A Quick Guide to Affiliate Marketing in the Adult Industry
I was due to present a session on affiliate marketing in the adult industry at Eroticon 2020. Sadly the organizers had to make the difficult (but right) decision to cancel the event due to the outbreak of Coronavirus/COVID-19. I spent a lot of time putting this content together and still want the community to benefit from it, and Kayla kindly invited me to collate it into an article for the Smutlancer site.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a scheme in which you advertise a company’s products on your platform, using a special link with a unique code. The company pays you a commission (typically 5 – 20%, though there are outliers in both directions) when someone makes a purchase using your link.
Standard link: https://www.lovehoney.co.uk/product.cfm?p=28657
It’s one of the most effective and, once you get the hang of it, straightforward ways to make money with your blog or website. Getting started with affiliate marketing is free or very cheap, and at least theoretically evergreen. (If someone reads a post you wrote years ago, you can still make money from the affiliate links in that post as long as they’re still live! Pro tip: go back and check old links every now and then.)
Let’s bust some myths!
“You have to pay to join an affiliate scheme!” – NOPE! Any company that charges you to join is scamming you. Avoid.
“You have to buy product upfront and then resell it.” – Absolutely not! That’s multi-level marketing (AKA a pyramid scheme) and is NOT the same as an affiliate program. (See Ann Summers Parties and Pure Romance for examples of this practice.)
“No-one actually makes money through affiliate schemes!” – They do! I promise! But it takes time, effort, and skills. Luckily, you can learn the skills and you have the power to put in the time and effort.
“Affiliate marketing is easy money!” – Sorry, no. The concept behind affiliate marketing is simple, but making it work for you takes time, energy and hard work.
Choosing a program
There are literally thousands of affiliate schemes out there, in every niche you can imagine. The niche we’re interested in is the adult industry, so what are your options?
- Sex toys (large general retailers, body-safe toy specialists, small feminist businesses, toy manufacturers’ own schemes…)
- Lingerie and underwear
- Kink and BDSM gear
- Safer sex supplies
- Adult travel
- And more…
So how do you pick which one(s) to join?
- Pick a few – but not too many! (3 – 5 is ideal for most bloggers, possibly more if you’re running a huge or extremely popular site or have a lot of time to dedicate to promotion.)
- Pick retailers and products you already use and love!
- Pick at least one larger general retailer that sells a wide range of products (e.g. Lovehoney, Bondara, SheVibe.)
- Pick at least one manufacturer-specific scheme or small feminist business that you really love.
- Diversifying is useful but not essential – you know your audience and what they’re likely to be interested in.
Okay, so you’ve joined an affiliate scheme – or several! What now? First let’s look at maximizing affiliate sales using your own blog…
Your blog or site is your primary method of promoting your affiliate companies, and there are so many ways to do this. Some of the most effective places to use your affiliate links include:
- Product reviews. You can link to the product you’re reviewing, but also to other things that are relevant within the context of the review. (For example, recommending a type of lube to use with a toy, comparing the product to other things from the same company or competitors, or saying you didn’t like the product and linking to something you think is better.) The focus product should be linked 3 – 5 times in an average length review, and you should ideally link to 2 – 4 additional relevant products as well.
- Best of… pieces and listicles. For example, The Ten Best Body-Safe Dildos Under $30 or Five Lubes You Need in Your Life.
- Round-ups, such as March’s Best Sex Toy Deals.
- Inserted organically into other content. For example, if you were writing a post about safer sex, you could link to condoms, dams, lube and gloves. I’ve even been known to do this in fiction pieces occasionally, such as when characters use a particular sex toy or are wearing an item of lingerie I’ve recently fallen in love with.
- In the footer of posts. For example, “this post brought to you by…” with a link to a special promotion or relevant product, or simply saying “Support me by buying great sex toys from [Affiliate Company.]”
- Banners in your sidebar. Remember to refresh these regularly, and prominently display any special offers or discounts.
Whatever methods you use, remember to link to a range of products (three different links are more valuable than three instances of the same link!)
Your social media accounts are a prime location for your affiliate links if you have an engaged and loyal following. You can link to offers, special promotions, or just highlight your favorite products on your Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Fetlife pages.
But don’t post too much! 3 – 5 times per week is about right, as long as there’s lots of other non-promotional content filling your feed as well. Spamming your readers will turn them off and have the opposite effect to what you’re after.
Posts with images get around 35% higher engagement than those without. Use official product photos (with permission from the relevant companies,) take your own, use Canva to create social media assets, or even use appropriate stock images. Using relevant hashtags can also help increase engagement with your post.
Another way to get more eyes on your site and therefore on your affiliate links is to use a “retweet old post” plug-in. This shares older content on Twitter, potentially driving a fresh audience to something you wrote months or years ago.
Other channels for your affiliate links
Your newsletter, if you have one, is a great place to include affiliate links. You could have a “deal of the week” section or a monthly round-up of your favorite products.
This advice mostly focuses on bloggers and writers, because that’s what I know and where my expertise is. However, if you’re a vlogger or podcaster, you can mention your affiliate companies in your show and include links in your show notes. Don’t forgot to ask for a special discount code for your listeners!
You also shouldn’t forget the power of reaching a new audience through forums or other online spaces where people might be asking for product recommendations. The r/SexToys subreddit is very active and affiliate links are allowed within certain constraints, for example. Look for subreddits, groups on Fetlife or Facebook, and any other relevant forum spaces where people might be discussing products and sharing recommendations. Remember to check the rules first! If affiliate links aren’t allowed, you’ll just annoy people and probably get booted off.
Making the most of important shopping days
Key shopping dates – Valentine’s Day, Christmas, Black Friday and so on – can be extremely valuable for affiliate marketers, so plan ahead! Try these ideas:
- You can post more often to social media during these times if you’re strategic about it. For example, I did a “one deal every hour” for Black Friday weekend in 2019.
- These periods are great times to do Gift Guides, round-ups, and Best Of listicles.
- Reviews of limited edition products, if your affiliate companies are releasing any.
- “Top Deals” round-ups or a special edition of your newsletter.
- Exclusive promotions – ask your affiliate contacts in plenty of time!
Some notes on ethics
It’s important to behave ethically when you’re promoting any product or service. Your readers’ trust is everything – if you don’t have that, you don’t have a site or business. Lying to them to make a sale will kill your brand quicker than anything.
Always research a company before you promote them. Do they have sound ethics and do you stand behind them and their mission? I also recommend adopting a policy of only promoting safe products (if you don’t know about sex toys and body safety, learn before you start marketing! Dangerous Lilly has a great guide here: http://dangerouslilly.com/toxictoys/.)
You should use no-follow links for all promotional content. Learn more about nofollow links here: https://thesmutlancer.com/nofollow-link/ and always disclose that you’ve used affiliate links. Feel free to use my standard wording, or adapt it to suit your space:
“This post contains affiliate links. If you buy through them, I make a small commission at no extra cost to you. All views are, as always, my own.”
On social media, disclosure can be as simple as hashtagging #affiliate or #affiliatelink.
It takes time!
Affiliate marketing isn’t a quick win (sorry!) It took me over three months of consistent work and promotion from posting my first link to making my first sale. Consistency is key. You must be consistent in both producing content and including and promoting your affiliate links.
The reality is that the bigger and more engaged your audience, the greater your income potential from affiliate marketing (or anything else.) So focus on building an audience, creating quality content that they’ll love and return for again and again, and being an honest, genuine person that your readers can really connect with.
The spiral effect – where things start slowly but then your income grows as your audience grows – is real. But it can take months or even years.
Be patient. Be strategic. Work hard and consistently. The results will follow.
I’m a part-time sex blogger who does this on top of working a full time job and attending graduate school (hi, I’m Amy and I have a giant caffeine addiction!). I blog around twice a week on average, though I go through periods of doing much more and much less.
Here’s what I have made from affiliate marketing since I started seriously in late 2017:
- 2018 affiliate income: £2284.01
- 2019 affiliate income: £1878.55
- 2020 affiliate income to 29 February: £513.64