Let’s Talk About WordPress Affiliate Marketing

There are a lot of perspectives to consider when we're talking about WordPress affiliate marketing

You can't really spend much time on Twitter, Facebook Groups, or reading some blogs to hear the strongly opinionated take that people doing WordPress affiliate marketing are biased.

You hear them say all sorts of things:

Affiliates suck! They're just writing for money! They can't be trusted!

There are other folks, however, who want to know how to get more traction for their new product.

Affiliates could be awesome! How do we find them? How much do we pay?

If you spend time with leaders of WordPress products looking to grow, the topic of affiliate marketing will come up. It's a way to build a large community of fans who are sharing their take on your product. It can reinforce your own marketing efforts, and get the word out to audiences that you may not have already.

So which is it? Are WordPress affiliate marketers good or bad?

Let's first eliminate some of the extremes…

Some affiliates aren't great

The reality is that whether you're talking about WordPress affiliate marketers, or affiliate marketers in general, there are some suspicious folks out there.

When you read their posts, you notice that every post is in pitch mode. Every post only mentions or links to products that have affiliate links.

You can't evaluate motivation simply by reading posts, but these WordPress affiliate marketers feel like they're only motivated by writing posts to make money.

But that's a tiny part of the market. Painting every person who uses an affiliate link with that “untrustworthy” brush is just as an extreme response as the fact that there are some extreme affiliate marketers out there.

Some business owners are all about sour grapes

Other business owners like to badmouth all affiliates – using that broad paintbrush. There aren't a lot of them, but those that are extreme often shout it quite loudly – that WordPress affiliate marketing sucks.

I remember (a long time ago) having a conversation with an owner who specifically hated all affiliates and affiliate marketing. I knew I wasn't going to convince them that it was an extreme position. Thankfully, their coach stepped in and simply told them they weren't being very strategic.

If someone can bring you a customer which eliminates your cost of sale, why not pay them? You pay your sales people a commission, right?

But again, the “haters” are an extreme and small group.

So how do we think about WordPress affiliate marketing in a helpful way? I think we learn to live in the middle ground.

What's the middle ground?

You're on my site, with my name on it, and I do link to products that are affiliate links, so you know two things: these opinions are my own, and I'm not against affiliate links (since I use them myself).

So here's the five questions I ask when I see bloggers getting into WordPress affiliate marketing.

First, are you using more than one way to monetize their blog? I find that when a blog uses several different monetization strategies, instead of just affiliate marketing, it's easier to believe they're not just writing a post as a way to make money. Sure they're happy to make that money, but they are placing a lot of different bets.

Second, are there posts you've written that don't have affiliate links on them? I normally write posts without affiliate links (when I don't have a relationship with the product vendor). That means I think the post is helpful and worth writing, even if it won't generate direct income. But the post often attracts the product owner's attention, and sometimes results in getting an invitation to an affiliate program. This allows me to change the links. But if that doesn't happen, the post remains – without affiliate links. It says to my readers that the post is worth more than a few dollars.

Third, are you customers of the products you write about? One of the things I really like about some affiliate programs out there is that they limit who can be an affiliate. In other words, you can't be an affiliate without having purchased the product. That means they're writing from experience, not simply because they got a link and wanted you to click on it. I get invitations all the time to write about products – but if I've not used the product, I don't often sign up for an affiliate program or write the post.

Sometimes I terminate my relationship with a product, and stop paying, and I may still be in that affiliate program, but eventually, to stay current and write helpful content, I'm likely going to have to buy the product again.

Fourth, are you introducing people to new products? The other day someone went onto twitter and suggested that people like me were ruining WordPress because we were gatekeepers, not allowing any new entrants in the market, and just pushing people to our favorites. I say “people like me” but he only listed two people doing this damage to the entire ecosystem, and I was one of them.

As I replied on twitter (I know, I normally don't reply to that kind of critique), it's a bummer when facts get in the way of a good rant.

When it comes to WordPress affiliate marketing, my fourth question is whether you're just pushing the same names or introducing new entrants to your audience. In other words, I think the issue that twitter user was bringing up was valid. (I simply thought they made a poor choice naming me.)

Fifth, is there any evidence that product reviewers have actually used the product? One of the things I do when getting ready to write about a product is to buy it, install it, and put it to work. How do you know? Because I often share an insight only possible by using it, or a screenshot showing you how it works. Did you see that in yesterday's post?

Ben wrote about this on his blog. I don't think all list posts suck, but his point is valid.

Is there a way to do WordPress affiliate marketing in a healthy way?

I think so. When you can answer “yes” to each of the five questions, I would consider that a healthy way to do affiliate marketing.

But this also applies to products trying to recruit affiliate marketers. Not all of them are equal. Are you putting an rigor into your process of accepting an affiliate?

After all, when you sign up a WordPress affiliate marketer that can't say yes to all four questions, you're opening up yourself to the criticism that those folks (and their reviews) can't be trusted.

One last tip to product companies that want to sign up affiliates, look for ones that are already talking about you – on twitter and on your blog – without an affiliate program. They likely genuinely love your product (the way I love Testimonial.to, Fathom Analytics, SavvyCal, and Bento) and would gladly join your program.

For example, I wrote about Testimonial without an affiliate relationship, and love their product so much, I created a video (which is now on their homepage). All for free. Because I love that product.

Products I don't know? Don't love? Those cold emails don't work. Mostly because I don't want to be the kind of affiliates that only writes for (a tiny amount of) money.