A quick note before we begin: I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of months now and I’ve re-written it several times. I tried to shorten it, so as not to bore the more advanced readers, however I decided in the end, to leave it at the original length – so everybody can benefit, regardless of your level of experience in affiliate marketing/seo etc. Generally, I write posts with just the “what you need to do” aspect in mind. For this guide though, I have included a lot of background information, because you will all need to do your own thing and by giving key bits of knowledge, I hope to give everybody what they need to make their own informed decisions and most of all make as much money as possible! With that in mind, enjoy part 1….
This is a commitment
Affiliate marketing is a huge area with a lot of players in it, as well as “super affiliates” who spend vast amounts of money on pay per click models to drive traffic to their sites. My personal approach with web projects has always been to keep my expenditure low, this keeps profits higher and guarantees that in the worst case scenario where I don’t succeed, my losses are minimal.
In the long-term, affiliate marketing has been my best earner, which is how you have to look at projects like this. If you’re going to make decent money on the web (save a lot of time) you’re going to have to invest time. For those of you who want a quicker route to making about $1,000, check out the guide to making money with a video blog. Lets hammer this home for the skim readers: The strategies outlined in these posts will take a serious investment of time, it is not a get rich quick scheme! Affiliates will provide you with the most stable revenue – but you will have to put the hours in!. If you want to make a living online, affiliates are something you want to get into in a big way. Now that’s clear…
A quick overview of the plan
Okay, so it would be nice to be able to open a massive affiliate store with all manner of popular products and having some good Google rankings, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy – but it is possible. I’m going to give you the bones on how to start building a large network of websites selling affiliate products, which ranks well in Google. I’ve had this post on backburner for a while and it wasn’t until I started writing it I saw just how detailed it was going to have to be to be of any good to you guys, so I’m breaking down into parts. I’m not sure how many parts there will be, I’ll just write the parts in stages, so you can action them, then publish another part in a month or so. Here’s a basic overview on what we’ll be doing:
1) How to find and select a niche
2) Keyword research – how to find gaps in search competitiveness
3) Building niche affiliate sites
4) Interlinking affiliate sites into larger network
5) Production of well ranking “super affiliate” site (that’s fully automated)
I certainly wouldn’t label myself an “expert” on affiliate marketing and there are a lot of other ways you can approach the challenges I’ll be writing about. I found a way that works well for me – using knowledge of search engines to get massive visibility and drive sales and I’d like to share this with you. From what I’ve read on affiliate forums – there’s a lot of other people having a harder time than me!
So lets get started with part 1……….
Sign up to an affiliate network
Choosing an affiliate network, or several affiliate networks is going to be your first step. There is a massive choice of networks about, so it’s worth finding one with a decent amount of merchants and a good interface. I’m not going to get bogged down on this particular area, my favourite affiliate network at the moment is Webgains, but I’ve also used Trade Doubler and Affiliate Window with no problems. The only network I’ve ever had trouble with is Affiliate Future, who have (in my experience at least) been somewhat slow in updating feeds, leaving you to filter out the duds. Outside of affiliate networks, the original is very generous with its payouts, so if you’re thinking of selling anything Amazon stock, I’d definitely sign up there. As I said, I’m not going to go into gory detail about this at the moment because at this stage, it’s not overly important and it is something we will cover again when we come to building our “super affiliate” site.
Finding a niche market
Okay, this bit is important, so don’t rush it. Before you can start breaking into competitive areas you’re going to need to identify niche that fills a few criteria:
1) It has enough monthly searches to produce some sales
2) Not much competition for the core terms
3) It is something you can easily buy over the Internet
4) Preferably – expensive
Here’s a nice one for free: Pregnancy Clothing.
Why choose something like that?
Pregnancy clothing actually as a lot going for it:
- The search term “pregnancy clothing” has a healthy amount of monthly searches
- The top site for “pregnancy clothing” only has ~350 links – not hard to beat at all
- Pregnant mums will spend a lot of time home, on the Internet
- When you’re pregnant (I imagine) you don’t want to huff around the city!
I’ll probably use this as an example throughout this guide, you’re welcome to go for it if you want (although if all of you do, you’ll be competing with each other!), so try and find something else. It only took me about 45 minutes research to find that little gem and there’s a lot more out there! You just need to put the effort in!
At this point, it is worth having a look at a very basic overview of the buying process (apologies to those with qualifications in marketing for this gross simplification).
The Buying Cycle
Okay, this is the basic “process” that most people go through when deciding to make a purchase.
Awareness: This is the awareness of the solution to a problem or the possible fulfilment of a need. So, “I got a bun in the oven and I got really fat and none of my clothes fit anymore”. Is a need. Hopefully our young mother-to-be knows that there are clothes out there for ladies of her figure. If not, at some point when surfing though pregnancy forums or hormonally stumbling through Mothercare, she’ll make this discovery. Awareness is deeply ingrained in our sub-conscious, so if someone says “I need a burger, fast” a lot of people will instantly think “McDonalds”, even if the term “burger” must be taken loosely. It is the awareness of the solution and possible provider, which is connected to our final stage, loyalty. For our current affiliate project, we’ll leave awareness for now.
Research: The bread and butter, the real meat, whatever you want to call it. This is where the Internet comes into its own. No longer must you rely on journalists in magazines or the sales clerks in the store, with the Internet you can hear what actual consumers are saying about products, compare the prices of 50 different outlets and make your own views heard – all while trying to work out how to get Outlook to auto send and receive.
The research part of the cycle is what we are going to be focusing on. We want to draw people in from the search engines, give them everything they need to know about the product they are after, then kick them off to an affiliate so we can make our bucks. It is worthwhile having a look around at some other websites doing similar products and take note of what they provide in terms of item description, price comparison, images, delivery, specifications, advice and reviews. Make a list of this information for later as we will be basing our page design around it. We’ll come back to this later, but the thing to bare in mind is you are aiming to become a key resource for your chosen product or service.
Purchase: So, we’ve summed up all our options got our shortlist and made our final choice. Do I buy? There are a lot of factors that go into this critical purchase decision stage, some are out of your control, some are well within your control. This is the make or break for e-commerce sites. Most of the final decision will rest with the affiliate site you send your customer to, however there is a lot we can do in terms of wording, design and content to “prime” this customer to make the purchase immediately and from your site.
Loyalty: Was your site useful? Was it designed well? Was it easy to find? Was the payment process easy? Again, this final stage is split between your site and the final affiliate site. In the first part of our project, we won’t be too worried about loyalty, because we will be grabbing all our traffic from search engines. Later however, when we build our ultra-automated-mega-all-knowing-all-selling affiliate site, loyalty will be one of our key focuses. Getting people to come back and back and back. $-)
Stop! Keyword Research Time!
I’ll just clear up some jargon before I move on:
Affiliate Network: Middle men so to speak, who put Merchants in touch with Affiliates and sort out all the nitty gritty payment issues and such.
Merchants: These are the actual guys who are selling the product/service. They decide their commission levels and product offerings and join the affiliate network in the hopes that affiliates will join their scheme.
Affiliates: Hey! It’s you! Affiliates are the “end sellers” who build and optimise their own sites and advertise merchant’s websites and products, in the hope of passing them a sale to earn commission.
Now that’s cleared up, you should be logged into your chosen affiliate network and browsing the list of merchants for inspiration. Most affiliate networks have them ordered in categories, so for your own sake pick something you have an interest in.
A typical merchant directory
A quick and easy way to decide whether a product is worth going after is to perform a little bit of keyword research. Have a think about a couple of main keyterms you would chase and run them through some keyword research tools.
This is a full list and brief summary of the keyword research tools I use:
Google based tools:
Google Keyword Tool
Provided free by Google AdWords. Shows basic search volumes and related terms.
As you type, Google will offer suggestions. Good related keyword search.
Provides useful insights into broad search patterns across the world.
Weekly Google Search patterns and trends.
SEO Book Google Suggest Scrapper Tool
Scrapes Keyword Suggestions from Google Suggest.
Yahoo! based tools:
Overture/Yahoo! Keyword Suggestion Tool
Official Overture Keyword Selector Tool.
Statistics of Top Searched Terms on Yahoo! by Category.
Overture SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool
Scrapes the Overture Suggestion Tool but includes much more useful information. You can also target by country.
DigitalPoint Keyword Suggestion Tool
Used Suggestion Tool and Wordtracker and compares the two results.
MSN based tools:
MS AdLabs Search Funnels
You can use the adCenter search funnel tool to help you visualize how people search by entering related keywords in certain sequences and analyze these search behaviours.
Other keyword research tools:
Trellian Free Keyword Discovery
Another good, free keyword tool. Also offers advanced features on subscription.
Free wordtracker Keyword Suggestion Tool
generates up to 100 free, related keywords and an estimate of their daily search volume.
Keyword Suggestions by CheckRankings.com
Shows number of searches, competitors and competing AdWords in Google. Also provides a free ranking monitoring tool.
Lycos Top 50
Top 50 keyword list from Lycos.
A 3 in 1 keyword suggestion tool: keyword discovery, overture and wordtracker.
Find exactly which competitors there are in your niche.
GoLexa Search Tool
The Search Tool with Complete Page Analysis for each Result and much more.
By Google AdWords Expert.
Related Keywords Lookup Tool by goRank.com.
It’s worth having a peak at most of those tools. Which tools I’m using will depend on if I think I’ll be targeting a specific country or if I want to check results for a specific search engine. Generally you’ll want to use 3 or 4 as a comparison, such as the Google Traffic Estimator, Overture and Keyword Discovery. You’ll find a lot of tools give a rather large variance in search frequency, so the best thing to do is enter a keyword that you know how many searches there are and how much traffic this delivers and just math it out.
So for example if overture says “pregnancy clothing” has 2,000 searches a month and Google says it’s 6,000 I’ll enter a keyword I know, and say okay this keyword I know gives me 10,000 visitors a month and Yahoo says there are 20,000 searches a month. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume “pregnancy clothing” will give me 1,000 visitors a month. (I did just make these figures up as an example of how you would work out traffic before anyone e-mails me!)
You can use a lot of common sense here, so don’t waste your time looking under the loans section for instance. We are specifically after low/medium traffic terms So anything between 200-5000 searches per month is perfect. Once you find something in about this range, we need to move onto step 2 of our selection, which is checking how competitive it is.
Finding out how tough those search terms are
The more SEO you do, you’ll develop a good instinct as to what is going to be tough and what is going to be easy. One of my essential tools for having a quick glimpse at the competition is SEO Quake extension for Firefox. If you don’t have this, download it immediately!
Okay, I’m assuming you’ve installed SEO Quake now. Head over to Google and perform a search for your main keyword in the niche you are looking at. SEO Quake tools will be overlaid and provide you with a “Request Parameters” button (circled in green). Click that badboy.
SEO Quake gives you information such as:
- Google PageRank
- Pages indexed in Google
- Links to that page according to Google
- Last cached by Google date
- Pages indexed in Yahoo!
- Links to that page according to Yahoo!
- Links to that domain according to Yahoo!
- Pages indexed in MSN
- Links to that page according to MSN
- Alexa Rank
- Archive.org Age Date
- Server IP
- and some links to whois and info on robots and such
In seconds, you’ve got a great idea of what you’re up against. One of the most important metrics here is the Yahoo! L & LD (links to page and links to domain). Factor this in with how old the domain is (the newer the better) and you’ll get a rough idea at how quickly they are getting new links. If you can find a site with less then 2,000 links to the domain, you could well be onto a winner. If you click on the Yahoo link number, Yahoo will kindly order their incoming links roughly in order of importance. Check through this list just to make sure they don’t have any super-linkers (relevant PR7+ linkers) or that they are part of a much larger network.
Take stock of your new enemy, look through their website and ask yourself some questions: How professional does their site look? Is it updated regularly? Are they supported by any offline promotion? Is their site out of date? Anything you can think of to try and gauge how serious they are. Later, when we go into our aggressive SEO phase we will be deconstructing our competitor’s site, making sure that everything they have going for them, we have going for us – plus a little extra on top of course.
I would like to continue here, however I donâ??t want anybody rushing this research stage, which is one of the most important parts of our project. You should look at doing the following:
- Make a list of half a dozen niche areas
- Investigate all possible search terms related to these niches
- Go a little deeper and use Google Trends to see how they are affected by season and so forth
- Make a list of all the information that you will need to provide your users on your selected product/service
- Research and make notes on your competitors, what features their sites have and how well entrenched they are
In Part II we will be looking at taking this information and how to logically start building your seed niche sites which will be the foundations of your affiliate empire!
What are you waiting for? Scram!