Why You Should Try Affiliate Marketing in 2023 (Hint: $$)
Eager to learn about affiliate marketing to make money?
Longing for flexible work with passive income?
People get paid to do what you've done your whole life for free — use stuff and recommend them to others.
Sounds simple enough, but there's a method to the madness.
Read on for everything you need to know about affiliate marketing, how to start, and how to succeed.
What Exactly Is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a form of performance marketing. Affiliate merchants pay a third party to promote their products or services online.
This third party drives traffic to the merchant's website and converts leads. Then they earn a commission according to previously agreed-upon terms.
An affiliate partnership forms directly through the merchant or an affiliate marketing agency. These agencies, also called affiliate networks, manage a pool of marketers for hire.
Affiliate networks act as the middleman between the merchant and the marketers.
They connect businesses and influencers with an affiliate marketing program, facilitate affiliate relationships, and manage payment arrangements.
How Affiliate Marketing Works
There are three main groups involved in the affiliate marketing chain.
1. Product/Service (aka the creator and seller)
The merchant sells the product or provides the service, such as an online course or a digital download.
There are different types of merchants where affiliate marketing is concerned:
- Individual brands (Target, Nike, L'Oreal)
- Seller marketplaces (Amazon Affiliate, eBay Partner Network, Etsy)
- Perk companies (Rakuten, RetailMeNot, Groupon) — these double as marketplaces and affiliates
Merchants hire a content creator to help promote their affiliate offers and boost site traffic.
2. You (aka the affiliate marketer)
As an affiliate marketer, you act as a product ambassador for the merchant to create brand awareness.
You already have a web presence and audience within a niche related to the merchant's offerings.
You're also experienced with the offerings in question and genuinely endorse them.
You hype up the merchant's offerings to your followers through your content marketing, then direct them to the merchant's website through affiliate links.
3. Them (aka the consumer)
The consumer is both your target follower and the merchant's target customer.
This person engages with your web content and then completes the specified call to action with regard to the merchant.
That call to action could be clicking the affiliate link to visit the merchant's site.
Or it could be signing up for an email list, registering for something, or making a purchase once they get there.
Why Affiliate Marketing?
According to affiliate marketing statistics, the affiliate marketing industry is worth multi-billion dollars and isn't slowing down anytime soon.
If that's not reason enough, here's a breakdown of additional reasons to pursue an affiliate marketing network.
1. It's low risk
An affiliate marketer recommends products or services that they already use and love.
You're addressing a crowd that you already resonate with on a medium that you already frequent.
You explain why you think that thing is awesome. Then your audience decides whether they agree and want to check it out.
You get paid if they do, but you don't lose anything if they don't.
2. Totally scalable
You can promote as many or as few products as you'd like. You can even sign up for multiple affiliate programs — it all depends on your preferences and game plan.
You can start small and keep scaling up. You can maintain a particular program or core selection of products that work well for you. You can even scale down if you need to for any reason.
3. Make money while you sleep
Affiliate marketers earn a commission for each customer or lead. So your audience's actions always determine your affiliate income.
You should post content regularly. But once published, it keeps generating affiliate revenue without you. You'll have your earnings on autopilot.
Still, using affiliate marketing tools will optimize your marketing campaigns. They help you ensure you are maximizing your earnings long-term.
4. Customer support — not your problem
You aren't the go-to person for issues since you don't create or distribute the product. You aren't even directly employed by the merchant.
You're a consumer guiding other consumers to a product you like. You just share your personal experiences with it. Then you earn affiliate income if those consumers choose to heed your referral.
The seller handles all customer questions and complaints. Their customer support team handles web accounts, shipping, assembly, troubleshooting, refunds, and exchanges.
5. Work wherever, whenever
Affiliate marketers promote digital products and services online. So you can work from anywhere you have a wifi or data connection:
- From your home, from a coffee shop, or from the library
- In a big city, in the suburbs, or in the country
- Driving cross-country through the U.S., backpacking across Europe, or Couchsurfing throughout Asia
You aren't punching a time clock, so you can create, post, and manage your content at any time from any time zone.
6. Minimal startup costs
Getting started shouldn't cost you more than the price of a website. Domain name registration, website building, and web hosting don't cost much.
You won't even incur those costs if you already have a blog or intend to use social media or YouTube instead. And affiliate programs are free to join.
Content creation and promotion activities are free.
You can even find free marketing analytics tools to track your campaigns. However, you can choose to invest in paid traffic.
7. High level of flexibility
As an affiliate marketer, you'll enjoy a high level of flexibility in your work. You'll choose:
- Which niche to operate in
- Which products or services to promote within that niche
- How many offerings to promote
- Which affiliate program to join, and how many
- Which platform to use, and how many
- What kind of content to create, and how often
As previously stated, you also get to choose when and where you work.
How Affiliate Marketers Get Paid
There are three primary pay arrangements that affiliate programs typically offer.
1. Pay per sale
In a pay-per-sale arrangement, you get paid per affiliate sale. You earn nothing if your campaign efforts don't result in a sale.
Site visits or any other action taken on the site don't qualify for the commission. This is the most standard arrangement.
2. Pay per lead
For a pay-per-lead arrangement, you get paid for every lead conversion.
You earn a commission if the consumer visits the merchant's site via your affiliate link and performs a specific action.
No purchase is necessary, but they must create an account, join the email list, register, etc.
3. Pay per click
With a pay-per-click arrangement, you get paid for every affiliate link clickthrough.
The consumer doesn't have to take any action at all once they get there.
You still earn an affiliate commission for driving traffic through the affiliate link.
Top Affiliate Marketing Channels
You can choose from a wide array of different channels for your digital marketing efforts.
The affiliate channel (or channels) you choose will depend upon your strengths.
Influencer marketing continues to dominate the digital marketing sphere. Influencers have massive audiences.
And they have a substantial level of power to impact their audience's online activity.
As an influencer, you create dynamic content that consistently hits the mark.
People flock to your page for the latest trends and recommendations. When something new enters the market, they turn to you first for your reaction.
Establish loyalty with your brand, and they'll support almost anything you endorse.
Bloggers can amass large numbers of readers within their niches.
The best blog post identifies the target reader's pain points, gives them exactly what they came for, and inspires them to take action.
The product you promote should address a pain point for your target reader.
You may write product reviews, product comparisons, or posts about niche-related topics.
Check out these examples to see a successful affiliate website in action for inspiration.
3. Referral links
Affiliate marketers use referral links to share the merchant's products or services. Also called affiliate links, they contain a unique affiliate ID.
The merchant uses them to determine who referred each website visitor. They also help with monitoring the specific campaign attached to the link.
Referral links count each clickthrough and record site activity during the consumer's entire site visit.
This is how the merchant determines whether the affiliate has earned a commission.
4. Paid microsites
Brands create these standalone web pages separate from their main website.
They contain focused content and serve a targeted purpose. Even the interface and site design are specifically geared toward that purpose.
A microsite is an ideal affiliate platform for campaign focus and audience targeting.
It highlights the affiliate promotion, keeping it from getting lost in all the content on the merchant's main website.
Like referral links, microsites track site visits and activity on the site.
5. Video content
Video is a powerful marketing channel. Some products and services showcase far better on video than in a blog post or still photo.
Videos allow a consumer to see a product in action before making a purchase decision.
Tutorials, demonstrations, and walkthroughs showcase both function and effect. Viewers also see and gauge your reactions to the product.
You typically post the affiliate link to the description below the video.
6. Email lists
Email marketing remains one of the highest-performing digital marketing strategies. It also allows you to reach a wide audience.
Incorporate affiliate links into your existing email campaigns, or develop a separate campaign. Then reach out to your own pre-existing email list.
You can also build an email list specifically for your affiliate email marketing campaign.
Incentivize your site visitors to subscribe to your newsletter with fun perks.
7. Social media
Many people use social media to conduct brand research and seek out consumer reviews.
A social media strategy provides many different ways to promote your links or your content containing those links:
- Your profile
- Your posts
Influencers and digital marketers have loads of help with expanding their reach. Most social media platforms offer free or paid social media analytics and marketing tools.
How to Start Affiliate Marketing
Now that "what" and "why" have been covered, here's a rundown of "how" to start affiliate marketing.
1. Pick a platform
You have a few considerations when deciding on a content marketing platform:
- Which content type will you primarily use? Some content types perform better on certain platforms.
- Where are you currently active? Try to use the platform where you already have an account, an audience, content posted, and regular digital engagement.
- Where does your target audience interact? Go where your tribe is, so they can actually see your content.
- Which platform best showcases the types of offerings you're considering? Some products show best on a visual platform, while others do better with a blog description.
2. Choose your niche
This choice is primarily based on your natural interests and areas of expertise.
You're much more likely to vibe with your tribe.
Are you a fashionista? A DIYer? A plant enthusiast? A gamer? A yogi?
Whether you're always first in line for the latest tech gadget, or you're who everyone runs to for baking advice, stick with what you know.
You'll create more authentic content and have a greater influence on your audience.
Consumers heed product reviews more from people they relate to. They're more swayed by someone with experience using the product or service regularly.
4. Find affiliate programs
There are a wide array of agencies offering affiliate marketing jobs, and they provide access to many different programs to choose from.
You can also visit brand websites within your chosen niche to see if they offer an affiliate program.
A few things to consider while deciding on an affiliate program:
- Commission rates: vary by industry
- Pay schedule: usually monthly but can vary by program
- Pay arrangement: Pay per click, pay per sale, or pay per lead
- Product types: High-pay, low-volume; low-pay, high-volume; or high-pay, high-volume
Top affiliate partner programs include Amazon Associate, Rakuten Affiliate Network, and CJ Affiliate.
4. Review products in your niche
No one's asking a vegan's opinion about that new rib shack down the street. Nor are they asking a diehard Apple user's opinion about the latest Android phone.
Do a product review of the products in your niche that you use.
What are you looking for? How does this product satisfy your needs? Why this one and not its competitor over there?
You buy what you buy and use what you use for a reason.
Answering these questions for yourself will help your followers with the same questions. This is the heart of the content you'll create.
5. Create kick-butt content
Create authentic, quality content that benefits your audience and keeps them coming back for more.
Your affiliate plugs should appear naturally in that content.
You don't want to come off as a pushy salesperson. The most important thing is to connect with your audience.
Build trust, address pain points, and be helpful.
Use your voice, your expertise in the niche, and your experience with the product.
Offer up recommendations for what you believe to be the best [insert digital product here] on the market and why you believe that.
6. Drive traffic to your site
Once you create and post your content, you'll need to drive traffic to it.
Using SEO in your content will help direct web searchers from the SERP to your site.
You can also use social media shares, cross-posting, hashtags, @mentions, and email lists.
The tactics will vary based on your chosen platform and what's most effective with your audience.
You may also opt to use paid advertising, such as Facebook Ads or Google Ads, if you have the money.
You can rake in a high amount of paid traffic in a short amount of time.
But once you stop paying, the traffic stops too.
7. Get clicks
How you share your affiliate links and any calls to action is essential.
You want to ensure clear and visible link placement. But you also want to maintain the natural flow of your content by minding quantity and context.
Your blog posts will have hyperlinks within the content itself. Your social media posts may contain affiliates, or you may share a blog post that includes your links.
Your affiliate links should appear on YouTube and other video and podcast platforms in the description section.
Your video can include a call to action or verbal prompt to visit that link in the description.
8. Get conversions
Under a pay-per-sale model, you won't earn a commission unless your clicks convert to sales.
But there's a fine line between sharing your opinion and ingenuously pushing the product.
Ultimately, you influence clickthroughs and lead generation more than you influence product sales.
Good products sell. Bad products don't. Reviews and testimonials help the process along to an extent.
Research programs and merchants in advance and try products out first before creating a partnership. Ensure that the merchant is selling good products in the first place.
Tips for Your Affiliate Marketing Strategy
How can you ensure you're a successful affiliate marketer?
Take note of the following affiliate marketing strategies.
1. Dazzle your audience
You're working within your own niche. You should know your audience well because you're one of them.
You speak their language and operate on the same wavelength. Your content marketing should reflect that and be tailored to your tribe.
Whatever you're promoting should resonate with them and benefit them the same way it did you. Go to them and share your experience.
Learn which platforms are most popular amongst your people and be there.
Learn what content they engage best with and make it.
Learn when they're most active and engage with them.
2. Show your tribe how it works
Sometimes demonstration is the best way to promote a product.
YouTube hosts tons of make-up tutorials, home improvement how-tos, and product assembly walkthroughs.
Consumers want to see how that toy works. They want to see how that phone handles a hard fall onto the pavement. They want to see how well that knife cuts through a pineapple.
They trust an average person using the product in real life as they normally would.
They don't trust an actor in a commercial imitating how it's supposed to work in a perfect world.
Videos show consumers what to expect from the product before they decide to buy it.
Another way to demonstrate your affiliate product is by creating a webinar.
Create a landing page for your website inviting people to register for the event. Your social media activity can promote it.
Discuss and review the product in real-time via Livestream for a large virtual audience.
If there are any questions, you can answer them on the spot instead of them having to wait for you to respond to a post.
3. Keyword research
You will attach your affiliate link to a specific keyword in your content. Researching keywords will help you determine the best one to use.
There are many SEO keyword search tools that you can use to pick the right keyword for you. Among the free options are Google Trends, Ubersuggest, and AnswerThePublic.
As a beginner trying to keep those startup costs low, the free SEO marketing tools will get you where you need to go.
If you have the budget, you can try paid marketing tools like SEMrush and Ahrefs, which cost a pretty penny.
4. If you wouldn't use it, don't sell it
Would it irritate you to learn that someone convinced you to buy something that they themselves have never or would never use?
Your audience will feel the same way.
Only promote and review products that you genuinely believe in. If you question it, they will question it. If you have doubts, so will they.
They'll not only pass on your recommendation but will also wonder how one of their own could be plugging this product without having the same doubts.
They'll question your credibility.
5. Do the masses want what you're selling?
Even if you believe in a product relevant to your niche, you should still ensure that it's what people want. Product demand can change for many reasons.
Maybe everyone has already bought it, and they're over it. Maybe there's an updated version or an alternative proven to be better. Maybe there was a product recall.
Or perhaps other influential players in your niche have slammed that item in their own product reviews.
In any case, you don't want to be late to the party trying to sell something that no one is buying.
6. Cross-channel campaigns
The internet is vast, and there are a plethora of different marketing channels. You don't have to restrict yourself to just one.
In fact, you shouldn't.
You can promote your affiliate products through a combination of different channels.
Many of them cross over and compliment each other well. Some platforms, like Pinterest, play well to different types of content at once.
However many channels you use and campaigns you set up, monitor them all. Keep making any adjustments as needed to ensure all stay effective and profitable.
7. Keeping up with the current trends
The affiliate marketing sphere is well-populated. Many other affiliate marketers are promoting the same things. All aim for the most traffic and the highest commissions they can get.
Monitoring current trends will keep you knowledgeable and competitive within your niche. You don't want to get left behind or caught out of the loop.
Keep your finger on the pulse of what's hot and what's not within your industry.
Lean into your networks, monitor the chatter in your social accounts, and do your own research.
(Pro Tip: You may seriously want to consider conducting a competitive analysis.)
8. Diversify your portfolio
Sticking to one niche doesn't have to mean sticking with only one merchant. Most people don't buy all their stuff from one place. Chances are you don't either.
Research different merchants. Form affiliate partnerships with a few you believe in and whose products you trust.
You'll reap the benefits of different commission rates, pay schedules, and pay arrangements, and you'll build yourself a more consistent passive income stream.
Plus, widening the net will help safeguard your affiliate income. You'll be less vulnerable to industry changes like trends or product demand.
You'll also have less to worry about if one affiliate program changes its policies.
9. Offer, um, offers your fans love
Offer bonuses that will thrill your audience. Freebies, coupons, BOGO deals, and free trials are excellent incentives to test drive a new product.
If you can, offer a deal on your own products with the purchase of the affiliate product. It could be a free eBook or mini-course, a sample of a full online course, or a gift bundle.
Find out what type of deals may encourage your tribe to make a purchase decision and give it to them.
Plan seasonal deals for events like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, and New Year.
10. A/B test the heck out of it
Determine the best placement of affiliate links in your content. Figure out the best way to share your content. Tweak your wording in the affiliate links. Change, track, tweak, track again.
A/B testing helps you fine-tune your affiliate marketing strategy. These adjustments can result in significant traffic boosts once you find what works. And it doesn't require a major overhaul of your entire campaign.
11. Relieve your customers' pain
Your audience engages with your content in the first place for a reason.
They should also have a reason to click on your affiliate links.
The content or products you're reviewing should be relevant and valuable to them.
These products should have the potential to address their pain points. If not, you shouldn't be directing them to buy them.
12. Is your campaign paying off?
You'll need to stay privy to how your campaign resonates with your audience.
Ignorance of analytics data can result in lost site traffic. Track such metrics as:
- clickthrough rates
- content performance
- optimal post frequency
- audience demographics
- ad spend
Analytics software can help you monitor the performance of your content.
Keep an eye on campaigns across various platforms and over varying periods. Learn what works, what needs improvement, and what should be cut.
What Not to Do
Finally, there are a few pitfalls you want to avoid when you enter this field.
1. Create crappy content
Your content should engage your audience and address their needs.
You want to give them what they came for and give them the best you've got.
If they're turned off by your content, they won't click on your affiliate links and connect with the merchant.
And your credibility and audience traffic will suffer.
2. Push the "hard sell"
As stated earlier, you don't want to come off as a pushy salesperson with your content.
Your affiliate links should fit naturally into your content.
Focus more on building rapport with your audience and being helpful to them. Don't worry so much about "selling" something.
3. Selling stuff that's not legit
Before you plug a product, make sure it does what it says it does.
Otherwise, you're backing an illegitimate product.
Do your due diligence with the merchant itself too. You don't want to lead your audience to a shady seller anymore than you want to lead them to a deceptive product.
4. Dupe your customers
Take care not to mislead your customers or misrepresent your products.
This will crush your credibility as well as that of the merchant.
Give an honest assessment of the product. If you don't know something about the product, say so.
Be the affiliate marketer that you would want to trust.
Earn Money with Affiliate Marketing
Successful affiliate marketing is within reach. You're already about halfway there if you have:
- A social media account, YouTube channel, or blog (platform)
- An area of expertise (niche)
- Opinions about the products and services you use (review)
Start researching the best affiliate programs today.
Take that next step toward flexible work and passive income!
Tiffany Lewis is a SmartBlogger-certified Content Marketer and budding freelance writer. She writes about Faith, Family, Furbabies, and Wellness. Yes, the broken alliteration in that sentence bothers her. Find her on LinkedIn.