Affiliate marketing continues to boom as an industry. Made possible by the rapid advance of digital technology, the simple practice of distributing customized links has become a reliable source of income for those capable of reaching relevant audiences — people deemed ‘influencers’ with opinions on products and services likely to be mirrored by their followers.
But ever since Twitter first got mainstream attention, we’ve seen a move away from in-depth reviews and roundups and towards brief and formulaic social media posts. Aspiring celebrities litter their accounts with #ad posts offering nothing more than generic endorsements with mandated hold-the-product-and-smile photos.
With all the clutter, an impartial observer might well conclude that there’s way too much affiliate marketing ‘content’ already. They’d be wrong, though. In fact, the affiliate marketing industry needs content more than ever. Why? Let’s get into it.
The demand for content isn’t going down
The digital content landscape is much like an insatiable deep-sea behemoth — no matter how much it consumes on any given day, it’s always in need of fresh, varied material shortly after. And though bland influencer posts get a lot of attention (and presumably do get results), they’re like bite-sized snacks, light and inconsequential. No one browses the glossy photos of a celebrity Instagram account and burns out on high-quality content.
Indeed, the average internet user is going to consume a broad range of content types. They might browse social media channels on their phone while commuting, read long-form articles throughout their working days, then watch YouTube videos after getting home (with newer generations favoring video). Each type of content they consume provides a fresh affiliate marketing opportunity, and consuming too much of one type isn’t going to sour them on others.
And new technology is going to keep bringing new content types. We’ve already seen the world of podcasting become absolutely enormous (largely supported by affiliate marketing, notably), and it’s possible that VR content will be next. Since any kind of content can be supported through affiliate links, there’s a lot of space waiting to be filled.
People respect transparent sponsorships
Consider the ongoing struggles of digital advertising models. Tired of ads that affect their online experience and emboldened by access to ad-blocking tools, internet users have quickly lost their willingness to put up with invasive advertising methods. Even as programmatic technology squeezes ever-higher levels of efficiency from PPC, the industry suffers at the hands of user reluctance and marketing saturation.
Affiliate marketing, though, can be done seamlessly without detracting from the content or engaging in any rhetorical shenanigans. And it doesn’t even require any pretense. It’s entirely possible to have a strong and productive seller/marketer arrangement without hiding anything from the prospective buyers — in fact, being entirely brazen can be very effective because people like being approached with honesty.
When an influencer produces a high-quality video series openly sponsored by a particular brand, it makes both parties look good. The brand earns plaudits for financing good content and the influencer gets to show off improved production values. Provided the content is good enough, followers won’t care about the promotional nature — and they’ll be more likely to want to pointedly click on an affiliate link to support the brand (as opposed to doing so unknowingly).
Social proof is enormously powerful
With every day that passes, the internet gives us more e-commerce opportunities and more product information. No matter what you’re looking to buy, you’ll be able to find countless models, versions, configurations, and prices, with every business you encounter eager to claim that only their product is worth your time — ignore all other contenders.
Since we can’t reach out to touch items through the digital realm, we are required to judge for ourselves whether any given proposition is really worth our time, and it’s hard to do that when we face so many similar options. That’s why we rely so heavily on social proof. We need people whose opinions we trust to give us some guidance and help us figure out which products are worth our money and which brands are worth our time.
While social proof has always been important (we are social animals, of course), it was less so when the internet was newer and people were inclined to give sites the benefit of the doubt.
Following numerous high-profile cases of user data being leaked, and a general push towards higher security standards through things like HTTPS, users are on high alert, and not inclined to take unnecessary chances. If you can establish yourself as an expert in your field, people will absolutely listen to what you have to say.
Discerning buyers are increasingly thorough
We’ve established that internet users are a lot more cautious than ever before when it comes to the companies they trust with their data or their money, but this isn’t purely a result of the aforementioned data leaks — it’s also a generational thing. Younger generations have reached maturity with the internet available to them, and feel perfectly comfortable engaging in large amounts of online research before making big decisions.
Someone from an older generation might go into a large store, ask the assistant which camera they should buy, and then go with that option — someone younger would be far more likely to take an in-depth look at the features and search for a comprehensive breakdown to read. And since tastes vary, they might look at various different pieces of content before finding one coming from their kind of perspective.
Combine the average buyer’s desire for thorough analysis with their eagerness to find an influencer operating on their wavelength and you get an affiliate marketing world that always has room for good content from fresh faces.
The viable marketing pool keeps growing
Affiliate programs are far more common and well-rounded than ever before. The cost-effective nature of the model has been consistently demonstrated, and since detailed analytics make it easy to tell where a page visitor came from, the range of companies supporting affiliate marketing out of the gate continues to expand.
Note that the end result of an affiliate marketing arrangement needn’t be someone buying a product — it could be someone using a service, or downloading a file, or visiting a page. Through call-tracking software and the establishment of sophisticated analytics goals, you can place a monetary value on almost any action, online or offline. And where there’s value, there’s an opportunity for affiliate marketing.
To get the ball rolling, try throwing together some niches on a whim. Here are some quick tips:
- Start with terms like “best”, “top” and “roundup” — they’re clear markers for affiliate reviews because they immediately get to the point.
- Think of a subject that you can usefully comment on and add a product or service associated with it (e.g. “Best motorbikes” or “Top cycling gloves”).
- To find a query with less competition, add on some additional terms that you can optimize for. Try terms related to purpose (“Best scarves for jogging”), location (“Top headphones in Chicago, Illinois”) or pricing (“Budget tax software roundup”).
- Once you find something without too much competition for rankings, start looking into affiliate schemes for those products — if you can’t find anything, contact the seller directly to see if you can arrange something manually.
(Note: Be careful that you choose something with a fairly static range. For instance, “Bluetooth speakers in New York” should return a product set that will change infrequently, while “Houston businesses for sale” won’t be so useful because they’re one-time deals and could sell while you’re writing the content (content is great for real estate if you’re close to the deals, but not if you’re just doing affiliate work). If you’re going to create high-quality affiliate content, make sure it can continue to deliver value on an ongoing basis.)
As you can see, there’s a remarkable amount of uncovered ground in the affiliate marketing world. In fact, there are so many different searches carried out every day that the idea of the affiliate marketing world being totally saturated is ludicrous. You may not be able to grab the low-hanging fruit at this point, but if you diversify your affiliate work, you’ll still reap the benefits.
Wrapping up, the affiliate marketing world needs content more than ever before for the following reasons (and possibly more):
- No matter how much content is created, people always want more.
- Sponsorships are readily accepted today.
- Social proof is only getting more powerful. In-depth research needs new perspectives.
- More things can be marketed than ever before.
If you’re just getting started in the affiliate marketing world, or you’ll be trying it for a while, don’t get discouraged by the apparent saturation of basic Instagram influencer posts. That isn’t the only kind of viable content — you can reach your audience elsewhere, and if you make your content good enough, the results will amaze you.
Patrick Foster contributes to Ecommerce Tips — an industry-leading ecommerce blog dedicated to sharing business and entrepreneurial insights from the sector. Check out the latest news on Twitter @myecommercetips.Patrick Foster