Need extra money for retirement? You’ve probably heard all the popular advice: Spend less, don’t go on vacation, plan on retiring at 75, or working as a housesitter in retirement. None of that is appealing or realistic.
If you want to earn extra money to boost your retirement savings, affiliate marketing could be your best strategy. This simple online business model requires almost no capital, and you can work on it in your spare time.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Maybe you already know how bloggers make money online. They pick a niche topic (e.g. left-handed sports), then start writing blog posts for people interested in that topic. As they build their blog audience, they also sell related products or services from their website (e.g. left-handed sports equipment).
Affiliate marketing fits right into this model, the only difference is the products you’re promoting aren’t yours. You make a relationship with a retailer, and recommend their products on your blog. They get traffic from your site, and you get a cut of their profits. It’s that simple.
Anyone who’s knowledgeable about a niche topic and can attract a blog audience is equipped to start making money this way. Here’s how.
Your Affiliate Marketing Guide
Step 1: Create a blog
This step sounds daunting, but it’s actually the easy part. You don’t need any tech skills to set up your own website and blog, as long as you can follow directions. Check out my step-by-step guide on creating your own site to see how.
All you have to do is sign up for a WordPress blog, purchase a domain address, and start writing posts. The WordPress interface is similar to a word processor. If you can format and write in Microsoft Word, you’ll do just fine.
Your blog can’t be just a general narrative of your life. It needs to cover a very specific niche topic to attract an audience who is willing to spend money on it. My left-handed sports blog example is a good one. If you just started a “sports” blog, you might attract some traffic, but would they feel inclined to take your recommendation for a new set of golf clubs? Probably not. But if you’re known around the web as an expert in left-handed equipment, then yes, they probably would.
Once your blog is setup, you need to start writing about the topic, a lot. It’s easy to find topics to write about on the internet. One way you can do this is by typing one of your keywords (left-handed sports) into Google. Then scroll down to the bottom of the page till you see the “Searches related to” section:
All these suggestions would be a great starting point for a blog on this topic.
I also recommend getting on question and answer sites like Quora to see what people are asking about related to your niche. Position yourself as the ultimate resource for your topic.
Step 2: Choose your affiliate partners
You’re going to want to find affiliates who sell products that fit your audience’s interests exactly. If my left-handed sports blog partners with a business that sells hockey masks, they’re not going to get a lot of clicks. A left-handed hockey player who visits that blog needs a mask for sure, but they care what you have to say about their hockey stick more.
You can use Google to search for affiliate programs related to your niche:
You can also look into big affiliate network programs like cj.com or ShareaSale. As usual, the biggest fish in the affiliate marketing water is Amazon.com. Their program might not look too appealing because their commision rates are really low, but don’t be fooled. If someone clicks on an Amazon affiliate link on your site, you will get commission on anything they purchase in that session. So if you recommend a tennis racket, and the person buys a $900 sound system instead, you’ll get a cut of the profits. When people shop on Amazon, they spend a lot, so it evens out for you.
There are three different major models in this affiliate marketing guide that you might participate in:
- Cost-per-action offers
You can earn money on this kind of affiliate offer when a site visitor completes a certain action, such as signing up for a free trial or filling out an online form. Since no one’s actually making a purchase, it’s easier to get conversions, but your profits are usually lower.
- Per-sale products
This is a simple commission model, where you’re paid a portion of the price of a product your affiliate sells. Commission rates vary widely with this model. Some physical products will have a commission rate of 4 or 5 percent. Virtual products tend to be much higher (50-70%).
- Opt-in programs
In this model, you help an affiliate business find leads, not necessarily customers. Your job is to collect their contact information (email, address, etc.) and get paid for every user who does it.
Whatever affiliate you chose, make sure you read their program guidelines thoroughly. Never pay money to become an affiliate.
Step 3: Set up your affiliate links
Your affiliate will provide you with special links to their products. These links are tracked, so your affiliate knows the traffic came for your site, and they can give you a commission.
Adding affiliate links to your blog requires some finesse. If you spend all your time overtly promoting products (instead of offering the value your audience is looking for), then people are just going to get annoyed.
Add affiliate links only where they’re warranted and useful. For example, say you’re writing a product comparison of two different types of golf clubs. You could include affiliate links for both.
You shouldn’t necessarily add affiliate links every time you mention a specific product. You need to think about your audience’s point in the buying cycle. Say you write a list post of the top left-handed athletes in history and mention that Phil Mickelson preferred Apex CF 16 Irons. Are the people reading that post shopping around for new golf clubs? Probably not, they’re just interested to learn more about left-handed athletes.
Step 4: Attract traffic to your blog
I set this up as step 4 of the affiliate marketing guide, but really attracting traffic to your blog is a continuous task you’ll need to actually earn money from affiliate marketing. There are hundreds of different ways you can promote your blog and attract traffic. Which ones you use will depend where your audience is.
Here are a few popular strategies you can use:
- Social media marketing
Figure out what social platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) your target audience is active on. Start by looking at social media demographics, then test out a few different platforms. Start sharing content that your audience would be interested in (not just your own blog posts). Follow influential niche figures, use hashtags and other strategies to gain reach and attract traffic back to your site.
Your blog articles with affiliate links should be optimized for high purchase intent keywords. You could target exact match product keywords (e.g. women’s left handed golf clubs) but then you’d be competing with Amazon to rank in search results (and you will lose that battle). But there are other high purchase intent keywords that show someone’s about ready to buy, e.g.:
- Compare left handed women’s golf clubs
- Left-handed golf club brands
- Left-handed golf clubs cost
- Email marketing
You should be building an email list as part of your blogging process. You can start this process for free with MailChimp. Include a signup form on your blog and offer incentives for people to sign up (e.g. an ultimate guide or PDF bonus post).
Then you can send out regular newsletters and promote your affiliate blog posts to your existing email audience.
Those are just a few of the many ways you can promote your blog. If you want to focus on affiliate marketing, then target platforms where people are about ready to purchase the products you promote.
That’s your basic affiliate marketing guide, and it’s really all you need to know to get started. Put in the effort to promote your blog, grow your audience, and build trust to make it more and more profitable. By the time you retire, all you’ll need is to write occasionally about a niche topic you love to keep your income flowing.
One thing to consider if you’re interested in affiliate marketing is that you buy an already established affiliate website. The process of working the site is the same but you’re not starting from scratch. Check out our post on How to Buy an Online Business for Retirement Income
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Ian Bond is a private banking senior executive with over three decades of experience in wealth and asset management with Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, and Citigroup. He has built major businesses on four continents.
Despite his professional responsibility for assets over $100B and revenues over $1B, after the 2008 crash Ian was personally going broke. Within five years he destroyed his debt, became an expat in 2014, and built multiple streams of income to fund his imminent retirement. Ian is also the founder of MyRetirementRehab.me created to help other executives and professionals rehabilitate their finances and make a prosperous, enduring retirement a reality.