The Rakuten LinkShare Affiliate Network Review | Traffic & Monetization Strategies - Niche Facts

The Rakuten LinkShare Affiliate Network Review | Traffic & Monetization Strategies

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In this post, I'm going to explore the Rakuten LinkShare affiliate network.

I'll be showing you how to find affiliate programs within the network and how people are using SEO & social strategies to promote some of the big-time programs in the network.

I'm currently making several hundred dollars a month promoting Udemy and Walmart.

It's not the my best-performing network- but I'm pretty happy getting the checks every month:

My Video Overview

Check out my Rakuten LinkShare review below- it's a video walk-through of this post:

What is Rakuten LinkShare? 

The Rakuten LinkShare affiliate network was founded in 1996. LinkShare was purchased in 2005 by Rakuten for 425 million (Source).

Notable Rakuten LinkShare Affiliate Programs

To give you a sense of the type of affiliate programs inside the network, here are some prominent participants:  

  • Udemy: 15% commission
  • Izod: 3% commission
  • Lyft: $35 flat fee
  • LendingTree: varies
  • Esurance: $10 flat fee
  • AT&T: $50.00 flat fee on selected goods
  • Urban Outfitters: varies by region
  • Hilton Hotels: varies
  • Booking.com: 4.00% last click for U.S. traffic

You can see there are a variety of offers inside the network- from travel and insurance to ride-sharing and clothing.

In terms of Categories, they break it down into 21 different topics: 

  1. Auto
  2. Business & Career
  3. Clothing & Accessories
  4. Computer & Electronics
  5. Department Store
  6. Entertainment
  7. Family
  8. Financial Services
  9. Food & Drink
  10. Games & Toys
  11. Gift & Flowers
  12. Health & Beauty
  13. Hobbies & Collectibles
  14. Home & Living
  15. Internet & Online
  16. Mature/Adult
  17. Miscellaneous
  18. Office
  19. Sports & Fitness
  20. Telecommunications
  21. Travel

As you can see- a pretty broad spectrum of money-making opportunities.

How To Promote These Network Offers

  1. If you want a complete, step-by-step system to start growing your own highly profitable affiliate & authority niche site, check out AuthorityHacker's Authority Site System
  2. A reliable and fast hosting solution like SiteGround (it's what I use)
  3. A brandable domain name from GoDaddy (my guide)
  4. A premium theme- I use GeneratePress but there are some cool niche themes on ThemeForest
  5. Image & graphics from DepositPhotos (all legal and licensed)
  6. Content from iWriter (my review)
  7. An automated social media drip campaign from MissingLettr (my review)
  8. An auto-responder to build your email list– ConvertKit is what I'm using
  9. Finally- you can always refer to my free step-by-step niche selection guide and all of my free niche reports for inspiration

Making Money With LinkShare

Now, on to the important part.

Affiliate marketing is actually really simple.

The general formula is traffic + affiliate offer = commissions.

Rakuten hosts nearly 2,000 affiliate programs as of this writing in November 2018.

So there's a large number of affiliate opportunities to explore.

Exploring The Programs

Whether you you already have a website, a YouTube channel, an Instagram profile, etc. that can push traffic to an offer, or are just brainstorming, the best way to search LinkShare's inventory is to go to Programs > Categories and either clicking into the different Categories, or selecting "See All Advertisers" and running a filtered search. 

Here's how the process looks:

Go To Programs

making money with rakuten linkshare

Select All Advertisers

rakuten linkshare affiliate programs

Run A Filtered Search

Once you click the Filter button, you'll get an advanced search box for some extra granularity:

 One important note: as of this writing, Rakuten LinkShare doesn't let you do a keyword search for a particular affiliate- which is a pretty glaring omission.

So if you want to find 'baseball' products, you'll have to manually search through the Sports & Fitness Category, rather than run a keyword search.

That said, once you are approved to join a program, you can search through the site itself (MLB.com, for example) and just create deep affiliate links using the Chrome LinkGenerator tool that Rakuten LinkShare provides.

Generating The Links

I use the LinkGenerator tool exclusively to generate the affiliate URLs. Here's a video I shot demonstrating that with the Udemy affiliate program:

You can also create affiliate URLs within LinkShare- but I find that it's much harder to do so owing to the aged LinkShare UI.

Reporting

When you login to the network, you do get a very clear overview of your day-to-day performance:

And if you navigate to Reports > Reporting, you'll find that there are a bunch of reporting templates you can use to get deeper performance insight:

These are pretty easy to generate and will likely satisfy the majority of your reporting needs.

Though I'm not sure you can get data about which websites (if you're using more than one) are referring traffic to a LinkShare program.

I only have one website pushing traffic to LinkShare, so it's not a big deal for me.

But I did run into an issue with a different network- it couldn't report on traffic/commissions by website, so when I was trying to assemble a Profit/Loss statement for the site, it was a huge hassle.

Just something to keep in mind.

Performance Data

The big negative with LinkShare is that it doesn't report on program performance.

To get a sense of what I mean, check out what ShareASale provides:

You get a really clear overview of the Average Commission, Average Sale, Reversal Rate, Earnings Per Click and more.

This is crucially helpful information when you're deciding which program to promote.

Sadly, LinkShare doesn't provide that data- so you'll just have to join the programs, send traffic, and see how well the traffic converts.

Things I Don't Like

  • No Keyword Search: No ability to keyword search the network for programs or products (unless you're already approved)- you can only search for Advertisers and select from the typeahead.

  • No Performance Data: There are no performance statistics- unlike a network like ShareASale which reports a range of performance data on publisher performance with the affiliate program.

    ShareASale rank-orders all their affiliate programs using their PowerRank metric- it gives you a top-level view of the best-performing programs. Linkshare doesn't provide that- so you're basically flying blind. It would be helpful to sort all the programs by the highest-converting option- but no dice.

  • Old User Interface: It really could stand to be modernized- the UI is really dated. But this isn't unusual- many of these networks look like internet circa 2003. 

Things I Like

  • LinkGenerator Extension: The LinkGenerator extension lets you create affiliate links on the fly within Chrome- very handy.

  • Timely Payment: The Udemy affiliate program has been very effective for me and LinkShare payments are always on time.

  • Reporting: It's pretty decent- your default homepage has useful data on it and there are some pre-built templates you can use to easily analyze your performance. 

Promotional Methods

If you're looking to promote a Rakuten LinkShare program, you'll obviously need to attract qualified traffic. 

Below, I list out some traffic acquisition strategies with examples.

Social Promotion

Instagram

Here's an example of a site promoting Udemy on Instagram:

The Drive Towards Success Instagram account focuses on self-improvement- so Udemy, the online learning marketplace, is a natural affiliate fit for the audience. 

The downside, obviously, is that as of this writing Instagram doesn't let you insert links into the post content. 

So you would have to drive traffic to your own website, or at least the Instagram page itself, before you can push traffic to Udemy.

YouTube

Another great traffic source is YouTube. The video below includes affiliate links in the description for the Booking.com affiliate program, which is managed by LinkShare:

As you can see in the screenshot below, the vlogger has a bunch of affiliate links as calls to action in the description:

Pinterest

If you search for Lyft (another LinkShare affiliate program) on Pinterest, you can see a bunch of top-ranking pins that push traffic to websites that are monetizing with the Lyft affiliate program:

The lesson being, there's a bunch of different ways to get traffic. Think of all the social platforms you can create native content for that I haven't even listed- Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.

Figure out the best social platform for you (and maybe there's more than one) and see if you can create content that attracts qualified traffic. 

SEO

Another great strategy is creating website content and ranking for affiliate program search terms.

For example, NerdWallet has an Esurance (another LinkShare program) review- check it out below:

If you want to promote a program like Esurance, I'd run the Esurance website through Ahrefs and get a list of keywords to create content for.

For example, you can see a bunch of high-value concepts you can create content for once you explore their top-ranking keywords:

Email Marketing

Capturing emails and marketing affiliate offers to your audience is also another way to push traffic to your Rakuten LinkShare affiliate offer.

Below is a signup form NerdWallet uses- it looks really slick and I don't doubt that it converts very well:

Obviously, once you have an email, you can do a lot of creative things to close the affiliate sale.

I'd recommend combining SEO, Social and Email marketing as an integrative approach to affiliate marketing. 

Of course, your content should be high-quality- whether you're reviewing insurance products or promoting Izod t-shirts. 

Summing Up

LinkShare has a lot of good inventory and it reliably pays out, in my experience.

There's definitely some things they can do to help publishers promote their programs- most notably publishing performance metrics for the programs. 

Ryan Nelson
 

​Ryan Nelson is a NYC-based Industrial-Organizational Psychologist and a full-stack online marketer. He created NicheFacts.com to help people discover and build profitable, content-focused online businesses.

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