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My $13,000 Affiliate Marketing Store Gamble: Boom or Bust?

Boom or Bust?In December 2015 I mentioned in a Fat Stacks email newsletter that I was planning to try something different with affiliate marketing on my biggest B2C website.

After 2 years, affiliate revenue accounts for only 15 to 20% of my B2C revenue.  It’s going up for the most part, but I would love to earn 50% of my B2C sites’ revenue from affiliate promotion to diversify my revenue streams in a more balanced way.  I don’t want to achieve this by a drop in ad revenue; instead I want to achieve this by dramatically increasing affiliate revenue.

I’m not the only publisher these days looking to ramp up affiliate marketing. Mainstream publishers are getting into affiliate marketing big time.  Affiliate marketing is no longer relegated to weight loss pills and programs.  Affiliate marketing is now an important traffic and revenue source for many online retailers.

The BIG PICTURE of my Affiliate Marketing Strategy

The concept is simple.

Instead of linking directly to merchants from my main site’s content, I link to individual product write-ups on a subdomain affiliate store on which are the lion’s share of affiliate links.

The Birth and Evolution of my Affiliate Store

Originally my B2C sites’ affiliate marketing strategy was like most methods, which is placing in-content affiliate links to merchants.  This works just fine.

Then one day toward the end of 2015 I had a Skype chat with a colleague publisher who showed me what he was doing with affiliate marketing.  It was cool.  Instead of linking directly to merchants from content, we was creating high quality product write-ups for many products he promoted.  Therefore from all over his site where products were mentioned in his content, he linked to those product write-ups on his site.  Those product write-ups contained the affiliate links.

I liked this concept immediately for several reasons.  They are:

  1. Better website metrics:  Visitors visit more pages and stay on site longer
  2. The product write-ups pre-sell:  The product write-ups are well done that further presell the product with the intention of improving conversions.
  3. Organic traffic: The product write-ups themselves pull in buyer-intent organic search traffic (this is probably my favorite reason).
  4. Fewer affiliate links on my main site: Using dedicated product write-ups reduces the number of affiliate links in the main content – especially product gallery and product comparison articles.

As far as I’m concerned, those are 4 solid reasons to publish product write ups for some, most or all products a regular niche site mentions.  At the bottom of this post I set out 3 additional potential future benefits.

But I had a problem

My problem with pulling the trigger on this method was that my B2C site mentioned at least 500 products and maybe more.  That meant 500 product write-ups which is a huge job.  My biggest fear is that so many product write-ups on my main site could result in a thin affiliate site.  Many of the products I promote are similar so that there would be a lot of similar, arguably thin content on my site.  I didn’t want to do this for fear of adverse SEO consequences.

My First Solution (on which I bailed)

My first approach to solving the problem while enjoying the benefits of creating many product write-ups was to use affiliate product datafeeds on a subdomain.

I did the research and was delighted to find Datafeedr and Woozone.  I paid for both and got to work.

I set up an affiliate store on a subdomain, installed a Woocommerce theme (Flatsome theme) and fired up the affiliate product datafeeds.

Within no time I had 300 products on the store.

BUT, again I had a problem.

Actually, it was a change of heart.

I embarked on this concept with the datafeed approach because I was in a rush.  I was also lazy.  The problem was that I knew I’d never get organic search traffic to a datafeed site, which I decided after setting up the store would be a shame.

In fact, the thought occurred to me that if I ultimately end up with 2,000 product write-ups on my store and I get 1 organic search visitor per product write up per day, that’s 2,000 buyer-intent organic search visitors per day, which could result in a truckload of affiliate revenue very quickly… not to mention the revenue from traffic I’d send from the main site.

Pulling the Trigger on My $13,000 Affiliate Marketing Gamble

The more I thought about it, the more I didn’t like using affiliate datafeeds which is duplicate content (often very bad content too).

I decided the best approach would be to continue with the affiliate store on a subdomain but to invest in unique product write-ups.  I knew and currently know the product write-ups won’t be SEO powerhouses, but even if they pull in some long tail traffic, it’ll be worth it in the long run.

My $13,000 gamble was paying for writers to ultimately do 750 to 1,000 product write-ups.  There’s no way I could do it.  I needed a team of writers.

I hired a writer on Upwork, but she quit after 4 days.

While Upwork is a great freelancer site, it wasn’t the right solution for this massive writing project.

I needed a writing agency that could deliver a huge volume of content quickly and for very reasonable rates.

I hired 5 writing agencies (iWriter, WriterAccess.com, Custom Content, LongerDays and TextBroker).  Each did one to five product write-ups.

I spoke with each service to find out if they also offered uploading and publishing the content directly in WordPress.  After all formatting 750 to 1,000 product write ups would take me a solid month working around the clock.

After a lot of discussions with several writing agencies, I worked out a great deal with TextBroker.  Not only could they write 1,000 product write ups in 1 to 2 months, but they would format and publish the content in WordPress for me (including getting images for each product).

We negotiated a fixed rate per product write up that worked out to $13.00 per product write up.  I paid for 1,000 of these (I have more planned).

FYI, I still use LongerDays for a lot of content; it just worked out that TextBroker was a better value for what I needed for this specific project.

Current status of my massive affiliate product store

As I publish this, the status is that the team of TextBroker writers are underway writing the product write-ups.  They tell me they’ll have all the product write-ups done in 4 to 8 weeks.  If the hit that goal I’ll be impressed.

Before engaging TextBroker, I published 16 product write ups as a prototype to see what would happen.  I linked to the 16 products from product mentions on the main website.

Prototype Test Results

The early results were good.

Here’s a traffic screenshot of traffic generated to the affiliate store with only 16 product write ups:

Affiliate Store Traffic Stats 30 Days

That’s not bad results for 16 product write-ups.  1,000 products would be 60 times that which would be approximately 82,000 monthly visitors to the affiliate store.  With a little luck, organic search traffic will generate a few thousand more monthly visitors.  The ad revenue alone would be impressive.  I’m optimistic the affiliate commissions will be good.

AS AN ASIDE:  I’m a huge believer in prototype launches.  What I mean by this is doing things on a good-enough level just to see if it works.  My affiliate store, while it’s a sizable investment, it’s not going to be perfect.  I’m launching it on a large scale (i.e. 750 to 1,000 product write-ups) to see if the concept works and that my intended benefits materialize.

However, nobody on the planet would say the product write-ups themselves are good.  The site categorization is not good.  The entire thing is just good enough to get off the ground to see what happens.  If it’s a success, it can always be improved down the road.

The point about prototype launches is don’t get wrapped up trying to be perfect.  Aim for good enough.  As soon as you get a hint that it’ll work, that’s when you make it better.

Is this worth doing?

Obviously I think it is, but it’s going to take time to pay off the up front cost, if I ever do.

Why am I publishing about this strategy on Fat Stacks if it’s unproven?

Usually I wait until I have some results before publishing about a particular strategy, but I wanted to get this info out to readers ASAP because it may be an approach you’ll want to take now.

Moreover, it’s really easy and can be inexpensive to test on a small basis.  You don’t have to do a subdomain affiliate store for hundreds of products.  You can launch a prototype with 10 to 20 products and see what happens.

Frankly, I think this strategy is something definitely worth testing for all niche site publishers who promote products with affiliate links.

Will I remove all affiliate links from my main site?

No.  I’ll keep some affiliate links on the main site.  I just want to reduce the overall number of affiliate links on my main site.

Will I place display ads on the affiliate store?

I currently do have display ads on the affiliate store.  Specifically I have Media.net ads (read full Media.net review here), 1 AdSense ad and native Amazon ad units.  So far the Amazon Native ads and Media.net ads perform well.

However, once I have a decent amount of traffic on the affiliate store (i.e. the subdomain), I will test revenue with and without display ads.  By having ads on the store I may be losing more lucrative affiliate commissions.

Will affiliate commission conversions decrease by not sending visitors directly to the merchants?

I suspect it will, but I believe the other benefits outweigh this disadvantage.

 

But didn’t you list one benefit being preselling can improve conversion?

I did and the product write-ups could presell if I were investing in top quality content.  The thing is, at this beginning stage where I’m testing the concept, the content won’t be top-quality.  Therefore, it won’t presell.  The links to the merchants are clear, but no doubt I’ll lose some commissions.

On the flip side, I will increase ad revenue because the Media.net ad revenue is very high on the affiliate store (I have some amazing ad placement that works fantastic with the product post format with Flatsome theme and Woocommerce.

Are the product write-ups high quality?

No.  They’re 275 to 350 words long.  They aren’t great.  I’d love to have high quality product write-ups but I simply don’t think the additional cost is worth it at this point.  If the initial store is mighty lucrative I can always go back and improve the write-ups.

Do I link to the affiliate store from the main site with no-follow or do-follow links?

I always use no-follow links to the affiliate store from my main site.  I don’t want to seem like I’m trying to manipulate the affiliate store’s rankings.

3 possible future benefits of the affiliate store include:

1. Email marketing landing pages:

My Flatsome Woocommerce theme is designed to maximize clicks to merchants.  The layout is pretty sweet.

What this means is I can create terrific product landing pages for email newsletters.  This is particularly the case with Amazon promotion since Amazon does not permit using affiliate links in email.

2. Selling my own products:

I don’t know if I’ll ever sell my own products, but it’s a possibility and if I ever do, the affiliate store is a perfect platform on which to sell the products or link to my product listings on larger ecommerce platforms such as Amazon.

3. Serves as an affiliate store for other niche sites I publish

As I buy/build more niche sites, I can use the one affiliate store as a conduit for all niche sites I own.  Again, this minimizes affiliate links on niche sites, increases visitor time on my web properties and increases ad revenue.

I’ve never done this before

I was an affiliate marketer long before I ever started using display ads for website monetization.  However, the affiliate store concept is one I’ve never done.

Conceptually it makes perfect sense to run a dedicate affiliate product store with niche sites.  After all every niche has products that can earn affiliate commissions so having at least one affiliate store is at the very least worth trying.

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