My Journey into Affiliate Marketing – Month 1

I have been building websites for the better part of ten years. I have built dozens and dozens of websites over the years. Not until recently did I ever consider using my skills to get into affiliate marketing. So in August of 2018, last month, I decided to get started with internet marketing and attempting to create a passive income for myself.

There are other ways to monetize a blog or website such as Google Adsense, selling a product like an ebook, or an online course. Affiliate marketing sounded attractive to me however and I think is a great way for a beginner at internet marketing to get started.

These stats are somewhat skewed because for most of the first month I wasn’t filtering out the IP address I was working from.

Organic traffic is increasing though and I currently have 86 keywords showing up in my Google Search Console. The ones I’m ranking the best for were in posts I threw together quickly and wasn’t really planning on getting much traffic to. Additionally, they are not money posts but just informative. I do have one high volume product review post that I posted a few days ago and it is already getting a decent amount of impressions.

End of Month 1 Stats:

  • Pageviews: 914
  • Affiliate Earnings (Amazon): $0

So no money the first month… which sucks but I am not surprised. I was kind of holding out hope that just maybe I would make some random small sale. Oh well, organic traffic is definitely increasing and I am at 18 posts so I think within the next 60 days I will get one.

Ok, on to the article..

What is Affiliate Marketing?

I came back and wrote this section because I realized that even I didn’t really know what the hell affiliate marketing was for the longest time. The simplest definition of affiliate marketing is, promoting other people’s products and taking commissions off of the sales. So you might do a product review on something and then at the end of the review you add your affiliate link for that product hoping that the reader will click the link. If this happens you have a chance of making some money.

Hundreds of businesses offer affiliate marketing programs that you can easily sign up for. Some have stringent requirements such as far as traffic and visitors to your site, age of your website, or how you plan to promote the affiliate links. Most require that you have a website it seems, but some allow you to just promote through social media and other channels.

Some business offer their own affiliate programs that you sign up for on their sites and are approved in house. Other’s are part of larger affiliate networks like Avantlink, or Shareasale to name a couple. Some of these might pay out pretty good, however may be tougher to get approved for.

It is easy to get carried away signing up for these programs, and I have found that happening to me. I am focusing almost solely on Amazon Associates but I have signed up for a couple of others as well. I even got rejected by one for too little traffic. Oops!

What are affiliate links?

Affiliate links are special links provided to you when you sign up for the affiliate program. For instance, if you sign up for Amazon’s affiliate program, they will provide you with a unique tracking code that will appear in all of your affiliate links. This separates you from all of the other affiliate marketers and allows them to determine your earnings for the month.

Once a user from the internet clicks on one of your affiliate links, their browser is then cookied. This means a very small piece of code is downloaded to their computer and they are then tracked by Amazon, or whatever other site. So if that user purchases anything from Amazon in the next 24 hours, you get a commission on that purchase.

Amazon’s cookie period is short, many other affiliate programs cookie the user for 30 to 90 days in some cases. However a day is plenty of time for a person to revisit Amazon and buy an expensive piece of jewelry or that new Amazon Echo they have been wanting.

How I got started

The idea was pretty simple really, get traffic to my site. Put in a lot of work early and make money from that initial work for the foreseeable future:

  • create a simple website or blog without wasting too much time on design and aesthetics, but still make it pleasant to look at
  • set up an Amazon affiliate account
  • make about 30 posts within the next 60-90 days (or less)
  • these posts should contain a mix of helpful and informative posts, as well as product review focused posts
  • all mentions of products should have my special Amazon affiliate link so that I get credit for any purchases made
  • once I have made these posts, sit back and watch my traffic carefully in Google Analytics and Search Console
  • add more content as I see fit, but the idea is passive income where I do not have to do much else work on the site

Choosing my niche

There are tons of Youtube videos and blog posts all over the internet on choosing the right niche. For me, I bought several domains for niche ideas I had. The first one I got about 7 posts on and it is still live. The second one I thought had potential, but I have since disabled that site. I got one post up on the second site, it seemed like a great idea at the time but it turned out the niche was saturated. The third one I chose is the one I’m running with.

I chose that third niche because it is something I am interested in and has a good amount of related gear to purchase on Amazon. While there is definitely some competition in my niche, there are many keywords available I can target. This site has only been live for just under a month. I currently have 15 posts up and publishing another one tonight that I outsourced on Upwork.

I am already ranking on page 4 and 5 for several keywords and quickly moving up. Page 4 may not sound very good, but I like seeing the progress and checking to see if I have moved up in the rankings.

Overall I am pleased with this niche and think it has potential for me. I am not trying to become bigger than the top authority sites.. just to get a piece of the pie. I am halfway to to my goal of 30 posts and I think I can reach it by the end of month two.

Do I need to be an expert on my niche?

Not at all. It certainly helps though if you are at least interested in your niche or better yet it is a hobby of yours. You by no means need to be considered an authority on the subject though so get that out of your head. Of course it would help if you were a never ending source of unique content. You can easily scour the internet and do research to put together informative posts.

Now yes something you are interested in definitely helps your cause, because in the end you want to be able to write a large number of articles on the subject and not get burnt out. However, if you find a kick ass niche that no one is on at the moment, then make it your new hobby! Or simply learn about it the best you can.

There is an unwritten rule floating around in regards to niches and niche sites. If you can’t see yourself writing 100 articles on the subject then don’t choose it. Obviously this is a choice you will make for yourself. There are however times where you can make a profitable micro-niche site in a non competitive niche with only 6-10 posts. Personally though, I am going for the 30-50 post range.

I bought probably 10 domains so far in this Affiliate marketing adventure and I think 3 of them I have decided are ones I would like to pursue. One of those is a hobby of mine, another is not a hobby but sort of in the same space as the first one and has low competition. So I see some cross promoting opportunities there. The third one is not a hobby at all but is something that interests me, so it may be something I can get into as a hobby or at the very least enjoy researching and writing about.

So I currently have plans for 3 sites.  I am trying to get the first one to 30 posts before I put much effort into the other 2 though.

Choosing my keywords and post topics

Once I chose my niche, I signed up for a free trial of Semrush. I started doing keyword research on all of the authority sites and trying to find keywords and topics they missed, so I could target them. I loosely followed the Keyword Golden Ratio that Doug Cunnington frequently talks about. What this basically boils down to is, find low competition keywords that aren’t searched too many times. They are easier to rank for.

If you go right for the biggest fish in the lake with a wooden cane pole, you aren’t going to catch him. The guy with the $300 rod and reel who has been fishing that lake for 5 years is going to. So if your niche is flat screen tvs or something, don’t even think about trying “best flat screen tvs” with a brand new site.

You need to gain some trust from Google first. You can do this buy ranking on the first page for lower competition keywords. This is purely an example but maybe something like “best smart tv under $200 “. That is more specific and it’s possible you could rank for that even with a new site. Again though, that is just an example.

How to choose low competition keywords

If you do not want to sign up for a free trial of Semrush or another tool like that there are several other ways you can get ideas for post topics and low competition keywords. Google’s keyword planner tool is a great way to get started. Or simply typing in a search in google and then scrolling to the bottom and looking for “searches related to [your keyword]”.

My favorite way so far though is a Google Chrome or Firefox extension that I use all the time called Keywords Everywhere.  This little guy tells you the search volume for any keyword you search, in addition gives you a ton of  other related keywords to investigate.

Google has many helpful search operators that you can use to filter down your search results. One that I use for this purpose is the allintitle: operator. So back to the previous example, if you searched “allintitle:best smart tv under $200” you would get results for exactly how many pages indexed by Google had those exact words in the title. If the number is very low, then you might can rank for this.

Referring back to the Keyword Golden Ratio, or KGR, this is basically how it works. Doug has a formula for it, however I have been using it as more of a guideline. Doug recommends under 250 search volume per month, I look at under 1000. I will also consider things with slightly more allintitle results. I take into consideration things like the quality of the results. If the first 5 results are Yahoo Answers, Quora, and Reddit posts, yet there are 500 allintitle results, I will still go for it.

Any time you have forums and Q&A type results, that is a good sign. Any time the top result is a low quality post with under 1000 words, that is also a good sign. You just have to go on gut feeling sometime. Now I am a newb to all of this still and am talking without experience, so we will see how it turns out for me!

Writing the articles

I do not consider myself a great writer, but I wrote the first 13 articles myself. A lot of research was done on the various products and topics. So much so that Google thinks it is unusual traffic and makes me prove I’m not a bot every once in a while by captcha.

I wrote a good mixture of affiliate posts and informative posts. Choosing keywords that were slightly obscure and not too many other sites were targeting is key for a new site to be successful. Many of them with a search volume of below 500/mo.

After the first 13 articles I decided to check into Upwork and outsourcing a couple of articles. I put up my first job posting and hired a nice girl who was able to deliver 2000 words in a couple of days for an informative keyword post. Then, I then rehired her for an affiliate post which she is supposed to turn in tonight.

I do not plan on outsourcing a ton of articles until I am generating income, which after only a few weeks I am not. So I think that going forward, I may outsource 1-2 a month and write the rest myself. I don’t mind writing them myself but I find it takes me a while to complete one. Especially when I like them to be fairly long.

Researching and writing the articles is just part of it. You also have to consider the following:

  • checking for grammar and spelling errors
  • structuring them for the web, proper use of sub-headings etc
  • strategically inserting your affiliate links
  • finding relevant royalty free images on the internet that you can use in your article
  • Search Engine Optimization – making sure your keyword and any secondary keywords are in your article, your SEO title and meta description are set, images have alt descriptions etc.
  • and any other factors that may be unique to your audience

How long should the articles be

For the most part, the longer the better. I would like to say that all of my articles are over 2000 words, but they aren’t. Some are 1200-1500, others are just barely a thousand. Many however, are at or over 2000 words. I am shooting for a minimum of 1500 going forward though, with 2000 and above preferred.

I would like to get a 3000-4000 word pillar post up in the near future and have an authority type article up on a subject. You can really only write so much content for “top 32 flat screen tvs in 2018”. I find it easier to write more for the response type posts. Back to tvs, one such post could be “how to mount a flat screen tv to drywall”. You could write a step by step tutorial on how to do this. Sure this would be easier if you were actually doing it yourself and could take pictures, but it can still be done with pure research.

To reiterate, write them as long as you possibly can while still providing quality, useful information. Upwards of 2000 words is best, but certainly try not to go below 1000. Someone will come through eventually and pick off your short articles that you may be ranking for with helpful articles that are 3 times the length.

Backlinks and social sharing

I have put very little effort into building any backlinks or sharing through social channels. It is my goal to get a respectable amount of content on the site first before I really explore this avenue. The last thing I want is for people to visit my site and leave with a bad taste in their mouth because it was a ghost town.

I have posted a few links in Reddit comments, blog comments, and I joined a Facebook group where I will post a link to any new posts on my blog I think the members might be interested in. My main goal is to get the majority of my traffic through organic search results. I realize it takes longer this way. Possibly even 6 months to a year before I will see halfway decent traffic. I have set realistic goals for myself which I will go over further down in this post.

At some point I will set up a Facebook page, Instagram account , and maybe a Pinterest account for my site. I can put links back to it in the about section of these pages and regularly share posts back to the site here. Again though, gonna wait a bit before I get into that. Right now for the most part I’m trying to see what happens organically.

How long to start making money from your niche site

I wish I knew. Amazon gives you 6 months to make your first sale, or maybe it’s 2 sales I can’t remember. Regardless, you have about 6 months assuming that you signed up for the affiliate program and launched your site at the same time.

In hindsight I wish I had waited a month before signing up for Amazon Associates (Amazon Affiliates), but I didn’t so now I have to hope I get those first sales in the next few months. I’m confident that I will though. I’m still a bit less than a month in and already seeing at least some minimal traffic to my site which is a good sign.

I’ve googled “how long to make my first amazon affiliate sale” many times because I want real world examples of how long it took other people. In reality though there are too many factors to get a good estimate of this. A certain niche may get sales within the first month or 2 while another may take 6-8 months. It’s also going to heavily depend on the work you put in. I am planning on writing 30-50 articles in the first 6 months to a year on my niche. Not only that but on low competition keywords. I expect that this effort will get me ranked for several keywords, making it easier to get that first sale.

Prediction: I think I will make my first sale within 90 days. Am I basing this on any evidence? No. It’s just what I’m guessing. It may be a $3 commission but I think I will get something by then. As for when I will get any regular income. That could be several months down the line.

Below are my goals for the first year. Basically 60 posts by the end of the year and at least $300/month.

  • Month 1:  Complete 15 posts – Done
  • Month 3: Add 15 additional posts – Make first sale
  • Month 6: 10 more posts – $100/month
  • Month 9: 10 more posts – $200/month
  • Month 12: 10 more posts – $300/month

Are these goals realistic? I think they are if I continue putting forth the effort I am now. $300/month within a year is less than I actually hope to be making, but I want to keep my expectations on the low side on this. I would rather be pleasantly surprised. If any of my goals are reached ahead of time then that will be even more motivation for me to pump out more content and make more money.

Long term goals for internet marketing

Now while right now this is simply a side project and I have a full time job, I’m shooting for the stars. I would like to go full time with this and work from home. Eventually quit my 8-4 job and be my own boss doing something I enjoy already. I enjoy working on the internet and making websites, I enjoy talking about it, I enjoy seeing the results of my efforts come through in dollars.

In order for this to sustain me long term and allow me to quit my day job, I will have to front load a lot of my efforts. Potentially one very successful site could allow me to do this, I however plan on building several sites. Now maybe only one of those will be successful and be worth my time pursuing further. Or perhaps they all will, or maybe none!

It’s a gamble and a learning experience all around. However because I am a web designer already and have a background in marketing, the curve will not be as steep for me. At the very least, I hope to supplement my current income. I would consider this experiment a success if one site is successful enough to bring in $300/month on cruise control. It will be enough of a proof of concept for me to go out there and continue trying with other niches until I hit the right one at the right time.

If I ever get to a point to where I am bringing in over $5k/month regularly through affiliate marketing and internet advertising on my niche sites, then I will go full time. That may not be a ton of money, but the extra effort I could put in going full time would be substantial. I believe I would quickly be able to double that amount with all of my attention focused on it.

How much traffic do I need to make money

There is no hard and fast number for this. The more the better is obvious here. I am shooting for 30k page views per month within the first 18 months or so. I think that is achievable.

However it’s very possible I could make a significant income with only a few thousand visits a month. It just depends on the product you are promoting and your conversion rate. So I am going to play this one by ear because I’m not sure what to really expect for the niche I chose.

If you are impatient and want traffic as quickly as possible I highly suggest doing some social media marketing. I am just not going that route early on. If you want then start up a Facebook page right away and start promoting the hell out of your very first post. Maybe it will gain traction and go viral, who knows!?

Another option is Google ads, I would not suggest doing this with a new site though. It is a paid way to get traffic. Although it can be highly successful if done correctly, if done incorrectly it can end up costing you a bunch of money with little to nothing to show for it. So consider Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, Reddit, and even Tumblr for social channels.

Also look into making blog comments on relevant blog posts in or even outside of your niche. Maybe you wrote an article in a different niche but someone on another blog may find it interesting. “Hanging”

Who can really do this

That’s the cool thing, anyone can do affiliate marketing. Once you get things going it is a very passive income stream. You just have to have the persistence to see it through and not give up six months in.

You will have to learn how to do a few things. First pick your niche, learn to build a website, and start posting content. With the type of website you are building, it really isn’t that hard to get one off of the ground. If it were a more complex business site then sure it could take some serious time. A niche site though is pretty much just a blog with minimal custom design and pages. It will be mostly just articles.

I plan on seeing very little results for the first 6-9 months. Progress of some type each month is expected, but nothing significant until after that initial 6 months or so. Google puts new sites in what is commonly referred to as “Google’s sandbox” for the first 6 months. This is when you aren’t fully trusted by Google to be a reliable source of information and therefore they will not rank you very high yet.

After the sandbox period though, you may see a very significant spike in traffic. Just stick with it, don’t get frustrated and delete your site. Monitor your traffic in Google Analytics and search console and make adjustments as necessary.

Links to blogs and Youtube channels on niche marketing:

These are just a few of my favorite resources for niche marketing. There are many more out there so explore around the web and see what you can find. Also be sure to check out these people’s Youtube channels and podcasts. For instance the guys at Income School have a great Youtube channel and so does Doug Cunnington and Lazy Ass Stoner (although his are a bit dated).

Spencer Haws – Nichepursuits.com

Doug Cunnington – Niche Site Project

Pat Flynn – Smart Passive Income

Income School – Jim and Ricky

Lazy Ass Stoner – lazyassstoner.com

Location Rebel – locationrebel.com

If you made it through this whole post and are interested in getting started then start with the links above. Also feel free to leave me a comment below with any questions for me about my first month. I will update my journey into internet marketing in future posts. Thanks for reading!

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