Did you hear that affiliate marketing is a great way to make money from your content?
Good news: you heard right!
Unfortunately, you don't know exactly how affiliate marketing works or how to get started.
More good news: that’s what today’s post is all about!
How affiliate marketing works
You'll have a much better understanding of how affiliate marketing works once I answer a few primer questions that'll tell you what it is, why you should try it and when to get started. Let's dive in…
What is Affiliate Marketing?
I like to define affiliate marketing as a partnership between a publisher (i.e. blogger) and a merchant (i.e. retailer). The merchant sells products online and the publisher creates content online.
When they partner up, the publisher joins the merchant’s affiliate program (either hosted on a pro affiliate network or self-hosted tracking platform) and upon approval, logs into a dashboard to get things like promotional materials, performance reports, and most importantly, their unique affiliate tracking links.
The publisher then places these links within their content, like in a blog post or linked to a banner. Anytime one of their visitors clicks on a link and makes a purchase at the merchant’s site, the publisher earns a commission.
Keep in mind, affiliate tracking links are only valid for a certain period of time. For example, when you sign up to an affiliate program that advertises a “30-day cookie”, that means you’re only eligible for a commission if your visitor makes a purchase within 30 days. If they buy something on day 31, you don’t earn unless they clicked the link again at some point.
A common commission structure is a percentage of sales, but you may also get a flat rate payment or recurring monthly payment. So if you sign up to a program that pays 15% per sale, expect to earn $15 for every $100 your visitor spends at the merchant’s site.
Here's my silly way of showing you how affiliate marketing works:
Why Become An Affiliate?
With the what out of the way, let’s talk about the why. Here are 5 reasons why you should become an affiliate:
1) No audience minimums
If your blog doesn’t have a lot of traffic yet, affiliate marketing is a great way to start monetizing your content. It only takes one visitor to earn you a commission but you need like a gazillion visitors to get a sponsor.
Since I share affiliate marketing strategies with awesome people like you, naturally my content may contain affiliate links for products I use and love. If you take action (i.e. subscribe, make a purchase) after clicking one of these links, I'll earn some coffee money ☕️ which I promise to drink while creating more helpful content like this.Affiliate Disclosure
Unlike with advertising networks, you’ll rarely be rejected when applying to an affiliate network or program based solely on your audience size. I’ve processed thousands of applications and have never rejected someone for that ridiculous reason. Most program managers happily accept bloggers of any size because they know the blogger’s reach will grow in time and if they’ve nurtured the relationship early on, it will benefit the company when they break out.
As long as your site looks presentable and you’ve got some content related to the program you’re applying to, you’ll get approved most of the time. For more detailed info on how to almost always get approved, grab my free Affiliate Application Guide.
2) Great way to diversify your income
Don’t be fooled by 6-Figure Bloggers that tout “smarter” or “safer” monetization methods like online courses or freelance work. They probably want to sell you a course about it. Putting my less cynical cap on, maybe they simply had a better experience monetizing with one particular method – but that doesn’t make it the best.
That’s why I would tell you affiliate marketing is the best income stream out there. Nor would I ever suggest you rely on it as your only income source. It’s risky for pretty much anyone to rely on one stream of income alone, especially if you want to go from blog to biz.
By adding affiliate marketing into your monetization mix, you’ll be wisely diversifying the number of methods you use to make money. That way if another income source dries up unexpectedly, it won't ruin you.
3) It’s pretty much free
There is literally no cost to becoming an affiliate, even when you start making money. It’s actually the merchants who do the spending, by paying your commissions plus various fees their affiliate tracking platform charges them to host the program.
As you become more experienced as an affiliate, you may choose to experiment with paid affiliate tactics – such as advertising – but they’re never mandatory. In fact, most of the top earners I work with as an affiliate manager only use free affiliate activities to make their money.
4) It’s a legit way to monetize your content
Let’s address the biggest elephant in the room. Regardless of what you might have heard, affiliate marketing is not a sleazy way to earn money from your content.
Would you stop shopping altogether because of a few annoying sales people? Or stop drinking green smoothies because of that one time your concoction tasted like smelly socks?
No. You might change things up – like shop somewhere else or follow a different (or actual!) recipe – but you wouldn’t think badly of shopping or green smoothies because of a few crappy experiences.
Same goes for affiliate marketing.
Just because some affiliates do shady things, like promoting products they don’t believe in or gaming the system to increase their commissions, doesn’t mean you should avoid the industry altogether.
As long as you approach it in an honest and authentic way, earning from affiliate marketing will never feel sleazy or gross.
5) It’s a win, win, win situation
What I love best about affiliate marketing is everyone involved benefits from it. Here’s what I mean:
- The publisher (that's you!) wins because you get paid for sharing cool products you love.
- The merchant wins because you help them make sales.
- The customers win because you've helped them solve a problem or fill a need. Double win if you offered a bonus or discount on top of that!
When To Start Using Affiliate Marketing?
As mentioned earlier, it’s never too soon to start monetizing your content with affiliate marketing – even with your very first post.
As a new blogger, you just never know when a piece of content will go viral and send boatloads of traffic your way.
That’s exactly what happened to Gee Nonterah, who told me one of her biggest blogging regrets was not monetizing with affiliate links from day one. Gee didn’t think her 5,000 pageviews a month blog was big enough to worry about affiliate marketing so she pushed exploring it to the bottom of her never-ending to-do list.
Then without warning, a few of her blog posts went viral on Pinterest overnight and her traffic skyrocketed. With her blog now getting over 50,000 pageviews a month, she’s furiously trying to incorporate affiliate links within her top posts, knowing she lost out by not having them there earlier on.
Small blogger? I work with publishers of all sizes and bigger doesn’t necessarily translate to more commissions. Often smaller bloggers have more engagement from their audience compared to their larger counterparts. I've experienced this first hand too. Recently I was a top earning affiliate for a course launch – alongside bloggers with audiences 10-40x bigger than mine.
If you need further “tiny list” inspiration, check out the affiliate stories of Rachel Luna and Adrienne Dorison.
Already have an audience? Get cracking because with established traffic sources, podcast listeners, social media followers and/or email subscribers to work with already, you’re in an even better position to start monetizing with affiliate marketing.
How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing
I bet you’re pretty darn excited to get started now that you know how affiliate marketing works, right? Yay! I have just the resource for you:
AFFILIATE EXPERIMENTS PLANNER
Enter your info below to grab my *free* Affiliate Experiments Planner so you can map out a year of amazing affiliate promos in a super fun & hands-on way.
I do not have a blog is it mandatory for affiliate marketing?
It’s not mandatory, however I do recommend having a blog down the line. If you want to get your feet wet by trying affiliate promotions across social media, that’s great. But social media affiliate promotions don’t convert very well so you won’t earn a lot and may get discouraged. Affiliate marketing works best when you build a brand about something you’re interested in / know a lot about / want to become an expert in and you really need a blog / site to do that. If you want to start small but with a better converting medium, try a weekly newsletter (around a specific niche / topic) because it converts much higher and gets you into the habit of creating consistent content. You will need a landing page to capture emails so I’d recommend buying a domain to set one up so you can later develop it into a blog / site when you’re ready.
Hope that helps,
I’ve had several companies reach out over Instagram about collaboration. And after I express an interest they try to get me to purchase their product at a discounted price to promote for them. Is this normal? Or just a sales tactic that companies are using now?
That is not a best practice for affiliate marketing – you normally don’t need to pay to be an affiliate regardless of the company type or niche. Sometimes course creators only want students promoting them as an affiliate, but they don’t encourage you to purchase the course just to become an affiliate.
Plus most companies who want to collaborate will send out free samples or products you borrow to test out in exchange for promotion, not get you to pay for them. I would steer clear unless you’ve reached out first or it’s a brand you really want to work with.
What a refreshing post to help regain my confidence with Affiliate Marketing. This is not my first attempt with Affiliate Marketing as I have been burned before. I have spent a considerable amount of money on Affiliate Programs for very little or no return.
I know some people have made it big with AM who make even more from people like me who just want to get started. I really enjoyed and appreciate the way you used the word “Aspiring” and genuinely offer to help people get started without asking for something up front.
All I can say is Thank You.
Thanks for stopping by John. Sorry to hear you’ve been burned before 🙁 I think it’s best for new affiliates to only invest their time – spending money on ads to promote affiliate products is risky when you don’t have a background in digital marketing or extra money to use as a learning opportunity (vs. needing to get a return 100%). That’s why I love content and email marketing when it comes to affiliate promotions – it doesn’t cost much to get a blog and/or email list up and running. Good luck with re-starting 🙂
Thank you Justine and looking forward to receiving the daily emails.
Basically I have only just started my website in the niche of hot sauces (as I love trying the hottest sauces around the world). So my new website and new facebook page have links to products on Amazon (I am a new Amazon Associates Affiliate).
I am also a Bluehost.com Affiliate. I use them (with wordpress) to set up my website so I advertise them via banner on my website.
Looking to add other hot sauce affiliate websites on my website and on my Facebook page. The more I can learn about the Do’s and Don’ts the better.
Thanks for your kind comment. Hot sauce = what a great niche! Sounds like something you are passionate about, which is fantastic. Best of luck with your affiliate adventures 🙂
Hello again Justine,
Sorry for the long Facebook message now. 🙂
I signed up for the 7 day tutorial, wrote you on Facebook right after, then received the link to this blog and now have my big question answered.
Thank you for all the incredible information and I look forward to speaking with you soon. Best of luck.
Thank you Matt, happy you’re enjoying everything!