Are you struggling to make money with affiliate links on your blog?
I was too. (Even though this happened.) Let me explain:
I've been a part of the Rewardstyle affiliate program for years, but only started really using it in the summer of 2012. As I mentioned in the post linked above, when I started trying, I started seeing results. Small results for sure, but actual sales! I was thrilled, and felt I was definitely on the path to finally making those blogging bucks.
Then I hit a wall. The payment threshold for many affiliate networks (including Rs and SS) is $100, meaning until you hit that earnings mark, you get nada. Well, even though I had garnered more than $300 worth of commissions between July and December, I had been sitting on $97 for months. Waiting for more sales to close (which they often didn't!) was discouraging.
The payment threshold for many affiliate networks is $100, meaning until you hit that earnings mark, you get nada.
Fresh off my blogging New Year's resolutions, in mid-January I decided to try an experiment. I reopened my ShopSense program account, and started using their affiliate links in my content consistently. (I felt inspired after reading Grace‘s comment on this post.)
Here's what you need to know:
Rewardstyle is a commission-based program. This means you only earn money on sales that close. The commission rates are included with individual item listing (and differ by retailer), so you know exactly how much earning potential there is with each link from each retailer.
ShopSense is a pay-per-click program, meaning you earn a (slightly varying) amount from (quality) clicks on the links you provide. (Read more about that here.) The rate you are paid per click will vary between the retailers, and there's no way to know which ones pay more other than educated guessing from your analytics.
Note: There are lots of affiliate programs out there with different payment structures and different sign-up criteria, including ones outside the United States – so don't limit yourself to only the ones I'm mentioning.
Let's look at the numbers:
Here's where I'm going to be extremely transparent with you guys, and show you exactly what's been happening with my links. Keep in mind that my unique monthly views have been pretty consistent this whole time (around 6,000), so the data is applicable from month to month. First, let's look at November 2012, a month when I was using Rewardstyle links frequently:
The blue represents the clicks, and the pink shows my sales. In 30 days, I had 766 clicks, but only 6 sales, resulting in a commission total of about $49. So, my readers were really interested in what I was wearing or shopping for at the time, but not necessarily motivated to purchase the items for themselves.
Now let's look at my first month using ShopSense links, from mid-January to today:
I know this isn't a lot of money, and my little chart here is pretty inconsistent – but the results are clear and extremely positive. On days I posted links the lines went up, and when I didn't, they went down – simple as that. The same behavior from my readers resulted in dramatically different earnings for me. I hit the $100 threshold in about two weeks and my first check is already on it's way. The second isn't far behind.
What I've learned:
The key to hitting your stride with an affiliate program is to know your audience. Based on my analytics, I know that my readers are very inclined to click on the links I provide, but that hardly ever results in a sale, no matter the price point of the item. This tells me that my readers come to me for inspiration, but that's pretty much it.
What I don't have that some of the bigger bloggers do is the “hero worship” factor. Meaning, the traffic to their site is high enough and their influence is powerful enough to inspire a lot of sales, not just clicks. People want exactly what they have. For these bloggers, commission-based affiliate programs are really smart. (However, Some big blogs like Cupcakes & Cashmere use PPC as well or exclusively!)
I can't say for sure just yet, but I think that a PPC structure is a very smart strategy for us bloggers with small-to-medium followings who are still building up traffic as well as a trust level with our readers. For some, it may also be smart to incorporate a mix of both structures, like PPC for higher-price items less likely to be sold, and commission-based for more budget friendly items.
I'm not done experimenting. Since I am almost completely convinced that pay-per-click is the best strategy for my blog, I want to try a different PPC program – like Beso for a month to compare. Different programs have different payouts, from 10 cents per click up to 90 cents. Can you imagine if I had earned nearly a dollar per click in November? I could have made almost $700…
Any questions? I'm an open book! Share your thoughts, questions and experiences with affiliate programs in the comments!
*This post is not a guarantee of results for anyone, or a guarantee of success using any one particular program. Every individual is responsible for researching and figuring out a strategy or a program that works best for their business.