Rae Hoffman-Dolan from Sugarrae.com is one of the people who I believe write about affiliate marketing in a way that 1.) I understand, and 2.) I can use to make business value. I rarely do guest posts at [chrisbrogan.com], but when Rae reached out, I jumped at the chance. She’s got a great post and I learned as much by reading it as you might, or so goes the hope.
Misconceptions About Affiliate Marketing
Before beginning to write my guest post for Chris’s blog, I went in search of what he’d already covered on the topic of affiliate marketing (the topic he asked me to write about) and found out something pretty important while digging through his posts on the topic and your comments on those posts. It would appear a decent portion of his audience hates affiliate marketing.
My name is Rae Hoffman-Dolan, aka Sugarrae, and I’ve been a successful full time affiliate marketer for over a decade now.
[waves while wearing protective gear]
What is affiliate marketing?
Chris defines affiliate marketing in his posts as:
â€œ[Affiliate marketing is] promoting a product or service that someone else has created to your community with the hope of providing benefit to that community, and to be compensated for that promotion.â€
Someone way back in the day (I don’t know who) described it a bit less eloquently, but in a way I love to reference:
“Affiliate marketing is selling stuff I don’t own to people I don’t know.”
And according to some, affiliate marketing is EVIL. [insert maniacal laugh]
But the truth is that affiliate marketing – when done well and in a beneficial way for the user – is likely part of your everyday life on the web, without you even realizing it.
A look at affiliate brands
Some of the largest and most trusted brands on the web are actually nothing more than affiliate sites at their core, but with a “point of difference” that makes them what I like to call “affiliate brands“.
I’ll give you two examples.
Trip Advisor – Whether it’s a hotel in a big metro city, a restaurant in a remote mountain location or an attraction near wherever it is your visiting, they likely have user contributed reviews of it. That’s because they have over 50 million reviews (and 7 million user contributed photos) of more than 495,000 hotels, 689,000 restaurants and 165,000 attractions and are used by over seven million visitors per day. They also have over 1100 employees and are owned by Expedia (a division of IAC, which purchased Trip Advisor in 2004). And they make their money from CPM advertising, contextual advertising and by receiving commissions when you book hotels, flights, etc. (otherwise known as affiliate relationships).
Epinions – They say in order to be successful at something, you either have to do it first or do it best. Epinions did it first. They took an affiliate datafeed mashup (affiliate datafeeds from multiple merchants combined into one) and presented it in a new way. First by allowing visitors to leave reviews on every product they featured in that datafeed. Second by showing the prices from each merchant that offered the product in question and allowing users to comparison shop at a glance. With over 1.2 million daily visitors and 13+ million pages on the web linking to it, it’s not surprising that Epinions, and its Shopping.com twin are owned by eBay. And they too make their money from CPM advertising, contextual advertising and by receiving affiliate commissions.
And there are TONS of other affiliate brands you’d never “think of” as being affiliate sites on the web – both large and small (I myself own several smaller ones).
So why the hate?
Trust me, I get it. There are some unscrupulous and/or overly zealous marketers out there that have given the concept of affiliate marketing a bad name.
I get just as annoyed as you do when I do a search on Google to find nothing but crappy sites pushing affiliate offers and AdSense with no added value to me as the end user.
The guys who spam me on Twitter? They should be glad I can’t physically punch them in the face.
I hate looking for reviews of products and finding short “reviews” that simply reword the product specifications by people you know have never even laid eyes on the product.
And the asshats [can I say asshats on here?] who push their “exclusive” pre-launch of their latest product that will teach you to make thousands per week while watching daytime talk shows and eating Bonbons with their mile long sales letter and 14 bonuses valued at 699 dollars and their screenshots of their Clickbank commissions that are all from selling a dream they know will never come true? Well, there’s a special place in hell for those guys.
But those people are not “affiliate marketing.”
Affiliate marketing does not scam or spam people.
People scam and spam people.
Affiliate marketing and the “legit” personal blogger
In addition to my commercial properties, like Chris, I also am a personal blogger (as are many of you). And like Chris, I monetize my blog via affiliate marketing.
The truth is, I can’t afford to blog for free. I have too many opportunities willing to pay me for my time staring me in the face. I’m told my posts on affiliate marketing and link building have helped many folks make a living on the web. I actually hang their thank you emails on my wall. But at the end of the day, I still have four kids to support – and the price of college isn’t getting any cheaper. So I use affiliate marketing to make “giving back” something I can afford to do.
Using affiliate marketing to monetize my blog allows me to put more effort into the posts that people find so useful. It actually makes my blog BETTER. I’d be willing to bet it makes Chris’s better too.
That said, I definitely have some ground rules:
- I only advertise products in my sidebars and after my posts that I personally use and am a fan of
- I only advertise products that I think will be helpful to my readers and are directly related to helping them achieve their goals in Internet marketing (since that’s the topic of my blog)
- I only do reviews of products I’m an affiliate for if I like them, use them and have thoroughly tested them and thus am able to write a comprehensive review (you can check out some of my reviews if you’d like to see examples)
- When doing reviews of products I’m an affiliate for, I am always honest about both their pros AND cons (and in my experience, I’ve yet to find a product or service on this planet that is perfect)
- I try to space out product reviews and put several highly informational and/or instructional posts between them
- I have a highly visible disclosure page listed in my main navigation at the top of my site
- I never, EVER forget that it took me over a decade to build my reputation and would never sell it out for a 20 dollar, 200 dollar or 2000 dollar commission
But what about the readers?
So maybe you’re willing to give legitimate affiliate marketing a try – tastefully and honestly – on your blog, but you’re worried about the reaction from your readers?
I’ve always said that I’d rather have 5,000 readers than 50,000 subscribers. And my readers know I’d never intentionally lead them down the wrong path to make a few bucks. No one is forcing them to actually purchase the product I recommend.
The people that are my biggest supporters, biggest referrers and biggest evangelists trust me to be honest with them (and yours should too.) We accept advertisements in every other form of media – blogging shouldn’t be any different. It’s the price of free content. I’ll risk losing some subscribers to make my blog better for my readers. And while the voices of lost subscribers over affiliate links may be loud, in my experience, they’re not many.
In the end, the more revenue you make from your blog, the more motivated you’ll likely be to write more often, and put more time and thought into each individual post. The better your content gets, the more your readers will share it and you’ll eventually replace any lost subscribers with new readers – and keep growing.
Rae Hoffman-Dolan aka “Sugarrae” is an affiliate marketing veteran and an (extremely) occasional SEO consultant. She is also the SVP of Marketing for Speedy Incorporation Services. You can connect with Rae via Twitter or meet her in person at the Affiliate Summit East 2011 SEO Training (seating is limited).