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      The Beginner’s Guide to Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)


      When it comes to digital marketing, the goal is to generate traffic and leads that can then be converted into sales. While the focus is usually on developing ways to drive more traffic to your site, you may be wondering if there’s more you can do to encourage conversions.

      Enter Conversion Rate Optimization!

      Rather than focusing on traffic generation, CRO looks at what can be done on your website after you’ve reeled in those leads. Ultimately, CRO is an ongoing process of observation, analysis, and improvement.

      In this how-to guide, we’ll give you a comprehensive overview of CRO and answer some important questions you might have:

      Long story short, we’re going to get you set up with everything you need to know about increasing conversions. Let’s get started!

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      What Conversion Rate Optimization Is (And How it Differs from Traditional Marketing)

      When we talk about conversions, we’re referring to the process of getting a lead to take a desired action. This might be submitting an email address, purchasing a product, or downloading an article.

      It’s easy to rely heavily on strategies that might be too simple in scope. For example, you might be solely focused on getting visitors to submit their email addresses on your website and miss out on other potential conversion opportunities.

      However, if CRO is implemented correctly, it can help you manage the entire process from start to finish. This includes all of your channels and every part of your conversion funnel, rather than just that one lead generation tactic.

      Regardless of where they originate from, conversions of any kind can be calculated with a formula. Since CRO is a continuous process that aims to increase conversions and can employ several different techniques, it’s important to understand how to calculate different kinds of conversion rates. So, put on your glasses, because we’re about to get real nerdy.

      How to Calculate Conversion Rates

      Calculating your current conversion rates will give you a benchmark prior to implementing CRO and can later help you determine whether or not your efforts are working. There are several different ways to approach this task.

      Before you get started with the number-crunching, you’ll need to define a few things that are specific to your business, including:

      • Website Visitors. If you haven’t already, you’ll need to track your website’s traffic. This will be the basis for many CRO calculations.
      • Leads. Make sure you know exactly what counts as a lead for your situation. For example, this could be anyone who clicks on a specific button or submits their email address.
      • Conversion. Making a purchase is the most common kind of conversion we’ll discuss. However, there are several kinds of conversions, so you’ll need to establish how you’re defining the term.

      These three elements are critical components of your marketing funnel. The better you understand your funnel, the easier it will be to implement key CRO tactics.

      Now, let’s look at the most fundamental way to calculate conversion rates. You’ll take the total number of conversions (such as purchases), and divide it by the number of “interactions” or completed actions (clicks on an ad, for example) during a specific time frame.

      For example, if you had 10 sales from 1,000 interactions in one month, your conversion rate for that month would be 1%. However, you’ll have to decide what you are considering a valuable interaction, as calculating all potential actions together can result in skewed rates.

      Fortunately, there are tools available to help you sift through some of the different ways to do this. Specifically, Google offers conversion tracking for use with Google Ads. This enables you to create specific conversion actions that are unique to your business.

      Now, let’s take a step back and look at conversion rates in the context of implementing CRO. To do this, you’ll want to calculate your conversion rate based on the number of website visitors you have and how many of them become leads.

      To get your visitor-to-lead conversion rate, divide the number of leads created by the number of website visitors within a set time frame:

      If you have 1,000 site visitors in one month and 10 leads, your visitor-to-lead conversion rate is 1%.

      In terms of setting goals, you might be inclined to think you need more website traffic. In reality, this is where CRO can be beneficial. In our example, there are a lot of website visitors who did not become leads. This means there might be areas you can optimize in order to increase your visitor-to-lead conversions. In turn, your lead-to-customer conversions should also increase.

      In fact, that lead-to-customer conversion rate is the last calculation we’ll touch on. This is determined by dividing your total conversions (where a lead becomes a paying customer) by the number of total leads in a given time frame:

      If we revisit our previous example, we had a total of 10 leads. Let’s assume that three of those leads convert in the same month. Our lead-to-customer conversion would be 3%.

      These are all necessary formulas to keep in mind. They can help you set goals and compare monthly totals to see if your CRO strategies are working to boost the specific conversion rates you decide to target.

      Should You Be Using CRO? (4 Key Questions to Ask Yourself)

      It seems obvious to say, “Yes! I want more leads from my existing traffic.” However, there are some other questions to consider before you dive into a CRO planning session. While CRO concepts and techniques can benefit just about anyone, there are some specific elements of your existing practices to consider beforehand.

      1. Do You Understand Your Audience?

      To implement a solid CRO plan, you’ll need to have a decent amount of target market data. Marketing personas are a great place to start, and you can enhance their usefulness through CRO.

      If you’re lacking this kind of information but still want to use CRO, there are tools available to get you started. For example, the ThinkWithGoogle suite includes an application called Market Finder.

      Google’s Market Finder application.

      This is an application that can help you determine what the actual market is for your business. Additionally, you can identify new potential markets, or fine-tune your approach according to geographic locations. All of this data is vital to utilizing CRO. If you’re missing this component, you might want to invest some time into filling the gaps first.

      2. Are You Tracking Key Metrics?

      We mentioned previously how important it is to track different business metrics. CRO can only deliver the desired results if you’re already tracking metrics like bounce rate, page loading times, user experience, page views, and traffic. Just as we saw in the conversion rate calculations, data is the key to understanding whether optimizations are working.

      3. Do You Already Have Good Traffic Numbers?

      While mathematical logic tells us that the more traffic you have, the better your conversion numbers should be, that’s not necessarily the approach CRO emphasizes. The optimizations suggested — along with using CRO best practices — are designed to take your existing traffic even further.

      So if you’re already happy with your current traffic, that’s a good starting point. If not, you might first want to look at what could be preventing you from reaching your audience.

      4. Do You Need to Stretch Your Marketing Budget?

      Just like we discussed regarding traffic numbers, CRO aims to get you more with what you have already. If you have the other elements in place, such as data tracking, decent website traffic, and lead funnels, CRO is a logical next step.

      However, obtaining those other items can be costly, so it makes sense to look at where you can optimize what you have in place to bring about better results. Fortunately, most CRO practices are not going to break the bank.

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      Understanding the CRO Process and How to Make It Work For You

      We mentioned earlier that some approaches to calculating conversion rates can be too isolated. However, when implemented correctly, CRO can take those individual elements and create a comprehensive process that offers greater depth and value.

      In that regard, CRO is also a multifaceted approach that does not focus on just one element of a website or marketing campaign. There are several different CRO frameworks out there that you can adopt for your process. Each framework puts its own spin on five basic categories, including:

      • Research
      • Hypothesis
      • Prioritization
      • Testing
      • Learning

      On their own, these can be used as a basic CRO framework, but there are more in-depth and specific frameworks out there that you can try as well. We’ll go over three of the most popular, to give you an idea for how they differ.

      Moz’ 5-Step Framework

      Moz offers SEO tools for website developers and businesses, and they’re considered one of the top experts on SEO. Therefore, it’s no surprise that they’ve developed a CRO framework as well. Their approach has five steps that fall into three broad phases: Discovery, Experiments, and Review.

      To get started, let’s look at the Discovery phase. This is where steps one and two of the Moz framework live. There, you’ll look first at gathering data and formulating your hypotheses.

      Phase One of the Moz CRO Framework.

      The Discovery phase is essential to creating a strong foundation for all the work you’ll do next in the Experiment phase. This is where you’ll encounter steps three and four. They cover wireframing your new design, so you’re addressing the hypotheses formed in the previous step. This should match your brand and be realistic in terms of your technical resources.

      The fourth step in this framework focuses specifically on implementing Optimizely. This is a platform we’ll discuss in greater detail later. However, broadly speaking, it’s built to help you test and build digital experiences in a variety of different categories, such as marketing, engineering, and product development.

      In the Review phase, you’ll be looking to see if your hypothesis was correct. If not, you’ll be able to determine what you can learn from that failure.

      The LIFT Model

      Developed by Chris Goward, Founder and CEO of WiderFunnel, the LIFT Model is another CRO framework to consider. While this approach retains some of the same fundamentals of scientific testing that the Moz framework introduced, it has a much different structure.

      The Lift Model enables you to evaluate experiences from the perspective of your page visitors, using these six factors:

      • Value Proposition
      • Clarity
      • Relevance
      • Distraction
      • Urgency
      • Anxiety

      Goward offers a visualization of this model using an airplane as the value proposition. What makes the airplane lift is when the value proposition is relevant, clear, and presented with urgency. As a website user, distractions and anxiety are what can bring the plane down.

      The LIFT Model.

      With the LIFT Model, your value proposition is what determines your potential conversion rate, making it the most vital part of the framework. All the other factors in the model either drive or inhibit your value proposition and are used to develop your hypothesis and testing strategy.

      The LIFT Model has quite a few success stories. For example, a case study on Magento demonstrates how they were able to create an 88% “lift” in qualified leads using this framework.

      The Data36 Model

      Created by data analyst Tomi Mester, the Data36 model is an excellent option for anyone more comfortable with traditional scientific research terminology. This framework uses six steps to work through both qualitative and quantitative research methods that inform the CRO process.

      The Data36 CRO Framework.

      Steps one and two of the Data36 approach are similar to the Moz framework — you’ll be focused on gathering valuable data. However, in this case, it might be anecdotal or historical data.

      The key is to focus on qualitative information at the start. According to Mester, this concept is the first step, so you can form “hunches” before diving into the numerical data. To gather this information, you can conduct user interviews or Five Second Tests, which we’ll talk more about later.

      Your qualitative data can help dictate the direction of your search for quantitative data. This is where you’ll start to confirm your hunches. For the most part, this is similar to the steps in other frameworks where you form a hypothesis and then test it.

      The Data36 framework also has a brainstorming step that is much like wireframing in other CRO frameworks. Once you’ve created optimized content, you’ll engage in another round of qualitative testing.

      To round out the framework, you’ll work through A/B testing of the versions that performed well in the second round of qualitative research. The winner of this step can be moved to the sixth and final step. If used correctly, this framework can help you avoid unnecessary coding projects and potentially speed up the optimization process by weeding out options that might not work.

      6 Areas Where You Can Implement CRO Best Practices

      Now that we’ve covered some of the frameworks you can use to implement a CRO strategy, let’s take a look at the specific areas of your website where these techniques can have a noticeable impact.

      1. Call-To-Actions (CTAs)

      Your CTAs are of prime importance. If your website visitors don’t know what it is you want them to do, it’s unlikely that they’ll do it. Remember that in the LIFT Model, clarity is one of the elements that can help your value proposition take off.

      You might be familiar with some of the more traditional best practices, such as CTA button design, placement, and copy. However, when it comes to CRO, the approach is slightly different. In fact, this is where you’re more likely to find recommendations for using text-based CTAs.

      A text-based or anchor text CTA is designed in a larger format, such as an H3 or H4 heading, and is often styled in a different color. It is meant to stand out, but still be part of your web page’s copy. Hubspot conducted a study that compared end-of-page CTA banners to CTA anchor text and found that 43 to 97% of their leads came from the anchor text.

      A CTA anchor text example.

      Since only 6% of leads came from the end-of-page banner, anchor text CTAs were the clear winner.

      One of the main reasons this approach works is that it can help avoid banner-blindness. This happens when website users simply ignore certain design elements. Additionally, since a high percentage of readers won’t ever make it to the end of a post, implementing anchor text CTAs might be a useful technique to explore on your website.

      2. Website Copy

      Many experts view writing strong website copy as a mashup of art and science. However, CRO has a more formulaic approach for improving conversion rates through optimizing specific areas of your website’s copy.

      For example, applying optimization formulas to your headline is a great place to start. This is likely the first, and potentially only, thing your visitors will see. If the headline is not optimized, they may not even click on it in the first place!

      If your headline passes the test, you’ll want to make sure your page copy follows a few more rules. This is where the relevance of your copy really matters. It’s crucial to CRO that your copy matches or is relevant to your CTA.

      For instance, you wouldn’t want to focus all your copy on website hosting and then have your CTA mention signing up for an email marketing service.

      That might be an extreme example, but it drives home a vital point: copy matters!

      You’ll also want to assess whether your copy uses too much passive voice, stays on topic, and makes claims you can actually deliver on.

      3. Navigation and Site Structure

      Your website’s structure can be a critical factor in a successful approach to traditional SEO. Plus, there are lots of ways to optimize it. A well-executed site structure also plays a pivotal role in CRO.

      In fact, SEO expert Neil Patel calls good site architecture the “older brother” of CRO.

      Basically, navigation and site structure impact conversions because they are how users find and purchase things on your website. If the path to your CTA does not make sense or is hard to follow, your conversion numbers will probably reflect that.

      This is where some standard practices for building better User Experiences (UX) can be helpful. Peter Morville’s Honeycomb Model is a widely-accepted lens through which to view your website’s structure and begin making improvements.

      Peter Morville’s UX Honeycomb.

      The seven segments of the honeycomb represent all the elements that should be present to provide users with a meaningful and valuable experience. Ultimately, if your website structure and navigation are meeting all the standards in the honeycomb, you’ll have naturally optimized your website for better conversion rates.

      4. Page Speed

      It’s a well-cited fact that if a user has to wait just a few seconds for your page to load, they are more likely to leave and not come back. This, of course, can have a negative impact on your bottom line.

      Fortunately, there are ways to improve your website’s speed.

      One significant factor when it comes to page speed is your web host. A quality web host with the right features can be a big help when it comes to CRO.

      For example, built-in caching is one feature to look for when evaluating potential web hosts. This enables you to create static versions of individual web pages, so the server has less to load when a user requests the page through their web browser.

      5. Forms

      Getting your visitors to fill out lead generation forms can be a challenge. Style and length are both factors that can impact the success of your forms. Additionally, where to place them on your site is a hotly-debated topic.

      Whether you place your opt-in forms above or below “the fold,” there are some practices backed by data that seem to yield higher conversion rates. For example, the BrokerNotes lead generation form has a tool-like experience that took their conversion rate from 11% to 46%.

      The lead form on BrokerNotes.co.

      This is a good example of how revamping your lead generation form to look and feel less like a form can assist with CRO.

      However, there are many other form elements to consider when optimizing for conversions. This includes how much and how personal the information is that you ask for. For example, asking for a phone number has been shown to cause a 5% drop in conversions.

      6. Landing Page Design

      While many of the items on our list often live together on a landing page, there are steps you can take using CRO to improve the overall experience.

      From the headline to the CTA, every element of your landing page matters and provides opportunities for optimization. An excellent example of an optimized landing page is Airbnb.

      The Airbnb website.

      Not only is the page simple and visually appealing, but it also gets right to the point with a clear headline and useful information. There is no question about what this page is saying, and it speaks right to a potential host’s wallet.

      In terms of a CTA, it also cleverly offers the user valuable information before asking for anything in return.

      Once you have a basic grasp on what CRO involves, it’s time to dive in and put it to the test. Fortunately, there are many resources available to help you get started. For example, we’ve created a guide to using typography to increase conversions on your website.

      Let’s take a look at six other resources you can leverage to launch your CRO initiative!

      1. Google Marketing Platform

      Google Marketing Tools.

      When it comes to optimizing for search engines, Google is usually a top priority. Fortunately, the search engine also offers an entire suite of tools that can be used with your CRO framework. This is particularly beneficial for small businesses, as they can access these tools for free.

      Another benefit of using Google’s resources is that they are designed to work together, making your data accessible across all the available applications. The Google Marketing Platform provides an integrated approach to using the best tools for optimizing your website.

      For instance, you can gather all the tracking data you need for the beginning steps of most CRO frameworks using Google Analytics. Once you’re ready to run some tests, Google Optimize offers applications that can set up experiments based on your data.

      2. Visual Web Optimizer

      The Virtual Web Optimizer platform.

      Visual Web Optimizer (VWO) is an application with a diverse feature set, geared towards making website optimization easy. The Research, Hypothesize, Experiment, and Measure approach to many of the CRO frameworks we’ve discussed is operationalized with VWO’s digital toolset.

      Essentially, you can use VWO’s services to provide extra support and expertise to the CRO framework you decide to employ. This includes tools for every step of the process. VWO also offers many plans to choose from, including pricing options for individual applications starting at $99 per month.

      3. Optimizely

      The Optimizely platform.

      Optimizely is the platform used explicitly in the Moz 5-Step CRO Framework. It is one of the top CRO platforms out there, with clientele that includes 24 of the top Fortune 100 global businesses.

      This is one of the premium CRO services on the market. You’ll have to contact the sales team directly to get pricing on Optimizely plans.

      Whatever you choose, you’ll get some options in terms of how you can approach the platform. For example, you can choose services based on team (marketing, product, engineering, or data) or industry.

      You can also choose between a Web platform for creating experiments and personalizations with a visual editor and a Full Stack platform geared more towards application and back-end development. This is where you’ll find high-powered A/B testing options and feature flags for product development.

      4. Five Second Tests

      Five Second Tests.

      Five Second Tests is an easy-to-use web-based service that enables you to gather data on what a website user’s first impression of your design is. This process gives testers only five seconds to view a page. Then, they are asked a series of questions to determine if the design is achieving what you intended.

      You can use this application for free in a limited capacity. You’ll be constrained to a total of two minutes of testing per month and you won’t be able to brand your tests with your own logo. For $79 per month, you can increase your testing time, remove the branding, and implement split testing. There are also Pro and Team plans with many more features for $99 and $396 per month, respectively.

      5. Case Studies

      Optimization Case Studies.

      Research and data are both essential components when it comes to CRO. So we wanted to include some excellent resources for your own information gathering. Learning from others can save you time, frustration, and in some cases, money.

      With that in mind, Neil Patel has 100 conversion rate optimization case studies available for free on his website. You can use this as a directory to find situations that are similar to your own to learn from.

      You’ll be able to review what was optimized, in addition to what the results and key findings were. If you’re trying to kickstart a CRO effort with your team, sharing case studies can often serve as a tangible motivator.

      6. CRO Blogs

      To learn more about CRO and keep your skills sharp with the latest optimization tools, following the blogs of CRO experts can be a worthwhile (and often entertaining) strategy. However, if you look for CRO blogs in a Google search, you’re likely to get millions of results. So we’ve picked a few of the best to give you a more manageable reading list.

      To keep up on the latest CRO trends, you might want to follow some of these blogs:

      • The WiderFunnel Blog: CEO Chris Goward created the LIFT Model for CRO.
      • Unbounce: This is a blog brought to you by one of the leaders in A/B testing and landing page optimization tools.
      • Conversion Optimization Blog: A well-researched blog that comes from the Conversion Sciences team.
      • Neil Patel’s Blog: Neil Patel, the creator of KISSMetrics, brings his readers some of the most data-packed posts out there about marketing and optimization.

      As our technology landscape shifts and changes, following expert blogs can help you stay informed and up-to-speed on the most effective CRO practices.

      Let’s Increase Your Conversion Rate

      With some basic elements in place, a well-structured CRO strategy will almost always yield positive results. If you’ve already calculated your conversion rates and are tracking key metrics, then you’re off to a good start.

      Choosing and implementing a CRO framework is another major component of developing a successful strategy. While no one framework is the “right” one, they all require gathering quality data, developing hypotheses, and testing to determine the best optimization tactics for your website.

      Of course, you won’t want to get distracted by an unreliable web host when you could be focusing on a higher conversion rate. Here at DreamHost, we can keep your website’s server in prime condition with our managed hosting plans, so you can get back to building a conversion machine!



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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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