Amazon has one of the best affiliate marketing programs online today. It’s not because of high percentage payouts, and it’s not because of particularly attractive products; rather, it’s because of two things.
- It’s Amazon. They have pretty much everything you could want, from skin creams to computer parts to books to sex toys. According to a report from 2016, Amazon had over 370 million different products available, and you can sell any one of them as an affiliate with a couple of clicks. Plus, in addition to the variety, it’s Amazon. People trust Amazon, so the name recognition goes a long way towards selling products.
- Amazon’s affiliate tracker will give you credit for selling anything the user buys after clicking your link. If you recommend to them a $5 cell phone case, and they buy both the case and the $600 cell phone, you get the commission on the case and the cell phone. Plus, Amazon is very well set up to recommend more products and push upsells and accessories. If a user goes to buy a cell phone, they’re going to be recommended cases, screen protectors, expansion cards, and apps. All of those will earn you commissions.
The earning potential is extremely high and very flexible. To balance this, you end up with a lower than average commission, generally starting at 4%, with performance-based increases throughout the month. The more you sell, the more your sales are worth to you. It makes a good, niche Amazon affiliate site very valuable, but it takes a lot of effort to set up and rank one of those sites. After all, with thousands of other marketers looking to do the same thing you are, there’s a lot of competition in pretty much every niche.
Talking to Fred
The first thing I want to cover, before we get into tips and growth strategies, is the recent Google “Fred” update. This update hurts sites that have too much thin content, too little value, and too many ads. In other words, it’s aimed squarely at hurting thin niche affiliate sites. One of the common strategies for ranking a niche site was to spam out a bunch of thin-ish content, just good enough to pass Panda filters and algorithmic hurdles, lace it with affiliate links, and let it sit.
What this means is not that your chances of ranking an affiliate site are poor, but that you will have to put more effort into it. However, at the same time, it’s giving you an opportunity if you act fast. Fred de-ranked a lot of niche sites, which leaves opportunities to come in and steal the niche if you work fast and produce enough content of high enough quality fast enough. It’s tough, but it’s possible.
Fred greatly prefers sites with strong visual elements and branding. Good use of color, images, videos, a good logo; all of this contributes. Niche sites with basic typography logos and no much customization are going to struggle for a while.
Create, Rank, Grow
As the subtitle implies, there are three steps for affiliate niche site success. The first is to create a suitably powerful affiliate site, or at least the framework for one. The second is to get that site ranking, even if it’s a low rank, to prove that you’re not suffering under penalties and that you’re on the right track. The third is to grow the site from a newcomer to a powerhouse earning you thousands of dollars a month. So let’s take each section on it’s own.
To create a high quality affiliate niche site, you’re going to want to start strong. This means a good, high quality web host, a little investment in your framework, buy some good tools and get to work. I don’t have a specific recommendation for web host, but you can read this article for some advice.
Regardless of the niche you want to get into, I recommend a WordPress framework. Specifically, I recommend that you pick up the Genesis framework, and one of the related themes. This sets you up with an excellent and fast-loading website framework with themes that look good. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s a one-time purchase and it’s going to carry you through a lot of otherwise tedious optimization. Remember, site speed is an SEO factor, so setting yourself up to succeed is better than having to whittle away at plugins and code later.
You’ll want some basic SEO plugins. You don’t necessarily need blog comments enabled, but if you have them, Akismet is a must. I recommend some kind of security suite just in case you’re ever a target. WordPress SEO by Yoast is great for total control over your site SEO. Other plugins will depend on any of your own specific ideas or goals.
You will also want to invest in some tools for keyword research. Long Tail Pro and ScrapeBox combined will cover just about everything you want. The keyword research you need to do specifically will depend on your intended niche, of course. The general goal will be to come up with enough keywords you can populate your site with a couple dozen posts immediately, and schedule more to post 1-2 times per month – or even up to 1-2 times per week – for at least a year. You will also want to keep an eye on trends in your niche, for newsworthy keywords you can cover when they happen, to give more ranking power to your site. That’s all for the next step, though.
For now, you can read about the basics and intricacies of keyword research by reading posts like this one from Backlinko and this one from Moz. They should tell you just about everything you need to know, though they may be a bit hard to digest.
So how do you pick what niche you want to target?
- First, come up with some general ideas. Do you want to focus on electronics? Housewares? Books? You want something with demand.
- Next, browse those categories on Amazon to look for specific categories of products. In electronics, for example, you might focus on e-readers, or cell phones, or Internet Of Things-style household items.
- Next, start coming up with sub-niches. If you’re in cell phones, you could focus on mid-tier non-Galaxy Android devices. If you’re in IoT items, you can focus on various Internet-enabled thermostats.
- Finally, with your list of ideas, scout out the competition. Look at how much traffic these niches are getting, look at how many sites are competing for the niche, and look for how strong the competition happens to be. Of note here is the bit about Fred liking sites with strong branding and media content. If your niche is dominated by sites without too much in the way of images outside of product images, no real logo or color, and anything like that, you have a better chance of pulling ahead if you do those things.
Normally, I would mention picking a domain name higher on this process, but you generally want a domain name that’s somewhat relevant to your niche. Avoid exact match or other keyword domains, though. The Points Guy is a website about credit card points, and that’s fine. Hardware Revolution is a site about computer hardware, and that’s fine. They’re both strong brands. Something like BestInternetThermostats.com isn’t going to be a very strong brand. Someone who does nothing but cover Samsung Galaxy devices could the TheGalaxyMan.com and come out fine. Personality and relevance is key.
When it comes to ranking a site, content is key. You need to publish enough content right off the bat that your site is robust. You also need to keep publishing content on a regular schedule, even if that schedule is fairly rare, so there’s something new every so often. This keeps your site in ongoing relevance, particularly if you’re publishing something newsworthy or related to current events or trends in your niche.
The key, regardless of niche, is that your content needs to have a lot of value. Don’t simply write a “top 5 iPhones” article with a list of recent iPhones. Write detailed reviews digging into specs. Write tutorials on how to replace parts of the device or how to install updates or troubleshoot errors. Write guides on what accessories work best and what ones fall flat, and make your experience sound firsthand and reasonable.
If you have to pay writers for your content, do so. You should aim for 1500-2000-word posts on average, and enough of them to keep your site active for quite a while. People always talk about niche sites being mostly passive, and that’s true in the sense that you don’t have to deal with fulfillment, customer service, product development, or sales. On the other hand, you do have to perform regular maintenance to keep your site up and ranking. When algorithm changes or new competition come up and drive down your rank, it hurts sales. You need to keep on top of things to make sure you respond quickly.
Your keyword research will help guide the kinds of content you can write. Every post should be relevant to your niche, valuable to your audience, focused on convincing people to buy something via extolling the virtues of the product, and it should sound reasonable. No one likes a 5-star shill for a product with 2 stars on Amazon. This guide goes into detail about how to research and create content. It’s an excellent place to start.
Growing your site can take many forms. For the most part, what you want to be doing is publishing more content in more varied expansions of your niche. Someone who starts out with a narrow site about internet-enabled thermostats can expand to internet-enabled light bulbs, wearable tech like watches, fitness trackers, and all sorts of other devices. The key is to slowly expand your area of influence, while maintaining your core presence such that you’re impossible to outrank.
Creating and publishing this much content will take time, and it can very easily slip beyond the bounds of the traditional passive niche income stream. It’s worth it, though; an expanded niche site with dominant rankings can become an extremely strong source of income, and the larger and broader your site is, the more resilient it becomes to both attempts to outrank it and changes to search that could hurt it.
Another part of growth is your on-site SEO. There’s a lot that goes into this, but it’s all very basic stuff. Optimize keyword usage in posts, in meta data, and in titles. Format articles properly. Use Schema markup if you’re posting that kind of information. The most important part is images and video; you want a lot of both, and you want to make them accessible to Google via captions, alt text, and transcripts. The media content is to satisfy Fred, and the SEO is to satisfy Google in general.
Link building is tricky to a niche site, because niche sites are clearly optimized for affiliate sales, and a lot of link building strategies don’t work on sites like that. However, you can still work on creating and sharing infographics, creating forum and comment links, guest posting on relevant sites, and other strategies can help. It’s harder to get those links, because people like linking to niche sites less, but ideally the quality of your content will outweigh that. Every link helps, and every link builds upon the rest.
You can attempt social marketing and a newsletter, but these are much harder to automate and harder to pass off as natural when you do. They’re a lot more work, for questionable benefit; how much loyalty are you going to inspire in an audience when your primary offering is Amazon links? That said, if you can provide valuable enough content, you can inspire brand loyalty in someone, even if it’s a smaller audience than other brands can pull in. Any loyalty is better than none at all.