Are you stuck in an affiliate marketing rut?
Here are 53 ways to make money with affiliate programs. They range from free, amateurish and basic to highly innovative and outrageously expensive.
Note: Part 1 of this article is aimed mainly at affiliate newcomers.
If you're an experienced affiliate, you probably already combine several of these methods to attract traffic and make sales.
It's good to concentrate on what you do best, but if you're a newcomer just doing bum marketing and creating Squidoo lenses, you may be overlooking affiliate marketing techniques and strategies which could make your marketing more businesslike and more profitable.
This isn't a “how-to” article. It's designed as an idea generator.
Here are 53 ways you can make money with affiliate programs…
1. Banner farms
Remember them? Banner farms are one of the simplest, dumbest ways to try to make money with affiliate programs. Basically, they are very simple websites, often free-hosted, consisting of stacks of affiliate banner ads, sometimes grouped by topic. These days, banner farms may also contain AdSense ads. Banner farms were popular in the 1990s before affiliates learned better. They lack credibility and almost no one wants to link to them, so they wither and die. You can still find some among the millions of sites at Freewebs.com.
Nowadays, they've evolved into something cool and classy like iStorez.com.
2. Free advertising without a website
Some affiliates do this stuff, but to me posting free ads and hoping for sales seems too much like working at a job when you should be building a website and email lists that can grow into valuable assets.
You can search in Google for “free classifieds” or “free advertising” and find sites which allow you to post free ads. Their rules vary hugely. An old favorite with many affiliates is USFreeAds, which has paid and free options, and says it has 10,000 new members signing up each month. USFreeAds allows you to post a complete, persuasive article promoting a product using your affiliate link.
I've seen USFreeAds ads ranking highly in Google. Some affiliates use article marketing and teasers in forum signatures to promote their free ads.
3. Bum marketing/article marketing
“Bum” marketing started as a very simple idea. You write a keyword-rich article and post it on article directories. You include an affiliate link in the resource box at the end. Readers click on the link and buy something. You earn commissions.
Then article directories started changing their rules and banning affiliate links in resource boxes, so bums had to buy a home – or at least buy a domain name. For example, EzineArticles.com allows affiliates to use domains like YourDomain.com redirecting to VendorName.com/affiliatelink.html.
Most domain name registrars make such URL forwarding easy.
These days, many bum marketers direct traffic to their own small website and may tease visitors to click by publishing Part 1 of an article on the article directory, linking to Part 2 on their own site.
4. Sneaky/subtle URL forwarding
Here's another use of URL forwarding. Let's say the affiliate merchant is called VendorName.com. The affiliate buys a very similar domain name, such as Vendor-Name.com. The affiliate emails their list discussing VendorName.com but calls it “Vendor-Name.com”.
With the help of URL forwarding, readers are whisked off to the merchant and – in some cases – are unaware they've clicked on an affiliate link.
Similarly, a successful affiliate may be interviewed for an ebook and use the same tactic in his conversations with the author.
Some vendors encourage these tactics. Some affiliate agreements specifically disallow them, because the vendors don't want to weaken their brand.
If you do this stuff without first reading the affiliate agreeement, you may forfeit any commissions you earn.
5. Squidoo lens
At Squidoo.com you can create a website or “lens” or a large number of “lenses” on topics you choose and presell affiliate products. Such tactics are often combined with article marketing.
Smart affiliates use their lenses as feeder sites to direct traffic to their main sites.
6. Free blogs
Google's Blogger.com enables affiliates to create free blogspot blogs. Warning: Sometimes an affiliate will get a little over-enthusiastic and create 50 or so blogspot blogs designed purely to display Google AdSense ads. Google eventually notices that the affiliate is doing something wrong and Whammo! Fifty blogs are disabled and all that work goes down the drain. If you work with Google, it's a good idea to obey Google's AdSense rules and Webmaster Guidelines.
Even better, get your own domain name and host your blog where YOU control it – on your own website. If you get a memorable domain name, you'll have an advantage over the blogspot crowd.
WordPress is an enormously popular, versatile tool for building blogs. It's easy to use and loved by many affiliates. Sadly, most bloggers struggle to get noticed among the clutter and struggle to generate revenue.
Memo to newbies: You DON'T have to fill your blog with trivia and time-wasting chatter. For example, one of our blogs, KeywordWorkshop.com, contains nothing but useful articles and in-depth reviews.
When it comes to blogs, one guy I admire is blog tutor Yaro Starak, of Brisbane, Australia. Yaro has figured out how to use a blog as part of a total business strategy which funnels traffic to his business and allows him to do LESS blogging less while earning a six-figure income.
8. Blog networks
You can create a network of blogs, either built around one theme or on a variety of topics.
Chris Pirillo's Lockergnome.com started out as a technology website and morphed into – among other things – a blog network with the contributors' blogs published on the Lockergnome domain.
If you're even more ambitious you could be like b5media, which owns more than 350 blogs and hires bloggers to create posts on many different topics.
If you like the idea of owning a few dozen blogs and want to do it efficiently, check out what another Australian, Andrew Hansen, who lives near me, is doing. He's created a time-saving system called Firepow for setting up, managing and promoting multiple blogs.
9. Free-hosted niche sites
Many “experts” will tell you that you can't make money online with a free-hosted website and say it's impossible to make money with them. Don't believe them. It IS possible to make hundreds of dollars a month with a free-hosted site.
However, I DON'T recommend free hosting. In 1997, I put months of work into a free-hosted site and was getting 100 visitors a day when the free host went broke. I couldn't redirect that hard-won traffic to another site. It was lost forever. What a dreadful waste!
However, if you're broke or up to your neck in debt and really and truly can't manage to scrape up a few dollars for a domain name and hosting, you can get free hosting or free pages at places such as Squidoo, Freewebs, Synthasite, Blinkweb, HubPages, Weebly, Jimdo and Google Knol.
Make some sacrifices. Stop buying cups of coffee. Look at all the stuff you're buying. If you're typical, you should be able to save the funds necessary to buy a domain name and web hosting. If you do, you'll be taking a little step towards creating a serious online business.
10. Small niche sites
Creating small niche sites is the approach I recommend to affiliate newcomers. Choose a niche and build a site around that topic. If you're not already an expert in that topic, aim to become one. Topics which work best are ones in which a large number of people are desperate for an answer to a problem or have a passionate interest in the subject. However, such topics are usually intensely competitive.
Affiliates have found success with an enormous array of niche topics. Effective niche sites often include “how-to” articles and detailed, enthusiastic reviews of products.
Ideally, the affiliate aims to attract BUYERS, not just curious lookers. For example, on a digital photography site, articles about how to shoot sunsets will attract readers and help you build trust, but a review of the latest model Canon will attract potential buyers.
CreditCards.com is an example of a highly polished niche affiliate site.
The classic newbie mistake is to read a book on ways to make money online and then create a site on the topic “How to make money online”. Naturally, the site lacks credibility. Note to newbies: You have thousands of other, less competitive website ideas to consider. Here's an article I wrote describing dozens of ways to find website ideas.
You don't have to be brilliant to do this stuff. Because you're aiming to get free traffic from search engines, you can make some mistakes and still succeed.
My free Affiliate Program Tutorial describes the 18 steps I recommend an affiliate newcomer should take.
11. Networks of affiliate sites
A few years ago, affiliates created networks of small sites and heavily interlinked – or crosslinked – the pages of these sites. The strategy worked – for a while. Then Google identified the networks as artificial linking structures and many such sites plummeted in search rankings.
These days, interlinking of sites still works as long as it's not overdone. Ideally, the links between your sites should be a small proportion of each site's external links.
12. Email newsletters
Even in these spam-laden times, newsletters are still a very powerful way to build relationships with your readers. Email is so important to most people online that they check for emails several times a day. So don't overlook the importance of publishing a newsletter or at least building an email list.
Sophisticated affiliates give their readers lots of choices – providing newsletters to suit a range of interests.
Affiliates who publish genuinely useful or entertaining newsletters win their readers' trust. These affiliates know they're more likely to make sales if they first make a strong connection.
A true master at forming a connection with his readers is Paul Myers. He's an original thinker. Instead of promoting an endless array of affiliate products the way most Internet marketing newsletter publishers do, he mainly promotes his own products or promotes products to which he's bought resell rights.
If you've never published a newsletter, you'll be pleasantly surprised to find how easy companies like Aweber and GetResponse make the technical aspects. They provide you with the code to paste into a web page to give you a sign-up form. They handle subscribes and unsubscribes automatically.
13. PDF newsletters
A few affiliates experiment with publishing their newsletters in PDF format, which makes them look more impressive and also makes it more difficult for publishers to copy their words. However, these PDF newsletters usually don't last very long.
14. Email lists
Affiliates use “squeeze” pages, usually giving away a free report in exchange for an email address. Typically, the subscriber receives a newsletter or an autoresponder series delivered with the help of Aweber or GetResponse.
Smart affiliates provide subscribers with several items of useful information to build trust before recommending a product.
15. Two-tier affiliate program hawkers
Perhaps I shouldn't mention this one – I don't want to increase the junk emails I receive.
You don't need a website for this. You find a good two-tier affiliate program, perhaps by searching in the AssociatePrograms.com affiliate directory. Then you write to the owners of websites which seem to be a perfect match for the product and persuade them to join the program and promote the product. You earn commissions on THEIR sales. Well, that's the theory.
Recipients of such emails tend to regard them with suspicion, especially if the emails contain vague language and redirect links which hide the real destination.
The dumbest such letters are computer generated, addressed to no one and give no indication that the author has any real knowledge of your website. In short, they're spam.
Remember, people who are suspicious are unlikely to take the action you desire. Tread carefully. It's very important that you try to figure out what the other person wants and provide it.
You can also promote a two-tier program on your website. The problem is that affiliates who sign up are likely to copy your technique. Instead of promoting the PRODUCT they'll promote the program. Result: No sales and no lazy second-tier commissions for you.
Years ago, I was really enthusiastic about two-tier programs. These days, I'd rather rely on my own skills and not waste time hoping someone else will make sales for me.
16. JV brokers
JV brokers such as Mike Merz have a much a classier way to earn second-tier commissions. Mike sends invitations to a long list of “friends” and to people who have opted in to receive JV announcements.
Here are Mike's JV terms.
This is really good strategic thinking. It's all about being a key person in a key position.
17. Blogs, email lists and RSS
Affiliates combine blogs, email lists and RSS to increase their repeat traffic and therefore their sales. Aweber's Blog Broadcaster enables you to convert your blog's RSS feed into an email newsletter. You can schedule blog newsletters weekly, daily or as you publish new posts.
Rosalind Gardner, author of Super Affiliate Handbook, a top-notch manual for affiliates, does this sort of thing very well.
18. Forums – your own
As you can tell from all the dead forums online, it's tricky getting a forum established. It's easier if you build a site, attract 1,000 or 2,000 visitors a day and THEN add a forum. You'll probably be surprised by the high percentage of forum visitors who look but don't contribute. Such is life. Sometimes controversial topics will attract new members who have been lurking for years but not posting – until a particular post touches a hot button.
People arrive at forums intending to read posts or make posts. If you want to lure them away to an affiliate product you're promoting, you'll need to do something really eye-catching.
To create the AssociatePrograms.com affiliate forum, we used free phpbb software, plus our own modifications. For the SpeedPPC private forum and for another site we're creating, we've chosen to use vBulletin.
19. Posting on other people's forums
Newbie affiliates and selfish oafs spam forums with blatant ads which get deleted and the affiliates get banned. Even quite experienced affiliates sometimes don't bother reading forum instructions, so on our affiliate forum I wrote a post describing five ways to promote affiliate products on forums…
What is the appropriate way to advertise a product on forums?
All sorts of niche directories have been created on all sorts of obscure topics. And there are directories which list directories. Some directories provide straight links and are supported by fees or advertising. Some charge a listing fee. Some consist purely of affiliate links.
Tricky affiliates create directories mainly with the aim of boosting their other sites in the search engines. They're in a position to give a new website – or a particular page – a valuable, prominent link from a well established authority site.
21. Review sites
Product review sites publish specific product makes and model numbers, which people who are in a buying mood type into search engines. Thus they attract visitors at a crucial moment in the buying cycle.
Some review sites are created purely by the website owner. More sophisticated review sites, such as Epinions and Buzzillions, publish customer reviews written by website visitors.
22. Shopping malls
We go to a shopping mall offline and can often do all our shopping in one place, so the same should apply online, right? Trouble is, you can flee from an online shopping mall as easily as clicking a mouse. So most of the simple 1990s-style shopping malls died and have been replaced by sites which offer something more attractive, such as coupons or bargains…
23. Coupons and bargains sites
Examples of coupons and bargains sites are Dealcatcher, FatWallet.com, Amazing-Bargains.com, CleverMoms.com, CouponCabin, CouponSurfer, FlamingoWorld.com, DealHunting.com and 24hourmall.com. Coupon sites may also include forums where members share tips on how to save money.
DealCatcher, which was founded in 1999, now offers coupons, bargains, sales, reviews, rebates and forums. Dan Baxter, who founded the site, says it gets more than 6 million page views a month.
Another good one to examine is BradsDeals.com. Its co-founder, Brad Wilson, says that consumers using BradsDeals have spent more than $100 million.
If you're interested in setting up a coupon site, check out the large affiliate networks. Here's a list of affiliate networks.
24. Price comparison sites
Price comparison sites, sometimes known as price engines, enable you to compare prices of specific products. Examples are Pricegrabber, Shopzilla, Nextag and Shopping.com.
Some serious programming and knowledge of data feeds is required. You're getting into the big league here.
Portals are mega-websites which typically publish a combination of useful articles, reviews, a directory, a forum, blogs, newsletter, etc. The are “sticky” sites which aim to encourage enthusiastic repeat visitors.
If you're going to build a portal, or even just a forum, think carefuly about who is going to be responsible for the website maintenance when you take a vacation or a long weekend off. Delegating stuff to employees or outsourced workers is absolutely essential. Here's an article I wrote which will help you decide whether to hire employees or outsource work. It's based on our experience: Hiring employees versus outsourcing.
Part 2: More ways to make money with affiliate programs, including some highly innovative, high-traffic affiliate websites.