This post is a companion piece to our Members Only Ethical Affiliate Programs list.
If you've been around the blogosphere long enough, you already know about affiliate marketing. In most cases, a blogger signs up for a program either directly through the brand website or through an affiliate platform like ShareaSale. Upon approval of her application, she is provided banner ads, coupons, and tracking links that enable her to spread the word about the brand and receive commission on sales generated from her custom links.
Ethical bloggers small and large tend to shy away from overt marketing that feels disingenuous, even unethical. But the beauty of affiliate linking is that you have the opportunity to make a bit of honest money talking about brands and products you love. Your blog is a valuable marketing tool, even if you don't yet see it that way, and there are ways to unobtrusively make a small income from it. That boost in income can then be poured back into your site, offering better services and a better overall experience for your readers. Or, you could always donate it to a cause you're passionate about.
In any case, there are a couple things you need to know before you start taking advantage of affiliate programs, namely, FTC Guidelines.
The Federal Trade Commission exists to ensure that consumers don't get duped by unclear or intentionally misleading advertising disguised as editorial content. To stay legal (and honest), make sure you read up on the specifics of the guidelines here.
The Basic Rules:
- You will need to create an Affiliate Linking Policy disclosure in a clear location on your website.
- Any post that contains affiliate links, has sponsored content from a brand you're working with, or includes a product you received free of charge in exchange for review should clearly state something along the lines of:
- "This post contains affiliate links."
- "This post is sponsored" or "Sponsored by [brand name]."
- "[Brand name] provided this product for free."
Please note that this post is not comprehensive and that it's important to self-educate by reading up on the official regulations. Following FTC Guidelines helps you be transparent with your readers, which is an important part of gaining and maintaining trust.
Now onto the good stuff...
Brand Programs vs. Affiliate Networks
There are two different ways you can get involved in affiliate programs and it will vary from brand to brand. In both cases, you will be provided specific tracking links for products and websites through the affiliate interface, which means you will need to log in and create custom links every time you want to link out through an affiliate program. This can be tedious, but if it's a brand you really believe in, you can make consistent income off of diligent affiliate linking.
Some brands, such as Sseko Designs, offer an affiliate linking platform directly through their site. In this case, you will need to sign up with the brand itself and head back to the custom affiliate interface whenever you're ready to post a link or banner.
The more popular of the two by far, affiliate networks, such as ShareaSale or IncomeShops, amalgamate thousands of affiliate programs into one central platform. You will need to create an account on the platform and then apply separately for each brand program you're interested in joining.
My favorite program by far is Skimlinks, because it's a convenient way of generating commission off of links you frequently use without all the effort of creating custom links!
When you sign up for Skimlinks, you will be provided with a few lines of code to place in the body of your blog's html template. Once it's activated, Skimlinks will auto-affiliate link any website you post that's included in their massive affiliate network. For instance, if you mention you bought your cool running shoes on ebay, Skimlinks will turn "ebay" into an affiliate link and any purchases made through that link will generate commission for you! If you do nothing else with affiliate linking, consider signing up for Skimlinks.