Disclaimer: As frequent readers of my blog will know, this isn’t a get-rich-quick site. I’m not going to entice you in with promises of riches if you join some course or mentoring scheme.
Bar the odd affiliate link here and there I run this site for the simple reason that I enjoy it.
This isn’t a template for how you must do it, there are other ways – probably better (or worse) – but this is what worked for me. I also fell foul a few times, so I’ll include these here as well.
Having tried to build an Amazon affiliate program (officially known as Amazon Associates) site in the summer of 2018 which fell flat on its face I decided, as my New Years resolution, to try again.
This time I wouldn’t go down all the wrong rabbit holes as I did with the previous site. I’d avoid over-complicating, overthinking and trying to be too smart for my own good (I clearly wasn’t).
In January 2019 I had one objective. Build and grow a single website using Amazon’s affiliate programme in a particular niche I was (relatively) interested in. I had a few goals:
- The site would generate £1000 per month
- The site wouldn’t eat up all of my time
- The site wouldn’t be an eyesore
- The site would be singular – not 20 sites – FOCUS!
- The site would be enjoyable and something I was proud of
- The site wouldn’t cost more to build up than it made
As well as a few personal goals:
- I wouldn’t sink my money into mentoring schemes (hey, some of them are great – and you learn stuff – but I’m an impatient sort so just… got on with it)
- I wouldn’t sink all of my money into fancy tools and backlink schemes
- I wouldn’t cheat (much)
- If I succeeded I would write it up (Hey!)
I succeeded in these… sort of. More on this later.
What follows, in as much detail as I could give without turning this into a novel, are the strategies, tools and tricks I used to build it up. I have not included the domain I used.
I’ve done this intentionally for the simple reasons a) It’s better to guide than totally replicate b) I don’t want to draw unnatural traffic to the site. As a compromise, I’m considering building a throwaway site in future for another article if you desperately, must, absolutely semi-replicate.
I’ve decided to add this section at the start to set your expectations. Although you may read promises of riches and quitting your job within a few months with this course and that, it probably won’t happen. Yet anyway. It’s quite possible to make a living using affiliate marketing or similar such internet-based ventures. It takes investment though.
By investment, I don’t mean money. Yes – there are a few costs, but you don’t have to break the bank. In fact, you can probably do this per month for the same amount (or less) than you spend on coffee.
The two investments are time and effort.
Most people do affiliate marketing and passive revenue projects as a side-line or hobby. I’ll assume you have a 9-5 job when I write this (substitute work for other commitments) – your first thought maybe “Hey, I don’t have time for this”.
As Scotty said to Kirk in Star Trek: Generations “If some things are important, you make the time”.
This was a lot of work. I did this at the weekends and evenings. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Unless something goes wrong, I could now do nothing and still be making a few extra grand a month.
I could grow it. I could sell it. I could start another one (or focus on a different affiliate program altogether) and let my Amazon site sit and breathe.
So, put the Friends Box Set to one side. Don’t binge-watch television when you could be writing content and tweaking your site. Or if you’re someone who can focus, work on your site while Netflix is playing in the background. Whilst writing this paragraph I currently have reruns of Columbo playing. “Just one more thing”.
You’ll also read that amazon affiliate sites are not the most profitable. This is also, mostly, true. There are plenty of other affiliate programs out there offering much better commission rates. I intend to cover these in future articles. Amazon can be temperamental and if you’re planning on making a living from this – I certainly wouldn’t advise you to put all your eggs in the Amazon basket.
Your commission rate could drop (it’s happened before, and probably will again), your niche may have the rates slashed, they could close down your account for a
I decided to go with something in the pet industry. In hindsight, I should have gone with something in that area that cost a little more – but hey ho.
It was also a niche Amazon paid out a better rate for (at the time of writing 7-8% commission – not a huge amount – but this is an Amazon article so I’ve stuck with the script).
What I learned
- Stick with your niche. If you pick something – stick with it.
- Look for something where products are within that range of buying habits. Don’t pick something that costs on average $1/£1 as the commission will be pennies. Similarly (it’s up to you if you follow this next bit), don’t pick something that sells for $1000. Yeah sure people do, and people have done well from this – but be honest with yourself – when was the last time you bought something on Amazon for over $200/£150 without shopping around and “thinking on it”? I’d go for the $40-100 mark.
- There’s always competition. We’re not in 2002 any more. Don’t think everything is saturated, it’s not.
I had a lot of internal debate with myself (procrastination) about what site to use, what site looks better, what cool widgets I could have blah blah blah. I tried a few and landed in the world of designing and wasting time. To keep it simple, this is all you need:
- A WordPress site. There’s a load of other options out there but WordPress will do just fine. It’s stable, there’s a load of info out there on it, it’s open-source and it just does the job.
- A good domain name. By good, I mean a .com. Not a .whatever, a .com. People have a bias for .com’s and if you ever sell your site, your buyer will probably have a preference for .com. Yes, you can probably get the perfect site name on a .potato extension – but no. A .com. The domain doesn’t have to be perfect. Do some research and find something that works. Keep it fairly short. Not crazy long. Mine was about 15 characters and related to the niche. Don’t bother with domains as a keyword “best-guys-underpants” or similar – that sort of Google trick died along with the Macarena.
- A solid, frequently updated, WordPress theme. Seriously, invest a bit of cash and buy a proper theme. If you’re really strapped – go with a free theme. Don’t build your own from scratch – you’re just wasting time. Every day you procrastinate is another day your site’s not ranking, not building and not making any money. Don’t go for the fanciest one. Go for one that will work for you. It may not be the prettiest thing on earth but if it’s well designed, fast and mobile responsive – it will do.
- The right plugins. Plugins are great. But only the right ones. Don’t bog your site down with some pointless plugins. Stick with what you need.
- Use free graphics and graphics editors. Yes, if you have photoshop already installed and paid off – keep it and use it. If not – use the free ones, you want it to look good, but we’re not going for Vice here.
Stuff I used
These are all the sites and tools I used. A few of these are affiliate links, but I’ve not picked them because they give the highest commission (in fact, they definitely don’t) – I picked them because I’ve tried a ton and these worked for me. There’s a lot of mediocre things out there.
- SiteGround for Web Hosting – seriously, just go for it. I tried a load of different providers and this was by far my favourite. Yes, there’s a lot cheaper out there, but SG had what I needed.
- ReHub WordPress Template (Paid)
- Yoast WordPress Plugin (Free with an option to pay for premium)
- SGOptimizer – Comes with SiteGround sites
Setting Up The Website
The reason I picked SiteGround above the others is simple. It was easy to configure. It used Let’s Encrypt for free SSL certificates. It is integrated with CloudFlare for my CDN (it makes the site faster). It has a load of optimisation tools. It comes with a WordPress Installer so there’s no fiddling about. It auto-updates my site. It’s all in one place using cPanel.
The biggest killer of a website for both ranking and visitor numbers is a slow loading WordPress site.
One of the best things I found with SiteGround was this handy little plugin for WordPress which allows instant optimisation to give a faster loading site. Though you can further tweak your WordPress affiliate site with other tools and tricks – it’s a great base point without much need for fiddling and technical skills.
Some of the main features of the plugin are:
- Dynamic and Browser Caching
- PHP version which can be set to be managed by SiteGround or manually set
- Image shrinking and lazyloading
- JS and CSS optimisation and minify
To test this I’ve given an example of the page speed from GTMetrix for this site with no CDN or Optimisation turned on.
Impressive, but let’s try it with most of the SGOptimiser settings turned on.
Obviously, the site needs to look pretty – and pictures help. It also helps
- Pixabay – Royalty-free stock images you can download for free
- pixlr.com – a free online graphics editor – like a cloud-based photoshop
Once I’d registered a domain, I logged into the SiteGround cPanel.
- To begin, and to save changing the WordPress instance later – the first thing I did was installed an SSL certificate. Without one, Google is going to give me a hard time, browsers will give off warning signals and the world will collapse. Let’s Encrypt is amazing. It’s a free SSL certificate. I installed a Wildcard on the domain (probably overkill, if you ever split the domain just go for a “Let’s Encrypt SSL” on the main domain.
- Next, I used WordPress Autoinstaller. This is pretty straight forward. I’ve started using no www. on my domains. There’s no reason for this other than I prefer it.
- I included the Limit Login Attempts (Loginizer), Classic Editor (I’m not feeling Guttenburg Editor yet, old habits I suppose) and SiteGround’s WordPress Starter option which I *think* included the SG Optimizer plugin.
- Once the site was up, I installed the REhub theme, then the Rewise Child Theme which I activated.
There are tons of different keyword tools out there, many similar, some with very unique features. I’ve written a mahoosive article on some free and paid options, but I’ll focus on the two I primarily used for my affiliate site; Keywords Everywhere and SEMRush.
SEMRush is my little luxury and I love it dearly.
Now for the boring bit, for some, the content. If you’re going to play the Google game and get the rankings – your two biggest strengths – content and links.
Content is what your site is about, it’s what your niche is about. It’s how you’re going to draw people in and get those links clicked.
Now for the elephant in the room. The moneymaker. Amazon Associates is Amazon’s affiliate programme which has been going since the early days of e-commerce. I could write an entire article on this, actually an entire book, but I’ll keep it to the basics.
When you place a personalised link on Amazon from your website to Amazon and a visitor clicks and buys, you receive a commission.
- Commissions vary between 1% to (sometimes) 12%. These change.
- You receive a commission on anything someone buys with that link.
- You may also receive a commission on other things a visitor buys within a 24 hour period. They used to give the full commission rate on these but often do not any more.
- Amazon will show you the number of clicks, conversion rates and amounts you made roughly every 24 hours.
- You will receive payment (after certain thresholds) two months in arrears.
- Your commissions will be deducted if a buyer returns an item.
- The T’s & C’s are long and complex. You will possibly fall foul during your “probation period” and have to start again.
- They have an API but you cannot usually access it until your account has been fully approved (i.e. after probation).
- There’s next to no support from Amazon, but there is a support forum with some jolly nice types on it.
- You can sign up for multiple territories (e.g. UK, USA, Australia, Germany, Canada etc) and use links that will redirect to Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca etc – thus increasing your potential buyer base.
How to get an Amazon Affiliate Link
The easiest way to place an Amazon link on your WordPress site is to log in to Amazon’s main site using your Associate details. There’s a great little tool called SiteStripe.
When you type a product in and go to it, the SiteStripe will light up.
All you need do is click on the Get Link: Text, check your ID tags are showing and you now have a compliant link you can paste into your WordPress article.
You’ll notice there are two other options – Image and Text+Image. Image is useful but can be temperamental. It allows you to create a linkable image and add it to your site. If your site starts spewing errors, it may be better to use a plugin plus API.
Text+Image is hopeless. Because it uses iframes to create the link anyone browsing your site with an AdBlocker will just be shown a blank space. Avoid.
I’ve spent over a decade using social media for various projects. Countless hours building followers, likes and content. Does it work for affiliate marketing? Hmmm, sort of. Would I put all my efforts into it? No.
I’ve seen people online who have used social media for their affiliate sites. Does it work for them? Probably. A bit. Did it work for me? No.
The Facebook Experiment
I tried this in the first month and in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have bothered. Back in the day, building up a Facebook following was relatively easy. Even the silliest pages (I know, I owned a few) could gain followers in their hundreds and thousands with little or no effort.
Let’s say you’re writing about Hamster Cages. Now let’s say you were focussing on something like “Best Hamster Cages for Dwarf Hamsters” as a keyword. If someone types “Best Hamster Cages for Dwarf Hamsters” into Google or Bing, there’s a high chance they’re looking to buy one (unless they just like looking at pictures of hamster cages, of course). If they see your site, click on it, like what they read – there’s a good chance they’ll click on your Amazon link and buy it. That’s buyer intent. Your time and effort invested in getting that result on Google were worth it.
Instead of Google, you try Facebook. You create a page called “Hamster Cages”. Okay, that’s probably too specific. You create a page called “People Who Love Hamsters”. You then throw a load of money into getting page likes targetting all the people aged 18-80 in the UK who like Hamsters and Hamster Cages.
Just for fun, I’ve checked all of the people who came to my site affiliate over the past 30 days. There have been around 25k. Of that, 101 came from Facebook.
My sites conversion rate for Clicks to Amazon is around 12%. That doesn’t mean that 12% of site visitors buy something, just that they visit Amazon by clicking on a link on my page. That means roughly (I’ve no math to support this so I’m generalising) that 12 of my Facebook visitors clicked on a link from my site. If half of the people bought it, that’s 6 sales. I get thousands of clicks to Amazon a month and roughly 1,000 sales. 6 sales for all that money, time and effort I’ve put into Facebook. Hmmm.
Whenever you read an article about websites – this is always the bit with the most flowery language. They either don’t go into detail or make sweeping generalisations about “content people want to link to” or some other nonsense.
Back in 1998 when I first dabbled with building websites there used to be a lot of links sharing on sites. My Geocities site full of dancing gifs wanted traffic so I said to another Geocities site owner with dancing gifs that I’ll link to them if they linked to me. Simple. Sadly those days, along with the dancing gifts, are now in the digital graveyard.
These still exist and some of them provide some great link juice. Sites such as OnTopList.com and a few others were great at getting me started. Beware, there are hundreds of abandoned directory sites out there in the internet graveyard.
Did I buy a few backlinks? Okay, I confess – I have sinned. Does everyone do it? Probably. Do they admit it? Probably not.
Tools I Used:
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Google Analytics
- Yoast Analytics
- Social Media
Google Featured Snippets
I (and probably 1bn other people) have a real love/hate relationship with Featured Snippets.
Take a random example. “Best Underpants”. I type this into Google and a listed featured snippet appears.
These appear right at the top of your Google search.
Mistakes I Made
- I got kicked off of Amazon a few times for violating the terms and conditions. To this day, I’ve not figured out why. I do think they’re very trigger happy – or the people who check the sites really hate their jobs and press the reject button randomly. Anyway, keep an eye on it. Don’t let it put you off. Once they accept you properly they tend to leave you alone.
- I bought a few spurious backlinks when I started. Don’t do this. Luckily SEMRush identified them as Toxic and I used Googles disavow tool to disown them. “Me? No no, must have been a competitor!”. Suckas.
- I veered off the path a few times. I registered a few other sites, I even started some. Look, I had evenings and weekends to work on this site. Don’t get distracted. Sure, five sites may make you more money – but you’ll be working five times as hard and probably get less far than just working on one, then another when that works.
What I’ve Learned
Tools I Used
- SiteGround for Hosting
- Amazon Associates
- Google Webmasters
- Google Analytics