Before affiliates can earn referral revenue, they need an engaged audience to share third-party offers with. An offer is an agreement from a brand (otherwise known in the affiliate context as an advertiser) to pay an affiliate a commission for referring business. Affiliates earn commission when someone they referred to an advertiser purchases their product or fulfills some other agreed upon action, like signing up for the brand's email list. This is also known as referral marketing, and it’s the standard model in which affiliates earn revenue.
Building a mailing list, growing your social media following, and attracting website visitors is an integral precursor to the success of an affiliate marketer. Without an engaged audience, affiliates would need to buy media every time they want to promote an offer. That leaves them with thin margins that won’t always pay off when the buyer’s attention is competitive (and expensive!) to acquire. It’s like buying a new cup each time you need a drink of water. It’s not the best solution, and you’re far better off to build an audience of your own (and to wash your cups).
"It’s like buying a new cup each time you need a drink of water. It’s not the best solution, and you’re far better off to build an audience of your own (and to wash your cups)."
But building an online presence is just part of the journey to developing a sustainable affiliate marketing business. After all the hard work, time, and financial investment of building a captivated audience, it’s imperative that affiliates keep a laser focus on delivering high quality experiences. In this article, we’ll look at how to do just that.
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How to perfect the recipe for success
In order to earn revenue as an affiliate marketer, your audience needs to be able to connect with what you’re saying. This means that the offers you promote need to be items or services they’ll actually want or need. Getting this wrong will not only prevent your success and cause your audience to diminish, but can damage your reputation and credibility.
If you’ve ever been turned off by a celebrity endorsement for a product you’d never buy, you’ve seen referral marketing gone wrong. Online users experience this all the time, and they’re becoming more selective about who they follow—and rightfully so. None of us want to be inundated with ads that don’t resonate with us. Instead, ads should be relevant, contextual, and engaging. If they aren’t, they’re not correctly targeted to their ideal audience.
For example, if you’re a frequent Instagram user, your feed is where you consume the content you want to see. When users are interrupted from beautiful imagery, scenic travel destinations, and comical memes for a diet supplement or a get rich quick promise that distracts them from what they’re enjoying, they’re quick to unfollow. As an affiliate marketer, your job is to refer business to the advertiser whose product you’re promoting. You can only do this when the audience wants what you’re selling.
So how can affiliate marketers walk the tightrope of building an engaged audience, while also earning a living by monetizing their content? Follow these four steps to find the right affiliate offers for your audience.
1. Understand who your audience is
The first and most important rule is to know your audience. Use social listening tools, website analytics, and advertising reports to discover who your audience is. This will help you make deliberate decisions about the offers you’ll promote.
Here are some tips to help you analyze your audience:
- Use Google Analytics to discover where your audience discovered your website. Using the Referral Paths report, you’ll understand who your users are and which online source brought them to your website. This lets you identify the other places they consume content before visiting you. Here’s a guide to help you understand the power of referral paths.
- Under Audience, navigate to the Traffic Flow report and review the outbound traffic from each of your pages. Select "Explore traffic through here". You’ll be able to see where users went to once they left your website, allowing you to gain insight into their online behaviours. Here’s another tool to augment your data analysis from Google Analytics and help gain an understanding of referral paths and traffic flows. Look at outgoing links, audience interests, referrals and keywords to learn integral information.
- To understand what content your audience is most interested in, use the Behavior Flow Report in Google Analytics to learn more about website visitors. The Site Content section is particularly useful to see your top performing content and the average revenue each page generates. This information allows you to gain an understanding of what your followers like about you, and what content appeals to them most.
- Lean heavily on the Demographics & Interests Data reports to discover basic characteristics like the average age of your audience, their gender, and geographical location. It will also demonstrate more robust intelligence about their affinities for brands, their hobbies, topics of interest, and buying behaviors.
2. Think critically about why people like you
It’s important that you know your audience so well that you understand why they follow you in the first place.
Do users like your content because it’s entertaining, inspiring, or educational? Do they turn to you for information as a trusted third-party, or to be amused on their work break? Are they seeking you out because you’re a subject matter expert on a topic they want to learn more about? It’s important that you continue serving the needs of your audience.
For example, if you’re an ecommerce savant like many of Shopify’s Partners, it makes sense for you to share what you know with your audience so they can learn what helped you find success. You can offer additional value by pointing people to affiliate-supported courses, tools, and platforms to help them achieve their own ecommerce goals, and earn you commission on the customers you refer.
Unlike other content creators, affiliate marketers aren’t paid to post. They’re compensated on a performance model, which is both a pro and a con when it comes to monetizing content. If you know what your audience likes about the things you publish, you can capitalize on that knowledge by delivering the content your users expect and want from you, and match them with the offers they’ll buy.
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3. Be intentional about the offers you choose to promote
Using the Google Analytics affinities report to determine the interests of your audience can be very helpful to your marketing efforts. You might find, for example, that a large portion of your audience is interested in photography. You can lean on that knowledge to serve them with affiliate offers like photography workshops, camera gear, accessories, photo presets, and editing software.
If you’re part of an affiliate network, you’ll constantly be asked to run new offers, test new products, or try new services. Businesses will turn to you as an access point to the customers they want to reach. And if you have a sizable audience that’s engaged with what you have to say, they’ll be banging down your door to have you promote their product.
It’s on you to be selective about the offers you choose to share with your audience. You built your following, and it wasn’t free or easy, so you need to protect it. They are your product and the key to the longevity of your affiliate marketing business. And they will quickly unfollow you if you promote things they aren’t interested in.
All too often, affiliates choose to promote brands or products for the wrong reasons. Just do a Google search for “the best affiliate offers” and you’ll find thousands of posts boasting payout rates, click through rates, conversion rates, and earnings per click. It’s a huge mistake to get swept away by shiny metrics. Don’t be tempted by a high payout if it’s going to alienate your followers and break their trust in your authenticity.
"Don’t be tempted by a high payout if it’s going to alienate your followers and break their trust in your authenticity."
How to be deliberate about choosing offers
Now that you’ve collected data and acquired information about your audience, it’s time to put that knowledge to good use. Lean on your learnings to make informed decisions about your audience and the offers they’ll love. Take the collection of information you’ve learned, and apply it to choosing the offers that address your audience’s pain points and add value to their life.
Based on the learnings you gathered from analyzing your audience data, identify the top five or ten products and services you know they’ll want. Ask yourself these questions:
- What does my audience do with their time?
- What brands do they shop with?
- What are their hobbies and interests?
- What do they wear?
- What do they eat?
- What do they do for work?
- Where do they shop?
- What challenges do they have?
- What motivates them?
Some of that information will become clear to you from your website, newsletter, and social channel analytics, but some of it will have to be inferred based on the data you’ve acquired.
4. Get approved for the offers you want to share
Now that you know who your audience is, you can seek out the products that will be most valuable to them. It’s important that you’re selective about what you promote, ensuring it’s always aligned with your audience. Lead with strong content, and follow with a product that solves a problem or adds value. Develop an affiliate partnership with the brands selling the products your audience will benefit from.
Once you've identified which brands are the best fit, you can use your deep understanding of your audience to pitch brands you would like to partner with. A great way to do this is to be upfront about who your audience is.
Remember: brands are looking to you to tap into their target customer. That’s the very purpose of an affiliate relationship. If you have influence over the customers an advertiser is trying to reach, you’re in a great position to develop a strong affiliate partnership. So go the extra mile and tell the advertiser how your interests are aligned, and how you both stand to gain by developing a partnership.
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The majority of affiliates treat offers like transactions, and it’s quite frankly one of the key reasons the affiliate industry is susceptible to criticism. You can avoid the pitfalls of transactional affiliate marketing by being an audience-first affiliate. Show this to the advertisers you want to work with by telling them more about your audience’s behaviors, interests, demographics, and brand affinities. Use your deep understanding of your audience to show that they will connect with the advertiser’s product. Show advertisers that your loyal following sees you as credible, meaning your recommendations will be trusted.
Demonstrate how advertisers will benefit from working with you, and you won’t only gain access to their offers—you’ll be top of mind when they have exclusive opportunities like special products, one-on-one coaching, or higher pay rates and better converting offers.
"Demonstrate how advertisers will benefit from working with you, and you won’t only gain access to their offers—you’ll be top of mind when they have exclusive opportunities like special products, one-on-one coaching, or higher pay rates and better converting offers."
Once you’ve been approved for an advertiser’s affiliate program, invest time to understand all there is to know about the product before promoting it. Taking the time to do so will not only signal to the advertiser that you’re serious about the partnership, but will also allow you to better position the product for more conversions.
Gather details like who the target buyer is, what problems the product solves, what previous customers have said about it, how it’s different from competitors, and the value propositions that will be most compelling to your audience. These are the factors you will want to highlight to your audience.
Grow a sustainable affiliate marketing business
You’ve built an engaged audience, you’ve examined your data to learn about them, and you’ve made a list of the products and services you can offer. You’ve done a huge amount of work to get to this point, and your audience has become your greatest asset. They’re the key to earning sustainable affiliate revenue for the long-haul, so continue this momentum by consistently delivering valuable content, paired with the offers your audience will really want.
What do you do to ensure your affiliate content connects with your audience? Tell us in the comments below!