Super-affiliate Brad’s Deals got its start in 2001, when founder and CEO Brad Wilson stood out front of the university bookstore handing out flyers telling his fellow students where they could find their textbooks for less. Soon, he was sending the deals he found to all his friends, the project evolved into a website, and today the company has more than 75 employees and counting. Looking back on fifteen years in business, the team at Brad’s Deals shares fifteen content marketing lessons they’ve learned for affiliate marketing success.

1. Stop trying so hard to sell things.
Talk to people instead of pitching at them. A hard sales pitch rarely results in a sale for us on our blog, but talking about our common experiences and pain points often does. Many readers don’t expect salespeople to be honest, so we find it’s better not to sound like one. Build a rapport with your audience and speak to them authentically. Focus on building trust and authority. If your readers trust you, they will spend money with you. Your readers should trust you to be acting in their best interests. Once you have that trust, they come back again and again.

2. Let the user experience lead your strategy.
When Apple seized control of the MP3 market and charged money for something that people were used to getting for free, that success was built on the premise that making music easy was more important to consumers than making it free. (Spotify didn’t happen until much later.) The lesson? Get your user to the thing they want faster by removing as many obstacles as possible. Don’t make them jump through a bunch of hoops to access your content. Everything is going mobile, so look at all of your content on your phone and make that experience as painless as possible.

3. Know what gets your audience fired up and lean into that.
Whenever Black Friday rolls around, some of our biggest stories are always about when stores are planning to open. Many stores will open on Thanksgiving Day, and our readers have very strong feelings about that, both in favor and against. Whether they share this content because they’re excited for the sales or as evidence that society is horribly broken, they’re totally engaged with it.

4. Keep a close eye on your audience.
Once you have that engagement, watch it closely. Comments can get nasty fast, trolls will pop up, and before you know it, someone’s comment about the price of a cup of McDonald’s coffee can spiral into online bullying and hateful commentary about presidential politics. Publish a code of conduct and hold your readers to it.

5. Lists of things do not drive revenue.
There are exceptions to this rule. If the list you’re creating is the sort of thing that people will want to print out and stick to the fridge as a handy reference because it’s solving a problem for them, that can work for you. But your customer needs to have a lightbulb moment. It has to be solving a pain point or it’s not going to be worth the effort. We used to post lists like “10 Summer Essentials You Can’t Live Without” and they would absolutely tank. Were we saying anything new or special? Not really. Our readers weren’t fooled and Google didn’t rank it since it wasn’t new or better than anything already out there.

6. Everything you publish must be actionable.
The history of Black Friday? No one actually cares, and it wouldn’t drive sales if they did. Anyone looking for that is conducting a search that’s informational, not transactional. Make sure you are telling your reader exactly what they need to do. Articles explaining how Magic Erasers work don’t have any transactional intent. Giving people 11 ingenious ways to use them while providing links to buy? You’re going to sell a lot of Magic Erasers.

7. There is no such thing as the ideal content length.
I see a lot of bad SEO advice about how short content is better than long content, or long content is better than short. It all contradicts because the entire conversation about content length is focusing on the search engine more than on the user. The truth is so simple that it’s often dismissed: Your content should be as long or as short as it needs to be to get your reader to the information or action that they’re seeking. The bottom line is that you should forget about word counts and focus on what your reader needs.

8. Be the hero of the story you are telling.
Write in the first person. Put yourself in it. Relate your own personal experiences with the subject. Giving the reader someone to relate to is incredibly powerful. All of our best articles put the author at the center of a challenge that they’ve solved – everything from dream vacations on the ultra-cheap to what it’s really like to cut your cable. Our readers love it when they feel like we’re letting them in on a secret. If you’ve been through it already and have some insight, not only are you relatable, you’re also a credible source.

9. Polish and republish your best content.
This one is so simple that it almost feels like cheating. Some of our most popular content was written three or four years ago, but we know that newer readers may not have seen it. So we give it a quick update for accuracy, then republish and reshare it. Not only does it continue to be successful on our social media channels, but the new timestamp feeds Google’s preference for fresh material. (Important note: This strategy only works if you don’t include dates in your URLs.)

10. Hands-on content beats automated content EVERY TIME.
If you’re plugged into someone’s API, then so are at least a dozen other sites, and now you’ve got a bunch of duplicate content. Yuck. If your content isn’t unique, then why should Google rank you over someone else with the same stuff? The same goes for spun articles or plain old plagiarism. If a human being didn’t write it, no one is going to fall for it. And plagiarism, besides being duplicate content, is just illegal.

11. Report and evaluate desktop and mobile traffic separately.
It’s not just the user experience that’s different from one device type to the next, but also the user’s intent. We often find that mobile users drive a lot of impressions but fewer conversions, while desktop users net fewer impressions but with a higher click through rate. Likewise, different content is popular on mobile than on desktop – what does that say about your audience’s search intent? About their demographics? How can you craft an experience that caters to that information?

12. Everything you publish should support your goals.
You publish an article about cute puppies. Maybe it drives a lot of clicks and shares, but is that enough if it doesn’t contribute to your bottom line? The answer is clearly no. Puppies are cute, but unless you can draw a line from puppies to revenue, it’s a waste of your time. If you’re thinking that’s directly contradicting our advice above to focus on the reader, you’re wrong. Your job is to be a helpful, approachable, relatable authority on your niche. How do puppies get you there? They probably don’t.

13. Think like a journalist.
Be thorough. Don’t rely on someone else’s reporting unless they got the scoop themselves, and never trust a competitor to get it right. (If I had a nickel…) If they’re citing third party sources, go to those sources instead. Trace your information back to the original source, then cite it with links. It shows that you aren’t just making things up, it looks professional and authoritative, and it’s about five steps further than most of your competitors will go – and that sets you apart.

14. Show the work.
If you assert anything, back it up. Show the math. Name and link the sources. Include charts and infographics that make the information easy to wrap your head around. Give the reader everything they need to confirm your conclusion on their own. The vast majority of them won’t, but if you’re completely transparent about how you got there, they also won’t doubt you. This is good for SEO as well since it adds weight to your words, length to your articles, and builds you up as an authority.

15. Content IS SEO.
Content marketing is just a specialization within SEO, and SEO never has been limited to the site’s code and architecture. Ranking all of the various things that make for good SEO, content belongs at the very top of the list. Every word on your site is crawled and evaluated by Google. It’s important to get it right, from the keywords on down to the image captions. Good quality content attracts links, which are also important for SEO. Always write for your user, but then make sure it’s also optimized for search and an attractive resource for those who might link to it.

Rebecca Lehmann

Rebecca Lehmann

Manager of SEO and Content Marketing at Brad's Deals
Rebecca Lehmann is Manager of SEO and Content Marketing at Brad's Deals and a frequent contributor to their blog, More For Less. She and her two cats are based in Chicago, where they enjoy life by the lake.
Rebecca Lehmann

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