Hardship of Successful Affiliate Marketing for Pro Bloggers

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It was early days of affiliate marketing when I was busy in 9 to 5 job. Maximum regular readers know that I had left my regular job in 2007 and there after I am in online marketing by doing marketing or web developing works. Since moving over to my new affiliate program, I have signed up about 300 affiliates. But what is interesting is that each month I send over 90% of my affiliate commissions to the same ten or twelve people. A lot of people join affiliate programs for no other reason than to earn an affiliate commission on a product(s) they buy. And this does work with any program, however like most affiliate programs have a minimum payout threshold. So yes you can earn a commission on your own purchase but you would first have to purchase over $100 total since our commission percentage is 40%.

Hardship of Successful Affiliate Marketing for Pro Bloggers

Beside those folks, there are a lot of folks who join because they want to earn money, but they don’t have any experience with affiliate marketing. So I thought I would give you some affiliate marketing tips to help you. In the event you are reading this and know nothing about affiliate marketing before we start with the affiliate marketing tips, here is a basic outline: Affiliate marketing is the practice of a merchant rewarding their affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate's marketing efforts. Examples include sites where they pay you a commission for referring a sale. This is usually accomplished by the affiliate putting a merchant’s banner or text link on their website, blog, newsletter or placing links in social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. When someone clicks on a banner, it places a cookie in his or her computer that allows the merchant to track where the sale came from.

Most merchants pay their affiliates monthly. Some of the web’s largest companies have affiliate programs including eBay, Amazon and Yahoo. With most affiliate marketing programs the buyer must purchase something to generate a commission, but there are merchants who will pay you for a sales lead. This usually requires a person who clicks from your link to the merchant to fill out a lead form with their contact information.

OK – so lets get started with the tips:

1. Select Your Merchants Carefully: 

A lot of affiliates select their merchants on the basis of who pays the highest commission, but like to select based on who has the best reputation and quality product. The next factor I look at is the sell-through rate –which merchants convert better.

2. Integrity Matters: 

Never recommend something you wouldn’t buy yourself. Whether you promote from a blog, email or a website, it has your name on it and you don’t want to promote anything you would not buy or use yourself or something you would not recommend to your mother or your sister. There are plenty of excellent affiliate merchants out there, so you can afford to be very selective.

3.The Niche is Everything: 

You can’t earn money with affiliate marketing if you can’t get traffic to your website or blog. Competition on the Internet is fierce. Someone –or many others cover almost any topic or specialized area you can think of. Some competition is OK. In fact if you pick a niche that has a few competitors, that tells you that the niche is probably viable. But you don’t want to pick a product or a niche that is dominated by large professional affiliate marketers. Some examples of this would include mortgages, credit cards, lawyers, cancer treatments and so on. These areas have affiliate deals that pay huge commissions, but therefore they attract much more competition. You are much better off with a smaller niche. So what’s a small niche? Well one of my in-laws has lived and traveled extensively to Spain. Whereas travel is a huge and highly competitive area, by narrowing it down to one country to write about you would have far less competition. If you really wanted to narrow it further, then you could even specialize in travel to the Costa del Sol region of Spain.

4. Relevance: 

To be a successful affiliate the product you are promoting should be relevant to the content of the site you are promoting from. For example, if you write a blog about Bass fishing then your affiliate links and banners should appeal to bass fishermen. If you have banners for food and wine companies or cruise lines on your bass fishing blog, you may accidently get the occasional click and purchase –but it will be very occasional. Whereas if your links and banners were to a company that sells bass boats, rods and reels and bass fishing guides, they you will see a lot of potential earnings.

5. Avoid Overcrowding:

If success at affiliate marketing could be achieved from throwing up pages of banners - then the world would have lots of millionaires. A site with pages of banners or rows banners stuffed under content has the opposite effect on people. It also has the added bonus of making your site look pretty ugly.

6. A Personal Recommendation Works the Best:

I do use banners on my website and blog and they have their place. But nothing converts to sales better than when I make a personal recommendation. I only do this on products and services that I completely believe in and that I have tried myself. This goes back to the previous tip.

7. Track Results: 

There are literally thousands of merchants with affiliate programs out there. So why would you work with one that isn’t performing? Let me give you an example. I am a big believer in home business owners incorporating their business. So in my books and on my website, I used to recommend Legal Zoom. Two things happened: Sales were slow and after a few months I received a couple of complaints from readers I had referred. Ok – so I looked around and found My Corporation.com. Affiliate commissions from My Corporation.com are running double what I earned from Legal Zoom and I haven’t had any complaints. In fact, a few weeks after recommending them, I got an email from a reader praising them and thanking me for recommending them.

8. Use Multiple Merchants for Your Niche: 

You don’t want to overdo this, but don’t put all your eggs into one basket –or merchant. You can get away with three or four merchants and it is easy to spread these all around your site without overcrowding and pestering your readers with offers.

9. Create Original Content: 

There are a lot of article sites where you can get free content to use on your website or blog. There are free articles out there on almost any topic. But beware. Google looks for duplicate content. If they see an article on your website or blog that is identical to the content on others, they will penalize your site in the search results ranking. So always try for original content.

10. Change is good: 

Search engines are always looking for sites with new or changing content. You can build a static site and load it with content and it will get traffic for a time. But after a while, if Google visits your site and does not see any changes, it will not visit very often and eventually you will rank lower.

If you become good at building niche sites and the search engines find them, you can keep doing it. There are affiliate marketers who have dozens of sites. But once you get to that point, go back to each site at least monthly and add or change some of the content so Google and Yahoo will see your site as a place where readers will see up to date content.

Final Words: 

Well – that is our to 10 tips. I hope they helped you. When selecting affiliate merchants to recommend, think of your website or blog as very expensive real estate. You only have so much room for links and banners, so pick them very carefully and track your results at least monthly. If someone isn’t performing, take a minute to figure out why. Maybe its placement or maybe the merchant just does not do a good job of converting sales. If it’s the former you can experiment with placement. But if it’s the latter you should just move on to someone else. In a book, "How to Make A Living Working From Home" has an excellent section on how to do successful affiliate marketing, as well as instruction and information on five other online businesses you can start and run from home.
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Common Bloggers and Proprietary WordPress Development

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The average WordPress user is someone who tends to buy WordPress themes and plugins as turn key solutions for their website development needs. Of course they will have to configure both and they may make some customizations, but they cannot write (or understand) complex code.

Or any at all, for that matter, depending on where they fall on the technical spectrum under “developer”. Basically, anything more technically advanced than dropping in some code snippets or making basic CSS customizations is not possible without outside help.

This is the customer base most WordPress theme and plugin shops are targeting when they create a product. Ironically though, this is the very group who is most likely to be ignorant or misinformed about WordPress development best practices that could negatively impact their project or business.

Such is the case with the practice of proprietary WordPress development.

What is Proprietary WordPress Development?

In a nutshell, proprietary WordPress development is any practice that a) restricts the freedom of a WordPress theme or plugin’s end user beyond the existing limitations of WordPress’ GPL license; or b) uses non-portable code to lock users into a single product or product ecosystem’s continued use.

Types of Proprietary WordPress Development (& What They Mean for You)

If that sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. The sections below will focus on explaining what exactly non-GPL compliant code and non-portable code are and how they can negatively affect end users.

Non-GPL Compliant Code

Before you can understand what non-GPL compliant code is, it’s probably a good idea to understand the main points of the GPL license to begin with. So, what is the GPL license and how does it apply to WordPress, WordPress themes, and WordPress plugins?

GPL stands for General Public License. Any software (WordPress) or derivative products (such as themes and plugins) released under this license provides its users with the following freedoms:

The freedom to run the software for any purpose
The freedom to study how the software works and make any desired changes to it
The freedom to redistribute the software
The freedom to distribute copies of modified versions of the software
It is important to note that there is nothing in this license that prohibits charging for the software–which is how the entire WordPress theme and plugin market is able to exist.

WordPress itself is free of charge by choice; as are the plugins and themes offered through the official WordPress.org repository. Premium WordPress themes and plugins are required to honor the freedoms of the GPL license–which can make it hard (but not illegal) to charge for a freely distributed product–and so tend to charge for easy file access, support, and updates.

(If you’re hazy on how exactly that works then I would recommend reading Chris Lema’s article called What Are You Paying for When You Buy GPL Themes and Plugins?)

Ok, so now that you know what the GPL license is and how it applies to WordPress themes and plugins, how can non-GPL compliant code affect you? And what constitutes non-GPL compliant code in the first place?

Non-GPL compliant code would be anything that restricts the four freedoms above. Code that is compressed or encoded to avoid being read would be the biggest offender here as it would stop you (or anyone you hire) from studying the code, making changes to it, and freely distributing it in any meaningful way.

Thankfully, nearly every single premium WordPress theme shop is 100% GPL compliant. The only major hold-out is Themeforest which offers both 100% GPL and Split GPL licenses. The split license is there to cover elements such as code or code libraries not directly tied to WordPress core functions that might be included in a WordPress theme but are either already licensed under something else or the creators want to retain ownership.

In the case of split GPL licenses you will want to review the restrictions per theme or plugin to be sure you are not prohibited from using the software as you are intending to. In my opinion though, this is rare enough now that it no longer constitutes the biggest problem posed to end users by the practice of proprietary WordPress development. That’s where our next type comes in.

Non-Portable Code

Finally we come to what I see as the biggest problem in the WordPress community in terms of proprietary development: non-portable code. This is when a plugin or theme is designed, either intentionally or unintentionally, to lock a user into the continued use of a single product or product ecosystem. There are three main perpetrators of this: non-portable shortcodes, non-portable themes, and non-portable plugins.

Shortcodes Dependent on Themes

Shortcodes that come with a theme, and which are not dependent on a separate plugin, cannot be ported to a new theme in the future. This practice of packaging shortcodes as part of the theme itself traps end users into either sticking with the theme they have or go through the tedious and time consuming process of removing/replacing all of the shortcodes used in their content. Sometimes, there are no alternate shortcodes available.

Theme Functions and Templates

Ideally, a theme should come with all of its major functionality in the form of a plugin or bundle of plugins. This includes custom templates that once used over and over again will need to either be ported to a new theme or reconstructed by a new developer.

Take a theme that comes with a built in page builder for instance–like Elegant Theme’s Divi. Once you use that theme to create page after page with its custom page builder you cannot switch themes with anything approaching ease. This is one major reason they recently announced they are converting their builder into a theme independent plugin.

Plugins Dependent on Theme Styles

Some plugins, such as the Aesop Story Engine, are dependent on complimentary theme styles to make the plugin work as intended. Right off the bat it means that you need to purchase a theme by the plugin’s author for it to work properly and then you are basically stuck within that family of themes once you’ve used the plugin to create your content. This was one of the reasons the team here at Cohhe recently released the Longform storytelling theme for free. To make a great free plugin actually free to use.

The Aesop Story Engine is far from the only free (or premium) plugin to use this method of directing users to premium products or product families, just one that stood out to me after the release of Longform. In general, these kind of plugins can be hard to spot without acquiring the plugin and testing it yourself. Your best bet is to read as many reviews and articles about your plugin choices as possible before choosing those you will be absolutely dependent on–and then testing them extensively before making any final decisions.

So, What Should the Average WordPress User Do When They Spot Proprietary WordPress Development Practices?

Ideally, avoid it. Non-GPL compliant code is pretty rare now (among trusted and established WordPress theme/plugin creators) and so less likely to cause you problems. Or even come across your radar.

Non-portable code, on the other hand, while frowned upon, is not illegal or even against WordPress licensing. It is against the recommended WordPress development best practices, but there are almost always going to be developers out there who see non-portable code as an easy way to retain customers.

In those cases, you’ll need to follow my advice above and simply be on the lookout for it. Oh, and again, test everything.

If for some reason you cannot avoid using a theme or plugin that practices proprietary WordPress development, there are a few things I’d recommend:

1. Avoid using the features that cannot be ported, even if you have to download a plugin that “duplicates” features

2. If you must buy into a particular product or product family, choose wisely. Pick a theme/plugin shop with an impeccable reputation and enough success to guarantee that they will be around for a while

3. Encourage those developers to bring their products in closer alignment with the recommended WordPress development best practices.

In cases such as the Elegant Themes Divi Builder mentioned above, it seems that they took note of this complaint from their user base and made a decision to align their development practices with the overwhelming consensus of the WordPress community.

As a result, I wouldn’t be surprised to see their customer base grow significantly in 2016.

Have you had any negative experiences as a result of proprietary WordPress development? If so, it would be a great resource for the community here if you took a moment to share your story with us in the comments below.
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