Hi Tom! This is exactly what I have been looking for. I jumped into affiliate marketing about a year ago and have been dragging my feet because I have not been convinced it was as great as all the posts I’ve been reading. You are clear, easy to understand, inspiring and no BS. THANK YOU! I’m ready to move forward now, and I’ll definitely be watching for more great information from you! BTW – I love that you pay it forward!
Affiliate marketing is an effective money-making strategy for countless online entities – however, as straightforward as it is in theory, success is rarely as easy as it looks. The best way to build a dedicated audience for any blog is to carefully and clearly define its target audience right from the start, and then create content that caters to that audience. It is also considered as important strategy for creating and publishing a successful blog is to develop content that isn’t readily available elsewhere in the blogosphere or on the web. Eventually, thanks for sharing your experience with us.
If you’re in the WordPress industry like I am (whether it be design, development, or SEO) I have accumulated quite the list of WordPress affiliate programs. I excluded those I found unsuccessful or pay too little to make a profit from, specifically ThemeForest, Creative Market, and low quality theme stores like Template Monster. Hosting pays well and I wrote a tutorial for SiteGround’s affiliate program and StudioPress themes which are my 2 highest paying affiliates. Those tutorials have tons of screenshots/social proof especially for SiteGround.
Upwork: This website offers a great marketplace for selling just about any professional service. You don't need a merchant account, website of your own or anything else for that matter. All you need to do is be able to provide a high-quality service at a reasonable price. But be informed, you will have to compete with many others that are constantly bidding on open jobs. 

I consulted a few years ago before Yahoo and CNET and my clients were all small businesses, even friends' sites.  No matter the size of the project, you can still try to get some insight into your target audiences and what they need or want.  I mentioned in a previous comment I used Search once to determine sentiment on a site vs. it's competitors by searching for a feature the site and its competitors all had, along with "like", "love", "hate", "wish", etc.  I also took note of who the people were who said those things and where they were talking (forums, twitter, etc).  It's a hacked manual approach and although not nearly as quality as a good market research report, at least I have a llittle bit of insight before going out to make site recommendations based solely on tags & links.  If you're recommending the site build things that people want (and fix or remove things that they dont), you're more likely to gain links and traffic naturally.
I could have promoted WP Engine (hosting company) for $200/sale with no tier program to climb – sounds pretty good right? But when I checked ShareASale I saw their reversal rates were 24%! Just to give you an idea SiteGround’s reversals are less than 10%. WP Engine starts at $29/month while SiteGround’s is $3.95/month, plus SiteGround has a better reputation. I had to climb a tier program to higher commissions with SiteGround, but it paid off long-term.
Thirsty Affiliates tracks, cloaks, and categorizes your affiliate links. Once you’ve signed up for your program(s) grab your affiliate links and add them to this plugin. This can take time if you will be linking to multiple pages on your affiliate’s website (which in many cases, you should). The pro version comes with statistics but I don’t even use it and I’m quite the analytical person.

I completely agree that defintion of a target audience isa great first step, but would ask if adding in competitors to the analysis (mentioned here as a later step) helps draw out who your target audience would be via comparisons, i.e. showing who you are an who you are not - would be very interested to hear opinions on how this tactic can be used within the overall step in coordination with targeted keyword discovery.
Google has recently changed how you can use the Google Keyword Planner. Before, everyone who signed up could see the search volume for keywords. Now, it only shows estimates. There is a way to get around this. You need to create a Google Adwords campaign. The amount you spend doesn’t matter. After you do that, you will regain access to the search volume.
The first thing to do is to join an affiliate program then select the products you intend to sell. The owners of the products would provide you with an affiliate code you can use for referring traffic to the main site. Also, you will be offered banners, text links and several forms of creative copies in which you just copy and paste the code on your own site to refer traffic. Any interested customer who clicks on the links from your website will be redirected to the main site where the product is sold and if they pay for the product or subscribe to a program/service and indicate you as the referral, you get a certain percentage as commission.
Attempting to replace a dead link with your own is easily and routinely identified as spam by the Wikipedia community, which expects dead links to be replaced to equivalent links at archive.org. Persistent attempts will quickly get your account blocked, and your webiste can be blacklisted (the Wikipedia blacklist is public, and there is evidence that Google uses it to determine rankings), which will have negative SEO consequences.
This was all free information I found online in less than an hour, that gives me some great ideas for content, partnerships and potential tools to build into my site to be relevant and useful to my target audience. Of course this is just some quick loose data, so I'll emphasize again: be careful where your data comes from (try to validate when possible), and think about how to use your data wisely.

Create custom alerts on your phone for affiliate sales – if you use GMail, go to your settings and create a filter so all emails with “SiteGround Affiliate Sale Generated” in the subject line go into their own folder (tweak the subject line to match whatever email notification your affiliate sends you). Then setup a custom alert on your phone using the GMail app so anytime you generate a sale, you get a custom alert (here’s a tutorial for Android and here’s one for Apple). I have different notifications for SiteGround, StudioPress Themes, etc. Makes your day better :)

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