Why Affiliate Marketing Needs Content More Than Ever

Why Affiliate Marketing Needs Content More Than Ever

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.

discerning buyer

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.

seller/marketer arrangement

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.

affiliate marketing

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

Ecommerce Consultant, EcommerceTips.org

What The Best Brand Publishers Are Doing Right Now

What The Best Brand Publishers Are Doing Right Now

Traditional publishers and print media companies have seen their profitability tumble as more and more of our daily media habits have moved online. This change gave rise to the seemingly-unstoppable growth of digital content marketing as a core promotional tool, which subsequently spawned the concept of a brand publisher.

Recognizing that they no longer needed to rely on conventional media platforms to reach people and get attention, businesses have begun to produce and distribute their own content. It allows them to lower their advertising costs and operate with much greater creative freedom.

But the model of a brand acting as a publisher isn’t a magic bullet. There are companies getting it horribly wrong, as well as companies executing it to perfection. In this piece, we’re going to look at the latter, seeing what the successful brand publishers are doing to make this relatively-fresh arrangement function optimally.

Carrying out regular content audits

A content audit is a comprehensive review of all of your live content, looking at numerous elements (such as page titles or subheadings) and collating the data into a single spreadsheet suitable for an overarching assessment — and the brands with the best content know how important it is to schedule a regular content audit.

Newspaper content goes out of date rapidly, and that’s fine given the disposable nature of the medium. You read one edition, discard it, and await the next. But old digital content isn’t worthless, particularly if written to touch upon universal themes, and savvy brands take every opportunity to spruce up their old content and bring it in line with today’s standards.

Following the advent of smarter content tagging and structuring suitable for search algorithms as well as humans, a lot of content (even from recent years) is lacking in some important areas. This is one reason why it’s important to have a solid structural framework in place (either systemwide or provided through an integrated tool) to make the updating process easier.

Investing in cornerstone work

There’s an absurd amount of content available for free through the internet. It barely even matters what the topic is, because even the most niche pursuit will have myriad dedicated blogs featuring similar articles. Brands that aspire to become respected ‘publishers’ but lack any sense often settle for the content barrage method — release as many articles as you can, on as many topics as you can cover, and as quickly as can be achieved.

But just as 100 multiplied by 0 is still just 0, no amount of low-quality content will accomplish anything of note. And when I say ‘low-quality’, I don’t simply mean simply technical quality. I mean general quality — how useful the points are, how good the writing is, etc.

Great brand publishing is about quality, not quantity. That means looking past the hammered-out posts about nothing and focussing on creating content so good that it will get the kind of attention you’re looking for. It doesn’t even have to be that long or complex — it just needs to resonate, like this sponsored Airbnb piece.

Airbnb - Brand Publishers and Influencers

Getting feedback from the people who matter

Let’s imagine for a second that I consider this piece the best thing I’ve ever written, viewing it as an informative masterpiece (untrue, but go with it). If you can barely tolerate my style and reach the conclusion feeling that you’ve entirely wasted your time, what difference does my opinion make? It may be notable, but it isn’t valuable. I’m not the target audience.

Since brand publishing is just another evolution of product or service marketing, its end goal is crystal-clear: make more money. How it gets there might vary, of course, but every path leads in the same direction: you promote a product so the reader might buy it, make your brand look good to make people want to buy from you, or provide a valuable resource to earn goodwill and (yes, you guessed it) make people want to buy from you.

The top brands in the world commit a lot of time and effort to acquiring, interpreting and learning from feedback. They know whose opinions ultimately lead to sales, and whose aren’t worth considering at all, and they use that information to make their published content more practical.

Effectively using user-generated content

As a brand publisher, you’re not simply a humble purveyor of in-house content — you’re in charge of your very own content ecosystem, and you can feature whatever you want. User-generated content (UGC) is perfect for this scenario, because it has so many benefits: it entertains your audience, brings in their feedback (important, as we’ve just seen), provides fresh perspectives, and takes some of the load off your content production team.

Coca Cola innovated with its ‘Share a Coke with’ campaign in a time (2011) when the concept of UGC was very fresh (and only fairly recently made possible through the mainstream acceptance of social media). People really wanted to be involved and produced a lot of visual content that made the Coca Cola brand look great.

Share a Coke - Brand publishers and UGC

Indeed, the practice of using UGC in the form of reviews and/or photos has been a cost-effective revelation, particularly for ecommerce where anyone with a basic webshop host system like Shopify can curate gallery feeds using add-ons like Covet.pics or TagTray. Dominant brands know how to balance content types, mixing expert in-house long-form content with lighter fare driven by user-created work.

Experimenting with different formats

This piece by Samuel Scott really tears into the notion of a brand publisher, describing it as contradictory, but it misses the mark in a lot of places. For example, Scott presumes that brand publishers must present themselves as journalists, when in reality that’s only something bad brands do. The good ones are quite nakedly promotional, and understand that people will accept promotional content if they’re sufficiently entertained.

But Scott’s general point about content feeling generic certainly hits home. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the “X Things You Need To Know About Y” format, but that kind of piece is only ever going to achieve a certain level of traffic. Any brand publishers that want to be exceptional need to try different things.

And while the title is definitely worth considering, the format is a far more interesting and valuable matter. Look at any roundup of hit branded content (such as this one from Forbes) and you’ll see a lot of content rich with imagery and narratives. And see how this Nest-sponsored piece from The Atlantic mixes media types to provide a more engaging experience than a standard article could ever achieve.

Key Take-Aways

Brand publishing isn’t about feigning neutrality and posting countless pieces concluding that your particular software, service or product is superior to any other. It’s about using your keen understanding of the people you’re trying to address to find new and creative ways to entertain, inform and delight them, establishing your personality in the process.

I can guarantee you that the top brand publishers are doing each and every one of these things right now, and that’s the dedication that’s needed to stand out. If you aspire to turn your brand into a respected content source, you know where you need to start!


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

Ecommerce Consultant, EcommerceTips.org

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