lots of money and never see the reader again. For me this comes not only from my ethics but my belief that in the long term building a good profile and reputation leads to other opportunities for profit.
The problem with hype is that you set readers up with expectations that are beyond what the product you’re recommending can deliver. This might lead to a sale but it also leads to disappointment and anger – the loss of readers – damaged reputation etc.
6. Pick Quality Products
This relates to the last point but is worth stating on its own. The success and failure of your Amazon Associates Program promotions hinges upon choosing good quality products.
When you promote quality it is much easier to be both genuine in your reviews and recommendations and get conversions that lead to commission.
Wherever you can test the products you recommend to ensure their quality (or find someone who can do it for you).
7. Be Bold
I’ve always shared this concern – but as you’ve probably picked up by now the reader push back has been almost non-existent.
Perhaps this is because I choose the products carefully or because I often promote these links in posts based upon reader feedback – but I can think of less than 5 occasions when I’ve had people on my photography site question the links. In fact, as I said above, I’ve had more people give positive feedback about them than anything.
I guess there would come a point where too much promotion would get a negative reaction so you do want to be at least a little subtle about it – but in general I think readers can handle more than we might think they can.
Note: I think the line where readers will push back probably will vary from blog to blog depending upon their readership. For example here on ProBlogger I get a little more negative feedback from readers on affiliate promotions – I guess ProBlogger readers are a little more tuned into the issue and suspicious of some of the affiliate marketing that goes on around the web.
8. Localized Audiences? Try Local Amazons
Amazon.com doesn’t work brilliantly for blogs and sites with traffic from countries outside the USA.
A couple of reflections on this:
Firstly – it’s not completely true. I have previously had a blog with almost completely Australian traffic that did convert reasonably well with Amazon. Amazon does ship some products to Australia and other countries (books, CDs etc) so if you’re promoting those products it can work. Of course I always missed out on the bigger ticket items that didn’t ship outside the USA – this was part of the reason that I moved my efforts to starting Digital Photography School which has a more global audience.
Secondly – if your traffic is very localized to a country with its own Amazon store join the affiliate program for that store and promote it. I know of one UK photography site that does very well from promoting the UK version of Amazon. I also know one blog that adds two links to every post he does – one with the US and one with the UK store. I’ve also heard that some people use geo-targeting tools to look at where a reader is from and serving them a localized link for them.
9. Topics Convert Differently
In one forum that I came across discussing my previous articles a number of people reported that Amazon didn’t work on their sites (doubting whether I was telling the truth about my earnings). When I delved a little deeper and looked at their sites the reason for their lack of success with Amazon became apparent – their topics.
Some topics will naturally fit with Amazon better than others. In the end a lot of it comes down to the fact that Amazon is a product related affiliate program – it only works when people buy stuff. If your blog is on a topic that doesn’t have any natural connection to people buying stuff it is going to be an uphill battle.
In my experience it’s product related blogs that tend to do best with Amazon. Most blogs probably have at least some possibilities (for example here on ProBlogger I occasionally link to a book that relates or a computer or electronic tool that I think might be useful to bloggers) but the reality is that this blog will never convert as well on Amazon as my photography site.
Keep an Eye on Amazon
My last is to keep an eye on what Amazon is doing. I mean this in two main ways:
1. Learn from Them – be a regular user of Amazon. You don’t have to be an active buyer – but regularly surf the site and pay particular attention to the way that THEY are promoting products on their site.
Amazon have spent years perfecting the art of online selling – they constantly test different ways of promoting products and have evolved their site quite a lot over the years. See what widgets they use to promote related products, watch how they use reader reviews, see the way that they describe products. You’ll learn a lot about online marketing by observing how they do it and you’ll also be in a better position to pre-sell the products you recommend if you look at the page you’re sending people to before you do it.
2. Watch for Opportunities – I mentioned earlier in this series that Amazon run a variety of promotions on their site that you can tap into. Some of these they promote directly to their Associates – for example they send out emails to associates semi-regularly promoting their latest promotions) and also have a blog where they do likewise. If you read the blog and get the emails you’ll see promotions where they are offering discounts to readers but also where they’re giving bonus commissions for some items or categories of products. Not all of them will relate to your niche but over time some will.
However there are other opportunities that they don’t promote to us as affiliates but which you can still tap into. For example – today I was surfing on Amazon and this popped up at the top of the screen:
It’s an internal promotion that Amazon are currently running for a series of new cameras that Canon released this week. It seems to appear to anyone surfing through the camera section on Amazon. The promotion links to this page (I’m not sure how long it’ll be up so here’s a screenshot).
The page is a sales page specifically designed to hook in people looking to pre-order newly announced cameras. Amazon are heavily promoting this page – they wouldn’t do so if it didn’t convert – so I’m jumping on board created an affiliate link to the page (you can create an affiliate link to ANY page within Amazon including these kinds of pages, search results, category pages etc) and I’m promoting it to my readers.
They more you keep an eye on how Amazon are promoting products to their readers the better informed you’ll be about how YOU can do the same thing.