Creating Your First Affiliate Marketing Website [Checklist]
There are lots of ways to make money online, but one of the oldest is affiliate marketing. In this model, you create a website that attracts visitors, then directs traffic to affiliates who pay you a percentage of each sale you help them make.
It sounds simple, but because there are so many websites competing for traffic and the barrier to entry is now so low that affiliate marketing can be very challenging. For many, it takes years to start making significant money, so if you have illusions of making a quick buck, go ahead and let them go now.
That said, if you want to get into affiliate marketing, the best way to do it is to just start (there’s even a great Reddit community devoted to this philosophy), and the best way to start is to build your own affiliate marketing website.
I’ve started and run dozens of content sites in the past decade, and many of them have used the affiliate model, so I thought I’d share my affiliate marketing website setup checklist.
In this checklist, you’ll find a chronologically-ordered summary of all the major tasks you need to do to set up your new site. While I won’t go into detail on each step, I have linked off to more comprehensive resources in a few places.
1. The Basics
- Buy a domain - I typically go short and “brandable” instead of long and descriptive, but there’s an open debate between these two strategies.
- Choose a Content Management System (CMS) - I like Jekyll and Forestry, but WordPress is still probably the most popular option.
- Choose website hosting - If you have a static site, you can host for free on GitHub pages, otherwise, there are plenty of cheap shared hosting options for getting started.
- Set up a Branded Email Address - Don’t use a generic Gmail address and make sure you set up all your DNS records properly!
- Set up Ahrefs - I know, it’s expensive, but Ahrefs or Semrush is essential to help you find good topics.
- Set up Google Analytics and Search Console - Both are free and offer you a ton of useful insight once you start creating content and generating traffic.
- Choose a Theme or Design - Keep it simple to start. You don’t need fancy features like tags, categories, similar articles, comments, or social share buttons on day 1. Just make sure your theme:
- Loads quickly
- Has an RSS feed
- Includes a robots.txt and sitemap.xml
- Has social and search engine meta tags
2. Creating Content
- Do keyword research - Look for 100+ terms in your niche with high volume (1000+ global searches) and low difficulty (<10 in Ahrefs). If you can’t find that many terms, you either need to redefine your niche or find a better way to generate keyword ideas.
- Plan monthly content themes or clusters - Publishing related pieces in succession will help you rank faster, but be realistic about your output. If you can’t do 4 pieces per month, you’re not ready to run an affiliate site, so I’d recommend planning on at least 6 per month. For example, you could do:
- 4 SEO-driven pieces (1000-2000 words)
- 1 Deep, experience-driven guide (2000+ words)
- 1 Easy backlink attractor (interviews, features, and listicles all work well)
- Write briefs and outlines for each piece - Unless you’re going to write all the content yourself (which is possible, but very time-consuming) spend a few minutes creating briefs for writers.
- Create a publishing calendar - I like Airtable as a publishing calendar, but use whatever tool you feel most comfortable in. A spreadsheet will work to start, but it’s harder when you need to filter content or involve a team.
- Establish a writing and editing process - If budget is no issue, hire a content manager/editor to manage your publishing calendar and writers. If that’s not realistic, you can do this yourself, but you still need a repeatable process so you can involve others once you grow.
- Create a promotional checklist - Every niche has different channels that work. Here’s the checklist I use for technical content.
Set up Social Media
- Set up a Twitter account - Twitter is still great for distributing content, although they favor accounts that publish directly on Twitter.
- Add links from your site
- Set up your Twitter profile and bio
- Automatically schedule new posts as Tweets
- Create a queue to re-promote old posts every few weeks
- Follow relevant accounts, unfollow those who don’t follow back, and repeat weekly
- Establish a Reddit presence - Only works in some niches, but it can be a huge traffic driver.
- Find and interact in relevant niche subreddits
- Share links or summaries of your content occasionally (where allowed)
- Syndicate to Medium - You can cross-post your content to Medium with a canonical link to the original piece. Just:
- Set up a publication
- Use CrossPost App to syndicate new posts
Build an Email Newsletter
- Set up an email signup form - CTA can just be an offer for new content weekly.
- Create an automatic welcome email - This should share your top 5-10 pieces of content with new subscribers.
- Send a weekly summary of new content - Or set up automated emails to alert subscribers when new pieces are published.
- Create a lead magnet to attract more subscribers - This usually increases signups by 2-3x more than a newsletter alone.
- Start building backlinks - here are the quick wins for backlinking:
- Build relationships with niche newsletters - They can be great at multiplying your reach when you have a truly epic update or piece of content for them.
- Create a list of newsletters in your niche
- Subscribe to each, reply sometimes to let them know you’re reading
- Pitch 1 article per week to each in a rotation
- Reach out to websites and people mentioned in your content - Let them know you mentioned them and tag them on social. Some will link to you or share.
- Apply for Amazon Affiliate program - Low rates, but easy to get in and lots of products to choose from.
- Join ShareASale and CJ - More software and niche services with better rates, but takes more time to maintain and find programs.
- Supplement with Google Adsense or Mediavine - Display ads can add more revenue, especially on posts that don’t have a direct affiliate tie-in.
- Create a course or book - This can be a 10x revenue multiplier. Selling your own book or course gives you much more margin, but takes more work.
- Form direct relationships with niche affiliates or partners - Once you’re big enough (usually 500k+ monthly pageviews), you can sign direct contracts with affiliates to get higher rates and better treatment.
5. Tracking Results
- Track costs and revenue monthly - Keep good records for taxes and so that you know if you’re really making a profit!
- Track site performance monthly - The most important metrics besides revenue are:
- Affiliate clicks (by program/page)
- Email signups
- Plan quarterly content audits and updates - Most good posts should be refreshed annually, but you should always keep an eye out for performance slippage.
6. Hiring and Delegating
Eventually, if your site is successful, you’ll need others to help you scale it. Here are the roles you typically see involved in an affiliate marketing website:
- Writers - This is the first role you should delegate. Even if you like writing some content, you’ll need more writers to scale up.
- Content Promotion - Usually a part-time role as much of this can be scheduled out into the future. They will:
- Manage social accounts
- Manage the email newsletter
- Content Manager/Editor - You’ll probably start by doing this yourself, but it can become very time-consuming as your writing team grows. They will:
- Manage publishing calendar
- Create briefs and outlines for writers
- Line up subjects for interview articles
- Assign content to writers
- Edit and schedule content
- Content Strategy - Likely the last role you’ll be able to hire for. High-level work like:
- Keyword research
- Deciding who to interview
- Setting monthly content themes
- Managing partnerships
I hope this checklist gives you a strong start when you set up your next affiliate marketing site. After publishing online for 10+ years, there are a lot of little resources like these that I’ve taken for granted, but I’m starting to collect more of them in my content marketing course here.
If there’s anything you’d like to see added to this list, you can find me on Twitter!