I found it.
The closest thing to passive income you can earn online.
It’s good old affiliate marketing.
Now before you dismiss the idea entirely… I need to say it: what it takes to achieve affiliate marketing success is not what you might expect.
I’m sharing the numbers with you because I know that we don’t see a lot of realistic affiliate marketing success stories…
Here’s the thing: most affiliate marketing is ineffective and can be a waste of time.
Unless you do it the way I’m about to show you today.
What Type of Affiliate Marketing am I Talking About?
When it comes to affiliate marketing success, there are two sides to the coin…
You can be the one creating products and enlisting the help of other business owners, by creating your own affiliate program. You get more exposure, and you pay a cut of your sales to your referral partners.
Or, you can be the one recommending products as an affiliate and earning a commission.
Most long term business owners end up doing both, but in this post I’ll be talking about my income and experiences being an affiliate for other companies.
I talk more about how to start an affiliate program here.
You can also take a look at what it takes to add an affiliate program with a WordPress affiliate plugin, in this video:
Oh, and if you are totally thrown and need to learn the basics of being an affiliate there are plenty of resources for that.
How To Do Affiliate Marketing Right (Plus My Surprising Numbers)
When I started my business in the health space, nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t know anything about affiliate marketing.
I quickly learned that I could become an affiliate for another company, and earn a commission when someone who came from my link purchased.
It seemed simple enough, and there are plenty of affiliate programs you can sign up for…
From big ones like Amazon, niche product sites, software, and online programs…
Since my business was brand new, and I didn’t have a product or online course to sell, I signed up for one of my “competitors” affiliate program.
Then I sent an email to my tiny email list (it was about 50 people at the time) with an affiliate link for their online course…
A week later, I had made a handful of sales and earned $132.
Email Marketing + Affiliate Promotions
I was stoked! That was my first taste of “passive income” because I didn’t have to create a product or show up to deliver a service…
I just wrote an email and hit send.
The downside? I had tapped out this opportunity…
Even though I knew that my audience responded well to this offer, I couldn’t just send the same email again.
But there was a better way, that I had yet to figure out.
Writing Affiliate Reviews on Your Website
Fast forward a few years…
I’m in the next iteration of my business teaching people how to get techy with it (funky dance videos included).
Because I was often talking about tech tools and systems, I decided to sign up for the affiliate programs of the ones I was already recommending.
In the end, I wrote a few in-depth reviews about some of the tech tools that I was using and knew a lot about.
One of the email platforms that I recommended was Aweber (yep, that’s an affiliate link!).
Soon, people were finding my review and comparison posts and I started to see people who weren’t on my email list signing up through my affiliate link.
Before I knew it, I was bringing in $200 a month from my recommendation for just one system. (Even after I stopped recommending it and started talking about other email marketing platforms.)
Over the years, I’ve amassed over $15,000 in commissions from just this one company… Pretty amazing right?
The Difference Between One Time Affiliate Promotions and Residual Affiliate Efforts
So what was different between my one-time $132 cash infusion and my steady $200 a month approach?
Yes my reach was much smaller in the early days… but the biggest difference was that my reviews continued to bring people in over time.
The search engines were doing a lot of the heavy lifting for me… and I was able to offer my opinion on the product and help people make the right decisions.
I kept my reviews as unbiased as possible, by sharing both the good and the bad and I was very clear that my links were affiliate links.
Plus, the affiliate program offered a recurring commission structure, so I knew that the money was going to continue to steadily trickle in over time.
Why You Might Want to Invest Your Time in Affiliate Marketing Even If You Have Your Own Products and Services
If you’ve read this far, then you know you can make a modest amount of money by aligning yourself with products that you love and recommend anyway.
But it goes even further.
Writing in-depth review articles and doing comparison videos also positioned me as an authority on the topic.
This in turn helped me to attract more clients for my services, and in turn sell more of my own products, too.
You see, if someone is researching something with the intent to buy then they are more likely to buy other related services and products, too.
Having highly ranked review posts helped me to build my email list and attract more of my ideal clients.
But here’s how I feel in love with affiliate marketing all over again in a big way…
How I Went On To Make Multiple Six Figures in Affiliate Income
My involvement in affiliate marketing had been positive up to this point, but things were about to get crazy.
In 2011 I decided to sign up as an affiliate for my mentor Marie Forleo’s B-School program.
I decided to write a review of the program after having gone through it and gotten so much out of it myself, and because I knew that Marie could really help her students succeed.
This was a $2000 course, and the commission was 50%.
The B-School program was not available all year, but Marie had a great set of free training videos that showed people what to expect if they signed up for the course.
After the enrollment period, I had earned $11,000 dollars.
Now, you might be thinking: wow, that’s amazing – I want some of that passive income action!
But here’s where my next affiliate marketing tip comes in…
Offering Bonuses as an Affiliate Marketer
You see, in 2011 I was a web designer and I knew that people who signed up for B-School could benefit from having a website created for them.
So I offered everyone who purchased B-School through my affiliate link a website project…
This is where the “passive income” story falls apart.
I worked my buns off for that commission, but I ended up delivering some great starter websites and making friends for life with these people in the process.
I also learned that offering bonuses in an affiliate review can be very effective, because it helps you deliver more value than just your opinion…
This is especially important if you’re promoting something that has a lot of other affiliates, and that may have a “launch model” where people need to make a decision to buy before registration closes.
The next year, I revisited my B-School review blog post, updated it with more in-depth information and decided to switch out my bonuses.
This time, I decided to offer some consulting sessions – these would be easier to deliver and would still be very useful for the people who signed up through my affiliate link.
I ended up with over 50 sign ups, and I was on the phone in back-to-back consulting sessions for weeks. (This was no hardship considering I brought in over $50,000.)
Fine Tuning Your Bonuses and Adding In Other Forms of Marketing
At this point, B-School was such an important part of my business that I was also asked by Marie Forleo to come on board as the resident tech trainer for the program.
Each year, I put more energy behind my B-School promotions… from sending emails, posting on social media, updating my review post, and answering individual emails from people who had questions.
The interesting thing was that because B-School was becoming more popular, more people were researching B-School before signing up and finding my review.
So each year I saw a bunch of new email sign ups during B-School season… and this was great for my business, whether they signed up through my link or not.
I ended up earning multiple six figures in B-School commissions over the years.
Each year I also revisited the bonuses that I offered.
I learned that offering 1-on-1 time was extremely beneficial, but that I could also offer more group bonuses… like a ticket to my live events, or access to our courses or software instead.
That was still not the passive income that everyone strives for, but I felt really good offering a lot of value because it was such a big part of my business revenue.
Bringing In Facebook Ad Retargeting
As digital marketing continued to get more sophisticated, I also tried a few other things in combination with affiliate marketing.
One example was to run Facebook retargeting ads to people who had visited my review posts…
That way I could remind them about my bonuses and give them another chance to sign up through my affiliate link.
The great thing about Facebook ad retargeting is that you don’t need to spend a lot on your ads, because you’re just showing them to people who have already expressed interest in the program or product you’re recommending.
But everything starts with having a really high quality review post or video, that people are finding through the search engines.
How You Can Earn More With Thoughtful Reviews
Okay, so you might be thinking that some of this affiliate marketing stuff feels really out of reach.
I admit that I was in the right place at the right time, when it comes to B-School. And I continue to proudly recommend it to new and established business owners who want to master modern marketing. (Although it’s no longer as big of a revenue source now that our business has shifted into software.)
But each year there are new “blockbuster products” and affiliate opportunities. It’s worth comparing CRM options, looking at CRM price and affiliate terms.
Not to mention lots of long term residual income affiliate programs, like our own AccessAlly affiliate program.
So let’s take a look at how you can construct a winning affiliate review, and how you can set your review up to show up in the search engines when people are doing their research…
Types of Affiliate Review Approaches
The product you’re recommending will usually lead itself to one of these types of affiliate marketing success paths.
- Resource page link: if the product is something that anyone visiting your website could benefit from. This is a simple link in a resource page like this, with a quick explanation of who it’s for and why you use it or recommend it.
- Direct review post: this was the type of post that did all of the heavy lifting in my B-School promotions. This works well if people are not comparing two different things, and they really want confirmation before they buy.
- Tutorial post: this is a great way to provide value by teaching how to use a tool or product. It’s also a great way to explain why you recommend a product, by showing how it works.
- Comparison post: this type of post usually pins 2 or more competing products against each other. The more personal you can be when creating a comparison post, the better – since most people can compare basic things like price and features themselves. What they really want is the personal experience. Here’s an example with 10+ products being compared, and with a fewer number, comparing marketing automation tools.
What to Include in Your Affiliate Review Post
What you include in your affiliate review can really impact the effectiveness of your efforts.
If you’re going to spend the time reviewing an affiliate product, make sure that it covers these basics – and that your review is valuable for people whether or not they purchase.
The sale should always be a secondary consideration, and the goal of your review post should always be to share your own experience with the product and to help people decide if it’s right for them or not.
Here’s what you need to include in your review:
1. An Affiliate Disclosure
It’s important to be transparent and let readers know that your review contains affiliate links.
Being honest with your readers about your motivations for publishing a review not only helps them trust you more, but it also keeps you compliant with FTC regulations.
Example disclosure: I’m a proud AccessAlly affiliate, which means I earn a commission for any sales I refer. I personally use AccessAlly to run my business and membership site, so I share this review from my first hand experience (including both the good and the bad!).
2. Video (Optional)
Video is optional, but it can help you get your point across and share your story with a product more authentically than text.
If you’re creating a video review, upload it to a public platform like YouTube and use some of the keywords people might use to help your video appear when people are searching.
Make sure to include your affiliate link or a link back to your full written review on your site in the video description.
Include a verbal affiliate disclosure in your video too – it’s best to be upfront in all of your affiliate partnerships.
3. These Key Points (Sample Outline Below)
Affiliate marketing success starts with including the right details in your review.
Here’s an example of the flow you might use to review a software tool like AccessAlly.
- Post Title (Example: WordPress LMS Plugin Review)
- What I’ll Be Covering
- Who This Review Is For
- Why You Should Listen To Me As a Reviewer
- What I Was Looking For
- How I Found AccessAlly & What It Is
- What I Like About AccessAlly
- AccessAlly’s Drawbacks
- If You Use [CRM], Here’s Why You Should Check Out AccessAlly
- Final Call to Action and Affiliate Link
Include your affiliate link throughout the post, and be sure to put your affiliate disclosure before you link to the product.
Be as honest and personal as you can be: don’t just repeat the features and details anyone can find on the product’s sales page…
People who are researching a product or course want to know what results you personally got from it, not a regurgitated “feature list”.
How To Pick Your Bonuses
If it makes sense to offer bonuses, here are some suggestions to help you put together a great bonus package.
First, think about the type of person who will be signing up for the product you’re recommending… what other things do they need?
Is there anything you can offer that will make them more successful? Think about things that complement the offer (not distract from it).
You’ll also want to check the affiliate program terms, to make sure that what you plan to offer as a bonus is allowed.
For example, some affiliate programs don’t allow you to offer bonuses worth more than the program price or the commission you earn.
This prevents people from offering SO much that it devalues the original program, and makes people feel suspicious about the “over compensation” in the bonus department.
Similarly, offering to give cash-back may be against the rules of an affiliate program. For example, if you plan to split the commission with the person purchasing – that would reduce the price of the product for the person buying and give them an incentive to buy through your link…
But again, this devalues the product and may not be allowed.
So here are the types of bonuses that tend to do well:
- Your own existing courses and products, if they’re relevant
- A training course or program specifically designed to go along with the product (for example a “how to use XYZ course”)
- Templates, checklists, highlights that help people implement or get results faster
- Group coaching, live events, or other “face time” with you
- Access to you for feedback or questions along the way (it’s especially helpful if you make the effort to check in with people over time – and it shows you care!)
Other creative things you could do is donate all or a portion of an affiliate commission to a charity.
The most important thing is how you frame the bonuses: as something that brings additional value, without making the original product feel inferior.
Bonuses should remain the cherry on top, and not become the focus of your review.
If your bonuses could be a paid offering on their own, you could split them off onto their own individual sales page, and link to them from your review instead.
How to Optimize Your Affiliate Marketing Efforts with SEO
Now that you’ve spent some time writing or recording your thoughts about the product you’re recommending…
It’s time to make sure that your post shows up in the search engines, so that you can get the full benefits and effects of this strategy.
The first step is to do a little bit of keyword research… start off by thinking through what people might be searching for if they’re thinking about buying this particular product, a competing product, or even just wondering about the possibilities in this category.
For example, for AccessAlly you might realize that people are searching for a “ConvertKit LMS plugin”.
Now, you’ll want to type that into Google, preferably into an Incognito or Private browser, and see what comes up.
You might see some suggested related keywords while you’re typing, and you might also get more ideas for keywords based on the results.
You’ll want to pick one main keyword and then 2 other related keywords. So in our example, that might be “ConvertKit WordPress integration” and “ConvertKit course plugin”.
Now here are the ways you’ll use these keywords in your review, to increase your odds of showing up on the first page of the search results:
- Use the main keyword in your post title
- Include images that are relevant and set one of your keywords as the image name, description, or caption / alternative text
- Use these keywords where they naturally come up in your text (this isn’t about stuffing your post with a bunch of keywords, but if you can weave them it where it makes sense, it’ll help tell the search engines what your post is about)
- Use the keywords in your sub-headings as it makes sense
- Link to your post from other relevant pages or posts on your site
- Write the description for your post in an SEO setting area or plugin, and include your keywords as long as they sound natural
- Make sure your URL for your post includes your main keyword
- Once you hit publish on your post, share the post on social media and include your keywords as they make sense
Putting It All Together – How To Have Affiliate Marketing Success
I’ve covered a lot in this guide, but the most important thing that can help you reach affiliate marketing success is your attitude.
If you’re in it for the long term, then it doesn’t matter if your first commission payment is small… it will continue to grow over time, and by adding up all of the referrals you’ll make in the next decade, you’ll be glad you started.
Affiliate marketing may help you fund your main business like it did mine, or it could help you take more time off, pay off your mortgage, or save a little extra for a rainy day.
The key is to get started today.
The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll be earning referral income and reaping the rewards with your strategic affiliate marketing success!