How to Succeed in Affiliate Marketing

This article is a guest post written by RJ Weiss, Certified Financial Planner and Founder at The Ways To Wealth.

Nearly four years ago, I started writing at The Ways To Wealth as a side hustle. While I had been in the digital marketing space since 2009, I knew little about affiliate marketing. So, as is often the case, I had to learn the hard way what it takes to succeed.

Eight million visitors later, and with affiliate marketing being far and away the site’s top revenue source, I’m still learning.

However, there’s no question that I’ve learned some invaluable lessons along the way. In this post, I’ll share the four things I wish I had known when I launched The Ways To Wealth.

#1. You Only Get One Shot To Make A Good Recommendation

When I’m doing research on different products, often my first stopping point is Wirecutter. If you’re not familiar, Wirecutter is a large-scale affiliate/review site owned by the New York Times.

I head there first because they have good recommendations and reviews of consumer products. As of today, I’ve probably bought about a dozen products they’ve recommended. More importantly, I haven’t really been let down yet — all of their reviews were spot-on and helpful in my purchasing decision.

Women Looking at affiliate marketing

Looking back, if that first recommendation hadn’t been a fit, there wouldn’t have been an opportunity to recommend and make money from all the purchases that followed. And it’s in purchases number two through infinity that the real money is made in affiliate marketing.

It can be tempting to try and make money fast in affiliate marketing. But the sites that do the best are the ones that play the long game, always making the proper recommendation at the proper time.

#2. Diversification, Diversification And More Diversification

When I launched The Ways To Wealth, Pinterest was all the rage. It seemed like you could put just about anything up on Pinterest and it would go viral.

Then Pinterest changed its algorithm. I lost quite a bit of traffic seemingly overnight. Fortunately, I was just starting to build up the site’s search traffic, which soon replaced the traffic I got from Pinterest.

Search traffic has had its ups and downs for The Ways To Wealth, as is true for most sites. When it does decline, it’s helpful to have alternative traffic sources. Pinterest is still one of those, but I’ve also run Facebook and Instagram ads to bring in traffic.

On a related note, affiliate programs change too. For example, recent events brought a lot of change for publishers — and brought it fast. Some travel bloggers’ income all but vanished overnight.

What I’ve come to learn is that rapid change like this is just part of the game. It’s something affiliates should come to expect, and most importantly, have a plan for.

A good question to ask is this: “If my #1 source of traffic or revenue went away overnight, what could I do to replace that income?”

#3. Relationships Matter

The majority of site owners I know are introverted — myself included. Quite honestly, being an introvert was one of the things that pulled me into blogging. The idea of a workday filled with long uninterrupted stretches of writing was something I’d been dreaming about since I started dabbling in freelance writing as a side hustle.

Little by little, however, I started to learn how much relationships matter in affiliate marketing. Today, most of my learning comes through conversations with other site owners and affiliate managers.

As of late, this has taken place through email, Zoom, Slack, and Facebook Groups. Very soon, I hope I can go see these people who I’ve learned so much from at conferences, because my best relationships with affiliates tend to be those I’ve made and cultivated through face-to-face interaction.

#4. More Traffic Isn’t Always The Answer

It’s easy to obsess over traffic. After all, thanks to Google Analytics, you can see how you’re doing this very instant. But it’s important to not confuse the ease of accessing that data with how important traffic actually is.

Yes, traffic matters. But it’s not always the answer to growing your business.

One of the big changes I’ve made in my own business was getting away from constantly checking traffic and focusing on more actionable metrics.

A few metrics that have guided me to make better strategic decisions are:

  • Revenue Per Visitor (RPV). Calculate this by taking your total monthly revenue divided by your total traffic.
  • Email Click-Through Rate. I’ve found this to be a great indicator of how well I’m building relationships with readers of the site.
  • Organic Backlinks. While I do a fair amount of outreach, tracking how many backlinks come organically is a great indicator of how valuable other site owners view your content.

With more actionable metrics like these, it’s far easier to make strategic decisions about moving your site forward.

#5. This Is Your Own Journey

Many site owners are happy to share their success. And I’ve learned tons from reading income reports and updates from successful publishers. But while there’s a lot to gain from that type of research, it’s important you’re aware of the downsides as well.

Comparing yourself to others — especially those who are the most successful — is an easy way to feel down about where you’re at today. To paraphrase a quote I first heard from Ruth Soukup, the successful blogger behind LivingWellSpendingLess: never compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.

Everyone comes into affiliate marketing with a different set of skills. For some, it might be the first time they ever published online. Others — and this was the case for me when I started The Ways To Wealth — may have years of experience in online publishing.

To win at affiliate marketing, it’s important to play the long game. Building anything worthwhile takes time. So, don’t get too caught up in what others are doing and how that compares to what you have today. Instead, worry about improving what’s in front of you right now.