Online publishing has come a very long way in the last few years. There’s no doubt that staying afloat in the competitive and fast-moving world of digital media is tough!
But at the same time it’s also clear that the challenge of staying profitable has led to a lot of innovation, new technologies and exciting new content monetization strategies. Media publishers who are flexible, adaptable and tech savvy have lived to see another day and hopefully will live to see many more.
What’s your game plan?
So what’s the secret to success? There are a lot of options out there for monetizing content. Native advertising (like Taboola and Outbrain), sponsored content, programmatic/display advertising (like Adsense), influencer marketing, and automated affiliate link services (such as Skimlinks). And, of course, traditional affiliate marketing powered by modern affiliate management tools.
Finding the right monetization model for your content is going to depend to a large extent on the audience and vertical. You’ll usually end up needing to use more than one strategy in order to get maximum value out of the different types of content you have on offer.
Affiliate links: obvious but undervalued
As with any good strategy, it makes sense to diversify and monetize your content from multiple angles. But you also shouldn't overlook the obvious - and all too often underestimated - contextual, data-driven affiliate links.
Affiliate marketing has traditionally been at the heart of online content monetization efforts. But it now frequently gets glossed over as newer technologies and strategies capture our attention.
Yet it’s a huge mistake to underestimate the value that affiliate marketing can bring to publishers - when they do it right!
So, here are four reasons why you should be actively using affiliate links to monetize your content:
1. It puts your readers first!
We’ll start with what’s most important: when you put your readers and their experience first, everybody wins!
One of the biggest advantages affiliate marketing has over the alternatives is the fact that it lets you place highly contextual, relevant affiliate links that are of actual interest and benefit to the user. This adds authenticity to the user experience. And authenticity is something that's often missing with sponsored content, influencer campaigns, or with automated marketing solutions (whether programmatic or solutions such as Skimlinks).
Readers are becoming increasingly discerning and are shying away from heavily commerce-focused content. That's why it’s more important than ever to provide them with true value. Content monetization strategies that rely heavily on sponsored content, links to external articles or automated product links are simply no longer as effective as they used to be. Whatever strategy you choose, it has to be suited for the modern digital consumer.
With high quality content combined with targeted, relevant affiliate links, everyone benefits. Users get the information they were looking for, merchants receive high quality traffic and you, the publisher, of course, earn your commission.
2. It’s measurable and data-driven
If you can’t accurately measure performance and revenue, your content monetization model isn’t built for the long run. We’ve written elsewhere about the shortfalls of trendy but often low-performance influencer campaigns in terms of how difficult it is to quantify their success. Fake engagement, for example, is a serious problem and can really skew the stats that marketers are supposed to be leaning on to make big spending decisions. Similar issues apply to other strategies where it’s not possible to follow the entire user journey all the way through from traffic source to purchase.
With affiliate marketing you can get a highly accurate measure of your ROI and the profitability of your content. While affiliate links always had this advantage to some degree, with the help of modern tracking and management solutions it’s now possible for you to measure even more, giving you invaluable insight about your traffic sources, your content and your users. Solutions like Funnel Relay, for example, let you to track every aspect of your user journey making it possible to get actionable performance data for every piece of content you have - at the article level, author level or for any other meaningful criterion of your choosing.
3. There are huge optimization opportunities
Following naturally on from the point about measurability - when you have reliable data you also open up massive scope for optimization and improvement. One major shortcoming of solutions where you relinquish control over your marketing content to automated algorithms (i.e. programmatic, automated contextual links) is that it can be very difficult to implement effective data-driven optimization.
When placing user-focused, highly contextual and measurable affiliate links, however, you have countless opportunities for optimization at your fingertips. You can optimize your traffic source generation efforts by connecting your affiliate sales data with your SEO data or importing your affiliate network sales data into Google Ads (you can read our comprehensive guide on how to do this here).
You can also harness the data from tools such as Funnel Relay to work out what kind of content is most profitable and find ways to replicate its success. It's possible to see which authors are performing well with which particular audiences, or mash up the data at your disposal any way you want. And we all know that when we’re talking about high levels of traffic, a small change can mean a very big difference in terms of actual dollar value.
4. It’s no longer manual and time consuming
While affiliate marketing used to be very labor-intensive, involving a lot of manual URL tagging, manually checking for broken or outdated links and spending endless hours on manually constructing reports, it’s now possible to automate most or all of these processes. This means that you can now combine the highly contextual targeting that affiliate marketing can offer with the time-saving and error-reducing efficiency of automation.
With the help of a data consolidation tool, you can now view sales and performance data from all your affiliate networks in a single dashboard - something that would have taken hours of error-prone manual excel reporting in the past.
It’s also possible to automatically scan your affiliate links for errors (out of stock pages, 404s etc) with tools such as Link Scanner and you can streamline your URL parameter tagging with a comprehensive tracking solution like Funnel Relay that does it all for you automatically (and consistently).
Whether you use an external tool or develop in-house automation solutions, today’s technology makes it possible to harness the advantages of traditional affiliate marketing with the ease and reliability of automation.
To sum it up…
If you think affiliate marketing has already had its heyday, you’re missing out on a lot of potential revenue! Take a close look at your content and think about how you can make targeted, data-driven affiliate links work for you.
Get in touch if you want to learn more about affiliate marketing solutions for media publishers.