10 Tips for Maximizing Affiliate Income (Without Losing Your Soul)

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Last week I addressed the Fashionista article which claimed that some personal style bloggers would earn up to $50,000 a month in affiliate commissions via RewardStyle. Then I countered with my own average affiliate earnings of about $3,700 a month. Needless to say, I'm not here to tell you exactly how you too can earn $50,000/month in affiliate commissions, but I CAN tell you how I've been successful with affiliate linking and give you some ideas on what might work for you.

First, though, I have to qualify everything by saying that I AM NOT AN EXPERT in affiliate marketing and I am not trying to be. There are lots of those out there if you want to get hardcore into it, they usually run online shopping malls and coupon database sites and are more than willing to sell you ebooks with their affiliate marketing tips for just $5.99!! I am just a “pro” blogger who has made a significant portion of my full-time blogging income from affiliate commissions over the last (almost) 10 years.

Several years ago, I misguidedly went through a lot of analysis, trying to pinpoint successes and come up with some sort of formula, like: “if I post this link, I'll make this much $” or “if I buy this and wear it, I'll make this much $ in commission.” It doesn't work.

First, it's impossible to tell via affiliate programs the exact item your reader bought – you can only see what link they clicked on. I try to estimate based on commission if they purchased the item they clicked on, and most of the time they DID NOT, or maybe they did, and added something else.

And besides “analysis paralysis,” this sort of over-thinking to maximize affiliate commissions takes all the fun out of blogging – and misses the point altogether. I'm first and foremost a SHOPPING blogger (think Lucky, not Vogue) with a passion for specific designers/aesthetics, and the thrill of the hunt. If I'm trying to boil everything down to a formula, I'll lose what makes my readers trust and appreciate my voice in the first place. Which will ultimately decrease the amount of money I earn because without my readers and our relationship, I have nothing.

If you're one of the millionaire bloggers though, perhaps it IS all about the number of affiliate links you have out there, choosing the right one at the right time, and having loads of traffic to your blog; a million page impressions a day or month will inevitably lead to higher earnings. My niche is quite focused and my audience rather small comparatively speaking (more like 65-70,000 page impressions a month), so what works for me is simply focusing on my own personal style, buying and featuring things I love, and recommending them to my readers.

My niche is quite focused and my audience rather small comparatively speaking (more like 65-70,000 page impressions a month), so what works for me is simply focusing on my own personal style, buying and featuring things I love, and recommending them to my readers.

99% of what I wear in outfit posts, I buy myself. And while I don't buy/wear items only because I can earn a commission on them when a readers buys via my link, I can't say it's not a factor sometimes as I'm deciding between pieces to invest in. Anyway, most of the pieces/designers I buy are associated with affiliate programs and of course I link them up if they are. If they're not, I link directly to where to buy them, or don't link them at all if they're not available anymore – I never link “similar” items, and don't generally recommend it. And maybe I'll link something to Revolve even though I bought it at Nordstrom because I earn more from Revolve (for example).

It IS important to pay attention to the links your readers click on most often over a period of time and continue focusing on those. More clicks may not always translate into more commission, but the clicks are what tell you the content, and specifically which items are resonating MOST with your readers. Over time, that will generally lead to more sales and commissions for you.

When posting your affiliate links, keep in mind:

  • ONLY link to items you would or could buy with your own money
  • Establish trust with your readers
  • Be genuine and personal, there is no substitute for your own voice
  • Tell a story: Your readers want the story behind the things you wear/buy, not just a regurgitation of items you're wearing and links
  • Create a relationship with your readers; engage with them personally as often as possible
  • Don't link to things you wouldn't spend your own money on
  • Live your passion – make it evident to your readers whenever you post
  • Narrow down your niche
  • Be honest and open about how you make money on your blog. Let your readers know what happens when they click on an affiliate link. If they trust you and want to support you, they'll be happy to do it by buying through your links
  • If you wouldn't link to or talk about a product for FREE, do NOT link to it or talk about it JUST because you'll earn 10% when a readers buys it.
    Just don't.
  • NEVER link to anything you wouldn't spend your own money on

Did I say enough times how important it is to maintain trust with your readers and only link to items you would be willing to (and CAN) spend your own money on? If you're a college student on a strict budget and wear mostly H&M and thrifted pieces, DO NOT link to “similar” more expensive items at Shopbop or Saks hoping to earn something off your readers. They're probably in the same situation you are; they can't afford the more expensive items, and anyway they'll start to see through what you're doing quickly and stop reading.

Ultimately, the key to making money blogging is that you have a trusting relationship with your readers.

THAT IS IT.

There is no secret formula to success or five things you can do to earn $10,000 a month via your blog (that won't compromise your integrity), it is just hard work, living your passion, and engaging with your readers. Once you have a vibrant community of readers surrounding your blog, the money will come.

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27 Responses

  1. Ashley "Ashe" Robison

    I really love and appreciate how candid you’ve been in your last few posts, Grechen. You know how much I appreciate and respect you, and how so many things you’ve said over the years have resonated with me (aka “Just shut up, keep your head down, and blog.”).

    It’s refreshing to see someone who has made blogging a real profession share HOW they’re doing it, where they won’t compromise, and be honest about the income they can generate.

    This post is great because I know I’m guilty of NOT doing a few of these – sometimes I may share something I wouldn’t buy, but maybe it’s similar to something I would buy, or is fulfilling a reader request (aka, I want a non-black cocktail dress. Well, I may not buy this one, but you may love it, and it’s got great qualities!). I think, in those, still remains the thread of honesty – “I know it’s not my style, but I’m hoping to help YOU find the piece that’s perfect for YOU. So I have to stretch outside my own comfort zone.”

    Again, it all goes back to honesty, trust, and being sure that you’re projecting that above any affiliate earnings.

    Reply
    • Grechen Reiter

      it’s also about striking a balance between what you yourself would buy and what your readers would buy. most of the time it’s the same, but if you’re paying attention, you’ll know what kinds of things you can talk about/feature/link to that your READERS may appreciate & buy but you might not…

      again, if you are genuine, honest and have PROVEN that you’re trustworthy, there won’t be any question of your integrity when you post affiliate links.

      Reply
      • Ashley Robison

        “it’s also about striking a balance between what you yourself would buy and what your readers would buy. ”

        Yep! I know that my style may be too bright, too colorful, too patterned for some of my readers. (I’ve seen it on Reddit, therefore it must be true.) But if I can say, “Here’s a less colorful version of my top, or a more neutral version of my skirt” then I’m acknowledging “the way I style it may not work for you, but here’s how what you like about it CAN work for you.”

    • MarieDenee

      I echo the same sentiments here… I have been sharing almost every single post lately! It is quite helpful to the newbies and a great checkpoint for the older ones! Great job Grechen!

      Reply
  2. The Glamorous Housewife

    I use the “similar here” if the product I am linking to is actually quite similar. But if there is nothing like it on the market, I don’t bother to link that item.

    Thanks doll,
    The Glamorous Housewife

    Reply
    • Ashley Robison

      Yes! I am totally with you — if say, I have a dress but the pattern is sold out, but there is a similar style, I’ll link to it and say, “Mine is sold out, but they have a pretty chambray version and a lovely olive one!” But if there’s nothing similar… then it’s just teasing. If someone asks for a similar one and I haven’t linked, I’m always happy to help find one…

      Reply
  3. Noemi

    I usually link every items I write about on my blog, even if I’m not paid for this. I do it because when I see something on someone else’s blog and there’s no link I feel quite upset because I must look for it on my own. Am I doing wrong?

    Reply
  4. Alice Grey

    I’d be really interested to try affiliate marketing, but don’t always know the items in the outfits I’m posting. I’ve tried sites like http://www.shopstyle.com and http://www.createfab.com which can help, but probably I need to start posting more of my own custom outfits. 🙂

    I also like really bold colors so I’m not sure if my readers will wear the actual outfits ideas as-is. It probably needs to be toned-down a little.

    Love the article! I agree with only posting items that I’d buy myself …

    Reply
  5. Scott Purcell

    I think the key is to only link to things you’d buy yourself. Otherwise your heart really isn’t in it and people can always tell. You are always more passionate and genuine writing about something you care about or want.

    http://manofmany.com

    Reply
  6. Ashley Taylor

    I disagree completely with not linking “similar” items. The whole point behind linking the items is to help your readers recreate your look. “Similar” items DO help them do that. Also, why would you not link the item to where you got it from? Linking it to somewhere else, just because you’ll get the credit from the affiliate link, I feel, is being dishonest to your readers… something you’ve preached about here.

    This is in no way an attack! Just a polite disagreement. 🙂

    xo Ashley
    thetiniestfirecracker.com

    Reply
    • Grechen Reiter

      thanks for your comment ashley – let me explain:

      if an item i bought is available online, i link it to where i bought it, or to where i get a slightly higher percentage commission – that’s part of maximizing affiliate income. not disingenuous at all, IMO, i link all the time to somewhere else if it’s on sale, or there’s a code, and my readers can get it for cheaper. i could go on, but there are all sorts of reasons you might want to link to an item somewhere else other than where you got it. sometimes i tell my readers everywhere they can get an item – which includes 4-5 places. i don’t see that as being dishonest at all, just giving them all the options.

      similar items are a bit different, and again, i said i don’t recommend it, because a lot of readers have problems with the idea that bloggers link to similar items INSTEAD of the item they are actually wearing because the item they’re wearing comes from H&M or ZARA where they can’t link up and get a commission. or they link to items that are more expensive.

      and just because i don’t do it, doesn’t mean no one should do it 🙂 – i’m not proclaiming to know all the answers or all the “right” ways to do things, just giving my insights!

      Reply
  7. Wayne

    OK,

    I should move over to blogging about fashion!

    $3700 / month on 65000 page views? Or, maybe I should hire you to manage my affiliate program?

    OK, to what is more important, at least for now, how do you generate new readers? Is all of your traffic driven by search engines? Or, did you build with more traditional blogging methods.

    The reason I ask, is simple. I was growing my blog at over 100% per month, without the problems I was having, on target for 300% per month. I do blog well sometimes. And then wordpress changed up their algorithms, and I plummeted, still not doing badly for a blogger, but I would have been close to 100k per month by now.

    Any good ideas? Or, should I move to fashion?

    Thank you,

    Wayne

    Luvsiesous.com and several others.

    Reply
    • Casey

      HI Wayne,

      Do you have any good tips for getting new readers? I am a new blogger and this part of the blogging I have not gotten the hang of at all yet!

      Reply
  8. Amanda Risius

    I’m curious about how to get linked to an affiliate account? Do you apply or do they usually seek you out? How many views do you need before they consider you?

    hammerandheels.blogspot.om

    Reply
  9. Cyndi Spivey

    This was such good information!! I’m just starting to link to my outfits and I’m trying to make sure I do it correctly.
    Thanks,
    cyndi

    Reply
  10. Morgann

    I think the message that being authentic as a voice is the bottom line. all these articles…how to drive affiliate volume, increase readership, engage readers…it’s the key to success in blogging. There are of course other factors, but people started reading (& buying from your blog) because of you. Your style, voice, wit, whatever.
    I wear a ton of CAbi on my blog, which I can’t make commission on, & it cant really be purchased online. I always link to those items though . Ill often do a “similar” item as well because I think many readers like to buy online. Plus, with a 30- or 60- day cookie, if your reader links to something similar (& doesn’t buy), then actually does buy from that website later you can earn a commission on that future purchase.
    I do love the idea of being transparent with your readers and letting them know exactly how you monetize your blog. The sneaky bloggers bug the hell out of me. We all know how it works, why hide it?
    As usual, great article Gretchen!
    xoM
    http://www.glitterinthegrey.com

    Reply
  11. Jacqueline Jax

    My newest venture has me collaborating my fashion posts with hot spots around town. I love the mix since I’m always out trying new spots and of coarse wearing my designs. The two just organically went together so when my director of marketing suggested the idea, I went for it. Now we have a dedicated section for it and lost of places have embraced the blog as sponsors. http://www.blondibeach.com come check out the City Spot posts to see what I mean. Xoxo, Jax

    Reply
  12. jessica grant

    Same old same old: be genuine, work hard, and money comes. Lies.

    Be tall, thin, blonde, pretty and money will come. That’s the formula that sells stuff.

    Reply
  13. Kaisha

    Simply put. I get it! I get really excited when others read or tune into my blog, but in the end if it is just me reading it, I’ll still be happy because it is me being me and finally showing me to the world, which is not easy…(I commend those who have been doing it for a long time or at all). I have had friends tell me that they have seen my blog and ‘love it’ and to ‘keep up the good work’ and that motivates me to continue to pursue my passions and share it with the world. Year One down – Year Two…we’ll see. I have to say that I’m glad that I found this forum/group, IFB – now, I could only go up from here.

    Reply
  14. Zintle

    Thius post was really helpful and honest. I just recently started a blog thinking about all the money I could make but now I realised I wasn’t being realistic and fair to my readers.

    Reply