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Building a Business Around Affiliate Programs
My system for finding workable ideas

 9:57 pm on May 5, 2001 (gmt 0)

There have been a couple of posts lately about working affiliate programs, and if doing so is lucrative. Finding ideas and how to go about them have also been discussed. This is what I do, so I want to share some of my thoughts.

Is this lucrative?
Yes, but it is not easy. General interest type of stuff has almost hit rock bottom, but working a niche can be very rewarding. Your success depends on your willingness to work hard, learn, adapt, and refocus as necessary with this constantly evolving biz. It can take a lot of work.

Where can I find the best affiliate areas to work in?
Well, you probably won't find concrete info on a website. If someone finds a niche that few have explored, and is very lucrative, they probably will not be broadcasting this to the world. This also can require a good bit of research before getting started. More on this later.

I am new to site building and this will be a steep learning curve. Will it be worth it?
That depends. Success certainly will not happen overnight. There are many hats to wear, and you have to at least learn the basics of each. Site design, layout, navigation, graphics creation, SEO, finding workable affiliate programs, etc. etc. You have to take each step one at a time, and move on to the next. This can be a considerable undertaking, but if you enjoy this kind of work, it can be very rewarding. I started this in late '98, beginning with learning html and graphics at night and on weekends. I went to this full time almost exactly a year ago. I started learning the basics of real SEO the last quarter of last year. (Thanks to WebmasterWorld.) Mid-quarter of this year, I started to feel like I have a good foundation of all general aspects of this business. Moral - this takes time and effort. Don't plan to quit your day job anytime soon. I don't want to discourage anyone, but starting from scratch requires a lot. In the end, you can have at least a nice supplemental income, lots of new friends, and a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.

How do I figure out what to make a site about?
There are 2 routes you can take here. A)Build a site for the sole purpose of making coin. B)Build a site about something you are passionate about, you are an expert about, or you want to be an expert about, and that can make revenue.
Method A can work, but is often already competetive, and you can lose interest after a while.
Method B is a great way to go - you work on something you enjoy. Your excitement and/or expertise will shine through in your work and your visitors will see it. It will make a difference - your site will be more sticky, you will be more willing to keep it updated, and you have a good chance of building a community around your topic.

I think method B is the way to go, so I will focus on it here. First thing, make a list of things that interest you. Brainstorm it - write them down as fast as you can without discarding anything. Try to list at least 15-20 things, whatever pops into your head. Do this 3 times, at different times, so you have a nice list of ideas/topics that interest you. Then take your list, and mark off topics you know won't work, or that you wouldn't want to build a site around. Number your ideas in order of your interest.

Now you want to find out which ideas are popular online, which aren't already super-competitive, but are high on your list of interest. Using goto's search suggestion tool and wordtracker, you can find which topics are popular. Using goto's SE (bid amounts), and number of pages in other SEs, you can find which topics are most competitive.

Next you need to find affiliate programs to tie into your topic. Look at would-be competitor sites and see who they are promoting. Setup an accounts with CJ, BeFree, Linkshare, etc. and see what is available. Make sure you have several options - never tie yourself down to one merchant. Try to think outside the box - say you build a site about hot-rods, you would look to on-topic affiliate programs like wrenchhead, but don't forget to look at other options like magazine subscriptions (for hot rods), ezines, car stereos, beer, and other topics your audience is likely to be interested in.

Try to pick 3 ideas, and write a plan down for each - specifically what the site would be about, and how you would make revenue. Take a few days and ponder the ins and outs of each. Email webmasters that are using the affiliate programs you would be using, and ask would they recomment them. (I have done this quite a bit, and usually get at least a 50% response rate.) Ask friends for their opinions and ideas. One idea should eventually shine through, and you have your first site topic.


Kerrace Alexander

 3:12 am on May 7, 2001 (gmt 0)

You provided some very good information here thanks for taking the time to write from your experiences.

I will take your advice and put it to use.


 3:14 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

A year and a quarter later, I think this all still applies.

One method that can help when finding more focus on broad topics is this: Build the entire site on the one broad topic and tighten the focus with sub sections.

Treat the sub sections each as testbeds for traffic and conversions. When you find one or more that outshine the rest, build a standalone site on it and tweak it. Feed it links from the broad site's appropriate pages.

Rinse and repeat. ;-)


 4:31 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Drastic - I'm so pleased to see that there are those, including yourself, who are beginning to offer concrete advice about operating as an affiliate. Your post mirrors much of what I've been saying about the fact that it takes a lot of research, experimentation, patience and just plain hard work.

I agee 100% that building a content site around a topic or topics in which you have a keen interest is the way to go. Among other things, that way you have a good shot at getting a high Page Rank on Google, which, in turn, will boost ranking of your sales pages. This will also help with your presense on other SEs.

I would say it will take at least two years to build a decent income stream. Again, don't quit your day job yet.

Learn everything you can about SEO. Hang out here and absorb all you can.

Done right, yes, it can be lucrative. Commit yourself to dogged determination, and it will happen.


 7:33 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)


It's rare that anyone puts their actual sites in the crosshairs, you can't blame them since it's their source of income so it's usually a "trade secret."

As for general categories of those I know about; travel, music, software, health & diet products, autos, matchmaking/relationships, sports gear, clothing, and housewares.

[edited by: rcjordan at 7:14 pm (utc) on Sep. 28, 2002]


 7:50 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)


It also seems to me that a "Method B" type site would be *best*,
but what about "Method A" type sites, which are simply geared to
"making coin"? Do they work OK -- but not as well *per site* as Method B sites?

It seems for the amount of time one might put into a single Method B
site, one could have several Method A sites...might the affiliate
revenue be the same -- or is it in reality rarely if ever even close?

Are Method A type sites worthwhile, or not worth bothering with? I
don't have any affiliate sites (I'm a web development newbie),
but am curious.

Thanks for sharing your opinions and experiences,



 7:56 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

>Are Method A type sites worthwhile

Yes, but from what I've seen, you have to be at the upper levels of SEO skills to just be able to pick a program then write the site and get it to place well. If it's a likely revenue-producer, it's guaranteed to be competitive.

Add debt/credit, mortgages, cellphones, and long distance to the above categories ...look at your incoming spam subject lines, they'll define the market pretty quickly.


 8:01 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Before building a whole site around a single affiliate program be sure to research them, would hate for anyone to get shafted when it came time for a paycheck. I've built sites totally around affiliate programs and have had to hunt down checks sometimes. Others have their own billing/payrole departments like Amazon so yer checks are always on time.

I just built a site around a CJ affiliate program, i forgot to test to see if they would even pay me first, so I am doing that today. Side note, does CJ cut the checks, do they know someone purchased something or does the person with the product have to confirm that it was purchased? :)


 8:05 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Just like a good stock portfolio, I find diversification is key in the affiliate business.


 8:10 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have been working at this web thing for about four years now. Like many first timers I thought I would do something new and some of my first websites were (MLM and affiliate program based sites) now these types of sites can generate great money but the field is just too competative.

I took me about two years just to get my subject right, something THAT I LOVE AND AM PASSIONATE ABOUT. For me that really sums it up! I started my chef / recipe site about a year ago and am now just starting to see the money come in (figure a car payment as of right now). I should let everyone know that my income is generated through both affiliate programs as well as cmp networks like fastclick and burst.

Some of the things I did right in the beginning were:

* Site structure. I worked out my basic site structure about 6 or 7 times. With each new restructure my navagation system got better, as did my page layout or "template".

* Another thing that I think is very important is that you stay focused and don't even think about the money for about 9 months to a year. This is why it really makes sense to create a site that you have passion for as Drastic mentioned. Sticking to something you truely know about and care about will shine through over time. I worked very hard for the first six months on creating content and topics that I knew my "soon to be visitors" would enjoy. Once I had a large base I then began to market my site and adding content. About two or three months after I started with the serior marketing I hit gold with a pagerank 6 and my traffic tripled.

* Understanding who is at your site, what makes them tick (or click) and what motivates them as well. Once my traffic had started (about 1000 uniques daily) I had enough data to study all kinda of nifty graphys and bars. Referral logs, as well as stats from affiliate programs and cmp networks hold a lot of data that will help you tailor programs to your visitors. A great example for me and my site would be Amazon .... I made next to nothing with them for about 12 months then after changing my tactics around as well as an increase of visitors my sales really started to hit. Right now I am selling "one of my top 10" every other day or so from them. The biggest thing for me was too figure out what my visitors "like" even though my site is enjoying more traffic that alone was only part of the puzzle.

For me it is just getting exciting now, in the past 90 days my income jumped about 10 times. This next year will be even more exciting. As mentioned it does take a lot of work (I spend about 15 hours weekly)but once the ball is rolling...look out!

Good luck to all the affiliate players out there.

Chef Brian


 8:12 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

CJ's tracking is all pretty automatic. Most of the reporting is real time, although a few merchants "batch" transactions.

One of the best things about CJ from the affiliate's point of view is that your earnings from all merchants are rolled into one check. This makes it easier to reach the minimum for payment, and it also makes it easier to test new merchants.


 8:22 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

I'm working on my first affiliate adventure... a method A site. Very hard work!

I'll pick this thread up after the August google update ;) I've resulved to spend $0.00 past domain/hosting untill I see how I fare on plain SEO'd content..



 9:13 pm on Aug 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

Great post Drastic. I didn't even realize it was a year old until reading your second post.

The same principals that you mentioned a year ago apply today and maybe more than ever. As others have said, the sites that make the coin are very competitive. Ever wonder why your daily mailbox is filled with spam? It's affiliates who are blasting out emails promoting various products that they are affiliates for.

I believe you can do well with a site that you have an interest/passion in. Whether you can make a good living off of this is debatable unless it somehow relates to products/services that pay well for webmasters. You definitely can make extra spending money off of these types of sites however. I have a travel site that talks about SE Asia and it might generate $300 per month, although I know of others who have multiple travel sites and they pull down betweem 5-7K each and every month. The more sites that you have, the more you can make.

Most everyone I know who is into affiliate marketing is going after the type A type of programs and those that are succeeding are generally those that are up on SEO and online marketing. It's not uncommon for a 5 digit monthly income for those that run multiple sites in the various industries that pay well.

The places that I look for that tell me where the $$ is as RC says, your inbox, and a more credible source is the yahoo "what's new" listings, especially in the goods and services category.


 2:29 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

The reason I suggest getting started with the "B" method is it can take a while to learn the affiliate ropes. It is better to do it on something you enjoy. Your first site is not likely to be a big producer, so at least get some fun out of it.

The "A" method can be quite lucrative, but good topics can be harder to locate. The competition is there, and it's a tougher environment for a new affiliate. The key here is finding high paying niches with weak competition. More on that in another thread if anyone is interested.

>does cj cut the checks

>confirm that it was purchased
purchase & lead stats are sent from advertisers to cj. The best way to pick advertisers that pay well is to check out the EPCs.


 2:35 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi eljefe3,

Thank you very much! For newbies like me, your kindness in sharing is quite helpful.

Thanks again and absolute best wishes,



 2:38 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hi Drastic,

In your above post, you mentioned:

"The key here is finding high paying niches with weak competition. More on that in another thread if anyone is interested."

I'm quite interested -- and I'm sure others are as well.

Thank you very much for sharing in such a super thread!

Take care and absolute best wishes,



 2:40 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

>The key here is finding high paying niches with weak competition. More on that in another thread if anyone is interested.

Yeah, Drastic, run with it when you get a chance. I had a general idea that I was going to be bottom-fishing on one site I did (and it worked), but I'd like to see your process.


 2:56 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

...look at your incoming spam subject lines, they'll define the market pretty quickly.

<goes off to build a U.N.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y. D.I.P.L.O.M.A.S. site>


 3:11 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

>One of the best things about CJ from the affiliate's point of view is that your earnings from all merchants are rolled into one check. This makes it easier to reach the minimum for payment, and it also makes it easier to test new merchants.

I have great respect for your affiliate STUFF.

If a new affiliate member is worried about "the minimum for payment" they are in for a BIG disappointment.

This is a $299 to Yahoo! and get it back FAST business.

Find the niche, commit to that niche and OWN that niche!

Get paid what you are worth.
CJ is low pay in relationship to what there is out there in the affiliate GAME.

[what have I started?]


 3:23 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

<goes off to build a U.N.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y. D.I.P.L.O.M.A.S. site>

Yep, add education to the above categories. I know that educational software and games for the kids was a good niche once.


 4:19 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

<<I have great respect for your affiliate STUFF. >>

Thank you.

Regarding payment thresholds, it depends where you're starting from. For someone just learning the ropes, reaching the minimum to get paid can be a frustrating issue. A (for example) LinkShare merchant with a $100 payment threshold would likely be a much less satisfying place to start than CJ (or Performics, or a few others). As one becomes more established and more knowledgeable, it becomes less of an issue. And you know better what to do with the higher paying opportunities as you come across them.

As for finding a niche, I think you're right, that is a more realistic aim than trying to compete in some of the categories mentioned already. You can only expect to "own" a niche until the competition notices what you're doing, but it can be sweet to ride a wave while it lasts, and if you build a strong base you will be able to maintain a profitable presence in the niche for a long time. And meanwhile you diversify ...

What works for you or for me or Joe or Mary will vary a lot, because we all start from a different knowledge base (and learn different things along the way). Technical skills, writing ability, product knowledge, enthusiasms, degree of persistence ... there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success. (Despite what some of the MLM folks would have us think, clones seldom get far).

The biggest thing is to try something, and see how it works. There comes a point where you can't learn from books or discussions, you have to start making your own mistakes and learning your own lessons.


 4:21 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have only been working on affiliate sites for about 2 months now and want to tell everybody that it is possible to develop some decent revenue generating sites fairly quickly. To get to a point where you are earning 6 figures can take some time but it isn't all that difficult to generate decent money ($500-$1000 per month) fairly quickly. The main key is to pick a product or field and go for it. If it isn't working after a month or two, learn from the experience and move on to something else.


 4:25 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

>The main key is to pick a product or field and go for it. If it isn't working after a month or two, learn from the experience and move on to something else.

There ya go!


 5:06 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

>you have to start making your own mistakes and learning your own lessons.

That's one reason I recommend starting with a subject you know. Because you think you know it, the mistakes and misjudgements are all the more powerful as a reality-check. You don't write them off merely as inexperience. Some stuff hits you out of the blue and makes you rethink your strategies, even after you've been at it a while.

Hey, DrCool, so you're the one cutting in on my Florida money!


 9:53 am on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Chef_Brian :
" I made next to nothing with them for about 12 months then after changing my tactics around as well as an increase of visitors my sales really started to hit"
Can you elaborate on the changes?


 12:07 pm on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

>CJ is low pay in relationship to what there is out there in the affiliate GAME


We found that most companies selling through the CJ type of affiliate programs are selling their products for much higher prices than their competitors. It's expensive for companies to participate in CJ. These companies also have many affiliates so singularly you're not all that important to them.

We started with CJ and joined as an affilliate with a company. We developed a site around their products. We achieved good rankings and a good sales track record (8 months later). Then we started investigated companies selling the same thing. Companies with little or no internet exposure. Companies with sites ranking in the bowels of that particular product search. Smaller companies without large dinosaur overheads. We selected a few and approached them with our own exclusive deal. We selected one of them. They didn't select us.

We displayed to them the track record we currently enjoyed. We told them the reason we made contact with them is that we felt we could do much better with their good products, their good prices and their ambition to grow. We felt we could make more money for both of us. We could make them a internet player rather than a internet spectator.

We proposed a deal based on performance with increasing percentages. (i.e. 10% on the first $xx in sales, 15% on the next $xx in sales, rising to 20% thereafter). They agreed in principle and we met them face to face. We finalized the deal face to face. By meeting face to face we demonstrated to each other we we serious. We both felt comfortable with each other. We got to see their operation.

In time we got to know each other better. Now we advise them on internet pricing so we can get the most money from sales and not lose sales because items are overpriced. We are important to each other. They let us work their existing, in-house customer list to generate even more internet sales.

They installed a phone line for internet sales that we publish on our internet site. We get commissions from those sales as well.(smaller rate because their people are involved) They're fair with us. They know if we get screwed we'll take our site, with our track record, together with all we learned from them down the road to one of their competitors.

How many $$$ in sales go around CJ affiliates by internet customers phoning orders direct to the company?
You would be shocked!

Many customers phone in orders because they don't want to give their credit card number online, want to know if it's in stock, how long is delivery, make other inquiries such as "I've been looking for this .... do you carry it?" or "Can I get a discount if I buy 100 of them?"
More often, individual sales made over the phone are stronger than those placed over the internet. Telephone sales people wind up selling customers more than they would have bought off the site. ("We have only 2 left and the shipping will stay the same. Do you want them.?" or "We have a better deal on the larger size." or "We have this accessory that goes perfect with it." or "Buy 3 and I'll give you free shipping".) The really BIG orders are seldom placed on line as those customers are seeking both a discount and special attention. On these phone sales, the smaller commission rate is more than offset by the larger sales volume.

Several selected deals like I described above brings Santa Claus to your house every week.

Five figure incomes come from working hard . . . six figure incomes from working smart.

[edited by: nell at 12:52 pm (utc) on Aug. 7, 2002]


 12:38 pm on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hey Musicales,

What I have learned about affiliate programs to this point is this: one of the most important things when adding affilate programs to a site is "how they are added".

Example: When I started (now remember my traffic was much less than it is now) I simply placed amazon recommend links in my site. Personally I really like this type of a link. The product rotate depending on your key word selection and return visitors will always see "new items". However here is the problem, EVERYONE on the net (or at least 97% of the affilaite sites) use this type of linking. People use banners, images, buttons and premade a dime a dozen store fronts. Visitors to any site have subconsouly (can not spell) turned these off. They think "it's an ad, they want my money" and keep moving on.

Instead it has been proven time and time again that simple links that are worked into a page of your site will produce better results. After about six months with my site (or so) I started to add affilate links (mostly Amazon) to pages within my site that related to what the page is about. A great example is my recipe / thermometer page. I really like to cook and eat fish, so my site has a fair amount of fish recipes on it. On each recipe I offer guidelines around cooking times. However there are too many varibles so what I like to do at home and work is use a thermometer. I work this into the recipe like:

Cook the salmon until it reaches an internal tempature of 145 degrees, you can pick up an inexpensive thermometer from amazon by following this link.


This month I have sold several thermometers with my recipe pages. When I first started adding this to my pages it did not really sell too much simply because I did not have enough visitors. Once my traffic started to hit they started to sell.

Another thing I learned within the last 6 months is the power of words:

"$1000 shopping spree" or "%20 Discounted items"

I ran two banners using the fastclick default banner system for about two months. They both generated more than enough impressions for me to get a very good idea what motivates my visitors. I "thought" the "win a $1000 shopping spree" would get some clicks. Boy was I wrong, for every one click I recieved with the shopping spree banner I got aleast 10 clicks for the Discounted Items banner. I should mention that these were both for the same merchant "cooking.com". While I did not make ANY money with both of these banners what I was able to do was understand what motivated my visitors. I took this knowlege and created a text linking system geared toward discounted items and I really hit big this month.

I hope this helps.... I should as I am giving away the store so to speak!

Good Luck,

Chef Brian


 1:16 pm on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

Hey Brian - many thanks for that. Valuable stuff. So it's all about the text links huh? Sounds like a bit of lateral thinking too from your thermometer example!


 2:30 pm on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

I have an informational site, no banner ads. It's pretty popular for my niche but there's no way it's bringing in huge amounts of money with Amazon links. I'll give you some conversion ratio info for the second quarter of this year:

Visitors: 48,000
Click throughs to Amazon: 1,800
Items shipped: 50
Referral fees: $40

These are all relevant, text-based links. Since it's based on relevance, some pages have lots of links, some have none.

I don't mind because the site is a hobby and whatever money it makes is donated to a related charity anyway, but even with that many visitors it doesn't break even. It's getting close now (I'd need about $50 a quarter), but still not. If you want to make money, I think you need more than Amazon.


 2:39 pm on Aug 7, 2002 (gmt 0)

I wholeheartedly agree that text links work far better than banners. Generally speaking, merchants would like you to use their banners because they believe they contribute to branding. Banners are not designed primarily to aid the affiliate, IMO.

One exception I've found is where the merchant offers affiliates an interactive search function. These can produce conversions.

Merchants who provide links to individual products or categories are the ones who "get it".

I also agree, that when you become a good producer for a merchant, its time to negotiate a better deal.

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