Inexpensive YouTube Influencer Strategy
I love learning, and I learn best by doing, so at any given time I’m running various micro-tests and micro-projects.
Today, I’m going to share how I leveraged affiliate marketing on YouTube to:
- Drive hundreds of dollars in sales per month
- Rank a website in Google faster than I’ve ever had before this point
Note – just because I made hundreds, doesn’t mean you can’t make thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month, or more, using this tactic.
Why Didn’t I Scale This YouTube Affiliate Strategy Further?
I implemented this another side project, Hobanco.com, a dropshipping knife store.
Fun Fact: I was shipping knives to more than a dozen European countries, which I’m pretty sure makes me an international weapons dealer.
I started Hobanco because I wanted to learn more about e-commerce SEO.
It turns out there are millions of knife-related searches each month, so I chose knives not because I’m a knife nerd, but the organic search opportunity was large.
But the store was incredibly painful to scale.
Not only did it take 3-4 weeks for the knives to arrive from China via e-packet, but about 30% of my orders were confiscated by customs at the border.
Delivering such a poor customer experience was painful to my soul but refunding 30% of my orders and eating the cost was a deal-breaker.
So I never scaled this.
But you can.
Why This YouTube Affiliate Marketing Tactic Works
When people think of affiliate or influencer marketing on YouTube, they think about sponsoring new content.
But paying YouTubers to create new content for your brand is expensive.
A much cheaper way to execute a successful YouTube affiliate & influencer campaign is to sponsor old content.
Unlike Facebook and Instagram, YouTube does a fantastic job at surfacing up old content to new viewers.
YouTube has a bunch of different ways it surfaces up old content – from search to playlists, to recommended videos, to auto-playing the next video.
Which means videos published years ago can still receive thousands and thousands of views per day.
And we’re going to leverage that fact to generate affiliate revenue for a very low cost.
Why It Helped Our Organic Search Traffic
I ranked this project using the exact same playbook I had always used.
Except I did one thing different.
By sponsoring YouTube videos, I was driving referral traffic from YouTube to my website.
And my organic search rankings and traffic increased faster than any other project I had worked on before this point.
Estimated Organic Traffic (from Ahrefs):
Hobanco’s 1st-page keywords
- Position 1-3 is the first half of the 1st page
- Position 4 – 10 is the bottom half of the 1st page
Something like 60 million new web pages are created every single day.
How does Google know which pages matter?
I believe Google uses referral traffic.
The more referral traffic you get, and the better that traffic engages, the faster your pages will rank – assuming the page is optimized for the keywords you want to rank for.
Now, at this point, this was just a single data point.
But every single time since this experiment I’ve sent referral traffic to a given page – whether it’s from YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, email lists, other websites – whatever – those pages have ranked faster than pages that don’t receive referral traffic.
And it makes sense.
Google’s #1 goal is to provide the most relevant, highest quality search results for any given search query.
And Google is the #1 big data company.
And Google Analytics is deployed on nearly every single website that matters.
Why wouldn’t Google use user engagement metrics like # of visitors, time on site, bounce rate, pages visited, etc as a heuristic for quality?
And if you think about it, isn’t user engagement metrics ultimately a better heuristic for quality than another heuristic like backlinks?
It just doesn’t make sense that they wouldn’t use this data.
So by slamming a page with a bunch of referral traffic, Google begins to understand how users engage, and compares that data to the websites it’s currently showing on the first page for a given keyword.
And if your engagement rate is nearly as good, as good, or better, Google will start testing your page by bouncing it on and off the first page, and comparing it to competitive pages it could show users instead.
If your user engagements are better, your page will eventually stick to the first page.
Implementing This Affiliate / Influencer Marketing For YouTube Strategy
I developed this YouTube affiliate strategy over two years ago, and it’s been more than 18 months since I sold the site I used this tactic on.
So, unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to provide as much data, and as detailed of a walkthrough as I would like.
But that’s OK – you’re a smart person, you don’t need your hand held through every mouse click.
By the time you’re done reading this guide, you’re going to understand exactly how to not only replicate my results, but scale to tens of thousands of dollars a month in revenue.
- Define your buyer persona
- Build a list of keywords that buyer persona is searching for
- Search YouTube and identify videos with lots of views
- Check to see if those channels are consistently generating high view videos, or this video was an outlier
- Reach out to channels that don’t have much traction besides that single video, or a handful of videos
- Offer a small upfront payment + affiliate commission to place a link on their videos with high views
- Create a custom URL including their affiliate link + UTM tags
Build A Buyer Persona
The first thing you need to understand is who your customer is.
What videos are they watching?
What keywords are they using to search?
My e-commerce store dropshipped knives.
My assumption was, is the people searching for knife videos on YouTube are knife enthusiasts, and knife enthusiasts don’t just have one knife, they have a bunch of different knives.
And determined my audience was searching for videos like ‘knife tricks’, ‘butterfly knife tricks’, etc.
Identifying High View Videos On YouTube Channels Without Much Traction
You’re looking for YouTube videos that have a high number of views but are on channels that don’t have much traction outside of that video, or a handful of videos.
YouTube channels that are consistently creating high view count videos generate more income through YouTube ads & sponsorships, so they cost more to work with them.
But the channels that have one, or a few videos with high view counts don’t make much money at all.
So we can get an affiliate link on their video for cheap.
In fact, what’s more important than the relatively small amount of monetization you can offer them, is the ‘cool factor’.
They can now tell their friends they’re a sponsored YouTuber.
And being a sponsored YouTuber is a lot cooler than not being a sponsored YouTuber.
Being a sponsored influencer is so cool, that people on Instagram are pretending to be sponsored by brands.
- Search for the keyword
- Open 50+ videos in new tabs
- Check out their other videos and sort by ‘most viewed’
- If the channel doesn’t have much traction besides a few videos, save the video URL in an Excel or Google Sheet
Reach Out To These YouTube Channels
This is the hardest part of the whole campaign.
The people you’re targeting, whether right or wrong, don’t treat their channel professionally.
They might want to make a full-time income from YouTube, but they don’t treat their channel like a business.
What does that mean?
It’s super hard to get in contact with these people.
They may not have an email listed.
If they do, they may not check it.
They don’t look at their notifications.
They don’t check their YouTube messages.
So you need to hit them up on every channel.
- Check their profile page for their email, Facebook & Twitter & contact them on each platform
- Leave a comment on the video
- Send them a message on YouTube (being depreciated in September 2019)
And you might have to do this a couple of times, so I recommend keeping track of videos and channels you want to sponsor in an Excel or Google Sheet.
To make it easy on you, point them to an email address to contact you if they’re interested.
“Hey! I love your channel and would like to sponsor it! If you’re interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org”
I recommend doing this a few times yourself to get a hang on the process, then build a process document (hint: create a video walk-through also) and delegate this to a VA.
Note that you should ask the VA to only reach out to a handful of channels per day, and that they should vary their message to avoid YouTube’s spam detection.
If they think you’re spamming, they’ll simply disappear the message, or worse – ban your Google account.
Negotiating the Sponsorship
My offer was low.
I would offer $5 to put a link with custom text on the video receiving a high number of views.
And I would offer them 5% of all sales generated by tracking purchases using an affiliate link.
Setting Up Tracking
I gave each channel a custom link they could use.
When someone viewed the video and clicked the link, it would 301 redirect the user to a product or category of products I was selling and append their affiliate ID + UTM tracking so I could also track the campaign in Google Analytics.
The URL https://hobanco.com/jpgessencezero (test it out by clicking!) redirects to https://hobanco.com/collections/csgo-knives?utm_source=youtube&utm_medium=influencers&utm_campaign=jpgessencezero&ref=59d4889509230
Let’s break down the URL
This takes the user to Hobanco’s CSGO knives category page
The rest of the URL consists of a UTM tag, enabling you to track and attribute click-throughs and sales to specific YouTubers and videos and an affiliate reference ID to track earnings and payouts.
This tells Google Analytics the traffic source is YouTube
This tells Google Analytics the traffic source is part of my affiliate campaign, and not some other click through from YouTube
This tells Google Analytics the channel that referred the click/sale
This is the code auto-generated by my affiliate tracking software to track purchase & facilitate payouts.
Find an affiliate plugin:
Here is how to setup 301 redirects:
Later on, in the campaign I started adding an identifier for branded links (hobanco.com/username-video) if the channel had multiple videos I was placing a link on because I wanted to understand what type of content was producing the most affiliate sales, so when I did scale, I knew what videos to target.