Affiliate Marketing for Beginners: Ultimate Guide
It seems ideal, doesn’t it? You set up a website, add a few affiliate links, and start earning the passive income you’ve always dreamed of.
Many bloggers are earning top dollar this way. For example, Ryan Robinson over at ryrob.com makes mid-five figures every month.
Blogging isn’t the only way of making money from affiliate marketing, though. Microsites, email lists, and video marketing are just a few methods people use to generate an online income.
Although not everyone is making six figures from affiliate marketing, there are tips and strategies you can use to improve your site and increase your income.
Ready to find out more? Let’s start with the basics—what it is and who uses it.
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is promoting other people’s products in return for a small commission for each sale. You’ve probably seen headings marked “affiliate link” or “sponsored post” on many of the websites you visit; or maybe you’ve already taken the first step and signed up for an affiliate network.
If you are new to affiliate marketing, let’s cover how it works.
First, you find an affiliate program or network that you are interested in. Look at the program overview, including the type of products or services, payment methods, and commissions they offer.
If it appeals to you, sign up and wait for confirmation of your acceptance. Then, start creating content, adding the custom links the program provides. Those links track when one of your users makes a purchase, and you’ll earn a small commission.
You can work with individual companies or affiliate networks, where you register and choose the programs that interest you. The programs are generally divided into categories to make selections easier. Once approved, start promoting your affiliate links on your website—in newsletters, on social media, and anywhere else you’re permitted to share links.
The network sends you a payment when you’ve reached the minimum payment level. Payment methods vary and usually include PayPal, bank transfers, and checks.
But there are a few key components of an affiliate marketing system. Let’s break them down.
Sometimes also known as the creator, the seller, the brand, the retailer, or the vendor, this is the party that creates the product. It can be a big company, like Dyson, which produces vacuum cleaners. From solo entrepreneurs to startups to massive Fortune 500 companies, anyone could be the merchant behind an affiliate marketing program.
The Affiliate Marketers
This party is sometimes also known as the publisher. Affiliates can also range from single individuals to entire companies.
An affiliate promotes one or multiple affiliate products and tries to attract and convince potential customers of the value of the merchant’s product so that they end up buying it.
This can be achieved by running a review blog of the merchant’s products. For example:
It could also be an entire site dedicated to finding cool products related to certain topics and promoting those affiliate products.
The customer or consumer makes the affiliate system go ’round. Without sales, there aren’t any commissions to hand out and no revenue to be shared.
The affiliate will try to market to the consumer on whatever channel they see fit, whether that’s a social network, digital billboards, or through a search engine using content marketing on a blog.
The Affiliate Network
Only some consider the network part of the affiliate marketing equation. However, I believe that an affiliate marketing guide needs to include networks, because, in many cases, a network works as an intermediary between the affiliate and the merchant.
The affiliate network then also serves as a database of lots of products, out of which the affiliate marketer can choose which to promote.
In the case of promoting consumer products, like tools, books, toys, and household items, the biggest affiliate network, by far, is Amazon.
Their Amazon Associates affiliate program lets you promote any item that is sold on their platform.
Anyone can sign up and then generate a custom affiliate link to Amazon products. If someone purchases through your link, you earn a small commission.
While most people start by taking the affiliate route and it definitely is the easier path to take, building enough traffic to make a meaningful income just from affiliate sales isn’t quick or easy.
How to Become an Affiliate Merchant
If you want to become an affiliate program merchant and then make money by having affiliates sell your product, here are the steps to follow. These are the best places to get started since they typically only require your time and little or no money.
Step 1: Coming Up with an Affiliate Product Idea
If you want to make money with an affiliate marketing business, you can’t be attached to your idea.
Instead, just look at what products and services are already out there. Consider how you can improve upon them, by delivering something that solves the problems with those products.
Another way to do research is to use a tool called Buzzsumo, which shows you what’s popular, based on social shares.
Even if you’re into building sandcastles, you can instantly see what content has been recently popular.
If you go on YouTube and search for ‘build a sandcastle,’ you’ll find thousands of results.
Apparently, people really want to know how to build cool sandcastles. So, what could you do?
Record a series of videos where you show people, step-by-step, how to build 5 very specific, epic sandcastles.
Or, you can do a write-up of all of the tools you need to build epic sandcastles.
You could even come up with some forms or stencils that people can use to make building epic sandcastles a whole lot easier.
The question is…will people pay for it?
Step 2: Validate Your Idea
In order to not end up doing a great series of sandcastle videos that no one wants to buy, you have to first validate your idea.
How do you do that?
Simple: You ask people to pay you for it.
How do you find these people? Easy.
Take the URL from one of the sandcastle posts on Buzzsumo and plug it into a tool like Keyhole.
They’ll give you a list of people who tweeted a link or about specific topics.
You can then directly tell them about your idea, by hitting the reply button…
Make sure to ask them whether or not they would buy your idea — not just if they like it.
Anyone will say that they like something just to be nice.
If they respond with a yes, you need to directly follow up with an ask to buy.
Saying they will spend money is not the same as spending it.
When people are interested in your product, give them a chance to buy. You can simply use PayPal and say you’re going to build it if you get a certain amount of orders.
Once you cross your threshold and make sure that people want it, you can start creating the product.
Step 3: Create the Product
There are a ton of steps to follow for creating a product and this isn’t an entrepreneurship guide, but I want to point you to some good starters.
- How To Create and Launch Your First Online Course
- How To Create & Sell Your Online Course The Right Way
- SPI 136: How to Build an Online Course that Sells with David Siteman Garland
- How to Publish a Stellar E-Book [9-Step Method]
- How to (Really) Make $1,000,000 Selling E-Books – Real-World Case Studies
- How to Start to Write an eBook and Actually Finish it in 30 Days
- Podcasting for Beginners: The Complete Guide to Getting Started With Podcasts
- How to Start a Podcast – Pat’s Complete Step-By-Step Podcasting Tutorial
- How To Podcast: The Ultimate Guide to Podcasting
These are good starting points. Creating digital products is a lot easier, since it just takes time and sometimes a little financial investment, but usually not more than a service fee or a one-time price for software.
Once you have the product created and delivered to your initial buyers, it’s time to open up the affiliate network.
Step 4: Finding Affiliate Program Partners
The tech part is the easy thing here.
With tools like Gumroad or Digital Product Delivery, you can easily set up affiliate program partners and allow them to collect commissions.
Another great affiliate marketing tool is Everflow. Not only does it help you recruit affiliates, but you can also use it to:
- optimize and structure your affiliate campaigns
- manage and track revenue and spend
- manage and track performance, and optimize campaigns immediately based on data
- automate your processes
- project manage your campaigns and assign tasks
After you select a platform comes the tough part: finding partners that have an audience that is interested in what you have to sell.
The more niche your product is, the easier it will be to pitch to fellow merchants, which offer classes on the subject:
You can simply send them an email, introduce yourself and your product and ask them if they want to partner on a sale together, where you’ll share revenue.
Pro tip: Affiliate commissions of 50 percent or higher are very common with digital products because you have no cost of replication. Don’t be greedy here, split the pot evenly and everyone wins.
Googling “toy review blog” also gives plenty of results, where people write toy reviews.
What’s more, lots of YouTube channels review specific categories of toys. If you find one that reviews kids’ toys, they’d probably also be a good fit for your affiliate product.
Just try finding one person to partner up with and start your first affiliate promotion. You can adjust commissions and details later, the important part is to get started. Or if you need help, you can always work with an affiliate marketing agency that can help you kick-start things.
However, you could also start the journey on the other side of the fence and just become an affiliate yourself.
4 Steps to Become an Online Affiliate Marketer
Similarly to becoming a merchant, there are also four steps to start your journey as an affiliate marketer.
First, you need to start reviewing products in your niche. That can be done on a YouTube channel, on a blog, or even just using live streams.
Step 1: Review Products in Your Niche
It’s easier to get started as an affiliate because you’re skipping the ‘have an idea’ and ‘creating an idea’ parts of becoming a merchant.
You already use and like plenty of products, so all you have to do to get started is to publicly talk about them.
Whatever you’re reviewing, make sure you are honest and even-handed.
If your reviews aren’t genuinely helpful, people will sense immediately that you’re just trying to make a quick buck.
Note: This is a little different for consumer products than it is for online courses or books created by individuals. If you’ve known a person for a long time and trust them and know their work is great, then that’s a different thing.
When you write reviews on your blog, you can use an affiliate link to link to the products you promote.
You can recognize them on other blogs by the long “/ref…” tail, at the end of the regular link.
This is usually the first step to start making commissions.
Simply sign up to Amazon Associates and you can then proceed to get your own affiliate link to any product on Amazon.
Just go to the product page and click on “Share affiliate link.” You’ll get a link that’ll give you a commission if people purchase through it.
However, if you only rely on people using the affiliate links in your reviews, you need lots of traffic to start making serious money.
If you can contact your audience directly, you can market to them whenever you like, not just when they come to your website.
This is where step two comes in.
Step 2: Build an Email List of Your Prospects
Second, you have to collect emails, so you can connect with your audience at any time you want and don’t have to hope for them to see your content.
Email is still one of the best marketing channels today, so don’t miss out on it.
I’ll show you a few super easy ways to collect email addresses from your website visitors.
Since you’re collecting email addresses around a very specific topic, such as finding the best straightening iron, juice maker, mini-oven, etc., you don’t need a lot of them to make the email list worth your time.
Even with less than 500 people on your list, you can create significant sales.
Just make sure to keep your audience engaged, by sending them regular updates, ideally once a week.
Don’t make it all sales. Just let them know when you have a new review up.
Every now and then, send them a specific call to action to buy a product. Perhaps you just found a new favorite in the latest review and think it’s really great.
You can update your audience on your change of mind, the reasons why, and recommend that they switch to that product also.
Step 4: Grow Your Business with PPC Advertising
Finally, once your affiliate marketing business starts making money, you can scale your growth with pay per click advertising.
Once your affiliate marketing business starts to pick up steam, you can start thinking about paid advertising.
I’m not going to show you how to do it here, since I published a guide on both Meta (formerly Facebook) Ads, as well as Google Ads, but remember: only do this once you have a way of making back your money.
Conversions are all that matters here.
You can use PPC advertising to:
- get people to sign up for your webinar
- grow your email list
- make more sales
You will win in three ways:
- They’ll be on your email list and you can contact them again at any time
- There’s a chance that they’ll attend your live webinar and buy the product
- You can put them on an autoresponder email sequence that encourages them to buy
So, with this strategy, you have several chances of getting your consumers to buy your product.
They have a chance to buy after the autoresponder series, on the webinar, and from future emails.
When your sales start coming in from that many sources and begin to grow, that’s when you can really blow up your business with paid advertising by just driving traffic to the sales mechanisms that already work.
That’s why I’ll walk you through the nine drivers to get started in the affiliate marketing industry.
The Top 9 Drivers of Affiliate Marketing in 2023
Aside from the traditional ways of promoting affiliate marketing links, there are distinctive new affiliate marketing trends in recent years. This next section looks at some of these trends and more traditional ways of promoting affiliate links.
1. Influencer Marketing
Influencers are some of the top faces of today’s affiliate marketing, thanks to social media and sites like YouTube.
Celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, and Selena Gomez are among the world’s top influencers. However, many ordinary people have become famous just because of their influencer status and ability to create engaging content and interact with their audience.
Photographer Murad Osmann, TikToker Addison Rae, and cleaning expert Mrs. Hinch are examples of top influencers who built their platform from the ground up.
While brands often pay influencers to promote products, it also makes sense for them to share affiliate links with their followers in return for commissions.
If you’re a business with a considerable or passionate audience, then consider influencer marketing.
For instance, you can share and promote your links on Instagram by:
- Tagging the brand when you’re promoting their product.
- Adding links to your bio.
- Using Instagram Stories and IGTV to talk about and promote products.
- Creating product comparisons and gift guides to educate your audience.
When you add links, make sure to include a strong call to action (CTA) to encourage visitors to click like Instagram influencer Ashley Spivey does.
One final tip: Choose products that make sense for your brand or niche and only share products you like. Your audience needs to trust you have their best interests in mind.
Affiliate marketing is often the go-to choice for bloggers wanting to monetize content.
Bloggers generally specialize in a specific niche and share products or services of interest with their audience. For instance, it could be customer management systems, health trackers, or credit cards.
This type of affiliate program works well with niche businesses, and the further you can niche down, the better.
One example is Spencer Haws of Niche Pursuits. Besides his main site, he owns several profitable niche sites. You can see how Haws adds affiliate marketing links in the image below:
To implement affiliate marketing on your blog, include links in blog posts, or add banners, video clips, even pop-ups. Social and email can also help you share your links.
However, only include links when they’re natural and don’t oversell. If you have a newsletter, share your links through special offers, gift lists, product comparisons.
Finally, concentrate on sharing links that are useful and offer value to your subscribers. Don’t just go for the sale—make sure you provide value first.
3. Referral Links
When you’ve signed up for an affiliate platform, you gain access to a personalized link, known as a referral link.
When visitors go to your blog, newsletter, or social media page click on the link and make a purchase, you earn a commission.
For instance, BigCommerce has its own high-paying affiliate program, which pays $1,500 for every enterprise referral.
Businesses regularly sending out newsletters or writing blogs/reviews usually find this strategy a good fit. However, you can also use referral links in:
- Resource pages
- Some forums
- Banners and video content
- Blog posts
However you use referral links, make sure your content is useful and your links are contextual and visible.
If you send out content to new subscribers, focus on building customer relationships and trust before adding your links. With social media, it’s not good form to share affiliate links directly, but do share links to your published content with affiliate links.
One final tip, don’t forget the usual standards for creating good content, such as using keywords, including CTAs, and creating clickable titles.
Microsites, or mini-sites, are separate from a main website and are often used to target specific audiences. Brands may use them alongside other marketing efforts, like blogging or social media.
A microsite’s format varies from single pages to promote specific products or services to a collection of pages. It may have its own domain or be a sub-domain of the main site.
Typically, brands use microsites to highlight something specific. This could be:
- Individual events
- Content/branded content
However, it’s not just brands using microsites. Regular affiliates create them, too. Here is an example.
As you’ve likely guessed from its name, ShaverGuru.com creates content about shavers and includes extensive reviews to help buyers find the right razor.
Whether a microsite is appropriate for your purpose depends on a variety of factors, such as:
- The role in your customer journey.
- If you need to keep the site up long-term.
- If you’re testing campaigns or keywords.
- You’re an affiliate targeting a specific niche.
To improve your chances of success with microsites, ensure you:
- Write detailed, media-rich content.
- Highlight features and benefits so visitors can read content at a glance.
- Include a mix of content to suit visitors’ preferences—for example, video content.
- Add reviews of products you’ve tried and tested—and be honest.
- Use a combination of products from different affiliate programs for a more comprehensive mix.
- Have a range of products at different price points.
One last piece of advice: Take a tip from ShaverGuru by including a “Check Price On Amazon” hyperlink, taking visitors directly to your affiliate products.
5. Social Media Sites
Affiliate marketers can advertise on Facebook and other social media sites, but you must check that your ads comply with the guidelines on each channel.
Sharing your affiliate marketing links on Facebook or similar sites could be ideal for affiliates with a large following or a very niche product.
Some ways of sharing your links include:
- Facebook ads
- Personal pages
- Promotional posts
6. Email Lists
Email lists are another popular way to share affiliate links with your audience.
Marketers set up email lists of their registered users through services like Mailchimp, AWeber, or a similar service. Usually, they give some incentive for signing up, like a free training session, templates, or an eBook.
The newsletters often include affiliate links, allowing the marketer to make money when a subscriber clicks on a link and makes a purchase.
Marketers with an existing email list and engaged subscribers can benefit from this type of affiliate link promotion, no matter what niche they are in.
This method is suitable when you already have a list or share valuable content with your audience, such as training and tips. Time-limited and exclusive offers from affiliate programs are effective, too.
For example, Digitalmarketer.com uses this strategy, promoting both its own and affiliate marketing products.
People don’t just like video content. They love it. Just look at YouTube and its more than 2 billion active users.
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are perfect for sharing video content, too.
Video content is easily consumable for busy people and perfect for showing people how they can use a product, how it benefits them, and highlighting the pros and cons.
The usual best practice is adding affiliate products, pinning them underneath the video on YouTube, adding them to your bio, and being active on your community page, like the gaming product channel Worth a Buy?
Live videos or webinars excite audiences just as much.
They’re an increasingly popular option to generate leads as the telecommuting trend continues. Think about the topics you provide value in for your audience and partner with your sales team to turn leads into sales. Once you know your focus, you can get to planning.
Figma used their Config 2022 conference to share the launch of 15 new features within the software and even posted the content on YouTube for those who couldn’t attend in real time. This level of accessibility shows your audience you care and gives them the opportunity to learn about all you have to offer.
A live video or webinar is a great way to collaborate with brands. Meta invited those in creator marketing to a website centered around branded content ads. It was all about putting out branded content ads that convert shoppers.
The webinar teaches marketers how to leverage branded content ads using influencers. This helps brands on various social media platforms to partner with influencers and spread brand awareness using ads. That’s a win-win partnership turning content into commerce.
Consider using these options to instill confidence in your consumers and if video demonstrations help illustrate your product’s benefits.
Coupons can be effective to grow sales, especially when you want to gain more first-time customers.
A recent Vericast study shows retailers can retain brand loyalty and win new customers with coupons. Putting coupons in your newsletters or giving an influencer a custom coupon code to interact with their audience can gain you loyal shoppers.
This is also a great way to get in front of customers within your niche.
9. Product Reviews
Product reviews are quite common in affiliate marketing. It’s another way to partner with bloggers, influencers, user-generated content creators, and affiliate marketers for unbiased opinions about your product to boost sales.
Brands partner with retailers all the time to do this. Say your brand is in Sephora. You can require your affiliate to leave a review to help users with their purchasing decision.
Have them speak on the unique characteristics and their experience with the product to give the shopper a better idea of what to expect from your brand.
Affiliate Marketing Mistakes and Strategies to Avoid
Though many people are successful with affiliate marketing, there can be a dark side, too.
As with any other business that involves making money, affiliate marketing is the target of various types of fraud, like cookie stuffing or dropping. However, there are other practices to steer clear of, including:
- Creating poor quality content: Gone are the days when you can produce keyword-loaded content and dominate Google. Instead, write quality content and add value to each article.
- Using the “hard sell” approach: Concentrate on relationship-building rather than the direct sales approach. Once a customer trusts you, they’re more prone to buy what you recommend.
- Failing to check the legitimacy of products: That health product may sound impressive and pay high commissions, but does it actually do what it claims? Choose your products carefully and read reviews online.
- Misleading buyers: The lure of commissions can cause some affiliates to misrepresent the benefits of products. By making bold claims, you may get more click-throughs, but it’s unethical and could also be illegal.
As an affiliate marketer, your reputation is everything. If your audience doesn’t trust or believe you, you won’t earn any income. Focus on your audience first and foremost.
How to Track Affiliate Marketing Success
How can you tell if your marketing efforts are working? By tracking metrics.
Start with your affiliate programs dashboard and see what this tells you. Affiliates using ad programs like Google, Facebook, or Amazon can also use their dashboards to monitor stats for individual channels.
There are also affiliate marketing tools that help track performance, gather analytics, and provide competitor data.
Here are the key affiliate metrics to pay attention to:
- Ad spend
- Return on investment (ROI)
- Conversion rates
- Net monthly sales
- Overall revenue
These metrics will tell you how often people click on your links and how often they buy. Pay attention to what type of content is most effective at driving sales and create more of that type of content.
How to Pick the Right Affiliate Marketing Strategy for Your Business in 2023
Affiliate marketing is a viable monetization method for any business, but the success of your campaign relies on choosing the right strategy. Here’s how to pick the right affiliate marketing strategy for your business.
- Ensure the strategy works for your audience:
Do they hang out on social media? On forums? Do they search Google looking for answers? Know where your potential customers are and target them there.
- Understanding the kind of content your audience responds to:
What gets them clicking to find out more or sign up for a product?
- Which offers work best for your particular crowd?
Is it free gifts? Competitions? Discounts? The right offers can make or break your affiliate marketing campaigns.
- Use A/B testing:
Compare the results and plan an A/B test with data to refine your affiliate strategy.
- Understand your customers’ pain points:
Address those issues with detailed content and relevant products.
How do I find affiliate marketing partners?
Begin by looking at affiliate marketing networks in your niche. Compare the types of products, commissions, and payment methods.
Look at the tools and products you already use. Hosting companies and marketing tools often have affiliate programs.
Another way is to look for well-known sites in your niche and see if they have an affiliate program. Or just search for “affiliates + your niche” and go through the results.
How do I start affiliate marketing from scratch?
1. First up, decide on your platform. You don’t need to be a blog or newsletter, although some programs have restrictions.
2. Choose products to promote that are of interest to your audience.
3. Read the terms and conditions and apply for the affiliate program.
4. Add your links to blog posts, newsletters, long-form content, underneath your videos on YouTube and social media.
5. Finally, don’t forget to mention the link you’re sharing is for an affiliate product, and you’re receiving a commission.
What type of content is best for affiliate marketing?
Wherever you can, link affiliate products naturally. For instance, if you review pet products, add a direct link so your readers can click through and make a purchase.
Or send out a list of the best presents for pets in the run-up to holidays and share it in a newsletter or as a YouTube video review with your affiliate links underneath.
How do I get started in affiliate marketing as a beginner?
Start by identifying your niche so you can better target your customer base. From here, you can tap into an affiliate marketing program to partner with individuals who have an audience that can benefit from your brand and product. The content and platforms you choose to run your affiliate marketing campaigns will also assist in your success.
How much can a beginner make in affiliate marketing?
With affiliate marketing for beginners, commission rates vary, but most beginners make less than $10,000 annually. For example, with the Amazon Associates program, affiliates can make 1% to 10% commission per sale. What matters is how well you can point more traffic to the site and how your audience responds to your affiliate programs
What trends will be popular for affiliate marketing in 2023?
Affiliate marketing trends I expect to see in 2023:
- Artificial intelligence (AI) and automation will aid with optimization.
- There will be a high priority on video content.
- Podcasts will be instrumental in affiliate marketing strategies.
- Local link building will trend with emphasis on local SEO for conversions.
- Voice and virtual search, especially with mobile e-commerce, will be the standard.
Affiliate marketing is a straightforward way to monetize your content and build an online income.
As times change, affiliate marketing is evolving. Once blogging and email lists were the main ways to share affiliate links, but social media now means influencers are earning considerable income promoting affiliate products.
Whichever method you choose, make sure the products you share are relevant to your audience, and steer clear of any shady practices.
Do you use affiliate marketing? Which strategies work best for you?