Case study: building a successful affiliate website

Affiliate websites earn money by referring people to products. This works because when people want to buy something, they often research online. Smart affiliate websites rank well for search phrases that potential buyers often use. That brings more traffic to pages — and more potential customers. I built my first successful affiliate site in 2018. This article breaks down the steps. Then it shows the success that followed.

Case study: how to build a successful affiliate website

The purpose of this article is to serve as a case study. New affiliate website builders can use it as a starting point for their own strategy.

Successful affiliate site timeline

The story begins in early 2018. At the time I was working as a remote SEO specialist for an agency. Before that, I had spent several years as a pro content editor. So I had all the skills — but not a grasp of affiliate fundamentals. As a result, I ordered a custom niche site from HumanProofDesigns. It included:

  1. Complete Site setup.
  2. Complete social properties setup (FB, Twitter, etc).
  3. KGR keyword research.
  4. 10,000 words of optimized content (with images).
  5. Borrowed Amazon integration until I could quality for my own.

Six-month sandbox period

Every brand new site enters what SEOs call the “sandbox period”. During this time, Google will not rank the site. Rather, its crawlers will keep an eye on development. That’s because millions of new websites launch, but only a few follow through on development. After six months, Google crawlers have enough data to start ranking a site or ignoring it.

Semrush growth of affiliate website
Growth of my flagship affiliate site since it launched.

From launch, my site took over one year to start ranking. That’s for two reasons. First, the six-month sandbox period. Second, I did very little development. After HumanProofDesigns delivered the site, I made mild edits and added a few new articles. After six months, the site was still dead. For the next six months, I added around 10 articles. After that, it came to life.

Breaking out of the sandbox

In hindsight, there are two keys to ranking well after the 6-month sandbox period. First, show lots of development activity. For example, make improvements on indexed pages and sitewide SEO.

Second, focus on informational articles. My site started ranking because it gained featured snippets.

Instead of reviews, new sites should put most of their effort into info articles. There are many benefits that build a strong foundation for success:

  1. Your writers are forced to become experts on the subject.
  2. Deep info articles will gain many surprising search terms.
  3. Dwell-time on pages is a big ranking factor. Investing in valuable, original content will pay off with rankings and traffic.

Monetization

Once traffic is rolling, you can switch focus to sales. 11 months after launch, I had enough traffic to add Amazon affiliate links. Here’s how Amazon sales looked in year 1:

Amazon affiliate earnings
My first year of Amazon earnings.

Amazon is an easy entry point for new affiliate marketers. The downside is that the commission payouts are small. Two months after adding Amazon links, I added direct links from a manufacturer. These are my direct Year One earnings outside of Amazon:

Non-Amazon affiliate sales numbers
Year one earnings from direct (non-Amazon) affiliate sales.

Year 1 Amazon earnings were $3400. Non-affiliate earnings were $3691. Combined, the total earned was $7091.

Affiliate website starter kit

This kit is based on my experience with my flagship site. I won’t share the URL of that site because of trade secrets. But I can share some basic building ideas.

Choose a niche

This is the hardest part of the process. It has stunned many into years of inaction. Here are some quick things to help narrow down your search. Start with any wild product idea you are interested in selling. Then:

  1. Check to see how well those products sell on Amazon.
  2. Research Google search terms to see which sites rank highest in the niche.
  3. Check Google trends to see the historical interest for your product. search terms to see which sites rank highest in the niche.

Look for industries with room for growth. Hand towels and butcher blocks are examples of niches with slim growth possibilities. Gaming, wellness and technology are examples of industries with big growth potential.

How to choose an affiliate niche in 2020

Assemble skills

To move forward, you need competence in WordPress website setup. More important than design is knowing technical site optimization. You also need strong writing, editing, and WordPress publishing skills. Finally, you need to know enough SEO to make sure your pages are optimized. You also need to know enough SEO to set up an effective internal linking scheme.

Imagine4D does all of the above in-house. If you’re not able to do the same, there are a few options.

  1. Order from a specialist service like HumanProofDesigns.
  2. Plan your own strategy and hire freelancers to execute.

Option #2 is risky. Success requires two things. First, you as the strategist really need to know your stuff. A bad strategy wastes resources for no gain. Second, the people you hire need to follow through. With freelancers, for every reliable talent, you need to go through 10 frauds first. Hiring the wrong people can ruin your project and bankrupt your budget.

Set up a WordPress site

Buy your domain name. Then buy hosting. Siteground is a cheap old favorite. They are mainstream, affordable and reliable. Then get a good theme. Check the best-sellers on Themeforest as a start.

Then set up three blog categories: blog, reviews, lists.

  1. Blog: write general information articles about the products. Focus on benefits and different uses.
  2. Reviews: write single product reviews.
  3. Lists: write mini-reviews with many products. For example, best meat cleavers of 2020.

My growth from a starter site to money-maker did not involve buying backlinks. Google sees links as a reward for a site’s knowledge on a topic. Pumping high authority links at a brand new site looks unnatural. In your first year of development, focus only on content.

Affiliate site consulting

Do you need help with the tech, SEO or content on your affiliate site? We offer consulting services. Send us an email or book an appointment. We often use Skype or Zoom to screenshare with clients all over the world. It’s fast, easy and free.

Contact us for affiliate site consulting support

Conclusion: become a passionate expert

Many get-rich-quick gurus sell affiliate marketing courses with “secrets”. The biggest secret of all is that there are no secrets. When people want to buy a product, they look for information online. If that information contains buying links, the website owner makes money.

If you hire cheap writers, they will rewrite information already on the internet. In 2020, Google’s crawlers are too sophisticated for that to work.

The only solution is to become an expert:

  1. Choose a niche
  2. Build a site
  3. Become an expert by writing 10-20 information articles

About the Author

Anil Ramsey has been a media pro in Asia for 15+ years. He is a former print editor (Japan and Korea), NGO media director (China) and ad agency executive (SE Asia). He currently leads the production of several affiliate and authority websites. In his spare time, he shares what he learns as a part-time consultant.

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