What is Affiliate Marketing? A Complete Guide to Getting Started
Imagine you’re on the beach in Bali, sipping fresh mango juice, swaying back and forth in a hammock and making money at the same time. This idea - escaping the 9 to 5, earning passive income and living on our own terms - is a dream many of us share. However, most of us struggle to put these thoughts into action.
One way to make this dream a reality is through affiliate marketing, a sales tactic that can generate high online revenue. Whether you create a website and blog, make YouTube videos, or build an audience on social media, you can use affiliate marketing to monetize your content. This introductory guide to affiliate marketing will teach you everything you need to know to start your online business idea, from the definition of affiliate marketing to its benefits and best practices.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a process in which one party earns a commission from marketing another company’s products. This party - called the affiliate - searches for a brand partner, promotes their products on their social media accounts, blog or other platforms, and then makes a profit from each sale.
Companies then provide affiliates with a unique link - called, unsurprisingly, an affiliate link. That way, they can track the affiliate’s performance and compensate them based on their number of sales.
Benefits of affiliate marketing
There are several reasons to become an affiliate marketer:
Low risk: Joining an affiliate marketing program is free, so you don’t need to make an investment to start.
Passive income: Once you add the affiliate link to your post, you can earn from the sales without putting in extra effort.
No customer support: When customers have queries or complaints, the company - and not you - will be responsible for resolving their issues.
Flexible work schedule: Rather than sticking to a traditional schedule, you can work as an affiliate marketer on your own time.
Minimal business costs: You don’t need standard business infrastructure to become an affiliate marketer; all you need is a laptop and an internet connection.
How does affiliate marketing work?
To get a better understanding of how this type of marketing works, you’ll need to know about the three major players involved: sellers, affiliates and consumers. Together, these three parties make up the affiliate marketing ecosystem.
Sellers: The seller is the company that makes or provides the product. This could be a nationwide franchise like BestBuy or a small independent shop.
Affiliates: The way most people get involved in affiliate marketing is by becoming an affiliate. The affiliate, also known as the publisher, promotes the seller’s products. They do this by marketing the products on their own platforms, such as a personal blog or social media page.
Consumers: These are the buyers of the product. When they make a purchase by clicking on the affiliate link, the affiliate earns a commission on the sale.
How do affiliate marketers get paid?
As an affiliate marketer, there are a few different ways you can get paid. While pay per sale is the standard practice, it’s helpful to be familiar with the other methods as well:
Pay per sale: This is by far the most common way affiliate marketers earn money. Consumers must buy the product after clicking the affiliate link, and the affiliate receives a percentage of the sale price.
Pay per lead: While less common, the seller may also pay the affiliate for generating leads, rather than making sales. In this case, the affiliate must persuade the consumer to complete an action such as filling out a contact form or signing up for a free trial.
Pay per click: Another unusual method is for the affiliate to earn money when consumers click on their link - regardless of whether they convert to a lead or make a purchase.
How to start affiliate marketing
Now that you have some general knowledge about affiliate marketing, here’s a step-by-step overview of how to get started:
Select a platform
Find your niche
Build an audience
Connect with brands
Create affiliate content
01. Select a platform
You can do affiliate marketing on most platforms or social media channels of your choice. Instagram is a popular option, but using your blog or YouTube channel tends to yield the most effective results.
Blogging: If you’re interested in affiliate marketing as part of your blogging strategy, creating a blog is simple and free of charge. You can monetize your blog by incorporating affiliate links into your articles in ways that are genuinely helpful to your readers. For example, if your post is about baking a cake, you might include a link to buy your favorite kitchen mixer.
YouTube: Affiliate marketing is a proven way to make money on YouTube. If you choose this as your main platform, you’ll need to smoothly incorporate branded products into your videos. Some YouTubers opt to create videos focused around a particular product or brand, while others feature the product as part of a broader theme.
Instagram: Since Instagram doesn’t offer you the same ability to describe the product at length and make it part of a larger story, the platform isn’t as effective in converting your audience. Nonetheless, it’s a common choice that does yield profit for some. If you go this route, post Instagram photos that feature the product and include a link and explanation in the description.
Regardless of which option you prefer, it’s a good idea to post across a variety of platforms so that you can cross-promote your content and expand your reach. This will also give you an understanding of which types of content work best for you, helping you optimize your promotional efforts.
02. Find your niche
The web is full of competition. YouTube alone has over 31 million different channels, while Instagram boasts over 1 billion active users. Meanwhile, there are over 600 million blogs - and these numbers are only growing.
For this reason, it’s critical that you stand out by centering your posts around a specific category - for instance, you might opt for Indian cooking rather than simply cooking, or ballet rather than dance. If your niche is too broad, the competition will be high and it will be much harder for your target audience to find your content.
03. Build an audience
After determining your preferred platform and niche, you’ll need to build a fanbase to gain exposure. Whether you focus on growing your Instagram account or becoming a successful YouTuber, having a dedicated audience will increase the likelihood that some of them will click on your affiliate links. These strategies will help you to draw attention to your posts:
SEO: Short for search engine optimization, SEO is the process of strategically adjusting your content to rank high on Google and other search engines. When your blog or YouTube channel appears as one of the top search results, users are more likely to click on the link and navigate to your page.
PPC: Another way to appear as a leading result on search engines and gain more traffic is to invest in PPC (pay-per-click) advertising. Keep in mind, though, that the amount you spend on ads might be more than the amount you make from affiliate marketing.
Email marketing: If you already have email subscribers through your personal website, send out newsletters that point your audience toward your content. You can also add affiliate links directly to your email blasts.
Social media marketing: Gain further exposure by spreading the word about your Youtube channel, blog or Instagram account on your other social media channels.
04. Connect with brands
Once you establish your platforms and develop a fanbase, it’s time to start looking for affiliate marketing opportunities. There are two main ways you can find brands to promote:
Join an affiliate marketing program: The easiest way to connect with brands is by joining an affiliate program. While there are a variety of programs out there, some of the most popular include Amazon Associates, CJ Affiliate and ShareASale.
Reach out to brands yourself: If you have a particular brand or product in mind that you’d love to promote, you can also reach out to companies on your own. Be sure to emphasize how they will benefit from the collaboration. You’ll need to explain why reaching your audience can bring them new customers.
Keep in mind that if you’re targeting consumers, you’re better off partnering with companies that have high sales volumes, even if the commission is low. If you’re targeting businesses, on the other hand, join a partnership that offers a high commission with a lower sales volume.
05. Create affiliate content
Sellers will provide you with an affiliate link to embed in your content. Rather than promote the products directly, try to make them fit naturally within your content. By incorporating the promotion into a larger, more engaging story, you’ll be able to gently guide your audience toward making a purchase.
Here are some examples of powerful affiliate content:
A list of product recommendations, either in the form of a YouTube video or blog post, with promoted items included as suggestions.
A YouTube tutorial in which you show your audience how to use a series of products, including the one you’re promoting.
A webinar in which you teach viewers how to perform a certain task, with a relevant product recommendation included in the presentation.
A blog post that offers tips or how-to advice, with a suggestion that incorporates the promoted product.
An Instagram photo that shows you using the product.
As you get started as an affiliate marketer, experiment with a variety of strategies to learn which ones reach the biggest audience and generate the most profit.
06. Get clicks
By now, you should have an idea of all the key affiliate marketing ingredients: a strategic platform and niche, a dedicated audience, brand partners and, of course, great content. The only thing that’s left is to convince consumers to click on your affiliate links.
To gain clicks, you’ll need to place your links within the appropriate context. Think about it: if the name of a product appears out of the blue, no one will be persuaded to click on the link. However, if you tell a story that shows how that product improved your life or helped you resolve a problem, your audience will be more compelled to click on it and make a purchase.
You should also optimize the placement of your links. If you add the link to a blog post, place the link at the beginning and end of your article in the form of a compelling CTA (call-to-action). You should also make sure the link visually stands out on the page by making it a different color, adding a CTA button, or using a banner ad.
Affiliate marketing strategies and tips
As you begin your affiliate marketing journey, keep these tips in mind to maximize your success:
Choose sellers with high conversion rates: Before you collaborate with a seller, take a moment to research them. Don’t waste your time marketing a product that has low demand. If you promote a high converting brand, the more chances your audience will buy - and the more you’ll earn as a result.
Promote products you believe in: Only market products that you can sincerely recommend to your audience. That way, you’ll offer genuine value to your followers while making your personal brand credible and reliable.
Stay up-to-date with trends: Whether your niche is fashion, technology or travel, keep tabs on the latest industry trends. That will help you promote the most competitive products with the highest consumer demand.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: You don’t want your entire strategy to rely on a single seller’s website, landing pages and conversion rate. Instead, maximize your chances of success by promoting products from a variety of merchants.
Test and optimize: Continually adapt your marketing strategy to determine which methods yield the most profit. Should you expand your blogging efforts? Redesign your landing pages? Target your audience with email marketing? Play around with different promotional strategies to determine which ones work best for you.
By Rebecca Strehlow
Wix Blog Writer