Can You Really Make Money from Your Blog with Affiliate Links?

BlogHer Original Post

Computer mouse and piggy bank with coins

The making-money-on-the-internet gurus preach that the key to making money from your blog is promote and sell products via affiliate links. Over the past six years, I’ve experimented with affiliate programs like Amazon Affiliates, Commission Junction, Google Affiliate Network, LinkShare and ShareASale, and did everything I was supposed to including doing product reviews and running sidebar affiliate ads.

With the exception of Amazon Affiliates, where I usually earned $10-50 per month until Amazon dropped all their Colorado affiliates (more on that later) I made nothing. Why was that?

My blogs don’t get enough traffic. If you read Darren Rowse’s post, 11 Lessons I Learned Earning $119,725.45 from Amazon Associates Program, you’ll notice that when he had 1,000 visits per day he was making around $30 with Amazon. When his traffic shot up, so did his earnings. He has amazing traffic on his blogs, so he makes good money with Amazon. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

Even so, my earnings have gone down over the years while my traffic has improved. Maybe it has something to do with the recession or that more people are using affiliate code to monetize their sites. (More places to shop, so my blogs get less clicks.)

My blogs are too general. Unless I ran a niche blog that covers expensive products that people repeatedly buy and upgrade – golf clubs are a good example - affiliate programs won’t work all that well for me.

An example of this is Darren Rowse’s photography blog, Digital Photography School, which appeals to professional photographers and serious amateurs who are always buying new accessories or upgrading to fancier cameras. Photography equipment is expensive and Darren’s blog takes advantage of that.

Are affiliate programs a waste of time for most personal bloggers?

Probably so with one exception, Amazon Affiliates. Sign up with Amazon Affiliates and use an affiliate link whenever you are mentioning a product in a post. It’s an easy program to use. Plus, they don’t kick you out if you have no sales unlike Commission Junction, where I’ve been given the heave ho three times, thank you very much.

Amazon provides product photos that you can use in your posts. You can create an online shop for your blog filled with products you love and recommend. They’ve also developed several sidebar ads and widgets that fit most bloggers’ needs. However, don’t let affiliate ads take up too much of your sidebar real estate. Instead, save that room for ad networks that pay out based on page views or ads that you’ve sold directly to companies.

Passion and trust equals sales

Why does Amazon Affiliates work for bloggers? Most online shoppers – your readers - use Amazon and trust it because it’s a great source for product reviews and bargains. It’s trustworthy.

You should act the same way when blogging about products. Yes, it’s tempting to post about that $14,784 Kalamazoo 900HS Hybrid Free-Standing Natural Gas Grill with Side Burner in the hopes that someone will click on it and buy it. But do you think that your readers really would if you don’t normally write about gas grills? Didn’t think so.

People will buy products you recommend if you are passionate about them and give them an honest review, so don’t try to fake it to gain a sale. All you’ll gain is angry readers.

Don’t forget to disclose your affiliate links!

Many consumers are unfamiliar with affiliate programs, so you should note that you’re using affiliate links on your policy/disclosure page, at the bottom of your posts, and even right next to the link.

When Amazon Affiliates doesn’t work

On March 8, 2010, Amazon fired all its Colorado affiliates due to Colorado House Bill 1193 (CO HB-1193). (You can read the details by searching “Amazon” at the Denver Post’s website or reading my affiliate tax posts at The Write Spot.)

Even though Colorado online marketers, bloggers, and groups like the Performance Marketing Association were able to get language out of the bill that affiliates did not constitute a nexus (physical presence) in the state, Amazon still sent us a “Dear John” letter. While I never made much money with them, I was saddened to be dropped without as much as a goodbye hug.

Should you try other affiliate programs?

If you write about books and movies, consider joining Barnes & Nobles’ affiliate program. HB-1193 – and bills similar to it in other states – does not affect them since they have brick and mortar stores. The program works through Google’s Affiliate Network and your Adsense account. However, I haven’t had much luck with Barnes & Noble since it seems that my readers don’t shop there.

If you are lost about where to start, consider signing up with Google’s Affiliate Network and choosing from their extensive advertiser/affiliate program list. Another source is the Merchant Nexus Database where you can seek merchant programs that already claim nexus in your state of residence or are already collecting sales tax on purchases made to customers within your state.

Finally, becoming an Open Sky shopkeeper is another option. You can learn more about them at Open Sky Lets Bloggers Open Bloggy Storefronts.

Do you use affiliate programs? If so, what’s been successful for you?

 

When Anne-Marie Nichols isn’t blogging about healthy recipes at This Mama Cooks!, you can find her writing about social media and blogging at The Write Spot or Mom Central Blogger University.

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