I’ve spent the last couple weeks writing about the changes that we’ve made to the blog (see the links below). Today I’m going to reveal a new feature that I’ve been running for a few weeks: the upgraded “Recommended reading” page.
One of the many ways to generate revenue from a blog (and reach financial independence) is through affiliate sales. Unlike running ads or selling text links or sponsored posts, affiliate sales are actual products. A company agrees to pay you a small commission for persuading your readers to buy what they’re selling, and the revenue scales right up with your audience. Impressions and clicks don’t matter– just how much the buyers pay for the company’s product.
If only it was that simple.
Well, I guess the concept is pretty straightforward, but the implementation sure takes some blogger labor.
If Google AdSense is the 800-pound gorilla of blog advertising, then Amazon Associates is the elephant of affiliate sales. They started out with books over 15 years ago and have expanded to… “just about everything on their website”.
Amazon claims that the product price stays the same no matter how much they pay to their affiliate, so in theory the whole program is free to the buyers who use it. Affiliates earn commissions of 1%-10% on Amazon’s sales in most categories and can earn a slightly higher rate based on volume.
The good news for bloggers is that Amazon’s “sales price” is easier to calculate instead of Google AdSense “valid clicks” or “impressions”. Amazon’s program is harder to manipulate and their operating agreement is much simpler. Unlike AdSense, I especially appreciate that Amazon not only lets you know when the agreement has been updated but shows a separate summary of what specific parts have changed.
The paperback copy of “The Military Guide” includes a “recommended reading” list of books, research papers, and website articles. I used these source materials to educate myself on the topics and to present the data analyzed in the book. Readers recommended their own favorite books, I read them, and I added those to the list. The “Recommended reading” blog page was built straight from the book, but now it has all of the links to the references… and many of them are available on Amazon’s website.
When bloggers register for the program, your account is assigned a short affiliate code that’s appended to the URL of every product you want to list on your blog. Readers (about to become buyers) click on the link to get to Amazon’s website, where Amazon’s system tracks your affiliate code along with the reader’s purchases.
Once the reader has paid for their purchase(s), Amazon credits your commission to your account along with a summary of the transaction. You can do the usual spreadsheet tracking of what’s selling over time and you can even add additional code to your links to figure out exactly how each link is performing.
The beauty of the affiliate code is that it sticks with the buyer through more than just the purchase of your recommended product. If your reader buys just about anything else on Amazon during the next 24 hours after clicking on your affiliate link, your account is also credited with a commission on their purchase.
This adds up quickly if the buyer is in the market for power tools, electronics, sporting goods, or most of Amazon’s other big-ticket items. (My grateful mahalo to whoever bought the red chrome license-plate frame kits– 93 cents of your purchase will go to military charities!) If you’re a frequent Amazon shopper then you can start your surfing at your favorite blogs (no matter what you’re buying), click through to Amazon so that your visit includes the blogger’s affiliate code, and send a few nickels their way.
Amazon’s implementation has come a long way over the years. In addition to the product links, you can link your favorite Amazon.com pages (with your affiliate code). You can build advertising banners, preformatted store templates, and widgets. If you’re planning to sell a significant volume of product then you can even build your own custom store on your site and integrate it with Amazon’s advertising API.
I’m just getting started on affiliate sales, and this takes a considerable amount of thoughtful up-front labor to properly set up and format the links. My first effort was simply a long period of drudgery (20 minutes a day!) using my Amazon affiliates account to build the text links for each of the 75+ books on the “Recommended reading” page. Yeah, I’m a nuclear engineer, but even high-volume HTML link-building is about as exciting as it sounds. That’s been running since March and it seems to be working fine.
Text links load quickly and get the job done, but humans are visual shoppers and graphics close the deal even faster. I started adding graphic links for each book, but I quickly bogged down in the minutiae of setting each link on the blog page alongside the existing text and descriptions.
That project soon got kicked to the curb for a couple months, but when I came back to it I discovered the Amazon aStore. These templates help you quickly add product images & links and organize the inventory. (You could spend most of your waking hours tweaking the display features, but I went with the defaults.) What would have taken several days to format 75+ individual image links on the blog took only a couple hours on the aStore page. Best of all: the aStore code runs on Amazon’s website, not yours.
You enter your aStore changes in your account on Amazon’s website without having to directly edit your blog page. (If you have an Associates account, use the “aStore” tab at the top to learn more.) Whatever editing I do to my aStore is promptly displayed on the blog’s “Recommended reading” page in an HTML frame a little below the fold (scroll down).
Flush with blogger success and feeling empowered by capitalism, I looked around for more ideas. I think the blog has quite enough AdSense advertising, so I skipped over the Amazon banners (for now). Most of the blog’s readers come to the Recommended reading list from search engines so there’s no reason to beat dedicated subscribers over the head with an Amazon banner every time I put up a new post.
However, widgets are another matter! Amazon offers over a dozen of them but I picked the “Recent reads” version from a relative’s blog (thanks, Camilla!). Most adblock software considers this widget to be display advertising, so you’ll have to turn off your adblocker to see it in the sidebar between the “recent comments” and “categories” widgets.
I’ve thrown in a half-dozen randomly-selected nonfiction books that I’ve recently read and that I’ll eventually add to the aStore. Most of them are Kindle eBooks by other bloggers whose work I enjoy, and a couple of them are new lifestyle books that caught my eye. I’ll update that widget every few weeks by moving its older books to the aStore and adding newer ones.
Before I talk about the earnings, please keep in mind that 95% of these books are available from your local public library. (If they’re not then they should be: fill out a book request and ask your reference librarian to add it to their personal-finance educational inventory.) Before you get all enthused with consumer lust (and the hedonistic thrill of shopping in your underwear) please check your library and flip a few pages from their shelves to make sure you find the books that you really enjoy. Progressive libraries might even have an eBook copy that you can check out for a few days. Once you’ve finished surveying the literature then you can decide what you want to add to your personal reference library.
Well, how’s this working out? It’s been running for just under two months, and this is the official launch. Eager shoppers have stumbled across the page on their own and rushed to buy six books (plus the aforementioned license-plate frame kits) to ring up $76.87 in product.
The blog’s share of that comes to precisely 4%, or a whopping $3.07.
Amazon has a $10 direct-deposit threshold and a considerable time lag for returns, so I won’t see any money until 60 days after the commissions reach that hurdle.
A few cynical readers might wonder whether I’m double-dipping on the book, the pocket guide, or the Kindle edition by earning both a royalty and an Amazon.com affiliate commission. The first answer is “Neither one changes your purchase price, and both are donated to military charities, so you don’t have to care.” The second answer is “No” because this issue definitely affects the publisher. They would much rather sell a book to you directly from their website than from Amazon, and I’m supporting the publisher first. Every link on this blog to “The Military Guide” paperback goes through Impact Publications.
You may be able to buy a single copy of the book cheaper from Amazon.com, but you can negotiate a better deal from the publisher on bulk purchases. You can also negotiate shipping, and when you phone Impact during business hours you can speak to a real, live human being (Hi, Keith!) who does a great job with your order.
Impact is also the only place where you can buy the pocket guide version of the paperback book. In return for avoiding the revenue shares of distribution networks, Impact sells the pocket guide at rock-bottom prices. It’s especially useful for military support organizations and family service centers who want to give the book away to their servicemembers & military families.
Another reason you want to shop from the publisher’s website is that you can search much more quickly for other military books & pocket guides. Take a look at Impact’s military special collection and see what could help you or your family with your career or your next transition.
If you prefer an electronic reader, though, you’ll have to obtain your eBooks through your local library or Amazon’s Kindle system. The Kindle edition of “The Military Guide” is cheaper than the paperback and offers all the modern conveniences of electronic bookmarks. Not only can you highlight your favorite portions of the text, but you can see what other (anonymous) readers have highlighted for themselves. I don’t own a Kindle but my iPad is a big improvement on my presbyopian eyes, and I’m slowly starting to migrate to eBooks whenever they’re available.
What’s next? My list includes installing the USAA affiliate widget, and maybe somewhere down the road, I’ll include credit-card advertising. I could also explore more affiliate programs from Commission Junction and other advertising programs from First Media. Affiliate marketing has been a growth industry for over a decade, so I could go completely nuts with the programs and referrals and links. Google “Shawn Collins affiliate marketing” if you want a taste of that for your own blog.
Before I head down those roads, however, my next education & revenue project is an eBook on military insurance topics.