Landing Affiliate Marketing Partners

7 minute read Updated

How to bootstrap a new site and monetize it with affiliate marketing.

In Initial Commit I explain why I created a website called Hack Cabin. And though I’ve been blogging for over 8 years on I was never serious about monetizing traffic until I learned to Become a Digital Nomad in Bali.

But rather than cramming ads down your throat I chose to keep Hack Cabin ad-free, and focus affiliate marketing instead. Here’s what I learned while landing affiliate marketing partners as I got the website up-and-running.

Being a new website on a new domain, and not having much content, initial challenges arose while attempting to monetize using affiliate marketing:

  • Gaining organic traffic requires large amounts of substantive content
  • Managing relationshiops with affiliate marketing partners can be hard

Let’s briefly discuss each of these challenges and how to deal with them before summarizing what I learned and my advice to publishers developing content on new sites while landing affiliate marketing partners.

Gaining traffic

Having a fast website isn’t enough to gain much traction with Google unless existing sites pass along PageRank via inbound links. Here are some tips to be aware of as you optimize for search engines:

  • Links to your site from others are not extremely useful unless those sites have established authority (e.g. Page Rank) or a lot of consistent traffic. For this reason I believe many have turned to social media to promote their sites. Trying to harness social media for self-promotion is like selling your soul to the devil - don’t do it, work on your backlinks instead. And when you do get a backlink from an authoritative site, be aware it may not pass any Page Rank whatsoever if the link has the rel="nofollow" (or possibly even rel="noopener") attributes as those signify your site may not be trusted.

  • When you do get a link back to your site, be sure the link looks natural. Be careful not to overoptimize anchor text otherwise you may be penalized by search algorithms. In other words, it’s not as important to use specific key phrases like landing affiliate partnerships as it is for your link text to flow naturally within the linking content. Thanks to Tom Mullaly of for pointing this out to me.

Note: Fili Wiese, former senior Google Search Quality team member, gives some specifics for link building in a 2017 post on Medium.

  • You can cold call others to trade links, but it’s easier and more socially acceptable to inspire them to link to your content. By that I mean just write from the heart, do it with passion and don’t go chasing eyeballs. It’ll be clear your content is valuable when it contains substance. And substance is what you want your content to reek of of.

Managing relationships

Since starting this website I’ve joined several affiliate programs. Below is a summary of the experiences. Some not so bad but some just awful.

  • Bluehost: They approved me right away. In fact, I don’t think I even had to go through an approval process. As I mentioned in my Initial Commit post, I used to use Bluehost my for WordPress blogs, but that was years ago.

  • CupidMedia: Like many of the online dates I’ve had, these guys slapped me with a rejection letter at first, which I overcame by assuring them in a response email I’d be filling this site up with quality content. I also provided them a link to my other blog this blog with my appeal.

  • Lonley Planet: This one took two steps. First you have to apply through Affiliate Window (US & CA publishers only). Then you need to log into the portal and apply for Lonely Planet. After first being declined by Affiliate Window, a letter suggesting my legitimacy as a publisher helped the change their minds. Once that was done I was able to apply for LonelyPlanet membership and was approved within a couple weeks.

  • Amazon: It took me two separate attempts over a period of a few months to become an affiliate partner with Amazon. But I’m already starting to see the rewards. It’s not a lot but earning it has required far less work than any other affiliate program. And they don’t require any web beacons to use.

    Amazon Affiliate earnings over 1,694 sessions to Hack Cabin in early 2017
    Summary for This Month
    Total Items Shipped 6
    Total Earnings $12.62
    Total Ordered Items 6
    Clicks 289
    Conversion 2.08%
    Referral Rate 4.00%
    Increase Your Referral Rate to 6.00% by shipping 1 more items.
    Last updated: Feb 18 2017
    Combined report for all tracking IDs.
  • LifeLock: These guys denied my application within two hours by email stating “we do not feel your site compliments our offers.” I responded to their email indicating my site was new and pointed them to my blog of 8 years. After not receiving a response for several weeks I pinged them and received an email stating they were moving to AffiliateWindow and to try again there. I never did get back to that…

  • World Nomads: I submitted my application for World Nomads on 25-Jan-17 while putting together my post on Becoming a Digital Nomad in Bali, about 3 months after starting Hack Cabin. These nice chaps approved my account within 12 hours. And I must say, I was pretty chuffed about it.

  • AND CO: I promoted deal titled “Freelance Invoicing the Smart Way” for AND CO using a referral link before they moved towards a cheaper deal using CJ Network (formerly Commission Junction). I made a total of $2 through the the free sign-ups on CJ before canceling my CJ account following a password snafu on their end just so I could remove them from my Privacy Policy. And as for the deal - at least until I choose to expire it - I have to contact AND CO directly to run a query which is super lame. Last I checked I sent them over 80 referrals and not a penny has been earned.

Read the fine print. Like Amazon, CJ Affiliate has a Service Agreement requiring publisher websites to meet certain requirements. Be sure to read agreements carefully when landing affiliate marketing partners or you may face program ejections and have your earnings rescinded.
  • HomeAway: I used HomeAway to find hotel accommodations while creating the Bali Travel Survival Guide. At time of writing they pay 2-3% for verified bookings made using your referral link, and 20% if someone signs-up to list their property on HomeAway using your link. Like AND CO, publishers may sign-up via CJ Affiliate. Except, with HomeAway, I had to wait for manual approval. Eventually I was rejected without reason and HomeAway never responded to inquiry in trying to determine why.

  • Namecheap: Namecheap provides domain name registration for as little as $0.88/year. I typically use AWS Route 53 for my domain name registration and renewals, but with AWS I don’t receive commissions whereas with Namecheap is paying out 15% for new customer sign-ups. Approval was easy and instantaneous following sign-up with the Namecheap Affiliate Program.

  • Coinbase: After joining Coinbase to manage some of my cryptocurrency I noticed they had a referral program. So I put a page together offering $10 to those joining Coinbase during the ICO media boom in mid-2017. The page saw more than 140+ clickthroughs on the ad CTA over a two day period so I knew I was onto something. Putting the ad together required about 30 minutes of work and some social media growth hacking. As of October 2018 I was able to convert over 175 individuals for a total based on subsequent content development.

Takeaway and advice

My personal takeaway from all this, and my advice to publishers when creating new sites, is to build substantive content first in order to create an audience and gain backlinks before attempting to use affiliate marketing or PPC ad campaigns on other websites to drive traffic. Then try to get into Amazon and other popular affiliates once you’ve spent some time building your brand. And, as you put your site together, take note of strategic opportunities for later affiliate marketing partnerships so you don’t spend time on the wrong ones.

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