As you start exploring different ways to make money travel blogging, affiliate marketing is something you’ll naturally encounter alongside display advertising. However, the story I hear time and time again from other bloggers is that because it’s hard to be successful at it, they end up giving up.
There are a ton of affiliate marketing guides out there but none that are really focused on how it works for travel bloggers. With this new travel blogger’s toolkit article, I want to make sure I set you up for success with this affiliate marketing 101 geared just for you.
Affiliate Marketing in a Nutshell
At its core, affiliate marketing really isn’t that complicated. As a blogger, you link to another company’s page from within your site. This can be a banner or a text link. When a reader clicks on the link and then performs some sort of action like make a purchase, you get a % commission of that sale.
Types of Affiliates
Without over complicating things, let me break down the different types of affiliate marketing.
 Pay Per Click
The most basic type of affiliate marketing programs is Pay-per-Click (PPC) and ironically display advertising falls under this. You basically make $ every time someone clicks on your banner or link.
This is the easiest form of affiliate marketing because all you have to do is drive traffic to your blog and bank on a percentage of people clicking through. More traffic means great chances of visitors clicking.
The commission earned really depends on the program that you sign up for. For Google AdSense, it’s obviously variable based on its bidding system but some of the best PPC programs could pay upwards to $1 per click.
There aren’t a lot of these types of opportunities in travel unless you count general banner ad networks.
 Pay Per Performance
In travel, Pay-per-Performance (PPP) is the most common type of affiliate marketing program and the one that was initially described above. For every sale you’re able to drive through promotion on your own blog, you make a commission %. You only get paid if someone makes a purchase and nothing else.
 Pay Per Sale
Pay-per-Sale (PPS) is almost the same as PPP except you make a fixed commission per sale instead a variable percentage.
 Pay Per Lead
Pay-per-Lead (PPL) is similar to PPS but the difference is that you don’t actually have to get a visitor to make a purchase. All you need to do is convince your readers to click on the link and from there complete some sort of action like fill out a form, enter into a contest, or submit an e-mail address. Once that happens, you’ll get paid a fixed fee. This is commonly associated to a term called CPA (Cost Per Action) Affiliates Marketing.
 Tier 2
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any more complicated, there’s also this thing called Tier 2 that I learned about at Affiliate Summit West. It sounds mysterious but all it is, is a program where you get paid every time you refer someone to an affiliate program. So for instance, if you sign up for Affiliate Window, I get a PPL commission.
Don’t worry, you don’t really remember these but this is all to say that there are different form of affiliates. The most common in the travel world is Pay-per-performance. That being said, I have been invited to a few other affiliate networks beyond the usual suspects (list below) that will pay per lead or pay a fixed fee per sale.
What Else Do You Need To Know?
Links and display ads are easy to understand and implement but behind the scenes, there’s something a bit more technical going on. Cookies are being set but don’t worry they’re your best friend and I don’t mean because they taste good.
In a nutshell, cookies is a website’s way of remembering your preferences on your browser. The easiest example to remember is online shopping. When you go to a site and add items to your cart, you’ve probably wondered how it remembers those items when you come back to the site a few days later. The answer is in cookies which keeps track of that information to improve your user experience on that site.
Cookies are used everywhere. For affiliate marketing, this is a good thing because most programs have a 30-90 day cookie window where they keep track of the fact that you referred a user to their website. So even if you refer someone to a site but they don’t buy on the spot, if they come back a month later and make a purchase, you’ll still get credited for that sale.
Where to Find Affiliate Programs
To make matters somewhat more complicated, you can join affiliate programs in a 3 different ways. All of these are free to participate for publishers (you). Starting from easiest to hardest:
- Affiliate Network – These are companies that act as an intermediary for individual affiliate programs so instead of going direct to each merchant yourself, you can join one of these massive networks that have hundreds of programs in their database. The network gives you the links, tracks your performance and pays out. Personally these are way easier to work with because you can get reporting in one spot instead of having to manage that individually yourself. These networks also invest a lot of money into technology to make your lives easier as a publisher.
- Merchant Affiliate Program – The alternative of course is to go after each program yourself. So for instance, you can go directly to Booking.com to join their affiliate program. Some say that the advantage is that you get a higher commission rate but networks like Affiliate Window make sure the rates are the same. A lot of times you have to go this route if you can’t find the program on a network.
- Personally Negotiated Affiliates – This is less common but sometimes there’s the opportunity to convince a company the benefits of having an affiliate program and you’ll be able to negotiate your own terms. The advantage here is that you’ll probably be able to work out a much better rate or flat fee. The issue however is that these companies typically don’t have the technology in place to keep track of affiliate sales so it may be a matter of doing it informally via e-mail or the retailer will have to add a “referral” field in the checkout process.
Not a 9-Letter Bad Word
Let’s set the record straight here. Affiliate marketing isn’t a bad thing. As I discussed with Jeannine in the podcast, if you’re talking about a hotel in your post, linking to a site where they can book a room there is actually making things easier for your reader.
How many times have you gone to a site where they mention something like a product but you don’t know where to find more information about it so you end up going to Google to find it. It would’ve been way easier to just take your reader there in the first place and if there’s an opportunity to monetize it why not? It’s a win-win.
Implementing Affiliate Marketing
In terms of how to actually get affiliate program links and banner onto your site is very easy. Let me walk you through it.
1. Log into your affiliate network or merchant’s program portal.
2. In the portal, go to where the links can be found.
3. If you want text links, look for the those and you can either copy the whole snippet of code (a) or just copy the URL part of the code (b). If you want banner links, you’ll want to grab the whole snippet of code (c).
4. Let’s say you want to put this into a blog post. In WordPress or equivalent, create a new post and if you have the full snippet of code you’ll want to switch to “Text” mode. Paste that piece of code into the area you want it to go. If it’s text, you may need to adjust it a little in “Visual” mode afterwards to get it to look the way you want.
5) If you just grabbed the URL (3b), you just need to add the link the normal way. I much prefer this method since I don’t have to flip between “Visual” and “Text”. I always check off “Open link in a new tab” for affiliate links.
What about if I want to deep link to a page?
Well first off, what is a “deep link”? It’s essentially a term for when you want to send someone a link that is deep in the website as opposed to just the home page. This is very valid because if you’re talking about a specific Lonely Planet book lets say, you want to take them directly to that book’s page. So how do we do that?
Honestly it’s different for each network and not all of them are easy steps. Luckily, Affiliate Window makes it pretty easy with their MyAW Chrome Extension.
1. Go to the page you want to deep link to.
2. Click on the MyAW extension.
3. MyAW will recognize whether the merchant is part of the Affiliate Window network and if it is, you’ll be able to generate a link.
4. A window pops up with the tool you’ll need to generate either a URL or HTML link. You can also shorten the link here if you’d like. Don’t worry about Click Reference.
Commission Junction and Amazon are two other examples of networks that have a tool like this available. For others, it may be as easy as adding something like a “?ref=12345” to the end of the deep link URL or it could be a pain in the butt like how it is with Booking.com.
Why Affiliate Marketing?
I get it. Affiliate marketing is hard but why is it worth it to figure out? For one, it’s because it gives you the opportunity to earn passive income. Isn’t the dream to make money while you sleep? Once you have a formula that works for you, it’s the kind of thing where you only have to set it up once and it has the opportunity to bring in income literally forever.
The other draw is the fact that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get up and running. Like display advertising, all you need to do is sign up and copy and paste links to your blog and you’re good to go. Of course, it’s one thing to implement affiliate links. Being successful at driving sales is a whole other thing.
Winning Strategies for Travel Bloggers
So this naturally leads to the question, “How can I be successful at affiliates?” I’ve been tinkering, testing, and learning for the past couple of years. Taking everything I’ve learned and my discussions with affiliate experts, I’ve come up with a few core strategies to help you succeed.
- Focus on contextual links – This is very much a mindset shift where as you’re writing being able to identify ways to inject references to an affiliate program you belong to. This is 100% more effective than banners. Naturally fitting it links in will drive clicks.
- All about the content – This should be nothing new but alongside that mindset shift, you want to start writing your blog posts tailored to affiliates. Product reviews are the easiest example of this but maybe you can think about something like a “Toolbox” or “My favourite things” page which can be written with affiliates in mind. The key is to build awesome content pages that provide value so that the people that read it have a certain level of intent to buy or learn more.
- Ask for affiliate program and negotiate rates – If there’s one thing I learned from AWS, it’s the fact that you can negotiate higher commission rates. Don’t ever think that rates are fixed. If you start seeing that you’re generating a ton of sales for one program, you’re totally within your rights to ask them to give you a bump. Affiliate programs like Bluehost were willing to give me an increase in commission when I first started.
- Pretty Link – “Affiliate link blindness” is a thing kind of like “banner blindness” is a thing. This is where people ignore and pretend not to see links and banners because they’re inundated with them all day long. One way to mitigate this is the use a tool like Pretty Link to mask an ugly looking link to something pretty like what I used at the beginning of this bullet. When a reader hovers over the link, they’ll see the pretty link instead and be more inclined to click on it. There is a free and pro version of the WordPress plugin.
- Be creative – Affiliate programs can go literally anywhere. If you’re writing a destination post, Jeannine talks about having a “Before you go” section at the bottom with links to hotels, activities, and car rental that you can drop affiliate links. It’s about putting yourself in the mindset of a traveller and injecting your links during that path to purchase.
To really hammer home the concept, I thought it’d be easier to show you a few examples of how I’ve done this on my own travel blog.
- Hotel link – Posts like these I’m able to thread hotel affiliate links throughout.
- Product review – Product reviews are really easy to drop in links especially from Amazon or the retailer themselves if they have an affiliate program.
- Aggregation post – Recently created a deals page that is basically a pure affiliate play. I manually and automatically through FMTC pull travel deals together. You can do something similar or create an aggregate post of something like your favourite travel gear.
- Contest – This was a time sensitive contest but I found out through a network called Inflecto Media that they would be paying out $1.70 per contest entry so I thought I’d give it a shot.
Common Questions Answered
I’ll be coming back to edit this section as time goes on. Here’s a few to get started.
Q1: Should I make affiliate links open a new tab or open in the same window?
- I always make affiliate links open in a new tab. If you have them open in the same window, they may not go back to your own site afterwards if they lose track. Make them open in a new tab so that when they’re done exploring that page, your blog will still be available in the original tab for them to continue reading.
Q2: Do affiliate links need to be do-follow or is no-follow okay?
- From an SEO perspective, if you’re going to be dropping a lot of affiliate links, it will make more sense to make them no-follow. That being said, Matt Cutts from Google has said that they do not penalize sites for affiliate links so you’re in the clear if you don’t.
The below are a bunch of affiliate networks I’ve worked with over the years and a little blurb about each.
- Affiliate Window – Been with them for a couple of years now and they have quite a large collection of travel affiliates. They’re great because their investment into new technologies. Make sure to take advantage of their MyAW extension, Convert-A-Link WordPress plugin, and Opportunity Marketplace.
- Commission Junction – One of the biggest networks out there. You’ll find almost everything here. You will find that some programs overlap between CJ and AW.
- Amazon Associates – Doesn’t need much introduction. These guys are going to be one of the first ones you’ll get set up with and one that will drive early affiliate income. You’ll love it because you’ll make commission on anything a user buys after clicking your link. With how many people use Amazon these days, this could become lucrative. The only issue with Amazon is that the commission rates are very low compared to direct programs. EasyAzon is a good WordPress plugin to manage the issue of dealing with multiple Amazon Associates accounts for every country.
- ShareASale – I find that these guys have a lot of software vendors on here. The exception is Viator which uses ShareASale.
- AvantLink – These guys are great for travel adventure gear
- Neverblue (GlobalWide Media) – If you’re looking to play around with PPL/CPA opportunities, you can try them out. They have a decent number of travel offers including Booking.com.
- MaxBounty – Like Neverblue, there are many PPL/CPA opportunities here
- Skimlinks – Not my favourite program but essentially they go through your blog and put links on text for programs they have in their network. Intrusive and annoying in my opinion.
- Impact Radius – This is more of a technology platform that merchants can use. For example Hipmunk uses them.
- Inflecto Media – They don’t have the most travel offers and focuses mostly on the UK but another one of those networks that have PPL/CPA offers
Get Started With Affiliate Window
I’ve really come to appreciate the work that Affiliate Window is putting in for publishers like us. Not only do they have a good collection of travel merchants but they also have a lot of useful tools that you can take advantage of. Beyond a few of the ones I’ve mentioned so far, this infographic shows you everything else they have.
Listen to Learn More
To hear it first-hand from a someone that has seen it from both sides as a travel blogger and an affiliate senior account manager.
Have More Questions?
With all of this information, you should now be armed with the ability to start leveraging affiliates to drive passive income on your travel blog.
If you still have questions, I encourage you to drop a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer your burning questions 😀
Best of luck to you and affiliate on!