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In case you’re unfamiliar with the term “article marketing,” let me sum it up briefly: You write an article. You submit this article to an article directory, from which webmasters and e-zine publishers can copy your article for their own use as long as they don’t alter it in any way. Your article contains an author bio at the end, often called a “resource box.” This resource box can generally contain up to three self-serving links (links to your own site) and three links to anything else. Your article is damn good, so everyone wants to publish it. Each time someone does this, you get a free backlink to your site, via the resource box, which helps your search engine rankings. Your article is so good, in fact, that a highly reputable site publishes it, giving you a one-way inbound link (the best kind) from an authoritative source.

Now, if you search through any popular article directory, you’ll see a lot of sales pitches disguised as articles — these are almost always written by people trying to make commissions as an affiliate. It seems to me, though, that only the dumbest sort of person would fall for an “honest review” article about some $97 Internet marketing product. I mean, you read a rave review of something, and there just happens to be a link where you can buy it. Can’t people put two and two together anymore? Don’t get me wrong: maybe you want to sell to the dumbest sort of person (a fool and his money and all that), but I simply wouldn’t feel right just trying to sell anything to whoever’s dumb enough to buy it. But that doesn’t mean I won’t take a cut if I’m the reason someone bought your e-book.

And that brings me to my first point: first and foremost, make sure your article is valuable. Don’t write about something you know nothing about simply because you can advertise a high-priced item with it. People can see through that. You want to gain people’s trust, and the best way to do that is to actually earn it. Talk about something you have a special knowledge of. If you aren’t well-informed in any profitable niche that you can think of, why not do some reading? Find a niche that interests you, one that also has some earning potential, and start reading up on it. (That’s what I did with this whole Internet marketing thing. I hadn’t heard of it at all before about six months ago, but I found it interesting and just kept reading and reading and learning and, finally, doing — and now I’ve written extensively about it, and it’s made me some cash.) The key is to first look for something you find interesting, and then try to think of some way you can profit by it. (Hint: do a search for [your niche] plus “affiliate program” and see what comes up.)

Now, if you want to use your articles to sell affiliate products and not to generate backlinks (though you can do both at the same time), you’ll have to be clever. You’re already more clever than 90% of affiliates who try this, because you’ve chosen a niche about which you can write knowledgeably. But you can’t just try to sell something and call it an article. Your article has to offer something useful, thus generating trust, thus convincing people to buy something because you recommended it. Here are a few ways I’ve used to do this:

  • Write a reviewI know, I was just saying that that’s what everyone else does, and you shouldn’t do it. Well, you should, but do it right. Write a real review, of something you’ve actually tried. If you want to promote an e-book, first pick one that you can honestly recommend (yes, you’ll have to read it first). If you want to promote a piece of software, you’ll have to install it and use it for a while. And then, even if you really like it, be objective in your review. Don’t say things like, “This is the greatest!” or “I love this!” or “Buy it now, you’ll thank me!” These kinds of statements are worthless. Make real statements based on actual experiences with the product, like, “I liked its ease of use and intuitive interface.” If there was something you didn’t like, include it in your review. Including a few negative comments might put a few people off of buying it, but I’d be willing to bet that most people who aren’t going to buy just aren’t going to buy. If you try to trick them by leaving out all the bad stuff, they’re going to find out if they buy anything, and then they’ll just get a refund. So be honest, review things you actually like, and don’t be afraid to make a negative comment or two.
  • Write a bad review. That’s right. Totally trash something. Again, be honest and objective, but pick something you hate and would not recommend that anyone ever buy. Write an effective deconstruction, and then recommend something that you do like.
  • Write a how-to article. In my opinion, these are the best kinds of articles. It’s simple — write a helpful article, and then include an affiliate link for something that further helps with whatever problem your article addresses.

Okay, I’d be lying if I said it were that simple. You’ve got a bit more work cut out for you. You see, most article directories won’t allow you to include affiliate links; they will, however, allow you to include a link to your own site, which can contain as many affiliate links as you want. But you really just want readers to go check out your affiliate links, and if you send them to your site they might get caught up browsing and forget how they ended up there. That’s why blogs are handy.

First off, you can get one for free without having to pay for hosting. (Check out Blogger or WordPress.) Second, they’re easy to build and update, even if you don’t know anything about web design. Just about all the products I’ve ever sold as an affiliate, I’ve sold through a blog post. I do this by combining two of the methods I mentioned above.

First, I write a review on my blog. This way, I can optimize the page for a specific keyword (generally the name of the product I want to sell, plus a few secondary terms), and I don’t have to follow the article directories’ guidelines. I can also come back and edit the review any time I want, and I won’t have to wait for it to be re-evaluated by the directory.

Then, I write a how-to article. For example, I sold a few subscriptions to Wordtracker by writing a tutorial on how to do keyword research. At the end of the article, I have a link to my Wordtracker review. This not only works well for getting people who read your article to read your review and buy the product, but it’ll also help boost the link popularity of your review page. Simply choose the right keywords to use in your anchor text, and then vary them slightly at a few different directories. (I’d recommend including just the URL as anchor text once, to make the linking appear more natural.) This way, you’ve got a good chance of having your review pop up in search engines after you’ve built a few backlinks.

You can do this with a static web site as well, but I like to use blogs because they’re more search-engine friendly, and because it’s easier to build traffic to a blog than to a static site. (Thanks to high-traffic blog directories like Technorati, where it’s easy to get visitors just by updating regularly.)

That’s about it for this technique. I could go more into the ethics of Internet marketing, but I’ll save that for another post. Just please, don’t use this information for evil.