Can you monetise authentic content with affiliate marketing?

Colin Carter, Director, Weather2Travel.com

We live in a world where content (the good, the bad, and the ugly) is readily available on every subject under the sun. For many years, “Content is King” was the phrase of the industry. Today, it’s all about “influencers” and “influencer marketing”.

We’ve been a “content” affiliate for over 12 years, and we’ve seen many changes in that time. The birth of the super blogger, growth of social media platforms, Google Panda and Google Penguin updates and, of course, “Year of the Mobile” – times twelve. What has remained constant is the need for great quality content – the question is can you monetise authentic content with affiliate marketing?

What is content creation?

When we talk about content, we include blog articles, editorial, and reviews focused on informing, educating or inspiring the reader, as well as photography, videos, and interactive tools. Content can be created and published by anyone, but the challenge is to create authentic content that’s useful and meaningful.

This becomes more difficult when the issue of monetisation is raised. Content creators need to find a balance between their voice and credibility with their readers, and the need to be commercially minded. Whether a large national newspaper or a part-time blogger, the need to make money is there – but how?

How can you effectively monetise content?

The options for monetising content are varied. In the height of advertorials, a few years back, large sums of money were being paid for sponsored content to be placed on websites. Although this still happens, the SEO benefit has been diminished since Google outlawed the buying of “follow” links in this way, and therefore the value has shifted to branding and PR.

Bigger publishing houses have traditionally gone down the route of pure advertising models along with white label solutions with the expectation that a good slice of their readers are willing to buy or book from them – something very popular in travel. This, however, doesn’t work for smaller publishers or blogs whose readers would find it difficult to trust them as a booking engine or online shop.

Affiliate marketing, or performance marketing if you prefer, is a credible alternative as a revenue stream for all types of online publishers providing it is run in parallel with traditional online advertising such as Google Adsense and sponsored content networks such as Outbrain and Taboola.

It’s all about the content – not!

The rise of content marketing has allowed all types of publishers to compete for long tail traffic. Unfortunately, things are still stacked against smaller publishers, as Google mostly favours big brands in natural search. However, social media does even out the playing field and allow bloggers and influencers, who have large followings, to get eyeballs on their content.

There is no point writing the greatest blog article in the world if no one sees it, so traffic acquisition is a massive part of the process. The trick to being a successful content publisher is to find topics that readers are interested in or are likely to be shareable on social media.

Although Google has downgraded its Keyword Research Tool, there are still many online tools to help content publishers research article topics. Paid tools such as SEMRush and Moz will do the job well, while free tools such as Answer the Public, Ubersuggest and Keywordtool.io can give valuable inspiration.

The challenge is to write content that fits the style and voice of your website while meeting the expectations of your readers and the commercial goals of your business. It’s an internal battle that we face daily, but something that I think we have got better at over the years.

Things to consider when using affiliate marketing in content

We’ve met a lot of bloggers over the years who refuse to embrace affiliate marketing. This is usually because they either don’t like it (they don’t think they will ever earn anything from the “last click” model), they can’t be bothered to implement the affiliate links, or they don’t understand it (an industry full of buzzwords and acronyms).

If you have lots of articles, the idea of adding individual affiliate links to different brands on different affiliate networks is a nightmare. It is easy to see why platforms like Skimlinks and Viglinks have become very popular. Brands move from network to network more often than you think – so whether a large publisher or small blogger you need to have a system for maintaining affiliate tracking links and native links (which also change regularly).

Does affiliate marketing really work with content?

There is no way around it, making affiliate marketing work in authentic content is difficult. We have become a channel so focused on the bottom of the sales funnel that anything beyond that will lose out to incentive publishers focused on cashback, promotional offers and discount codes.

The industry has addressed this with the idea of assists and tenancy payments. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. To me, the key is “customer intent”; performance marketing is focused on customers who have already decided to buy and get them over the line. Content is usually about research and inspiration – a long way from the purchase.

This doesn’t make the traffic less valuable – it’s just harder to measure and reward. In the PR world, blogs and influencers are often judged on followers, past traffic and reputation. They are being paid to be brand ambassadors and raise product awareness.

The challenge – and the massive opportunity – for performance marketing, is to find a way to expand the definition of what “performance” is. Should it include branding and product awareness? And how can that be measured and rewarded fairly without breaking the current model? No easy questions to be answered.

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