About 18 months ago, I wrote what I consider to be the best post I've ever written on the topic of affiliate marketing, how to survive the affiliate evolution.
When I say that I wrote out my business plan and posted it on my blog in that post, I'm not kidding. And that statement is still true today. Even though I gave out my business plan, I'd bet I can count on one hand those who used it to full value.
When I discuss advanced affiliate marketing, I often suggest creating affiliate brands instead of affiliate sites, as I did in that post 18 months ago:
Start buying brandable and not keyword laden domains. If you can include a keyword, great, but branding is important and necessary.
Differentiate yourself and add value. Let's get one thing straight. Google doesn't hate affiliate sites. Google hates shit affiliate sites. Treat your affiliate site like any “real business” and develop a point of difference.
The point of difference thing is something I'm asked about often. The point of difference is essentially your brand. By creating a point of difference, you're creating a brand and branding is often what seperates the affiliate men from the boys (so to speak). I go a little into the difference between an affiliate site and an affiliate brand a during part of the video below:
If you're still confused as to what an “affiliate brand” is or how to “make one” why not learn from some successful examples.
Some “Famous” Affiliate Brands
Most people don't realize that some of the bigger brands on the web are nothing more than affiliate sites – with a point of difference.
Lower My Bills
Lower My Bills offers folks the ability to try and lower their household bills by offering information and “quotes” on everything from cell phone service to auto insurance.
Lower My Bills started out as nothing more than an affiliate site and grew to become a brand featured in many national publications that now employs a full-time staff and even runs their own affiliate program. (Hint: their volume is so high, they can demand higher rates from merchants than you can get as a “regular affiliate” – they pass those higher rates on to you but keep a portion of the difference).
Lower My Bills sells cellular phones through the PhoneDog.com affiliate program and offers auto insurance quotes as an affiliate of Geico and Progressive.
The site has hundreds of pages of unique content and at the time it was rising to fame, had taken a point of difference of being a site where you could “lower your household bills” instead of being yet another site that allows you to buy a cell phone. According to Compete.com, variations of their brand name accounts for three of their top ten search phrases and the word “lowermybills” gets 10K searches a month according to the approximate average search volume listed for the phrase in the Google Adwords keyword tool.
Even with 20,000 links, an Alexa rank of 20K and the ability to say they're owned by Experian, Lower My Bills is still at its core, still an affiliate site.
Epinions / Shopping.com
Epinions (owned by Shopping.com) and the actual Shopping.com site both pretty much sell everything under the sun, all through affiliate links. Essentially, Epinions and Shopping.com are both online mall datafeed sites, using the same feed arranged a bit differently.
For Epinions, their core point of difference from every other “online mall” was user generated content (before it was all the rage) in the form of product reviews left by consumers. That was and still is, all that separated them from any other affiliate who took every affiliate feed they could find (or Shopping.com's available feed) and mashed them all together into one massive online mall.
Shopping.com and Epinions are two nearly identical affiliate feed sites, but because they have branded themselves (being owned by eBay probably doesn't hurt either, but remember, they didn't start out with that) as the top destination for shopping (Shopping.com) and product reviews (Epinions), they're able to rank healthily in Google.
Shopping.com has a top 500 Alexa rank and according to compete.com, variations of their domain name (with the .com in it) are two of their top three referrers (though Google shows “not enough data” when you do a search on shopping.com, Google also shows “not enough data” when you do a search on Google.com too).
Epinions has an Alexa rank of 2K and according to compete.com, variations of their brand epinions are three of their top four keywords, and the word “epinions” gets 165K searches a month according to the approximate average search volume listed for the phrase in the Google Adwords keyword tool.
Not bad for a couple of (and nearly identical) affiliate datafeed mashup sites.
One of the most respected sites in the financial field, Bankrate branded itself by providing fantastic content on a level that wasn't common when they started doing so. Like most good sites, Bankrate isn't solely dependent on one income stream or even one income style. They make money via CPM advertisements, contextual advertising and, yep, affiliate programs.
Bankrate's entire credit card section is nothing more than an affiliate feed of the NCS Reporting yet their doorway to those affiliate listings has zero problem ranking in Google for competitive terms.
Bankrate has an Alexa rank of 2200 and according to compete.com, variations of their brand Bankrate are their two top keywords and the word “Bankrate” gets 301K searches a month according to the approximate average search volume listed for the phrase in the Google Adwords keyword tool. Publicly traded, Bankrate has 160+ employees, does over 80 million a year in revenue and yes, Bankrate is also an affiliate marketer.
Advanced Affiliate Marketing
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with what the sites above have done for themselves, and the fact that they are affiliates in no way demeans their brand or success. Hell, I work daily to try and achieve the same success they have by building up various brands of my own. But this is what I mean when I say “branded affiliate sites” or discuss “advanced affiliate marketing.” Working to differentiate your site, add value and create a brand.
Of course, these are extreme success stories (and proof that yes, Virginia, you can not only make an income, but you can support and entire company on affiliate marketing), but there is no reason you can't create the next extreme success story. And even if you can only create the next “medium” or “small” success story, it will still be a lucrative story to tell.
The important thing to realize is that affiliate marketing has evolved. You're going to need to learn how to grow with it and how to create an affiliate brand, even if it is a small brand if you want to stay viable and have a place in the future online world.