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      A Beginner’s Guide to Affiliate Marketing


      There’s no shortage of ways you can make money online. However, few are as flexible and rewarding as affiliate marketing. If done right, it can be a lucrative way of earning an income by producing creative and valuable content.

      In a nutshell, affiliate marketing enables you to monetize your content by promoting other companies’ products using affiliate links. When somebody buys a product or service based on your referral, you earn a small commission on that purchase.

      In this article, we’ll introduce you to the basics of affiliate marketing and discuss how it works in practice. We’ll also show you how you could benefit from using it and give you some help getting started. Let’s begin!

      A Brief History of Affiliate Marketing (And How It Works)

      The DreamHost affiliate program.

      Monetizing your website doesn’t have to be a difficult or compromising endeavor. In fact, it can be incredibly rewarding, both from an economic and creative perspective. Plus, it doesn’t require a lot of the legwork involved in other methods of making money online.

      Affiliate marketing involves promoting products from external vendors on your own website. While definitions sometimes vary, there are generally three or four parties involved in an affiliate setup. Since these terms can be confusing, let’s take a moment to clarify the ‘who’s who’ of affiliate marketing:

      • The affiliate. Also known as ‘the marketer,’ this is the person running a site that contains affiliate links. The affiliate receives a commission on each purchase made by visitors who found a product by clicking on one of their links.
      • The consumer. This is a visitor on the affiliate site, who clicks on an affiliate link and completes a purchase (whether that’s the original item being promoted, or something else from the same company).
      • The network. This refers to the internal or third-party platform that the affiliate program is operated on. This means they’re the ones providing the links that the affiliates use and paying the affiliate their commissions.
      • The merchant. This is a company that sells products being marketed by the affiliate. In many cases, the merchant and the network are the same, as some companies run their own affiliate programs. For simplicity, we’ll be combining these last two entities throughout the rest of our discussion here.

      If that still sounds a bit confusing, let’s look at a typical real-life example of how an affiliate sale might work:

      1. An affiliate publishes a blog post on their site. The post is a review of a pair of sneakers, which are sold by the merchant.
      2. At the bottom of the post, the affiliate includes a link that leads to the sneakers’ product page.
      3. A consumer reads the blog post and, intrigued by the review, clicks on the affiliate link.
      4. Once on the merchant’s website, the consumer decides to purchase the sneakers.
      5. The merchant earns a profit off of the sale and shares a portion of that money with the affiliate.

      You might be curious about how the merchant knows which affiliate is responsible for the purchase. That’s actually the easy part since every affiliate is given a unique link that tracks each product they promote. This lets the merchant track all referrals using cookies to ensure that they know exactly how much money they’ve earned thanks to each affiliate (and what to pay them in return).

      How Affiliate Marketing Can Benefit You

      The potential to earn money by simply sharing links probably sounds tempting already. However, affiliate marketing comes with a whole host of advantages beyond the obvious one. Let’s take a look at some of the main ways being an affiliate marketer can benefit you and your site.

      First of all, it’s a low-risk and inexpensive business. The bare minimum for getting started as an affiliate is having a blog, a website, or even just a social media profile. This makes it a very cost-effective method for earning money. It also means you don’t have to commit a lot of cash up-front since you can start small and grow your marketing efforts over time.

      Another compelling aspect of affiliate marketing is that it lets you be creative, and provide something genuinely useful to your audience. Since you can use affiliate links pretty much anywhere, you can set up a review site, publish long-form articles, or even produce video content. Since you’re promoting other companies’ products, you don’t even need to worry about actually creating, shipping, and supporting the items yourself.

      Affiliate marketing also gives you the freedom to choose what you promote. In other words, it offers you the luxury of being picky. Not only do you get to decide precisely which programs to work with, but in most cases, you’ll even select the individual products and services you want to promote. As such, you always have full control over what’s featured on your site.

      The This Is Why I’m Broke affiliate website.

      Last but not least, affiliate marketing can be very lucrative (although keep in mind that it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme). Since you’re earning a percentage of every sale you refer, there’s no maximum ceiling for earnings either. This means that if your affiliate site takes off in a big way, you could potentially end up making a great passive income.

      With all of that in mind, you should have a fairly clear idea about whether affiliate marketing is something you’d like to get involved with. For many people, the benefits speak for themselves. However, before you start posting affiliate links, there are a number of things you’ll need to bear in mind.

      What to Consider Before Becoming an Affiliate Marketer

      Affiliate marketing definitely provides some impressive benefits, but that doesn’t mean you can jump in without preparation. To ensure that your work as an affiliate isn’t wasted, you’ll need to do a bit of planning and be aware of the potential drawbacks.

      We’re going to talk about some of those considerations in more detail later on. However, here is a brief overview of what you’ll need to do:

      • Find the right niche. Your niche determines your site’s subject matter, and by extension, what types of products or services you’ll promote. As such, finding a niche that’s both comfortable and potentially lucrative is vital.
      • Understand how to disclose your affiliate links. It’s imperative that you let visitors know your site contains affiliate links. Affiliate links come under the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines of endorsements, after all. Plus, being transparent is a smart way to improve trust in your website and business (not to mention sales).
      • Avoid ‘affiliate theft’ at all costs. There are several illegitimate methods of increasing your commissions, which are collectively referred to as ‘affiliate theft’ or ‘commission theft.’ As such, you’ll need to make sure you only use proper, disclosed links at all times. Otherwise, you might end up like the scammer who used affiliate theft to steal $28 million from eBay.
      • Understand that being an affiliate is not ‘selling out.’ By promoting other companies’ products, you’re nothing but a pawn in their marketing schemes, right? While some people assume this, it really isn’t true. In fact, a key characteristic of most successful affiliates is that they provide honest and insightful content to go along with their links. Since you choose what to promote, there’s no need to bend the truth or connect your name to poor-quality products.
      • Be patient. Finally, affiliate marketing rarely leads to overnight success. Instead, it usually requires a lot of time and effort to slowly generate traffic and build an audience. This is especially true if you’re starting with a new or low-traffic site. It’s essential that you don’t expect quick results, and are ready to put in the work needed to grow your site and commissions.

      If you take some time to consider the above points carefully, you’ll start off prepared and with realistic expectations. This will give you a solid foundation upon which you can build your affiliate marketing career.

      Affiliate Marketing for Beginners (In 3 Steps)

      As we’ve already mentioned, affiliate marketing has a relatively low barrier to entry. To help you get started quickly, we’re going to walk you through the first steps for turning your site into an affiliate marketing success.

      Step 1: Choose a Suitable Affiliate Niche

      If you’re starting a new affiliate site, you’ll need to consider what niche you will work within. Your site’s niche determines what type of content you create, who your target audience is, and which kinds of products you will promote.

      Naturally, it’s crucial to choose a niche that’s financially viable. This means you need to find a subject that enough people will be interested in. That may seem tricky, but there are actually a lot of options you can choose from. Performing keyword research is also a smart idea at this stage, to find out what keywords are driving the most traffic via search engines.

      However, this step isn’t just about finding the niche that pays the most. To be successful, you should also aim for a niche that suits you personally. If you already have some knowledge and interest in your chosen area of focus, you’ll be in a position to create authoritative and engaging content to go along with your affiliate links.

      You’ll also have a better understanding of your target audience’s needs and desires. This is essential since it helps you build trust with your visitors. If they feel like they can rely on your judgment and recommendations, they’ll be more likely to click on your links and make purchases based on your suggestions. Therefore, the best niche will have plenty of potential consumers and will be something you can create knowledgeable and trustworthy content about.

      Step 2: Find and Sign Up for the Right Affiliate Programs

      Once you have a niche and site ready to go, it’s time to look for affiliate programs. As we mentioned previously, many programs are run directly by a merchant, with the goal of promoting their own company’s products.

      When deciding which programs to sign up for, you should first look at what products they want you to promote. Most importantly, they’ll need to offer products that are popular in your selected niche. Therefore, look for brands that speak to your target market, and see if they offer affiliate programs. For example, if your site is about running websites, you could look for web hosts with their own affiliate programs.

      In addition to merchant-driven programs, there are also dedicated affiliate networks, such as RakutenAwin, CJ, and Pepperjam. These programs encompass several different merchants and thousands of products. This gives you access to multiple types of products, without needing to join lots of programs. Even eCommerce giants like eBay and Amazon have their own successful affiliate programs.

      Amazon’s affiliate marketing program.

      Naturally, it’s also important to find programs that will pay you well. After all, you’re putting a lot of effort into promoting the merchants’ products, so you should see a fair share of the profits. Before you sign up, it’s also a smart move to research each program and see what experiences other affiliates have had.

      You might even find it useful to seek out an affiliate community, such as Wealthy Affiliate. There, you can get advice and help from those who have been publishing and marketing for a long time. This can be particularly helpful when you’re a novice. Then, in a few years’ time, you might be the one helping another beginner get started.

      Step 3: Add Affiliate Links to Your Site

      At this point, you’ve signed up for the best affiliate programs in your carefully chosen niche. Now it’s time to really get to work, which means sharing your affiliate links. Of course, how you actually implement these links on your site will vary, depending on what type of content you’re creating.

      For example, if you’re running a review site, it makes sense to place relevant affiliate links within your reviews. The simplest way of doing this is just to include them as text links in the content itself. However, this approach can be seen as misleading, since it’s less clear that you’re promoting the products in question.

      A better technique is to keep your links slightly separated from your main content. For instance, you can place them towards the end of each relevant post. The film site Birth.Movies.Death does this by featuring boxes with related products underneath its articles.

      An affiliate link on a post from Birth.Movies.Death.

      You can see a similar approach taken by OutdoorGearLab This site places links to each product’s page alongside the pricing information in its reviews.

      An affiliate link from OutdoorGearLab.

      Some affiliate programs will also provide you with assets, such as banners, that you can use to promote products. This might be more suitable if you want to keep your marketing and content clearly separated.

      As with your niche, your approach to implementing links will depend on your site’s purpose. Feel free to experiment with different strategies, but always remember that your focus should be on providing value to your audience. If you fail in that task, visitors won’t trust you, click on your links, or return in the future. Make sure you write quality content, therefore, and keep an eye on your conversions to see what’s working (and what’s not).

      Finally, we once again want to stress the importance of disclosing your affiliate links. This is a crucial part of complying with the endorsement guidelines provided by the FTC. Violating these guidelines could lead to legal action, which is naturally something you’ll want to avoid at all costs.

      As such, you should provide information about your links’ nature and purpose, which you can do by creating an ‘affiliate disclosure’ statement. The notice should be unambiguous, and clearly visible anywhere affiliate links are used. This will keep your site out of trouble, and help to promote trust with your audience.[a][b][d][e][f]

      Conclusion

      The trouble with trying to make money online is that you’re rarely given the opportunity to be creative or to work with something you feel passionate about. In that sense, affiliate marketing is unique. This marketing technique enables you to monetize your own site, choosing exactly what products to promote and how.

      Do you have any questions about getting started with affiliate marketing? Join the DreamHost Community today and let’s discuss!



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      A Beginner’s Guide to Crafting the Perfect Blog — From Site Creation to Broadcasting Your Brand


      Back in the day, blogging essentially amounted to taking the stage in an empty theater. The spotlight shone on you as you stood behind the microphone and embarked on a soliloquy about your day. Maybe your dog did something funny and adorable, or perhaps you had a handful of vacation stories and photos to share. Maybe your aging water heater finally keeled over and died, setting off a tragically comedic series of home improvement projects.

      The availability and accessibility of personal web space in the mid-2000s gave rise to countless bloggers — but not many readers or business opportunities. Blogs typically added up to online diaries shared among close friends and family members, words thrown into the ether.

      via GIPHY

      Over the last several years, however, blogging has shifted from a self-serving ritual to an often fruitful endeavor. Several top blogs have turned into leading voices of industry and now amass hundreds of thousands of dollars each month.

      But blogging success isn’t just reserved for the Arianna Huffingtons of the world. From personal finance and fitness to food and fashion, individual writers can use their voice (well, their fingers and keyboard) to build a brand and expand it into a livelihood.

      However, don’t let the technical aspects of creating an online presence weigh you down or prevent you from starting. Coming up with your blogging idea and goals is plenty intimidating; once you’ve overcome that big hurdle, take a look at the steps we’ve outlined below to see how to make your dream a reality.

      Step 1: Pick Your Platform

      You know what you want to say, but how will anyone hear you? Your new blogging venture will face a critical early test when you choose which venue to share your point of view. While the writing, editing, and publishing features found in most blogging platforms are mostly the same, your experience and effectiveness will be significantly impacted.

      Website builders offer a beginner-friendly way to get online, but many of the big-name services tend to emphasize drag-and-drop design over providing a substantive and dynamic writing environment. Blogging is a bit of an afterthought, more of an extra feature thrown into the mix.

      Third-party publishing platforms like Blogger, Tumblr, or Medium emphasizes content and community, but it’s easy for authors to get lost in the crowd. Your brand becomes absorbed by the platform displaying your work.

      Even though all these options come with free or low-cost options, expenses can get a bit out of hand once you add the features you need to be successful (a custom domain name, for instance). You tend not to have as much flexibility as you’d think.

      Worst of all, those platforms own your content. The proprietary programs often make it difficult for you to download your content, and you won’t be able to transfer your site anywhere else without completely rebuilding. Granted, the companies mentioned likely aren’t disappearing anytime soon, but even promising startups can vanish in the blink of an eye — and take your blog with them.

      Turning to an open-source content management system like WordPress immediately solves all these woes. This free software powers nearly a third of the web, making it the most popular and trusted publishing tool.

      With a history rooted in blogging, WordPress balances writing tools with beautiful customizable designs (that will soon get even easier to use with the debut of Gutenberg and blocks). Both hobbyists and Fortune 500 companies use WordPress to build their brand and foster interactions with readers. You maintain complete control over your site and content. Trust us: go with WordPress.

      Want to learn more about WordPress? Check out our WordPress tutorials.

      Step 2: Set the Stage With a Domain Name and Hosting

      Although you can dip a toe into WordPress by using the all-in-one WordPress.com, we think self-hosted WordPress (found at WordPress.org) is the way to go. Hosting your website files with a trusted provider like DreamHost gives you extra security and stability, along with unlimited growth opportunities and friendly support.

      What’s the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org? Turns out, it’s big, especially when you want full control over your website.

      Most new bloggers will be well served with a shared web hosting plan. The configuration is the thankfully the cheapest option, but smaller price tags can open the door for performance issues or crummy customer service, depending on your provider.

      Instead of signing up with a generic web hosting plan, explore the specialized features WordPress hosting introduces. If you’re worried about the tech stuff becoming too involved or complicated, purchase managed WordPress hosting and let the experts take care of it. For more information on the similarities and differences between traditional web hosting and the managed WordPress variety, check out this resource from HostingAdvice.com.

      Once hosting is acquired, it’s time to take the first big, demonstrable step in establishing your blog! Many new hosting accounts, including ones through DreamHost, come with a free domain name registration. This is the URL your readers will associate with you and your content, so you’ll want to make this count! Hopefully, you already have a brand name in mind, but don’t be crushed if it’s not available as a domain. Some tips to consider when domain shopping:

      • Use descriptive keywords to describe your blog
      • Look for something short, pronounceable, and easy to spell
      • Avoid hyphens and other punctuation
      • Don’t be afraid to try different domain extensions
      • See if your name is also available on social media
      • Make sure there are no trademark or copyright infringements

      Step 3: Find a Theme and Customize Your Look

      Many hosts have simplified the WordPress installation process to just a click or two, but DreamHost has even eliminated that step. We’ll install WordPress for you, along with a handful of rock-solid themes and plugins to get you started. Finding the right theme or design is critical for your blog’s success, as it connects your readers with your content and quickly informs their first impression of your brand.

      Instead of getting bogged down in color schemes and typography, focus on functionality. Good blog themes should make your content easy to find. As such, pay attention to the information you display above the fold:

      • Is your navigation menu there?
      • What about a search box?
      • Recent or popular posts?

      Don’t feel like you need to make some big splash with your theme — clean, simple, useful designs always win.

      Obviously, your blog’s landing page and individual posts will garner the lion’s share of looks, but don’t forget about creating a visually engaging and useful design for an about page and a contact page. An about page helps build trust with your readers and enables you to share your personality and credentials, along with the blog’s mission and aspirations.

      Your theme and your content should work together and add value, not compete for attention. Fonts should be large and readable. Make sure the responsive or mobile-friendly versions of your site don’t hide important information on smaller screens. Instead of playing with the fun parts of web design, such as colors, imagery, and animations, concentrate on user experience. After all, your blog’s design is for your readers, not you!

      Step 4: Construct a Keyword-Driven Content Strategy

      Sure, you know you want to blog. But are you sure you’re treating this as a possible business venture and source of income (and not as a self-satisfying bout of verbal preening)? Briefly put your writing talents aside and come up with a business plan for your blog that avoids these common mistakes.

      For instance, how often do you plan on publishing a new post? Temper the initial excitement and avoid committing to an unsustainable writing schedule. Seek consistency, both in terms of frequency and tone. Your personality and chosen topic area will likely shape the voice you naturally bring to your content, but don’t lose sight of your target audience. Your readers’ demographics, locations, interests, and habits all offer hints as to what information will be the most useful and entertaining.

      Take the guesswork out of your writing prompts by engaging in a healthy bit of keyword research. In addition to the obvious benefits to search engine optimization and higher rankings, keyword research reveals what your target audience is actually looking for. Your blog might be the best content on the web, but it’s all largely for naught if Google can’t find it. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

      Instead of jumping straight into the deep end with high-value — and highly competitive — broad search terms, identify a handful of more specific searches that you can build a base around. Don’t write content around the area’s best restaurants; craft your posts around, say, the coziest Italian restaurant that’s the best spot to bring a date. The experts at Moz do a great job of explaining a straightforward, easy-to-follow method of keyword research.

      Step 5: Work Ahead With Writing

      Once you have a healthy list of topics to explore, it’s time to finally get to work! Are you surprised that writing is such a small part of establishing a successful blog? Because writing is theoretically the part that comes most natural to you, we’re just helping establish the guidelines through which to funnel your creativity and steer your success.

      For starters, you’ll want to publish a few posts before you officially launch your blog. Give readers a glimpse of what they can expect from your brand by covering a handful of topics in the voice and tone you envision using for the long haul. This enables your visitors to connect with you more personally and gain insights and information beyond the generic, “Hey, I started a blog” post.

      via GIPHY

      You might be chomping at the bit to get started blogging, but channel that excitement in ways that will keep that momentum going long after the initial rush wears off. In addition to the three to five posts you’ll publish, try to have another five to 10 posts written and saved in drafts. Beyond that, maintain a list of ideas or keywords you’ll want to write about in the future. By stocking up on content and topics, you’ll be poised to handle any bout of writer’s block that emerges.

      As for the content itself, find a schedule that works best for you. Publishing only two or three new posts a week is perfectly acceptable (that’s what we aim to do on the DreamHost blog). Daily articles sound great in theory, but first you need to find out if that is the right amount of content for your audience. Then take your time working up to that cadence. Spend the extra time formatting, proofreading, and otherwise perfecting each post.

      Step 6: Build Interactions and Boost Your Following

      Once your new blog is open for business, now it’s time to start attacking the second part of this post’s headline: broadcasting your brand. Just as the quality of your content won’t matter if Google can’t find you, the same can be said for your audience. Ideally, you set up your blog’s social media accounts as you worked on the site and starter content (remember when we listed social media availability as part of a strong domain name?).

      Naturally, you’ll frequently rely on your brand’s social media profiles to share new blog posts, but don’t resort to mindlessly copy/pasting links into your feed. Many of your same content creation and brainstorming exercises for your blog should also be used toward your social media: How can you be engaging, entertaining, and relevant to your followers? Find compelling images and other visual elements to accompany your posts; graphics alone can lead to more than 30 percent more clicks and visits on social media. Pose questions to your readers and lend timely insights into trending issues.

      Be sure to keep in mind that interactions with readers don’t (and shouldn’t) need to happen away from your blog. Social media networks connect broad swaths of people, but the most important audiences to focus on are the ones who have already found you. Turn your readers into brand advocates by creating engaging opportunities to interact and return to your blog. You can bridge the gap by making it easy for visitors to share their favorite post on Facebook and Twitter, of course, but consider allowing them to comment directly on the post — and be sure to respond to their questions and opinions. Doing so humanizes your brand and deepens the relationship with your readers.

      Consider capturing readers’ attention by flipping the relationship. Instead of sitting back and hoping for readers to come to your blog, set up an email newsletter or subscription and collect people’s addresses. That way, you can more actively get your content to the front and center, rather than waiting for someone to browse your blog’s way. This can easily be accomplished with an email marketing platform that provides embeddable code that can be placed in a widget on your blog’s sidebar or footer. Alternatively, consider a WordPress plugin that pops open a window directly asking for engagement. While these can be extraordinarily effective, beware of the fine line between user engagement and dark UX practices.

      Step 7: Analyze Analytics and Tweak Your Tactics

      So now your blog is a buzzing hive of activity. Readers are zipping around from one post to the next. Or maybe they’re checking out your About Page. Or instead of reading a post until the end, they’re just glancing at the headings. Maybe they’re not even opening a post.

      You’ll never know for sure until you look at analytics or the data that shows where visitors come from, how they move around their site, and why they leave. Google Analytics is the go-to (and free!) service that can provide a wealth of information about your audience and your site’s performance. Pageviews can identify your most popular blog post over a certain period, for instance, while a high bounce rate (the percentage of users who leave a site quickly after viewing only one page) may indicate some design or content changes could be in order.

      As you learn how long your readers stay on your blog and where they go, you might discover they don’t interact with your website quite how you anticipated. Find where the common hangups are and make the related tweaks to your navigation menu, read more links, and other interaction points. By solving your first few users’ problems, you’re paving the way for more and more readers.

      Do you have any questions about crafting the perfect blog? Join the DreamHost Community and let’s talk shop!



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