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How to Start Affiliate Marketing With No Money in 2022 (5 Steps)

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How to Start Affiliate Marketing With No Money in 2022 (5 Steps)

If you do it right, affiliate marketing can make you money while you’re on the beach, in the mountains, or even taking a nap. I would know—I’ve been doing it for years.

I started my first affiliate marketing blog 10 years ago with just $40 and not a clue what I was doing. Now, it’s earning six figures, and I only have to work a few hours a week to run it.

In fact, that affiliate site receives over 100,000 visits per month from Google:

Google analytics for affiliate website

In this article, I’m going to teach you how to start affiliate marketing with (almost) no money. I’ll share how I did it and what you can do to get started today.

How does affiliate marketing work?

Affiliate marketing is the process of promoting someone else’s products or services and making a commission whenever someone buys after clicking your affiliate link.

For example, if you publish a blog post or a YouTube video sharing the best vacuum cleaners for pet hair and someone buys a product you recommend after clicking your affiliate link, you get paid a percentage of that sale.

It’s a great business model because it has almost no overhead and you don’t have to manufacture, or ship products, or handle customer service. You get paid to promote cool stuff.

Can you really start affiliate marketing with “no” money?

The only way to start affiliate marketing with no money is to get an affiliate link and start sending it to people you know. While this is possible, it’s not scalable and won’t make you much money unless you’re constantly networking.

Instead, the most successful affiliate marketers create a website and social media channels in order to get traffic to their affiliate links. While social media accounts are free, a website does cost a few bucks.

Specifically, you need to purchase a domain name and website hosting. A domain costs you around $3–$7 for the first year, and hosting starts at $2.75 per month (paid annually, this is $33).

So you will need at least $36 to get started as of the time this post was published.

If you’re ready to make your website, I recommend following this YouTube video by WP Beginner. It walks you through how to get your hosting and domain name set up and how to use WordPress for complete beginners.

How to start affiliate marketing with (almost) no money

If you’ve got the $36 and you want to give this business model a try, I’ve come up with five simple steps to get you started in affiliate marketing:

Step 1. Find a niche OR a good affiliate program

The first and most important step is figuring out what you want to talk about and promote—in other words, your niche.

Your niche can be almost anything, from a hobby, to an interest, to a lifestyle. Like dogs? That can be a niche. Interested in cryptocurrency? Niche potential. You get the idea.

Niche selection is one of the hardest parts of affiliate marketing. You need to pick something you won’t mind creating content about for years to come. It takes time to build the brand authority and awareness to turn this into a full-time business, so don’t be afraid to spend some time here.

Now, there are a few ways to choose your niche. You can either pick a niche you’re already interested in, OR you can look for good affiliate programs first and base your niche on those program(s).

Finding high-paying affiliate programs with quality companies can be difficult. Usually, you’ll either find good products with low commissions (2%–4%) or crappy products with high commissions (20%+).

But every once in a while, you’ll find a high-quality product with a high commission rate. And if you do, it may be worth basing your niche around. It’s much better to get high-paying partners than just to promote Amazon products.

There’s nothing wrong with building an Amazon affiliate website. However, don’t expect to make a lot of money from this unless you’re able to get a huge amount of traffic and sales. 

Last year, I sent Amazon more than $1.2 million in sales… and only made $47,310.

Amazon affiliate income

So yeah—it’s worth looking for a better affiliate program. 

The best affiliate partnerships are made by creating a direct relationship with the brand you want to promote and working out a private deal.

So where do you find great affiliate partners?

Think about the things you already enjoy doing and look at your favorite products or services in those niches. See if any of those products have an existing affiliate program. If not, call a brand to get in touch with its marketing team or even the owner to try and work something out.

You can also find potential affiliate programs by searching for “[your niche] affiliate programs” on Google. You’ll often find lists of brands that have an affiliate program, as well as the details of the program.

Lastly, you can check popular affiliate marketing platforms like AvantLink, impact.com, ShareASale, and many more.

Ready to look for a niche? Here are two guides to get you started:

Step 2. Decide on one traffic channel

One of the biggest mistakes I see beginners making (and have made myself) is focusing on creating content for too many traffic channels at once. They make accounts on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Pinterest, all while managing their blog—it’s too much.

Every single one of these channels takes months or years to learn and build engaged audiences on. And each of them can fill enough time to be a full-time job.

Instead, choose one or two main traffic sources—my favorites are YouTube and Google because they can bring recurring organic traffic—and get really good at them.

Yes, you can have an account on every channel. Sure, you can share your blog posts on them pretty easily. But keep the bulk of your content creation and attention on one channel, then use the others to support that channel.

At Ahrefs, we specialize in search engine optimization (SEO)—that is, creating and optimizing content to appear in search engines. 

Organic traffic from search engines like Google is one of the best ways to get recurring, passive affiliate revenue. It takes time to learn the skills and get to page #1 on Google. But SEO is worth learning in the long run because it brings you traffic every time someone makes a search and finds your content.

One of my sites received over 100,000 visits from Google in a single month without me creating or promoting a single piece of content during the entire month:

Google analytics traffic overview

YouTube is similar because it’s also often used as a search engine, making it another great source of recurring visitors without the need for constantly creating and promoting new content.

Of course, which traffic channel you choose depends on your own preference and the niche you’re in. Some niches are much more competitive in search engines than others. 

You can use Ahrefs’ free keyword difficulty checker to quickly see if the keywords in your niche are hard to rank for or not. Think of keywords you may search for in the niche and type them in the tool to get more information.

For example, “best vacuum cleaners for pet hair” may be hard to rank for:

Ahrefs' free keyword difficulty checker

Our tool estimates you’d need backlinks (links to your page from another website) from ~45 websites to rank in the top 10 for this keyword. And you can see some of the competitors are big brands like NYMag and HGTV. 

The Keyword Difficulty (KD) score—35—is on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being easy and 100 being extremely difficult. It’s on a logarithmic scale, which means it gets exponentially harder to rank for a keyword as the number goes up.

For comparison, the keyword “car vacuum cleaner” has a KD of 27, and we estimate you’d need ~32 backlinks to rank in the top 10.

Medium-difficulty keyword example

If you find some low- to medium-difficulty keywords, it could be a sign Google is a great traffic source for you. Otherwise, you may want to consider a different traffic source to get started with.

Here are some guides to help you learn about different traffic channels:

Step 3. Create killer content

Regardless of the platform you choose to focus on, you will need one thing to succeed:

Great content.

Your content should be so good, so interesting, so riveting that people are eager to consume and share it. Whether that’s videos, pictures, or blog posts, the only way to stand out in this saturated market is to make your content really damn good.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need the highest-quality cameras or the best-looking website. In fact, what makes content great varies, depending on the niche and the platform.

But typically, your content needs to be good at one of two things:

  1. Entertaining
  2. Informing

If you can both inform AND entertain people, you’ll do well with affiliate marketing. That can mean excellent storytelling, deep research, or great presentation of information. 

Of course, capturing traffic from Google is going to be very different from Instagram or TikTok. The intention is different—one platform is used for learning, the others for entertaining.

Creating amazing content for Google involves a lot of research:

Then, you need to compile that research in a way that’s easy to understand, well written, and optimized for search engines. The goal is to create something that’s better than what’s already ranking on page #1 for your target keyword.

For example, a good article for Google may look something like this, which ranks #1 for “rv accessories”:

RV accessories article example

As you scroll down the article, you see recommended boxes that share product information quickly and easily; also, the products are recommended by people who have actually used them.

Affiliate product recommendations

The goal with social media is still the same—to create something that’s better than what’s already out there—but it’s done in a different way.

Instead of presenting the best research in the easiest-to-digest way, it’s often about creativity, storytelling, and unique perspectives.

That can mean a low-quality, handheld video of yourself being real in a moment when life is super difficult. Or it can mean crisp, edited films with drone footage, awesome angles, and sound design.

For example, here’s a video I posted on TikTok that blew up and received over 1.7 million views:

Social media is a different beast—people want to be entertained, not just fed information.

This is why it’s hard to define what “great content” means for social media. But generally, it comes down to being good at informing and entertaining. If you can nail those skills, the rest will fall into place.

Here are a few guides to help you create better content:

Step 4. Promote like crazy

Remember how I said to focus on one channel for traffic?

What I really mean by that is to focus on creating content for only one channel—you can still utilize other channels to boost that content.

For example, if you decide to focus on SEO or YouTube, you can still share your content on Facebook and Pinterest even without a large following. 

Social media cross-promotion

That doesn’t mean you have to dive deep into Facebook and Pinterest groups and spend hours every day on social media to grow your audience—just look at it as a small piece of a larger strategy. Share it and move on.

Other things you can do to promote your content without spending money include:

  • Engaging with others on forums.
  • Building relationships with others in your niche and similar niches.
  • Commenting on other people’s videos and content.
  • Doing cold email outreach.
  • And more.

Check out our complete guide to content promotion to learn how to get eyeballs on your content.

Step 5. Scale it up

Once you find a traffic channel that works, you can work to scale up your efforts. Double down on the content and promotion methods that are working and cut the ones that aren’t.

At this point, you can look into hiring a writer, video editor, or social media manager to help you maximize your time.

Places like UpWork and Fiverr can help you find an assistant for a relatively low cost. It may take multiple hires to find the right person. But once you do, they’ll save you time, making the hiring process worthwhile.

Finding freelance writers on Fiverr

To have the best possible chances at landing a high-quality worker, only choose people with good reviews. 

Don’t just look at a five-star review average and assume they’re good, though. Read a few of the recent reviews to make sure they’re not fake purchased reviews.

And there you have it—the five steps to start affiliate marketing with basically no money.

Final thoughts

Starting an affiliate marketing business with no money is possible, but it does have a big learning curve and requires being scrappy and thinking outside the box.

With enough determination, you can create a business that earns passive revenue while you spend your time on hobbies, relaxing, with family, or doing whatever you want to do.

It requires a lot of learning and work, but it’s worth it. If you have questions or want to get in touch, feel free to ping me on Instagram.

If you’re ready to learn more about affiliate marketing and SEO, check out these other guides:



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Gen Z Ditches Google, Turns To Reddit For Product Searches

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In this photo illustration, the Reddit logo is displayed on a smartphone screen.

A new report from Reddit, in collaboration with GWI and AmbassCo, sheds light on the evolving search behaviors of Generation Z consumers.

The study surveyed over 3,000 internet users across the UK, US, and Germany, highlighting significant changes in how young people discover and research products online.

Here’s an overview of key findings and the implications for marketers.

Decline In Traditional Search

The study found that Gen Z uses search engines to find new brands and products less often.

That’s because they shop online differently. They’re less interested in looking for expert reviews or spending much time searching for products.

There are also frustrations with mobile-friendliness and complex interfaces on traditional search platforms.

Because of this, traditional SEO strategies might not work well for reaching younger customers.

Takeaway

Companies trying to reach Gen Z might need to try new methods instead of just focusing on being visible on Google and other search engines.

Rise Of Social Media Discovery

Screenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Gen Z is increasingly using social media to find new brands and products.

The study shows that Gen Z has used social media for product discovery 36% more frequently since 2018.

This change is affecting how young people shop online. Instead of searching for products, they expect brands to appear in their social media feeds.

1719123963 547 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Because of this, companies trying to reach young customers need to pay more attention to how they present themselves on social media.

Takeaway

To succeed at marketing to Gen Z, businesses will likely need to focus on two main things:

  1. Ensure that your content appears more often in social media feeds.
  2. Create posts people want to share and interact with.

Trust Issues With Influencer Marketing

Even though more people are finding products through social media, the report shows that Gen Z is less likely to trust what social media influencers recommend.

These young shoppers often don’t believe in posts that influencers are paid to make or products they promote.

Instead, they prefer to get information from sources that feel more real and are driven by regular people in online communities.

Takeaway

Because of this lack of trust, companies must focus on being genuine and building trust when they try to get their websites to appear in search results or create ads.

Some good ways to connect with these young consumers might be to use content created by regular users, encourage honest product reviews, and create authentic conversations within online communities.

Challenges With Current Search Experiences

The research shows that many people are unhappy with how search engines work right now.

More than 60% of those surveyed want search results to be more trustworthy. Almost half of users don’t like looking through many search result pages.

Gen Z is particularly bothered by inaccurate information and unreliable reviews.

1719123963 785 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Takeaway

Given the frustration with search quality, marketers should prioritize creating accurate, trustworthy content.

This can help build brand credibility, leading to more direct visits.

Reddit: A Trusted Alternative

The report suggests that Gen Z trusts Reddit when looking up products—it’s their third most trusted source, after friends and family and review websites.

1719123963 403 Gen Z Ditches Google Turns To Reddit For Product SearchesScreenshot from Reddit study titled: “From search to research: How search marketers can keep up with Gen Z.”, June 2024.

Young users like Reddit because it’s community-based and provides specific answers to users’ questions, making it feel more real.

It’s worth noting that this report comes from Reddit itself, which probably influenced why it’s suggesting its own platform.

Takeaway

Companies should focus more on being part of smaller, specific online groups frequented by Gen Z.

That could include Reddit or any other forum.

Why SEJ Cares

As young people change how they look for information online, this study gives businesses important clues about connecting with future customers.

Here’s what to remember:

  • Traditional search engine use is declining among Gen Z.
  • Social media is increasingly vital for product discovery.
  • There’s growing skepticism towards influencer marketing.
  • Current search experiences often fail to meet user expectations.
  • Community-based platforms like Reddit are gaining trust.

Featured Image: rafapress/Shutterstock

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Google Clarifies Organization Merchant Returns Structured Data

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Google updates organization structured data for merchant returns

Google quietly updated their organization structured data documentation in order to clarify two points about merchant returns in response to feedback about an ambiguity in the previous version.

Organization Structured Data and Merchant Returns

Google recently expanded their Organization structured data so that it could now accommodate a merchant return policy. The change added support for adding a sitewide merchant return policy.

The original reason for adding this support:

“Adding support for Organization-level return policies

What: Added documentation on how to specify a general return policy for an Organization as a whole.

Why: This makes it easier to define and maintain general return policies for an entire site.”

However that change left unanswered about what will happen if a site has a sitewide return policy but also has a different policy for individual products.

The clarification applies for the specific scenario of when a site uses both a sitewide return policy in their structured data and another one for specific products.

What Takes Precedence?

What happens if a merchant uses both a sitewide and product return structured data? Google’s new documentation states that Google will ignore the sitewide product return policy in favor of a more granular product-level policy in the structured data.

The clarification states:

“If you choose to provide both organization-level and product-level return policy markup, Google defaults to the product-level return policy markup.”

Change Reflected Elsewhere

Google also updated the documentation to reflect the scenario of the use of two levels of merchant return policies in another section that discusses whether structured data or merchant feed data takes precedence. There is no change to the policy, merchant center data still takes precedence.

This is the old documentation:

“If you choose to use both markup and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

This is the same section but updated with additional wording:

“If you choose to use both markup (whether at the organization-level or product-level, or both) and settings in Merchant Center, Google will only use the information provided in Merchant Center for any products submitted in your Merchant Center product feeds, including automated feeds.”

Read the newly updated Organization structured data documentation:

Organization (Organization) structured data – MerchantReturnPolicy

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What Is It & How To Write It

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What Is It & How To Write It

In this guide, you will learn about alternative text (known as alt text): what it is, why it is important for on-page SEO, how to use it correctly, and more.

It’s often overlooked, but every image on your website should have alt text. More information is better, and translating visual information into text is important for search engine bots attempting to understand your website and users with screen readers.

Alt text is one more source of information that relates ideas and content together on your website.

This practical and to-the-point guide contains tips and advice you can immediately use to improve your website’s image SEO and accessibility.

What Is Alt Text?

Alternative text (or alt text) – also known as the alt attribute or the alt tag (which is not technically correct because it is not a tag) – is simply a piece of text that describes the image in the HTML code.

What Are The Uses Of Alt Text?

The original function of alt text was simply to describe an image that could not be loaded.

Many years ago, when the internet was much slower, alt text would help you know the content of an image that was too heavy to be loaded in your browser.

Today, images rarely fail to load – but if they do, then it is the alt text you will see in place of an image.

Screenshot from Search Engine Journal, May 2024

Alt text also helps search engine bots understand the image’s content and context.

More importantly, alt text is critical for accessibility and for people using screen readers:

  • Alt text helps people with disabilities (for example, using screen readers) learn about the image’s content.

Of course, like every element of SEO, it is often misused or, in some cases, even abused.

Let’s now take a closer look at why alt text is important.

Why Alt Text Is Important

The web and websites are a very visual experience. It is hard to find a website without images or graphic elements.

That’s why alt text is very important.

Alt text helps translate the image’s content into words, thus making the image accessible to a wider audience, including people with disabilities and search engine bots that are not clever enough yet to fully understand every image, its context, and its meaning.

Why Alt Text Is Important For SEO

Alt text is an important element of on-page SEO optimization.

Proper alt text optimization makes your website stand a better chance of ranking in Google image searches.

Yes, alt text is a ranking factor for Google image search.

Depending on your website’s niche and specificity, Google image search traffic may play a huge role in your website’s overall success.

For example, in the case of ecommerce websites, users very often start their search for products with a Google image search instead of typing the product name into the standard Google search.

Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner]Screenshot from search for [Garmin forerunner], May 2024

Google and other search engines may display fewer product images (or not display them at all) if you fail to take care of their alt text optimization.

Without proper image optimization, you may lose a lot of potential traffic and customers.

Why Alt Text Is Important For Accessibility

Visibility in Google image search is very important, but there is an even more important consideration: Accessibility.

Fortunately, in recent years, more focus has been placed on accessibility (i.e., making the web accessible to everyone, including people with disabilities and/or using screen readers).

Suppose the alt text of your images actually describes their content instead of, for example, stuffing keywords. In that case, you are helping people who cannot see this image better understand it and the content of the entire web page.

Let’s say one of your web pages is an SEO audit guide that contains screenshots from various crawling tools.

Would it not be better to describe the content of each screenshot instead of placing the same alt text of “SEO audit” into every image?

Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Alt Text Examples

Finding many good and bad examples of alt text is not difficult. Let me show you a few, sticking to the above example with an SEO audit guide.

Good Alt Text Examples

So, our example SEO guide contains screenshots from tools such as Google Search Console and Screaming Frog.

Some good examples of alt text may include:

”The
”Google
”List
”Screaming

Tip: It is also a good idea to take care of the name of your file. Using descriptive file names is not a ranking factor, but I recommend this as a good SEO practice.

Bad And/Or Spammy Alt Text Examples

I’ve also seen many examples of bad alt text use, including keyword stuffing or spamming.

Here is how you can turn the above good examples into bad examples:

”google search console coverage report
”google
”seo
”seo

As you can see, the above examples do not provide any information on what these images actually show.

You can also find examples and even more image SEO tips on Google Search Central.

Common Alt Text Mistakes

Stuffing keywords in the alt text is not the only mistake you can make.

Here are a few examples of common alt text mistakes:

  • Failure to use the alt text or using empty alt text.
  • Using the same alt text for different images.
  • Using very general alt text that does not actually describe the image. For example, using the alt text of “dog” on the photo of a dog instead of describing the dog in more detail, its color, what it is doing, what breed it is, etc.
  • Automatically using the name of the file as the alt text – which may lead to very unfriendly alt text, such as “googlesearchconsole,” “google-search-console,” or “photo2323,” depending on the name of the file.

Alt Text Writing Tips

And finally, here are the tips on how to write correct alt text so that it actually fulfills its purpose:

  • Do not stuff keywords into the alt text. Doing so will not help your web page rank for these keywords.
  • Describe the image in detail, but still keep it relatively short. Avoid adding multiple sentences to the alt text.
  • Use your target keywords, but in a natural way, as part of the image’s description. If your target keyword does not fit into the image’s description, don’t use it.
  • Don’t use text on images. All text should be added in the form of HTML code.
  • Don’t write, “this is an image of.” Google and users know that this is an image. Just describe its content.
  • Make sure you can visualize the image’s content by just reading its alt text. That is the best exercise to make sure your alt text is OK.

How To Troubleshoot Image Alt Text

Now you know all the best practices and common mistakes of alt text. But how do you check what’s in the alt text of the images of a website?

You can analyze the alt text in the following ways:

Inspecting an element (right-click and select Inspect when hovering over an image) is a good way to check if a given image has alt text.

However, if you want to check that in bulk, I recommend one of the below two methods.

Install Web Developer Chrome extension.

Screenshot of Web Developer Extension in Chrome by authorScreenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

Next, open the page whose images you want to audit.

Click on Web Developer and navigate to Images > Display Alt Attributes. This way, you can see the content of the alt text of all images on a given web page.

The alt text of images is shown on the page.Screenshot from Web Developer Extension, Chrome by author, May 2024

How To Find And Fix Missing Alt Text

To check the alt text of the images of the entire website, use a crawler like Screaming Frog or Sitebulb.

Crawl the site, navigate to the image report, and review the alt text of all website images, as shown in the video guide below.

You can also export only images that have missing alt text and start fixing those issues.

Alt Text May Not Seem Like A Priority, But It’s Important

Every source of information about your content has value. Whether it’s for vision-impaired users or bots, alt text helps contextualize the images on your website.

While it’s only a ranking factor for image search, everything you do to help search engines understand your website can potentially help deliver more accurate results. Demonstrating a commitment to accessibility is also a critical component of modern digital marketing.

FAQ

What is the purpose of alt text in HTML?

Alternative text, or alt text, serves two main purposes in HTML. Its primary function is to provide a textual description of an image if it cannot be displayed. This text can help users understand the image content when technical issues prevent it from loading or if they use a screen reader due to visual impairments. Additionally, alt text aids search engine bots in understanding the image’s subject matter, which is critical for SEO, as indexing images correctly can enhance a website’s visibility in search results.

Can alt text improve website accessibility?

Yes, alt text is vital for website accessibility. It translates visual information into descriptive text that can be read by screen readers used by users with visual impairments. By accurately describing images, alt text ensures that all users, regardless of disability, can understand the content of a web page, making the web more inclusive and accessible to everyone.

More resources: 


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