How Bloggers Make Money, Part 2 : Affiliate Links Explained
In last week’s post, I talked about how bloggers make money from advertising, so this week I’m moving on to another popular method of blog monetization: affiliate links.
What are affiliate links, and how do they work?
In very simple terms, affiliate links are links which, when clicked on, might result in the blogger making some money. Most of the time, this comes in the form of commission from the sale of a product: so, I post a link to a dress, you click on it and buy the dress, I earn a small percentage of the sale. Simples, no?
Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. All affiliate schemes are different, but with many of them there are a couple of additional things to bear in mind:
- You don’t have to buy the exact item the blogger linked to. So if I linked to a dress, and you clicked on that link, but actually ended up buying a pair of jeans from the same site, I still earn a commission.
So, where do you get these affiliate links, then?
As I said, there are various different types of affiliate programmes out there, and a quick Google search for “affiliate scheme” will give you more results than I have green dresses. (I’m kidding: there aren’t THAT many affiliate programmes…) Some brands manage their own affiliate schemes, so you’ll have to log-in to their affiliate website each time you want to create links; other brands simply join existing affiliate marketing programmes like Commission Junction, Affiliate Window, Reward Style and others, so you only have to log into one site, where you can build affiliate links for lots of different brands.
There are tons of affiliate programmes to choose from, and it’s really up to you to decide which one will be the best fit for your blog. For myself, I use…
RewardStyle is one of the most popular affiliate programmes for fashion bloggers, because it has affiliate relationships with a lot of big-name fashion brands, like Net-a-Porter, ASOS, Topshop, etc, so by joining RS, you can create affiliate links for all of those stores. In addition to text links, RewardStyle also allows you to create banner adverts and widgets, all of which have the potential to earn you revenue: for instance, the little product images at the bottom of my last outfit post were generated by RewardStyle, and they’re also one of the few (perhaps the only?) affiliate companies which enable you to monetise Instagram photos with their LIKEtoKNOW.it app.
I’ve been with RewardStyle for over a year now, although I only really started to use it within the last six months or so. So far, I’ve been pretty happy with it: the commission you earn varies depending on the brand you’re linking to, but payments are regular, and most of the brands I wear myself are RS members, so I’ve found it a good fit for me – no pun intended. RewardStyle is an application-only site, however, and they don’t accept every blog: they don’t really publicise what the criteria is for membership, so I have no idea what they’re looking for, but if you write mostly about fashion, they could be worthy trying.
ShopSense uses a different model of affiliate commission, in that you’re paid when someone clicks on your links, rather than when they buy something from a link. I was really excited when I signed up for this programme, because I liked the fact that I’d earn commission regardless of whether or not someone made a purchase from the site I linked to, but I’ve actually been really disappointed in it – to the extent that I rarely use it these days. ShopSense don’t tell you how much you’re being paid for each click, and the reporting system makes it difficult to know which links are profitable, and which aren’t, but in my case, the cost-per-click seems to be so low it’s not really worth it. I’d assumed I’d make more from clicks than from sales, but I trialled both RewardStyle and ShopSense over a period of a few weeks, and discovered that I ALWAYS made more from RS, even although it depends on people actually buying the items I was linking to, so it gets my vote!
With that said, I know there are plenty of bloggers who use ShopSense exclusively, and love it, so my experience could well be the exception: as with RewardStyle, ShopSense has lots of fashion and beauty-related brands (Actually, many of the same ones as RewardStyle!), and the programme also allows you to create banner ads and graphics, so it’s possible that I just wasn’t using it as effectively as I could have!
With both Reward Style and Shop Sense, you have to personally insert each link you want to monetise: with Skimlinks, all of the work is done for you – you simply add a piece of code to your site, and Skimlinks will automatically monetise any links to brands which are part of the Skinlinks programme. I’ve been using Skimlinks for years now, and love it, because there’d literally no work involved at all – once you’ve set it up, you just sit back and let it do the rest. For a long time, I JUST used Skimlinks, and didn’t bother with any other links: these days I’ve also added in RewardStyle, purely because they have relationships with so many of the brands I regularly link to anyway.
As with any method of making money from blogging, there are pros and cons to using affiliate links: here are just a few of them…
The Benefits of using affiliate links to monetise your blog
- You don’t need a huge amount of traffic
It’s certainly true that the more visitors you have, the greater the chance that one (or more) of them will click an affiliate link, but the fact is that you only actually need ONE person to make a purchase through one of your links to make money. If that person buys something that has a high value (or a lot of things at a lower value, even), your commission can be quite substantial, so if you feature products that people can buy, affiliate links can be a good way to monetise even a very small blog.
- It’s unobtrusive
Unlike banner ads, say, affiliate links are totally unobtrusive, and look no different from any of the other links on your blog. That means you don’t have to carve out space in your sidebar for them (although you can if you want to: most affiliate schemes give you the option to use banners as well as text links), and you don’t ruin your layout with ugly ads.
- If you tend to link to products anyway, you may as well earn some money from it.
If you’re a fashion or beauty blogger, then chances are you’re already linking to retail sites, whether it’s the clothes you’re wearing in an outfit post, or a new beauty product you’ve tried. By monetising those links, you’re not actually having to change the way you blog, or make any changes to your layout etc: you can just keep on doing exactly what you’ve been doing, but with the added bonus that you might earn some money from it.
The disadvantages of using affiliate links
- It can take a long time to get paid.
Most of the affiliate schemes I’ve used don’t pay out until the retailer’s returns period has expired: i.e. you won’t get your commission until the store is sure the item isn’t going to be returned. Some schemes also have a payment threshold – I think RewardStyle’s is $100, for example – so, again, you won’t get paid until your commission reaches that threshold. When I first started using RewardStyle, I had to wait around three months for my first payment, because that’s how long it took for most of the commission I’d earned to “clear”. It was quite frustrating to know I was earning money, but to not actually have access to it, but once you get past that initial period when ALL of the sales you’ve made are still within the returns period, the payments do become much more regular.
- Some readers hate them.
I’ll be honest: I don’t really understand why some people hate affiliate links so much: if you find something you really love as a result of a blogger featuring it on their site, it honestly seems quite petty to me to go out of your way to make sure the blogger doesn’t benefit from the referral – especially if it’s a blog you like, or read regularly. Regardless of my opinion, however, some readers really resent the idea that a blogger might make money from their purchases, and will refuse to click on your links because of it: some will even stop reading your blog altogether in order to make sure you don’t earn any money from their clicks. So there’s that.
- It can be time-consuming to insert the links.
One of the reasons I choose to use RewardStyle for my affiliate links is that it’s so much easier than having to log in and out of various different affiliate dashboards in order to build your links. With RS, I have a button on my toolbar which will generate the link for me (And Skimlinks, of course, completely automates the process, so you don’t even have to think about it), but all the same, it still takes a little more time to put a post together if you’re using affiliate links, and that time adds up.
- Some days you don’t earn anything at all.
My income from the advertising I talked about in last week’s post is fairly predictable: I never know EXACTLY how much I’ll earn on any given day, but I generally have at least a rough idea. With affiliate marketing, however, it’s really anybody’s guess: one day I might earn nothing at all, the next day I could earn a decent amount. If it was my ONLY source of income, I’d probably find that a bit alarming: as I said in last week’s post, though, if you’re blogging full time, I think it’s a good idea to have a few different revenue streams, so you’re not too reliant on one source of income.
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Overall, if you’re a blogger who frequently writes about products, affiliate marketing can be a good way to earn some money from your blog, although exactly WHAT you’ll earn is anyone’s guess. I’m fairly skeptical about recent reports of fashion bloggers earning $80,000 a month from Reward Style, for instance, but there’s no doubt that the earning potential is there: as with any other form of small business, however, it all depends on hard work, perseverance, and the willingness to keep experimenting and finding out what works best for you.
Affiliate programmes won’t, however, be a solution for ALL blogs, as they’re really designed for blogs which are based around products. If you have a news blog, say, or a personal blog in which you rarely mention or link to products that your readers can buy, you’ll probably have a hard time making any affiliate income, so if you do want to make money from blogging, it’s worth considering another form of monetisation.