One of the things that took my affiliate marketing to the next level was a free plugin called Pretty Links. I've written a more in-depth review about it here. You don't necessarily need the pro license if you're just beginning.
I didn't even upgrade to the pro license until I was already running this site for a year. Proper link tracking in WordPress is usually not answered. Most often you hear people talk all about Google Analytics. The difference really is in semantics. What you're really looking for is a link management software as a beginner. Pretty Links accomplishes that and allows you to create branded links with the free license.
I love Google Analytics and believe that it is the best free platform, however, it can be overwhelming getting it set-up and verified as working for a newbie.
Now if you can jump into GA and get a handle on link tracking quickly and easily, please email me.
It's worth diving into once you reach I more experienced level. I didn't have it during my first 6 months or so and I don't feel like I missed much. I'll agree that understanding how to use Google Analytics for affiliate marketing is a thing.
Right now as you consider getting something in place quickly, Pretty Links is your best bet.
Why Track Links?
One of the initial reasons I wanted to use Pretty Links was to get a quick count on what links were getting clicks and therefore know which affiliate offers were at least getting attention.
This was huge for me early on, because I was committing a cardinal sin.
I didn't know which offers were getting my visitor's attention.
I would log into my Share-A-Sale dashboard and refresh the data to see who clicked where and what.
My entire business was in the hands of Share-A-Sale and the integrity of their data. I've even called them out in a click discrepancy once, but later realized the mistake was on me.
Not a big deal at the time, but looking back and having a more mature outlook after my experience using Voluum, a much more involved set-up and learning curve, I can say that tracking link clicks and using UTM tags is much needed at the early stages.
I do plan on buying Voluum again, I even believe there is a huge advantage to be had from just dedicating a month or two to diving deep and uncovering the possibilities of the tool.
One of the hardest things to do early on is understanding what is actually working vs. what you want to work as an affiliate.
We're all confronted with this, and begin to understand the affiliate value chain and what it really takes to provide a better resource for your visitors and followers.
Like everyone EVER I wanted the big-ticket items to fly off the shelf quickly and effortlessly. I wanted to sell courses and subscriptions with residual payouts. I wanted to rank #1 in Google with just a few weeks worth of genius tweaks to spun content that I created in 10mins on the weekends.
SEO for Affiliate Marketing is a process of steady improvement, sound research, and diligent content creation. The best part is its residual traffic that has the potential to last for a long time if well-maintained.
What they don't tell you is that in order to get a piece of that pie, you're going to want to give yourself the best chance possible through link management tools, GA, Spy tools such as SEMRush and WhatRunsWhere and Voluum. Some tools cost money, the free ones have a pretty steep learning curve for beginners.
I don't want to get into the weeds but, the difference is much more than just throwing a few links on a mass page site and hoping for the best.
There are indeed levels to affiliate marketing just like any other industry. I'm focused on keeping things simple and practical for beginners.
For that reason I'd say Pretty Links and Thirsty Affiliates are the only tools I can recommend to solve the link tracking in WordPress via plug-in conundrum.
Other than tracking links. Check out the list of recommended tools that I personally use.
Google Analytics & Google Tag Manager
I love free.
I don't love hard though.
The thing is, we all love free when starting out.
GA is deep in its reporting and it even allows you to track goals, page popularity and gives valuable insight into the interests of your site visitors if set-up and organized effectively.
Getting good takes some time. I struggled for a few months and then bought a membership to MeasurmentMarketing.io I got the W.I.N. pass which teaches you the basics. I learned Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager side-by-side, I'd recommend you do the same because they play off of each other.
If you can use Ryu, you can use Ken.
In fact, Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager are a rare case where free doesn't mean inferior.
I'd venture to say that Pretty Links pales in comparison to Google Analytics when it comes to features and power overall. However, the complexity of using Google Analytics and essentially unlocking more features using Google Tag Manager mean that Pretty Links wins as a beginner's tool of choice.
The reason Pretty Links is so valuable is its ease of set-up and ability to view withing the WordPress dashboard.
Keep it simple stupid earns it's meaning in this instance.
You have enough going on as a beginner affiliate, maybe you're just new to link management, in any case you should try Pretty Links for free then consider learning GA and GTM through either MeasurementMarketing.io's course or Analytics Mania chech out the “courses” section of the Recommended Tools page.
There's an entire separate post I made addressing the true value of getting set-up on GA properly where I get thorough into how and why you should really take the time to set-up your account and organize it well.
And since I feel a bit obligated I'll give you a quick tip on the whole WordPress thing.
The Google Tag Manager plug-in by Thomas Gieger allows you to enjoy a quick way to add GA to your site but you'll have to understand and set-up GA via GTM in order to just get started. This is intimidating because when you're new to affiliate marketing that usually means you're new to using the tools.
From experience, I'll say I took a course and struggled with GTM for about a month before I felt somewhat proficient in connecting the most basic functions.
Ease of Use
One of the main reasons I'm leaning toward Pretty Links instead of Thirsty Affiliates and especially GA is because it's simple and quick to set-up.
There is no learning curve you enter your affiliate links just as you have them and you create a short branded link right after.
It's simple and it's a plugin. That's all you need for link tracking in WordPress. It shouldn't be hard, it should be painless and give you better insight.
Am I saying that Pretty Links is better than the robust tools such as Voluum or Red Hat, no… not even close. But it is free and quick to implement.
This comes in handy in ways you won't understand until you have it. I use this feature for links that I put on Pinterest all the time.
For anyone who has used Pinterest for Affiliate Marketing you'll notice that longer links get rejected.
I came across this today and my first thought was to create a short branded link through Pretty Links and it worked like a charm.
You're constantly going to need to be creating authority by way of professionalism, branding, depth of knowledge, quality, etc.
Having branded links is a step in the right direction, and although I don't know how Google sees the link when you post it, I will say that it makes the user more comfortable when they see a simple link from a website they know rather than some long affiliate link with every UTM parameter known to man added.
Pretty links is definitely winning when it comes to just making you feel like a much more accomplished pro through the software itself. There's even a pro feature that allows you to type in keywords or phrases that you want it to find and add a hyperlink to. I had fun with that and I'm pretty sure it helped me maximize my chances on a few pages I neglected.
Affiliate Link Tracking
Eluding back to an earlier section, you'll want to take the reigns on your business when it comes to data. We're in the data business even though we call ourselves affiliates.
Our value can be tied to how well our process is, this is one of those instances where you'll want to start with link tracking in WordPress and eventually graduate to using GA, GTM, or even RedTrack or Voluum once you get into the hundreds of thousands of visitors per month range.
You don't want to leave this type of business to change. Maintaining your income will depend on it.
Like just about everything else in business, your ability to maintain or grow your business success will depend on how well your system is put together. If you don't understand your traffic, where they are coming from, or how to measure how many of them clicked on that article that might be ranking well and getting a ton of page visits but no conversions, you might be missing a huge opportunity.
As I've been afforded the opportunity to chat through Skype with Colin Dijs and frequent conversations with Greg Jeffries I'm reminded that they reached their level of success through doing more than is required.
They learn from multiple sources, they test different approaches, they find holes and plug them instead of leaving things to chance.
This alone might be the difference between pros and amateurs.
So this whole link tracking thing might actually be a lot more solid of an idea when you really look at it.
Use Pretty Links for link tracking in WordPress. Then move on to the more heavy duty solutions in GA>M. I'll probably start a trial or pay for RedHat.io to compare it to Voluum but for now I should be good with Pretty Links and GA/GTM as a link tracking software stack.
Like Meek said, there's levels to this sh*t and I'm hoping you can accept that as you get traction in the less spoken and understood data that drives real marketing decisions.
Here's to growth.