What is an affiliate link?
In essence, an affiliate link is one that you put on your site inside an article or banner advertisement. If followed then it will generate a small commission for you if someone then goes on to make a purchase from that partner. This costs nothing for the visitor that you send to your affiliate as the commission comes out of their websites profit margins. It's a way for them to pay you for targeted marketing. It's a good way to get the monetisation of your blog going as it's very simple and it requires no added effort once set up.
Affiliate links are ideal for embedding into product reviews as the readers of these reviews are much more likely to use one of these links to buy the product that you have reviewed.
Is affiliate linking a bit sneaky?
You might think that this system could be exploited by people over inflating product reviews in order to generate extra sales for them. This would be a stupid thing to do as you would soon be ridiculed by the reviewing community. Also, if it causes problems with unhappy customers who are unhappy about a product because they were lied to then the affiliate partners would probably ban you from their systems. After all they want to protect their name and brand image and don't want to be associated with nefarious marketing practices.
It's a legal requirement for you to inform your readers that you have affiliate links in play on your site and failure to disclose these links can even lead to Google penalising your site and causing it to enter a deep dark pit where it will not generate any traffic. So basically, if you are using affiliate links you need to use them ethically and also you need to comply with legal requirements.
What are the legal requirements?
In the US the use of affiliate links falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission’s Endorsement Guidelines. Luckily these guidelines have an easy to read and understand section dedicated to networking and affiliate marketing. Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a digital marketing firm that specialises in SEO audits and PPC management services has written an in depth and excellent article on disclosure requirements relating to affiliate links.
In the UK, we are governed by similar legislation regarding advertising and affiliate links under the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and these rules are very similar to those laid down by the FTC, they have a useful bloggers guide on their site.
You are advised to read the relevant guidelines for your locale but these parts are common to both.
- All affiliate links must be declared as an affiliate link giving no confusion as to the fact that you will be paid from them.
- This advice needs to be stated before the links on your page or article so burying it at the bottom is not being compliant.
- You must state if you have received an item to review free of charge but that the links will generate a commission.
- Having a disclosure page is not making you compliant unless you link to it form the article as a source of more information.
An example statement for a product review that would be compliant is - "This post contains affiliate links and if you purchase something when you follow one of these links I may receive a small commission at no cost to you. This has in no way affected the outcome of this review. For more information check out my disclosure page (add a link here)".
On social media you can use the hashtag #aff to denote an affilaite link or even #ad so that people are aware that the link is an advetisement. When I make posts about sponsors of my site I also add the hashtag #sponsor to ensure transparancy.
So in essence you need to inform your readers that your article is in effect a sponsored advertisement as you may get paid for it in the form of affiliate payments. This requirement is the right thing to do as it informs your readers of the link and they can then make their own decision as to whether or not they follow them so you have nothing to lose by being compliant with the regulations. It also makes you appear more professional in your approach to blogging as well.
It is also worth knowing that Google recommend that affiliate links or any paid link gets a 'nofollow' attribute so that you don't send any linkjuice to that site and that google doesn't follow the link. A nofollow link looks like this in html:
<a href="http://YOUR LINK CODE" rel="nofollow">LINK TEXT</a>
So how do these affiliate systems work?
When you sign up as an affiliate partner for a company you will be given a code to add to any links from your site to theirs and software at their end will track that a visitor comes from your site and if it generates a sale then you will be credited with some commission on that sale. This commission level varies from company to company and just by having these links on your site gives you the chance of a small but steady income if you can get traffic to those pages.
Most affiliate programs have a minimum payment threshold and that is simply the point at which your balance with them makes it worthwhile doing a payment to you and this amount again varies from company to company. Payments are always done in arrears and this is to take up the fact that some products will get returned or fraudulent transactions will be identified.
So basically and this will vary from company to company but if you are credited with a sale in say January it would be due to be paid to you in March. If on the affiliate payout date your balance doesn't exceed the payout threshold you don't lose the money it just sits there until you get more sales and then once you are over the threshold you get paid.
Most affiliate systems will give you a lot of statistics about your traffic and payments so you can use it to fine tune your links. You should also receive e-mails when you receive a commission payment.
What is the best tactic for using affiliate links?
You might be tempted to sign up for every affiliate program that you can find and whilst this on the surface makes sense just remember that minimum payout figure. If you have lots and lots of different affiliate programs on your site then the traffic that is going to those affiliates will get watered down and your balance will only slowly grow and with too many affiliates you may never even reach the payout threshold so in my opinion try to choose just a few.
Look for programmes with good brands that are well known, have good customer support and that carry the sort of products or services that you blog about. That will allow you to constantly create a stream of new links on your blog posts.
Where can you find affiliate partners?
This is really easy to do, if you already receive products to review from an online retailer ask them or look on their site to see if they have an affiliate program that you can sign up to. You can also simply use a search engine to find potential affiliates. Make sure that you read the terms and conditions especially payout information and commission levels. Also pay attention to any prohibited advertising methods before you sign up.
Some affiliates are stricter than others regarding who they let sign up to them, don't worry if you are refused especially if you are running a relatively new blog and are still establishing yourself. Just try again later. In general though you should find it easy to join affiliate networks.
As well as retailers running their own programs some sign up to affiliate management websites where you can sign up once and then gain access to multiple affiliate programs. Two that I can recommend are:
Paid on Results - https://www.paidonresults.com/
Webgains - http://www.webgains.com/public/
Affiliate links are an excellent way to start to monetise your blog and staying compliant with the law is really not difficult at all. Affiliate payouts are not taxed at source in the UK and so you will need to declare this income on your annual tax returns. You will get a huge kick the first time that you get an affiliate commission and it is a good way to get payments over time from your hard work writing articles and reviews.
If you found this article interesting and useful or you want to add something then I would love to hear from you by e-mail or through the comments form below.