Monetise your blog with SEO and affiliations
In this article I would like to talk about how to combine SEO and affiliations to create a successful personal blog that also allows you to have a decent income. As a personal blog I mean a website of your own, not a business, where you can monetise the traffic and with "successful" I refer to the fact of reaching the top positions on Google in a reasonably short period of time.
In this article I explain how to earn money from a blog when you have a very low budget, without having created any product and using SEO and affiliations only.
Why Google? The organic traffic is one of the best types of traffic that an affiliate gets on his blog (if done well), it's free, targeted and can carry high volumes of visits to the site. Since affiliates must also have a good margin between revenues and costs to maintain the blog, and since PPC is expensive, SEO is a great weapon, very important for every affiliate.
In this article I will discuss, among other things, how to select the best affiliate niches .
To illustrate all this with a practical example I examine my blog www.cloudstoragenews.it as a case study.
Earning with your blog: market analysis, choice of affiliations, traffic generation
In 2014 I decided to launch my blog (Cloud Storage News) to review cloud storage solutions.
The idea for a blog came when I was looking for information on the best cloud storage (my free 5GB of Dropbox were not enough and before upgrading to Dropbox I wanted to make sure that it was really the best service).
After a brief online search, it was immediately clear that there was no website in Italy that reviewed only and exclusively cloud storage products. In short, I was not able to understand what service was right for me. This made me think, and I said to myself: "Why not launch a blog of my own?"
The term "cloud storage" exploded literally in 2012 in Italy and until 2015 there was a very strong demand. In fact, Google confirmed the trend :
After 3 years where are we? I'm very happy to say that my blog is now 3 years old and during this period I have done nothing but grow it and for this reason I would like to share with you the process that led me to this growth, what results I got and how I managed to make money with my blog using affiliations.
At the moment, here is the situation:
On Google.it the blog stands out for the keywords cloud storage and everything that interests the term;
4,560 subscribers to the newsletter;
950 visitors per day;
hundreds of backlinks.
These are not very high volumes of visits as you can see, because the topic is very niche, there are not many people who are looking for a paid cloud solution in Italy, most are satisfied with free ones. However, it should be noted that I did not do a lot of backlinking and I did not spend more than 30 euros a month promoting the site.
Make money with a blog - Step 1: Market analysis and web competition
The first step that I usually do to start a new campaign for my blog or for a client is to analyze the target market. This includes:
Types of content created
Content promotion type
SEO analysis of competing websites
1. Types of content created
The first part of the market analysis is to look at the content produced by the other sites with which you could compete. In my case it was sufficient to do a search on Google to find these sites. Even big tech sites like FastWeb, Wired Italy, Tom's Hardware, to name a few, did not talk about cloud storage. I personally used the comparisons because I needed to buy online space and to put two or three services next to each other to compare the characteristics, such as:
monthly and annual prices
all cloud storage functions
the online space offered
reviews and opinions of users
It was immediately clear to me that there was no comparison site for cloud storage in Italy. The fact that these big sites dominated the ranking on Google for terms such as "cloud storage" and the like did not scare me, also because they were news technology sites in general, which one day had decided to talk about cloud storage and then logically they dominated the first page of Google. But more than anything else, it was due to the fact they were quite large and busy sites, not because the results on cloud storage were relevant to user queries.
If a user was looking for "Dropbox or Google Drive" or "cloud storage", for example, the results were always the same. This indicated that no relevant comparison pages existed.
Even Google did not know where to get information from.
I had guessed from this analysis two very important things:
Creating a highly specialised content for the cloud storage niche would have the potential to bypass those websites on Google. In other words, I understood that offering high quality and specialised content could result in a better ranking compared to sites with a high Domain Authority but without specialisation.
Such a site would have been the first in Italy and would have had no competitors in the form and structure I wanted to give it.
Unfortunately for me I did not know much about the subject, to tell the truth I was quite ignorant on the subject. I had therefore decided to read everything that happened to me. Moreover, since I did not experience the various cloud storage, I started to try for free and test those services that offered a free trial. I downloaded the software on my PC, put various files on the cloud and compared the first 3 services. Testing the services personally without trusting what others said was the most important thing to do to create original content.
2. Method of promotion of contents
Before starting the various Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, I had to figure out which ones would work to attract the audience to my blog . I immediately realised that for my blog neither LinkedIn nor Facebook could solve the problem of traffic volumes.
Given the nature of my contents, technical and technological, and since, as we saw above, the results of the queries did not respond to my needs nor (very likely) to those of other users, I decided to write content related to the key words to exploit the Google potential.
Sometimes creating highly relevant content is simpler than you think, it's all about getting it aligned with Google's goals. Google only thinks about offering the best user experience and if you align this with your goal you're on the right path to gain tons of traffic.
3. SEO analysis of competing websites
The third part of the analysis is to look at the sites that linked to my competitors, that is to do a backlink analysis of the competition, and understand which keywords would bring traffic.
As mentioned above, I had only guessed that words like "cloud storage comparison" and the like had potential but I was not 100% sure. I needed to understand who and how was bringing traffic to those ranked articles.
Competitive analysis of backlinks:
I do not repeat here again how to do a competitive analysis of the backlinks, this topic has already been explored many times. If you want to have some more information you can read this article and this one.
Here is a comparison between the sites that talk about cloud storage extracted from Open Site Explorer:
In summary, all these competitors are very well established sites. As you can see, no competing site is set up as CloudStorageNews , my site, in the sense that they do not offer detailed comparisons and therefore strictly speaking they cannot be defined as direct, but indirect, competitors .
However I noticed from an analysis of their page authority for the pages that talked about cloud storage, that these pages were not as popular as the site that published them. In fact, if you read the "Page Specific Metrics" you can see that the page authority is much lower:
This situation confirmed what I said above, namely that even if the Home Page Specific Metric was very high this did not mean that the pages with content on the cloud storage, which dominated the first page of Google, were relevant to the user's query .
I had identified the weakness on which my blog could compete.
But the most interesting thing was who sent traffic on those pages and how he sent it.
To my great surprise, I discovered that the articles that talked about cloud storage on these sites were not connected to any other site, no one sent them traffic. Using Open Site Explorer you can confirm it:
I guessed that these sites received traffic only from Google: as I had found them with my research, so they had found the other users. Now my biggest problem was that, having not found a massive and reliable traffic link for these sites, I had a few ideas on how to orientate myself for my link building activity.
I do not add anything else on this subject because the web is full of articles on how to do a keyword analysis. In my case, the term "cloud storage" boomed in 2012 and up to 2015. Considering the contents of my competitors there was nothing left but to build a list of words similar to cloud storage, such as "online backup" and "cloud comparison" to give two examples. Not only that, but there are hundreds of keywords that can be found associated with big brands, such as "Dropbox review", for example. All these words have brought traffic and allowed me to monetise the blog , as we will see later.
Make money with a blog - Step 2: Affiliate strategies
Starting with good affiliate programs that would allow me to make a profit from my blog and offer readers advice on which service to choose and try, it took so much time. I wanted the readers of my blog not to be misled by the fact that I promoted products for economic purposes and then thought that I did it only for money.
I also wanted to make people understand, which is very difficult with affiliations, that I was really interested in the best product for them and that my reviews were honest.
If I had to criticise a product I did it without any problem. At the same time, I had to worry about the following aspects:
Confirm that the cloud storage niche was profitable
Start promoting cloud services
Establish relationships with the affiliate manager
Set up payment methods for commissions
I know it may be difficult to start with affiliations, especially for an inexperienced user who does not know where to start. For this reason I share a list of strategies that I have adopted to orient myself with affiliations.
Getting started with affiliations: 3 ways to find a market niche
Find opportunities from keyword traffic
Finding product opportunities to promote as an affiliate can mean combining keywords that brings traffic to the blog. These keywords must have two elements in common:
Bring high volumes of traffic
Having a low competitiveness
In the case of my site I saw that the keyword "Mega Cloud" brought me high volumes of visits, although this was certainly not a product that made me earn, because Mega Cloud does not have an affiliate program. But it was an indication to get my site on Google and I started to write more about the topic to make my site more relevant.
For the term "Mega cloud" now I occupy the first position on Google.it and my blog is above the great Salvatore Aranzulla and Wikipedia.
2- Solve problems that affect the audience
One of the reasons why solving problems for your audience helps you find a niche in the market is that people have to buy products to solve these problems. And they must buy them quickly. So-called "pain points" are all problems that cause stress, loss of time, frustration or are physical problems. For example, ProTeethGuard , an American company, understood that many people at night, while they sleep, grind their teeth and have therefore invented a product that alleviates this pain. The product has the advantage of costing little, when compared to a denture created by dentists. ProTeethGuard offers an affiliate program with a 25% commission on every sale for a product that costs $150 on average. This means that an affiliate could earn $ 35 for each sale from his blog. If you can create a high volume of qualified traffic with good conversion rates, you mathematically earn well.
3. Talk about passions / hobbies and share them on the blog
Take for example sea and underwater lovers. Diving products cost a fortune: gadgets, suits, tanks, regulators, computers, marine cameras can cost hundreds, if not thousands, of Dollare. Promoting products related to this passion could be a lucrative activity but you must also find the right brand because people have their preferences and remain loyal to a brand.
An example is LeisurePro , the largest online store of scuba equipment. They offer an affiliate program through the network called AvantLink . The advantage of using LeisurePro is that they offer different types of brands so you can experiment with those that are right for you.
Some definitions of Affiliate marketing
In affiliate marketing the language used is sometimes exclusive for this activity, it took me a while to assimilate it.
The types of commission:
CPA - Cost for Action. The commission a company pays to the affiliate for a sale.
CPL - Cost per Lead. The commission that a company pays to the affiliate for an action performed on the site (subscription to the newsletter, creation of an account).
CPC - Cost per Click. The commission a company pays to the affiliate for a click on their site.
Revenue Sharing . An alternative type of commission: instead of paying a fixed commission, the company pays a percentage of the cost of the product.
EPC - Earning Per Click. How much an affiliate earns per product click.
CR - Conversion Rate. The percentage of users who, after clicking on the link, buy (ie become a customer).
Pixel tracking . Images: very small transparent gifs of 1x1 pixel size used to trace an event.
Pixel firing . When the pixel works it says in English "fires". Pixels are used for very complex tracking levels, they do not always serve, sometimes they complicate things.
Make money with a blog - Step 3: Traffic generation
After completing the market analysis phase and deciding what the product to promote would be, I had to start generating qualified traffic on my blog. As mentioned above, it was immediately clear that social media would not have helped generate traffic and, since I had practically no competition, I focused on SEO , the only channel I used. So I outline the activities that brought me traffic.
1. Structure of the pages
I had decided, due to lack of technical programming and budget skills, that I would use Wix (note: I'm not affiliated with Wix) as my hosting and platform. Choice that then in the long run I would not do it again, but the reasons do not explain them here, it is not the right place. In any case, with Wix you can manage the SEO of every single web page of your site, from site maps, URLs, metadata.
My traffic acquisition strategy was purely organic , I focused a lot on how to attract traffic to the site rather than go looking for it or buying it. For this reason it took a few months before the site took hold and I strongly believe in the quality of the contents, my absolute priority.
First of all, I did a search for keywords related to cloud storage. I gathered the words in order of volume and degree of competitiveness. From here I started to create content (for example review of Dropbox) that were reconciled with the keywords. In the first year I published more than 30 reviews of different cloud storage and online backup products.
One of the priorities of my blog was to generate users really interested in content and reviews. The 4,600 newsletter subscribers are users who really want to read what they publish.
To conclude, I would like to emphasise the importance of analysis and market research. As we saw in Step 1 of this guide to earning a blog, I spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that cloud storage was the right niche , including information about competitors, how to generate traffic and keywords.
For me, the measurement of activities is of fundamental importance to understand if I'm profiting from my blog: if I do not know how much traffic I create, how many people I send to the various products, how many subscribe to the newsletter, everything I do is not justified. Only numbers can give you answers, so you rely on the various analytics tools for your analysis.
Remember to always create quality content that will allow your users to orient themselves in the forest of the various products: the expert is you and you must guide them. Everything else comes later.