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8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Starting Affiliate Marketing

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8 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Starting Affiliate Marketing


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Affiliate marketing is one of the most interesting and lucrative industries on the Internet, in which commissions are earned from promoting a company and/or driving a sale. It consists of a vigorous hub of web publishers who want to monetize their sites, and is a great opportunity for marketers and advertisers to partner with others to promote their products, services, brands or affiliate programs. I have been involved in this field as an affiliate marketer since 2007, and can safely say that I love what I do, not least because it allows me to connect directly with my audience without having many intermediaries.

However, there are a few things I wish I had known before I started.

1. Track success metrics

There is no way to grow an affiliate website or earn more from it if you don’t know how many visitors visit that site every day, and where they come from. Therefore, it’s critical to track analytics and determine which marketing channels are bringing in the most traffic so that you know where to focus efforts when it comes to promoting affiliate offers.

Here are some of the metrics you need to track:

  • Monthly visits and unique daily visitors. The more your site gets, the higher chances there are for making sales.
  • How many sales did you garner this week? Track each affiliate offer’s performance to determine which offers are converting the best.
  • How much was earned from each offer? It’s vital to track how many sales are generated from each affiliate program, since every publisher gets a different commission from selling the same product. This will help determine which affiliate network and products convert better for your site or blog, and to make better offers to get yet more sales.
  • Which countries are visitors from? This metric will indicate which country’s audience converts better to yours, and so help select the right offers for your market.

Related: Top Social-Media Marketing Essentials for Small Businesses

2. Don’t expect huge earnings overnight

If you’re just starting out as an affiliate marketer, don’t expect success too quickly, because thousands of web publishers have been doing this for years, yet still struggle to find revenue. I’m not suggesting avoiding goals, merely that it’s important to be patient and to work enduringly hard in order to see significant results. This is a business like any other, so income will depend on how much time, effort and patience you’re willing to invest.

3. Never stop learning

One of the most important lessons I’ve internalized over years as an affiliate marketer is that there is no end to learning or knowledge sharing. This industry changes very quickly; new trends appear all the time, and old ones die out quickly. So-called gurus retire their affiliate sites every few months only to launch new ones, so you need to be ready to take advantage of changes and to spend resources on learning — absorbing affiliate marketing blog posts, interviews and case studies along the way.

4. Avoid overvaluing your product or service

One of the first things many marketers do when they start an affiliate website is to promote their own products and services, but it’s important not to overvalue them, because this will only backfire in the long run. Remember that you need your audience more than they need you, so provide valuable resources, information and insights that will help them to solve their problems. Start by building authority in a niche, share free content consistently and get involved in the community. Then, once you get real traffic coming to your site, create an offer that’s closely related to what you’ve already shared on your blog or website.

Related: 4 Fool-Proof Steps to Getting Your Authority Marketing Off The Ground

5. Don’t sell visitors short

One of the biggest mistakes I see affiliate marketers making repeatedly is trying to sell their visitors short instead of providing high-quality offers that match well with what they want and need. For example, if someone is looking for a dog bed or a leash, they wouldn’t buy an offer related to yoga classes, because it’s completely irrelevant and doesn’t match what they’re searching for. So, before trying to sell your visitors something, make sure that you’ve done research and arrived at offers that closely match what an audience is looking for.

6. Embrace testing

Another blunder I see often is guessing what works best instead of testing ideas before investing time, effort and money. This is why I suggest A/B testing tools for at least some campaigns, as they will give valuable insights on what’s working right now, without any risks.

7. Don’t leave money on the table

Many affiliate marketers are quick to start promoting a new offer the moment it goes live. Still, they fail to fully optimize and promote before making it available. In many cases, this means that you’ll be leaving a lot of money on the table by not testing your landing page, images, copy and ad copy first. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending days or weeks running A/B tests, but at least try to split-test before promoting an offer broadly. This will give you a better chance of converting more visitors into subscribers or buyers, because you’ve taken the time to work on optimizing everything from start to finish. This is the process I use for every new campaign for my online shop, and it works like a charm.

8. Don’t be afraid to give up

Lastly, remember that it is not a vice to give up on something that’s clearly not working. Even though it might be hard to walk away from an affiliate campaign or website, it’s vital to ask if results are worth the time and effort, then possibly put that energy into something that has a better chance of succeeding. Don’t let others make you feel bad about switching things up, because there is no such thing as doing everything right, so just do what makes sense.

Related: How Affiliate Marketing Can Work for Entrepreneurs

At the end of the day, there is no absolute right or wrong way to do affiliate marketing, but you should at least have a rough plan — one that includes knowing how much you’re willing to spend on advertising, where your niche traffic is coming from and what offers are converting best. The more time and effort you invest into learning and testing everything first, the more likely it is that you’ll succeed.



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4 Gen Z side hustle and passive income ideas

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4 Gen Z side hustle and passive income ideas

Everyone is getting in on the side hustle craze. More than a third of Gen Xers, 36%, currently have a side gig, according to a May 2022 Zapier survey of 2,032 U.S. adults. And nearly two thirds of both Gen Zers and millennials have one, 59% and 61%, respectively. Gen Zers, specifically, make an average of $9,537 per year on their side hustles.

If you’re a member of that younger generation and are looking to cash in on the trend, there are plenty of hustles for you to consider. “Think about what stage in life you’re in,” says side hustle expert Kevin Ha. “You’ve got more time, probably, you’ve got the ability to live unconventionally because you’re probably by yourself.”

Here are four side hustles for Gen Z to consider.

Affiliate marketing

If social media is already second nature, you may have wondered or looked into how to monetize it.

“According to Instagram’s Trend Report, two thirds of Gen Z plan to use social media to make money this year,” says Jen Glantz, founder of Bridesmaid for Hire and the creator of the Monday Pick-Me-Up and Odd Jobs newsletter. “And the best part about that is you don’t need to be an influencer or have a million followers.”

One way to do this is through affiliate marketing. “What that means is that you promote products with a special link and if people click that link and buy, you make money,” says Glantz. You can apply to Amazon’s affiliate marketing program for example, or log onto your favorite brands’ site to see if they offer affiliate options.

Influencer Shannon Smith makes $8,600 per month in passive income from affiliate marketing on her social media posts. She suggests taking note of how other people are creating popular content and focusing on a niche subject matter and product.

Virtual assisting

Secret shopping

If you’re a fan of buying things or eating out, you might consider secret shopping.

Sites like Secret Shopper or BestMark pay or reimburse shoppers for checking the customer experience of retailers, restaurants and other business, usually between $10 to $25 per shop, according to Sidehus.com. Reviewers have been sent to a salon to see if they honored a free first visit coupon and to a video game store to see if they’d sell a game for mature audiences to an underage kid.

When it comes to restaurant assignments, “for Gen Z, it’s a good option because it’s free food,” says Ha, adding that at a young age, “you probably have more flexibility to go out to eat.” Ha himself says he made $1,700 in 2022 using secret shopping website Market Force.

Food delivery

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Exploring the Latest Trends in Digital Marketing Technology

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Exploring the Latest Trends in Digital Marketing Technology

 

With technology constantly evolving, the world of digital marketing is experiencing a rapid and ever-changing landscape. It’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding and utilizing the latest trends in digital marketing technology.

From using artificial intelligence (AI) tools to working with a local digital marketing agency, there are plenty of exciting trends that marketers need to be aware of if they want to remain competitive in today’s market.

What tools and resources are available for creating effective digital marketing campaigns?

There are a variety of tools and resources available for creating effective digital marketing campaigns. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn offer powerful advertising capabilities that can be used to reach target audiences. Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important tool for improving visibility in organic search results. Content marketing is also essential for driving traffic to websites and increasing brand awareness.

Other useful tools include email marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, video marketing, influencer marketing, and more. It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each tool before deciding which ones to use in your digital marketing campaigns. Data-driven analytics tools can be used to measure the success of campaigns and optimize future efforts.

What strategies are used in digital marketing?

Digital marketing is a broad term that encompasses many different strategies and tactics. Some of the most popular digital marketing strategies include search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, email marketing, influencer marketing, and affiliate marketing.

SEO involves optimizing your website for organic search engine rankings by using keywords and other techniques to make it easier for people to find you online. Content marketing involves creating valuable content such as blog posts, videos, infographics, ebooks, etc., to attract potential customers and build relationships with them. Social media marketing involves leveraging various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn etc., to promote your business or products. PPC advertising is a form of paid advertising where you pay each time someone clicks on your ad. Email marketing involves sending emails to potential customers in order to build relationships with them and encourage them to purchase from you.

Influencer Marketing is when businesses partner with influential people in their industry who have large followings on social media in order to promote their products or services. Affiliate Marketing is when businesses reward affiliates for referring customers through special links or codes they provide them with.

How can digital marketing help to reach a wider audience?

Digital marketing is a powerful tool for businesses to reach a wider audience. With the right strategies, you can target potential customers who are interested in your products or services. You can use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to create content that resonates with your target audience. You can also use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to ensure that your website appears at the top of search engine results pages when people search for relevant keywords. You can also leverage email marketing campaigns to send personalized messages directly to potential customers.

You can use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising on Google and other search engines to drive more traffic to your website and increase conversions. By utilizing these digital marketing strategies, you will be able to reach a larger audience and grow your business.

In conclusion, it is important to stay up-to-date on the latest trends in digital marketing technology to keep your business competitive and successful.

 

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CNET pushed reporters to be more favorable to advertisers, staffers say

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CNET pushed reporters to be more favorable to advertisers, staffers say

Last October, CNET’s parent company, Red Ventures, held a cross-department meeting to discuss the AI writing software it had been building for months. The tool had been in testing internally ahead of public use on CNET, and Red Ventures’ early results revealed several potential issues.

The AI system was always faster than human writers at generating stories, the company found, but editing its work took much longer than editing a real staffer’s copy. The tool also had a tendency to write sentences that sounded plausible but were incorrect, and it was known to plagiarize language from the sources it was trained on. 

Red Ventures executives laid out all of these issues at the meeting and then made a fateful decision: CNET began publishing AI-generated stories anyway. 

“They were well aware of the fact that the AI plagiarized and hallucinated,” a person who attended the meeting recalls. (Artificial intelligence tools have a tendency to insert false information into responses, which are sometimes called “hallucinations.”) “One of the things they were focused on when they developed the program was reducing plagiarism. I suppose that didn’t work out so well.”

Of the 77 articles published on CNET using the AI tool since it launched, more than half have had corrections appended to them, some lengthy and substantial, after use of the tool was revealed by Futurism. CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo, EVP of content and audience Lindsey Turrentine, and Red Ventures vice president of content Lance Davis defended the tool in an internal meeting with staff in January but said the company would pause the use of the tool “for now.” In a follow-up blog post, Guglielmo said publishing using the AI software was on hold until CNET was confident it could “prevent both human and AI errors,” but she was clear that this wasn’t the end of AI tools in the newsroom.

“Expect CNET to continue exploring and testing how AI can be used to help our teams as they go about their work testing, researching and crafting the unbiased advice and fact-based reporting we’re known for,” Guglielmo wrote.

“Everyone at CNET is more afraid of Red Ventures than they are of AI.”

But the controversial use of an AI system to generate stories even in the face of known issues with plagiarism and accuracy is merely the most visible outcome of Red Ventures’ ownership of CNET. Under the ownership of Red Ventures, a private equity-backed marketing firm that’s bought up more than a dozen digital publishers since the mid-2010s, staff at the storied tech news outlet say they have been fighting to protect CNET’s editorial independence and rigor amid a push toward sponsored content and affiliate marketing by its new corporate owners. As one staffer told The Verge for a previous piece, “Everyone at CNET is more afraid of Red Ventures than they are of AI.”

Multiple former employees told The Verge of instances where CNET staff felt pressured to change stories and reviews due to Red Ventures’ business dealings with advertisers. The forceful pivot toward Red Ventures’ affiliate marketing-driven business model — which generates revenue when readers click links to sign up for credit cards or buy products — began clearly influencing editorial strategy, with former employees saying that revenue objectives have begun creeping into editorial conversations. 

Reporters, including on-camera video hosts, have been asked to create sponsored content, making staff uncomfortable with the increasingly blurry lines between editorial and sales. One person told The Verge that they were made aware of Red Ventures’ business relationship with a company whose product they were covering and that they felt pressured to change a review to be more favorable.

“I understood a supervisor to imply in conversation that how I proceeded with my review could impact my chances of promotion in the future,” they say. 

Red Ventures ignored an emailed list of questions from The Verge about its AI tool as well as CNET’s editorial independence and ethics, advertising, and staffing. The company instead offered to send a short statement about CNET’s editorial integrity but refused to provide it on the record attributable to anyone.

This apparent breakdown of the traditional barriers between editorial and advertising content is worlds away from CNET’s history, according to former staffers. Now more than 25 years old, the site has long been known for its thorough news coverage and comprehensive reviews program, which examines everything from laptops and phones to bookshelf speakers and home projectors. 

“[The reason I came to CNET] was the opportunity to be able to tell the truth no matter what,” a former staffer says. To them, working at CNET was different from other journalism jobs, where journalists can be honest but may need to self-edit. “You get to tell the truth [at other jobs], but a lot of times, you’re not allowed to say things that you really feel.” 

But the CNET operated by Red Ventures is a very different place than the CNET it acquired in 2020. CNET, along with other Red Ventures-owned publications, is loading up on cheap SEO-driven articles to game Google’s search algorithm and fill search results with content designed to deliver affiliate links to readers. As a result, CNET’s independent journalism and the people who produce it — the thing that once made CNET valuable and rank highly in search to begin with — feel that they are being pushed out in favor of whatever and whomever else makes Red Ventures the most money, according to multiple former employees. 

“When you’re [covering] products and not people, it’s really easy to be like, ‘This new Apple thing sucks.’ I just thought that was a refreshing change of pace to be able to say things as they are,” the former staffer says. “And that continued all the way until Red Ventures took over.”

After Red Ventures scooped up CNET for $500 million in 2020, CEO Ric Elias promised the outlet would be able to continue to be an independent publication known for its robust offering of reviews and in-the-weeds tech news coverage. CNET staff had nothing to worry about, Elias told The New York Times. There was a “nonnegotiable line” separating the journalism from the money, and CNET’s staff of tech journalists could call him on his personal cellphone if there were ever a problem.

“I told them, ‘There’s a red line,’ and they’re like, ‘OK, we’ll see,’” Elias said.

That skepticism now appears prescient. Former CNET staff say the guardrails that keep editorial content independent, like a divide between revenue teams and journalists, or a clear chain of command among leadership, were repeatedly breached after the Red Ventures acquisition. “Most of the time, [Guglielmo] seemed to just be relaying orders” from Red Ventures, a former staffer says. In turn, journalists were placed in difficult positions as they tried to fend off the encroaching influence of the business side. 

Former CNET staffers describe being asked to work on ads for companies that the outlet covers, including Volvo and home security company Arlo and having to push back against such requests from executives at the company. Three people told The Verge that they believe resistance to Red Ventures initiatives caused various CNET staffers to lose their jobs, with one saying that the pressure to be a “yes man” was a “collective experience” for some teams.

Multiple former CNET staffers point to the demise of the CNET Smart Home as an example of Red Ventures’ overreach. The Smart Home — a four-bedroom, five-bathroom home in Louisville, Kentucky, that the outlet had purchased in 2015 to test and produce videos on home products like robot vacuums and thermostats — had become something of a brand in and of itself. Since Red Ventures’ takeover, Smart Home staff repeatedly refused to work on sponsored content, saying it went against the integrity of their work. Readers look to tech reviewers for honest, unbiased assessments of companies’ products and services, and working on content that is paid for by these same companies can cast doubt on a reviewer’s ability to be independent.

“It’s a culture that if you disagree with them, they’re going to get rid of you and replace you with a zealot.”

In 2022, a Red Ventures executive named Marc McCollum stopped by the Smart Home for a short walk-through. McCollum, according to his LinkedIn profile, led the acquisition of CNET Media Group. A former staffer says he played a key role in the transition, with a focus on increasing profits.

Shortly after McCollum’s visit, teams working out of the Smart Home learned that the company was planning on selling the house, and people working at the house believed their jobs would be at risk if the space were sold. But McCollum indicated that the company may be able to keep the house if it secured a lucrative advertising deal with GE, which had expressed interest in using the Smart Home for a commercial, multiple former employees say.

Hoping to avoid layoffs, some CNET staff pitched in on the GE deal in early talks and planning, and Red Ventures inked a deal. But CNET editorial staffers refused to shoot the ad itself, and contractors were ultimately used to work on the commercial, a former staffer says.

The GE shoot was ultimately moved from the Smart Home to an off-site location due to space limitations at the house, a GE Appliances spokesperson who would only identify themselves as “Whitney” told The Verge via email. GE was not aware of Red Ventures’ plans to sell the house, “Whitney” added.

But by the time the GE ad was released in September, many staff on the Smart Home team had already left the company. Seeing the “writing on the wall” — that the house would soon be put up for sale — some people were able to land new roles, a former staffer says; others were laid off that summer. The house was put up for sale shortly after the GE ad anyway, eventually selling in December for $1.275 million, according to Zillow. 

“It’s a culture that if you disagree with them, they’re going to get rid of you and replace you with a zealot,” a former employee, who was laid off, says of Red Ventures. “Somebody that’s absolutely a true believer, [that] drinks the Kool-Aid.”

Former CNET staffers say their colleagues have also been pressured into appearing in ads for companies the outlet covers despite the murky ethics of using reporters in sponsored content. On-camera video hosts were uncomfortable with the idea of being in ads and pushed back against it, according to several former staffers. Using recognizable journalists for video content that’s paid for by advertisers can blur the lines and make it hard for viewers to tell what is and isn’t an ad. 

In one recent video, titled “Moen Unveils Innovative Smart Sprinkler Product at CES,” a CNET host takes viewers through the company’s booth at January’s Consumer Electronics Show, interviewing company representatives and testing products. The video is an ad, but the host doesn’t say that, and neither the video description nor title included a disclosure until recently. The only disclaimer was a small pop-up that YouTube inserts when an uploader has indicated there’s a paid promotion in a video, though CNET doesn’t actually specify what in the video is promoted. Moen did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the nature of the sponsorship or its labeling. After The Verge asked Red Ventures about the ad, a disclosure was silently added to the video’s description.

One of the key priorities for Red Ventures seems to be the company’s focus on affiliate links, which pepper its portfolio of sites like The Points Guy, Bankrate, and CreditCards.com. Over time, a focus on affiliate revenue has crept into CNET’s editorial decisions, causing frustration among staff.

In one meeting after the Red Ventures acquisition, a former employee says editorial staff were shown how much the company earned through affiliate categories like home furnishings with the suggestion they keep it in mind when producing future content. CNET staffers were also told that a separate commerce team would begin writing video descriptions that included affiliate links, which many people worried would suggest on-camera hosts were endorsing specific products.

“Red Ventures’ big mantra is that they help people make life’s most important decisions,” a former staffer says. “And yet all of their influence has been to get people to make decisions that are going to be the most profitable to Red Ventures.”

CNET staff say that the proximity to revenue made it harder to maintain the editorial standards

“It’s very demoralizing. It’s actually soul-crushing. All you want to do is your job and you’re being told, ‘Don’t cover this,’ because the revenue potential is not there,” another former staff member says.

Advertising is what keeps most digital media companies afloat, and affiliate marketing is common across the industry. (The Verge earns a commission from affiliate links, as do other Vox Media-owned outlets, like The Strategist.) But in many newsrooms, there is a strict separation between the people dealing with advertisers and the people producing the news. At The Verge, for example, editorial staff never work on ads, and reviews writers don’t know how much parent company Vox Media earns through specific affiliate marketing links.

But under Red Ventures, former CNET staff say that the proximity to revenue made it harder and harder to maintain the editorial standards promised to audiences. 

“I do believe that the journalists who are doing the work at CNET are extremely ethical. I think that they have a lot of integrity, I think they work really hard,” they say. “But I think that they are under a great deal of pressure to make money for Red Ventures. And that’s just never a good situation for journalists.”

Though the AI tool generating stories for CNET, Bankrate, and CreditCards.com was formally announced just weeks ago, Red Ventures’ “experiment” with enlisting artificial intelligence has been underway much longer. Like other publishers who’ve incorporated automated tools into their work, the Red Ventures proprietary AI software was sold to the newsroom as a way to more efficiently produce “the boring stuff” so writers could use their time instead and work on bigger projects. In actuality, enlisting artificial intelligence to write SEO bait accelerates the speed at which Red Ventures-owned websites can churn out search-optimized content loaded with affiliate links, cutting down the need for human writers — and the reporting they produce.

For Sarah Szczypinski, a former journalist on the CNET Money team who left the outlet in early 2022, the association with CNET in light of the AI-writing saga has been frustrating. Though Szczypinski quit many months before the AI-generated articles began appearing, people have started contacting her after the news broke, wondering if she, too, had used AI tools for her stories. Szczypinski maintains she wrote her stories on her own, without automation tools.

“The leadership team gave no thought to what these unilateral decisions would do to the people working there, especially the people who are journalists and need their readers to trust them,” Szczypinski told The Verge. “We still have lives to live and careers to forge. And we can’t do that with something as damaging as this hanging over our heads.”

In late January, Szczypinski contacted Red Ventures and CNET, asking to have her author page and bylines pulled. Her name has been scrubbed from dozens of articles, now replaced simply by “CNET Staff.”

Throughout the time Red Ventures has owned CNET, the outlet’s leadership has promised readers time and again that its journalism is as strong as ever. Even as Guglielmo, Turrentine, and Red Ventures executives dodged questions from readers, staff, and reporters about the AI system, they pointed to CNET’s track record built over decades as evidence of trustworthiness. Audiences trust CNET for tech news, reviews, and recommendations, they reasoned, so they can trust CNET for how to move forward with artificial intelligence.

But even the more public ways CNET has tried to elicit trust from its audience have been hollowed out by a relentless drive toward optimization and gaming the search algorithm at the expense of the very work that had made CNET valuable.

CNET’s public ethics policy has not been meaningfully updated in years —  it still lists CBS as its parent company — but last year, the publication added nearly a dozen links detailing exactly how it tests and vets products to a hyper-specific degree, with separate posts for how CNET reviews everything from credit cards and TVs to vacuums and more. One way of looking at these posts is to provide readers — and potential customers — with as much detail as possible about CNET’s methodology. 

But for Red Ventures, these articles are just more fodder to boost its bottom line: Google likes when publishers demonstrate “experience, expertise, authority, and trustworthiness,” and the search algorithm factors in articles like these when it ranks search results. Articles packed with words like “unbiased,” “credible,” and “thoroughly vetted” are great for Red Ventures’ SEO-heavy strategy.

After all, Google can’t tell if it’s true.

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