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How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing

So you want to make money online? Join the club!

While working from home was once a pipe dream for many of us, it’s become a reality and, likely, will be even more common in the future. Even better, it’s now easier than ever to start a website and become your own boss. And one of the simplest ways to start bringing in cash online is affiliate marketing.

New to the concept and wondering what we’re talking about? You’re in the right place! Stick with us, and we’ll talk you through:

  • What affiliate marketing is
  • How it works
  • How much money you can make
  • And how to get started

Ready? Let’s begin.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is less complicated than it might sound. In the simplest possible terms, it entails promoting products or services on another website.

It’s a pretty sweet form of marketing — it’s low risk for sellers since they don’t pay money unless they make money. It’s also potentially very profitable for website owners or influencers.

Better yet, once you’ve got the ball rolling, it practically manages itself, meaning you can make passive income.

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How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

Let’s break this down into three parts.

  1. Someone lands on an affiliate website or influencer channel (e.g., a social media channel that promotes products)
  2. That someone clicks on a link to one of those products and goes on to buy it.
  3. The affiliate gets a cut of the seller’s takings (i.e. a commission)

But how does the seller know who referred them to the site, and consequently, who the commission is paid to?

All affiliate links contain a tracking code. This code is unique to each affiliate. That means sellers know exactly who’s sending the traffic and revenue (that said, the process of paying affiliate commissions is almost always automated).

As a blogger or site owner, you’ll generally get started with affiliate marketing by joining an affiliate network, or finding an affiliate program that promotes a product, or products, in your niche.

As a retailer, you can set up your own affiliate program and include a link to the details on your site, or you can join an affiliate network. Alternatively, you can do both.

How Much Money Can You Make as an Affiliate Marketer?

Now, this is a tricky one.

The answer varies from absolutely nothing to $40,000 or more — in a month.

RyRob.com made more than $43,000 in September 2020.

In essence, the potential earnings of an affiliate marketer are limitless. But does that mean you can earn this much?

We’re going to have to be completely honest with you — probably not.

Those affiliates that are raking in tens of thousands a month? They were, largely, early starters. Many years ago, they got into the game and worked very hard for a long time — most likely on countless different sites. Those people are also few and far between.

But does that mean you’re likely to earn nothing?

Again, that’s incredibly unlikely — as long as you put in the work needed to grow a site (or sites) as well as your audience. Becoming a successful affiliate marketer is within reach.

Some of what you’ll get out of affiliate marketing comes down to blind luck. But most of it results from how much work you’re willing to put in and your business aptitude (a decent knowledge of SEO helps too).

So you’re wondering: How much does an affiliate marketer earn, on average?

A poll by AFFISE found that the majority of affiliate marketers earn less than $20k a year. However, 11% reported earning between $1–2 million a year. Bear in mind, though, that the sample size was just 117, so this is in no way scientific and definitely shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

Image of AFFISE poll results breakdown: “How Much Do You Make Per Year?”

That said, it’s probably safe to assume that if you know what you’re doing and you put in the work, it’s reasonable to expect to earn at least a living wage — if not far more.  

It’s also worth remembering what we mentioned earlier — affiliate marketing can generate passive income. This means that while there’s a heck of a lot of work involved initially, that doesn’t have to be the case forever. Once you’re generating a level of revenue you’re comfortable with, you can take somewhat of a backseat and let the money roll in.

Yes, you’ll need to monitor and maintain your sites. You’ll need to check the information contained within it is up-to-date and correct. And yes, you should still be adding content periodically.

Of course, this is all dependent on how ambitious you are and how much money you want to earn. The more money, the more work.

How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing

By now, you should have a good understanding of the basics of affiliate marketing. What it is, how it works, and how much you can potentially earn.

Next, we’re going to walk you through what you need to do to get started and begin generating affiliate revenue.

Choose a Platform (or Platforms)

You can make money as an affiliate on one platform or on multiple platforms. Historically, most affiliates made money via a website (or websites). And a lot still do. But it’s now extremely common for affiliate links to pop up on other platforms, like Instagram or YouTube.

YouTube channel “The Melea Show” video description showing Blue Apron affiliate link.
Image Source

Basically, any platform that can be used to build a following and promote products can be used for affiliate marketing.

So which platform is right for you? That’s another tricky question. We don’t know you or your situation, so we can’t say what platform will work best for you.

However, if you happen to already have a semi-successful (or successful) blog or a decent following on a particular social media channel (or channels), it kind of goes without saying that you should work with what you’ve got and monetize it. And one way of doing that is by becoming an affiliate marketer.

If you’re starting from scratch, the best advice we can give is to play to your strengths.

  • Love talking on camera? Start with YouTube.
  • Take great pictures? Consider Instagram.
  • Enjoy sharing your thoughts via the written word? Start a blog.

Work with what you’re comfortable with, what you enjoy, and what you’re good at.

Here’s a couple of extra things worth bearing in mind when choosing a platform for affiliate marketing.

Jump On Emerging Trends

One of the barriers to becoming a successful affiliate on any popular channel is just that — it’s popular. You’re up against a ton of competition. Especially if you’re only just entering the game.

Does this mean you should forget about starting a blog, a YouTube channel, an Instagram account, or whatever it may be? We don’t think so. Just be realistic. The work you have to put in and the standard of content you need to create might be more than you expect.

One way to combat the popularity trap is to pay attention to emerging trends, specifically new platforms and new niches.

Take TikTok, for example. It launched in September 2016. Today it has more than 800 million active users. That’s some rapid growth. While several factors determine a TikToker’s success, simple logic tells us that getting in early helps.

Although TikTok may not be the best example (it can’t yet be used for affiliate marketing — although that may soon change), the point remains the same.

Start building an audience on an emerging platform asap, and you’ll increase your odds of success.

That’s because the more saturated a niche is with affiliate marketers, the harder it will be to make your mark and make money.

Take gaming. There’s no end to gaming YouTubers or bloggers; if you want to get noticed, you’re going to have to do something pretty unique.

While this is an extreme example, and lots of popular niches still have the potential to be profitable for newcomers, again, getting in early can give you a huge advantage.

The key in both these cases lies in spotting what’s about to gain or is currently gaining traction.

But how can anyone predict these things? We’re not saying it’s easy, but there are tools to help. For example:

Consider the Drawbacks

Unfortunately, the online world can be pretty brutal.

Putting yourself in front of an audience — whether on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other social media channel — opens yourself up to the potential for abuse.

The odds of you becoming victim to this will depend on a few factors, including your niche. Regardless, if this is a concern for you, we’d advise focusing your efforts on channels that allow you to be partly, or entirely, anonymous, like blogging.  

Pick a Niche

So we’ve already touched on one element of choosing a niche: the fact that market saturation will make your life harder.

But the solution isn’t just to pick any emerging niche and start creating content.

One element of a successful affiliate marketing strategy is consistency. Another is passion. If you’re not interested in the subject you’re covering, you’re going to fall down on both these points.

So, if you hadn’t guessed already: When picking a niche, pick something you actually care about (you’ll thank us later).

Another point to consider when choosing an affiliate niche is how specific it’s going to be. Broader niches mean more competition, which in turn means it’ll be harder to get noticed and generate revenue.

The more distinct your niche, the easier it should be to gain traction. Admittedly, broader niches mean more things to promote and, potentially, more income. But only if you can get yourself and your platform in front of people.

It’s a bit of a Catch-22, so you need to weigh the pros and cons of both options.

One final point: You don’t have to pick just one niche.

You can, in fact, work in as many niches as you want across multiple different platforms. Does this mean more work? Of course. But it also increases your odds of succeeding and, in turn, your potential earnings.

Choose an Affiliate Scheme

Before you make this choice, we think it’s wise to understand the different types of affiliate schemes.

They can be broadly split into three categories.

  1. Low pay, high volume
  2. High pay, low volume
  3. High pay, high volume

Let’s talk about them in more detail.

Low Pay, High Volume Affiliate Schemes

The best example of a low pay, high volume affiliate scheme would be Amazon (particularly since they drastically slashed affiliate commissions).

We’re talking about products with mass appeal here. So on the plus side, they’re easy to promote and easy to sell. On the other hand, retailers know this. That means they can set low commission rates without deterring affiliates.

High Pay, Low Volume Affiliate Schemes

If you hadn’t guessed, these are niche products that, consequently, are more difficult to promote and sell. On the upside, affiliates enjoy far higher commissions. On the downside, products with high commissions are often very competitive — even when they’re super niche.

High Pay, High Volume Affiliate Schemes

Think financial products. Or travel. These are popular with consumers (for obvious reasons) and are big money makers for those selling them. As a result, commission rates are typically very generous.

Unfortunately, this means these types of programs tend to attract very experienced affiliates with money to burn. Those new to affiliate marketing are likely to find it hard to penetrate the market.

Choosing an Affiliate Scheme

So now you understand the types of affiliate schemes, how do you choose which one (or ones) to work with? This ties heavily into choosing a niche.

As with choosing a niche, the scheme (or schemes) you work with should offer products you have a legitimate interest in. Knowledge helps too but isn’t necessary. You can learn as you go.

You basically have two choices:

  1. Affiliate network
  2. Affiliate program

Affiliate networks include schemes like Amazon Associates. They’re ideal for those who want to choose what to promote from a big range of products.

You can read more about affiliate networks and get suggestions for ones you might want to join here.

Affiliate programs are generally specific to one particular brand — so you’ll be promoting a limited set of products, or sometimes even just one product.

As an example, we have an affiliate program at DreamHost. It’s specific to web hosting, and we pay up to $200 per referral.

If you want to focus on a very particular niche, working directly with an affiliate program rather than through a network might be preferable. Commissions are often higher, and you’re more likely to build a relationship with the brands you’re promoting.

Create Great Content

You’ve heard it from Google a thousand times: Just create great content — simple!

They’ve said it over and over. Almost like a mantra. But is it really that easy? How do you actually go about creating great content for your affiliate sites or platforms?

No matter your niche, you need to make sure you’re not just pumping out the same content as everyone else. “Top 10 products” type posts can and do rank — but everyone is making them.

When the SERPs are packed with the same content, it’s going to be hard to compete. And if you’re new to affiliate marketing? Very hard.

Think outside the box.

Solve your users’ issues and then figure out how you can go above and beyond AND still work affiliate links into the content.

There are various ways you can research what it is your potential visitors are looking for. Let’s say you have a tech blog. Don’t just write a list of the top 10 TVs. After all, who will believe you’ve road-tested all of them?

One of the best places to start this research is with a tool like Keyword Keg or Answerthepublic. Both go beyond typical keyword research and help you find the long tail instead.

There are similar SEO tools available for YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, if you choose one of those platforms.

The longer the tail, the less competitive the search term. You’re not going up against established big boys. You’ll be carving out new areas you can rank in.

So what kind of content can you create?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • A round-up that includes influencers’ product suggestions.
  • Product comparisons: If you’re going to road test some of the products you’re promoting, this is a great way to keep your costs down — you can always sell them later! Once you’ve started making your mark, however, you might find that brands send you products to test — for free.
  • Video content: Not only is video content easy to create with tech that you probably already own, but many visitors love video content. It’s easier to digest than text, and you can rank for more competitive keywords and gain additional visibility by hosting the content on YouTube.
  • How-to articles: You can be inventive with these as well. Create a how-to featuring multiple products you want to promote.
  • Gift guides: This is another way to create content that users love while including multiple products in one post. Use keyword tools to discover how people are searching for potential gifts — don’t just opt for something basic like “Top 10 Tech Gifts for Christmas.” Dig deep to find more opportunities. Creativity is your friend.
  • Podcasts: Yep, we can hear you asking: “How do I get my affiliate links in a podcast?”. Many podcast platforms allow you to embed the podcast on your site. Do that and then add affiliate links for the products you mention into the content that surrounds the embed.

Drive Traffic to Your Affiliate Site (Or Platform)

So you’ve created your content — what next?

This isn’t the Field of Dreams. Visitors don’t just turn up because the content’s there. You need to drive traffic to your site or platform. Luckily, there are a variety of ways you can do this.

SEO

Search engine optimization is the obvious and most used tactic in traditional affiliate marketing. It’s a long-term tactic; it will take time for your content to rank. But with the right strategy, it can drive sustained, high-quality traffic to your site.

So what do you need to consider when putting together an SEO strategy for your content? Here are a few things you should think about:

On-page optimization: Make sure you have a checklist you follow for each page that covers the basics (title tags, meta descriptions, heading tags, and alt tags). Tools like TubeBuddy can help YouTubers, and there are many similar tools to help on Instagram and Facebook.

Keyword research: Go beyond Google’s Keyword Tool and use some of the numerous other tools on the market. Dig deep and optimize thoroughly. Don’t just set and forget it either; return to your content every few months and tweak based on performance.

Link building: The cheaper ways of building links can still work, but you need to think about white hat link building if you want your site to be sustainable.

PPC

While you wait for your SEO work to take effect, you can always think about paid advertising. Google Ads are what most people think about when PPC is mentioned.

But don’t limit yourself.

Depending on the type of products you’re promoting, you may find that paid Twitter Ads, Facebook Ads, or Instagram Ads give you a better ROI. And these ads can be pointed at other platforms, so you don’t have to restrict yourself to just marketing on a website.

Find out where your target audience is hanging out, then run some test ads on those platforms. A tool like Buzzsumo will not only help you discover where your potential customers are; it can also give you insight into what type of content performs better on each platform.

Email Lists

Email lists are like gold for affiliate marketing.

You should be trying to capture visitors’ emails from day one. One way you can do this by giving away free guides or unique and exclusive content.

As you build your list, you can point people to the content you’ve created and hopefully make sales. You can also promote particular products in the emails themselves.

Just don’t forget that excessive emails can lead to unsubscribes. Keep an eye on the data and make sure you aren’t overwhelming your email list.

Get Clicks On Your Affiliate Links

You’ve created the content, and you’re starting to get traffic. What comes next?

Well, you need to get people to actually click on the links in your content. If they don’t follow the links, then you’re never going to make a single sale.

Here are a few things to think about with regards to getting your links clicked.

  • Link placement: Balance is essential here. You don’t want to bombard the reader by including several links in the first paragraph. On the other hand, you don’t want to bury them at the bottom of the page where they might not be seen. Formatting and placement are crucial.
  • Ensure people know they are there: We’ve seen too many affiliates who hide affiliate links — whether accidentally or not. Your links shouldn’t be dancing around the page in a tutu, but you should subtly let readers know that a link is there, and they should click it.
  • Context is key: Call out the products, don’t hide links using single words. You’re not building links for SEO value; you’re adding links to tell users where you want them to go next.

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Build Your Affiliate Marketing Strategy

When you’re selling on your own site, you have some control over your conversion rate. You can execute tests and implement CRO (conversion rate optimization) tactics to increase your sales or inquiries.

Affiliate marketers don’t have this luxury.

Once someone leaves an affiliate’s site, whether or not they buy is largely in the hands of the site they’re promoting.

But there are a couple of things you can do to help increase commissions.

  1. Choose networks or products with high conversion rates. The best way to do this is to look at other affiliates’ income reports — many affiliates make them public.
  2. Persuade visitors to buy before they leave your site. To be fair, this is your job as an affiliate anyway. Just don’t forget how little control (i.e., zero) you have over what happens once a visitor clicks one of your affiliate links. Your part in converting clicks into sales has to happen before the click.

Hopefully, you should have a decent understanding of affiliate marketing now: what it is, how it works, and how to get started.

So, let’s recap with some key takeaways.

  • Affiliate marketing involves using a platform (such as a website or social media channel) to promote products or services from another company.
  • Using a tracked link, when someone clicks an affiliate link and makes a purchase, the affiliate gets a cut of the takings.
  • To get started, you’ll need to choose a platform that plays to your strengths. For example, blogging, vlogging, or sharing photography on Instagram.
  • You’ll also need to pick a niche (or niches). Ideally, choose niches with limited competition. Most importantly, choose niches you’re interested in.
  • Choose an affiliate program (or programs). This should — needless to say — enable you to promote products in your niche.
  • Create content that’s explicit to your platform and compels visitors to purchase what you’re promoting.
  • Drive traffic to your platform using practices like SEO, PPC, and email marketing.
  • Persuade visitors to click on your affiliate links (without being pushy).
  • Convert those clicks into sales.

Ready to get started? If you’re going to use a website or blog as your platform, you need to partner with a great web host. At DreamHost, we’ll ensure your site is fast, secure, and always up so your visitors trust you. Our plans start from just $2.59/month!

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If you have questions or just could use some help figuring some thing out, get in touch. Our team of web experts has been in the business for over 20 years and knows how to help you figure out the right next steps.