Dear blogger, solopreneur, and creative biz unicorns,
I am happy to present you with the *most* ultimate guide on affiliate marketing for beginners I’ve seen on this world wide web.
This guide is perfect for you if:
- You haven’t started a blog yet and want to know if you can monetize it with affiliate marketing
- You’re completely new to the world of making money online, and you want to know what affiliate marketing is all about and how you can use it
- You just launched your blog and want to use affiliate marketing as another income stream
- You’ve been at this blogging thing for a few years, but aren’t sure how this whole affiliate marketing thing works
If you fall into one of those categories, then this guide is perfect for you.
The guide is over 4,500 words long, so I’ll cut to the chase and present you with the table of contents below. You can click the different links in the table of contents to fly over to the section you want to read (I suggest you start from the beginning):
Table of Contents
1. What is Affiliate Marketing and How Does it Work?
2. How do You Find Affiliate Marketing Programs?
3. How do You Join Affiliate Marketing Programs?
4. How do You Promote Affiliate Products?
5. How do You Increase Your Affiliate Sales?
Even though the term sounds fancy, “affiliate marketing” is actually a pretty simple concept.
Affiliate marketing boils down to three basic steps:
- You recommend a company’s service or product
- People purchase the company’s service or product after your recommendation
- You earn a commission when people buy after your recommendation
You can also look at affiliate marketing as a cycle based on the steps above:
Here’s a graphic to illustrate that better:
Think of these major steps – Recommendation, Conversion, and Commission – as the actions that need to happen for your affiliate marketing efforts to be successful.
Another way to look at it is this:
If you’re missing one of these main actions, then your affiliate marketing efforts will not be successful.
You need to recommend a product or service.
You need to learn how to make a conversion on that recommendation (an action taken by the people you’re recommending this product or service to).
You need to earn a commission at the end.
These are the basics of affiliate marketing.
How do you become an affiliate marketer?
Let me explain.
See, people usually stumble into affiliate marketing.
They normally don’t start their blogs and online businesses with the intention of promoting an affiliate product.
This part often just happens organically.
There’s nothing wrong with starting your blog with the intention to promote products.
After all, there are a ton of tools, products, and services out there that are improving people’s lives and making them easier.
Because the last thing you want to do is come across as sales-y, I recommend affiliate marketing to be a method to generate income for you, instead of a title you wear.
If your sole intention is selling over providing value, then you’ll inevitably come across as sales-y.
Your goal should be centered around providing value to your audience first while having affiliate marketing as a means to that end.
Think of someone you know who is part of an multi-level marketing network (MLM). This is when a company builds their selling framework around having multiple teams and people selling their products for them.
While MLM and affiliate marketing is a bit different, there’s a common premise behind both: an individual is recommending and/or promoting a product on behalf of a company or network they’re part of.
I have someone on my Facebook friends list who is part of an MLM-based network.
She is constantly sending me progress photos of people who use her company’s products.
Here’s the thing: outside of being an acquaintance, I have no other relationship with her, yet she continues to promote her company’s products to me.
Even though I wasn’t interested from the start, the pushy attempts to get me to buy products discouraged me from looking into her company.
This is one of the dangers of going into affiliate marketing only to make a “quick buck.”
I don’t value using affiliate marketing this way and neither should you.
If that’s your intention behind reading this guide, then this guide isn’t for you.
But if you want to monetize your blog the right way without alienating your readership, but by building an amazing relationship with them (a method which always, always, always wins), then please read on!
If you are contemplating on starting a blog with the intention to use affiliate marketing, then kudos to you! You should find a way to monetize your blog and provide value for your audience at the same time.
In fact, you will make more business and sales by placing value, trust, and integrity to your audience above all else. With the right strategy in place, the sales inevitably follow.
So, in short:
Don’t become an affiliate marketer. Use affiliate marketing as a method to monetize the value you provide.
How do you make money with affiliate marketing?
Let’s go back to the affiliate marketing cycle. It looks like this, remember?
To understand how the money flows here, you need to understand the people who are involved.
There are three main people in this cycle. They are:
- You (the Publisher, or Affiliate)
- Advertiser (the Merchant)
- Customer (your Audience)
You become an affiliate for a merchant’s product. You recommend this product to your target audience. Your target audience buys this product from the merchant. Then, the merchant gives you a commission in exchange for the customer’s purchase.
Here’s a diagram that sums up this exchange:
Some key points to remember here:
- Your target audience buys from the merchant, not from you
- You are responsible for recommending the product
- The merchant pays you the commission
Pretty basic, right?
Let’s move on to the different payment structures you’ll find in affiliate marketing.
Ways of getting paid in affiliate marketing
- Commission: This is the most common way to get paid in affiliate marketing. A commission is a percentage of the price the customer paid when they made a purchase. Example: You earn 15% of the sale price every time a customer purchases a product through your affiliate link for Company A.
- Flat rate: The merchant pays you one fixed amount no matter the sale amount. Example: You earn $95 every time a customer purchases a product through your affiliate link, no matter if the sale is $30, $100, or $1000.
- Per action: Similar to flat rate, but usually per action involves a smaller amount, and isn’t dependent on making a sale. Example: You earn $2 every time a customer signs up for Company C’s email list through your affiliate link (notice the “action” here is the customer signing up to the company’s email list, not necessarily a sale).
- Credit: You earn credit you can only use in that particular company (like a dollar value amount). Example: You earn $20 worth of store credit every time a customer purchases a product from Company D through your affiliate link.
There’s some other ways you can get compensated as an affiliate, but those four are the main ones.
Sometimes, company has several methods in place for you get compensated, too. I know some programs that pay you per action and a commission upon sale.
It depends on the company or merchant you’re working with.
How do you get paid in affiliate marketing?
It really depends on the company or program you’re working with.
Some offer direct deposit.
Some like to send you a check.
Some give you an option.
If you’re working with a company that rewards you store credit as an affiliate compensation, then you’ll get a dollar value amount you can only use in that company’s store.
There’s not one set way to get paid in affiliate marketing because every program and company you work with is different.
When do you get paid in affiliate marketing?
Same as the answer above: it depends!
Some companies like to have a “hold” period even if someone does buy a product through your affiliate link.
For example, this period may be 60 days.
This is to confirm the customer stays on with the company, say, after a free trial period ends.
Usually, subscription-based products have longer hold periods because the merchant wants to ensure the customer stays on before they can compensate you.
How fast can you make money with affiliate marketing?
How much you make from affiliate marketing depends on a few different factors.
As any successful blogger who uses affiliate marketing will tell you – it isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme.
You need to be strategic, purposeful, and always provide value to your readers in affiliate marketing.
However, after studying hundreds of bloggers who use affiliate marketing, I’ve seen people start earning sales as early as when they hit 5,000 views per month for their blogs.
Think about it: the more eyeballs on your content, the better chance more people will click your affiliate links. It’s just math, eh?
This isn’t a definite number! You can make your first affiliate commissions before that and well after that. This is something I’ve just noticed after studying many blogs and online businesses.
The bloggers who started making affiliate sales at the 5,000-views-per-month mark were still strategic with their affiliate linking and weren’t just slapping the links around their site.
How much money can you make as an affiliate marketer?
The sky’s the limit, in all honesty, as long as you keep growing your blog and readership.
I’ve seen many income reports where affiliate marketing was a huge portion of the blogger’s income. I’ve seen many income reports where the opposite is true.
In the next section, I’ll show you how to find affiliate marketing programs to join (even if you’re a new blogger or haven’t even started your blog or online business yet).
Before I get into the different merchants you can work with as an affiliate, I want to mention the three main types of merchants you can expect to come across in affiliate marketing:
- Affiliate networks
Affiliate networks are companies that provide a way for merchants and affiliates to find each other. An affiliate network like ShareASale, for example, allows you, the affiliate, to search for and apply to hundreds (if not thousands) of merchants.
While the merchant will still be responsible for paying you, the merchant will do so through the affiliate network’s own dashboard.
That means you can partner with many merchants on the same affiliate network and you’ll see your earning for all of them on the same dashboard.
Individual companies can also have their own affiliate program without doing so through an affiliate network. LeadPages is a good example of this. LeadPages lets you apply to their program through their own website.
Lastly, you have affiliate programs you can find through individuals. When I say individuals, I mean smaller companies or blogs that are creating and selling their own products and services. You’ll see many bloggers have their own affiliate programs for their products.
Applying to be an affiliate for their programs usually requires you to have bought their course or product before you promote it to your own audience.
List of popular affiliate networks
Hint: If you haven’t started your blog yet or don’t have a website up and running, make sure you read the next section titled, “How do you join affiliate marketing programs?” This section show you how to make sure you get accepted into any affiliate marketing program you apply to.
Here’s a list of common affiliate networks you’ll find. Remember, networks are hosts to hundreds and even thousands of merchants.
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good place to start:
List of several companies that aren’t part of affiliate networks
Here’s a list of some companies that aren’t part of any affiliate network. You’ll notice that most web hosting sites aren’t part of a larger affiliate network, and neither are email service providers like Convertkit.
- SiteGround: is a web hosting company. It has one of the lowest upfront introductory offers along with top-notch quality service and high speeds.
- Bluehost: is a web hosting company that partners with a lot of affiliates.
- Host Gator: is a web hosting company. It has one of the lowest monthly deals among web hosting sites, although users have to pay upfront for 3 years to get this promo deal.
- Convertkit: an email service provider that was made with bloggers and solopreneurs in mind. Convertkit makes crafting individual forms, automations, and sequences really easy and it integrates with many services, too.
- Divi Theme (from Elegant Themes): the best WordPress drag-and-drop theme I’ve used to date. You can create free landing pages with Divi and use the same Divi license on unlimited websites.
- MiloTree: a pop-up you add to your site that helps you grow your Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube followers and email subscribers.
- Creative Market: a marketplace for all things online web design (including fonts, WordPress themes, graphics, and more)
- LeadPages: a paid landing page builder with built-in analytics.
- Deadline Funnel: a software that allows you to add personalized timers to your landing pages, emails, and forms. The personalized timer with Deadline Funnel makes evergreen sales funnels possible.
Lastly, individual small business owners who sell their own products or services online often have their own affiliate programs. These vary differently depending on the niche you’re in.
If you’re applying to an affiliate network or a company’s affiliate program, there’s a good chance you need to have your blog or website up and running to get accepted into the network or program.
This is because networks and programs want to verify that you:
- Have a site set up that can market their products
- Are taking affiliate marketing seriously
Most – around 80 percent of networks and programs – want to see your website up already. In fact, it’s part of the pre-approval process when you fill out your applications on line.
You should already generally know how you plan to promote your affiliate links, whether it’s through blog content, email marketing, banners, etc.
Here’s a checklist of what you should have before applying to affiliate networks or individual affiliate programs:
- A website for your blog
- A home page
- An about page
- At least 2-3 published blog posts
If you’re applying to be an affiliate for an individual’s product, most online entrepreneurs require that you have at least purchased their product and used it (and ideally had results from it).
The more results you had, the better you can market the product.
Through an affiliate network
Once you get accepted into an affiliate network, you can search for merchants in a tab that looks like this:
This is from ShareASale’s merchant search dashboard. Notice how they lay out different affiliate programs by category, making it easy for bloggers and online business owners to find a merchant that fits their niche.
Through an individual company
If you want to apply to be an affiliate for a product that an individual company sells, visit the company’s website.
Usually, you can scroll all the way to the bottom of the website and look for any link that says “Affiliates” or something similar.
If you can’t find it on the homepage, you can Google the company’s name along with the keyword “affiliate program” to see what the search results come back with.
Most companies have the affiliate application information in their footer tab, like this:
This screenshot is from MiloTree’s homepage. Notice the tab titled “Affiliate Program” all the way on the bottom right of the footer.
Through a product you purchased from an online business owner
If you purchased an information product (like an ebook or an online course), guidelines for affiliate applications are usually found at the end of these products, either in a “conclusion” module or a last chapter.
If you can’t find information for affiliate applications in the product, try emailing the blogger or business to see if they have an affiliate program.
How do you boost your chances of getting accepted into an affiliate network?
The best way you can increase your chances of getting accepted into affiliate networks and programs is by having a website set up already with a few critical pages (home page and about page) along with a few blog posts.
How many affiliate programs should I join?
When you’re starting out in affiliate marketing, stick to a few affiliate programs at first. These should be programs that you believe resonate best with your readership. Start out with 5-10 affiliate programs, then work your way up.
Most of your affiliate earnings will usually come from 5-10 affiliate products.
Some things to look out for in affiliate programs
Each affiliate network and program has different rules and regulations that they outline in their Terms of Service (ToS). Some have strict rules against PPC (paid advertising) marketing for their affiliate products, for example. Here are some general things you need to be aware of when you’re considering an affiliate program:
- Product Quality and Reputation: one of the most important qualities you should look out for. Ideally, you only promote the products you love and use. If you haven’t used the products, you at least know the product and its company have stellar track records and reputations.
- Cookie Length: a “cookie” is basically a piece of a code sent from a website to your computer’s browser. Cookies help websites store your progress on your site (like where you left off in the shopping process, for example), and improve the browsing experience overall. A cookie is also what tracks a reader’s browsing activity after he or she clicks on your affiliate link. “Cookie length” refers to how long the affiliate program associates the user with your link. For example, if I click on an affiliate link with a cookie length of 90 days, that means the affiliate will earn the commission from my purchase if I buy an affiliate product within those 90 days. The longer the cookie length, the better.
- Types of Merchants: every major affiliate network has its own merchants. Applying and joining several affiliate networks gives you a better idea if they have merchants selling products tailored to your audience’s needs. Apply to several affiliate networks and see which ones have the best merchants you want to work with for your niche.
- Potential Earnings: are generally hard to gauge when evaluating an affiliate program; however, you can look at the commission type and the overall lineup of products and how much they’re on sale for. Keep in mind higher-priced products aren’t always better because you can make a lot of affiliate income from a low-cost product that is in high demand.
- Terms of Service (ToS): Amazon Affiliates is an affiliate network that famously bans affiliate links in emails. Some programs also don’t allow you to use PPC (paid advertising) for affiliate products. Check to see if there are any terms of an affiliate program you feel will be a barrier to you promoting the product successfully (this will be different for everyone).
There are a few strategies you can use to promote affiliate products without sounding sales-y or grimey. Let’s first talk about how affiliate links work.
How does an affiliate link work?
We touched on cookies and cookie length in the last section of this guide.
When readers click on your affiliate link, they activate a cookie that tracks their browsing activity and ties them to your affiliate link. This is how affiliate programs are able to track your link clicks and sales. This piece of code stays consistent throughout the cookie length period after the reader clicks the link.
A question I get asked a lot is: What happens if the same reader clicks someone else’s affiliate link for the same product?
For example, let’s say two bloggers both use their own affiliate links for Convertkit in their blog posts. A reader browses on Blogger A’s post and clicks her Convertkit affiliate link. Then, the reader stumbles on another blog post from Blogger B and clicks on her Convertkit affiliate link, too. That means the cookie is reset for Blogger B – Convertkit will no longer be tracking the cookie for Blogger A anymore.
If the reader decides to purchase Convertkit at that point, then the commission will go to Blogger B.
This is why it’s important for you to build a relationship with your readers so they trust the information you provide and the affiliate products you promote; otherwise, your readers will be tempted to find better information on the product elsewhere.
Disclosure rules for affiliate links
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission), a governing body in the United States, is responsible for educating and protecting consumers.
It’s an FTC regulation that requires affiliate links to be properly disclosed to your audience. Not only is it a regulation, it’s a best practice, too. Think about it: Wouldn’t you be pretty annoyed if you purchased a product without knowing the person who promoted it would earn a commission?
From what I’ve seen, people don’t mind using your affiliate links. In fact, if they like you, trust you, and find value in what you say, they prefer to use your links.
But not disclosing affiliate links is pretty shady and you can get into trouble with the FTC if you don’t make it a habit to disclose your affiliate links and relationships.
Here are some best practices for staying FTC-friendly in your content:
- Create an “affiliate disclosure” statement for your blog and link to it in the footer section of all your webpages
- Write #afflink or #affiliatelink in your social media posts or Pinterest pins if you’re linking directly to an affiliate product
- Write “(affiliate link)” next to affiliate links in the body of your email
- Write an affiliate disclosure statement at the bottom of an email that has affiliate links
Promotion methods for affiliate links
There are a ton of ways to promote affiliate products (remember, this also depends on the Terms of Service of your affiliate program). Keep in mind you have to appropriately disclose your affiliate links in each type of content (look back to the last section on disclosure best practices).
Here are just a few ways you can promote your affiliate links:
- Blog Content: You can link to affiliate products throughout your blog post. It helps if your blog posts are detailed and explain the benefits of the product without coming across as pushy or sales-y. Try to avoid asking people to buy products directly; you can use words like “recommend” instead.
- Email Marketing: You can link to affiliate links in your emails to your readers, too. Don’t do this too often in your email marketing, though, because your readers will think you’re only trying to sell to them without offering value upfront.
- Social Media: Some people may follow you on one social media platform and not another. You can promote your affiliate links directly across the different social media platforms you’re using for your blogging business.
- PPC: You can link to affiliate links as part of an ad (like a Facebook ad or a promoted pin on Pinterest, for example). Some affiliate programs don’t want you to promote their links directly with PPC, so be sure to check the ToS (Terms of Service) before you use PPC.
Below are just three of my personal recommendations on boosting affiliate sales.
Build trust with your audience
When readers buy your product or a product you’re promoting, think of it this way: your readers are putting their entire trust in you and the product you have or the one you’re promoting.
Exchanging your money for a good or service = exchanging your trust.
If you look at currency as a way for someone to put his or her trust in you, then blogging and content marketing gets pretty easy.
How do you, then, build trust with your audience?
Here are some ways to build trust through your content in affiliate marketing:
- Promote quality affiliate products
- Create high-quality content that has value
- Give your full opinion on an affiliate product (even the negatives)
- Disclose your affiliate links
- Stay consistent with content creation
- Show how an affiliate product has gotten you results
Use deep linking
In affiliate marketing, “deep linking” refers to linking directly to a product.
I’ll give an example of deep linking.
Let’s say you’re an affiliate for Amazon Associates. You are a fashion blogger and want to promote a few clothing items from Amazon. You decide to link directly to the several pieces in your outfit that your readers can find on Amazon.
These are examples of deep linking – linking directly to products.
Why does deep linking boost your affiliate sales?
Because you’re reducing friction, so to speak.
You’re reducing the number of steps between where your buyer lands (the initial page) and the checkout page.
By removing extra steps – “friction,” or extra pages – between where your reader lands and where he buys, you increase the chances of the buyer adding that product to checkout and buying.
Deep linking doesn’t apply to every affiliate product or service, but if you can get a chance, use deep linking whenever possible.
Sort through the links your merchant has available for you as an affiliate and see which one optimizes for less “friction” and better deep linking.
Make your affiliate links visible
This one sounds really obvious, but you know what they say about common sense not being so common, right?
(Don’t worry, we’ve all been here before.)
A lot of people are on mobile nowadays.
Text on mobile is smaller, too, and that means your links are teeny tiny.
If your affiliate links are barely visible, that means they’re barely clickable, too.
So how do you make your affiliate links more visible?
Here’s a few things you can try:
- Consider changing the font size of your site for mobile
- Increase the link “width” by hyperlinking a bigger chunk of anchor text (the text that contains the link)
- Use facts or figures to draw the eye to the link (like percentages or other numbers)
- Use a strong call to action to draw the eye to the link (like “you can buy Product A at 30% off by clicking here”)
There are other methods and strategies to boost your affiliate sales, but these three are some of the most important ones for you to keep in mind and use.
Over To You
There you have it, dear unicorns. The essential gist you need to have on all things related to affiliate marketing for beginners.
Let me know in the comments below if there’s anything else you’d like to know on affiliate marketing that you need help with.
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