By Greg Mattson (www.excellent-romantic-vacations.com)…
AdSense is, and continues to be, the main source of income for our travel websites and those of other people in this niche.
But in the last 6 months to a year, we’ve been able to broaden income diversification on our 2 travel sites, especially for the excellent-romantic-vacations.com site.
We are currently receiving income from no less than 8 different affiliate programs.
Your own experience may vary, but here are our latest thoughts and experiences about affiliate links for travel sites…
Traffic is critical: None of these tips matter much if you don’t have the traffic needed to make affiliate links work. In the beginning, our own experience demonstrated that it’s very hard to achieve results with only 30 or 75 visitors a day (unlike AdSense which can start to trickle in $ even with very low traffic). Therefore, I recommend waiting until you have at least several hundred unique visitors/day before placing affiliate links on your pages.
Stay Topical: The thrust of these suggestions has to do with keeping your affiliate links “on-theme” – that is, the affiliate partner, the anchor text of the link, and the landing page of the offer you’re promoting should be about the same destination, hotel, or attraction that you are writing about.
Authentic Linking: I believe the reason why is a crucial truth about the way that people research travel on the net. When surfers see a link that includes the words “Hilton Barbados,” undoubtedly there is an expectation that clicking that link will send them to the Hilton Barbados website. If you direct them somewhere else, you’re taking a chance – it had better be to something just as relevant and worth their while.
Add Value: So if that link lands them on just the Travelocity home page or takes them to an Orbitz hotel search box, the results are going to be disastrous. But if you point them perhaps to the TripAdvisor page of deals and reviews on the Hilton Barbados, they’ll likely find something of value in that suggestion.
Landing Page Love: Check the landing page of every affiliate link you build and use. The deeper that link goes down into your affiliate partner’s site and the more “on-theme” that landing page is, the better it will perform for you. And the landing page itself should be well laid out, colorful (preferably with photos), and user-friendly in order to close the sale.
No Link – No problem: If you can’t find any “on theme” affiliate links for a page, don’t put any on at all. “Out of theme” links will do more damage to your pages and your site than good. In other words, if there aren’t any worthwhile affiliate links for your St. Lucia resorts page, don’t just place Expedia home page links at the top and bottom and hope for the best.
Text is Best: The links I am talking about here are all text links. Banners? No. CTR is just too low. Same goes for generic search boxes for flights, hotels and car rentals. It’s best to find out before signing up just what types of links they offer. If the program looks really good and fits your site’s theme very well, but offers banners only, try contacting the business and ask for a way to text link to its pages.
Location, location, location: Place your affiliate links at or very close to the related material on the page. Example: you have a portion of your page that talks about how great the Empress Hotel is in Victoria, BC. That’s where the link should go (preferably with the words “Empress Hotel” as the anchor text) not stuck in a box off to the side or in a list of links at the bottom of the page. A picture near the link usually works well too.
Work those Anchors: The wording in the anchor text of your links is very important. Some affiliate programs give you the freedom to change the wording of the text to your liking. Others forbid it altogether. A few more just turn a blind eye to it. Depending on an affiliate program’s terms and conditions, you could try to “push the envelope” a bit and improve the wording in the code to see if it matters to your results and/or the affiliate manager. But watch closely to make sure it doesn’t affect tracking, commissions, etc.
Speak up! Don’t hesitate to email affiliate partners and ask for more links or deeper links in their program.
Proactive Program Management: Regularly check for new affiliate programs with Search It! and Google (example: just type in “hotels” + “affiliate program”).
Maximize Links: The maximum number of affiliate links on 1 page that I recommend? The fewer the better. But on a 400 to 800 word page, I would aim for between 1 and 5 or 6 good, themed links.
Avoid Link pollution”: If you’ve got other links on your pages (links to other pages on your site, outbound links to other sites of value, AdSense, etc.), take a good look at your page and scan from top to bottom. Are there too many links all clumped together in one area? Ideally, they should be spaced out well across the page. This leads me to next concern….
Kontera links: I know some people are monetizing well with Kontera, and that’s fine. We haven’t done so because I’m not that crazy about them at all from both a webmaster’s and a reader’s point of view. I find in looking at other sites with it, Kontera creates links for too many words unrelated to the content of the page. And even when you restrict the amount of link-building it does on a page, the travel-related words that it creates links for bring up very general travel offers in those little boxes, not in keeping at all with the tightly themed approach we try to take on our sites.
Great Content is Foundational: Pay attention to page and paragraph structure (and this goes all the way back to the guidance we provide in our SBI! Action Guide): Short sentences, bullet lists, numbered lists and photos all keep your pages easily readable, inviting, almost “juicy” for the eyes. And they help your affiliate links (and AdSense for that matter) perform better too.
Cleanup Poor Performance: Finally, if a link (or set of links) is getting lots of looks but few clicks and no sales after a reasonable period of time, drop it.