In Initial Commit I explain why I created Hack Cabin. And though I’ve been blogging for over 8 years I’ve never been serious about monetizing any of my blogs—until I left my six-figure job to Become a Digital Nomad in Bali. Rather than cramming ads into this site I’ve chosen to keep Hack Cabin ad-free, focusing on monetize using affiliate marketing instead.
With little content to show for itself at the outset. As a result of being new and not having much content, some initial challenges have arisen attempting to monetize it:
- Gaining organic traffic requires good content
- Affiliate marketing partners can really suck
Let’s briefly discuss each of these challenges and how to deal with them. At the end I’ll summarize what this all means to new publishers trying to land affiliate marketing partners early in a website’s life.
Gaining organic traffic requires good content
Having a fast website isn’t enough to gain 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 words like
landing affiliate partnershipsas it is for your link text to flow naturally within the linking content. Thanks to Tom Mullaly of WageFreedom.com for pointing this out to me.
- 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.
Affiliate marketing partners can really suck
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 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.
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.
HomeAway: I’ve used HomeAway to find hotel accommodations during my traveling to Bali. 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 for Namecheap was easy as pie, and instantaneous after signing up for 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 small deal together offering $10 to those joining during the ICO media boom in mid-2017 as saw more than 140+ clickthrus on the ad CTA over two days. Putting the ad together required about 30 minutes of work and a little social media cunning. Time will tell how it works out. Each individual is worth $10 in Bitcoin to me if they fully convert.
My personal takeaway from all this, and my advice to new publishers, is to build quality content first. Then try to get into Amazon and other popular affiliates once you’ve spent some time building your brand. As you put your site together take note of strategic opportunities for later affiliate marketing partnerships, and work on building backlinks to help bring your content to life.