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10 Battle-Tested Free Traffic Sources for Affiliate Marketing

10 Battle-Tested Free Traffic Sources for Affiliate Marketing

By Jules Costa   ·   Updated May 22, 2021

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but free website traffic is yours for the taking.

In fact, there are so many free sources of traffic that it can be hard to narrow down to a core few. It’s important to be picky because even though you don’t have to spend money on these traffic sources, they do require your time and attention to succeed.

Best practice is to choose one or two platforms to lay your foundation before expanding to a multi-platform approach. This lets you seed new platforms with your existing audience, as opposed to spreading yourself too thin from the outset.

But keep in mind that “free” doesn’t mean “easy”.

A strong content strategy isn’t as simple as throwing links onto the world wide web. It takes choosing the best platform for your business, learning what makes that platform tick, and producing valuable content to attract a loyal audience.

In this post, we'll show you how. Read on to learn:

How to Choose the Best Free Traffic Source for Your Audience

It might be tempting to chase the hottest new trends in hopes of cashing in on the hype. But just because something is popular, doesn’t mean that you have to center your business around it.

Sustainable and predictable revenue usually comes from matching your business to the right platform. What does “right” mean in this case? Here are a few questions to guide you:

  • What’s your niche? Defining your niche makes it easier to determine where your content would make the greatest impact. Where does your audience hang out? Once you’ve determined what you’re promoting, you’ll want to define who would be interested in your offer. Then, research where that customer is most likely to spend their time online.
  • What capabilities do you need to show your product in the best light? This is based not only on the offer you’re promoting, but also on your individual capabilities. Choose a platform that will show off your strengths and the strengths of your offer.
  • Does the user culture support your business model? Even if two platforms have the same features, they might promote different behaviors. For example, you can share text posts on both Linkedin and Twitter, but users are more cautious about posting when they’re connected with potential employers.
  • How will the algorithm (or algorithm changes) affect your business? Remember that these platforms are usually run by companies that are worried about their own bottom line. Different platforms have their own ways of ranking content and all are subject to algorithm changes.

With that, here are the 10 most effective free traffic sources to bringing relevant visitors to your website and affiliate content. Especially, when starting from scratch.

List of Free Traffic Sources for Your Website

TikTok

TikTok is the newest platform on this list, but it isn’t the smallest. It has over 700 million active monthly users, beating platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, and Snapchat. Although it has the reputation of being mainly for teens, its user base is well-distributed between people in their teens, 20s, 30s and even 40s.

Affiliate Marketing on TikTok
Pro tip

Lists and storytelling do well on the platform because they pique curiosity and motivate users to watch the video the whole way through. Once you’ve captivated your audience’s attention, they are more receptive to seeking more information when you direct them to a link.

Although TikTok doesn’t allow links on non-sponsored posts, asking your audience to click the “link in bio” is an effective call to action.

SEO

It’s estimated that Google processes over 40,000 searches per second, equating to trillions of searches per year. So optimizing your content for SEO can lead to compounding traffic and revenue growth. And when it comes to the buyer's journey, up to 72% of people looking to make a purchase start by opening Google.

Google Buyer's Journey

What’s even more tantalizing is that a properly optimized article can drive leads and revenue years after being published.

If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because it comes with a catch.

Only a quarter of users make it past the first page of Google, meaning that attracting real traffic requires you to have the best (and most optimized) content. Getting to the first page takes time, so SEO-optimized content isn’t likely to drive massive traffic right off the bat.

The other challenge is, it can be hard to build links to commercial intent content. Here's how to get links to your revenue-generating content (without paying for them):

Pro tip

Building link-attracting content hubs can help your revenue-driving pages rank higher. Google's PageRank passes along some link authority to other pages on your site when you internally link them. So if you internally link your “money pages” in content that's earning links already, all of the linked content benefits, too.

If that sounds abstract, here's a concrete example from the financial juggernaut NerdWallet:

Affiliate Marketing with SEO
NerdWallet has built over 12,000 followed links to this content hub, about Wealth Management. From there, it links to money pages such as lists of wealth and financial advisors, which in turn rank #1.

Twitter

If there’s a worldwide event, a new movie or a funny meme, you can bet that Twitter is the first to hear about it. This platform only has 262 million users, but it’s one of the most active places on the internet.

And users are open to brands joining the party. The only catch is that it has to be done the “right” way. Twitter users aren’t looking to be sold to they want to be engaged with. Humor, memes and hot takes do well on the platform. Just throwing your link up isn’t going to cut it.

Here's what Dan Rowden, Founder of Twitter Analytics platform ilo, had to tell us about sharing links effectively on Twitter:

"You have to have the meta tags set up properly. Using the summary_large_image Twitter card creates a large image to help promote the content behind the link. That image needs to be the correct size so it's not cropped, and should be enticing. The title and description should also succinctly explain the content so people may click on it."

Here's what proper Twitter meta tags look like in action:

Affiliate Marketing on Twitter
Here's an example about How to Start a Blog from Blogging Wizard. A visually engaging pinned tweet leads to a post relevant for nearly any visitor to this profile.

Another way to promote links is to use Twitter threads.

Threads are individual tweets that are linked together. Adding your link to the end of a Twitter thread (instead of in the first tweet) increases the chance that the algorithm will promote your tweets and that people will share your thoughts.

Pro tip

Promoting evergreen content? Add links to your pinned Tweet and your bio, so that users who find your profile are more likely to click on it. This allows you to focus on crafting engaging Tweets, rather than having to promote your links in every post.

This way, you'll be growing your following and driving traffic to your website at the same time.

Instagram

With 1 billion monthly users, Instagram has become a type of virtual living room. The whole family can hang out on the platform, from young tweens to moms, dads and even grandmas. The average age of the platform has risen and half of American adults ages 30-49 have active profiles.

Instagram users are ready to buy.

There’s a joke that if you want something badly enough, the Instagram algorithm will bestow it onto you in the form of an ad. The platform is extremely accurate at showing its users what they want to see which makes it a fantastic place to get in front of your ideal audience.

The biggest downside is that with so many audiences on the platform, it’s gotten a bit crowded, which can make it hard to stand out.

Affiliate Marketing on Instagram
Here's an example from The Everygirl, a popular lifestyle brand for women. They use a self-hosted, Instagram landing page on their site to help followers find the exact products mentioned in each post.
Pro tip

Make the most of all of the platform’s features. The same idea can be repurposed into a feed post, story, reel and IGTV. It takes an average of 6-8 touchpoints before users make a purchase. Repeating the same message throughout content types makes it more likely that users will remember your offer when they are ready to buy.

Pinterest

Pinterest looks like a social media platform but acts like a search engine. Its 320 million users come to its doors in search of inspiration and information to “pin” to their virtual vision boards.

About 60% of its current users are women, although younger male audiences are narrowing this gap. But the most interesting stat about Pinterest is its user’s buying power. Almost half of American households earning six figures a year are on Pinterest, bringing the average buying power above $75k.

But because someone pins a post, does not mean that they intend to buy the product.

Pinterest users are typically at the beginning of the buyer's journey, and looking for inspiration rather than making purchasing decisions. For that reason, email lists are a great strategy on this platform. Bring users into your affiliate marketing funnel to guide them from inspiration to purchase.

Here's how that could look:

Affiliate Marketing on Pinterest
This food blogger has monetized this content to the max: Starting with a list of affiliate links to Air Fryer tools any reader might want, a paid PDF of the tips, and finally a freebie to capture emails from people who didn't take the first two offers.

But it all starts with a click. Here's how we suggest earning it:

Pro tip

To attract outbound clicks on your pins, go for bold, legible fonts and enticing headlines. From there, help them go from inspiration to action with a welcome series that warms them up to your product or affiliate offer.

If you want to learn more, read our dedicated guide to affiliate marketing on Pinterest.

Q&A Websites and Forums

Q&A websites and forums might remind you of the early days of the internet, but they are far from being a thing of the past. Craigslist survived the 90s and is still kicking. Quora is an active Q&A forum and even Facebook has hopped on the bandwagon with Facebook Groups.

Members of these groups are often looking for advice and recommendations, making it a great place to offer solutions via links or content.

Just make sure that your link is relevant to the question being asked and that you follow the guidelines of the group. Remember that the goal here is to help other users and not to post links randomly. Members are usually more receptive to links that include a little bit of context or genuinely solve their question.

Forums are a great example of “level playing fields” because everyone has an equal chance to impress other users.

Here's why Harry Dry, Marketer and Creator of Marketing Examples, says they're an excellent way to start growing your traffic:

"Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Search are NOT level playing fields. Some people have 100k followers and 90DR. You have 0. If you focus exclusively on mainstream channels it's going to be hard to get momentum going.

Subreddits, Indie Hackers, Hacker News, Facebook communities ARE level playing fields. There's no follower count. No domain rating. The cream rises to the top."

In Harry's case, after he built momentum on Facebook groups and websites like Indie Hackers and Hacker News, he transferred that audience to his own channels. His email list now reaches over 50,000 subscribers every week.

YouTube

Youtube is the second most popular search engine after Google. And you don’t have to be an entertainer to make money on the platform. Straightforward videos like product reviews, roundups, and tutorials do well for capturing audiences. One guy even started a channel teaching young adults basic skills like lawn-mowing, attracting over 3.3 million subscribers.

Unlike other platforms, you can paste your links directly in the video description without being penalized by the algorithm. Keep in mind that users looking for practical videos are often at the later stages of their buyer journey. This means they could be looking for a direct link to a product or service.

Here's an example of a product roundup video for Nintendo Switch accessories:

Affiliate Marketing on YouTube
Pro tip

Clickthrough rates on Youtube videos can vary, although many marketers aim for 4-5%. There are some things you can do to improve click through rates and conversions, such as:

  • Include CTAs throughout your video reminding viewers to click in the links in your bio.
  • Add visual cards and end screens to your video with CTAs like “Link in description”
  • Increase viewer time by creating quality content - this helps users know, like and trust you
  • Link a special offer or lead magnet so that you can collect emails for your email list

Bonus: You can also embed YouTube videos in your affiliate content as part of a product review template that extends dwell time and converts miles better than images straight from the manufacturer's website.

Reddit

Once known for being a nest of gangly gamers, Reddit has become a premier place to search for honest reviews and information.

Affiliate Marketing on Pinterest

If you've never used Reddit, it’s composed of many forums, where communities gather around to discuss their interests in real time.

Unlike other forums, Reddit discussions rarely get lost. All of the posts are archived and are easily searchable through the website and through search engines (sometimes Reddit discussions even pop up on the first page of Google).

While it’s a great place to drive traffic to your website, be cautious because Reddit users are extremely skeptical. Everyone can see your posting history, so if you’re promoting the same link over and over again, you might get booted from certain threads.

Pro tip

Embed most of your value in the post itself and post relevant links at the bottom as a type of citation. Make sure to include other reputable links, as well as your own. Aim to be an outstanding community member before promoting your own work.

LinkedIn

If you’re only using Linkedin as a digital resume, you’re missing out on a blue ocean. Although 700 million people have accounts, only 1% of users regularly post on the platform. This means that if you’re posting anything other than a “new job” post, it’s easy to stand out. Linkedin offers a unique opportunity as there are more potential buyers than content creators.

Although Linkedin users only scroll an average of 7 or 8 minutes per day, this is likely to increase as the platform encourages posts with initiatives like Top Sales Influencers of the Year.

Pro tip

Craft posts that contain a lot of value and then add your link as the first comment on that post. This works well from an algorithm standpoint and also makes your feed look clean and welcoming for new connections. Be sure to add a line that tells your audience there is a link in the first comment so they know to go to your website or landing page.

Email

If you’re tired of keeping up with the whims of algorithm changes, email is your best friend. The biggest upside to this platform is that you own your email list, so you make the rules.

What’s more, customers are amenable to brand communications via email. Seventy percent of consumers prefer email to other methods of brand communication. But how do you grow an email list? This usually involves attracting an audience on a different platform first (such as socials or blogs), then converting them to an email list with a freebie or premium content.

Once you have people on your email list, you can promote links to other content or include links directly in the freebie. Some of the most effective ways to use email affiliate marketing include challenges, email courses, and lead magnets that promote products to solve a problem.

Pro tip

Invest time into making a killer welcome series that provides value while also guiding your audience to relevant links. If you’re stuck on what to include in your welcome series, think of it as a mini-course that teaches them how to accomplish their goals using your product or service.

Final thoughts: Pick free traffic sources with a level playing field

The magic of the internet is that you don’t have to have deep pockets to make a splash. Even the newest content creators can get a foot in the door by using the strategies listed above.

Patience and persistence go a long way in building your audience and ultimately driving revenue. No matter which platform you choose, take time to build strong relationships with your audience so that you can deliver the content that they want to see.

If you’ve been at it for a while and still aren’t seeing progress, evaluate your sales funnel and see where you can optimize your process.

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Jules Costa
ARTICLE BY
Jules Costa(@julesontap)

Jules Costa is a Brazilian-American freelance writer and money expert who has been featured on NPR, Personal Capital and Boston 25. Follow on Instagram for tips on freelancing, side hustles and raising your rates.

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