Affiliate linking is one of the most reliable ways to generate revenue from a blog or a popular website, and it remains a popular monetization strategy because of that. However, affiliate linking is far from perfect, and if you’re not careful, you could end up losing money because of poor affiliate linking practices – even if you were incredibly profitable initially.
The good news is, you don’t have to give up affiliate linking entirely, nor do you have to dump money into an alternative strategy. Instead, you just have to plan carefully and mitigate the risks of affiliate linking.
What Are Affiliate Links?
Let’s cover the basics of affiliate links, in case you aren’t familiar. Essentially, in an affiliate linking strategy, you’re serving as a marketer or advertiser of a specific product. You’ll include a link to that product, usually accompanied by a short pitch, in the hopes that whoever clicks that link will eventually buy that product.
Through an affiliate program, you will have a distinctive signature link that tracks all the traffic your site has specifically generated.
Then, you’ll earn a fixed amount of income for each sale that you generate. For example, let’s say you’re forwarding traffic to a product page that’s selling a $50 product. You might earn a $2 commission for every sale you generate, so if 10,000 of your followers end up buying that product, you could make $20,000.
Why Affiliate Links Are Valuable
Affiliate links are highly prized because they’re simple and easy to set up. They’re completely accessible for a wide range of different content creators, regardless of how many followers you have or how much experience you have.
Major players like Amazon have very intuitive affiliate link programs that require no startup costs and no initial training, so even amateur bloggers can get involved.
On top of that, the affiliate links have the potential to scale incredibly well. As your blog grows, and as you start reaching more and more people, your revenue is going to multiply almost automatically, even if you don’t change your primary affiliate link strategy.
The Risks Associated With Affiliate Linking
So what are the problems with affiliate linking? If affiliate linking is so great, what is possibly wrong with it?
These are some of the biggest risks you’re going to need to address:
- Product dependency. remember that much of your strategy is going to revolve around one or a series of products. If those products change, if they drop in quality, if they’re completely removed, or if something else happens to them, your entire strategy could disappear overnight. If the product is low quality, or if users aren’t happy with it, it could reflect poorly on your reputation. And if you’ve built a brand around recommending a specific product and it is no longer available, you’re going to have to deal with those losses.
- External platform dependency. Don’t forget that the affiliate link approach requires you to form a partnership with some external platform, over which you have very little control. If you’re working with a major player, you probably won’t have room to negotiate commissions, nor will you have any say in how the affiliate links are created or tracked. For the most part, this isn’t a huge deal, but if you’re forced to compromise your values, or if the external platform doesn’t give you everything you need, it could result in major problems.
- Terms and conditions. Some affiliate link providers will only pay you a Commission if you comply perfectly with their terms and conditions. Oftentimes, these terms and conditions are reasonable, easy to understand, and even easier to follow. But you may run into fringe cases where normal blogging and web management behavior trigger a violation of terms and conditions. In other words, a single mistake could cost you your entire affiliate marketing account, and your affiliate partner can drop you without attempting any kind of resolution.
- Commission reduction. Because you’re completely at the mercy of your external affiliate partners, you may also suffer from a commission reduction. A business that isn’t turning a profit from its affiliate marketing company may reduce commissions so that it can continue operating as profitably as it’d like. A business that has gotten very popular can afford to anger some of its older affiliate marketers because it has plenty of newcomers willing to accept the lower commissions. In any case, you can’t count on the commission rate remaining the same.
- Conflicts and termination. There are many conflicts that can arise throughout an affiliate marketing relationship. You may take issue with the fact that the product name changes or that the quality of products has dropped since you started becoming an affiliate. They may take issue with the changing nature of your blog or with some of your personal decisions in managing it. These conflicts can quickly escalate if one or both parties are unwilling to compromise. The end result is that you could lose your affiliate linking strategy entirely or that you may end up in an unpleasant position.
- Reputation dependencies. If your reputation ever declines or is called into question, you could lose all of your affiliate links and all your future revenue from them. If your blog delves into territory that is considered inappropriate or if it falls out of alignment with the brand values of your affiliate partner, they could drop you without warning. Obviously, if your reputation is totally trashed, you could lose your traffic and your entire brand as well, but the point is your affiliate marketing partnership is less likely to be salvageable.
- Traffic volume needs. Don’t forget that the best way to make money with affiliate links is to have a sufficient amount of traffic supporting those links. Individual commissions don’t amount to much; it’s only when you have many of those commissions streaming in regularly that they become substantial enough to support you. If your traffic goes in-transit decline, or if affiliate linking becomes your only source of income, you might end up struggling to stay afloat.
Mitigating the Risks of Affiliate Linking
So what steps can you take to mitigate the risks associated with affiliate linking?
- Diversify your affiliate linking. For starters, diversify your affiliate linking as much as possible. That means working with multiple different companies with multiple different affiliate linking programs. It also means linking to a variety of different products. That’s going to require a bit more upfront work on your end, so you can become familiar with these different products and different brands, but it’s worth the investment.
- Establish multiple domains. It may also be a good idea to establish multiple domains and multiple blogs. You can share an audience between them and use them for different purposes. This way, if there’s ever a reputational issue associated with one domain, or if you run into traffic problems with one domain, you’ll have plenty of other domains to fall back on.
- Diversify your income sources. Monetize your blog in more than one way. There are many strategies to generate revenue from blog traffic, such as advertising, selling courses, offering subscriptions for premium content (like a video series), and more. If you make money in multiple ways, no single incident can bankrupt you.
- Be prepared with backup options. Always have a backup plan if your primary affiliate linking strategy fails in any way. How do you plan to recover?
Affiliate linking certainly isn’t a bad strategy. In fact, it’s one of the easiest and most straightforward ways to make money if your blog is already generating traffic.
However, if you want to get the most out of this strategy and establish a stream of income that is both consistent and reliable, you can’t take affiliate linking for granted.
Follow these strategies to mitigate the risks of affiliate linking and maximize your potential return.
Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska; Pexels; Thank you
Chief Revenue Officer
Timothy Carter is the Chief Revenue Officer of the Seattle digital marketing agency SEO.co, DEV.co & PPC.co. He has spent more than 20 years in the world of SEO and digital marketing leading, building and scaling sales operations, helping companies increase revenue efficiency and drive growth from websites and sales teams. When he’s not working, Tim enjoys playing a few rounds of disc golf, running, and spending time with his wife and family on the beach — preferably in Hawaii with a cup of Kona coffee. Follow him on Twitter @TimothyCarter