Affiliate Marketing...the How, What, and Why

Lately, affiliate marketing has been seen as a shady way of earning money, and for good reason. There are a lot of people out there using affiliate marketing like a drunk guy shooting a shotgun...blasting links out into the abyss hoping they hit something! It makes it hard to believe what you read, and even harder to figure out what products are really worth buying. BUT, before we get too far down this rabbit hole, let me explain what affiliate marketing is.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is when a person (let’s call him Steve) sells a product on behalf of a company (let’s call them Watches, Inc.) in exchange for a commission. So Steve makes a website with a list of 100 watches. Each watch on the list has a link to the Watches, Inc. website where you can buy that specific watch. When someone goes to Steve’s website then clicks on a link and buys a watch, Steve makes some money! Makes sense right? Steve is basically a salesman, BUT he doesn’t work for Watches, Inc. , he is an affiliate of the company. This is the basic concept of affiliate marketing. Of course, things are rarely this simple in the real world.
The reason that this form of marketing gets a bad rap is because some people are dishonest about the recommendations they are making, or they don’t tell you that they are using affiliate marketing links.

So let’s look at another example. Let’s say you are reading a cooking blog about a new lasagna recipe you want to try. So you read through the article and then there is a sentence that says “I love cooking lasagna, and I love it even more since I bought this new dish (link) . It’s a non-stick glass pan so I never have to slave over dishes after cooking!” You think, “I hate slaving over dishes, I’m getting that pan!” So you click the link and buy the pan and all is right in the world...until you use the pan, and it super sucks. Then you think to yourself “Why did that author recommend this pan, it super sucks!!” Lo and behold, the author used an affiliate link, and made money when you bought that pan. So the author is really just a salesman and it’s in their best interest to sell as many pans as possible by telling everyone how awesome they are, even though they aren’t awesome...not even a little bit. This is when you realize that everyone on the internet is a liar and they just want to steal your money by making horrible recommendations for crappy pans!! Except...

Most affiliate marketers are not sleazy salesman

Most people writing on the internet are not writing to make a living, they are just passionate about something so they want to share their experiences, discuss with others, and teach people what they know. It’s important to remember that most affiliate marketers are honest people who are using their platform (video, blogs, podcasts) to make a little money by recommending products that they actually love!

Ok, let’s look at one last example. Let’s say you are having dinner with a group of friends and the group starts talking about margaritas. One of your friends says, “I love margaritas, but I can’t find a blender that makes them smooth enough, so I never make them.” A few of your other friends agree and complain about how their blenders are super lame. It just so happens that you bought an awesome blender the other day, so you tell your friends about this blender and the next day, those friends buy this awesome blender and make tons of margaritas and are crazy happy!! (partly because they bought a great blender, partly because they had a ton of margaritas) Now, this is the kind of situation where someone should utilize affiliate marketing. You are making a good, honest recommendation for a product that other people will probably benefit from.

Some important things to know about affiliate marketing...

There are a few important things you should know before buying from an affiliate.
  1. Affiliates are required, by law (in the U.S.), to tell you that they are using affiliate links Most affiliate programs (Amazon, Zappos, Wayfair, etc.) require that you make it abundantly clear to your consumers that you are using affiliate links. Most people abide by these rules, but unfortunately many do not and they risk losing commission, being banned by the program, or being sued! Aside from the affiliate programs, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has implemented new laws requiring affiliates to disclose this information. If there is no disclosure on the website, but you think the author is using affiliate links, DO NOT USE THEM.

  2. Buying from an affiliate link will cost you NOTHING, but you also don't get a discount When you purchase a product through an affiliate link, the price of the product does not change. You will not have to pay more in order for the company to pay the affiliate, nor will you get a better deal or a discount. Affiliate marketing should create a win-win-win situation... YOU win because you get to buy a highly recommended product that you were probably already looking for. The AFFILIATE wins because they get paid a small commission by the company. The COMPANY wins because they sold their product!

  3. Most of the companies you know of use affiliate marketing Most big companies you know of that sell a good or service uses affiliate marketing. Think about it this way, if you could have people out there selling your product 24/7, and only have to pay them maybe 3% of the price, why wouldn’t you? Affiliate marketing is a multi-BILLION dollar industry that is on the rise in the United States. So if you think that affiliate marketing is a creepy, underground marketing technique, think again!

So, why do I use affiliate links in my blog?

Here’s the deal; I’ve been writing for a few years on my own blogs, on other peoples blogs, and basically wherever someone will let me. I’m going to continue writing, whether a billion people are reading my content, or just my mom… Hi mom! So really, affiliate marketing doesn’t change anything about what I’m doing on my blog, I'm still trying to create the best content possible, and help people enjoy running more. But I figure, if I’m going to recommend products to my readers, why not get paid a little bit when people buy a product based on my recommendation? Remember, it's a win-win-WIN.
Plus when I make some money from affiliate marketing, I can justify spending another $150 on a new pair of running shoes!

The bottom line is…

Just trust yourself. If you get linked to a shady website with a thousand links to other shady websites, run! Run far, far away and never go back. Then check your virus scanner…

Another thing to remember is to do your own research. If you’re looking for a new blender, don’t go to the first blog with a little blurb and a link to some random blender. Read and learn as much about blenders as you can, find out what aspects of the blender are important, what you should look for in a quality blender, and then compare your findings with other recommendations.
Oh, and read reviews! Reviews are one of the best parts of the internet! Especially on sites where you can ask questions and people who actually own the product will answer them for you. You often have hundreds if not thousands of reviews from people who are actually using the product you want to buy, so they will be your greatest asset when assessing the quality of a product. Just be aware, there are stupid people out there, so when you read a review like this: “This blender came in a box…I hate boxes. 1 star.” you realize you have to take some reviews with a grain of salt.

Last but not least...transparency is always key in a relationship. Whoa, this just got really deep. Alright, alright, what I’m trying to say is, if you feel like someone is being sneaky or trying to trick you into doing something you're not sure about, or they aren’t being totally, 100% clear about their intentions and what they're up to...chances are it’s not good.

That’s why on my blog, you will always be well aware of my intentions and know when I’m using affiliate links or not. If you EVER feel like you’ve been slighted or duped send me a nasty email at it’s your turn. What do you think about affiliate marketing? Do you like it? Do you hate it? Have you ever been a part of affiliate marketing from a different point of view? Have you ever had a BAD experience with affiliate marketing. Let’s talk! Post in the comments below, I read everything you write!