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How to Make Affiliate Marketing Less Icky

on being a writer writing affiliate marketing
Yup. You click. You buy. I get paid. Wow.

(Or “How I Haven’t Made a Dime Off This Site and Look, I’m A Published Author!”)

God, I hate affiliate marketing.

It hearkens back to the early internet days, when scammers roamed about. There were miles-long sales pages filled with bold type, stock photos and lots and lots of hype.

“I love this product so much and not just because I’m getting paid to tell you!”

Yeah, right.

Though the web design and copy are much snazzier these days, I will almost always bypass someone’s affiliate link and just buy the product directly. Or just not buy it at all.

Even when it’s a product I’ve already bought myself and tried, if I see someone else pitching it, I cringe a bit. I don’t know what it is. You’d think I’d be over it by now.

So, yes, as much as I love Marie Forleo and drool over her B-School, scrolling through mega-super-awesome-please-buy bonuses in my inbox and social media feeds constantly was off-putting.

That’s just how much I loathe it.

The problem is if you follow someone closely, you can see this type of marketing from 37 miles away. And, of course, if you’re a social media lurker like myself, you’ll come across these same offers over and over again by people within the same networks. (P.S. – This is how to do affiliate marketing wrong.)

It’s exasperating. I tried many years ago when I didn’t know any better, but it just didn’t feel right to me.

Lately, I have turned down becoming an affiliate from folks I love. Instead, I just share them with folks for free. In fact, I’ve never even used my e-mail list to sell anything. I usually just ask for feedback on something or for comments and shares for things I’ve written. I’d feel far too sleazy to do anything else.

Why I Changed My Mind About Affiliate Marketing

So, naturally, when I was brainstorming about this blog (originally titled, “Why I Hate Affiliate Marketing”), an opportunity popped up. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know of Dana Sitar, author of the Writer’s Bucket List and founder of DIY Writing.

When she offered to publish my essay in her first collaborative book on the writing life and motivation, I jumped at the chance. I was so excited, I actually created a picture out of the email and shared it with everyone.

But when the book came out, and she mentioned her affiliate program, I hesitated. Of course, her books rock. I offered my first (and still only) contest with one of them. So out of excitement, I shared my success using my affiliate link with everyone and was stunned.

Three sales. In, like, less than thirty minutes.

It was almost as thrilling as being published. Sure, it only made me a few bucks, and I never touted it after the first couple of days. So I haven’t made any sales since, but it was so cool.

Why? Because something I contributed to myself was a part of this program. Since the proceeds for the book are going to e-publishing students, this was my way of making royalties.

Since my guest post on Sophie Lizard’s Be a Freelance Blogger increased my e-mail list significantly, alas, I have the Golden Opportunity.

So there’s my weakness. Even more selfish than simple affiliate marketing, right? Well for me, my contribution to the book makes this whole thing much more legitimate.

New to Affiliate Marketing? Here’s a Checklist:

1) Are you associated with this product on a personal level?  If you’re not making anything off of it already, but your work contributed to it, then by all means go for it.

2) Who is your audience and how big are they? Evaluate them first. If your audience is in to celebrity gossip, hawking a business start-up book would not be a great thing to pitch. Or if they are a small group, pitching to them constantly gets old. Fast. Trust me.

3) Would you pitch this for free? Be honest. Is it really that good?

4) If you answered “yes” to number 3, try it! Share with no strings attached, at least for a while. I feel pretty darn good about myself when I do.

So now that I’m officially an “affiliate marketer”, the link is now part of my portfolio. I hate having the dreaded disclaimer there, but it’ll do. Will I participate in other affiliate programs in the future? Eh. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll have a favorite products page. But for now, my resources page will still be free of affiliate links.

And thanks, Dana. Your work has now created two firsts: my first blog contest and my first affiliate program.

Do you participate in affiliate programs? I’d love to hear it. Maybe your comments will convince me to keep at this. Oh, and duh. Go buy “Writer’s Bucket List” stuff. Cha-ching!

14 thoughts on “How to Make Affiliate Marketing Less Icky

  1. Great post Williesha! So heart-warming to see that their are other folks out there who get the same icky feeling when it comes to the ‘model’ for AM. Funny but I’ve seen a few people raising eyebrows and vocalising their thoughts on this years round of B-School marketing. Have to say I am one of those who for this year felt like I needed a bath my inbox was so full of ick. I love B-School, Marie is great, the bonuses on offer are cool but when you follow pretty much IM out there and they are all sending multiple ‘buy B-School through me’ emails its reached a point where it is damaging to Marie’s brand (IMHO).

    I loved reading how you turned AM around for yourself and how you reconcile the way it works so that it meets your high standards – I applaud you and thank you for sharing your insights and personal story here with your readers x

  2. I never had a problem with it, just the way some people did it. Such as hiding where links go or as you said maybe endorsing a product that you don’t use or really believe in (like I think some stars do).

    But I don’t see why you’d bypass an Affiliate link for someone you respect. Clicking their link is a way you can give back to the person without it costing you anything.

    I agree with all your points. It should be something you would and do talk about anyway (for free), and something you would use yourself. I don’t really think it’s much different than standing in the cookie isle in the grocery store saying to someone, “Man those mint chocolate chip cookies are too good, I could eat the whole box!” The difference is the grocer doesn’t give you anything for helping to sell them.

    I see it at it’s best as people helping people. It has evolved to where most of the people doing it the wrong way fall by the wayside. I still don’t like mile-long sales pages, or hour-long videos, but if you hold yourself to a standard as you said I think it can be good. The way mentioned it in your portfolio is perfect (in my opinion).

    I am in the process of switching to a self-hosted site and I do plan on having a resource/tools page. It will be clear the items that are free great resources vs. the ones which are affiliates. They will be carefully chosen. I hope that won’t keep you away. 🙂

  3. Hi Williesha,

    I can understand where you’re coming from, but I’m “wired” to agree with Peter. The reason is everyone running a for profit, online business is a full-on marketer, whether they want to come clean about it or not. And marketers must sell in order to eat and pay their bills.

    I agree with you in that I don’t believe every single link you put on your site should be an affiliate link. However, if you trust someone and that person recommends a product to you that’s useful, I don’t see anything wrong with that person receiving small commission. After all, he or she is giving you a valuable suggestion, right?

    Or perhaps, subconsciously, her message doesn’t speak to you as strongly as you believe it does.

    Don’t worry, I’m not trying to go all “Freudian” on you. Let me explain what I mean.

    In the case of Marie Forleo’s B-school (and no, I am not an affiliate of hers), I didn’t mind the constant influx of emails because her brand and her message really resonates with me, so I wasn’t the least bit annoyed. I learn a ton from her videos; even her email structure can educate you, if you choose to study it(like I do).

    On the flip side, I’ve been on some mailing lists that I felt emailed me too often and annoyed the utter hell out of me, and I ended up unsubscribing. Then I realized why I damn near jammed my touch pad from pounding the unsubscribe button with such glee, on a gut level, I didn’t “vibe” with that business. It wouldn’t have mattered if they sent me 2 emails per week or 100, I simply wasn’t “feeling” them on a gut level.

    I am not trying to psychoanalyze you, I’m just stating an observation, one that I have witnessed within myself. BTW, I found you through Carol Tice’s “Make a Living Writing” site. I like that you infuse your site with your personality; you’re obviously talented at what you do.

    Keep writing posts like this. Remember, if you wrote a post and everyone agreed with you, well then you aren’t doing your job as a writer!

    Take care,

    Taheerah

    P.S. – I am a fellow writer myself, but I am marketer first and foremost.

  4. This is such a fantastic conversation – thanks for prompting it, Williesha! (And thanks for the shout out.)

    I actually agree with most of your points, even though I do affiliate marketing and have affiliates for my products. I think it’s easy to do it wrong, and it can be hard to turn down opportunities that could earn you a few (hundred) dollars just for sending an email or tweet.

    I agree with the marketers’ points that if you’re going to recommend a product anyway, you might as well get the commission someone is offering for it.

    Where I think AM gets especially icky is when it looks like a bunch of people just jumping on the same bandwagon – which we see so much of in internet marketing. It’s just so easy to grab a link and some copy swipes and paste them around to see what happens. But when you’re actually part of a community and stay in touch with people who share your interests, you begin to see really quickly how unoriginal and inauthentic an army of affiliates can be. It can ruin the internet during a big launch.

    I’m still learning the ropes and experimenting with affiliate marketing, so let me be the first to apologize for any transgressions! 😉

  5. Affiliate marketing can be a fine line to walk. As a reader, I’m turned off by it while at the same time I want to support the person who’s providing it. Of course, as a copywriter who’s been in marketing for years, I also see it for the viable (and often necessary to keep the lights on) venture that it is.

    I think that if you’re going to do affiliate marketing, keeping your standards high and being open about it is key. That and developing a trusted relationship with your readers, which you’re good at doing.

    So, while it may leave a sour taste in your mouth from time to time, you’re on the right track.

    1. Thanks Erica. Extremely useful insight and probably the “tipping point” post for me.

      Thanks to these awesome comments, I’m going to continue to seek out good offers and really start working on a products page. I don’t think it’s super viable at the moment, because I’m only averaging about 30 visitors a day.

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