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What is Affiliate Marketing? | Making Money Online

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A quick search in Google and you will find hundreds even thousands of articles describing how affiliate marketing can make you rich.

It is this idea that drives many people into affiliate marketing.

But, can you make a lot of money operating as an affiliate for different companies?

Let’s start with some facts:

  • $12bn of global sales is attributed to affiliate marketing
  • 81% of brands in the US use affiliate marketing
  • 84% of publishers leverage affiliates to create income
  • Awin the UK affiliate network boasts over 200,000 affiliates

As you can see there is a huge amount of revenue being driven through affiliate marketing. This means a lot of affiliates making serious monthly commissions. 

Before you start dreaming about your passive income stream generating money while you sleep though. We need to learn a bit more about what affiliate marketing actually is.


What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is the process by which a website (or individual) promotes a company’s product or service to its audience. Should someone click through one of their links and purchase? That website will receive a cut of the sale. Referred to as a commission.

The company only pays out when they make a sale. While the website makes money without holding any expensive stock inventory.

As an affiliate, there is no limit to how far you can take it. You might start only promoting one brand. But, nothing is stopping you from promoting multiple companies to increase your conversion odds.

This win-win situation is why affiliate marketing has become so popular.

Here is a deeper breakdown of the parties involved and the terminology used to refer to them.

Affiliate | Publisher

These can range from individuals with a free social media account to large multimillion turnover publishers. 

They are both working in the same way. Grabbing their link, creating content and pushing the link to their audience. 

How much they both earn can depend on how large and engaged their audience is. This could be a few hundred pounds up to even millions in turnover every month.

With a bit of digging, you will find a lot of the websites you visit in your spare time are using affiliate marketing to diversify their revenue streams.

For example, 21% of Buzzfeed’s revenue comes from affiliate marketing and product promotion

As an affiliate, all your need is a low-cost website or a free social media account. Start building your audience then convince them to buy your recommended products.

Advertiser | Creator | Seller | Merchant | Brand | Vendor

Like with the affiliates, the size of the advertiser could vary widely.

The majority of all major brands (Amazon, Target, Best Buy etc) will have affiliate programs. As you can imagine, these pull in huge revenues and earn their publishers lots of commissions.

But, there could also be entrepreneurs with just a handful of courses to sell or just a single product. Both can use the affiliate model to reach new audiences and generate sales.

Consumer | Customer

Without this party, no sales are being generated or commission being earned.

Every customer should be aware that they are clicking an affiliate link and that the publisher will earn a commission if they purchase. 

The onus is on the publisher to communicate this. Although it is very difficult to enforce due to the scale of affiliates live on any one program. Some publishers like GQ have a disclaimer at the top of each article. Others might call it out in their sidebar or the cookie consent pop-up. 

Importantly, purchasing via an affiliate link should never result in the customer paying more. Any affiliate costs need to be worked into the margins of the product and not be an additional cost.

Network | Tracking Platform

To stitch together the affiliate customer journey, there needs to be some kind of tracking.

The majority of brands will look to major affiliate networks to provide this tracking and to facilitate the paying of commissions owed. 

As an affiliate, these should be your first destination when finding new affiliate programs to join.

You can find a list of affiliate networks here: Top Affiliates 2021

Brands can bypass a traditional network and manage an affiliate program using white labelled tracking. But, this can often lead to more headaches.

The reason networks are so popular is because they take a lot of the stress out of managing a program. With thousands of publishers actively listed, recruitment of affiliates is made very easy.

Sitting alongside other brands in their niche, advertisers have the benefit of also being more searchable to potential partners. As recruitment can be the most time-consuming area of program management, it is worth most brands being listed on a network.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

An overview of how affiliate marketing works can be laid out in these simple steps.

For all steps to work, the unique link is key. If affiliates don’t share the link, then the sale can not be tracked back to them.

Affiliate Payment Models

There are a few different ways for brands to pay their affiliates. Which one they choose is led by the product or service they provide and the niche they are in.

The bonus for affiliates is that you don’t have to promote any companies you feel won’t pay you fairly for your efforts.

Don’t be too hasty though.

Amazon has a 24-hour cookie window and low commission rates. But, it’s Amazon! The conversion rate is going to be much higher than other brands.

Consider all sides before dismissing a brand based squarely on their commission rate. 

The most prevalent payment models that brands implement are the following.

Cost Per Sale (CPS) | Cost Per Acquisition (CPA)

The most common payment model in the affiliate industry. An advertiser pays you a predefined percentage of the sales value. The challenge for the affiliate is to get the customer to travel through the entire customer journey and make the purchase.

Cost Per Lead (CPL)

To get paid, the affiliate must drive the customer to complete an action on the companies site. This is typically signing up for a free trial or registering their interest in a product by providing their contact details.

Cost Per Click (CPC)

This model is most familiar in other digital channels like paid ads. Not very prevalent in the affiliate space it means being paid for every click you send to a brands site.

How to Become an Affiliate

The benefits of affiliate marketing are that it has a very low barrier to entry. You can be an affiliate just by having a free social media account.

Becoming a successful affiliate marketer though can take time. Those earning large commission checks every month have built their audiences over a long period.

That isn’t to say you can’t launch a side hustle in affiliate marketing that could eventually become your full-time job. Just be aware, overnight success is rare.

Removing the 9-5, commuting to work and working for a boss can all be achieved through affiliate marketing. When done right, it can open up a whole new work-life balance.

Here are my steps to getting started in affiliate marketing.

What Type of Affiliate Are You?

The most successful affiliate programs have a healthy mix of different types of affiliates. 

As an affiliate program manager, I get countless copycat coupon and cashback sites trying to join my client’s program. Probably, 80-90% of these make little to no commissions, because they add no value.

When brands are approving publishers onto programs, they want sites that help them reach a new audience. This is why niche-focused publishers are so valuable.

New coupon and cashback sites are typically looking to make a quick buck. They won’t have the best rates or the best deals, as these are reserved for the big guys. 

Content partners though are informing and educating their audiences about the brand and their products. This is incredibly helpful for the advertiser.

It is also very easy to become a content partner. All you need is a Youtube account, Instagram account or just a cheap website. 

Just make sure your content is relevant, which leads us nicely onto my next point.

What Is Your Niche

Now you have decided that content is the way to go. What are you going to be talking about, what is your niche?

I don’t have the million-dollar answer here. For this, you might need to look at your own skill set and interests.

Focus on a specific topic that you will be motivated to talk a lot about. Consistency is key, so ensure it is something with longevity for you.

There is so much competition on the internet. If you don’t niche down to a specific topic you will find it tough to see any consistent traffic coming through.

Here are some useful tips to discovering a niche:

If your digital skill set is lacking, utilise tools to improve your content to make it as appealing as possible.

In another guide, I go through 38 tools that affiliate marketers can use. It covers everything from improving writing to creating assets and capturing emails.

Then it is time to decide on the platform for your niche content.

Social media accounts are free. So, either in isolation or alongside a website, they can drive traffic to your site at no cost.

When it comes to building a website, this might take a little more time. But, doesn’t have to cost the earth. Sites like HostGator or GoDaddy make it easy and affordable to get a website live with minimum effort.

Join Affiliate Programs

Armed with your niche and a platform. Now is the time to start joining affiliate programs.

As you have honed in your niche, you should have an understanding of affinity brands that resonate with your target audience.

To find out if they have a program here’s a couple of tips:

Aside from this, I recommend starting to sign up for various affiliate networks.

It will:

Should you not find an affiliate program for a chosen brand, don’t be disheartened.

Try and find a contact to get in touch. They may have disregarded affiliate marketing due to a lack of resources. Knowing you are eager to promote them might lead to the company launching a new affiliate program.

Build Your Audience

Without an audience, there are no potential customers to buy through your affiliate links.

Internet users are inundated with content. So, try to maintain a consistent, high-quality voice to yours to cut through the noise. 

Different types of content can help to engage a variety of audiences. Some examples are:

Test a variety of content and see what gets the best engagement.

Don’t be afraid to steal ideas from your competitors. Their content is ranking well for a reason, so think about how you can take that idea and make it better. You could start by writing longer articles, having better imagery or creating higher quality videos than them.

To supercharge your efforts put yourself in the limelight. People engage better with real people rather than faceless brands.

The more you are front and centre, the greater relevance you have as an expert in your niche. In turn, this makes you influential. Customers will start to trust your opinion, thus increasing the chance of buying your recommended products.

Remember, should you choose to pay for ads to drive traffic to your website, you might want to read the affiliate program terms and conditions. Some affiliate programs forbid this as a promotional method and could cancel your commission.

Promote To Your Audience

There are a ton of ways to promote affiliate programs and how you do this depends on your platform. 

Some more familiar ways include:

To increase the propensity of a customer clicking make sure to highlight the link. Creating eye-catching links distributed throughout your content will enhance the chance of customers clicking.

The above tactics though rely on customers visiting your site.

A vital way to engage and re-engage with customers that affiliates tend to overlook is by building an email list.

If you secure an email address, you can send prospects valuable information at any time. It is the secret sauce to how the major affiliate players create recurring affiliate commissions.

Here are some different ways to get a sign-up from your visitors.

Companies like OptinMonster and ConvertKit have some nice widgets that you can add to your site and sync up to your email sending platform. 

Whichever way you choose to get sign-ups, remember to include the consent for you to email them. Otherwise, with new GDPR rules, it could lead to a hefty fine.


Ok, time to run through what we have learnt.

Affiliate marketing is a great way to easily promote other peoples products and get a cut of any sale price.

If you are successful at it, then it can create a wealth of benefits. Such as an improved work/life balance. But, it is difficult to get there without some patience and hard work.

The steps to becoming an affiliate marketer are:

  1. Understand what type of affiliate you want to be
  2. Research and decide on a niche
  3. Consistently create great content
  4. Join relevant affiliate programs that align with your audience
  5. Promote the program to your audience
  6. Rinse and repeat

Remember, always stick to the program’s terms and conditions and build an email list to scale your efforts faster.

Are you an affiliate marketer, or do you have any questions about the industry. Drop me a question in the comments section below.

Affiliate Marketing FAQ's

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is the process by which you promote a company’s products or service. If your promotion helps drive a sale for that company you will earn a commission.

Can I make money from affiliate marketing?

Yes, but commissions can be inconsistent. Set achievable targets and monitor over a year, not just a few weeks. The most successful can make between £250k – £750k annually from affiliate marketing.

Where can I find products to promote?

A few of the most popular affiliate networks include; Clickbank, ShareaSale, Awin, Commission Junction, Amazon Associates and the eBay Partner Program.

What should i promote?

The most popular verticals are Health & Wellness, Fashion and Technology. Concentrate on researching and finding your niche first.

Where can I promote?

You can promote anywhere as long as you follow the affiliate programs terms and conditions. The larger affiliates have websites, but there are lots of entrepreneurs making money just from social media.

How do i start affiliate marketing?

Reread this article. I give you a step by step guide to starting to promote products through affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing is easy to launch, what are you waiting for?

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