Welcome to Press This, the WordPress community podcast from WMR. Each episode features guests from around the community and discussions of the largest issues facing WordPress developers. The following is a transcription of the original recording.
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Doc Pop: You’re listening to Press This, a WordPress Community Podcast on WMR. Each week we spotlight members of the WordPress community. I’m your host, Doc Pop. I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine, and my contributions over on TorqueMag.Io where I get to do podcasts and draw cartoons and tutorial videos. Check that out.
Today, we’re going to dive headfirst into the world of affiliate marketing, where clicks can turn into cash and partnerships can pave the way for growing your brand, business, and website. Our guest today is Dustin Howes, the chief coach at performancemarketingmanager.com, and he’s going to tell us how bloggers, influencers, and savvy entrepreneurs can turn their passion into profit by promoting products they love. Boy that’s a good alliteration there.
Dustin, how are you doing today?
Dustin: Great. Doctor Popular, so good to be hanging out with you again. I miss our days at WP Engine, man.
Doc: Right on, let’s kick this off. Why don’t you tell us how you got into WordPress?
Dustin: Oh, absolutely. It’s been a good, I don’t know, 12 years since I started my own site, like I went to a meetup in Austin and they were talking about starting your own blog and people were teaching you how to do it and I remember it being pretty difficult to create and spin up your own WordPress site. And since then, I feel like WordPress has just gotten so much easier through the years.
But that was my first foray in digital marketing world. And eventually, I became an affiliate manager over at WP Engine, and really engulfed myself into the WordPress community, going to the WordCamps and hanging out with that kind of folk, and really enjoyed the camaraderie of the WordPress community itself.
Doc: When you got into WordPress, you were saying you went to a meetup in Austin about building a website. Was that to get into marketing, or is that just you were kind of doing it for just your own personal blog, and then marketing kind of came out of that?
Dustin: Well, I’d already got my start in affiliate marketing and I’d watched all these folks making millions of dollars on their blogs and absolutely killing it, just making a living starting it. And I said, well, I mean, why can’t I just go and do that? So that’s what I started to go and do. And what it turned out to be is getting the groundwork to understand what affiliates actually go through and how hard it is to create an affiliate website and be an entrepreneur in that space.
So I grew a lot of empathy for the affiliate partners that I work with today by learning what they have to go through in building a site. And so that first framework of creating my first blog turned into me creating five other sites at this point and getting better and better at WordPress and being the entrepreneur that I am today.
Doc: For our listeners, let’s go ahead and describe what affiliate marketing is, and what are some of the basic models of affiliate marketing?
Dustin: So in its essence, affiliate marketing is click and sales based traffic. Going from one website to another and then crediting the affiliate partner with a commission for that end sale.
So let’s take, for example, you have a website that has traffic and that subject is electronics, right? You say this is the best computer, and why, and here’s where you can go and buy it. And that link goes to Amazon or a Best Buy or something of that nature, a place that actually has these things for sale. And that end user that read your blog and clicked through your link goes to that website, makes a purchase, and then that website kicks you back a commission of the sale.
So you might earn 5 to 20 percent of whatever the sale actually brought that company.
Doc: And that could be pay per sale, or you might get paid per click, or you might get paid per lead that you generate.
Dustin: Yeah, absolutely. All of the above are possibilities in affiliate programs. I highly suggest you pay per acquisition, a CPA, for the sale. Leads and clicks can get a little hairy if you’re creating affiliate programs that pay out on leads and clicks. It could get a little bit sketch in terms of fraud because there can be a lot of sites that join your affiliate program, bring you a whole bunch of clicks and leads that are fake and get paid and then leave you high and dry.
So when sales actually happen, that’s a much more dependable route for you as a company to be paying out just when you actually make money.
Doc: And I think for the point of today’s conversation, we’re going to focus on the affiliate side, the blog that’s sending the traffic to the larger companies. Is there a type of size that affiliates usually need to be? Is there such a thing as oh, you’re too big to be in affiliate marketing, or you’re too small to be in affiliate marketing?
Dustin: I don’t think there’s ever a too small, the too big is debatable. So let’s start on the small side. When you’re just starting as an entrepreneur in affiliate marketing, affiliate marketing might be your key to getting your first earnings on your website. Your website might have low traffic and you’re trying to rank for certain keywords that you’re writing about. And so when you do that, affiliate marketing can be a great revenue source while you continue to build content. And eventually you get to a point where your traffic is in the hundreds of thousands of visits per year or even per month. And then you can start considering other avenues of traffic or ways to utilize the traffic that is coming in.
And that’s where things like AdSense come in, where you can earn just on images being up on your site and impressions, and you get paid on that. It’s much more minimal than affiliate marketing. And if you’re good at affiliate marketing on your website, then you really never go back to anything else.
But then at the super level, when you’re getting hundreds of thousands of visitors per month and maybe even to the millions, now you have the availability to name your own prices for the pages that you’re promoting companies, and you can take on sponsorships for being on your website for extended periods of times, thousands of dollars to be sponsors on this page that is getting all this kind of traffic.
It’s really an evolution. But affiliate marketing is a great starting point and there are many companies out there, huge publications like CNET that are still using affiliate marketing today as their main source of revenue.
Doc: And I do want to let people know, we are going to dive into the WordPress side of things. After this break, we’re going to talk about plugins and benefits of WordPress. But before we do, just one more question, just kind of on broad affiliate marketing definitions and things like that. If someone listening were to get into affiliate marketing, if they’re interested in that, what sort of objectives or goals should they try starting off with or setting for themselves?
Dustin: I think the best advice I could give anybody that’s getting into creating content and developing their website is try to rank on Google first before becoming an affiliate. So, Adam Enfroy has an incredible journey around this where he would build a piece of content, let it rank for three months with organic links, and then go back and optimize it with affiliate links.
And that way, you give Google a chance to index your site and recognize you as an authoritative figure before you go and try to make money off of that site. And this is a really good strategy for those starting out. You don’t need to go and try to make every penny on every blog post that you create.
Create the content first, let it rank, and then come back to it at a later time when you have the time to optimize it for commissions.
Doc: Well, I think that’s a good spot for us to take a quick break. And when we come back, we’re going to continue our conversation with Dustin Howes, and we’re going to dive into the tools and benefits of using WordPress for affiliate marketing. So stay tuned for more after the short break.
Doc: Welcome back to Press This, a WordPress community podcast. I’m your host, Doc Pop, chatting today with Dustin Howes. Howdy, Dustin.
Dustin: What’s up, Doc?
Doc: And we are back to talk about the WordPress side of things. We’ve been talking about affiliate marketing. We’ve been setting kind of the definitions for people like myself who maybe don’t know much about it.
And Dustin’s been explaining kind of the different models and the different practices you kind of want to do. And we definitely want to dive into what benefits WordPressers might have from affiliate marketing. So let’s start with that. Is WordPress a good platform for this type of thing?
Dustin: I would say it’s not the only solution, but like the major go to solution for affiliate marketers out there. So there are other Content Management Systems that could work with affiliate, but in my experience, it has been the easiest route to getting a website up, getting it ranking on Google and making your life easier in the long run when you’re building out new content, just because of the ease of what posts and whatever solution you have internally for maximizing the value of SEO, whether it be using RankMath or Yoast or whatever plugins. WordPress is just so simple in terms of making an affiliate’s life easy.
Doc: And my first hunch was going to be, you were going to say, yeah, there’s lots of plugins for this sort of thing, but you’re actually just mentioning the benefits of WordPress in general. It’s easier to spin up and it’s great for getting that SEO tuned. There’s a lot of tools for that, but let’s talk about the plugin side.
Is there like a plugin ecosystem for affiliate marketing or is that not really how this, this kind of a business works?
Dustin: There are definitely plugins that you should be utilizing. Obviously you have your optimization plugins, right, your WP Rocket or whatever you may be using to optimize the speed of your site, always beneficial because affiliate sites are going to rank higher on Google if they’re running faster.
So you need your good WordPress hosting, you need plugins that are maximizing the value of your site speed. But as far as affiliate plugins, one of my most, well, one of my most used in favor is Pretty Links. Thirsty Affiliates is also a good solution here, but Pretty Links allows me to make a link and then share it anywhere on the internet and redirect it through my affiliate link. And it makes it look a lot cleaner. It makes my work easier if I’m spreading the word about one product. And then they change the landing page and give me something else. I don’t have to go throughout the entire internet and change that URL. I just have to do it one time in Pretty Links, and it just makes my life so much easier changing it in one place on my site, and it changes it throughout my entire site. So Pretty Links is one of those must haves for me as an affiliate marketer.
Doc: I want to say I use Pretty Links on all my sites actually. And it’s super handy. I’m not using it for affiliate marketing. It’s very versatile. It’s free in the plugin repository, and it’s great for if you are on Instagram and you wanna create a very short link, you could say like, torque mag.io/newsletter.
And the newsletter could go to that longer form, even sending it off to like a MailChimp signup page or something. So Pretty Links is great. And I can totally see, I don’t use it for affiliate marketing, but I’m sure that’s very easy to see how going from just using it for link shortening, to using it for tracking links and shortening URLs and being able to manage those links after you’ve already shared them without having to, as you said, go through the internet and find every mention of it.
You could just change that, that one pretty link. And you don’t have to worry about the, you know, if the URL has changed, your URL can be just switched to forward to the new one.
Dustin: Yeah, it’s super easy. So Pretty Links is an absolute must. Another suite of my favorites are Syed Balkhi’s suite of plugins out there that he uses. He’s the best affiliate in the WordPress community. He started WP Beginner 10 plus years ago and became a monster affiliate for all these programs.
And then he started absorbing up a lot of plugins like WPForms and he created Monster Insights and the PopIt plugin. I can’t think of the name real quick. Doc, you got it?
Doc: The pop it plugin.
Dustin: OptinMonster, excuse me.
Doc: Oh OptinMonster. Yeah.
Dustin: All those are really great tools for affiliates to be recognizing how their site is, is doing, what traffic is the most valuable. And like WP Forms is great for opt-in situations and getting more into in-depth of where you get the initial sign up so that people come back is super important for the affiliate. You need to be building up your email list today so that you can optimize that traffic at a later time.
Those kinds of plugins are great for building up your list so that you can promote something that you really believe in 10 emails down the line. Even when they leave your site, well after that, they’re gonna be coming back to you as an authority figure. And if you have their email address captured by one of those awesome plugins, it just makes your life so much easier.
Doc: And you touched on something that I think we could talk about here. There’s no rule saying that you have to be genuinely interested in what you’re setting up a blog for if your goal is to get into affiliate marketing, but I do imagine a lot of folks are really into horses, and they already have a blog that’s maybe doing well, and they want to just write about that, and then kind of start adding in affiliate links.
Is that sort of the normal progression of things, or do you find that people just find a hole in the market and say oh I think I can own that and try to spin up a blog around that?
Dustin: Two theories here, or two routes about this. One is you can blog as a business, like you can start blogging and creating a new site today and start blogging about something you really believe in or you don’t believe in. Like if you just see a niche in the market that you really want to get into that is untapped, then go for it.
But the best blogs and the best content out there is from people that have a passion about something and really want to be a part of that community and vertical. So yes, if you’re starting a blog about horses because you love horses, that is a great starting point. And then you can go and monetize it later with affiliate marketing.
But the best way to be looking for those partners that you could be working with that are based around horses is go and join an affiliate network, go join a big affiliate network like ShareSale or Impact, become an affiliate on their platform, and then you can search for all the merchants, advertisers that are out there that have a product that you could sell on your website easily.
So for your horse folks, it might be saddles. Go and look for the best saddles out there and find a website that you want to send people to that has an affiliate program. Now, yeah, you could go search the ShareSales and the Impacts and the CJs of the world for advertisers in that space, or you can go directly to the brands that you really like.
Go down to the footer of their page and look for an affiliate program or ask customer support if they have an affiliate program if you can’t find it there on the footer. And then go and join those, those programs for the products that you really believe in. And if you don’t have to believe in the product to be a good affiliate, but it helps, if that makes sense.
Doc: On that note, we’re going to take one more short break, and when we come back we’re going to wrap up our conversation with Dustin Howes, and we’re going to talk about how to manage these tools using WordPress, so stay tuned for more right after the short break.
Doc: Welcome back to Press This. We are talking to Dustin Howes about affiliate marketing and WordPress. Dustin, we’ve talked a lot about affiliate management. Can you tell us what is affiliate management? Tell us a little bit more about that.
Dustin: Yeah, you got it. So affiliate management is the other side of the equation. All the companies that you’re out there promoting as an affiliate need somebody to manage the partnerships that are coming in. So for example, WP Engine, I was running their affiliate program for a few years there. And I was working with all the affiliates that were driving traffic to WP Engine to create the sales that have built it up to what it is today.
So affiliate management there aren’t a lot of courses out there for brands to go and take and learn how to effectively run an affiliate program, but I’ve created one out there. There are literally hundreds of courses that you can take as an affiliate to learn how to be a good affiliate.
But when it comes to the affiliate management side of things, and being a good affiliate manager, you either have to go to a conference or learn this on your own, working for an agency or somebody else. So my particular skill set is running affiliate programs, and it just so happens that being that I’m an affiliate myself, and I’ve worked with so many affiliates in the past, that’s why I could talk about being an affiliate and how to be a good affiliate.
Doc: Yeah, how best to manage Dustin and other Dustins out there.
Dustin: That’s right.
Doc: Yeah, and we did kind of specify earlier that parts of the conversation were about the affiliate side of things, being the people sending the traffic. So it is kind of interesting that you said there’s not necessarily those resources out there for people who are like receiving the traffic on how to deal with those affiliates.
So that’s kind of cool that you have a program out there just for that kind of specific thing.
Dustin: Absolutely, and it’s a do it yourself course that I sell at performancemarketingmanager.com, and this goes soup to nuts of like creating an affiliate program, launching it, and then scaling it up. So one of those things that a lot of companies do is they don’t come up with a good strategy before they start an affiliate program and that is a recipe for disaster because if you think you can just create an affiliate program and all these affiliates are going to show up at your doorstep, you’re absolutely wrong.
So, it is hard work, creating an affiliate program that people actually want to join. So, there’s a lot of intricate details that go into developing that affiliate program the right way.
Doc: Let’s wrap this up. How can people find you online?
Dustin: You can go to dustinhowes.com. Find me at email@example.com. And if you’d like. Any advice, being an affiliate or an affiliate manager, or you’re thinking about creating an affiliate program, go to dustinhowes.com/pod15, and I will give you 15 minutes of my time for free to point you in the right direction and help you on this journey.
Because that’s what I like to do. I like to hang out with new people and help them in any way I can.
Doc: Right on. Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Dustin. It’s been really interesting learning about this side of things.
Doc Pop: Thanks for listening to Press This, a WordPress community podcast on WMR. Once again, my name’s Doc and you can follow my adventures with Torque magazine over on Twitter @thetorquemag or you can go to torquemag.io where we contribute tutorials and videos and interviews like this every day. So check out torquemag.io or follow us on Twitter. You can subscribe to Press This on Red Circle, iTunes, Spotify, or you can download it directly at wmr.fm each week. I’m your host Doctor Popular I support the WordPress community through my role at WP Engine. And I love to spotlight members of the community each and every week on Press This.