If you’d like to make passive income with affiliate marketing, this post is going to become your go-to guide.
Not only am I going to teach you the basics of how to become an affiliate marketer, but we’ll also dive into some real examples from professional affiliate marketers who are making thousands or even millions of dollars per year without spending money on PPC or any of that nonsense.
We’ll cover promoting products on Amazon, creating SEO-optimized content that ranks well on Google, email list promotion strategies, and how to choose the best affiliate program for you.
We’ll also provide a step-by-step guide to the whole process, so you’ll be earning affiliate commissions in no time.
Let’s dive in.
We’ll start with a (somewhat long-winded) definition:
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is the practice of promoting the products or services of another person or company in exchange for a commission on the resulting sale. Affiliate marketers join affiliate programs, find reputable affiliate products to promote, and then share those products with their audiences.
Basically, it’s a modern interpretation of a very old idea — getting a commission on a sale.
If you’ve been listening to us for long, you’ve learned that bloggers make money by building an audience who trusts them, and then by offering products or services that will genuinely help that audience.
Affiliate marketing is really just a quick way to offer products and services without having to create your own products and services.
For bloggers, that means you find a product or service that you like, promote it to your readers, and earn part of the profit on each sale that you make.
How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
Affiliate marketing can get pretty technical, even for those well-versed in digital marketing. Fortunately, you don’t need to know all the details to get started
The actual mechanics run in the background, thanks to the merchant’s affiliate software.
But here’s a quick look behind the scenes:
- When an affiliate joins the merchant’s program, he or she is given a unique ID and a specific URL to use when promoting the company’s product.
- The affiliate includes the link in their blog post and/or via their email marketing efforts and invites readers to click it to find out more.
- When a potential buyer clicks on the link to visit the affiliate partner’s site, a cookie identifying the affiliate is placed on the website visitor’s computer. The cookie ensures that the publisher is credited with the referral sale even if it occurs days or even weeks later.
- Whenever a buyer completes the sale process, the merchant checks the sales record for a cookie identifying the source of the referral.
- If the merchant finds a cookie with an affiliate ID, the affiliate is credited with the sale.
- The merchant makes reports available so that the affiliate can see their referrals (clicks) and sales.
- The merchant pays the affiliate commission at the end of each payment period (i.e. revenue sharing).
How to Start Affiliate Marketing in 4 Steps
Here’s the key point you need to understand if you want to become an affiliate marketer:
You’re earning a commission in exchange for giving readers valuable insights on products or services they were already thinking about purchasing.
In other words, your readers are already buying things. They are already going to make a purchase whether or not you give them any advice.
The question is, could you help them make a smarter decision than they could alone?
Because that’s where you add value. You earn a commission in exchange for being an influencer and helping people make smarter decisions, and you use your blog and the Internet to systemize that process, providing valuable advice to thousands of people.
Here’s a step-by-step process for doing exactly that:
Step 1: Choose a Product to Promote as an Affiliate
As ethical content creators, we’re constrained in the products we choose to represent in one of two ways:
- Either we’re limited by our experience to products that we’ve used and liked, that have affiliate programs and that are a good fit for our audience, or
- We’re constrained by the products we can get access to in order to evaluate them, either by buying them outright or getting a free sample or trial.
No matter which approach you take, expect to have to invest time and money into researching the best products for your audience.
Here are your two main options (with your best option listed first).
OPTION #1: PROMOTE PRODUCTS YOU ALREADY KNOW AND LOVE
This is the most common way to get started with affiliate offers.
You become an affiliate for something that you’ve used yourself, had a good experience with, thoroughly tested and feel good recommending. You should be fairly confident that others will get the same results you did (or better), as long as they do the work.
If you’ve found great success from a course, mastermind, or ebook that your readers could also benefit from, it only makes sense for you to spread the word and share your results.
Do an inventory of the products, services, and courses you already have experience with. You might have a list of a dozen or more.
Which of these would you be thrilled to promote? Cross out any that don’t fit the bill.
Now simply check to see if the merchant has an affiliate program (some won’t but you’ll probably be surprised at how many do).
Using a search engine like Google, search for “affiliate program” + [product name], or simply email the merchant and ask.
Then run your remaining options through this Good Affiliate Product checklist:
- You’ve previewed the product so you know its quality (given, in this case).
- They have a solid refund policy that you trust they’ll honor.
- They provide good customer support (and you’ve tested it).
- You have a good story to share about your experience with the product.
- The offer fits your audience’s needs and won’t abuse the trust you’ve built with them.
The products that tick all the checkboxes are your best opportunities for affiliate revenue. As time goes on, add as many of these products to your mix as you like.
You’ve found your first product! Apply using the merchant’s process and start promoting.
If you’re just dipping your toe in the affiliate marketing industry, this first option may be enough to get you started.
However, most bloggers will want to try the next one, too.
And you’ll have to explore the second option if you don’t have an existing product you love that is also a great match for your audience and offers an affiliate program.)
Option #2: Find Products Via an Affiliate Network
If you don’t have any direct experience with or knowledge of products in your niche that could help your readers, you can often find good affiliate products on affiliate networks (← our detailed guide).
But be careful — this approach requires that you invest time into research and money into purchasing products to try out, more so than the first option.
That’s because there’s less trust and prior knowledge involved from the outset. You have to do your due diligence to protect your reputation and the credibility you’ve built with your readers.
When you work through a network, you typically won’t know the merchant ahead of time and usually won’t build a relationship with them (your business relationship is with the network).
The list of popular and reliable affiliate networks includes ClickBank, CJ Affiliate, the eBay Partner Network, ShareASale, CJ Affiliate (aka Commission Junction), and the Amazon Associates program. Some networks will even assign you an affiliate manager to lend a hand and show you the ropes.
Amazon products, in particular, are an easy way to get started. Many newbies begin by becoming an Amazon affiliate and then scaling to other types of more profitable affiliate offers.
Step 2: Get Yourself Set Up as an Affiliate
Whether you work directly with affiliate merchants or through a network, you’ll have to apply, be approved, and provide certain information so that you can be paid.
At a minimum you’ll need to provide:
- Your personal/business contact information for tax and reporting purposes.
- Your bank account where commissions will be sent.
- In turn, the merchant must provide you with:
- An affiliate link. Whenever you post about the product, you’ll use this trackable link. It will have a long tag at the end of each link that includes your affiliate ID.
- You’ll also usually get some tips and useful assets for marketing the product (often found in a welcome guide or on the affiliate website).
- These could include:
- An affiliate guide as well as instructions on how to use the platform and a summary of policies such as payouts.
- Online marketing tools like banners and sidebar graphics.
- Sample email/webpage swipe copy.
- Ongoing communications from the merchant about promotions, new products, etc.
If you use an affiliate platform like Amazon, you’ll get your own link for each of the specific products you promote.
Be sure to check your specific network’s help or support pages for more information.
Step 3: Start Promoting Your Chosen Affiliate Offers
Ultimately, all your hard work finding and evaluating products only pays off if somebody takes your advice and makes the purchase, right?
For that to happen, you need to put your recommendation in front of your audience. Even more importantly, you need to make your recommendation trustworthy.
This is where a lot of affiliate marketers slip up. They think slapping a banner ad up on their blog that links to affiliate products is all they need to do.
Does that look trustworthy to you? Nowhere close, right?
Well, here’s a little secret:
The most successful affiliate marketing offers look nothing like that. No PPC or veiled recommendations on social media.
Here’s what to do instead (and what marketing channels to use):
Option #1: Create a Resource Page on Your Blog
It promotes lots of different products, but it also explains why those products would be helpful to them.
In other words, it’s not just a sales pitch. It’s educational. Because it contains a lot of quality content, plus it’s well optimized for SEO, it also ranks well in Google search results and gets organic traffic. It gets good conversion rates too.
Chances are, you can put together a landing page like this within a few hours. Your readers will also appreciate you putting all of your recommendations in one place for easy reference.
Option #2: Create and Promote Custom Content
This content marketing strategy will be the backbone of your affiliate promotional efforts.
Use as many of the following different techniques as make sense for your blog and audience.
Note: All of these strategies assume that you are already sending traffic to the latest content you’re creating by emailing your list on a regular basis (at least two to four times per month) to let them know what’s new.
Step 4: Comply with Legal Requirements (and Best Practices)
Don’t be afraid to be transparent. People will appreciate your honesty and want to support you to repay you for making their lives better.
So wherever you share an affiliate link, whether it’s in blog posts, web pages, or emails, let your readers know that you stand to earn a small commission if they buy through you — and if they choose not to use your link, no worries.
Assure them that you wouldn’t recommend any products if you hadn’t used them yourself or were confident they could help them.
It’s also a good idea to create an Affiliate Disclaimer page on your website.