Three Affiliate Marketing Myths

Affiliate Marketing Mythology: Separating Fact from Fiction
“Affiliate marketing” is a term that means different things to different people.  For many publishers, forum owners, and entrepreneurs, affiliate marketing has served as a primary source of their monthly income.

Others aren’t quite sure what it entails or whether it’s applicable to their site.  Those that do understand the mechanics but opt not to participate often do so because of misconceptions about affiliate marketing.

As a result, a large group of site owners assume that ad options like Google AdSense and/or banner sales are the only ways to monetize their site.  In reality, this is simply untrue.

“Modern Day” Affiliate Marketing
In its simplest terms, affiliate marketing is outsourced marketing.  Companies have a product to market and “affiliates” are other websites that help them sell their product by promoting their product and delivering customers to them.

The concept intuitively makes sense.  To illustrate, let’s consider a hypothetical scenario: a merchant recently created a new type of orange widget he’s hoping to sell.  One day he walks into a store packed to the brim with people talking about all things orange widget related.  He’d likely want to approach the store owner and ask how he might be able to offer his orange widgets to the group.

In a nutshell, that’s affiliate marketing.  As a “store owner” (e.g. site owner / web publisher / potential affiliate) you operate a site that attracts an audience with a specific set of interests (in the scenario above it’s orange widgets).  As a result, you are in an ideal position to connect your audience with the advertisers that are most relevant to them.  And those advertisers are very interested in reaching your audience. It’s a win-win-win scenario: the advertiser gets a sale, the affiliate gets a commission and the audience learns about something relevant.

But, relatively speaking, only a small percentage of eligible web publishers take advantage of affiliate marketing programs.  I started my company after conducting a web crawl that showed fewer than 50% of eligible merchant links were affiliated.

So how come 50% of eligible web publishers don’t engage in affiliate marketing?  There are a variety of factors, but after talking to what seems like hundreds of publishers over the last few years I’ve found that the reasons usually boil down to one of three misconceptions surrounding affiliate marketing.

Myth 1: I’m Not Selling.  They’re Not Buying.

When I have the opportunity to chat with a publisher that writes exclusively about, say, a topic like “how to make scented candles” they’ll often present the same push back: “my site isn’t designed to sell anything.”

In the case of the candle-maker the individual learned how to make scented candles at home and then started sharing how she did so on her blog.  Because she didn’t launch her site with the idea of selling candles, she assumes her site isn’t oriented towards selling and her readers aren’t interested in buying products.

In reality this mindset couldn’t be further from the truth.

Visitors come to a site because they are interested in its content.  In many cases, visitors are coming to your site because they are about to make a purchasing decision.  If it seems hard to believe that some percentage of your visitors are on the cusp of making a purchase, take a moment to consider each of these scenarios:

  • Will the person visiting a web site about DIY gardening or skin care make a purchase in one of those categories in the next 30 days?
  • Will the person visiting a web site about electronics or interior design make a purchase in one of those categories in the next 6 months?

In all likelihood, yes.

Whether you are aware of it or not, you influence the purchasing decisions that your readers make.  Affiliate marketing programs allow you to be compensated for your help.

Myth 2: There Aren’t Affiliate Programs that Apply to my Content

Some think affiliate programs only apply to “traditional” online purchases: shoes from Zappos or an electronic item from Best Buy.  While each of these merchants do offer robust affiliate programs, they are by no means the only players in affiliate marketing.

There are thousands of retailers across virtually every product category that offer affiliate programs directly, or who participate in affiliate networks.  There are programs for real estate, jewelry, car parts, pet products, flowers, dating sites, electronics, dog training, gym memberships, and the list goes on and on.

In fact, some of the biggest names in retail, Apple, Amazon, WalMart and Sears all offer affiliate programs.  A simple google search: “my product’s name + affiliate program” might just reveal your site’s next great revenue stream.

Myth 3: You Need a PhD in Computer Science and Lots of Time to Implement and Manage Affiliate Marketing Programs

Even if you recognize the potential value affiliate marketing offers, you may be putting off adoption because the process of implementing and managing an affiliate program seems overwhelming.  But there are a couple of options that make the process dead simple — whether or not you are an HTML wizard, or whether you have lots of free time on your hands.

The Automated Option
Automated affiliate marketing solutions affiliate links on your site automatically and partner with both merchants and networks on your behalf.  This means that there is no need to constantly modify links by hand or deal with managing a large number of affiliates programs on your own.  VigLink (disclosure: I’m the CEO), and a few of our competitors offer automated affiliate marketing solutions.

The Network Option
If you find that you refer traffic to just a small group of retailers, joining an affiliate network is also a great way to simplify the affiliate marketing process.  An affiliate network groups a number of merchants together (hundreds or even thousands) and serves as a single point of contact for them all.  While you will have to manually affiliate links if you join a network there will only be one type of link modification schema you’ll need to understand, so the likelihood that you break links or incorrectly tag links is diminished.  Commission Junction, Google Affiliate Network, and Pepperjam are just a few affiliate networks that boast a sizable number of merchants.

What it All Means

Affiliate marketing programs have been around since 1994.  It’s rare that a particular marketing medium lasts so long unless there is real value delivered for both advertisers and publishers.  So while you may not have implemented an affiliate marketing strategy yet, others are making it work and have turned affiliate marketing into a significant revenue source for their site.  They have recognized the value of their site’s audience, located the programs that fit their audience and ensured they adopted an implementation that matched their skill set.

In short: they avoided the three all too common misconceptions above.  And you can too. The affiliate industry is vibrant, and affiliate marketing is a great way to monetize your web site if you are a content creator or curator, regardless of which other forms of advertising are on your site.

This guest post was written by Oliver Roup, the founder and CEO of VigLink, a service that allows online publishers to earn money from the content on their site. VigLink is backed by Google Ventures, First Round Capital, Emergence Capital and SoftTech VC. Notable individual investors include LinkedIn Founder Reid Hoffman and former Google executive and current LinkedIn VP of Product Deep Nishar.

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  1. Will let you know how it goes!

    My recent post Where Should a New Internet Marketer Focus Their Investments

  2. About the second myth, I have to say that I was different. I thought affiliate marketing exist online only :D. A friend talked to me about how his friends make money selling other people's products in meatspace. Only then I realized that affiliate marketing doesn't happen online only. In years gone by, I thought it was only about digital products. 😀
    My recent post Check How Ugly your Blog Looks on a Mobile Phone!

  3. Many people still have the belief that all the technique that you need to have to achieve success in affiliate marketing is by arbitraging, from PPC campaigns to setting up junk sites.

    Even though with the policies of search engines like Google flushing such techniques down the drain and the rise of social media which is all about interaction, most affiliate marketers are still unaware of the need to provide quality content to build trust in order to earn much more from affiliate marketing.

    Alex J

    CEO & Founder

  4. Another concern may be that they don't want to spam their formal blog with advertisements.
    Having flashing, flamboyant ads may take away from their blogs value.

  5. Myth 3 is the funniest for me. I mean those who got rich doing affiliate marketing doesn't necessarily know what the course computer science offers. 🙂

  6. Great take on the myths. Affiliate Marketing is an art that has to be masted, awesome insight.
    My recent post Prevent Illness With Naturopathy

  7. Hi oliver, great post. Thank you for sharing the affiliate marketing myths. A lot of newbies in the business today tend to listen to what they heard. You are right in chances are the readers visiting the site would likely want to buy something from your site. There are a lot of categories that would definitely fit in your product on an affiliate network.

  8. Zac, you have some nice points here. It is not rare to hear such excuses all around the web from newbies. And anyone who says that affiliate marketing is difficult, I am pretty sure that person is not utilizing the correct way of doing it. Find a market, find a good product, try it and recommend it, that's all. And that's how I made an affiliate sale just after a few hours of publishing an affiliate review on my site two days ago.

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  9. Ive been doing this kind of marketing off and on for about 12 months, I have never spent more than a few hours a day on it and most days I do nothing at the moment.

    In a good month I would make £150 which makes me think how nice it would be to do this full time, but to those who do, is it not a feeling of "living on edge" as you never know when google will wipe out your rankings or your other source of traffic will stop. I think you would need to be brave to quit a job and do this for a living.
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  10. you dont need to have PHD in computer science to do Affiliate market because if you do there are other things to do rather this time staking marketing simply you have to follow a proper plan for your product or whatever on regular basis.

  11. I am beginning to see the wisdom of setting up affiliate marketing after reading this. It really boils down to buying and selling, right, so even if you set up a blog without any intention of doing marketing, you need to be open and flexible to the idea, which is advantageous, in making extra income. Who wouldn't want that, by the way? So, it's time to be serious about this and no more dallying about. Thanks!
    My recent post Class of 2011 College Students Majoring in Debt

  12. This is good Zac, well thought out and easy to understand. I actually didn't know affiliate marketing existed offline. I only knew about promoting other people's product online. In fact, the internet was my first contact with the word "Affiliate marketing."

    But today, I know better. Thanks a million!
    My recent post How to Drive the Right Traffic That Spends Money

  13. Hey,Oliver,
    thanks for this great and well written post that can open eyes and give new perspectives on affiliate marketing issues.It is an excellent choice for monetizing one's website, and we should try avoiding falling into the myth system you were explaining about. So, in conclusion, visitors do come because of the content, there are many big names in retail that offer affiliate programs and last, but not the least , there is a way of how to make it all simple! What more could we ask for?
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  14. I'm kind of surprised by these affiliate marketing myths… But I guess I have a different mindset, I always have a goal for my sites before I build them or buy them and that goal includes how I plan to make money with my site.
    My recent post Why Traffic Metrics Are Important For New Traffic Sources

  15. Nice article and information at the same time! Especially the info you gave about think of your own strategy as an affiliate marketeer!
    My recent post Affiliate Marketer

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