Affiliate marketing is by far one of the most popular ways to make money online. Beginners often gravitate towards affiliate marketing due to its perceived low barrier to entry.
For starters, one could theoretically start an affiliate marketing business with $0.
All you need is targeted traffic and/or an audience to make money.
I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true!
For this reason, I recommend affiliate marketing to anyone and everyone who is looking to make their first dollar online.
In this guide, I am going to take an in-depth look into the world of affiliate marketing and talk about some of the easiest ways for a total beginner to get started.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is when you get paid to promote other companies’ products or services.
In its most basic form affiliate marketing is:
- Sign up for an affiliate program
- Get your affiliate link(s)
- Promote your link(s)
- If someone buys a product from your link you get paid
You will often see the companies you are promoting referred to as “merchants”.
The products and services they sell are often referred to as “offers”.
As an affiliate, your job is to drive traffic to these offers.
When you become an affiliate for a merchant, they will provide you with a unique affiliate link(s) or the means to generate your own affiliate link(s).
Anytime somebody clicks on your affiliate link, a piece of code called a “cookie” is stored on their device.
This cookie allows the merchant to track affiliate sales and give credit to the proper affiliate.
If your cookie is on the customer’s device when they make a purchase, you will receive credit for the sale.
Many times these cookies also have an expiration date which is also known as the “cookie duration”.
How much and how often you get paid for a sale depends on the agreement you have in place with the merchant.
You may also find merchants that pay a fixed dollar amount for each sale generated.
Is Affiliate Marketing Worth It?
One of the most asked questions regarding starting up an affiliate marketing business is “is it worth it?”
I’m on record as saying that affiliate marketing is the best opportunity to make money online so yes I believe it is worth it to take this path.
Since you can start with no money, you don’t have anything to lose except for your time.
Name another way to make money online that requires zero upfront cost.
Below are some very compelling reasons to become an affiliate marketer:
Once you get your affiliate business off the ground, you can start generating passive income for yourself.
Unlike an agency business model, affiliate marketing doesn’t require you to deal with clients to get paid.
No cold emails, paid ads, or fulfillment is required.
No customer support
Unlike an e-commerce business model, starting an affiliate marketing business doesn’t require you to have to deal with customers.
That job falls in the lap of the companies that you are promoting for.
The only emails you are receiving in the middle of the night are the ones telling you that you have made a new commission.
Can start with little to no money
Anyone can start an affiliate marketing side hustle with zero dollars.
If you have access to a laptop or mobile phone you can start making money as an affiliate.
No inventory to hold
You never have to deal with investing upfront money in manufacturing or inventory.
Since you are promoting other people’s products, those costs belong to them.
Flexible work schedule
Affiliate marketing is super convenient in the respect that it is location-independent meaning you can work from anywhere.
Since you are paid based on performance you can choose your own hours.
How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing for Beginners
There are essentially only 3 steps to getting started with affiliate marketing:
- Choose a niche
- Find offers to promote
- Get traffic
Choosing a Niche
If you don’t have an existing audience then you will need to choose a niche and start building traffic channels to promote your affiliate offers.
The “3 Pillars” of affiliate marketing are:
Choose one of these pillars and start brainstorming sub-niches.
Finding the Right Offers (Affiliate Programs)
Once you have figured out where you are getting your traffic from you have to find offers to promote.
Make sure to only promote offers that align with your audience’s interests.
For example, don’t promote weight loss pills to people that are visiting a blog about finance.
Below are a couple of ways to find offers when you are first starting as an affiliate marketer:
Find one or two offers that make sense to promote to your audience, and test them out.
If an offer isn’t generating clicks, it’s probably not a good match for your existing audience.
That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad offer, you just might have to create a new piece of content that does a better job of warming your audience up.
If an offer is generating clicks but isn’t converting into sales it could mean that the landing page/funnel doesn’t do a good job of selling.
Once you find an offer that gets clicks and sells through, you should make it one of your core offers that you continue to promote as your audience grows.
Choosing an Affiliate Network
Outside of Amazon, most larger companies set up their affiliate programs on affiliate networks.
Getting approved by the top affiliate networks is an important step in growing your affiliate marketing business.
Just because you are approved by the network itself doesn’t necessarily mean you will automatically be approved by every program it hosts, but it certainly helps your chances.
The real benefit is that once you become a successful affiliate for a network, you will start to get inbound offer requests.
Other programs on the network have access to your stats and will reach out directly to see if you would be interested in promoting their products.
Many times these requests come with bonuses or increased affiliate commissions attached!
Top Physical Product Affiliate Networks
Top Digital Product Affiliate Networks
Company Run Affiliate Programs
With the rise of ease in setting up an eCommerce site via Shopify or Woocommerce, many companies have opted to forego the affiliate network model and host their affiliate programs internally.
Working directly with the company itself can have some advantages.
The biggest plus is that the company will have more room to negotiate higher commission rates.
But one big disadvantage is the company could disappear overnight.
Make sure you properly vet company-run affiliate programs before you send them your precious traffic.
Look for reviews online, in forums, or just ask around the affiliate marketing community to see if anyone has had any problems getting paid out, etc
Best Affiliate Traffic Sources
- Blogging/Niche Review Sites
- Social Media
- Paid Ads
You can choose any (or multiple) sources of traffic to get started, and all of them except for paid ads are free or very inexpensive to start with.
I’ll quickly touch on the pros and cons of each traffic method.
Blogging/Niche Review Sites
Building blogs and niche review sites is my favorite way to make passive affiliate money.
For your site to make money, you will need to have at least a basic understanding of search engine optimization (SEO).
However, in competitive affiliate niches, you will need an advanced knowledge of SEO to be successful.
Don’t let this scare you away though. SEO is one of the highest ROI skills you can learn when it comes to affiliate marketing (or online business in general)
Once your site starts to rank in Google, you will be getting consistent traffic without having to put out the daily effort.
The 3 main ways to leverage websites to get traffic to your affiliate offers are:
Youtube is one of the best platforms to generate consistent buyer traffic for your affiliate offers.
Only Google generates more search traffic.
Setting up a Youtube channel is completely free, where blogging does come with some associated startup costs (hosting, theme, plugins, etc.)
Even if you are camera shy there are plenty of options for making videos without ever having to be on screen.
Below are 3 ways to get affiliate sales from Youtube traffic:
Promoting affiliate offers via social media can be very lucrative if you have a large following, but anyone can start marketing right away.
The top social media platforms for promoting affiliate offers are:
Making money from affiliate marketing on social media is as simple as posting links directly to the products you are promoting.
Some ways that you can warm up the prospect on social media are:
Running paid ads to a landing page or funnel is one of the quickest ways to get started with affiliate marketing.
Paid ads require more upfront investment than the previous traffic sources, and have the potential for negative ROI.
I only suggest running paid ads once you have already mastered at least one other traffic source, and already have some consistent monthly affiliate income.
Some of the more popular paid ad platforms for affiliate marketing are:
How to Earn Money as an Affiliate Marketer?
The easiest way to earn money from affiliate marketing is by promoting your affiliate links directly to your existing audience.
Choosing one or more traffic sources and consistently promoting to your audience is how you will make consistent commissions.
There are however a few things that you should be aware of if you choose affiliate marketing as a way to make money online.
You are required by the FTC to disclose that you are promoting affiliate links.
The last thing you want to happen is to get sued and lose all of the hard-earned affiliate money that you earned!
If you are promoting links on a website you should put a disclaimer at the top of every post that contains affiliate links.
I display the above disclosure at the beginning of any article that has affiliate links.
I also link out the word “here” to a separate “Affiliate Disclosure” page.
The Affiliate Disclosure page goes into more detail about how I get paid to recommend products.
I’m not a lawyer, so please do your own research on the topic, but I will show you how I display my affiliate disclosures.
When promoting on social media make sure to tag your affiliate post with #ad #sponsored or #affiliate.
Also, any emails you send that contain affiliate links should clearly state that they are included.
Most affiliate networks pay you once or twice per month and have minimum payout thresholds in place.
Depending on the network you may get paid 1-2 months after the month in which you made the initial sale.
This is usually to account for return and money-back guarantee policies.
All major affiliate networks pay via direct bank deposit, but some of your company-run affiliate programs may only pay you via Paypal.
Negotiating Affiliate Terms
Unless you have an established track record in a specific niche when you first start out promoting a new affiliate program you are at the mercy of the program’s standard terms.
However, once you start getting consistent sales for a program this changes.
The easiest way to increase affiliate revenue is to get paid more for the traffic you already have.
The easiest way to get a yes when asking for a commission bump is to already have a good relationship with the affiliate manager.
Here are some tips for winning over your affiliate manager:
When negotiating a commission increase, make sure that you have been getting consistent sales and that your conversion rate is greater than the program’s posted average.
Send an email letting them know you are going over your content calendar for the quarter and evaluating which affiliate programs you want to promote.
Ask them if there is any wiggle room with the current commission rate and tell them you would be happy to prioritize their products in your upcoming content, as well as your email and social media campaigns.
Make sure to remind them that your conversion rate is higher than their program’s average.
If they have any room to give you an increase, they most likely will for the increased exposure.
Think about it. If you were getting 4% and got an increase to 6%, you are making 50% more on your existing traffic!
Don’t ask. Don’t get.
Affiliate Marketing Costs
While there are various methods of starting your affiliate marketing business for free, once you become more advanced you will need to spend money to make money.
Below are some of the basic expenses you may incur as an affiliate marketer:
Best Way to Learn Affiliate Marketing
The internet is full of free content teaching you how to start as an affiliate marketer.
If you want to save time and start making money quickly, the best action you can take is to invest in a course created by a professional affiliate marketer.
Below is a list of the best courses I’ve found to learn about affiliate marketing:
🔍 Related: Best Gumroad Courses for Digital Marketers
Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
Affiliate marketing works if you put in the work!
This isn’t a get-rich scheme, and if someone is framing it that way you should run for the hills.
Becoming a successful affiliate marketer requires a lot of time, skill, and persistence.
Important Affiliate Marketing Terms to Know
There are a few key terms you should be aware of when evaluating a current or potential affiliate partner.
Affiliate program commission rates vary. Certain categories on Amazon are 1% and some digital products are 75% or more.
The commission rate alone is not enough to judge how profitable an affiliate program will be.
You will also need to evaluate the cookie duration, conversion rate, and earnings per click when deciding on an affiliate program.
The cookie duration is exactly what it sounds like. How long you will get credit for the sale after you drop a cookie.
The longer the duration, the greater the chance you will get credited for an eventual sale.
Be cautious though, as low converting offers will often entice publishers with a longer than usual cookie duration.
The conversion rate is the percentage of the time a click results in a sale.
Affiliate platforms will often supply prospective affiliates with the current platform-wide conversion rate.
Earnings Per Click (EPC)
EPC is another metric that is often provided to prospective affiliates.
Earnings per click represent how much money you make per click you send.
Every affiliate network uses a different method to generate its tracking links.
One thing they all do is allow you to set a reference ID for each link.
A reference ID is a parameter that carries a unique value designated by an affiliate.
The purpose of the affiliate reference ID is to pass information from the affiliate to the network and then back to the affiliate.
Using a link cloaking tool is a must for an affiliate marketer.
Link cloaking disguises the affiliate link provided by an affiliate program.
It serves the dual purpose of protecting your affiliate ID from the eyes of competitors and making the link more visually appealing to visitors.