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Affiliate sites make money for you while you enjoy time with your loved ones, travel the world, and live life to the fullest.
That’s what every internet marketing guru tells you, right?
It’s not entirely false but there’s a LOT that you need to do before you actually reach that stage.
For most affiliate marketers, life is not as rosy or comfortable. In fact, you’ll find most of them working 10-12 hours a day, churning out loads of content, and spending sleepless nights doing link building.
Having said that, once your affiliate site starts getting traffic and growing a tribe around it, there are countless ways to grow it and make money from it.
So all the hard work is definitely worth it.
But how do you start an affiliate? What are the first steps? And what are the mistakes you need to avoid if you want to succeed?
This is what I’ll cover in detail in this article.
What Is An Affiliate Site And Why Should You Start One?
An affiliate site is a website that makes money primarily through affiliate marketing. It is one of the most popular business models on the internet that’s used by millions of bloggers and even large publications like CNN, Mashable, The Huffington Post, and many others.
According to a survey of more than 1100 blogs, affiliate marketing was the most popular monetization methods among bloggers of all sizes (especially the bigger sites making more than $50K/year)
Why is the affiliate site model so popular?
Becuase there’s no entry barrier in affiliate marketing.
Anyone can start an affiliate site, sign up with an affiliate network, and start promoting products as an affiliate.
There are no obligations.
You only make money when you make a sale so it’s really a win-win situation for you and the product owners whose products you’re promoting on your site.
The Fundamentals Of A Successful Affiliate Site
Before I get into the specific steps of creating an affiliate site, I want you to understand the fundamental reasons behind a successful affiliate site.
A Profitable And Evergreen Niche
Successful affiliate sites are evergreen and always in demand. Unlike seasonal sites that focus on certain events or problems that arise for a small period of time, evergreen affiliate sites focus on problems that are always relevant.
Plus, their target audience is known for spending money on buying relevant products and services. This is a crucial factor becuase if you create a world-class affiliate site in a niche where people don’t spend too much money, you won’t’ be able to effectively monetize it.
Focus On Problems & Passions
Successful affiliate sites solve problems and create content based on people’s passions. Their focus is not limited to a few products or services.
Instead, they address long-lasting problems, create content that offers solutions, and pitch relevant products in the process.
An Engaged Community Around The Site
Successful affiliate websites have large email lists and social media groups that they use to drive traffic to their content and generate word of mouth marketing.
Their approach is completely different from short-term niche sites that rely solely on organic search traffic and go out of business if they lose their rankings to a competitor.
A Strong Brand Image
Successful affiliate sites are perceived as niche leaders and go-to experts in their industries. They achieve this brand persona by consistently publishing high-quality content and offering value to their visitors.
As a result, their target audience looks towards them not only for advice but also when they want to purchase products for their needs.
How To Create A Successful Affiliate Marketing Website
Now that you know what a successful affiliate site looks like, let me share the steps involved in creating it.
Step 1: Find A Profitable Affiliate Niche For Your Site
Niche selection is the backbone of successful affiliate marketing.
It’s so important that your whole affiliate marketing strategy could become ineffective if you choose the wrong niche.
But it doesn’t have to be very complicated.
The right affiliate marketing niche has the following characteristics
- It has lots of high priced products that people regularly buy
- It is evergreen and remains valid throughout the year (for several years)
- It is based on passions/hobbies/needs/problems that people are willing to spend money on
- It is aligned with your interests since you have to create content about it.
The first step within the first step is to crank out some niche ideas.
I have already done a mammoth guide about niche selection that you should read if you want to learn more about this topic.
Here’s I’ll just quickly explain the steps involved.
The first step within the first step is to crank out some ideas.
Create a list of potential niches you’re interested in.
It should only take you a few minutes. Simply write out a bunch of topics/niches that you’re personally interested in or have experience in.
There is no hard set rule to what niches work, and what doesn’t. But if you’re a beginner, you want to start in a niche that you’re interested in.
You’re going to be working on the site for months, even years, and you don’t want it to be in an industry that you hate.
As you get more experienced, you can slowly shift more of your niche selection towards profitability.
But for beginners, the perfect niche is one that you’re interested in, has low to medium competition, and is large enough to build a healthy 4-figure/month site.
Here’s an example of one I would make myself:
- Investing Money
Once you’ve created your initial list, it’s time to do some research on each one.
In this part, we’re going to look into the competition to analyze:
- Traffic potential
- Keyword search volume
- Backlink profiles of top ranking sites
- Affiliate networks used
- Earnings potential
A good starting point is to input some basic, generalized keywords around the niche into Google and see what competitors show up.
High ranking sites for generalized short-tail keywords will usually be the highest authority sites in the niche.
The first thing we want to see is the high potential of traffic.
These will give you a rough approximation of the traffic numbers the top sites in the industry are getting. However much traffic the top sites are getting is usually an indicator of the traffic caps in that industry.
The next thing we want to look for are sites that rank for a high number of keywords.
We don’t want to see the top sites getting hundreds of thousands of visitors per month from only a few select keywords.
Ideally, there should be thousands of keywords that they’re ranking for, which indicates a lot of profitable keywords we can target ourselves in the niche.
This is a great example of what we want to see.
High traffic numbers and lots of ranking keywords.
Note that I’m using SEMrush here. And the numbers above are only for US traffic, on desktop.
Global traffic on all devices is much higher – anywhere from 10-20x higher than the number shown in most cases for US-targeted sites.
Link profile research
Once we’ve identified large niches that have lots of high volume keywords, it’s time to analyze how difficult it will be to build links to our own site if we were to enter the same niche.
Analyze the top sites in the industry and check how many referring domains they have, how many new linking root domains are they acquiring per month (take the total number of new linking root domains for the last 90 days and divide it by 3) and what their DR is.
To help narrow down your research, try to analyze sites that are niche specific, preferably affiliate sites.
For example, if sites like Wikipedia, Wikihow, or Huffington Post are ranking on the first page, ignore those.
If the niche you’re analyzing is “dog training” then only look for sites that are specifically about dog training.
Things to consider with niche research
Everybody’s criteria will be different, depending on experience levels.
More experienced affiliate site builders will be comfortable targeting niches with big competitors with strong link profiles.
They know how to build the right content and links to compete.
Beginners may want to look for smaller, more targeted niches with weaker competitors. It may mean lower potential traffic and earnings, but it can mean building a successful site faster and with less work.
Niche research involves a ton of steps and requires you to do a lot of analysis before you finally decide on the right niche for you.
But it’s very important you take the time and effort required to go through multiple niches, and multiple competitors, to make sure it’s right for you based on the growth potential and competition strength.
Here’s a screenshot of how we tackle competition research at Alpha Investors (more on that in the coming months 😉 ).
Step 2: Setting Up Your Website
Once you have your niche selected, it’s time to set up your site.
I won’t go too in-depth into it here since most of you already know how to do this.
If you want the complete step-by-step, refer to this guide how to set up a WordPress site.
Below, I’ll go over some of the most important parts of site setup.
To set up your website, there are 3 things you need:
#1 – A domain name
The first step to your setup is choosing your domain name. For example, RANKXL.COM is the domain name for this site.
A few tips to choosing a good domain name:
- Use .com when possible. It’s more commonly used. If it’s taken, .net and .org are fine as well.
- Make your domain catchy, memorable, and most importantly easy to share.
- I like to avoid hyphens or numbers, as it’s difficult to remember or share.
- Don’t go too niche. Keep the domain name wide/brandable enough so you can expand to other sub-niches as your site grows.
#2 – Select and setup hosting
Without hosting, your website is just a domain name. You can’t have one without the other.
Think of hosting like a server that holds all your website data and files.
There are many hosting plans to choose from. RankXL is hosted on WPX Hosting, which I recommend as the perfect middle ground option – not as expensive as premium options, but still blazing fast, secure, and offers great support.
#3 – Select a theme, pay attention to design
Make sure you spend time to make your site look clean and professional.
You don’t want your site to end up looking something like this.
People will make first impressions as soon as they land on your site without even reading the first word.
If you don’t feel like investing any money into a premium theme, it’s not the end of the world since the free themes are still decent.
But keep in mind that premium WordPress themes have better design, cleaner code, more features, and helps you stand out from the sea of other blogs on the internet.
I personally love Astra theme.
Step 3: Creating A Long-Term Content Marketing Strategy
It’s extremely important to realize and understand that content is the heart of your business.
Fail at content, and your business will have a very tough time succeeding.
I often see so much focus on the traffic numbers or the monetization, and not enough on the content.
Your content quality is everything.
The people I know who build successful affiliate sites most consistently all have one thing in common: They truly understand quality content and how important it is.
You need to really think about what you’re publishing:
- Are you just pumping out small, low detail articles to target as many long-tail keywords as possible?
- Are you cutting expenses by hiring only the cheapest writers or doing it all yourself?
- Is your content the best in your industry?
- Would it actually deserve to rank #1 on Google for your search term?
- Would it deserve to stay there for years?
- Is your content up-to-date?
Creating quality content can be very hard OR expensive. And to be honest, it’s the biggest barrier to entry.
Let’s dive in to see what the next parts of your content strategy should be!
How often should I be publishing?
In the first year of getting your site up and running, publishing frequency matters A LOT.
For a new site, the more often you publish, the higher your chances of building and piling on your traffic in the second year.
When your affiliate site has less than 200 pages, content matters.
Each piece of content you publish will affect your search traffic.
In the beginning, your site also has zero content. There’s nothing to grasp onto, no long-tail keywords to rank your content for, and no reason for Google to crawl your site very often.
If you publish once a month, that’s 12 articles for Google to crawl and index in a year.
If you publish once a week, that’s 52 articles for Google to crawl in a year. If you publish 3 times a week, that’s 156 articles!
Meaning… more content Google has to crawl, the more likely you are to be found and gain backlinks from other sites.
How long should the content be?
This is a great question, and there have been many different theories on the topic.
I, personally, prefer to take a look at what’s currently ranking (top 10), pull out the averages, and stay within +/- 10% of that number.
There’s really no reason to publish a pillar article that’s 8k words long if the average word count on page 1 is 1.5k words.
That said, let’s take a look at what the SEO industry has to say about it.
Recently, the word has been spreading around that the longer your article, the better.
But remember quality over quantity.
For bigger keywords, the sweet spot is around 2000-3000 words (in most niches). 2000 words is a LOT of content.
It’s a meaty, high-quality article. It’s long enough for you to go in-depth into the topic and completely solve somebody’s pain points or questions.
AND it’s long enough to beat most of the thin 500-word pieces of content that most other publishers are producing.
We’re not just making guesses and estimations here.
Around 1800 to 2200 words has been proven by data to be the average length for pages that ranked on the first page of Google.
Like this study by SerpIQ, which is a few years old but still relevant today.
And this more recent analysis by Brian from Backlinko.
And this study by OkDork and BuzzSumo showed that longer articles get more social shares.
Longform content wins (usually), and 2000 words is an ideal length to be targeting for bigger articles.
For smaller search volume, long-tail keywords, anywhere between 800-1500 words is plenty. Not every keyword warrants a 2000 word article.
Sometimes, all that’s needed is a short, concise article that gets to the point quickly.
Writing & Outsourcing
Writing content takes up the most time in building out affiliate sites.
Consider all the other tasks you’ll have to do besides writing like editing, publishing, image sourcing, link building, etc.
If you’re able to outsource content well, it can give you back a ton of extra time to focus on these other things.
But, outsourcing writers is not cheap.
Actually, it can be if you hire budget writers at $5-$10 per article. But doing this will only lower your overall quality.
You want to hire writers that can match the voice and writing style of your blog, as well as offer solid points that support the title of the articles.
Problogger and Upwork are the best sources to find long-term writers.
If you need quick content written for one-off projects, iWriter and Textbroker are good sources.
However, they work a little bit differently. You submit a job proposal and any writer in their system can pick it up and write it for you. So while it’s quick, the quality can be a hit or miss.
Step 4: Driving Traffic To Your Site With SEO
Our main traffic strategy for affiliate sites is SEO.
It’s the most consistent and reliable method of traffic that’s long-term.
But because SEO is such a long term goal, and you won’t see it kick in right away, there’s a couple of things we can do to drive traffic to our site quickly.
- Network within your niche
- Ask to guest post to get access to other people’s audiences and funnel that traffic to your own site
Think of these two as sisters, because you really don’t have one without the other.
And the better you are at step 1, the better your results will be on step 2.
Here are a few ideas for networking:
- Drop comments of blogs
- Reach out directly to the blogger by email
- Share the bloggers content on your social media
- Mention, link to or feature the blogger on your site
- Direct message the blogger on social media – Twitter is usually best
- Be as friendly as possible
You can do any of these steps but the more the better. The goal of this is to get your name in influencers’ heads.
In return from networking, they can:
- link to you
- mention you in conversations with their readers or in the comments sections of their articles
- share your content on social media
- recommend/talk about you to other influencers
- invite you to their mastermind groups
- invite you to speak at conferences
- invite you to offline retreats
- invite you to partner on new projects
- introduce you to other influencers
How to land guest posts
The people who read and follow your influencer’s sites are your target readers as well.
And one of the best ways to reach them and possibly gain them as an audience is through guest posting.
And for a brand new affiliate site in a specific niche, it can be a great way to start increasing organic traffic.
You don’t need to have a very strong relationship with the influencer you’re reaching out to for them to say yes to your pitch. You also don’t need to already have a very large website or audience built up already.
But there are a couple of things you want to have down before you decide to reach out:
1. Make sure your website has a base of articles first. Think of the articles on your site like a portfolio. When you pitch your guest post, you can show them samples of your work which many companies will appreciate.
2. If it’s your first guest post ever, write the post first. If you go to them with no solid examples of previous guests posts you have written, then writing the guest post before pitching it is an excellent way to make them say YES.
The post will need to be exceptional but a little hard work can bring you a long way. Totally worth it.
If you’re a beginner, you should aim for at least 30-50 guest post links in your first year. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t. It snowballs once you’re able to land your first few.
The first ones you write will need to be very high-quality articles since you don’t have other guest posts to show them.
But the ones after the first 5-10 can be outsourced to other writers.
People still debate whether guest posts are worth the time or not. But in my opinion, it’s one of the most reliable ways to get initial traffic to a brand new affiliate site, and at the same time, build backlinks.
It can seem difficult when you’re not very experienced at it, but once you get a few done, you’ll realize it gets easier with experience.
Step 5: Building Your Email Subscriber Base
If you want to build a long-term affiliate marketing business that grows into something amazing, you have to start building your email list from the very fist day.
I know a lot of affiliates don’t consider email list building important for traditional affiliate sites.
But in my experience, that’s a huge mistake.
Building an email list opens up a lot of opportunities to monetize your site in different ways, expand your affiliate product portfolio, drive traffic to your site, and build a brand around your affiliate business.
Just think about it.
When you actively build an email list and turn your website visitors into subscribers, you give yourself a second chance to reach out to them and sell them your product.,
But if you don’t focus on list building, people visit and leave your site never to return again.
I have personally made hundreds of thousands of dollars by promoting different digital products and recurring commission programs to my email list subscribers.
I couldn’t have done it without an email list becuase selling those products required multiple interactions which were only possible via email marketing.
So how do you build an email list for your affiliate site?
Identify one of the biggest needs/questions of your audience, create a free lead magnet like an eBook, a video, a tutorial, a checklist or any other form of free giveaway that you can offer your visitors in exchange for their email address.
Create a lead magnet and promote it everywhere on your site (in your blog’s sidebar, after every blog article, in pop-ups)
Make a conscious effort to grow your email list fast becuase the faster it grows, the faster you can start making money from it.
Step 6: Finding The Right Affiliate Networks And Programs To Promote
Once your site starts getting regular traffic, it’s time to find high-paying and profitable affiliate products that you can pitch to your audience and make money whenever someone buys using your affiliate link.
There are a number of options for finding profitable affiliate programs.
- Sign Up For A Retail Affiliate Network
- Sign Up For A Digital Affiliate Network
- Sign Up Directly As An Affiliate For A Brand
The most popular retail affiliate program is Amazon Associates which almost always the first affiliate program newbies sign up for.
And it makes sense as well.
Amazon sells everything under the sun.
So no matter what niche you’re in, you’ll find relevant products on Amazon that you can pitch to your audience and make money by selling them.
Then you have digital affiliate networks such as ClickBank, CJ, ShareASale, OfferVault, etc. where you can find digital products like video courses, membership programs, eBooks, and other products that you can promote.
The advantage of digital affiliate programs is that they never run out of inventory and often offer recurring commissions which means you sell the product once buy keep getting paid every month as long as your referral remains a customer.
Cool, isn’t it?
And finally, you have the option to reach out directly to any B2B or B2C digital products/services, software, web-based applications, or apps and request to become an affiliate for them.
Some of the world’s most popular affiliate programs are in web hosting, SEO, and digital marketing niches and most of them recruit affiliates directly from their websites instead of using any affiliate networks.
The benefit of working directly with product owners is that you can negotiate better commission rates based on your performance and can get special pricing offers that you can pitch your audience to drive more sales.
Step 7: Scaling and growing the site
Lastly, scaling and managing the site.
All the steps above take a lot of time (and experience) to streamline and get right. But once you’re able to complete them, growing the site simply becomes a matter of scaling what you’re already doing.
That means publishing more content and building more links.
Once the foundation is set, it really does become that simple. You scale up content and scale up link building.
There are other things you can do to increase your revenue like conversion rate optimization and finding higher paying affiliate networks.
But that’s an article for another day.
The important part to understand is that the fundamentals are what’s most important.
It takes a lot of time to research and get the site running.
It takes the longest and takes the most work to make your first $100.
But once you get there, you can scale simply by increasing content production and link building.
It’s why building affiliate sites are so profitable.
Are You Ready To Create a Successful Affiliate Site?
Seriously, there’s nothing complex about creating, managing, and growing a successful affiliate site.
All it takes is consistency, dedication, and a lot of hard work.
But when your goal is clear and you understand what you have to do to reach it, doing it becomes enjoyable.
Especially when the rewards are as big as affiliate marketing promises.
Let me know if you have any specific questions about his.