Affiliate Marketing for Beginners: What It Is and How to Get Started [2023]

affiliate marketing for beginners how to get started

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning that if you purchase something through the links below, I will receive a commission at no cost to you. Learn more.


  • Affiliate marketing allows you to earn commissions by promoting other companies’ products. Share your unique affiliate links and get paid when someone makes a purchase.
  • To get started, choose a niche, find relevant affiliate programs, and drive targeted traffic to your links using methods like blogging, YouTube, and social media.
  • Affiliate marketing has low barriers to entry. You can get started with no money down and build a passive income stream.
  • Following a step-by-step guide like my FREE course can help beginners achieve success faster.

Affiliate marketing is one of the most popular ways to make money online. Beginners often gravitate towards affiliate marketing due to its perceived low barrier to entry.

The reason for this is that anyone can get started in affiliate marketing without spending any money.

All you need is targeted traffic and/or an audience to get paid.

I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true!

This is why 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?

Affiliate marketing is when you get paid to promote other companies products or services.

what is affiliate marketing

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.

💰The simplest explanation of affiliate marketing is:

  1. Sign up for an affiliate program
  2. Get your affiliate link(s)
  3. Promote your link(s)
  4. If someone buys a product from your link you get paid

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. This is known as pay-per-click or CPC affiliate marketing.

Does Affiliate Marketing Actually Work?

Affiliate marketing works if you put in the work!

Becoming a successful affiliate marketer requires a lot of time, skill, and persistence.

This isn’t a get-rich scheme, and if someone is framing it that way you should run for the hills.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work? (In a Nutshell)

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 Money Can a Beginner Expect to Make with Affiliate Marketing?

Today I make well into six figures per year through affiliate marketing, but when I started out over 4 years ago as a beginner myself I struggled to make any consistent money.

So based on my own experience, I feel comfortable saying that a beginner affiliate marketer’s income potential spans the entire range from $0 to an amount that could completely transform their lives.

how much money can you make with affiliate marketing

Try to keep in mind that affiliate marketing is a long-term business model and constant effort is necessary in order to see significant results.

That being said, anyone with a laptop (or phone) and an internet connection can immediately start promoting products and services that offer affiliate compensation.

The only thing limiting a beginner affiliate marketer is the volume of targeted traffic they send to an offer and their own sustained effort.

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 your time.

affiliate marketing worth it start with no money

Name another way to make money online that requires zero upfront cost.

I’ll wait…

Below are some very compelling reasons to become an affiliate marketer:

1. Passive Income

Once you get your affiliate business off the ground, you can start generating passive income for yourself.

2. No Clients

Unlike an agency business model, affiliate marketing doesn’t require you to deal with clients to get paid. 

No cold emailing, paid ads, or product fulfillment is required.

3. 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.

4. Can Start with No Upfront 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.

5. 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. 

6. 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

When you have the right mindset and strategy, it’s not hard to start making money with affiliate marketing even as a beginner.

To help you get going, here are the steps every new affiliate marketer should follow:

1. Select a Niche (And a Sub-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 Kings” of affiliate marketing niches are:

  1. Health
  2. Wealth
  3. Relationships

These are all extremely broad niches, so your next job is to choose one and narrow it down to potential sub-niches.

2. Find the Right Offers (Affiliate Programs)

Once you have landed on your sub-niche, it’s time to find relevant offers to promote.

choosing the right affiliate program

Make sure to only promote offers that align with your audience’s interests.

For example, don’t promote weight loss pills to people who are visiting a blog about finance.

📌 Below are a couple of ways to find offers when you are first starting as an affiliate marketer:

  • Sign up for Clickbank and search for offers in your niche
  • Google “{niche} + affiliate program”

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.

Finding Affiliate Programs through Affiliate Networks

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.

🎯 Below are some of the top affiliate networks for promoting both physical and digital products/offers:

  • Amazon Associates
  • ShareASale
  • Awin
  • Impact
  • CJ
  • Pepperjam
  • Rakuten
  • Clickbank
  • Warrior+Plus
  • JVZoo
  • Digistore24
  • Paykickstart
  • MaxBounty
  • Gumroad

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!

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

3. Choose an Affiliate Traffic Source

The easiest way to earn money from affiliate marketing is by promoting your affiliate links directly to your existing audience.

Select one or more traffic sources and regularly promote to your audience if you want to earn commissions on a consistent basis.

choose an affiliate traffic source

You can choose any source 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…

Affiliate Marketing with Blogging/Niche Review Sites

Building niche review sites and blogging is my favorite way to make passive affiliate money.

Some of the benefits of affiliate marketing with niche sites & blogs are:

  • Inexpensive to start (less than $20)
  • Organic traffic converts best
  • Valuable asset (can sell for 30-50x)

A few reasons a beginner might not want to start out with niche sites & blogs:

  • Can take a long time to get consistent traffic
  • Lots of competition in high paying niches
  • Can be expensive to maintain

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)

📌 The 3 main ways to leverage websites to get traffic to your affiliate offers are:

  • Write reviews and comparison posts about the products that you are promoting
  • Contextually insert your affiliate links into informational content 
  • Add affiliate banners to posts and sidebar

When your site begins to rank in Google, you will receive consistent traffic without having to put in the daily effort.

Affiliate Marketing on YouTube

YouTube is one of the best platforms to generate consistent buyer traffic for your affiliate offers.

Only Google itself generates more search traffic.

Some of the benefits of affiliate marketing on YouTube:

  • Easy to learn YouTube SEO
  • Videos live forever
  • Traffic can have high commercial intent (reviews/unboxings)

A few reasons a beginner might not want to start out with YouTube:

  • Time-consuming to make videos/thumbnails
  • Steep overall learning curve
  • Equipment costs can be a barrier to entry in some niches

Setting up a YouTube channel is completely free, where blogging does come with some associated startup costs (hosting, theme, plugins, etc.)

📌 Below are 3 ways to get affiliate sales from Youtube traffic:

  • Place affiliate links in the video description
  • Link to offers when responding to comments
  • Add links to your website posts in the “end cards”

Even if you are camera shy, there are plenty of options for making videos without ever having to be on screen.

Affiliate Marketing on Social Media

Promoting affiliate offers via social media can be very lucrative if you have a large following, but anyone can start as an affiliate (even if they have no followers).

Some of the benefits of affiliate marketing on social media:

  • Free to setup
  • Many different platforms to choose from
  • Easy to automate

A few reasons a beginner might not want to start out with social media traffic:

  • Takes time to grow accounts/following
  • Content has a short lifespan (requires constant publishing)
  • Traffic typically has lower commercial intent/serious buyers

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:

  • Describe your own results with the product
  • Share positive testimonials
  • Offer discount codes/links
  • Offer bonuses for buying from your link

Affiliate Marketing with Paid Ads

Running paid ads to a landing page or funnel is one of the quickest ways to get started with affiliate marketing.

Some of the benefits of affiliate marketing with paid ads:

  • Can make sales quickly
  • Scalable through more adspend
  • Audience targeting can be hyper pinpointed

A few reasons a beginner might not want to start out with paid ads:

  • Can be expensive to start
  • No guarantee of profit (can easily lose money while testing)
  • Each traffic platform has a unique learning curve

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.

Other Important Things a Beginner Affiliate Marketer Should Know

There are however a few things that you should be aware of if you choose affiliate marketing as a way to make money online.

Affiliate Disclosures

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.

example of an affiliate disclosure notice

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.

Getting Paid

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:

  • After you get approved for the program, reach out to them immediately via email, and introduce yourself.
  • Make contact occasionally and ask them if they have any specific products or offers that have been converting well that you could take advantage of.
  • If you feature their company in a content piece or campaign, send them a link. This lets them know that you are busy promoting.
  • Take advantage of any contests that may be running. Getting to the top of the leaderboard is a great way to get noticed.

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:

  • Domain Name
  • Website Hosting
  • SEO Tools
  • Email Marketing Platform
  • Automation Software
  • Tracking Software
  • Youtube Equipment/Software

Best Way to Learn Affiliate Marketing (Top Courses)

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:

Read More…

Looking to level up your marketing skills? Check out this roundup of Best Gumroad Courses for Digital Marketers

Important Affiliate Marketing Terms for Beginners to Know

When deciding whether or not to work with an affiliate partner, it’s important to know a few key terms.

Commission Rate

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.

Conversion Rate

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.

Reference ID

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 two purposes: hiding your affiliate ID from competitors and making the link look better to people who click on it.

Final Thoughts…

Affiliate marketing can be a great way for beginners to get started in the world of online business.

However, you can’t start developing your own affiliate marketing strategy and laying the groundwork for success without first understanding the basics of what affiliate marketing is and how it operates.

By following the tips and advice outlined in this blog post, you can get started on your affiliate marketing journey and start seeing results in no time. So, don’t wait any longer, start exploring the world of affiliate marketing today!

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