Affiliate marketing is a great way to monetize your web traffic and earn additional income. It's a versatile stream of revenue that you can leverage no matter what your industry or niche. In this comprehensive guide to affiliate marketing, we're going to show you exactly how to get started with affiliate marketing, grow your affiliate marketing business, and share some tips to take your affiliate marketing business to the next level.
You've probably heard people promote affiliate marketing by saying something like "earn money while you sleep." While that's a distinct possibility, we wouldn't be doing our job if we let you believe that affiliate marketing doesn't take work. Affiliate marketing is absolutely one of the best ways to generate passive (or nearly passive) income online, but it's not going to happen if you don't go about it the right way. Fortunately, this affiliate marketing guide includes everything you need to leverage affiliate marketing so you can start waking up to a bigger bank account morning after morning.
The Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Marketing: Beginner to Advanced:
- What Is Affiliate Marketing?
- How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
- Who Are the Players?
- How Do Affiliate Marketers Get Paid?
- Common Types of Affiliate Marketing Channels
- Benefits of Affiliate Marketing
- How to Get Started With Affiliate Marketing
- Tips to Level-Up Your Affiliate Marketing
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is the process of promoting and selling another company's products or services for a commission. It's a simple enough concept, but the process itself can involve a lot of moving pieces. At its core, though, affiliate marketing simply means that you sell someone else's stuff and earn money for it.
How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
We already mentioned that affiliate marketing is a simple concept, but there are a few moving pieces to understand. With affiliate marketing, there's a seller who creates an affiliate program and provides affiliate marketers with a unique link that the affiliates then use to promote the seller's products. The links are unique to each affiliate marketer so it's easy to track who made the sale.
When someone clicks the affiliate link, a cookie is stored on their browser. The cookie lets the seller know who sold the product and lets the affiliate earn a commission even if the person clicking the link decides not to buy right away. Cookies do have an expiration date, so in order to get credit for a sale, the consumer needs to make a purchase before the cookie expires.
For example, let's say that you've clicked on an affiliate link that has a 30-day cookie but decided not to buy the product. A few days later, you go back and end up completing a purchase. The affiliate marketer will get credit for your purchase because it happened within the 30-day window of the cookie being stored.
Who Are the Players?
There are three or four key players in affiliate marketing:
- Affiliates: the people who promote the product
- Sellers: the people who created or are selling the product
- Networks: networks managing the affiliates (optional)
- Consumers: end-users of the product
Let's look at each of these players a bit closer.
Affiliates, sometimes called publishers, can be individuals or businesses. More often than not, affiliates are content creators in the same niche of the product they're promoting. They promote products and services through content like social media posts, blogs, videos, and a number of other types of content. Affiliates can also use paid ads to bring in traffic, but there are typically rules around the keywords that affiliates can use for the products they're promoting, such as not using the brand name or trade names of the products.
Sellers are the creators of the products or services that affiliates promote. They're the ones who pay affiliate commissions for sales. Sellers can be individuals or companies—anyone willing and able to pay for affiliates for sales. Sometimes, as in the case of the Amazon Associates Program, the seller might not even be the creator of the product or service.
Many sellers opt to work with an affiliate network to manage their affiliate marketing programs. The network handles third-party checks and manages relationships between sellers and affiliates. Some of the top affiliate marketing networks are ShareASale, ClickBank, and Rakuten.
Consumers are the ones buying products and services through affiliate links.
How Do Affiliate Marketers Get Paid?
This is one of the more common questions we get about affiliate marketing. Generally, affiliates are paid when a consumer completes an action like a form submission, click, or sale.
Pay-per-sale is the most popular affiliate marketing model. In this payment model, affiliates get paid for each sale they generate.
In the pay-per-click affiliate marketing payment model, affiliates get paid for clicks generated, no matter whether or not a sale was complete. This model is pretty rare.
In the pay-per-lead model, affiliate marketers get paid for the leads they generate.
Common Types of Affiliate Marketing Channels
Affiliate marketers can bring in traffic and make sales in a number of ways. Of course, some affiliate marketing channels are more popular than others. Here are some of our favorite marketing channels to succeed with affiliate marketing.
Blogging helps affiliates rank in search engine results and can drive traffic to affiliate offers organically (aka "free"). Typically, bloggers will use reviews, tutorials, how-tos, and other educational content to promote the affiliate product. They then link to the seller's site using their unique affiliate link to get credit for the sale.
As you can probably imagine from a site named Influencer Marketing Hub, we're big fans of influencer marketing. Influencers are people who hold a lot of sway over the people in their sphere of influence, typically on social media platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. People follow influencers because they're interested in what the influencer has to say and are already primed to be open to trying whatever the influencer might promote.
Influencer marketing for affiliate sales can take many different forms like live videos, product reviews, account takeovers, and more.
Paid Search Microsites
Microsites are branded pages (or a single page) that are separate from your main website. These sites provide another avenue with which you can offer detailed information and a sales pitch for affiliate products. Since they're separate from your main website, you can offer a more targeted, relevant message that's free from the distractions that usually come with a traditional website.
Email marketing has been around for a long time, and for good reason. The ROI on email marketing is high. Like, really high. Depending on which study you read, numbers range from 3500%–4400% return. That means you have the potential to bring in $35–$44 of revenue for every $1 you invest in email marketing.
For affiliate marketers, your email list can be a great source of potential affiliate sales. While you don't want to sell, sell, sell with every single email you send, there's nothing wrong with sending a promotional email for every three value emails you send. You can add your affiliate links to your email newsletters and watch the affiliate sales roll in.
Coupon sites have become increasingly popular in affiliate marketing since eCommerce and online shopping have taken off. Posting your affiliate links on coupon sites can bring in lots of sales from the savvy shoppers out there.
Mass Media Sites
Mass media sites, or large media sites, are built to bring in tons of traffic. On these sites, you'll find reviews and comparisons of different products, many of which are affiliate products. These sites act as a depository of social proof for the products and services on them. They tend to promote products through banners and contextual affiliate links.
Benefits of Affiliate Marketing
Now that you know more about affiliate marketing, you may have noticed that it's not exactly something you just turn on and it works. Affiliate marketing takes effort to get going. You'll spend time creating content, attracting traffic to your landing pages or microsites, and promoting products on social media. The good news is that affiliate marketing offers up several benefits. Let's explore those benefits now.
(Nearly) Passive Income
Outside of content creation and promotion, affiliate marketing can make you money at any time of the day or night, making it a nearly passive income option. And you don't have to be actively participating in the transaction to make it happen. If you have a system set up to keep things running, you have the potential for a great return with very little ongoing effort.
Affiliate marketing gives you incredible flexibility to do what you want and still bring in revenue for your business. You don't have to create, produce, store, ship, or provide support for the product—you just sell it. That means you don't have set hours in which you need to be creating or promoting the product. You just choose products you like and that you think your audience will like, create the content to promote those products, and then do the actual promotion.
If you've ever wanted to start your own business, especially one selling physical products, you know that it costs money to get started. Sometimes a lot of money. With affiliate marketing, you'll have a low-cost way to start your own business. As the affiliate marketer, you only need to think of the time you're investing to create content and promote.
Continuing on from the previous benefit of affiliate marketing, affiliate marketing is also low risk. As an affiliate, you don't have to put in money to create, product, or store products. Your only job is marketing and promoting the products to your followers and paid traffic (if you choose to go that route). Even if you decide to promote affiliate products via blogging, you're not going to be dropping a ton of money on something that you'll be out should it not work out. There are tons of affiliate products and services you can promote. If one is a dud, just move onto the next one.
No Customer Support
As an affiliate marketer, you don't have to worry about customer support for the products and services you sell. This is a great relief to many affiliate marketers who want the freedom to start their own business without thinking about how to deal with actual customers. The only thing we'd like to stress here is that the products you promote to your followers should be quality products or services that you would actually use. If you push bad products on your audience just to make a quick buck, they're going to stop trusting you. So, be choosy with the affiliate products and services you promote.
How to Get Started With Affiliate Marketing
A quick Google search of "affiliate marketing" brings up about 678 million hits. Even if you narrow that down to "how to get started with affiliate marketing," you're still going to find 88.5 million results. That's a lot of content to wade through, especially since most of it is outdated, and a lot of what isn't outdated starts in the middle of the process. We're going to start this affiliate marketing how-to from the beginning so you can get started even if you don't already know what a "cookie lifetime" is or why it's important (don't worry, we'll tell you). Let's dive in!
Step 1. Find a Niche
The very first step to getting started with affiliate marketing is to choose a niche (or "vertical" if you want to sound super knowledgeable). This niche is what you're going to "stock your store" with. And we're not going for a general store vibe here. As an affiliate marketer, you want to be known for something.
This doesn't mean that you only promote a single product or service, like golf balls. Instead, it means that you might become an affiliate for the broader golf niche. Within that niche, you could promote:
- Golf equipment like bags, clubs, and clothes
- Online learning and books
- Golf courses themselves, promoting memberships and day passes
- Professional golfing stuff like tournaments, golf history, memorabilia
You get the idea, right? Here are some of the verticals you might choose to explore:
- Hobbies like photography, travel, sports betting
- Financial products such as debt settlement, investing, credit cards
- Wellness topics like yoga, nutrition, organic products
- Lifestyle products like fashion, luxury items, online dating
- Home and family topics including home security, baby products, gardening
- Techy things like SaaS, web hosting, VPN
- Alternative products such as CBD, essential oils, personal development
What are you passionate about? What do you, yourself, buy? That's a great place to start!
Step 2. Choose a Channel
After you've chosen your niche, you'll want to choose at least one platform or channel you're going to use for affiliate marketing. As we already mentioned, blogging is probably the easiest and cheapest way to get started with affiliate marketing and can work for affiliates who want to write product reviews and comparisons to promote their chosen affiliate products.
YouTube is another great platform for affiliate marketing. Plus, it's free to start a YouTube channel and upload videos. The downside is that there are tons of other videos and creators on YouTube, so it can be hard to get attention to your products. Plus, it's probably going to take a lot more time to create and upload a great video than it does to just write a blog post. YouTube is definitely something to consider if you want to be on camera, talking to people. And, if you already have a following on YouTube, by all means, leverage it for successful affiliate marketing.
Instagram is another place where you'll find a lot of affiliate marketing action. It's a very active platform and, like YouTube, if you already have a following on the platform it's an absolutely brilliant option. You can create visually appealing images and videos to promote your affiliate products and like other platforms, can even pay for ads if you want.
No matter what platform you choose, you'll want to make it clear when you're sharing a promotion. We recommend including affiliate link disclaimers with all of your links. So, on your blog, you'd link your affiliate product and then add "affiliate link" in parentheses. On YouTube, include your affiliate link disclaimer in your video description. For Instagram, using #ad or #sponsored is a great option.
Step 3. Choose the Products You Want to Promote
Now that you've chosen a niche and know where you want to promote your affiliate products, it's time to choose the affiliate products you want to promote. Choose products with your target audience in mind and make sure that you're offering high-quality products that they will actually get a benefit from using. To know that you're on the right track, ask yourself if the products you're considering will improve the lives of the people you're promoting them to. Is it something that you'd buy or would tell your grandma to buy? If the product or service passes those two tests, you'll want to make sure that it provides you a real chance to make money from promoting it. What do conversions and payouts look like for the product?
If nothing is coming to mind, or you just want to see what's out there, you can head over to your favorite search engine and search for "your niche affiliate" and go from there. Or...
Step 4. Join an Affiliate Network or Affiliate Program
If you have a website and are already creating content, you're ahead of the game. You can use your site analytics to hone in on who your audience is so you can then find products that match them while also giving you the payout you want. Joining an affiliate network or affiliate program gives you access to brands that are looking for affiliates as well as tools you can use to find the right options. Some of the top affiliate networks include:
- Amazon Associates
- CJ Affiliate
- Rakuten Marketing
Affiliate networks will give you access to hundreds, if not thousands, of affiliate programs to join.
How to Choose the Best Affiliate Programs?
There's a lot that goes into choosing the best affiliate program for you. Here are some of the more important factors to consider when choosing the best affiliate programs for you and your audience.
Commission Type & Amount
If you want to earn money with affiliate marketing, and we'd bet that you do, the commission type and amount you can earn is probably the most important factor for you. There are generally two types of commission structures: flat and recurring. The flat model is more common for physical products and involves a single, one-time flat payment per sale. In the recurring model, the model more popular with subscription products, you get commissions each time the customer renews.
It's important to find out about the brand's refund policy, too. Refunds are an inevitable part of shopping. But what happens if someone buys through your affiliate link and then wants a refund? It's important to know if you're going to be charged back for refunds.
And here we are, back to the cookie lifetime that we mentioned earlier. When we talk about cookies on the internet, we're referring to text files that contain small bits of data. These cookies are used to identify your computer as you use a network. When you're considering affiliate marketing programs, you'll want to know how long the cookie will stay on the shopper's device. This is important because longer cookie lifetimes mean that you have a larger window of opportunity for a shopper to come back and make a purchase that will be attributed to you (so you get the commission).
So, if someone uses your affiliate link and the cookie lasts a day, the shopper would need to complete a purchase within 24-hours of accessing your affiliate link. If the cookie has a 30-day expiration, the shopper could make a purchase two weeks after first accessing your affiliate link and the purchase would still get credited to you. The longer the cookie, the better for you.
Your audience is vital to your success in most things. And that's definitely the case for affiliate marketing. Choose products that are relevant to your audience. Finding products that are relevant to your audience and have high payouts is even better. But don't choose a product that's not right for your audience just because it has a high payout. You'll not only damage the trust your audience has in you, but you likely won't be making any sales.
How will you get paid? Make sure you understand how often the affiliate program pays out, where you'll receive the money, and in what currency they pay. If you're selling products with a recurring commission model, when do those payments get applied? Is there a specific threshold you have to meet in order to get paid (like, payouts only happen when there's at least $50 in commissions)?
Creative/Promotional Assets and Conversion Rates
Much of the time, brands will offer creative assets like banners, graphics, and coupons you can use to promote their products. These can be incredibly helpful resources to use. Other brands might just give you a text link. Check out the resources that the brand provides. While just getting a link to promote might not be a deal-breaker, having to create these resources yourself, from scratch, needs to be factored into your costs.
It's also important to check out what's on the other end of the affiliate link. Is it a boring landing page filled with grammatical errors? A brilliantly designed video sales page? A landing page that looks like a box of "SALE!" stickers exploded all over it? The design of the page on the other end of the affiliate link can make a huge difference when it comes to your commissions. If the page isn't built for conversions, it's not likely to get many.
Another important thing to look at when choosing affiliate programs is competition. How many people are already selling the product? If the market seems overly saturated and the brand doesn't seem large enough to support the drive for so many sales, you're probably better off picking another option.
Step 5. Create High-Quality Content
Okay. You've chosen a vertical and a platform, identified products that you want to promote, and have even joined an affiliate network. You're ready to go! But now what? It's time for content creation.
The delivery of the content you create will vary depending on the platform or platforms you've chosen to use to promote your affiliate products, but there are a few types of content that you can depend on:
- Product Reviews: These are a staple in affiliate marketing and one of the easiest ways to get started. You can do your review as an article or a video, depending on the affiliate marketing channel you're using. In your product review, share what you love and don't love about the product (honesty is vital to keep your audience trusting you).
- Case Studies: These take the product reviews a step further. With case studies, you get to share a success story behind the product you're promoting. It's basically a "show" instead of "tell" type of promotion.
- Tutorials: How-to articles and videos are great for letting your audience know how you use an affiliate product or how you did something cool with it. Tutorials are actionable content and set your audience up for success.
- Product Comparisons: In a product comparison, you'd compare your affiliate product with another product designed to do the same thing and then share your honest opinion. It's quite possible that the affiliate product won't be the best in some use cases even if it is overall the best product. Being honest just lets your audience know they can trust you.
- A Resource Page: These aren't usually big drivers of sales, but they can be a way to get some additional income from affiliate marketing. Plus, it's super easy to create a page that has all of the products you recommend and affiliate links for those products, so why not just do it?
Step 6. Generate Traffic and Build an Audience
Once you've created some content, you're ready to start generating traffic and building an audience that will come click your affiliate links. There are three specific strategies we recommend.
Build an Email List
We've already told you about email marketing's ROI so it should come as no surprise that we recommend you build an email list. Unlike your list of social media followers, you own your email marketing list. So, if your social network decides to stop letting people use it for promotion, you'll still have access to your email list and can use that whenever you want.
The fastest way to grow your email list is by offering a lead magnet (something users get in exchange for giving you their email address). This might be a checklist, a free course, or any number of things that your audience finds useful and valuable. Once you have their info, you can send subscribers valuable content along with promotional emails. To get the most from your email marketing, you'll probably want to check out our picks for the top email marketing platforms that will make the entire process easy.
Search Engine Optimization
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is important for getting organic traffic to your site. The idea is pretty simple: you target specific keywords that your target audience is interested in, create content on those topics, and make sure your site is indexed by Google, Bing, and whichever other search engines you want.
Once you start bringing in money, you can reinvest some of it in paid traffic. You just create an ad (on a search engine or social media platform) and it draws people into your site. While it's not a guarantee that you'll get affiliate sales, it's still a great way to build traffic and potentially get your site ranked higher so it's found more often by the people who are interested in what you have to offer.
Tips to Level-Up Your Affiliate Marketing
Now you know all the basics to getting started with affiliate marketing (and some not-so-basics, too). What's next? You get started, of course! Here are some tips that will help you get started and level up your affiliate marketing efforts quickly.
1. Start With Product Reviews
Start by reviewing products and services in your vertical. This will build trust with your audience and establish you as an expert in your niche. Be sure to let your audience know why they would benefit from the products you're reviewing (or why they should stay away from them). Once you have some product reviews under your belt, add product comparisons into the mix.
2. Stay Up to Date
There's tons of competition online and in affiliate marketing. To be the best, you'll need to stay up on the trends, not only in your vertical but with marketing in general. If you're a master of social media, you don't want to be left behind when the next TikTok hits the scene.
3. Build Trust With Your Audience
We've said it quite a few times in this article: trust with your audience is paramount. Don't betray that trust by pushing products that they don't want or need. Instead, focus on products that you truly believe will benefit your audience. And never directly tell them to buy—you're recommending products based on your expert opinion. Be helpful and recommend quality to keep your audience coming back again and again.
4. Diversify Your Affiliate Products
You don't need to limit yourself in the affiliate products you promote. While you may have a particular seller that you love, it's fine to work with other sellers and promote other products, too. This also protects you as the affiliate since you won't be left high and dry if the seller you love decides to cut commissions, limit the ways you can reach out to your audience about products, or eliminates their affiliate program altogether.
5. Test and Optimize
Test and optimized everything. All the time. Become intimately familiar with your analytics and use those analytics to inform your marketing and promotion. In marketing, you never really know for sure how something is going to work until you do it. So, let things run for a little while to gather data and then start tweaking. Pay attention to what performs better and do more of that.
Get Started With Affiliate Marketing Today!
You now have everything you need to get started with affiliate marketing. You could even get up and running today, right now, if you wanted! Through the education, tips, and step-by-step process we've outlined here, we have no doubt that you'll be able to launch your career as an affiliate marketer in no time. So, what are you waiting for? Get started!
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing tactic in which a seller rewards individuals with a commission for each customer referred or product sold through the individual's promotional activities. Find products you want to sell and promote them using your affiliate link through a combination of channels like blogging, social media, and paid ads. Anybody! If you have a product or service to sell and the means to offer commissions to people to promote it for you, you can start your own affiliate marketing program. There are several tools that can help you spot trends (like BuzzSumo), but your best bet is to get to know your target audience. You can even ask them what products they’d like to see you review or talk about and go from there. Joining an affiliate marketing network is the easiest way to find products and companies to promote, but you can also search “your niche + affiliate” on search engines to find other ideas. You can promote affiliate products through product reviews, product comparisons, in your email newsletter, on your blog, through paid ads, and more.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
How do I earn money with affiliate marketing?
Who Can Be An Affiliate Marketing Program Seller?
How do I know what's popular?
How do I find products and companies to promote?
How do I promote affiliate products?
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing tactic in which a seller rewards individuals with a commission for each customer referred or product sold through the individual's promotional activities.
Find products you want to sell and promote them using your affiliate link through a combination of channels like blogging, social media, and paid ads.
Anybody! If you have a product or service to sell and the means to offer commissions to people to promote it for you, you can start your own affiliate marketing program.
There are several tools that can help you spot trends (like BuzzSumo), but your best bet is to get to know your target audience. You can even ask them what products they’d like to see you review or talk about and go from there.
Joining an affiliate marketing network is the easiest way to find products and companies to promote, but you can also search “your niche + affiliate” on search engines to find other ideas.
You can promote affiliate products through product reviews, product comparisons, in your email newsletter, on your blog, through paid ads, and more.