Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways to make money online.
An amazing thing about affiliate marketing is that it allows you to monetize your content to generate passive income. Like a dream, affiliate marketing allows you to earn money while you sleep! (See what I did there? 😉)
This article will help you learn the basics and get started with affiliate marketing today!
What is affiliate marketing, you ask? In short, affiliate marketing allows you to get paid for marketing someone else’s products or services. Affiliates can use special links that allow sellers to track where their visitors come from, thus allowing sellers to pay affiliates a commission for new customers.
Many affiliates make thousands of dollars per month.
If you start poking around the web, you’ll even find success stories of affiliate marketers making hundreds of thousands of dollars per month! Yep… millions of dollars per year is a real possibility.
Hold on, though! Before you go buy that fancy car with the money you haven’t yet earned, do a quick reality check.
Your success with affiliate marketing is directly related to your audience size. To start earning those big bucks, you’re going to need to get a ton of traffic to your website. If you’re just starting out, it’s going to take a lot of time and hard work to get to that level. So be patient… and realistic!
Still interested? Ready for the challenge? Good! Let’s get started. 😊
The Basics of Becoming an Affiliate Marketer
For those anxious to get started, let’s get a quick overview of what it takes to do affiliate marketing.
How To Become an Affiliate Marketer
Want to become an affiliate marketer? Starting out is as easy as 1, 2, 3…
Sign up for affiliate programs.
Sign up for one or more affiliate programs you’re interested in. Once approved, you’ll be given your unique affiliate links and access to a dashboard that shows you details about all of your referrals and commissions.
Affiliate programs might also give you access to approved banners and marketing materials you can use to promote their products.
Carefully read through the affiliate program terms and conditions to make sure you’re following all of the rules!
Use your affiliate links.
Next, add your affiliate links in appropriate contexts throughout your website.
If your affiliate program allows it, you might even be able to share your affiliate links directly in social media posts, emails, newsletters, or possibly even in paid advertisements. But check their terms and conditions carefully to make sure this is allowed!
For example, most affiliate programs that allow paid advertising will have a list of keywords that absolutely cannot be used in your paid ad campaigns.
Disclose to your audience that you are using affiliate links.
Finally, add an affiliate disclosure before the content where you use your affiliate links. This is usually placed at the top of the page. It needs to be easily found, legible, and clear.
You do this to let your visitors know that you’re using affiliate links and that you may be compensated for recommending products to them.
…oh, and it’s required by law! 😲 Make sure to follow the FTC rules for affiliate disclosures, as well as any special disclosure rules that each affiliate program might require.
If you’re using your affiliate links in social media posts, be sure to check out the FTC’s disclosure rules for social media influencers.
Congratulations! At this point, you’ve become an affiliate marketer! 😊
Although the process of becoming an affiliate marketer is pretty simple and straightforward, I’m sure you still have lots of questions and probably want some help finding affiliate programs.
No worries… that’s what the rest of this article is for!
How Affiliate Marketing Works
There are three primary parties required to make affiliate marketing work: the seller, the affiliate, and the consumers.
How Sellers, Affiliates, and Consumers Work Together
Sellers can create an affiliate program for their business as a complementary effort to their other marketing campaigns. This is a great way for sellers to quickly create large, independent marketing teams that can generate new content and buzz around their brands.
When you sign up as an affiliate for a seller’s affiliate program, the seller agrees to pay you whenever you send a consumer to them and that consumer goes on to purchase a product or service.
Once you sign up for an affiliate program, the seller gives you a unique affiliate link that contains your affiliate account ID.
PRO TIP: The seller may also give you a special referral code you can share, in case you want to recommend their products to your contacts over the phone or in person. These types of programs are sometimes called “referral programs” and might be offered instead of or in addition to a regular affiliate program.
Then, you strategically place your special affiliate links throughout your content on your website. You can even simply swap out your existing product links with your new corresponding affiliate links.
How You Get Paid
When one of your consumers uses one of your affiliate links and goes on to make a purchase on the seller’s site, the seller uses the affiliate ID embedded in the special affiliate link to credit the sale to your account and pay you an appropriate commission.
Usually, the compensation for a qualifying action is a one-time flat fee or percentage of sales.
However, some affiliate programs are very generous and pay you recurring commissions for all of the customer’s future purchases, monthly subscriptions, and upgrades… sometimes even for the life of the customer!
As you can imagine, these types of affiliate programs can be very lucrative.
Win! Win! Win!
There is no charge to the consumer for this arrangement. In fact, in order to incentivize affiliates, many sellers offer special discounts that affiliates can share with their consumers.
It’s a win-win-win situation:
Confusing Affiliate Marketing Terms
When you’re researching affiliate marketing, sometimes the names can be a little confusing. In the affiliate marketing world, sellers may also be called by other names, such as advertisers or merchants.
Likewise, affiliates might be referred to as publishers or partners.
Here’s a breakdown of affiliate marketing aliases that should help clear things up.
|Common Names for Sellers||Common Names for Affiliates|
Therefore, when you’re browsing around looking for affiliate programs to join or trying to figure out which type of account to create in an affiliate network, be on the lookout for variations of those terms. For example, an “affiliate account” for one company might mean the same thing as a “publisher program” at another company.
Tools to Help You Manage Affiliate Links
If you’re signing up for lots of affiliate programs, you’ll quickly discover that managing your affiliate links can become a big headache. And even if you only use one affiliate program, you’ll want to be able to track how often your links are clicked and on which pages your links are getting clicked.
You should seriously consider using a powerful link-tracking and cloaking tool like LinkTrackr. Or, if you live in the WordPress world, check out affiliate link managers like ThirstyAffiliates or Pretty Links.
Here are some powerful features that affiliate link managers can offer:
How to Find Affiliate Programs to Join
So, now that you know the basics of how affiliate marketing works and what you need to do to sign up for accounts and use your affiliate links, let’s discuss how you actually go about finding affiliate programs to join.
First of all, there are two primary ways to find and sign up for affiliate programs:
If you already know the brand, company, or product you want to market, you can try going directly to their website and then look to see if they offer an affiliate program.
Often, you can find an “Affiliates” link or an “Affiliate Program” link in their website footer. Other times, the location is not as obvious and you might have to resort to a Google search to see if the company offers an affiliate program.
Once you find their affiliate program, you’ll discover how they go about running their program.
Companies usually go with one of three common approaches to offer an affiliate program: create their own custom affiliate program, use a pre-built service, or use an affiliate network.
However, you’ll find that some companies choose to create and run multiple affiliate programs, sometimes with competing commission structures. If this is the case, make sure to research each and choose the one that works best for you.
Let’s dig into each approach.
Custom Affiliate Programs
Some companies that you want to become an affiliate for might have chosen the difficult path of creating and managing their own custom affiliate program.
This means they will likely also manage your affiliate account, affiliate links, click tracking, sales tracking, commission calculations, and affiliate payments to you.
For these types of affiliate programs, you might even be able to sign up for and access their program using your existing consumer account on that company’s website.
For each such affiliate program you sign up for, be prepared to set up your new account. You’ll need to provide your PayPal email address where you would like to be paid or your bank details for direct payments.
And they might even ask you to fill out and submit a W-9 form (or W-8 for foreign individuals) in case they need to report your income to the government and send you a tax form at the end of each year for the commissions they paid you.
Pre-Built Affiliate Program Tools & Services
Rather than deal with all of the complexities of running their own affiliate program, some companies choose to use a pre-built affiliate program software tool or service.
Depending on the exact service they use, companies might be able to embed a branded affiliate program directly into their company website, making it look like their own service.
Otherwise, the company will likely simply redirect you to a branded affiliate program service hosted on another platform.
Some very common pre-built affiliate program services that you can expect to find being used include:
These services can take care of many aspects of running an affiliate program for a company, and some can even power entire affiliate network platforms. Each software has its own interface, features, advantages, and disadvantages.
From your perspective as an affiliate, the process is pretty much the same as for custom programs.
Unfortunately, you’ll likely need to create a fresh new account for each new affiliate program that uses one of these affiliate services, even though you might already have an account with another affiliate program that is run by the same service.
The last (and most popular) type of affiliate program approach is to use an affiliate network.
Affiliate networks are 3rd-party services that offer all-in-one solutions for managing a company’s affiliate program.
PRO TIP: Affiliate networks are sometimes also called CPA networks or performance marketing networks because they are built on the concept of performance-based advertising in which the advertiser only pays when a consumer completes a qualifying action, such as signing up for a newsletter or purchasing a product.
For affiliates, there are two HUGE advantages to affiliate networks over custom programs or the pre-built services listed above: affiliate marketplaces and single-sign-on accounts.
As their name implies, affiliate networks offer a network of affiliate programs to choose from. They offer these programs in their affiliate marketplace.
This means that once you sign up for an affiliate network as an affiliate, you’ll have access to hundreds or even thousands of affiliate programs that use the network.
And some networks are created with specific industries in mind, offering a curated list of affiliate programs catering to a particular industry.
Using an affiliate network as an affiliate, you can browse their marketplace and research programs that might fit your niche. Then, when you find one you like, most affiliate networks allow you to easily apply for the affiliate program with a click of a button.
And it works the other way around, too! Many of these networks allow advertisers to research and contact affiliates they think would be a good match for their program.
On top of that, affiliate networks act as single-sign-on platforms that aggregate data across all of your affiliate programs in the network. That means you’ll be able to see the performance of all of those programs at a glance and manage them all in one place!
As an affiliate marketer, this is huge!
It generally makes everything so much easier overall.
That said, there are quite a few affiliate networks out there. But there is nothing stopping you from joining multiple affiliate networks. 😊
In fact, there are several big players that you’ll want to check out. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages:
Popular Affiliate Programs
So what are some popular affiliate programs that you should consider?
Which affiliate programs you should sign up for depends on your specific niche and business strategy. Do you want to promote inexpensive products or premium services? Do you want to promote a single product or multiple products across thousands of brands?
To help you along your way, here are some programs you might want to check out, including high-paying affiliate programs and two-tier affiliate programs.
No article about affiliate marketing would be complete without mentioning Amazon Associates, which is one of the largest affiliate marketing programs in the world.
The Amazon Associates program allows you to market millions of products that are available on Amazon, earning up to 10% in commissions depending on the product.
eBay Partner Network
Did you know you can earn commissions by promoting any deal or auction on eBay? Yep!
There are several ways you can be compensated through the eBay Partner Network: commissions on the sale of goods, flat fees for the completion of forms, and bonuses based on the types of visitors you send to the platform.
High-Paying Affiliate Programs
If you’re looking to make some big bucks, you might want to consider these high-paying affiliate programs.
Depending on the exact plan the consumer signs up for, many of these programs can pay you over $100 per sale… and some might even pay over $1,000 per sale! 😲
And with some programs offering recurring commissions over the lifetime of the customer, it is possible to earn many thousands of dollars per customer!
Be aware, though, that although some of these programs might pay a lot per sale, it might be much harder to make a sale. In other words, the conversion rates might be significantly lower.
PRO TIP: Try to find programs that have both a high commission as well as a high conversion rate. Affiliate programs might publish an earnings-per-click (EPC) value that can help you estimate how much you can earn from your overall traffic.
Here is a sampling of some high-paying affiliate programs across a few industries:
Business / Marketing
Cloud / Hosting / Websites
E-Commerce / Dropshipping
Online Courses / Webinars
Two-Tier Affiliate Programs
As you’re researching affiliate programs, you might come across programs that offer “tier two” commissions. A two-tier affiliate program is a type of multi-tier program that allows you to earn a percentage of commissions from any affiliates that you sign up under your account.
Two-tier affiliate programs are also sometimes called “secondary tier”, “tier 2”, “multi-tier”, and “sub-affiliate” programs.
Your commission usually comes out of the affiliate program’s pockets, not from any affiliates you sign up under you. And many programs will continue to pay you a percentage of your sub-affiliates for the lifetime of their account!
These types of programs can be very lucrative for you if you happen to enlist a very active affiliate.
The process is the same as pretty much any other affiliate program: just have the affiliate use your link to go to the affiliate program when they sign up… like I hope you do for me below! (shameless plug! 😉)
Here are just a few two-tier affiliate programs to consider joining:
In a similar way, these affiliate networks allow you to make a percentage of what your sub-affiliates make:
Affiliate Marketing Tips & Tricks
As you can see, there are a lot of moving parts to affiliate marketing, so here are some tips and tricks to help you get started without a hitch.
PRO TIP: Most affiliate programs are free to join as an affiliate. At most, they might require an affiliate to sign up for a free account on their consumer platform. Be extra cautious if you find affiliate programs that require some sort of payment or a paid consumer account to join!
What to Expect When Applying for Affiliate Networks
Applying for an affiliate network is usually a little different than applying for a specific affiliate program.
First, you need to apply to the affiliate network and get approved.
You often cannot browse their marketplace and apply to programs until you are approved to their network. However, some networks (such as Impact and PartnerStack) bundle their network application with the first program you apply to in the network.
Some affiliate networks are very stringent, making it much harder to get approved.
Additionally, don’t be surprised if a network representative wants to chat with you over email, chat, or phone to ask you a few questions and see if you are a good fit.
If you happen to get declined for a network, don’t be surprised if they reply with a list of a few vague reasons that may or may not include the exact reason for your specific denial. 😢 Read over their reply and reread their network requirements and terms and conditions again. Then, assuming you can fix the problems they pointed out, research if you can reapply for the network at a later date.
After you are approved for the affiliate network, you’ll likely get immediate access to their dashboard and marketplace.
Make sure to set up your account and fill out all payment and tax information that they might require. Some programs require you to fill out tax forms and bank account info, and might even require know-your-customer (KYC) documentation. While other programs might only require a PayPal email address payments should be sent to.
Then, browse their marketplace to find individual programs you would like to apply to. Some marketplaces have a list of pre-approved programs that require that you simply click a button to join! 😊
What to Expect When Applying for Affiliate Programs
Before you apply for an affiliate program, make sure to read the terms and conditions. Even if you apply to affiliate programs through an affiliate network, many programs will have their own specific terms and conditions that you have to agree to.
Review the company’s affiliate overview page to make sure you understand the requirements, commission structure, and what will be required of you.
PRO TIP: Some affiliate programs require that your website meet certain monthly traffic thresholds and quality standards. If you know you don’t yet meet the qualifications, it probably makes sense to hold off applying until you do.
When you apply to an affiliate program, you’ll usually need to list all of the channels where you plan on promoting, including your website, social media, etc.
Once you apply for an affiliate program, one of two things will happen:
If your account needs manual approval, be prepared to wait a few days before you receive a response. Also, make sure your site is up and running without errors during that time!
PRO TIP: Wondering where your approval email is? Well, make sure to check your email spam folder or bulk message folder. Their response email might have been automatically marked as spam! It might help to whitelist their email address or make an email filter to ensure you don’t miss any future correspondence.
Similar to affiliate networks, some affiliate programs may want to first talk with you in person over email, phone, or through a chat program like Skype.
After being approved for an affiliate program, you’ll likely receive a welcome email, and then automated emails every few days, weeks, or months. These automated emails will likely tell you more about the merchant’s affiliate program or simply check in on how you’re doing to see if you need any help or guidance.
Make sure to look around the affiliate dashboard to become familiar with their tools, reporting system, and settings, and don’t forget to set up your account and payment info, and create customized affiliate links if allowed and you so desire.
Depending on the program, you might also be assigned a dedicated affiliate support manager who you can work with directly to help you set up your account and make the most of your marketing.
Affiliate Marketing Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is an advertising method that allows affiliates to earn commissions by promoting products and services from other companies. Unlike traditional paid advertising that pays per click or impression, affiliate marketing programs usually pay affiliates based on a consumer’s performance, such as completing a qualifying action like signing up for a newsletter or purchasing a product.
What is an affiliate network?
An affiliate network is a platform that provides affiliate-program services for a marketplace of businesses. Through the marketplace, affiliates can easily connect with merchants to advertise their brands and products. Affiliate networks provide dashboards and tools that show aggregated data across all of an affiliate’s approved merchants.
How much does it cost to do affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing itself is free. It is free to join affiliate programs and it is free to use your affiliate links in your website content, blog posts, and social media. However, most affiliate marketers incur costs for things like domain names, hosting, websites, themes, business tools, and advertising.
How can I start affiliate marketing with no money?
Affiliate marketing can indeed be done without paying a single cent… but it might be difficult to succeed. First, you need to build an audience on a free social media or blogging platform. Then, you should apply for an affiliate account for products or services that you want to promote. Affiliate programs are practically always free to join! Finally, use your affiliate links in your blog content or social media posts.
How much money can I make from affiliate marketing?
There is no limit to how much money you can make from affiliate marketing. The amount of money you can make from any given website page, blog post, or social media post is proportional to the amount of high-quality traffic your content receives. It is very common for beginner affiliates to make hundreds of dollars per month within the first year or two. Some success stories tell of affiliate marketers making over a million dollars from a new site after only a couple of years.
Is affiliate marketing a get-rich-quick scheme?
No, affiliate marketing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It is a bonafide marketing strategy that usually requires a lot of time and effort. As an affiliate, you can treat affiliate marketing as a full-time business or as a part-time hobby. The amount of money you make is directly related to the quality of your content, the amount of traffic you receive, and the conversion rate of the products and services you promote. If you already worked hard to build a large audience, it’s possible to quickly earn money through affiliate marketing by monetizing your audience through affiliate links.
How fast can you make money with affiliate marketing?
If you add affiliate links to an existing site that already has a lot of traffic, it is possible to make money doing affiliate marketing almost immediately. However, your success with affiliate marketing is highly related to how much high-quality traffic you receive. If you are starting from scratch, it will depend on how quickly you can build an audience for your new site or social media account.
What are some high-paying affiliate programs?
There are many high-paying affiliate programs across many industries and niches that pay over $100 per sale. Some programs can even pay you in the low thousands of dollars per sale! You can find many high-paying affiliate programs listed earlier in this article. A few of them include SE Ranking, Rocket.net, and EasyWebinar.
Is affiliate marketing risky?
No, affiliate marketing is not risky. Affiliate marketing is legal and an approved marketing strategy. It is also not risky financially, since you don’t have to invest a lot of money to get started. However, it does take a lot of work and time.
What does EPC mean in affiliate marketing?
EPC stands for Earnings Per Click and it refers to the average amount of money you can expect to earn for each click of an affiliate link. EPC can be a helpful way to compare the earning power for multiple affiliate programs because it takes into account the number of clicks, the conversion rate of those clicks, and the amount of revenue earned for each conversion.
Do I need a website to do affiliate marketing?
Although affiliate marketing through links on websites and blog posts is the most common method for affiliate marketing, it’s possible to do affiliate marketing without a website. For example, if you sign up for an affiliate program that allows it, you can market with affiliate links in emails, paid advertisements, or social media posts. Some programs also offer ways to submit offline referrals, such as in-person, phone, or traditional mail marketing.
Can I use affiliate links in paid advertisements?
Whether or not you can use affiliate links in paid advertisements depends on the terms of the affiliate program and/or affiliate network that you use. Some programs allow direct-to-merchant pay-per-click (PPC) ads, but others do not. Some allow PPC ads (without an affiliate link) that point to your website where you have affiliate links, provided that you do not use any keywords on their keyword restriction list.
Can I use affiliate links in social media posts?
Generally, yes, you can use affiliate links in social media posts, provided that the affiliate program allows it and you include an affiliate disclosure in each social media post. You should consult the affiliate terms and conditions for each program you want to use with social media. Some programs may require you to declare which social media accounts you plan on promoting through before you can use the links there.
What is the difference between an affiliate marketing program and a referral program?
Some companies use “affiliate program” and “referral program” interchangeably. However, other companies might have both types of programs, where the “referral program” may be intended for those who want to manually submit referrals or give a referral code to a client over the phone or in person. Some other common alternate names or similar programs include “partner programs” and “refer-a-friend programs.”
What is cookie tracking in affiliate marketing?
When a visitor clicks an affiliate link, the visitor is taken to the merchant’s website which then places a browser cookie on the visitor’s computer in order to track the visitor over multiple visits and to keep track of which affiliate should get commissions for any future purchases. Affiliate programs usually list how long the cookie will last until it expires. If a visitor makes a purchase after the cookie expiration date, the merchant is not required to attribute the sale to the affiliate.
Is affiliate marketing considered passive income?
Yes, affiliate marketing can be considered passive income if used in conjunction with static content, especially evergreen content. In other words, after the affiliate places affiliate links in website pages or blog posts, that content can lead to commissions over and over again, continually, without the affiliate doing anything else. However, if an affiliate primarily uses affiliate links in social media or direct-to-merchant paid advertisements, it is highly like that commissions will quickly dwindle as soon as the social media post gets stale or the paid advertisements stop.
What is an affiliate ID?
An affiliate ID is a unique identification number or tag that identifies an affiliate in an affiliate program. Affiliate IDs are often included in the query string parameters of affiliate links. This helps merchants identify the affiliate who deserves the commission for a customer’s purchase.
What is two-tier affiliate marketing?
Two-tier affiliate marketing is a type of affiliate marketing program that pays affiliates a percentage of the commissions that their sub-affiliates generate. Sub-affiliates are simply any affiliates that sign up for an affiliate program under the original affiliate. This type of program is also known as multi-tier, secondary-tier, tier-2, second-level, or sub-affiliate marketing. Examples of two-tier affiliate programs include EasyWebinar, Anyword, and Fiverr.
What is affiliate link cloaking?
Affiliate link cloaking is the practice of using a special, more user-friendly, trackable link in place of an affiliate link. When a user clicks a cloaked link, the user is redirected to the desired affiliate link URL. This is all done instantaneously and is usually completely invisible to the visitor using the link. Two examples of tools that help with this include LinkTrackr and ThirstyAffiliates. Affiliate link cloaking can also be useful to help keep affiliate links secure, preventing nefarious browser extensions or scripts from modifying the links on-the-fly and replacing affiliate IDs with their own affiliate IDs.
What is a deep link?
A deep link is a special type of affiliate link that points to a particular page deep on the merchant’s website. Deep linking is a feature that some affiliate programs offer to allow affiliates to direct their traffic to specific pages on the merchant’s site.
How is affiliate marketing different than traditional paid advertisements?
Affiliate marketing is similar to traditional paid advertising in some ways. But unlike with regular ads where you usually get paid per impression or ad click, with affiliate marketing you are usually paid when a consumer completes a qualifying action on the seller’s website, such as getting a quote, signing up for a free trial, or making a purchase. In addition, with affiliate marketing, there is a much stronger emphasis on placing affiliate links in content not directly controlled by the advertiser, such as inline in the context of a blog post.
What is performance-based marketing?
Performance-based marketing is a marketing technique used by affiliate programs to encourage affiliates to advertise their products and services in exchange for a fee when their consumers complete qualifying actions, such as signing up for a newsletter or making a purchase.
Is it possible to increase my commissions for an affiliate program I’m already part of?
Yes, it is possible to increase your commission rate after the fact. Some affiliate programs have a built-in performance-based tier system that will automatically pay you higher rates the more sales you bring in. Other programs might offer higher rates if you complete a training program. And others might not list any higher rates publicly, but they might be willing to give you a higher rate anyway if you ask them directly. Before you do this, though, make sure your account is in good standing and you are consistently bringing in lots of converting customers.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of this affiliate marketing guide and have the basic tools you need to get started as an affiliate.
Also, make sure not to miss our other article about additional ways you can make money from your website beyond affiliate marketing.