YouTube is in a fantastic position. It’s the second most visited website globally and the second most used search engine. It has over one billion users, and creators upload millions of videos daily. If YouTube were a standalone company, it would be worth more than $150 billion, which is more than many corporations listed on the S&P 500. The number of channels earning $100,000 or more was up 40 percent year over year. Given how many people use the platform, controversies and questionable management practices do arise. Still, YouTube is in good standing with millions of creators and viewers as a monetization and entertainment medium.
Of all the ways to earn money on YouTube, advertising revenue stands out in most people’s minds. With YouTube’s Partner Program (YPP), users can earn money from advertisements served on their videos and from YouTube Red subscribers watching their content. A channel must reach 4,000 watch hours in the previous 12 months and 1,000 subscribers to join YPP. Google AdSense facilitates payments to content creators like YouTubers and bloggers once a month. Ad revenue is an excellent way to make money from uploading videos, but you might not qualify for YPP or want to attract additional income; enter affiliate marketing. Many YouTubers are affiliate marketers and generate commissions for selling products and services indirectly.
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing activity. An affiliate or publisher promotes a product or service online and receives compensation for achieving a specific objective or action. A merchant or advertiser specifies the goal, which is usually a valid sale. For example, a merchant will pay an affiliate a 30 percent sales commission. Some merchants have pay per lead programs that pay publishers for getting prospects. For instance, an advertiser pays one dollar for each person who registers for a webinar. In this post, I discuss affiliate marketing extensively.
Affiliate marketing is legal on YouTube like other social media networks. However, if the primary purpose of your content and activities are to drive people off YouTube and onto other sites, it will likely violate YouTube’s spam policies. The FTC has disclosure guidelines to help educate viewers, increase transparency, and reduce conflicts of interest. Many YouTubers do not disclose their affiliate links, but they should. Standard practice is to put a blurb in the about section and at the bottom of videos. For example, “The video and description may contain affiliate links. If you click on a link, I may receive a commission.” There are various ways of saying the same thing so craft a statement to your liking.
Affiliate Marketing on YouTube
There are four practical ways to deploy affiliate links on YouTube.
- Video descriptions
- Cards and end screens
- Channel links
- Video Descriptions
Video descriptions are the second most valuable area after videos. A description is used to highlight a video’s content, creator, and copyright, improve search engine optimization (SEO), and direct traffic to websites. Many publishers place affiliate links in their descriptions.
A best practice is to use a URL shortener, such as Hootsuite’s Ow.ly and Bitly, to shorten links. Otherwise, links might appear unnecessarily long, unappealing, complicated, and spammy. Although you’re unlikely to exceed the character count limit of 5,000, shortened links help in this regard. A word to a few words should precede your link for context. For example, “I use Grammarly to check my grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Install their browser app for free: ow.ly/VWwi3055f25” “Install their browser app for free” is a call-to-action. A call-to-action (CTA) are words that urge an individual to take a specified action, for example, buy now, learn more, and click here. Use CTAs in your descriptions to get people clicking.
The comments section enables creators and viewers to interact, which increases engagement and can help with video rankings. If you’ve allowed comments for your video, you can post comments and like, dislike, and reply to other people’s comments. Also, you can edit and delete any of your comments. A creator can pin (and unpin) a comment to the top of the section for greater visibility. Viewers will see the comment at the top with the “Pinned by” icon and channel name.
You can add affiliate links to your comments and pinned posts. However, you should do so in a clear, non-spammy way. For example, “My favorite WordPress list building plugin is Bloom by Elegant Themes. Convert more subscribers: owl.ly/sfdf31d” If your viewers are asking questions or wanting recommendations, you can add affiliate links to your replies as well.
Some affiliates post links, with or without comments, on numerous channels, which is a terrible strategy. Community settings allow creators to manage comments, live chats, and block links. When “block links” is selected, new comments with hashtags and URLs are held for review, and live chat messages with URLs are blocked. Furthermore, YouTube has comment mechanisms and filters in place to thwart spam. For example, YouTube will move some comments to “Held for review” and “Likely spam” folders for creators to approve and decline. Users who abuse comments and discussion/community forums run the risk of getting suspended and terminated from the platform.
- Cards & End Screens
Cards and end screens direct viewers to specific URLs for videos, playlists, channels, websites, merchandise, and crowdfunding campaigns. You can add up to five cards and four end screen elements to a video.
Affiliate marketing with cards and end screens is tricky because you can only promote your website(s) and sites approved by YouTube. Many affiliates use cards and end screens to direct viewers to their sites, which contain affiliate links. Secondly, YouTube supports many websites that have affiliate programs including Shopify, Etsy, Ticketmaster, and Microsoft (it’s too bad Amazon is not authorized). Therefore, it’s possible to add affiliate links from these sites.
What happens if you redirect to an unauthorized site? While sophisticated publishers might be tempted to redirect from their sites, for example, chadtennant.com/goto/fiverr, YouTube states, “Don’t use cards to further redirect to unauthorized sites from your associated website. Make sure that your associated websites comply with our Community Guidelines, Terms of Service, and other policies for this feature. Violations can result in your videos being removed, strikes against your account, and/or termination of your Google account. Refer to YouTube’s policies for more information.” Avoid trying to game the system, if you want to remain on YouTube.
- Channel Links
Under the about tab, you can add up to 14 links. Most creators add links to their sites and social media accounts. Marketers who use landing page services, such as ClickFunnels, Leadpages, and Instapage, will link to these too. Links should relate to your channel, topics, and videos to increase clicks and conversions. For instance, if you create fitness videos, direct your viewers to products and services that you use, recommend, or can benefit them.
Showcasing links in videos doesn’t make sense and would appear amateurish. However, savvy marketers prompt and persuade viewers to links in descriptions, cards, and end screens. For example, “check out the links in the description section for more information” or “click on my card for a 40 percent discount.”
- Channel Trailer
You can feature videos on your channel’s home tab for returning subscribers and new visitors. Featured videos can attract above average views given their placement, so consider your affiliate marketing strategy for these videos.
- Referral Programs
Referral programs are like affiliate programs, but they’re not as robust regarding tracking, analytics, payment options, and bonuses. Many companies offer referral plans in which users can refer others with links and codes, for instance, TransferWise has a referral program. For every three people who join and use TransferWise, through my custom link, they will pay me a referral fee of £50 (or equivalent). I use referral links when affiliate programs aren’t available and when programs offer appealing discounts and deals.
- Social Media
As you promote your videos on social media, you can include relevant links. Suppose you’re about to post your latest video on Facebook. In your post, you add a brief description and affiliate link to a product you reviewed in your video.