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.
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:
- Complete Site setup.
- Complete social properties setup (FB, Twitter, etc).
- KGR keyword research.
- 10,000 words of optimized content (with images).
- 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.
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:
- Your writers are forced to become experts on the subject.
- Deep info articles will gain many surprising search terms.
- Dwell-time on pages is a big ranking factor. Investing in valuable, original content will pay off with rankings and traffic.
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 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:
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:
- Check to see how well those products sell on Amazon.
- Research Google search terms to see which sites rank highest in the niche.
- 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.
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.
- Order from a specialist service like HumanProofDesigns.
- 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
Then set up three blog categories: blog, reviews, lists.
- Blog: write general information articles about the products. Focus on benefits and different uses.
- Reviews: write single product reviews.
- Lists: write mini-reviews with many products. For example, best meat cleavers of 2020.
Don’t invest in links
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.
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:
- Choose a niche
- Build a site
- Become an expert by writing 10-20 information articles