Affiliate marketing can be quite subtle - most people using the Internet are unaware that affiliate marketing exists, yet it’s the reason behind a lot of the content on the Internet; therefore one of the first things you should learn when getting started as an affiliate is How To Identify Affiliate Sites. Once you start to spot affiliates you'll realize exactly how pervasive affiliate marketing is, and it might just give you ideas for your own affiliate business!
One of the places where affiliates are most obvious is in the paid advertisements on search engines like Bing or Google.
These affiliates will be promoting their websites through these advertisements, paying for each person who clicks on their ad.
The idea with this sort of marketing is that the money they earn in affiliate commissions is enough to pay for these advertisements, with a bit left over. However, because they have to pay for you to visit their site, you'll often find that they're a little more to the point than affiliates who don't have to pay for their traffic. (You can read more about why this might be, in our overview lesson on PPC Affiliate Marketing)
Let’s take at an example from a Google search on the phrase "learn guitar”.
Look at the search results in Google: the ads along the right hand side of the page are clearly marked "Ads", otherwise known as paid advertisements.
Depending on what you search for you might see ads in this list that have been placed by merchants themselves rather than affiliates; however, in this particular example it would appear that most of these ads have been placed by affiliates.
Telltale signs that an ad has been placed by an affiliate include any mention of reviews... there's always the favored affiliate catchphrase "Don't buy anything until you've read these reviews!"
These are very obvious affiliate ads. Another favorite affiliate hook is the mention of a “scam” – for example "Guitar lesson scams".
Nobody likes to be scammed, and everyone loves a scandal, so a lot of advertisements use this "scam" hook to get people clicking. Lets’ take a look at this ad in action
(To take your own look, go to [Link no longer available])
This site appears to be a review site built to target more than just the ‘guitar lessons’ affiliate market - however, let’s take a look at just the ‘guitar lessons’ page: at the top of the page they have a summary of the reviews, where they've given a number of affiliate products ratings out of five stars with a couple of brief points. If the visitor clicks on this link they'll be taken to the merchant site through the affiliate's affiliate link. These brief reviews at the top are a good way to grab people who are just looking for products to research and don't want to spend time reading reviews.
If you look a little further down the page you'll see the "full reviews" of the products, for example “Learn & Master Guitar”.
All the links on this page are affiliate links. An affiliate link is a link that (generally) places a cookie in the visitors browser to say to merchants “This visitor, X, came from affiliate Y’s link”. This helps the website track affiliate sales, and means that if the visitor comes back to buy at a later date the affiliate will earn a commission Affiliate links don’t harm the visitor in any way - the visitor doesn't end up paying any more for the product than if they bought directly from the merchant – in fact the affiliate actually helps the visitor to find a product they were looking for.
Not all affiliates choose to promote their websites through paid advertisements, however. A lot of affiliates rely on traffic that comes from normal search results in the search engines.
We call these search results "organic" search results, or "natural" search listings. You'll also hear people talking about SERPs, which is short for "search engine results pages".
For those of you who are new to these terms, the difference between natural search results and paid search results is that with the natural search results your listing is free, but you have a lot less control over how and where your website appears.
The natural search listings are the sites that the search engines deem to be most relevant to the particular search term, ranked in order of relevance. The problem for webmasters is that we never really know what the search engines are thinking; all we can do is guess and try to make our websites look as relevant as possible.
This gives rise to a whole area of Internet marketing called Search Engine Optimization, which we cover in other parts of Affilorama. But for now let’s take a look at affiliate sites that seem to be doing well in the SERPs for the term "dog obedience".
It can be a little more difficult to spot affiliates in the natural search results because they tend to be a little subtler than in the paid search results. We've got a few here which look like they could either be affiliates or merchants selling their own lessons. For example below http://www.barkbusters.ca is a merchant site, but sites like http://www.dogobedienceadvice.com or http://www.dog-obedience-training-review.com could be either merchant or affiliate sites.
Reviews, free advice, and "learn the best way" are all tried and true methods affiliates employ to gain traffic, so let's have a look at the site offering “free obedience training advice”, http://dogobedienceadvice.com.
If you take a look at the front page for this site you can see that it seems to follow a fairly similar formula to the last website we looked at.- up front they have a review of their ‘Top Dog Training Guide”, and further down the page we find more reviews to other top ranked products. All links to these guides will be affiliate links.
Since this is an SEO site there must be more content here - you can see that on the left panel there is a list of articles about dog training: how to deal with jumping dogs, stopping chewing, digging and so on.
If you click on "Dealing with a whining dog" you're taken to a page with a lesson on stopping your dog from whining. And here go those recommended products again!
Let’s take a look at one more affiliate site from the natural search listings, this time from Let's find another affiliate site in the natural search listings. I'll do a search for "Pet training" in Google.
If you follow through to the first listed item you can see, down the right hand side, that they're promoting a number of pet training eBooks.
You can tell they're likely to be affiliate products because if you were to click on them you'll be taken to a completely different site; if you hover over the links you'll (sometimes) see in your status bar (at the bottom of your browser) that the link looks a little convoluted, with hop.clickbank.net in it.
That means that the product comes from ClickBank -- an affiliate network. You can also see some ads on the side that look like affiliate products too. This site doesn't seem to offer any reviews: they simply have a "recommended" column and some ads.
In this lesson you’ve learned:
A few things you can use to spot obvious affiliate sites: