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It's my firm belief that new and/or small sites especially need to be more concerned about organic traffic than search engine ranking. A few months ago, this came up with a friend who has a lovely, very well-done (but new and small) site with beautiful bridal jewelry, much of it handmade. She wanted to rank in the search engines. I pointed out that a search for "bridal jewelry" brings up over a million pages - and all of them are her competition. At least at this stage, she's not going to get page one results no matter what she does. (Some of the sites that ranked highly in the search weren't all that great - but they'd been around for a long time.) Her site is ecommerce as opposed to affiliate linking, but the need for traffic is basically the same.
Part of diligently working on your SEO is getting incoming links from complementary websites. That is, not sites exactly like yours but ones that have topics likely to be of common interest to both your visitors and theirs, where they could happily tell their visitors, "No, we don't cover that specific area on this site, but here's one that does." If these are good, "relevant" links (not from linkfarms or bad neighborhoods), they're one of the most important things you can do regarding SEO. They give the bots roads to follow to your site.
But, more importantly at this stage of the game, those links will be seen by real people who may be interested in your site content, and they might actually click on those links! That gets you traffic even if you're not showing up in the search engines yet. And when those people bookmark your site and tell other people how great your site is (which it is, of course, right?), you'll get even more traffic. This takes time - in amount of hours you put into the work, as well as calendar time for your traffic to grow organically. but IMVVHO you'll see an increase in traffic long before you pop up on page one. And, surprise, just about everything you do to attract organic traffic will also help your search engine ranking!
This assumes you have content that people will be interested in, other than affiliate links. If your site is basically just a landing page, or a cookie-cutter storefront with nothing but affiliate ads... then I really don't have any advice to offer.
ETA: There are various ways to get some links out there, depending on your topic/area/niche. For example, some niches have good directory sites that can be great places to have your URL available (and some don't).
[edited by: Beagle at 4:20 pm (utc) on Sep. 16, 2006]
I would suggest targeting just two keywords,and tuning your site accordingly, and stick to that theme on every page. And, aim for MSN, which is quite conquerable even by a new site.
Not much traffic, but something to do while you are waiting for your domain to age.
Alternatively buy some old domain names, and buy links, this will shorten the process.
Can you please elaborate on this point? I've heard you can use "old" domains te get out of the sandbox. Is this what you are talking about? And also, how do you qualify an *old* domain? All .coms are technically old right (compared to .biz, .us, etc). Do you mean sites that have had a site on them previous? A domain with an old whois record? And moreover, once you qualify an *old* domain, what do you do with it? Make it your primary domain? 301 redirect it?
... just trying to figure out how one would take your advice and put it into action. :)