Affiliate site blueprint: Starting from scratch

Affiliate sitesStarting a new website from scratch is the most difficult aspect of internet marketing. If the site is the online home of a bricks and mortar company you can normally leverage the reputation and contacts of the business as well as a large marketing budget to kick start the process. These luxuries are not usually available when we launch an affiliate site.

Choosing a niche

The golden rule is to choose something that you are passionate about or, at the very least, knowledgeable about. Ideally you should already read some of the blogs in the niche and know the names of the editors. If you try to start from scratch in an industry you know nothing about you will find it hard to build any traction.

Make sure you have browsed the marketplace at sites like Commission Junction and Trade Doubler to see what programs are available and what sort of CPA they pay.

Building the site

Unless you are good with php you probably want to start your affiliate site using WordPress. For the first few months you really don’t want to be worrying too much about monetizing the site – all you are going to be doing is link building. Make sure you have things like unique titles and meta descriptions on your pages and you really can’t go too far wrong with WordPress.

After a few months you might find you need something more flexible so you might be able to move away from WordPress or to have a mixture of normal php pages and WordPress pages on the site.

I would recommend removing date stamps from url’s as they might make visitors think your offers have expired.

Design

To make your affiliate site appear trustworthy you need to have an eye catching logo as well as an appealing design.

If you’re using WordPress then it’s best not to worry about the design for the first few months. Download one of these themes and the site will look stunning right from the outset.

Marketing

Most of the ideas you might have for your affiliate site have probably been done before. Unless something is truly revolutionary it is very unlikely that you will achieve any press coverage. A new website for your local shop might be able to get a mention and a link from some local websites but this won’t happen for your affiliate site so you need to think slightly differently.

Try ideas such as offering awards to various businesses or reviews of products and services. Many companies have press sections on their websites where they link to sites that mention them. You will need to appear very authoritative to pull this off.

Link building

Assuming you have added some useful tools and a blog to your site and chose your niche wisely it should be quite straightforward to launch a linkbaiting campaign. Adding some cool content and tools to the website and promoting them everywhere you can in the first few months will dramatically reduce the time it takes for your site to rank and you will reap the benefits of having a solid, natural link profile.

Initially you will need to gain some PageRank to make sure your new site is indexed. The best way to do this is submit to directories such as Yahoo, Business.com and a few others.

Images

MoneyIf you have chosen a niche full of interesting products you need to use images of the products in your pages and blog posts. The use of images makes your site appear legitimate and encourages buyers. Images also allow you to get lots of traffic and links using Google Images.

It’s much harder to use images to your advantage in niches such as insurance or mortgages so you might need to consider this when deciding.

Adding your affiliate links

Until you add some affiliate links your site probably just looks like a normal WordPress blog. The key thing to remember is that until you start getting traffic from the search engines you won’t make much money from affiliate marketing so you may as well not include the links.

People who find your site via social networks and RSS feed readers are far less likely to want a new mortgage than the user who typed in “new mortgage” into Google.

The key with affiliate marketing is to pass your links through redirects to make them look like normal links. This results in more clicks from your human visitors as well as making sure Google doesn’t see that your site is full of affiliate links. Luckily there is a good WordPress plugin for adding and tracking your affiliate links.

Where to put your links

If you fill your pages with affiliate links the visitor will probably not click on any of them. I recommend using a couple of links per page along with some “Buy Now” buttons. Keep testing the layouts, click rates and bounce rates to see what works well for your site. My favourite trick is to add an affiliate link such as “Top Sellers” in your navigation bar.

Geo targetting

If the affiliate program you are promoting only sells products to US residents you are not going to earn any commission from people in the UK. The solution is to install something like the Maxmind IP to Country database for $50. This allows you to send US visitors to your standard affiliate program and foreign visitors to another.

If you can’t find an appropriate place to send the visitors simply use the Auction Ads Url Converter to send the traffic via Auction Ads to eBay.

Make it look real

If you want to sell gadgets, for example, it really helps your conversion rates if your site looks like a gadget shop. Visit the leading retailers in your niche and make sure your site is laid out like theirs. Most users are still new to blog layouts and prefer to be faced with a standard online shop. You need to strike a balance between appearing too commercial and struggling to attract links and losing conversions because your site looks like a blog.

By Patrick Altoft. at 9:53PM on Monday, 23 Jul 2007

Patrick is the Director of Strategy at Branded3 and has spent the last 11 years working on the SEO strategies of some of the UK's largest brands. Patrick’s SEO knowledge and experience is highly regarded by many, and he’s regularly invited to speak at the world’s biggest search conferences and events. Follow Patrick Altoft on Twitter.

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