I haven’t talked a lot about affiliate marketing on this site – though you can find my posts about the subject elsewhere – but it’s something I cover from time to time. In this case, there’s crossover between the world of affiliates and the world of guest posting, so I’m going to cover the issue from that perspective.
Can you put an affiliate link in a guest post? If so, it sounds like a good idea, right? The sites you target for guest posting are usually pretty good sites with a good amount of engaged traffic. After all, if they didn’t have a good, engaged audience, you probably wouldn’t care enough to try to guest post on them.
Unfortunately – as you’ve probably come to expect – I can’t tell you whether or not you can publish an affiliate link in a guest post right off. There are a lot of factors that impact the decision. I will say, though, that you’re generally going to run into issues. Otherwise everyone would be doing it, right? Let’s talk about those factors.
Affiliate Network Rules
The first thing you need to think about are the rules and policies that govern the affiliate network you’re signed up and using. Different affiliate networks will have different rules.
I’m not actually sure if any affiliate networks explicitly ban putting an affiliate offer link in a guest post. They don’t necessarily have a great way to enforce it, after all. If you’re a regular writer for two different sites, but registered with one site when you signed up for the affiliate network, is the network in the right if they restrict your referrals from the other site?
Many affiliate networks recognize that individual marketers often run multiple niche sites with different focuses, but keep all of the affiliate sales under one banner. Amazon doesn’t care if you have one site or 10, right? As long as you’re referring customers who make purchases, they accept it.
Some affiliate networks do prefer that you sign up with a specific website. If you post your link in other locations, it runs the risk of being flagged as spam. This is a way they can help prevent spammers from leaving links in various user-generated locations. You’ve seen them on Facebook before, for example; look at the comments on any high profile post. You’ll see people copy-and-pasting awful little sales posts with an affiliate link attached. It stands to reason that the affiliate network doesn’t want to be associated with spammers.
I recommend talking to a customer service representative, an account agent or manager, or just reading through the policies of the affiliate network you’re using. Some of them may have restrictions on where you’re allowed to post your affiliate link, and if they explicitly call out guest contributions on sites you don’t own, you should probably be cautious.
There’s one other possible concern that’s worth noting, and that’s a policy violation. If you guest post on a site and include your affiliate link, you are now associated with that site. If that site then does something malicious or against the terms of service for the affiliate network – like buying fake traffic or fake referrals, or otherwise hurting the affiliate network’s bottom line – all affiliates on that site will be punished. Even if you only guest posted once, your link being present on the site means you run the risk of eating that same punishment. It’s entirely possible for your account to be restricted or terminated, as they have no way of knowing if you were in on it or not.
You may be able to appeal the ban, telling the network that you were a guest contributor and you weren’t party to whatever decisions got you penalized, but you never know what policies might come down on you. A zero tolerance policy still means you’ll be out of luck. Just be careful.
Guest Post Publisher Rules
We talk about links a lot with regards to guest posting, but it’s usually in terms of what kinds of pages you should link to, or whether or not the links are going to be followed. What about affiliate links, though?
Chances are, just about every site you want to post on is going to tell you no when you ask about affiliate links. Many guest post publishers refuse to allow any link at all, affiliate or otherwise. Affiliate links make it very transparent that you’re guest posting because you want to monetize their audience, rather than because you want to get your name out there or share your perspective on a particular issue. It breaks kayfabe, basically.
In my experience, the sites that don’t care enough to ban affiliate links are generally going to be poor choices for guest posting in the first place. They probably don’t have very large audiences and their credit to your name doesn’t add much value. Sure, you can still make a bit of money off of them, but chances are pretty good that it will be minimal, and you’re trading off other benefits from guest posting.
To find out for sure, you should ask the publishing editor what their rules are on links. They will probably tell you if affiliate links are allowed. If they don’t mention affiliate links, but have other link rules, it’s probably not a good idea to try to sneak one through. You can feel free to ask specifically about affiliate links, but that gives the game away. I’ve seen editors change their minds about guest post slots when it becomes clear that the poster just wants to use the site for a link, and that’s not even for an affiliate link. As always, exercise caution.
Ad Density Concerns
One concern that can come up with affiliate links is that of ad density. It affects the host site and is one potentially good reason why the publisher might decide not to allow affiliate links.
Ad density is a metric Google looks at as one of many that determine how spammy a site is. If you remember a decade or two ago, a ton of low quality sites existed solely to spam keywords and layer as many pay-per-view ads on the page as possible. They were horrible for the user experience, but they were everywhere because they worked well enough to earn their owners some money.
One of many Google updates ended up targeting this kind of low quality page, and since then, there have been rules about ad density. When a page has too many ads, particularly in comparison to the content, it can take a hit to its SEO. Now, one affiliate link isn’t likely to kick someone over the edge, and in fact it might not be all that noticeable if it even has an impact, but you never know. I know one thing for sure: if a site has an issue with ad density and they find a bunch of affiliate links from guest posters, those will be the first things to go away. Whether or not that puts you on a blacklist or affects your earnings in any way is another story entirely.
Link cloaking is a thing! You can create a redirect script on your site and have a URL that looks something like www.example.com/keyword. When a user clicks on that URL, they hit your domain long enough to run the redirect script, and are immediately forwarded to the destination of the actual URL, which is probably an affiliate link of some kind.
You see this technique a lot on sites that make most of their money on affiliate links. For some reason, people don’t immediately understand that these bounce links are identical to affiliate links, just hiding the ungainly tagged URL behind something that looks cleaner. It works, though! People who are quite marketing-savvy understand what’s going on, but people who only know that “an ugly link is a bad link” won’t know any better.
Link cloaking is a time-honored method affiliate marketers use, and there are numerous posts about it. It’s easy to set up. The question is, does it work with guest posts?
The way I see it, cloaking a link that you put in a guest post is a sure-fire way to burn all the fortune and goodwill you’ve build up with the editor or owner of the site. It shows you being disingenuous with the people you’re supposedly working with. A cloaked link is a lie if it’s not disclosed. On top of that, it’s fairly likely that the site owners don’t want to bounce their users through redirects on other domains.
Plus, when a reader clicks on a link expecting to end up on your domain, and they end up on Amazon or some other site instead, they’re not going to be very happy. You have to make sure you’re leading people to where they want to go.
The Real Way to Advertise with Guest Posts
You can guest post and still make money with affiliate marketing, I just highly recommend that you do it indirectly. Sure, you probably won’t get as many clicks from the guest audience on your affiliate links, but the clicks you do get are much more likely to lead to conversions. More importantly, the people who end up on your site have the chance to stick around your site, rather than being bounced through to your affiliate directly. You build your audience first, and then you monetize it.
Set up link cloaking if you want. Personally, I don’t think it’s always terribly necessary, but your experiences may differ. If nothing else, you can always revert it later. Link cloaking has a few benefits, like being able to mass-edit links if an affiliate offer ends or blocks you, though that’s not always a huge benefit. Really, it all depends on your situation.
Go about guest posting as you normally would. Find your list of candidate sites, build rapport with the editors on social media and via the comments, come up with a good idea that matches their content and perspective, and pitch it. Do whatever you need to do to secure that guest post spot.
Once you have that pitch accepted, get to work on two things. The first is, obviously enough, the guest post itself. The second is a similar post for your own website. You can tie these together quite closely, with the guest post covering the first or superficial level of the topic, while the post on your blog expounds upon it. You can also use your blog for a spinoff post, something that takes a throwaway line and turns it into a post for further reading. How you do it is up to you, you just want to make sure the post on your site is a natural extension of the guest post.
Publish the post on your site, and add in your affiliate links to it. I figure it’s good to do this a day or two before the guest post is going to be published, so it has time to rank and settle before the influx of traffic from the guest post. It also allows you to see the initial burst of earnings from your affiliate links, and a way to see if they spike once the guest post is published.
This way your affiliate links are natural, at home in their own environment on your website. Your guest post builds authority to your brand name, gives you a good backlink, and can refer traffic to your content, where you can accumulate more regular readers. You can still earn from the traffic, but you don’t lose all of the other value along the way.