How To Start Affiliate Marketing
If you're feeling overwhelmed and just want to take action building a profitable niche website, this guide is for you.
Below I'll walk you through a super-simple site set up if you want to create a money-generating niche site- no hidden costs.
My sites bring in over $40,000 a month.
You can view proof of income and read a bit more about me there. I mention this just to establish my legitimacy, not to brag.
Now that you know I'm real, on to the guide...
The strategy I chose to make money online is producing long form, product-focused content that ranks in search engines and monetizing it with affiliate links and display ads.
10,000 Easy To Rank Money Keywords
If you want my 10,000 strong list of low-competition product niches, enter your email and click the 'send it' button below. It's an ultra-useful resource that powerfully combines with my content site walk-through below.
Download The Keyword List
This 10,000 long list of low-competition/high-volume keywords is a great place to start if you want to build a profitable niche site.
Monetizing These Niches
To monetize these niches, the most popular affiliate program is probably Amazon Associates, but I also use Wayfair, Walmart, Jet and some other lesser-known affiliate programs.
This is the basic recipe for SEO affiliate success:
Long-form Content + Affiliate Links and/or Display Ads = Organic Search Traffic = Passive Recurring Commissions.
Essentially, long-form content ensures that you thoroughly cover a particular topic- this helps it rank in Google.
For keyword research, my go-to tool is Ahrefs. A cheaper option if you're just starting out is is LongTailPro or KWFinder, but I also use free keyword research tools like UberSuggest, Scientific Seller, and this profanely named one.
For content, I hire from the freelancer marketplace Upwork and have recently been using the article-writing service HireWriters extensively (check out how I get ultra cheap/high-quality content from them).
As well, longer content naturally incorporates greater amounts of different keywords. A study conducted by serpIQ demonstrates that higher ranking content is longer content:
Use the navigation below to jump to a relevant section- or just keep on reading to get into my niche marketing starter guide.
Let's use the tennis niche as an example to see how you can leverage lengthy content to passively market a niche site with organic traffic.
If you're in the tennis niche, and you want to write an authoritative article on "tennis elbow", a 1,500+ word article has a greater chance incorporating the following different keywords and themes than a 500 word article:
- best cure for tennis elbow
- how to cure tennis elbow yourself
- tennis elbow exercises
- best brace for tennis elbow
- how to treat tennis elbow at home
- elbow surgery recovery time
- tennis elbow mayo clinic
- how to heal tennis elbow
- how to treat tennis elbow
- cure tennis elbow fast
- lateral epicondylitis exercises
- pt for tennis elbow
- how to cure tennis elbow at home
- best medicine for tennis elbow
- how to heal tennis elbow quickly
- what are the symptoms of tennis elbow
- remedy for tennis elbow
By publishing long-form content, you naturally incorporate a variety of important and relevant 'tennis elbow' themes.
Google loves seeing this- and they will reward you with laser-targeted organic traffic that is likely to convert on your offer, whether that's a display ad or an affiliate offer.
In this case, imagine linking to a tennis elbow remedy on Amazon like this tennis elbow sleeve:
It can be as simple as that. If you focus on producing high-quality, value-packed, informational posts that solve searchers problems, you can create a 'passive income' business.
The biggest mistake I see novice site builders make is that they publish weak content. If you trust me on this and execute on creating at least above-average, longform content you will be miles ahead of most SEO-focused affiliate/display ad marketers.
Now, it will take some work. But your effort will not go unrewarded- it is your competitive advantage over lazy Internet Marketers.
Below, I'm going to layout a basic formula for choosing a niche (with an option for those who just can't pick one) and a beginner's content strategy to get your affiliate site up and running with quality content that converts.
Breaking The Content Formula Down
Informational vs Transactional Content
Say you’re in this hypothetical tennis niche, broadly speaking you can separate your content into 2 different types:
- Informational content: “How to swing a tennis racket”
- Transactional content: “The 10 best tennis rackets”.
Informational content answers questions users have about your niche. Perhaps they want to learn how to swing a tennis racket more effectively. It can be monetized with display ads and affiliate links.
Transactional content, on the other hand, is designed around buyer-intent searches like "best tennis racket". It's where you'll be primarily affiliate-linking to Amazon or another affiliate partner.
Informational content provides value, helping your audience solve specific problems and increases your authority in the eyes of Google.
Also, you can funnel these readers towards transactional your content. For example, linking to your tennis racket review article from your 'how to swing a tennis racket' article.
Keep that in mind as we proceed through this quick start guide- it's helpful to distinguish between these two broad content buckets.
Super Simple Recipe
- Pick a niche (my mega-hobby list is a great resource) or do a general review site in the style of TheWireCutter or SweetHome.
- Create a WordPress site. It will be the .org not the .com- with a brandable domain name (here’s my guide on that).
- Write 10 Informational articles. These tennis info articles should be at least 1,500 words long. For quality guidelines, make them better than what's currently ranking on the first page of Google for that query. Use a free keyword research tool like ubersuggest or a paid one like LongTailPro to get ideas. (Here's my guide on hacking content costs)
- Apply to Amazon Associates. It's best to apply to the Amazon Associates program after you have some quality content on your site to show them that you're a legitimate operation.
- Write 10 Transactional (Affiliate) Articles. After you are in all likelihood approved, start on your affiliate content. Write 10 1,500+ word reviews of tennis rackets, tennis bags, tennis shoes.
The reason I don’t recommend publishing your affiliate content straight away is that there are some SEO experts who say that Google doesn’t like to see new sites trying to make money right off the bat.
I think that makes sense.
Plus it's not like a new site will be getting much SEO traffic right away, anyway. So it's better to hold off and establish a good site reputation with Google before monetizing your content.
I will hazard that after the third month, once all of your 20 articles are published, you'll have started to earn commissions.
More specifically, I estimate that you'll have made some money a month after your first affiliate post is published if you have followed my sequence above.
This exercise will help you get started. Along the way you'll learn a tremendous amount about internet marketing. Think of this site as a starter site- a proving ground.
Once you get a taste for how SEO can turn into actual commissions, you’ll be off to the races. You can incorporate other traffic sources- leveraging Pinterest for traffic if you're in a visual niche. Capturing emails and marketing to your list. Even creating your own product.
This is a super-simple way to get started and distills what basically every guru or paid course will tell you. Now, let's take a deeper dive into the 5-step process I've outlined above.
Download The Keyword List
This 10,000 long list of low-competition/high-volume keywords is a great place to start if you want to build a profitable niche site.
1. Choosing A Niche
This is a huge stumbling block for a lot of people. I've personally agonized over niche selection- it's not fun feeling stuck. And there are a ton of resources online that endlessly explore it- perhaps you reached this page Googling for a solution.
*Make sure you download my list of 10,000 product niches- it's great for brainstorming low-competition niches!
I'll keep it very simple. You can use my niche selection strategies below (A) to find a niche OR if you're completely stumped and don't want to risk choosing a niche that you might not succeed with, my recommendation (B) is to create a general review site.
The first strategy...
A. Go Specific
It can be agonizing scrutinizing niches, trying to figure out if they're worthwhile. Below I've assembled a list of strategies to use to pick a niche.
Keep in mind that in order to make money in a niche, there HAS to be products you can promote.
- Shameless plug: check out my niche reports. I suggest a bunch of niches you can enter into + I describe how to strategically approach them.
- Click the Random Article on the Wikipedia home page and see if you discover an appealing niche.
- Examine my mega hobby list post.
- Check out Google Trends' trending searches by category
- Click "Random" in the menu of Reddit.com and examine random Subreddits or peruse this list of all Subreddits.
- Examine this list of Thumbtack local services.
- Use Lynda.com's All Subjects page for a full list of their e-learning courses.
- Exercise James Altucher's idea machine strategy.
- Examine GoodReads' book lists.
- Check out SocialBlade's YouTube rankings of the top YouTubers and top Categories.
B. Go General
If you absolutely can't commit to a niche, I have a solution for you.
It goes against the grain of what I generally recommend site owners do, but it is the primary way that I'm currently making money online.
What is this solution?
Create a general product review site.
This means that you'll build a site like TheWireCutter.
All you'll do is publish review content, focusing on any and every product you can find, or settling into a broad category niche like Health products or Industrial products, for example.
Below is a screenshot of all Amazon product categories. You can also check out this page here.
Simply select one of Amazon's categories and write affiliate content like "The 10 Best Kitchen Mixers" if you're in the Home niche. Or "The 5 Best Rollators" if you're in the Medical niche.
You get the idea. Every post is for a separate product type- top 10 lists, top 5 lists, etc.
Monetizing Right Away With A General Review Site?
When I started my own niche site, I monetized right away (i.e. inserted affiliate links).
I didn't notice any ill effects from having done that- but then again, I can't really test for that at this point.
If you choose a general sub niche like "Health" or "Technology", instead of a general site that reviews both of those categories and more, you might want to publish some informational content first before going inserting affiliate links.
A pure, general review site- you can't really do much informational content. You might as well just try monetizing right off the bat.
2. Create A WordPress Site
Now that you have a niche selected, you'll need a domain name and a hosting service. Be sure to read my domain buying guide to avoid selecting a domain you regret.
I'll keep this super-simple because there are a ton of resources online for how to do this. Basically, you'll need to buy a domain name (I use GoDaddy for this) and then choose a hosting plan. I'd recommend using SiteGround and going with a shared hosting plan to start.
Once you have your domain name and hosting purchased, you can contact SiteGround support for help configuring everything- tell them that you just bought a domain from Godaddy and that you want to install WordPress.org for your site.
They'll walk you through configuring everything so that you have WordPress installed as your Content Management System for your domain.
The video below provides a detailed walkthrough of how to install and use WordPress to create a website.
3. Write 10 Informational Articles
As I mentioned above, informational content answers 'how, what, why' user questions, while affiliate content is usually product reviews.
Continuing with the tennis niche idea, check out this LongTailPro keyword research below. Regarding informational content, I see some interesting angles you can take leveraging these keyword searches.
Perhaps an article that covers the 10 best places to get tennis live scores, a post that explores the way the top 20 tennis pros hold their rackets, the 20 coolest tennis courts in the world, the 20 best tennis coaches in the United States, how to play beach tennis, etc.
You should write these articles yourself- especially if you're new to niche marketing. Eventually you can look to outsource, but it's invaluable to learn to get your hands dirty at the start.
Organize Your Content With A Mind Map
Use a freemium tool like MindMeister to organize your content. If you're a novice, you might be inclined to skip over this section- but it's really crucial.
By using a mind map, you can sketch out your site structure and organize your content strategy. It's also a great niche validation strategy- before you dive into a niche, try outlining all of the different topics.
You'll begin to immerse yourself in the niche and gain perspective on the content you'll need to become an authority on. Perhaps you decide to ditch the niche, go broader, or go smaller.
Whatever you decide, by taking an hour to strategically analyze the different topics and subtopics of your niche you'll have a clearer understanding of the undertaking. You'll know what type of content you'll need to publish and even get some bearing on the team of writers you'll target recruiting.
Mind-Mapping The Tennis Niche
As you can see, I broke the Tennis niche down into a bunch of different topics and sub topics. You don't even need to do any advanced keyword research. I just browsed different tennis websites to see how they organized their content.
For example, using ESPN.com, I found that they broke Tennis down like this:
They have content buckets for Scores, Schedule, Rankings, Players, Tournaments and Tickets. Since they're more of a news site and don't do affiliate content, I Googled "tennis equipment" and found Tennis-Warehouse.com.
Their sidebar has an extensive breakdown of different equipment categories:
I can't stress how important it is to consciously organize your site's content. Besides the user-experience, niche validation and content creation benefits, it'll also prevent burn-out. If you're in a broad niche like this it can feel overwhelming to cover such a massive scope.
It could be that you focus on just two topics to start. Say you really want to dive into Tennis History on the Informational side of things and Equipment on the Affiliate side of things. This helps to organize your content production and gives your site a stronger focus, raising its topic relevancy in the eyes of the search engines.
And then, once you've published 10 or 20 articles on Tennis History, you can strategically add another Topic to your site- perhaps profiling Tennis Coaches.
Mind maps are your friend- so create a free account and go to town! Take it from me, you can spare yourself an immense amount of aggravation if you take the time to do a mind map before you get into a niche.
You'll decrease your risk of failure and increase chances of success by strategically envisioning your niche market.
4. Join the Amazon Associates program
You'll want to apply to the Amazon Associates program once you have a website and some content published. It's safer to apply for acceptance once you have a legitimate-looking presence online.
In my experience, and from what I've read, it's pretty easy to get into the affiliate program.
Amazon has also made it simple to create affiliate links. The video below walks you through how to use the Amazon Site Stripe. It enables you to visit Amazon product pages, once you're logged into your Amazon Associates account, and click to create text and image affiliate links.
Don't Get Banned
Some common infractions include publishing Amazon customer ratings, prices, or images from their site. These Amazon product characteristics are all subject to change.
So if you are telling your readers that something costs $19.99 on Monday, but Amazon changes it to $15.99 on Friday, you are misrepresenting the price. The Site Stripe feature does let you pull in Amazon pricing information- so if you want to publish real-time pricing, it is possible.
Other Affiliate Programs
Depending on the niche you choose, or if you have decided to go general, you can investigate other affiliate programs. I recently began profiling affiliate networks- you can check out my affiliate program profiles.
Join some of the affiliate networks below and search within them to discover relevant products (digital and physical) for your niche:
5. Write 10 'Affiliate' Articles
Now for the fun part. Again, this will depend on the niche you select, but sticking with the tennis niche, it's pretty simple. Check out my Amazon keyword research tutorial to go more in depth.
I used ScientificSeller, input the keyword "tennis", and found a bunch of tennis-related products:
tennis elbow brace
tennis training equipment
tennis t shirts for men
tennis elbow band
tennis tank tops for women
tennis balls for dogs
tennis shoes for women
tennis tv app
tennis grip tape
tennis training balls
tennis ball hopper
tennis training aids
tennis shoes for men
tennis training equipment for kids
tennis training targets
tennis training ladder
tennis tops for women
tennis training kovacs
tennis tape grip
tennis training tools
tennis towels for women
tennis training cones
Easy Affiliate Content Formula
An easy formula for this content, and one that I use almost exclusively is, "The 5 Best [Product]". So it would be the 5 best tennis towels, or the 10 best tennis ball hoppers, etc.
People love lists- so when they see your page in Google, it enhances Click Through Rate because the searcher knows your content will be easy to digest and clearly answers their query.
The second advantage is that by listing out 5, 10, or even 15 options, it ensures you can get a pretty large word count.
Say you have 200 word blurbs for each product, a 500 word introduction, and a 1,000 word piece of supplementary content, that's 2,000 words if you choose to curate 5 products.
I always like to throw in 'supplementary content' at the end. An example of this might be, if we are doing a "tennis ball hopper" review post, 'How Do Tennis Ball Hoppers Work', or 'How To Use A Tennis Ball Hopper'.
Emulate Successful Review Formats
For product review inspiration, check out some of the leading product review sites like TheWireCutter or OutdoorGearLab.
While OutdoorGearLab has a lot of fancy formatting going on, if you just focus on emulating their quality standards and on-page organization, you're off to an amazing start.
In terms of organizing your content within WordPress- use a WordPress Category to mark your affiliate reviews as "Reviews".
That's one way of organizing your content. Or if you want to organize it by type of product- say you are doing individual reviews of tennis rackets, you could have a Category for "Tennis Rackets", "Tennis Balls" and "Tennis Shoes".
The video below shows you how to use WordPress categories. Structuring your site in an easy-to-understand way helps users navigate it and helps Google crawl and discover your content.
5a. 10 Twitter Comments A Day
I'm tacking this one on because I think it's an awesome strategy for both new and seasoned site owners.
The idea is to make 10 authentic, non-promotional comments a day on Twitter targeting people interested in your niche.
I wrote a full post documenting my 10 comment strategy here.
If you're building a new site, this is especially rewarding. You can get traffic day one of your site launch. If you're depending on Google, it can take months before you even sniff an organic visitor.
If you already have a site, this could be a solid traffic and link acquisition strategy. There are infinite opportunities available for motivated marketers who are willing to invest in selfless interactions.
Check out this comment I made below- it was liked by none other than Gary Vaynerchuk on day 2 of my challenge. To call me a Gary Vaynerchuk 'homer' would be to undersell my fandom- so for me, this was super exciting.
Twitter provides incredibly precise targeting capabilities- your audience is there. Search them out with keyword searches and hashtags.
Connect them with your content by engaging with them.
I'm not talking about spamming them with your link- engage with them. Check out their content and say something reflective that demonstrates you've actually consumed and appreciated it.
Believe me, this sort of engagement cuts through the noise- you'll be surprised the sort of early traction your site can achieve with some social media elbow grease.
If you've followed the guide up to this point, you should have at minimum 20 posts that are at least 1,500 words each. It should have taken you 2-3 months to get all of this done.
I would conservatively expect that you begin making affiliate commissions at least a month after your first piece of affiliate content is produced.
This gives it enough time, especially if you're a brand new site, to have been discovered and properly ranked by Google for various keyword terms.
What should you do next?
There's a million directions to go.
Produce More Content
This goes without saying. During the course of your research and writing you've probably seen a number of interesting avenues you can go. Perhaps you write a mega-post on the 20 different tennis grip types and the tennis stars that use them.
Maybe you do more affiliate reviews, writing content that focuses on brand terms- like the 20 best Wilson tennis rackets.
There's likely a lot more content you can create and now that you've gotten a feel for doing it, you're likely eager to get started.
Outsource Writing & Formatting
Writing and formatting can be tedious chores. One way to scale your site more quickly is to outsource tasks to inexpensive freelancers.
Check For Broken Links
In the beginning, you can spot-check your affiliate links manually, but once you have hundreds of posts, it's basically impossible to manage.
For general broken links, I use this WordPress Plugin- it will email you when it finds broken links on your site.
Grow A Social Media Channel
The method I've outlined is great for SEO traffic, but you can notch another victory by focusing on growing a social media property. If you're in a visual niche, for example, you can focus on sites like Instagram and Pinterest.
Perhaps you create custom graphics for each of your blog posts using a free design tool like Canva and post them to Pinterest and Instagram. Pinterest is great because you don't need followers to get traffic- your Pins are what gets you traffic.
Maybe you hang out on Quora and answer questions in your niche and get traffic that way.
Or maybe your audience is really involved on Twitter. Try spending an hour a day answering questions on Twitter (without being heavy-handed with promotion) and see how that helps your traffic.
One way I've optimized my site revenue is by analyzing top-performing (i.e. most trafficked pages) and improving them.
I will do some minor copy-editing to make the content flow better.
And I'll sometimes improve the call to action- pushing it up higher on the page. For example, some of the earliest content I published on my primary site was plain awful.
Yet, because it was competing in a very low competition niche and it had a decent word count, it had great rankings, but was under-optimized.
So I went back into all of my old content and fixed ugly formatting, spammy sales language, inserted informative videos, and boosted calls-to-action.
Anything and everything to improve user experience while simultaneously enhancing its conversion and revenue potential.
Different Content For Different Channels
One epiphany I had came after reading Jon Dykstra's post on creating content for different traffic channels.
For example, a 5,000 word review post on the best Wilson tennis rackets is really optimized for search engine traffic. People on social media generally aren't clicking to read affiliate content- with rare exceptions. But for SEO- a 5,000 word review post is awesome.
On the other hand, if you have some social media traction, a photo-gallery of the top 20 tennis meltdowns of all time might not get any search engine traffic, but could be an amazing draw for people on Twitter and Facebook.
So when you are sketching out your content calendar- one consideration is the type of traffic your content is targeting. You might draw people into your site's ecosystem with the tennis star meltdown post, but convert them to sales on the tennis racket affiliate post.
You should begin capturing emails as soon as your site launches- unless you're in the general niche. If you're a 'generalist' like I am, it's really difficult to capture emails because your site has no true focus.
But, if you're in a niche like tennis, you'll want to capture emails. If you're at all familiar with niche site marketing, this concept has probably been drilled into you a million times. The money is in the list.
I won't go into a huge tutorial on this. I'm actually somewhat of a novice when it comes to email marketing, but the important to thing to remember is that owning your audience's emails provides you direct access to your readers.
You can market to them- send them links to your content or even affiliate offers (every so often). This direct access overrides your dependence on traffic acquisition platforms like Google Search or social media.
If you use my guide to start a site, let me know by emailing me at email@example.com.
Keep in mind that this guide isn't comprehensive. It's meant to provide a solid foundation for creating a profitable niche site if you're new to internet marketing.
Especially if you're skeptical that you can make money online.