How To Properly Build An Affiliate Site: Step By Step Guide

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how to build an affiliate site

In the last article, I showed you some examples of successful affiliate sites.

Those are sites that every affiliate marketer dream of as they are revenue driving monsters, and rank high within their niche. And I truly hope that it gave you some inspiration to build your own.

Building your own, however, will require you to wear many different hats and become a specialist in a bunch of different topics like WordPress, keyword and competition research, content strategy, etc.

And it’s not obvious. But in this guide, I will take you through the steps necessary to get your site up and running.

Step 1: Finding a niche

The first step within the first step is to crank out some ideas.

Create a list of potential niches you’re interested in.

create a list of niches

Nothing complicated.

It should only take you a few minutes. Simply write out a bunch of topics/niches that you’re personally interested in or have experience in.

There is no hard set rule to what niches work, and what doesn’t. But if you’re a beginner, you want to start in a niche that you’re interested in. You’re going to be working on the site for months, even years, and you don’t want it to be in an industry that you hate.

As you get more experienced, you can slowly shift more of your niche selection towards profitability. But for beginners, the perfect niche is one that you’re interested in, has low to medium competition, and is large enough to build a healthy 4-figure/month site.

Here’s an example of one I would make myself:

  • Books
  • Fitness
  • Cameras
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Drones
  • Gadgets
  • Travel
  • Investing Money

Competition research

Once you’ve created your initial list, it’s time to do some research on each one.

In this part, we’re going to look into the competition to analyze:

  • Traffic potential
  • Keyword search volume
  • Backlink profiles of top ranking sites
  • Affiliate networks used
  • Earnings potential

A good starting point is to input some basic, generalized keywords around the niche into Google and see what competitors show up. High ranking sites for generalized short-tail keywords will usually be the highest authority sites in the niche.

The first thing we want to see is the high potential of traffic.

An easy way to do that is to use a tool like Similarweb, Ahrefs, and SEMrush.

These will give you a rough approximation of the traffic numbers the top sites in the industry are getting. However much traffic the top sites are getting is usually an indicator of the traffic caps in that industry.

The next thing we want to look for are sites that rank for a high number of keywords.

We don’t want to see the top sites getting hundreds of thousands of visitors per month from only a few select keywords. Ideally, there should be thousands of keywords that they’re ranking for, which indicates a lot of profitable keywords we can target ourselves in the niche.

pennyhoarder example

This is a great example of what we want to see.

High traffic numbers and lots of ranking keywords.

Note that I’m using SEMrush here. And the numbers above are only for US traffic, on desktop. Global traffic on all devices is much higher – anywhere from 10-20x higher than the number shown in most cases for US-targeted sites.

Link profile research

Once we’ve identified large niches that have lots of high volume keywords, it’s time to analyze how difficult it will be to build links to our own site if we were to enter the same niche.

To do this, you can use a backlink analysis tool like Ahrefs orMoz.

Analyze the top sites in the industry and check how many referring domains they have, how many new linking root domains are they acquiring per month (take the total number of new linking root domains for the last 90 days and divide it by 3) and what their DR is.

To help narrow down your research, try to analyze sites that are niche specific, preferably affiliate sites. For example, if sites like Wikipedia, Wikihow, or Huffington Post are ranking on the first page, ignore those.

If the niche you’re analyzing is “dog training” then only look for sites that are specifically about dog training.

Things to consider with niche research

Everybody’s criteria will be different, depending on experience levels.

More experienced affiliate site builders will be comfortable targeting niches with big competitors with strong link profiles.

They know how to build the right content and links to compete.

Beginners may want to look for smaller, more targeted niches with weaker competitors. It may mean lower potential traffic and earnings, but it can mean building a successful site faster and with less work.

Niche research involves a ton of steps and requires you to do a lot of analysis before you finally decide on the right niche for you.

But it’s very important you take the time and effort required to go through multiple niches, and multiple competitors, to make sure it’s right for you based on the growth potential and competition strength.

Here’s a screenshot of how we tackle competition research at Alpha Investors (more on that in the coming months 😉 ).

competition research

Step 2: Basic site setup

Once you have your niche selected, it’s time to set up your site.

I won’t go too in-depth into it here since most of you already know how to do this.

If you want the complete step-by-step, refer to this guide how to set up a WordPress site.

Below, I’ll go over some of the most important parts of site setup.

To set up your website, there are 3 things you need:

#1 – A domain name

The first step to your setup is choosing your domain name. For example, RANKXL.COM is the domain name for this site.

A few tips to choosing a good domain name:

  • Use .com when possible. It’s more commonly used. If it’s taken, .net and .org are fine as well.
  • Make your domain catchy, memorable, and most importantly easy to share.
  • I like to avoid hyphens or numbers, as it’s difficult to remember or share.
  • Don’t go too niche. Keep the domain name wide/brandable enough so you can expand to other sub-niches as your site grows.

#2 – Select and setup hosting

Without hosting, your website is just a domain name. You can’t have one without the other.

Think of hosting like a server that holds all your website data and files.

There are many hosting plans to choose from. RankXL is hosted on WPX Hosting, which I recommend as the perfect middle ground option – not as expensive as premium options, but still blazing fast, secure, and offers great support.

#3 – Select a theme, pay attention to design

Make sure you spend time to make your site look clean and professional.

You don’t want your site to end up looking something like this.

ugly website

People will make first impressions as soon as they land on your site without even reading the first word.

If you don’t feel like investing any money into a premium theme, it’s not the end of the world since the free themes are still decent.

But keep in mind that premium WordPress themes have better design, cleaner code, more features, and helps you stand out from the sea of other blogs on the internet.

I personally love Astra theme.

Step 3: Creating a content strategy

It’s extremely important to realize and understand that content is the heart of your business.

Fail at content, and your business will have a very tough time succeeding.

I often see so much focus on the traffic numbers or the monetization, and not enough on the content.

Your content quality is everything.

The people I know who build successful affiliate sites most consistently all have one thing in common: They truly understand quality content and how important it is.

You need to really think about what you’re publishing:

  • Are you just pumping out small, low detail articles to target as many long-tail keywords as possible?
  • Are you cutting expenses by hiring only the cheapest writers or doing it all yourself?
  • Is your content the best in your industry?
  • Would it actually deserve to rank #1 on Google for your search term?
  • Would it deserve to stay there for years?
  • Is your content up-to-date?

Creating quality content can be very hard OR expensive. And to be honest, it’s the biggest barrier to entry.

Let’s dive in to see what the next parts of your content strategy should be!

How often should I be publishing?

In the first year of getting your site up and running, publishing frequency matters A LOT.

For a new site, the more often you publish, the higher your chances of building and piling on your traffic in the second year.

When your affiliate site has less than 200 pages, content matters.

Each piece of content you publish will affect your search traffic.

In the beginning, your site also has zero content. There’s nothing to grasp onto, no long-tail keywords to rank your content for, and no reason for Google to crawl your site very often.

If you publish once a month, that’s 12 articles for Google to crawl and index in a year. If you publish once a week, that’s 52 articles for Google to crawl in a year. If you publish 3 times a week, that’s 156 articles!

Meaning… more content Google has to crawl, the more likely you are to be found and gain backlinks from other sites.

How long should the content be?

This is a great question, and there have been many different theories on the topic.

I, personally, prefer to take a look at what’s currently ranking (top 10), pull out the averages, and stay within +/- 10% of that number. There’s really no reason to publish a pillar article that’s 8k words long if the average word count on page 1 is 1.5k words.

That said, let’s take a look at what the SEO industry has to say about it.

Recently, the word has been spreading around that the longer your article, the better.

But remember quality over quantity.

For bigger keywords, the sweet spot is around 2000-3000 words (in most niches). 2000 words is a LOT of content. It’s a meaty, high-quality article. It’s long enough for you to go in-depth into the topic and completely solve somebody’s pain points or questions.

AND it’s long enough to beat most of the thin 500-word pieces of content that most other publishers are producing.

We’re not just making guesses and estimations here.

Around 1800 to 2200 words has been proven by data to be the average length for pages that ranked on the first page of Google.

Like this study by SerpIQ, which is a few years old but still relevant today.

serpiq case study

And this more recent analysis by Brian from Backlinko.

backlinko study

And this study by OkDork and BuzzSumo showed that longer articles get more social shares.

study by okdork

Longform content wins (usually), and 2000 words is an ideal length to be targeting for bigger articles.

For smaller search volume, long-tail keywords, anywhere between 800-1500 words is plenty. Not every keyword warrants a 2000 word article. Sometimes, all that’s needed is a short, concise article that gets to the point quickly.

Writing & Outsourcing

Writing content takes up the most time in building out affiliate sites.

Consider all the other tasks you’ll have to do besides writing like editing, publishing, image sourcing, link building, etc.

If you’re able to outsource content well, it can give you back a ton of extra time to focus on these other things.

But, outsourcing writers is not cheap.

Actually, it can be if you hire budget writers at $5-$10 per article. But doing this will only lower your overall quality.

You want to hire writers that can match the voice and writing style of your blog, as well as offer solid points that support the title of the articles.

There are 2 places that you can look to hire writers:
Problogger
Upwork

Problogger and Upwork are the best sources to find long-term writers.

If you need quick content written for one-off projects, iWriter and Textbroker are good sources. However, they work a little bit differently. You submit a job proposal and any writer in their system can pick it up and write it for you. So while it’s quick, the quality can be a hit or miss.

Step 4: SEO & driving traffic

Our main traffic strategy for affiliate sites is SEO.

It’s the most consistent and reliable method of traffic that’s long-term.

But because SEO is such a long term goal, and you won’t see it kick in right away, there’s a couple of things we can do to drive traffic to our site quickly.

  1. Network within your niche
  2. Ask to guest post to get access to other people’s audiences and funnel that traffic to your own site

Think of these two as sisters, because you really don’t have one without the other.

And the better you are at step 1, the better your results will be on step 2.

Here are a few ideas for networking:

  • Drop comments of blogs
  • Reach out directly to the blogger by email
  • Share the bloggers content on your social media
  • Mention, link to or feature the blogger on your site
  • Direct message the blogger on social media – Twitter is usually best
  • Be as friendly as possible

You can do any of these steps but the more the better. The goal of this is to get your name in influencers’ heads.

In return from networking, they can:

  • link to you
  • mention you in conversations with their readers or in the comments sections of their articles
  • share your content on social media
  • recommend/talk about you to other influencers
  • invite you to their mastermind groups
  • invite you to speak at conferences
  • invite you to offline retreats
  • invite you to partner on new projects
  • introduce you to other influencers

How to land guest posts

The people who read and follow your influencer’s sites are your target readers as well.

And one of the best ways to reach them and possibly gain them as an audience is through guest posting.

And for a brand new affiliate site in a specific niche, it can be a great way to start increasing organic traffic.

You don’t need to have a very strong relationship with the influencer you’re reaching out to for them to say yes to your pitch. You also don’t need to already have a very large website or audience built up already.

But there are a couple of things you want to have down before you decide to reach out:

1. Make sure your website has a base of articles first. Think of the articles on your site like a portfolio. When you pitch your guest post, you can show them samples of your work which many companies will appreciate.

2. If it’s your first guest post ever, write the post first. If you go to them with no solid examples of previous guests posts you have written, then writing the guest post before pitching it is an excellent way to make them say YES. The post will need to be exceptional but a little hard work can bring you a long way. Totally worth it.

If you’re a beginner, you should aim for at least 30-50 guest post links in your first year. That may sound like a lot, but it isn’t. It snowballs once you’re able to land your first few.

The first ones you write will need to be very high-quality articles since you don’t have other guest posts to show them. But the ones after the first 5-10 can be outsourced to other writers.

People still debate whether guest posts are worth the time or not. But in my opinion, it’s one of the most reliable ways to get initial traffic to a brand new affiliate site, and at the same time, build backlinks. It can seem difficult when you’re not very experienced at it, but once you get a few done, you’ll realize it gets easier with experience.

Step 5: Scaling and growing the site

affiliate site traffic growth

Lastly, scaling and managing the site.

All the steps above take a lot of time (and experience) to streamline and get right. But once you’re able to complete them, growing the site simply becomes a matter of scaling what you’re already doing.

That means publishing more content and building more links.

Once the foundation is set, it really does become that simple. You scale up content and scale up link building.

There are other things you can do to increase your revenue like conversion rate optimization and finding higher paying affiliate networks.

But that’s an article for another day.

The important part to understand is that the fundamentals are what’s most important.

The beginning stages take the longest.

It takes a lot of time to research and get the site running.

It takes the longest and takes the most work to make your first $100.

But once you get there, you can scale simply by increasing content production and link building.

It’s why building affiliate sites are so profitable.

Like I mentioned in the second article of this series, affiliate sites can be one of the most profitable and cost-efficient businesses.

I hope you’re enjoying this introductory series on affiliate marketing. We’ll definitely dive into some of the more advanced and technical stuff over the coming months, but I think it’s really important to cover the basics first. If you think I missed something or that something should be added to this article, please let me know if the comments below.

How To Properly Build An Affiliate Site: Step By Step Guide
4.5 (90%) 12 votes

14 Comments

  • Reply
    Olivia
    May 8, 2019 at 12:25 pm

    Hey Andrej, this is a nice tutorial. I love every bit of it.
    Which theme do you use for your site (RankXL)?

    • Reply
      Andrej
      May 8, 2019 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks, Olivia!

      Chris created this time, so it’s 100% custom.

  • Reply
    Troy
    May 8, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    Andrej! You’re the man! Happy to see cool stuff happening here!

    • Reply
      Andrej
      May 8, 2019 at 4:37 pm

      Glad to hear you like the content, Troy!

  • Reply
    Danial
    May 8, 2019 at 8:46 pm

    Thanks Man for this awesome article help me alot to learn amazon affilited.

  • Reply
    Paul
    May 8, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    Very good post keep them coming

  • Reply
    Pao
    May 9, 2019 at 2:33 am

    Hi Andrej,

    Thanks for the article! Really helpful for beginners. I’ve been dabbling with affiliate websites myself.

    Future article suggestion: real examples (you don’t have to reveal the domain), case studies, what works in 2019, etc. Basically some examples based on your personal experience.

    Keep it up!

    • Reply
      Andrej
      May 9, 2019 at 2:39 am

      Thanks, Pao.

      That’s definitely on my to-do list. Need to work on improving and updating the courses first.

  • Reply
    WPX Hosting
    May 9, 2019 at 9:13 am

    Hey Andrej,

    Thank you for recommending WPX Hosting. We are happy to have you with us. Out tech support is 24/7 to make sure your website is in safe hands.

    Cheers,
    WPX Team

  • Reply
    Dan
    May 11, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    For the new man on the block Andrej, you have taken over with a big bang: huge informaitonal article. Fabulous stuff. Thank you.

    • Reply
      Andrej
      May 12, 2019 at 12:17 am

      Thanks, Dan! Glad to see you like it.

  • Reply
    Dhiraj Kumar Yadav
    May 23, 2019 at 11:55 pm

    This is the article I refer to all who want to start their own affiliate. Thanks for sharing all the insights in simple words . I am looking ahead for more.

  • Reply
    Sabbir Hossain
    June 1, 2019 at 8:21 am

    Hi what services can I provide from my 2000 visitors blog ? I am already earning through adsense. I want to sell services what will make my site more authoritative and will make an extra income.

    • Reply
      Andrej
      June 1, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      That depends on your niche. Find out what products are out there and then find affiliate programs that list those products

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