I don’t often blog about blogging, but I’m in the process of revamping my “About” section on the site (it’s painfully outdated–don’t even bother clicking on it haha) and want to have a mini resource section that explains how the content on this blog is or isn’t affected by the business of this blog. I’m all about that transparency, yo! My hope is that this post will be useful for readers confused about affiliate links.
How am I affected by clicking this? Is she being paid to place this link? Does this mean the post is being sponsored by a brand?
I hope there’s also some useful information in it for fellow bloggers who may be new to blogging as a business and in need of some monetization guidance. I’m by no means an expert here (so far from it!), but I’m going to share what I’ve learned so far in this bizarre blogging adventure I’ve been on for the past few years.
If you’re just here for the health and fitness fun, then this will admittedly be a boring post for you and you might want to skip it. 🙂
What’s an affiliate link?
An affiliate link is essentially a link to a page or, most commonly, a product that has a little tracking code on it. The tracking code gives credit to whomever sent over the traffic. So let’s say I’m part of the XYZ Sweet Potato affiliate program and my ID is PUMPS123. If I mention XYZ Sweet Potatoes on the blog and say “hey guys, I used XYZ for this recipe” with a link to the XYZ website, the link will have my ID info attached to it (XYZSweetPotatoes.com?/refID=PUMPS123 instead of just XYZSweetPotatoes.com)*. The tracked link still brings you to the exact same web page though.
*For the record, not all affiliate links are structured that way or even remotely close to that, I’m just giving an example.
Affiliate programs all have different terms, but let’s say with good ol’ XYZ that I get 2% of sales. If you visit their website by clicking my affiliate link and then make a sweet potato purchase from them (right then or, in most cases, within a longer specified time frame), XYZ would pay me 2% of whatever you spent. It’s essentially a referral fee.
Again, all programs vary as far as compensation structure, but basically affiliate links allow bloggers to get a small monetary kickback from purchases their followers make because of them.
Now let’s talk about why the hell you’re ordering sweet potatoes online … 😉
So basically I can’t trust anything bloggers recommend if they link to it with an affiliate link?
That’s not the case at all! There’s a big difference between a sponsored post and a reference to a favorite product using an affiliate link (although sponsored posts may very well include affiliate links).
Let me use Amazon as an example. Amazon has an affiliate program. Amazon also sells everything under the sun. So let’s say I fall in love with ABC Nail Polish after a friend recommended it to me and I want to include it in my monthly roundup post of favorite things. When putting together the post, I’ll see if you can buy ABC on Amazon. If you can, I’ll link to the product page on Amazon using an affiliate link; if you can’t, I’ll link to the product page on ABCNailPolish.com. So I don’t see that as disingenuous; I see it as a viable way to turn a passion into a career. Hopefully you agree! 🙂
Remember, with affiliate links, the brand isn’t paying a blogger to mention them (that’s a sponsored post). They are providing financial incentive by giving a percentage of sales (or flat fee), but to be honest here, the financial kickback from the majority of affiliate links isn’t big enough to motivate even the most corrupt of bloggers to recommend a product that they don’t genuinely like. I can’t speak for the entire blogging community, but I know what I would NEVER promote a product I disliked, regardless of monetary incentive. Period.
How much do bloggers make from affiliate links?
Totally depends on the size of the blog and social media following. For the average blogger, I don’t think you should expect affiliate links to be your biggest revenue stream by any means. They’re certainly not for me anyway. I do still think it’s a worthwhile monetization strategy, however, for top-trafficked posts and in the event a blog post goes viral. For example, if I use a sneaker affiliate link in the outfit details of one of my workout posts, that one link will probably generate me 10 cents over time. No literally. Ten pennies.
Now let’s say I use a Stitch Fix affiliate link in a review post on my latest delivery and that post goes viral on Pinterest. Now the reach of that link goes beyond my immediate following to all the non-Pumps & Iron readers who stumble upon the post via Pinterest. That affiliate link has the potential to generate a more significant amount.
My best advice for bloggers is to start by making a list of the products you absolutely love, use all the time in real life, and mention frequently on the blog. Research if the brand has an affiliate program. Apply to it if they do. Those are the affiliate links that are going to perform the best because they’re associated with products you constantly use and would be talking about anyway.
How does clicking an affiliate link affect me?
The most important thing to know is that purchasing via affiliate link does not cost you anything. There’s no added referral fee or hidden charges or anything like that. In some cases, affiliate programs actually allow bloggers to offer their referrals a discount. So from a monetary standpoint, you’re either positively affected or not affected at all.
Affiliate networks use anonymous info of yours to make sure your activity is credited to the correct referrer. Don’t freak out! We’re not talking about SSN, the names of your children, the passcode to unlock your iPhone or anything like that. When your computer uses the Internet, it has it’s own unique IP address. As far as it relates to affiliate links, the affiliate network can see that a certain IP address went from pumpsandiron.com over to Amazon.com using my tracked link and then completed a purchase.
A friend of mine was worried I’d be able to see how much she spent shopping online if she used an affiliate link of mine, but there’s no personally identifying information shared with me at all. I can see a purchase of X dollars was made and my kickback from it was X dollars but I can’t see anything about who placed the order. Fear not, your secret Amazon Prime addiction is safe. 😉
How does using an affiliate link on my blog affect SEO?
I’m not an SEO expert by any means, but if you’re a blogger using affiliate links, you should make sure they’re nofollow. This website is a really good resource if you’re new to the whole nofollow vs. dofollow thing. To really oversimplify things (because that’s about as deep as my understanding of it goes haha), if a company is paying you to link to them, Google doesn’t want to give them credit for traffic from that link. Even if the website is reputable and awesome, this is a good policy! Think about it: If crappy, unauthoritative websites can just pay for traffic to increase their ranking then your Google searches would be super frustrating.
By adding the nofollow tag to sponsored/affiliate links, you’re telling Google, “hey there Googz, don’t count the traffic from this link towards the site’s ranking–it’s a paid link.” If you don’t do this, Google might ding your website’s SEO ranking. Better safe than sorry!
Affiliate Networks & Programs I Use
Most brands use a third party to manage their affiliate programs. These third party networks act as a manager, streamlining the connection between brand and influencer. There are a ton–CJ, Impact Radius, ShareASale, the list goes on. Here are ones I personally focus on and utilize most frequently on the blog:
Because you can buy almost anything via Amazon these days, I use this affiliate linking program for general products (fitness equipment, beauty products, books, etc.).
I use this for activewear and general clothing items. In workout posts, for example, I’ll always list my outfit details and sometimes even include a widget with items to recreate a similar look. Shopstyle is like a one-stop-shop when it comes to fashion. You can search a database of TONS of brands all within the same interface so it really helps streamline things. Instead of joining a separate affiliate program for each individual clothing brand you wear, you can use Shopstyle for (almost) all of them.
A little tip for new bloggers–while Shopstyle makes things convenient, if there’s a particular brand you wear all the time, it may be worthwhile to see if they have a separate affiliate program. I’ve found that the commissions are usually higher going directly with an individual brand than through Shopstyle or rewardStyle (<–same idea as Shopstyle but it’s invite only and really more for fashion bloggers).
I first joined Commission Junction specifically for Stitch Fix. I had done a blogger trip with Stitch Fix and shortly after they invited me to join their affiliate program via CJ. Once I joined CJ, I then had access to the countless other brands using their platform so I applied to programs with those that were a good fit for my blog. The two I utilize most frequently on Pumps & Iron (in addition to Stitch Fix) are Shopbop and Revolve. I’ve been a loyal (“obsessive” is probably the better word choice haha) online shopper with Shopbop and Revolve for years and years–long before I ever started blogging–which makes the promotion of these brands so natural and fitting.
What’s made CJ a favorite over other affiliate platforms is that they really go beyond just links and banner ads. I’ve had the opportunity to do some fun campaigns and post sponsorships because of them
The other affiliate networks I use are really just one-offs that I’ll join specifically for a brand that I’m obsessed with who uses that platform. One example would be Fabletics. I have a ton of their workout clothing and wear it frequently on the blog so it made sense to join their affiliate program when they invited me via AvantLink. Is AvantLink ever going to be one of my major sources of blog income? Probably not unless a blog post about Fabletics happens to go viral. Is it worth the hassle of managing yet another affiliate network for one brand? In some cases my answer is no, but again, I wear Fabletics gear all the time. In this case, I think it is.
Some other affiliate platforms I’ve either used in the past or currently use:
- Impact Radius
- Rakuten (previously LinkShare)
- ShareASale (<–head up, that ironically–?–is an affiliate link)
And I’m sure there are another 100 out there that I haven’t heard of. This, my friends, is why filing taxes is such a disaster for bloggers (ha!).
Phew, ok, long post. And kinda boring. But it’s important to me to have all this information out there as I build up a resource section for my blog.
Any questions? Leave a comment! Have some info to add? Please do!