The Definitive Guide to Affiliate Marketing

How will your business take advantage of an affiliate income stream? Here's our definitive guide to affiliate marketing — starting from square one!

Young cooking african man speaker talking on digital camera recording vlog. African male vlogger or shooting blog filming reportage advertising video, coaching.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, aspiring blogger, or global enterprise CEO, content marketing is an excellent way to put your brand on the map in every corner of the internet.

But affiliate marketing takes your earning potential to the next level.

In fact, affiliate marketing is now responsible for driving 16% of online sales in a world where 81% of consumers research products before buying.

The question is:

How will your business take advantage of an affiliate income stream?

Well, this is our definitive guide to affiliate marketing — starting from square one!


What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate marketing is passive income at its finest. It’s a commission-based model where a website owner (known as an “affiliate” or “publisher”) promotes another retailer’s products or services in exchange for a cut.

Here’s how it works:

  1. A publisher promotes a product on their blog, Instagram — really anywhere their followers interact with them.
  2. They include an “affiliate link” to a page where readers can purchase the product.
  3. When a user clicks the link, it saves a tracking cookie on their device, set to expire on a certain date (sometimes up to 30 days).
  4. The affiliate program or network attributes any purchases linked to that tracking cookie.

And, when they do …

The affiliate earns a commission or a percentage of the sale on any products they help sell. After all, if it weren’t for your savvy marketing efforts, that sale wouldn’t have happened!

Types of Affiliate Marketing

35% of affiliate marketers pull in $20,000+ per year.

(Hence, the travel bloggers who brag about sipping Mojitos on the beach in the Caribbean while the rest of us slave away at 9-to-5 desk jobs.)

via GIPHY

What nobody tells you is that affiliate commissions come in a few shapes and sizes, each with its own advantages.

The three most common structures include:

Per Sale

In the per-sale structure, you earn a percentage of the sales price for every sale your affiliate links generate. This is the most popular type of affiliate marketing and carries the most earning potential.

…as long as you promote high-ticket items.

A 5% flat rate is chump change if you’re promoting products with $5 price tags. That’ll afford you a single gumball (yipee). But a 5% commission on a $2,000 flat-screen TV bumps your earnings up to a much sweeter $100.

Per Click

The pay-per-click (PPC) method is equivalent to “renting” out ad space on your website. When a visitor clicks the ad and redirects to a retailer’s site, the network pays you for the traffic, often at a per-1000-visitor rate.

PPC ads are a goldmine for websites drawing monthly traffic in the seven figures. Even if you partner with a network that pays a measly $15 for every 1,000 clicks, a 10% conversion rate will yield $1,500/month!

Per Lead

The per-lead strategy is popular in the service industry, meaning commission doesn’t rely on driving sales to a company’s products. A “lead” could be a user signing up for a free trial, scheduling a call, or creating an account.

Per-lead affiliate programs tend to be stingier with their rates. But with a lower bar to hurdle and the word “FREE” attached to offers, visitors are more willing to bite.

Commission rates could be a few cents, but if you recruit a new customer, that rate could skyrocket beyond $100 per lead!

How Much Can You Earn With Affiliate Marketing?

The top 3% of affiliates pocket upwards of $150,000/year in purely passive income. But for the average affiliate, a salary of $20,000/year — or about $1,667/month — is more realistic.

We’ll touch on how to maximize your earning potential later on!


How to Start Affiliate Marketing

Whether you’re the brains behind a new startup or planning to monetize your company’s current website, all paths lead to affiliate marketing.

In fact, 84% of your fellow publishers and 81% of all advertisers are already members of the affiliate marketing scene.

(Hey, we’re not one to encourage following the crowd, especially after the whole Tide Pod fiasco of 2017. But the facts speak for themselves!)

So how do you turn your website into a passive-income machine? Or your Instagram business profile? Or even email marketing campaigns?

Below, we’ll reveal our step-by-step beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing, from choosing a blog niche to boosting your website conversions.

1. Find a Blog Niche

There’s no definitive rule in content marketing that says you need a blog niche. But without one, you’re shouting into the Google void, and your message is being drowned out in the sea of its 130 trillion pages (literally).

We talk more about how to narrow down blog niches in our “What to Blog About” article. But let’s put an affiliate marketing spin on the process.

When choosing a niche, find one that:

Doesn’t Have Insane Competition

The search volume shouldn’t be so low that monthly traffic never exceeds triple digits. Nor should it be so competitive that you’re stranded in Google Wasteland somewhere beyond page 20.

For example, covering “anything tech” won’t bode well with big-name competitors like CNET or TechRadar. But a more specific niche — like open-back headphones or health gadgets — offers more opportunity.

Interests You

As an affiliate marketer, you’ll need to convince readers of two things:

  1. You know enough about the topic to be considered “credible” in the industry.
  2. They should trust your expertise enough to invest in the products you recommend.

While your blogging efforts can bring you “passive” income eventually, it takes a lot of work to get there. A strong interest in the topic can keep you motivated while you’re bootstrapping your blog in the early days.

Has Affiliate Marketing Opportunities

As long as you’re creative and don’t violate FTC or Google rules, every blog has affiliate marketing opportunities.

Brainstorm the products and services your ideal reader is most likely to invest in. Then, narrow your search for the most relevant affiliate programs (we’ll give you a list of popular programs below).

2. Build a User-Friendly Website

Finding a niche is one thing. However, turning that idea into a website that both readers and search engines like is a completely different story.

Most newbies start with a basic WordPress site before either investing in the annual Business plan or hiring a full-blown web design team (like Interweb!).

Why WordPress? A few reasons:

  1. It hosts dozens of free templates, meaning you don’t need to be an HTML, CSS, or C++ guru.
  2. Affiliate-friendly plug-ins like MonsterInsights and Pretty Links are compatible with and track affiliate link traffic.
  3. The publishing process could be as simple as Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V, adding images, and tapping “Publish.”
  4. The built-in WordPress themes are easy to customize to reflect your brand and boost functionality (i.e., user-friendly navigation toolbars).

A button clearly labeled “Blog” — or even brandishing your top posts on the homepage — can give your affiliate efforts an extra boost.

For more info on why we love WordPress (as well as some alternatives), check out our Shopify and Webflow comparison articles!

Can You Do Affiliate Marketing Without a Website?

You can do affiliate marketing without a website, as long as you’re generating traffic elsewhere. The only real requirement is a digital audience who trusts your opinion and will click the links you share.

Affiliate marketing is also possible through email marketing campaigns, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, online forums, Linkedin, and beyond.

It’s the reason why so many “influencers” have been able to get rich on Instagram!

These quasi-celebrities partner with big-name brands and promote their products to millions of followers. Posting an affiliate link in their bio, sharing a coupon code, or tagging the brand’s profile in a caption gets them a percentage of the sale.

3. Write the First Few Articles

Launching an affiliate website without content is like opening a store with empty shelves. What’s the point?

Before typing your first-ever blog post, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who’s my ideal audience?
  • How should I speak to readers to best match my brand and their personalities (style, terminology, voice)?
  • What does my audience want to learn, and what problems can I help them solve?
  • Once they’re on my page, how can I keep them around?
  • How can I prove to readers that I’m an authoritative source?

A little keyword research and 1,000+ words go a long way in establishing your website and “stocking” those metaphorical shelves.

But don’t worry about affiliate sales just yet.

Focus on creating good content, driving traffic to your site, and building your reputation. Give Google time to understand what your site is about so it knows which searches to rank you in.

There’s no sense in going through the trouble of enrolling in an affiliate program if you haven’t nailed the traffic aspect.

4. Build Partnerships With Affiliate Programs

Now that your website is reaching the masses, it’s time to become an affiliate partner and try your hand at online marketing. Think about the brands and products that connect with your audience most.

If you’re spearheading a fitness site, that might be well-respected brands like Adidas or Nike. Or, in a more general sense, athletic shoes and fitness watches.

Figure out which affiliate programs will allow you to promote those products.

The Most Popular Affiliate Networks

Some companies have their own affiliate programs that pay on a per-lead basis, like FiverrBuzzsprout, and ActiveCampaign. So, a new subscriber or a scheduled demo call could earn you a quick buck.

But the real profits lie in the big-wig networks with a broader reach and wider product selection, such as:

Becoming a Commission Junction affiliate builds an automatic partnership with reputable brands like Barnes & Noble and Office Depot.

Things to Consider Before Choosing an Affiliate Network

The biggest mistake you can make when choosing an affiliate program?

Allowing the dollar signs to interfere with your decision!

Sure, commission rates do matter, but other factors matter, too:

  • Average conversion rates
  • Payment structure (i.e., per lead, click, or sale)
  • Cookie lifetime
  • Promotional content (i.e., the landing page readers redirect to)
  • Minimum payout threshold
  • Refund policy

Generally, the best affiliate programs have modest commission rates, longer cookie lifetimes, low competition, and well-respected products.

Choosing the Right Products and Services to Market

The best way to alienate your audience is to hype up a product that’s absolute garbage. Remember, readers trust your opinions.

So, it’s best to promote products you’ve actually used so you know they work and solve the problems they claim. Otherwise, stick with brands you already trust to avoid misleading your loyal customers.

Ask yourself if you’d spend your hard-earned money on it or if you’re just marketing it for the commission.

Confidence in the products you promote is a saving grace in the PR department. After all, suggesting the wrong ones could taint your reputation and guarantee lost followers.

Which Affiliate Marketing Programs Have the Best Commission Rates?

Some of the affiliate marketing programs with the best commission rates include:

Program Name Commission Rate Cookie Lifetime**
Fiverr $50-150 per sale 30 days
Elementor 50% 30 days
Pabbly 30% 30 days
TripAdvisor 50% 14 days
Bodybuilding.com 15% 9 days
Dicks Sporting Goods 5% 10 days

**Cookie lifetimes explain how long the tracking cookie will remain on a user’s device, linking their purchase to your affiliate link.

For example, let’s say your affiliate program offers a 10-day cookie lifetime. If a user clicks the link, exits the page, and then returns to buy the product eight days later, you’re still entitled to a commission of that sale. Otherwise, the cookie would expire two days later without any earnings.

5. Create More Revenue-Focused Content

Once you’re armed with an affiliate partnership, you’re ready to shift your attention to more revenue-focused content. Cha-ching!

But before you do …

Read the network’s terms of service, including the fine print, to avoid violating any rules. Something as simple as mentioning specific product prices could get you blacklisted, so it’s good to be aware of all the guidelines.

FTC laws require a clear disclaimer letting potential customers know that you’ll earn commission on every sale you drive.

Then, publish quality content that reaches your target audience, like:

Product Reviews

Product reviews are among the best affiliate marketing strategies for one reason alone:

You can add five, ten, or even fifteen affiliate links throughout the article without a spammy vibe.

Rank the top XX sprinklers for small lawns, compare the pros and cons of each, and help readers decide which one will fit the bill.

Tutorials

Tutorials are an excellent way to prove your site as an authority in the niche by donning your teacher hat every now and then. Use these posts (or videos) to detail how to use an affiliate product with a physical product demo.

If readers ask whether a smartphone is compatible with a certain Bluetooth speaker, a walkthrough video explaining how to connect them provides two affiliate opportunities: the phone and the speaker!

How-To Posts

How-to posts are subtle ways to push affiliate links to readers not yet prepared to make purchase decisions.

The focus?

Fueling ideas!

Users searching for how to clean a vacuum can do it all on their own by following your steps. But it’d be sparkly clean and smell like heaven if they used a specialized soap (wink wink, nudge nudge).

via GIPHY

6. Monetize the Site With Ad Revenue

All that affiliate marketing work is finally paying off at the bank. But what if we told you that you could ramp up this income stream even more by monetizing your site with ads?

That’s right! At about $0.15 per ad click,  1,000 clicks per day could yield an extra $5,475/year!

The trick is choosing a high-quality ad network. And, of course, not receiving the stink eye from your readers.

That requires three things:

Aligning Ads to Your Affiliate Site’s Niche

Unless you display custom ads for your own products, you don’t have complete control over which ads show on your site.

But networks like Google AdSense — the default on WordPress — allow you to adjust which ad categories show for site visitors. Use this to your advantage and without going overboard.

If your site’s niche is “eco-friendly lifestyle,” block vehicle ads. For a macho male audience, block “handbags.”

Taking It Easy on the Ads

Monetizing your site is great. But, adding so many ads that the page lags, crashes, or sends your readers running is not so great.

(It’s also a death sentence for your bounce rate.)

Three to four ad placements per page seems to be the “sweet spot.”

Finding the Right Ad Network

By default, WordPress allows users the option to include Google AdSense on Premium sites. However, MediavineAdThrive, and Ezoic are more selective about accepting sites, sometimes requiring 50,000 sessions in the past month.

7. Boost Website Conversions and Affiliate Profits

The success of an affiliate marketing campaign depends on your ability to drive consistent traffic to your website.

Once they’re on your site, you want to encourage them to take a particular action (hand over their email address, buy a promoted product, register for a webinar, etc.).

In the digital marketing world, we call those actions “conversions,” and there are some strategies you can use to boost your conversion rate:

Monetize Every Page of Your Site

Every page on your site should have some form of monetization. Links to promoted products, an AdSense banner, something that boosts your odds of earning passive income with each unique visitor.

No matter which page readers land on, there should be actions for them to take.

Update the Site With New, Trendy Content

Viral posts are every blogger’s dream. Who doesn’t want 100,000 or a million page views in a week?

But affiliate marketing success relies on that rapport between you and your audience and keeping your return visitor rates at least 30%.

Keep your thumb on the pulse of what’s happening in your niche. Review new product releases, build a post around what’s “hot” on Google Trends, or demystify a fad making the rounds on social media.

Partner With More Ad Networks and Affiliate Programs

There’s no need to back yourself into a corner and settle for one affiliate program. Partnering with several allows you to fill the gap that one leaves behind.

Big-name brands that don’t sell on Amazon may partner with Chewy or Best Buy, both of which offer their own affiliate programs.

Start an Email List

Email subscriber lists are like your own mini-marketing platform.

Now that they’re swooning over the free checklist or exclusive offer on your website, you don’t have to pray they stumble upon your site again. All you have to do is queue up a promotional email — with affiliate links — to drive off-site sales.

Consider sending out a newsletter listing your latest blog posts or a weekly email series that leaves subscribers on the edge of their seats. For example, an eight-part series with a new modern interior design tip each week.

Create a Traffic-Driving Strategy

Boosting conversion rates requires a little marketing know-how. Landing pages can funnel visitors to relevant products. An SEO strategy and a buzzing social media presence can also drive organic traffic.

PPC ads can fluff your numbers. But with an average 2.35% conversion rate, the artificial boost doesn’t always translate into affiliate sales.

8. Or … Hire a Content Marketing Team

The guide above works. Yet, while low-cost, it can also be time-consuming and frustrating if you’re not well-versed in search engine optimization.

Partnering with an agency like Intergrowth can take your affiliate marketing efforts to the next level with a team of skilled:

  • Content creators
  • Editors
  • Content promotion specialists
  • Digital marketing pros

We’ll create and optimize your content, monitor your growth over time, and discover untapped opportunities to maximize site monetization.

We may be able to help you grow your business! Get in touch, and we’ll get back to you within a day or two.


Conclusion

Next to rock-solid content marketing, affiliate partnerships are among the best marketing tools to take advantage of automation and boost revenue.

It’s also an incredible way to get your foot in the door in the ecommerce world, especially if you’re a newer blogger or small business owner. Plenty of affiliates earn an extra $20,000 a year in supplemental income with these methods.

Will you be next?

Learn about our services:

Content Marketing | White Label Web Development | Web Design & Development

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The Definitive Guide to Affiliate Marketing