Affiliate revenue continues to grow at a healthy, if not exponential clip for the publishers who devote even a small amount of resources to it. While it feels like monetised product recommendation and deal content is everywhere now, I’ve met with more than a hundred publishers in my role and the majority are still just beginning their commerce journey. Here’s where to start.

Automate and optimise

Your first step to commerce at scale is a single line of code. Putting JavaScript on your site will allow for automatic affiliation of all the retailer sites on your network on click. The on click part is important, as it leaves link control in the hands of your editors.

Turning on affiliation on your network may not set the world on fire but you’ll start seeing affiliate clicks and conversions across your entire archive of content  (and ask yourself why you didn’t do this sooner). This is your first serving of internal commerce data, and you can use it to start to get a picture of what might resonate for your readers in terms of product vertical, price point, etc.

Great steps to take at this point are to look at content  that’s already performing and make sure it’s up to date and optimised for conversion, look at the consumer product-centric subset of your high-traffic legacy content  and see where adding retailer links would serve the reader, and optimise new editorial content as it’s created. Working with a subnetwork will immediately secure you increased commission rates across hundreds of retailers, with support for further negotiation as your performance improves.

Where will your future commerce content come from?

The biggest decision a publisher looking to do commerce at scale makes is around the source of their commerce content. Freelancers are always an option, but when thinking about going beyond passively monetising what your editorial staff was going to write anyway, there are a few paths that have become well-defined at this point, with multiple publishers proving success in each.

The most obvious move is also the most difficult: bring your editorial staff into the affiliate conversation. Expose them to metrics like conversion rate, provide as much data as possible, and encourage or even incentivise affiliate performance. This is, of course, a much more viable solution at a lifestyle blog than say, a news organisation.

An easier middle ground is embedding a commerce editor in each of your editorial properties. This takes most of the onus off your editorial staff, which is a good thing and can result in highly specialised commerce editors who really know their respective site’s audience, but things can also get tricky for an employee who is technically reporting to both the editorial and Business sides of the company.

My preferred solution is the dedicated commerce team, independent of both the editorial and Advertising wings of the publisher, incentivised by affiliate performance but free to create objective, reader service content. This option removes caps on things like content volume and category coverage and sets the publisher up to launch a dedicated, named commerce vertical that’s easily distinguished from an editorial by the reader.

If you choose not to pursue an active commerce strategy and stay the course of optimising content independently created by editorial, it is still possible to be very successful in the affiliate space, but you’ll need volume: hundreds or thousands of articles a month that contain retailer links.

Beyond SEO

The biggest missed opportunity I see across the publisher affiliate space is ignoring the potential for commerce on their platform. When traffic is primarily coming in through search and mostly mobile, it’s easy to assume that breakdown will be mirrored for affiliate content. You should absolutely optimise all your evergreen commerce content for Google, but that’s only half the story. Commerce content still performs better on desktop, and while headlines with the word “best” in them may be bread and butter for Google, that’s not the case for your O&O.

Content that appears on your homepage, article pages, and in your social channels and newsletters should feature a call to action, a sense of urgency, and/or a reason to click now. News of the latest release from a brand you know your readers love or a great deal on one of the best products in a category that performs well for you are going to be far more clickable than an evergreen comparison of products someone would already need to be in the market for to care enough to click through to.

It’s important, when creating commerce content for on-platform consumption, to think about changing the expectations of your audience, turning your site(s) into a trusted destination for recommendation, shopping, and deal finding, and growing a dedicated fanbase. 1MM monthly uniques driven to commerce content can net eight figures of revenue.