Back in 2013, I began affiliate marketing in a fairly big way.
I’d grown an audience who trusted me, I’d also made some great connections with some awesome course creators, and I wanted to bring the two together.
It turned out to be a super successful few months as I tested out various strategies from outright selling in my emails to inviting my community to webinars, adding bonuses, etc.
In fact, for my community at the time, I created an ebook called ‘How I Generated Over $65k in 3 months in affiliate sales’!
It was a collection of the emails I sent out to promote the products I was selling, and although I had some great tips, the emails were old-school Frank Kern type sales emails, and I absolutely wouldn’t go down that route these days.
Instead, I would do exactly what I’m going to outline to you in today’s article! I hope it helps.
Let’s start with a definition of affiliate marketing before we break the subject down in detail.
Definition: Affiliate marketing is a way to earn money by promoting products or services on behalf of a third party.
Well, You might be mistaken in thinking affiliate marketing is an easy way to make money–It isn’t.
Granted, you don’t have to create your own products or services and do all the work associated with that, which makes it an ‘easier’ way to generate an income online.
But to say it’s easy would be wrong.
It takes time, trust, and in-depth knowledge of your industry, the customers you serve, and the products you promote.
Since the early days of industrial mass production, product owners have paid commission to salespeople who can make a sale for them.
It’s a win-win for the product owner. Advertising and marketing cost a lot of money, so a large salesforce that gets paid only for results makes a lot of sense.
Affiliate marketing is a natural progression from the old-time traveling salesman, updated and refined for our online interconnected world.
You will usually find several parties involved in affiliate marketing.
The Product Owner. The person or organisation who manufacture or own the sales rights of the product or service on sale. They want to make more sales without directly investing in sales or marketing.
The Affiliate Network. A middleman organisation that manages the process of finding and paying affiliates for the product owner. (Sometimes the product owner will manage their affiliate program themselves).
The Affiliate Marketer. You! Someone who creates content, builds an audience, and recommends the audience purchases the product or service—sometimes called ‘the publisher’ by affiliate networks.
The Buyer. Because without a paying customer, affiliate marketing would not be possible!
Here is a simplified diagram of the affiliate process.
Image source: Oberlo
How does a product owner know that you are responsible for a sale, and not one of the 100s of other affiliate marketers promoting it?
All sales are tracked using special hyperlinks and website cookies.
You may have noticed that sometimes your browser displays a very long web address, made up of a jumble of characters.
These addresses contain unique tracking details that enable a website owner to understand their analytics better. Part of their analytics tells the owner when an affiliate is responsible for making a product sale.
Here is an example. If you were to go directly to the Nike store to buy a pair of sneakers, the link in the address bar would look like this.
But if you had been reading some reviews online first and followed a link from an affiliate site to the Nike store, then the address bar might instead look like this.
You can see at the end of the address; there is a longer piece of gobbledygook that begins with ‘aff_nike’. This section identifies the individual affiliate marketer who sent the shopper to Nike to buy the sneakers.
When the shopper completes a purchase, the referring affiliate will earn a commission for a percentage of the profits.
But what if the shopper doesn’t buy immediately and returns a day later to complete the purchase? Does the affiliate still get compensated?
The answer is it depends. Web cookies control this part of the process. A cookie is a small file stored on a user’s device when they visit a website. It contains basic information about how a person interacts with the site.
The cookie also records if a visitor has found their way to the website via an affiliate link. So if the shopper doesn’t immediately make a purchase and comes back later to buy, the affiliate can still receive a commission for their part in the sale.
Unfortunately for affiliates, stored cookies do not last that long. The length of time an affiliate cookie lasts depends on the product owner and affiliate network. Some last as long as a month, but some are only valid for 24 hours.
You can earn zero, a little, an excellent living, or more money than you ever thought possible. It’s all down to you.
Becoming an affiliate marketer has a low barrier to entry, which often means high competition. So, as a result, you’ll need to work hard. And, ultimately, you get out of affiliate marketing what you put in.
When you start, it’s not uncommon for your affiliate earnings to be small amounts that appear insufficient reward for your level of effort.
But everyone has to go through this initial start-up phase. Don’t quit early – you have to keep on working through this stage to make it successful.
To be successful as an affiliate, you’ll need to go through the following steps:
- Choose a niche.
- Select potential affiliate programs and determine that it’s a buyers market.
- Choose a content platform.
- Create your content.
- Present your affiliate offers effectively.
Completing these steps takes time, in most cases, many months. And the first time you do it will be the hardest. If you can manage to stay on course and stick to the plan, the rewards will eventually come your way.
And when you have made a success of it once, you can leverage your new position to build more audiences and promote further programs much more quickly. You’ll be able to outsource tasks to virtual assistants or hire freelancers for content creation.
An excellent example of a successful affiliate is Pat Flynn who runs the Smart Passive Income website. Pat Flynn began his affiliate journey back in 2008 after losing his job in the global turndown. Through diligence and hard work, Pat has been able to grow an affiliate business many would want to emulate.
His story is inspiring, and you can read about his affiliate marketing journey on his website at patflynn.com.
At the start, to make himself accountable, he reported his monthly affiliate income. He kept up this practice for the next nine years; below is the final report he made public in December 2017.
Over $105,000 of earnings from affiliate marketing in a single month! Many people would be thrilled to earn $100,000 per year as an affiliate, and there is no reason you can’t do it too.
Sounds exciting? Let’s take a more in-depth look at the steps outlined above, so you can learn how to start building your affiliate business.
The first step on your journey into affiliate marketing is to select a niche for promoting offers.
Hang on, what actually is a niche?
A niche is a specialised sub-section of a broader topic.
You won’t get very far with affiliate marketing if you choose to target a broad topic.
For example, if you choose to promote affiliate offers for a general topic such as ‘software, ‘ you would be competing for web traffic with billions of other webpages.
But if you ‘niche down’ that topic into something more specific, like ‘software for beauty salons’, you have a better chance of creating content that attracts and helps an audience.
One tip is; be aware of the process you take when you next research a purchase. You’ll end up typing some ultra-specific search phrases into Google, as you hunt down detailed information from niche websites to help you make a decision.
This is precisely the kind of content you should aim to create for your affiliate marketing business. Content that helps a shopper decide on a purchase they want to make.
Choosing a niche is easy for some but a painful experience for others. You might be lucky and already know what kind of niche you want to promote offers for. You have an existing passion that lends itself to affiliate marketing, for example.
If you don’t know what products to promote, research, and write down at least five candidate ideas. You can get niche ideas everywhere. From places like the category names in the Amazon store, the common questions asked on Quora or browsing a list of the most popular sites on the internet.
This page by Miles Beckler has a good writeup of the psychology of niche selection, with an accompanying list of ideas for niches.
Once you have your idea or a list of possibilities, you’ll need to do some deeper research before you commit to the best one.
You need to make sure that your chosen niche:
- Has sufficient demand to make it worthwhile.
- Has a wide range of affiliate offers available for you to promote.
Additionally, you need to choose a niche that you have some level of interest in. You’ll be creating lots of content about the topic, so if you find it dull and uninspiring, you are less likely to be able to keep on track and succeed.
For further information about choosing a niche for your business, check out my in-depth guide on starting your online lifestyle business
OK, now let’s take a look at validating your ideas.
Before you create a mountain of content, make sure there are various products with affiliate programs for you to promote and that shoppers are spending sufficient money in the market.
You can get a quick idea by heading over to the website clickbank.com. Clickbank is an affiliate network that focuses on promoting digital information products, like ebooks and videos.
If you can’t find a product on here for your niche, no one has likely been able to monetize your idea, so you’ll need to think again. If you find many products for your niche idea, then while this is great, it may indicate the overall high level of competition.
Another way to validate your idea is to perform a Google search for your niche and add the word ‘review’ at the end. If most of the returned results are from niche websites with affiliate links (linking elsewhere to make the purchase), this too is a sign that your niche idea is in a buyers market.
Here is an example list of results for the search term ‘water purifier review’.
All of these results are promoting affiliate links – even the one from The Telegraph newspaper! Clearly, this niche is one with lots of potential buyers.
Once you have chosen a niche, you next have to decide what kind of platform to publish your content on. And today, there are a dizzying amount of options for you to choose from.
Here are just a handful:
- A self-hosted blog, using a content management system like WordPress.
- Blogging on a third-party platform like medium.com.
- Creating a following on Instagram or Twitter.
- Starting a YouTube channel.
- Building a list of email subscribers.
- Growing a Facebook group you control and moderate.
- Launching a Podcast.
Choosing a content platform for your affiliate business is a step you need to give serious thought because the one you choose will be the one that you create the vast majority of your content for.
Play to your strengths here. There is no point in choosing a blog as your primary platform if you dislike writing. Similarly, if you shudder at the thought of speaking on camera, then YouTube might not be for you.
You can and will use the other platforms to support your primary content choice, but as you get going, it’s best to focus on a single platform. You can become overwhelmed simultaneously trying to grow an audience on multiple platforms.
Once you get some traction on your first-choice platform, then you can target others and may be able to afford a VA, or hire freelancers, to assist you in the process.
My 30 Day Guide on Growing an Information Marketing Business has lots more detail on how to get started on individual platforms.
Follow the links below for more information on creating content for each platform.
When you approach your content creation, you need to do it with a coherent strategy. There is no point in emulating a blog post from a popular website one day, then a million-view YouTube video the next.
Your content needs to connect with your audience, speak to a pain point they are currently experiencing, and ultimately suggest a resolution to their pain (via your affiliate link).
One of the most successful copywriters of all time, Eugene Schwartz, created a model for the different types of awareness and content messages most suitable for consumers as they move along the customer journey.
Image Source: Spark PPC
Eugene Schwartz advocated that consumers don’t buy products, they instead buy solutions to problems. A famous illustration of this point is attributed to top ad-man David Ogilvy who claimed; people don’t buy the drill, they buy the hole in the wall.
Your content needs to speak to prospects in a way that helps them to solve their problems.
To take a customer along this journey, you’ll need to create lots of content. When you start, this can seem overwhelming – a task too big to take on. It’s not. Lot’s of successful affiliate marketers began in the position you find yourself now.
No website, no videos, and no podcast. The successful ones planned their content using tried and tested strategies, and diligently worked through the plan little by little. Then one day, the trickle of traffic started to gain momentum, and affiliate earnings began to roll in.
I speak more in-depth in my 30-day guide about planning and creating content.
Once you have your primary publishing method up and running, to present your affiliate offers effectively to a wide-ranging audience, mix in other content types and maximise revenue.
If you promote business software using a blog, then creating some basic video tutorials for YouTube would be a simple illustration.
Search engines will increase their authority rating of your content as a whole, as your different content types cross-promote each other.
One of the people best at this is Pat Flynn, and it is worth your time to watch the video below to understand all the different ways you can present your affiliate offers to your audience.
In this video he’s walking you through;
- How to create a demo of the product you’d like to promote
- How to create a resources page with the products you want to promote
- How to create a video tutorial series around the product you’re promoting
- Adding your video tutorial as a blog post on your website
- Creating a video of a list of resources including the product you’re promoting
- Hosting a podcast interview with the creator of the product you’re promoting
- Hosting a webinar with the creator of the product you’re promoting
- Creating a checklist around the product you’re promoting
- Creating a short challenge around the product you’re promoting
Of course, you don’t need to do all this work at once, but it’s the natural step to take once you have a solid foundation.
Today on the internet, people can easily spot when a product is being recommended simply to earn a few dollars. Especially now as rules in many countries require affiliates to be upfront and declare affiliate links.
Both the FTC in the US and GDPR legislation in Europe require you to disclose if you will receive a payment if a visitor buys something you recommend.
Even if you live outside these areas, the rules can still apply to you, so it is best to be upfront and disclose when acting as an affiliate.
You need to disclose the nature of your affiliate links on the same page as any links. Some affiliates initially tried to get around the rules with links to small print buried amongst other website policies.
But this won’t wash – Here is the kind of information you have to display, ideally above any affiliate links on your webpages:
The laws don’t technically require you to be so dry and formal, though.
In the case of the FTC, they request that your disclosure is clear and conspicuous to a reasonable consumer.
Creative affiliates present their links with humour that can even help to build trust with a visitor. Here are some examples.
First from missyward.com
And one from atlantasfrugalmom.com
So with no way to hide your earning intentions, your content must provide real value.
Now that you understand what affiliate marketing is and how it works, let’s take a look at some of the best affiliate marketing programs for beginners.
There are several different ways to work with other businesses as an affiliate.
Affiliate Networks. One of the easiest ways to cut your teeth in affiliate marketing is through an affiliate network. These companies manage the nuts and bolts of an affiliate program for numerous businesses, often grouped around themes.
Here are some examples.
Clickbank has been around for over 20 years and has 100s of digital products in most niches for you to promote. You can sign up to the platform for free, and there is no application process to go through. Just register an account and get started.
Shareasale has also been in business for over 20 years and manages the affiliate programs for a host of big-name brands. Their application process is more strict, requiring you have an existing website for review before they grant you access.
Large Business Affiliate Programs. Global companies like Amazon and eBay run their own affiliate programs. It gives them more control over who they permit into the program, and the ability to quickly remove unscrupulous individuals who might harm their reputation through spamming.
The application process does not guarantee access. So you have to do some preparation work before you apply. But once a member, you can earn income with some of the world’s e-commerce giants.
Programs Run by Individuals. Technology now allows individuals to manage their own network of affiliates easily. These types of affiliate opportunities can be some of the most lucrative around as well.
Today, lots of individuals like to create a course. They sell access to their knowledge and experienced, which has been built up over years of diligent work.
These kinds of programs are great ones to promote to an audience in your niche, as they can bring in thousands of dollars in a short period when an individual launches a new educational product.
For example, as I have an audience in the lifestyle business niche, then I could promote Maria Forleo’s B-School.
The B-School is a premium training course for setting up and running an online business. It sells for $1999 and affiliates get paid a 50% fee, an incredible $999.50 per sale
Applicants for Maria Forleo’s affiliate program are screened first. As a beginner, you would have to build an audience and have some well-established content before applying for this type of affiliate opportunity.
You will come across products with affiliate programs in the ordinary course of developing content for your chosen niche. If you want to find out if a product has an affiliate program, a quick search with Google for ‘nameofproduct affiliate program’ usually finds it.
Authority Hacker also has a big list of over 100 affiliate programs for many household names across a variety of niches.
If you are struggling to find products to promote, then why not become an affiliate for the company that aims to sell everything from A to Z – Amazon.
One of the easiest ways to get into affiliate marketing is via the Amazon Associates program.
The Amazon store goes from strength to strength, and nothing seems able to slow this titan of e-commerce. In the first quarter of 2020, Amazon’s sales revenue topped $75.5 billion.
As an Amazon Associate, you can earn a cut by promoting any of the three billion products available in the store. You receive a referral commission as a percentage of the sale value, depending on the product category.
Here is their current commission structure;
The rates shown above are not quite the full picture. Amazon also takes into account the volume of traffic you refer to the store and the percentage of people who then go on to make a purchase when calculating your commission.
There is a calculator available on azonhacks.com, which provides details for each regional store, as there are a few differences depending on the buyer’s geographical location.
Amazon uses a 24-hour cookie, so you only have a narrow window of time for your referred traffic to purchase to still qualify for a commission payment. The good news, however, is that the cookie applies to any purchase made in that time frame.
So if a shopper you referred to buy a toaster also buys some clothes pegs, you will earn a commission for both sales.
A Word of Caution. I signed up for Amazon Associates myself before I had read all the requirements correctly. Amazon insists that you make three sales in the first 180 days following your account opening date.
If you don’t meet this requirement, you will be removed from the program and prevented from re-applying.
Get your ducks in a row first!
Start building your platform and audience first until you get a steady flow of traffic, then register for an account.
To find out more information about Amazon Associates and how to apply, there is a good overview via business2community.com
It all depends. Many variables make up the equation.
First, you need to have a reliable source of traffic. Whether that is from a blog, a YouTube channel, or any other online source – traffic is the most significant part of the equation.
Second, it will depend on the products you choose to promote. If you make a website about luxury beauty, then the commission percentage is 10%, and order values are likely to be high too. But if you set up a YouTube channel on gaming, any traffic referred promoting video games only attracts a 2% commission.
Thirdly, you have to be able to regularly create, refresh, and improve your content to stay competitive and grow your business.
If you maximise these three criteria, you have a business with the potential to earn you six-figures per year.
Here is an excellent example. Everyday Carry is a brilliant website that is all about the gadgets and tools people carry with them daily. Everyone is different, so people are interested in the various bits and bobs people carry for work and play.
Everyday Carry posts pictures of what people carry in their pockets in a blog format, with accompanying links for people to buy the items, primarily on Amazon. The genius of the idea is that many of the posts are user-submitted by the website’s fans.
All the owners need to do is add the Amazon affiliate links to earn commissions, as other visitors browse and then make impulse purchases.
While it’s impossible to ascertain precisely how much this website earns, it is likely to be counted in the tens of thousands of dollars per month.
Affiliate marketing is a broad topic and is something only mastered over time with experience. However, below are answers to more of the common questions people have, as they are getting started.
Affiliate marketing can be a very lucrative business model. But as you start out, your payouts are more likely to look like the one below.
But if you get affiliate marketing right, then the sky is the limit.
Some successful affiliate marketers post monthly income reports; here is one from Adam Enfroy detailing earnings from his software review blog.
It takes time and dedication to build up to this level, and the Pareto principle applies here as well – 80 percent of affiliate earnings are made by 20 percent of affiliates.
I would be deceiving you if I claimed that affiliate marketing is easy.
There is no doubt that affiliate marketing is a simple business model, though. Sign up to any of the thousands of affiliate opportunities, get traffic to your content, and encourage that traffic to buy through your link.
But starting an affiliate marketing business requires faith – it takes time to build up an affiliate business. Creating content and growing your audience is a long term undertaking.
It can take many months of hard work for little to no reward before you begin to earn any level of income. It’s perhaps why most wannabe affiliate marketers quit after a few weeks as they realise the scale of the task.
But many people take this leap of faith—people who are no more intelligent or capable than you. People who made a plan, executed, and stayed the course, who are now earning a top full-time income.
With affiliate marketing, you get out what you put in.
Affiliates receive payments directly to their bank accounts from whoever manages the affiliate program.
If you promote several programs from one affiliate network company, then you will get a single payment for all the different programs you promote.
Payment is by direct deposit into your bank account, but some programs also offer payment by cheque, or in the case of Amazon, gift cards.
Be prepared for a wait for payments with some programs, though. Consumer rights and the potential for refunds often means a delay in your cash, as you wait out potential customer reimbursements.
It’s not unusual to receive payment for a sale you made four to six weeks later. And some affiliate programs have a minimum earnings threshold before they process your payment. These thresholds are usually generally low, however.
Each affiliate network or program run by individuals have different terms. Make sure you read the small print before you sign up for a program to check you are happy with the conditions.
It is possible to start affiliate marketing with no money. At one level, all that affiliate marketing is is the redirection of internet traffic to products for sale.
You can do this for no cost by using free social media accounts. Pick your channel and talk about what you love! Then, as you build your audience and traffic, add relevant affiliate offers.
But, for the price of one of those fancy Starbucks’ coffees a month, you can host a simple website.
There are plenty of cheap web hosting companies, but cheap doesn’t always mean cheerful. If your website is going to be the foundation of your business, don’t let price govern your decision.
Web hosting review sites frequently recommend BlueHost as their number one choice, perhaps because BlueHost pays the highest commission to affiliates promoting their service. I have to be honest and say I don’t have extensive experience with them, so I can’t give a for or against.
I’d rather endorse based on my research and experience, which is why I recommend WPEngine.
Earlier this year, I was plagued by malware on my website. Hackers had infected the server and my website, so that each time I published a link, it redirected the visitor to a spam site. Not a great way to start building a website audience!
After weeks of back and forth with the hosting company Liquid Web, it became clear I was not going to get the help I needed. I was bitterly disappointed as when signing up with them a few years ago; they did indeed offer the best support in the industry. Those days are sadly gone.
I decided to start again and spent two months rebuilding my site from the ground up. It floored me that within a few days of relaunching the spam links reappeared.
With no other option, I began to research other hosting companies. I found WPEngine consistently recommended by many of the big players in the industry.
It certainly wasn’t the cheapest, but after calling a few hosting companies to explain my situation, WPEngine undoubtedly offered the best customer service.
They supplied me with an account manager and direct phone number before I had even signed up, to help me through the migration process.
They started with malware scans on my site, cleaning it thoroughly from top to bottom. And since have been available 24/7 on live chat to deal with any user issues I may have. No question is too silly!
Plus, without any other changes, the migration increased my site load speed by almost 3 seconds as well. WPEngine has earned themselves a new fan.
Choosing a hosting company is something you want to get right. You will likely be with them for years, and many increase the price after they have hooked you in with low costs for the first year.
So do your due diligence. Don’t assume that web hosts are all the same and pick one recommended solely based on affiliate review sites. The supposedly ‘top’ choices may simply pay the most in affiliate commissions.
g2.com is a user review site for all types of software, with hundreds of genuine user reviews. Check out their section on hosting companies to get a more realistic impression of a company before you sign up.
They rate WPEngine 4.6 out of 5, and BlueHost only 3.7.
The affiliate marketing business model is still in a growth phase.
According to Statista, the global business data platform, affiliate marketing will be worth $6.8 billion in 2020. With steady growth predicted over the following years.
Most people shop around before making a purchase; they compare prices and read reviews. It’s unusual for someone to directly visit a product owner’s website and make a purchase.
So with shopping habits unlikely to change, there will always be the potential to make your affiliate link the last click a shopper makes before a purchase.
It is worth noting though is that affiliate marketing can be competitive. The potential rewards mean that more and more entrepreneurs are entering the industry. But if you can create content and build an audience, there is no reason you can’t be one of those successful entrepreneurs too.
The days of making a quick buck with affiliate marketing are long gone. There was a time where you could quickly set up a website, add a few articles, and spam out some backlinks to draw in an audience.
Image source: listenmoneymatters.com
But, Google is much more sophisticated now and has, for the main, eliminated poor-quality web pages ranked by dubious means from its results.
Most of the top search results for competitive ‘buying’ keywords are now held by quality websites offering useful information. But Google’s search results are not static. They continuously shift and flux as better content is created and new products are launched.
This means there are always opportunities for new affiliates to promote products not available to the public before. And also enter and compete in an already established market.
Depending on your chosen niche and the keywords you target, you can start to see earnings in as little as a few months. But if you want to win traffic in some of the most popular areas, it can take several years to take a website to the top of the search results.
What can be quicker is affiliate marketing on social media. This fast-moving medium can quickly see accounts go viral – then it’s up to you to channel the traffic through your affiliate links.
Be aware, though, hoping to go viral is not really a solid plan. And social media platforms come and go too. The example of TikTok, with geopolitical struggles suggesting a ban in the US, means that popular influencers could lose their entire business, and income, overnight.
Much better for you to build a business asset that you own – and that means a website or a list of email subscribers (preferably both).
Choosing a niche for your affiliate marketing business is an essential step as the amount of time and effort required before you start seeing a return can be lengthy. If you make the wrong choice, then it’s possible to become disheartened with online marketing itself and give up.
So take your time at this stage of your planning. I have created a comprehensive lifestyle business guide to help you through the process.
Essentially you need to consider all the aspects for a niche you intend to enter and answer several questions;
- Are there plenty of products to promote?
- Can this niche provide a sufficient ROI?
- How competitive is this niche?
- Does this niche have longevity?
- Do I know, or can I learn enough about it, to be able to offer expert recommendations?
- Is my interest in the niche high enough to sustain work over an extended period?
Once you tick the boxes for the above questions and more, you will instinctively know which is the niche for you.
Don’t think that if you sell physical products from a Shopify store that you can’t also make income as an affiliate.
You are actually in a great position here! Your store already has a niche and hopefully, an audience, so it is the case of presenting carefully chosen affiliate offers.
As a Shopify store owner, you are hopefully also publishing a blog as part of your content strategy, to draw in visitors and cross-promote your products.
Your blog is the ideal place to inform your visitors about complementary products.
Alternatively, if you are looking for ways to increase your store earnings, Shopify plugins like Refersion, help you run your own network of affiliates.
As a Shopify store owner, you can profit from both sides of the affiliate equation.
Affiliate marketing today is a process of building an audience that trusts you and the content you create. You then leverage this platform to recommend products and services which enhance your audience’s lives.
It is a simple business model, but not necessarily an easy one. Every day about half a million new websites are created. So capturing and growing an audience requires planning, dedication, and hard work.
But, if you are careful about your choice of niche, educate yourself on the most effective ways to build up traffic, and create content for your audience that resonates. There is no reason you, too, can’t become a wildly successful affiliate marketer like Pat Flynn or Adam Enfroy.
If you have any comments or questions, do come and join our FREE FB Community to network and meet like-minded individuals all on a similar journey!
Thanks for reading!