If you are serious about earning a living from YouTube, then you are likely to treat your channel like a business. If you are following the business advice of the infamous Warren Buffet, and we strongly encourage you to do so, then you are diversifying your revenue streams as you grow your channel.
Traditionally, there are five revenue models for YouTubers – ads, sponsorship, patronage, directly selling something/merch, and affiliate. Each has their pros and cons and have different times in a YouTuber’s channel’s maturation where they make the most sense. However, most financially savvy creatives use some combination of all of them.
While affiliate can be incredibly lucrative for mid and late-stage channels, it’s also one revenue model that can be used from the very beginning of starting your channel. Your very first videos can include affiliate links. Further, implementing, and having an understanding of how your channel converts, via affiliate, can be incredibly important in negotiating your first sponsorship deals as well, as it provides a realistic baseline of your channel’s value at a given point in time.
While we fully encourage you to earn revenue from ads, go after those lucrative sponsorship deals, and build a strong relationship with your community via patronage, we firmly believe that you should start the financial journey of launching and growing a channel with a strong grasp of affiliate. As your channel grows, your affiliate revenue may ebb and flow but it should continue to be the foundation you build your financial empire off of.
It’s also important to note that focus is important in the early stages while diversification is important in the long run. This is relevant in two ways:
1. From the multiple revenue stream perspective, we encourage you to start with affiliate. But please note that it can be risky to have it be your sole revenue stream at a later stage. I’ll be the first to say that putting too many eggs in the affiliate basket can quickly lead to financial ruin, and very quickly, with even a small stroke of bad luck.
2. But “focus” is also relevant inside the world of affiliate as starting with laser focus is helpful. For this reason, we strongly recommend simply starting with the Amazon.com Associates program to learn the ropes, then expanding from there.
Once you have learned how the affiliate model works and have proven it works for you, then it’s time to start scaling (and there are a lot of ways you can scale with affiliate – more on that later). Don’t let yourself get sucked into creative, or complicated, programs and tools. In the early days, you want to do the bare minimum to build and add affiliate links so you can keep your energies focused on building your most important asset — an engaged audience.
How Affiliate Marketing works for YouTubers
In super simplified terms, affiliate marketing revolves around you, the YouTuber, recommending a product, either in the video or not, and then using specialized “affiliate” links to send your viewers to whatever it is that you are recommending so they can then purchase it.
These affiliate links include a tracking parameter that lets the retailer know when you referred a sale. The retailer, in this case, Amazon, will then reward you with a percentage of the products that were sold to the shopper you recommended.
Most YouTubers will include affiliate links in the descriptions of their videos for products that fall into one of two groups:
1. The specific product(s) or service(s) you recommended in your video. For example, an unboxing or gadget review video is perfect candidates where you would include an affiliate link for the viewer to then go buy the product you were talking about.
2. Links to the products and services you use to create the video or regularly use and swear by. A common example here is to see the list of cameras, mics, and other gear used, with affiliate links to buy them (or even a link to the YouTuber’s “kit” of filmmaking gear).
Amazon Affiliate Overview
While the Amazon affiliate program, known as the “Associates Program,” isn’t perfect, it’s a great place to start and will grow with you. In fact, some of the biggest YouTubers still swear by it. Besides staying “focused” and starting with just one program, here are some of the things that make the Amazon.com affiliate program a great first step:
Easy to use
There are a handful of reasons why Amazon’s affiliate program is easy to use:
Because the Amazon affiliate program is “in house” there isn’t an additional layer of complexity to deal with like many other programs that use an “affiliate network.” This means that documentation and the “Associates Central” dashboard are focused on just the single affiliate program.
Building an Amazon affiliate link is incredibly simple. This means you can browse to any product you want to recommend and quickly convert it into an affiliate link.
There are numerous tools, built and managed by both Amazon as well as third parties, that take a lot of work out of the Associate’s program.
As most of us are regular shoppers of Amazon we understand and feel comfortable with the store. As their affiliate program is just an extension of the store, it has some inherent familiarity and thus comfort for us.
Finally, the Amazon affiliate program is quite mature so most everything has been vetted and fully tested meaning that as long as your affiliate links are built correctly, and you are following the rules, it’s really hard to mess up using the Amazon affiliate program.
Huge product catalog
Amazon sells a lot of stuff! Some quick research shows that in 2016 Amazon had more than 12 million products directly for sale, not including books, media, wine, and services. What is incredible is when Amazon Marketplace sellers are factored in (businesses selling to consumers through Amazon’s store), the total product count jumps significantly to over 353 million products (source). This means that nearly everyone has something they want that is available for sale on Amazon. This allows you to go deep into a niche without needing a specialty retailer.
Huge market share
In the US, Amazon is estimated to have about 38% US eCommerce market share (source). Further, 95 million people have Amazon Prime memberships in the US (source). You can interpret this as lots and lots of people online already trust and regularly choose Amazon to buy from, which makes it an easy decision of where to try and first start recommending products and capturing affiliate sales.
Combining those last two items, market share, and product catalog unlock one of the biggest advantages and what makes the Amazon Associates really unique — “halo commissions.” These are the commissions you earn on products you weren’t recommending. For example, you can earn commissions when someone buys toilet paper, even though they clicked on a link to the TV you were reviewing and recommending! These halo commissions can make up a significant chunk of the revenue you generate from the Amazon affiliate program.
One of the oldest affiliate programs
“Amazon was not the first merchant to offer an affiliate program, but its program was the first to become widely known and serve as a model for subsequent programs.” (Wikipedia)
The build-out and support of the affiliate program was a smart move by the Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos. It is claimed that in 2008 the Associates program was responsible for 40% of Amazon sales (source). Today SimilarWeb claims that just over 6% of Amazon’s traffic is from Referrals (source).
Amazon has incredible brand recognition worldwide, which can be a big benefit for you as you build out the audience on your channel.
Further, the Amazon.com storefront supports both English and Spanish and a large number of products can be shipped internationally. However, Amazon also has a number of regional storefronts that they’ve spent billions on optimizing for regional markets. More on this in the best practices section.
Versus the Amazon Influencer Program
The Amazon Associates program has a lot in common with the “Amazon Influencer Program” but the two are different and that’s an important distinction. Amazon articulates this on its website:
The Amazon Influencer Program is an extension to the existing online Associates program for social media influencers. With the Influencer Program, you get your own page on Amazon with a URL to showcase the products you recommend to your followers. This gives you an additional way to direct traffic to Amazon, which is especially useful where hyperlinking isn’t possible (e.g. Instagram captions or video content.)
Again, the focus is important, especially for creatives that are just getting started with building a YouTube channel, so we recommend paying attention to Amazon’s Associates Program and not their influencer program. Further, you’ll likely find that Kit is a better alternative to the Amazon Influencer Program.
A more detailed overview of what the Amazon Affiliate Program is can be found in chapter one of Geniuslink’s Definitive Amazon Affiliate Guide. Chapter two goes into how to become an Amazon affiliate.
Compliance & Staying On Amazon’s Good Side
While it’s really easy to get started with the Amazon affiliate program, and the rules governing the Amazon affiliate program are fair, it’s still fairly common to hear about YouTubers getting kicked out of the program (and losing out on their last couple months of commissions) for a simple mistake.
While we’ll cover the three most common mistakes, and provide links to additional resources, it’s important that you take the time to review the Amazon Associates Operating Agreement and the accompanying Program Policies. Further, it’s also important to note that we aren’t lawyers and this isn’t legal advice.
Just remember, you can’t win the game if you don’t know the rules!
This is a bit of a misnomer of a term but is often cited as the most common reason YouTubers are banned from the program.
First, it’s important to note Amazon absolutely allows you to use a link shortener, or third party tool, with your Amazon affiliate links. However, when doing so, it’s important that you disclose the destination of your link. This leads to two simple things you need to do to avoid Amazon’s wrath:
Mentioning Amazon – “Shopper Trust” is an important theme to Amazon and that relates to their affiliate program as well. When you post Amazon affiliate links in your video descriptions using a third-party tool, like Geniuslink, it’s really important that you mention “Amazon” in near proximity to the link. It’s essential the shopper knows where they are going when they click on that link (it can also help with conversion rates by helping the shopper better trust the link).
List Your Channel – Remember that step when you were signing up for the Amazon affiliate program where you listed the various sites and social media channels you were planning on using your links? Well, have you kept that updated? If not, do it now (and be sure not to just put “youtube.com” but rather the full URL for your channel).
There is a best practice, explored below, that simplifies this requirement.
Being transparent that you are promoting a product and that you can financially benefit is absolutely critical in the world of affiliate marketing, especially with the Amazon affiliate program. There are two “levels” at which you need to publicly state your usage of an affiliate program, Amazon’s or not.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has the mandate to help the average (American) shopper know when they are being advertised to. In the eyes of the FTC, being “advertised” to includes using affiliate links when you recommend…