Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest and most scalable ways to make money online. Rather than spending your own time and money creating a product or service to sell, you promote the products and services of others and receive a commission every time someone buys something after clicking through to their site via your link.
Many online retailers offer affiliate programs (Amazon Associates is one of the biggest and most well-known). It’s also possible to register with an affiliate program like Commission Junction, ShareASale and ClickBank, all of which offer a huge variety of physical and digital products and services from hundreds of different companies, all in one place.
Signing up as an affiliate with one of these programs is quick and easy. You just need to set up a website (or use your existing website), register with the affiliate programs of your choice and link to products using the code provided and you’ll get your commission automatically.
Sounds like a great way of making money right? And it can be – there are thousands of people making a living as full-time affiliate marketers, some of whom are earning tens of thousands of dollars every month.
To get started, all you need is a website. In theory, pretty much any website will do – a free blog will earn just the same commission as a self-hosted site with a bespoke design. But if you’re serious about making money with affiliate marketing, a self-hosted WordPress blog is the superior, some would say only, choice.
So what is it about WordPress that makes it such a great choice for affiliate sites?
Starting up as an affiliate marketer on a free blogging platform can seem like an attractive prospect. After all, you’re not investing any of your own money into hosting or buying a domain, so you can maximize your profits, Right?
While there’s nothing stopping you from setting up an affiliate site on a free blogging platform, I would highly discourage you from doing so for a couple of important reasons.
Firstly, when you build a site on a free host, you’re effectively renting rather than owning. This means that you have no real control over your site (and your income). In other words, it could be there one day and gone the next. Blogger has become particularly notorious of late for taking blogs down suddenly, without warning and they seem to prey mainly on affiliate sites.
Another important consideration is that some free blogging platforms, such as WordPress.com discourage you from using affiliate links on your site. Don’t waste your time setting up an affiliate site, only to have it removed because you’re breaking the terms and conditions of the publishing platform.
Some hosts will give you warning and a chance to back up your site before they take it down but it’s more likely that they’ll just remove it without giving you time to move your content elsewhere, or charge you a hefty fee to restore it – you have been warned!
Some free blogging sites even skim for affiliate links and replace them with their own links. It’s important to remember that most “free” services on the internet have an ulterior motive. They’re probably making money from somewhere and in this case, it could well be from your site.
Because of the issues I’ve discussed above, many companies that offer affiliate schemes may even reject you as an affiliate if you’re using a free hosted blog. It’s just not worth the risk.
While free sites may seem attractive at first, they’re almost always a false economy. There are some great deals to be had on hosting these days, so there’s really no excuse to default to free sites, especially when you’re relying on them for your income.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is vitally important for affiliate sites. If nobody visits your site, you won’t make any money so maximizing traffic is key. In an ideal situation, you want to make sure that if someone searches for the product or service you’re linking to, your affiliate site comes up as one of the first few results.
WordPress is fairly optimized right out of the box, but there are also a handful of plugins like the All in One SEO Pack and Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin that do a great job of making your WordPress site search engine friendly. Beginners can install these plugins with their default settings and start reaping the benefits immediately and more advanced users can tweak them as required.
Some people have also observed that WordPress sites seem to be favored slightly by google over static sites and those on other blogging platforms. While the jury on this is still out, and different types of site go in and out of fashion as new algorithm updates are rolled out, it makes sense that Google would give preference to the platform of choice for big and authoritative sites.
As WordPress is now the world’s biggest blogging platform, it makes sense to go with the crowd and enjoy any extra SEO boost that this may give you.
WordPress Themes Optimized for Affiliates
One of the most useful things aspects of using WordPress as a content management system is the huge selection of themes available to personalize your site. Rather than hiring a designer to create a bespoke design, it’s easy to create a site that looks beautiful and unique by choosing a free or premium theme and editing the colors fonts and images to customize it.
When it comes to affiliate sites, design is important. By optimizing the design of your site for a higher click-through rate, you can maximize your income. Some of the design aspects that can make a difference to click-through rate are link color and position and size of banner advertisements.
While you can (and should) experiment with this to see what provides you with the best click-through rate, there are several themes available that have been designed for affiliate sites and have been tested and proven to nudge site visitors into making that click.
Some themes are also designed to work with specific affiliate programs, like this WP Affiliate Store theme, designed for use with Amazon. These themes have extra tools included in the dashboard that make it easy to search for products, create thumbnails, display prices, and insert the affiliate link from within WordPress. This can really speed up your work flow and make it easier for you to create sites.
If you’re looking for an online store style affiliate WordPress theme, check out Affiliate Theme or Affiliate Board.
WordPress Affiliate Plugins
As well as optimized themes, there are many plugins available for affiliate marketers to help speed up the insertion of products, cloak links and a whole host of other handy features. Some of the best ones are:
- Amazon Affiliate Link Localizer – changes Amazon links to point to the visitor’s local Amazon store (.com, .co.uk, .de etc.) and inserts your applicable affiliate ID for each country.
- Amazon Auto Links – Auto-generates links of newly released products on Amazon, complete with your affiliate ID.
- ThirstyAffiliates – Cloak and manage all your affiliate links centrally from within the WordPress dashboard
- Skimlinks – Automatically convert product links to affiliate links, on the fly.
WordPress is Not Just for Affiliate Marketers
If you’ve researched into affiliate marketing previously, you may have come across software for building affiliate sites that claims to be superior to WordPress and other platforms in terms of optimized click-through rate and SEO. This type of solution may sound tempting, however, it’s best avoided.
WordPress is of course used for many different kinds of sites, not just affiliate sites. This is great as it means you’re not leaving a footprint as being a pure affiliate site and are less likely to come under the wrath of Google.
In 2008 software called Build a Niche Store (BANS) became very popular for creating affiliate sites linking to products on eBay. As the search engine result pages became cluttered with spammy affiliate sites all using the same template, Google declared all-out war. As they all used the same code, it was very easy to find all the sites and de-index them.
If you’re using such software, it's highly likely that the same thing will happen again. If you don’t mind taking the “churn and burn” approach then use these site builders at your own risk, but if you’re looking for a sustainable business model, don’t be tempted to go down this route.
If you’ve been considering using a free blogging platform or another site builder to create an affiliate site, I hope this article has caused you to reconsider. WordPress is the platform of choice for many high-earning affiliates for good reason.
If you’d like to learn more about this way of making money online, there are many great sites, forums and books to hold your hand through the process and make it easier for you to get started. Have a look at Affilorama, Matthew Woodward’s blog, or the ShareASale blog for some great ideas and tips for beginners
There are also many great themes and plugins for affiliate sites not mentioned here - feel free to recommend your favorites in the comments.