I am so excited because today's interview is the first interview in a series I am planning for Amanda Cross Blog where I interview some of my favorite bloggers and business owners to help them share their expertise with y'all. Lately I have been so excited about Justine Grey and her blog where she covers a wide array of topics related to affiliate marketing. I got the awesome opportunity to ask her some questions and she graciously gave her time to answer them. I am hopeful that this interview will give any beginner (or even intermediate) affiliate a great place to start as you begin to utilize this strategy to grow your blog income.
Justine Grey's affiliate marketing resume is very impressive. Justine has been both a stellar affiliate and affiliate marketing manager and she has worked in affiliate marketing for over a decade. She started her time as an affiliate with her old site Create Hype where she earned thousands in commissions by promoting other people's work. She eventually sold that site and has since worked on building and growing various affiliate marketing programs for companies like FreshBooks and Shopify.
I can literally go on and on about Justine, but instead I will just get on with this interview.
Affiliate marketing is such a misunderstood income strategy for bloggers. Can you walk me through the process of how you got started working with affiliate marketing?
I got started with affiliate marketing about 10 years ago. At the time, I was running my first blog and wanted to monetize it but didn't have enough traffic to secure brand sponsorships. In looking for alternatives to advertising, I learned about affiliate marketing and went down the rabbit hole with it because it felt like the perfect fit.
I started the way many bloggers usually do. I joined Amazon's affiliate program and tested out a "store" on my site. That failed miserably. I also tried banner ads with smaller programs, and again, it didn't work. After a few months of getting nowhere, I started experimenting with email marketing and blog content, and that did a lot better. I eventually shifted focus from promoting lots of low paying products to promoting fewer high paying products, which led to bigger pay days and more consistent earnings.
In your newsletter you discuss cool affiliate posts you have seen lately. Can you give examples of some of the most creative or interesting affiliate posts you have seen?
Personally I like when bloggers go above and beyond with their affiliate promos. Instead of just sending out a tweet or including a link in an email, they'll host a valuable webinar (like Tara Gentile did here with ConvertKit) or craft a compelling blog post (like the ladies at Being Boss did here). Obviously you need to balance out your time so there's no need to only do those time-intensive things, but you want to test out a variety of tactics and products until you find a profitable mix. For more ideas, I share 31+ ways to experiment with affiliate links in this post..
A lot of bloggers don't know the necessary steps to effectively including affiliate links in everyday blog posts. What is your process when it comes to adding affiliate links to your posts?
There are different ways to approach linking as an affiliate, depending on your blogging platform, niche and tool preference. The most common mistakes I spot are bloggers forgetting to use their links or not adding a nofollow tag to their links so Google and other search engines know not to follow it since it can influence search engine rankings.
A couple of tools that help with affiliate linking are:
- PrettyLink - a Wordpress plugin that lets you create nofollow affiliate links that are shorter and prettier than your standard ones.
- Skimlinks - an affiliate aggregator that's really useful for bloggers who need to use a ton of affiliate links, since they automatically add affiliate links to your natural links and keywords.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give new affiliates to get their first affiliate applications approved?
Most affiliate applications give you the opportunity to write a little personalized blurb about why you'd be a good fit for the program - yet the majority of affiliates who submit apps to the programs I manage skip it. Fill that out :) Every affiliate manager uses their own criteria to evaluate applications so sending a personalized note can ensure you get in if they are on the fence about you.
If someone is new to your business what are the first three blogs you want them to check out? What makes those blogs so special?
SugarRae - The blog to get thorough, no-nonsense tips about affiliate marketing, blogging, SEO and more from industry veteran Rae Hoffman.
AM Navigator - Geno Prussakov literally wrote the book on affiliate program management and his blog is chock full of helpful industry information, especially for affiliate program managers.
ShareASale - My favourite affiliate network has an amazing blog that caters to both merchants and affiliates.
Who are your favorite bloggers/businesses to follow in general and/or in your specific niche?
- Blogging & business >> XO Sarah, by Regina and Tara Gentile
- Delicious Food >> oh she glows and pinch of yum
- Affiliate specific >> Addi Ganley and Matt McWilliams
- Celeb & Entertainment >> Lainey Gossip and TVLine
In your opinion what are some of the best affiliate programs for new bloggers to join?
Coming up with and implementing affiliate marketing ideas take time, so I think it makes sense for bloggers at any level to find high paying affiliate programs in your niche. That way you get paid well for the time you're putting in.
A few worth mentioning:
- FreshBooks >> I'm bias because I created it as an employee back in 2013, but it's truly a fantastic program that boasts a generous commission structure and friendly affiliate manager (hi Nigel!).
- CreativeLive >> They offer tons of high quality courses (great for bloggers in various niches) and because they broadcast free courses daily, you get paid if free registrants purchase a paid course within 30 days.
- Amazon >> While I don't do a lot of Amazon promos, this is an easy one for new bloggers to explore. Plus lots of folks have found success with it so there's plenty of helpful how-to articles (like this one from Mallory at MissMalaprop) out there for newbies looking for earning inspiration.
Launching an affiliate program can be a tedious process. What are some questions that entrepreneurs should consider before they open up their affiliate program?
- Do I have enough time to launch and manage it? You'll need to devote at least a few hours per week to your program, and much more if you want it to take off faster.
- Do I have the budget to launch it? Even if you decide against launching on a pro network like ShareASale, there are costs to consider like the platform that'll track sales and the creative your affiliates will use to promote your products (swipe copy, banners, etc.).
- Do I have the patience to give this time? Most sellers think an affiliate program will flood their business with sales right away. The truth is it can take weeks, months and even years to see substantial results depending on your market, time, budget and more. It's a very affordable way to drive sales, but you have to be patient.
Now, we will be moving into a speed round.
Describe your blog/biz model in one sentence.
I help startups and digital product businesses acquire more customers through affiliate marketing.
Are you an early bird or a night owl when it comes to working on your business?
Definitely a night owl, though I've forced myself to be more of an early bird because it works better with my family life.
I stay productive in my business by:
Breaking down all my projects into small tasks and then working through each task in Asana. I'm definitely a to-do list person so it feels great to virtually check items off my list every day.
If I could consult with one person about my business that person would be:
Pat Flynn. Although my business is passive income adjacent, the majority of my revenue comes from providing services to startups. So I'd ask Pat to help me transition from services to products and much more!
Again, I want to thank Justine for taking time out of her day to answer these questions for my blog. I am so grateful and I hope that y'all have found these questions and answers helpful as you go through the process of working with affiliate marketing.
Justine dropped some major knowledge during this interview. I cannot contain my excitement about the information contained here. Here are my major takeaways from this interview:
Takeaway #1: Don't be afraid to go above and beyond with your affiliate marketing tactics. It will help you stand out to companies, help your audience more, and create more income for your blog.
Takeaway #2: Experiment with different ways to add links to your blog posts and make sure that you are adding nofollow links to your affiliate content.
Takeaway #3: Creating an affiliate program can be a worthwhile effort to grow your brand, but you have to be willing to put in the time and energy to do it, or of course, hire the right people to do it!