Do you dream of escaping the 9-to-5 grind?
Do you want to earn money online from the beach, in your pajamas, and while you travel the world?
Or do you simply want to have the financial freedom to spend more time doing the things you love?
To most people, that lifestyle is a pipedream.
But, with the right knowledge and a strategic approach, it is possible.
There are plenty of legitimate ways to earn money online. You can start freelance writing, take online surveys, or look for graphic design work.
But those jobs trade time for money.
Affiliate marketing, however, is passive income, meaning it keeps earning you cash long after you’ve finished investing your time into it.
With affiliate marketing, you can invest time in creating useful, in-depth content and then earn a commission each time a customer makes a purchase.
Affiliate marketing is big business — more than 81% of businesses use affiliate marketing to promote their products, generating a total of $6.4 billion in sales in 2018.
By 2022, that number is projected to reach $8.2 billion.
And, if you know what you’re doing, you can get your cut of that.
Paruyr Shahbazyan of Bookmaker Ratings generated more than $2 million in income through affiliate referrals.
So, how can you join the ranks of other affiliate marketers and earn more than just some extra cash on the side, but a real, legitimate income?
In this guide, we’ll show you.
This comprehensive resource will cover it all (click to navigate):
If you are just getting started with affiliate marketing, let’s start at the beginning.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a business model in which a person earns a commission by promoting another business’s products or services.
For example, if I join SEMRush’s affiliate program then create a guide that describes how it’s a fantastic SEO tool and how you can use it to grow your business, I can add affiliate links within that content. If you were to click on those links and create an SEMrush account as a result, I would get a small portion of the money you spend.
It is a win-win for both the marketer and the company — SEMrush doesn’t have to do the actual marketing, and I don’t have to create products, store stock, or deal with customer service issues.
But, is affiliate marketing a viable business in 2020?
In fact, Statista found that affiliate marketing spending has increased by nearly 2 billion dollars in the past five years — and spending could reach $8.2 million by 2022.
This graphic illustrates how the affiliate process works — including how it can help you make money online.
Jason Stone, also known as Millionaire Mentor, generated $7 million in affiliate sales in less than two years.
How did he do it?
He did it by creating a loyal following on social media, posting consistent content, and sharing motivational quotes for other entrepreneurs who were working to build a successful business.
He wasn’t a celebrity, he didn’t invest a ton of money in ads, or even have his own product to sell.
What he did have was a determination to succeed and the ability to spot an opportunity in the then-new social media site Instagram. Over time, he became an influencer and earned quite a bit of money — both for himself and the companies he promoted.
Not everyone who becomes an affiliate marketer will make $7 million, but you can create a reliable source of passive income if you create authentic, useful content, and build a real relationship with your audience.
Can you get started in affiliate marketing with no money?
Yes, you can get started by investing time to create valuable content and sharing it via social media or other free channels.
However, if you want to be wildly successful as an affiliate marketer, you will eventually need to invest money in paid ads, analytics tools, web hosting, and more.
Like most businesses, what you get out of affiliate marketing will be based on the work you are willing to put into it.
How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
In general, affiliate marketing is about connecting buyers with a product or service creator — and taking a piece of the pie. This guide Affiliate Guide for Beginners will give you an indepth look, however we will cover the basics below.
The exact process you’ll use in your affiliate marketing business will depend on your business model (for example, whether you use an affiliate marketing platform like ShareaSale or work directly with SaaS companies like Shopify) and the type of content you create.
However, the nuts and bolts will be the same no matter what model you use.
There are four main players when it comes to affiliate marketing:
- Product or service creators: This is the company that creates the item or service to be sold. For example, sites like BlueHost or MailChimp.
- Affiliate marketer: The person who promotes the item to their audience — ideally you!
- Affiliate platform: This is the platform that manages the relationship between the affiliate marketer and product creator — not all affiliate marketers use a platform, but many beginners find them easier to navigate than direct relationships with advertisers. (And many established affiliates still use them!)
- The buyer: The person who purchases the product after being convinced by the affiliate marketer. They are your audience.
Here are the general steps involved in the affiliate marketing process:
- The affiliate marketer (that’s you!) creates content (blog post, video, infographic, etc.) that promotes the product or service creator’s product or service.
- The affiliate marketer shares their content and uses a unique URL or code that tracks the number of purchases that result from the content. In many cases, it is a few numbers added on to the end of a URL and it may include “ref” for referral, like this: http://www.yourwebsite.com/ref-321356s
- When a buyer makes a purchase using your unique link, you earn a small commission. Many platforms will install a cookie on users’ browsers and track if they make a purchase in the days or weeks to come — but cookie links vary widely. Amazon’s cookies, for example, only lasts 24 hours.
Affiliate sites are everywhere; you may not even realize how often you interact with them. For example, this hosting review website earns a commission for each person that purchases a hosting plan after reading their content.
Note the Disclosure listed just below the hero image:
How is affiliate marketing different from influencer marketing?
They are pretty similar models — and some affiliate marketers may also be influencers. In general, influencers are paid upfront for access to their audience, while affiliates are only paid when someone makes a purchase. Both models can be an effective way for brands to promote their products.
How Do Affiliate Marketers Get Paid?
Affiliate marketers get paid when one of their site visitors completes a pre-determined action — which might be making a purchase, signing up for a trial, or clicking through to a website.
The exact method of payment will depend on the platform or business, but the commission is generally calculated in one of three ways:
- Pay per sale: This is the standard structure for sites like Amazon Affiliates. The merchant pays the affiliate a percentage of the sales price of the product when the buyer uses the affiliate’s unique code or link.
- Pay per lead: Affiliate marketer persuades a consumer to visit a site and perform a specific task (such as completing a form, downloading an app, etc.) and is paid per user who completes the task.
- Pay per click: Affiliate marketer persuades a consumer to visit the business’s website and earns a small amount, usually a few cents, per website visit.
In most cases, sites or platforms will pay out via electronic payment methods like PayPal, while some might send physical checks.
You can expect there to be some restriction on payouts — some platforms won’t pay out until your affiliate commission reaches a certain amount, for example, $50, or will only pay out after a specific time period.
How much can I expect to make as an affiliate marketer in 2020?
The reality is, there is no way to predict how much you will make as an affiliate marketer.
The amount of income you earn will vary based on how much work you are willing to put into your business, your niche, the affiliate platform you chose to work with — and whether you are willing to treat it like an actual business.
For every $7 million affiliate marketer, there are likely a dozen so-called affiliate marketers who are making nothing — because they aren’t willing to put in the hard work necessary to grow their business.
In general, however, an affiliate marketer who puts in the work to create valuable content and drives a medium level of traffic can expect to make between $500 a month and $1,000 a day.
Just remember, you won’t hit seven figures overnight.
How to Become a Successful Affiliate Marketer in 2020
Affiliate marketing can help you break out of the boring 9-5 working lifestyle and earn a stable living from your couch, the beach, or even while traveling.
Getting started is the easy part, but being successful takes a lot of work.
The strategies that affiliate marketers used to grow their business five years ago might not be as effective today. Niches that were profitable a few years ago may not be as lucrative today — and newer niches have opened up, such as SaaS (service as a software).
If you are interested in becoming a successful affiliate marketer in 2020, here is what you need to know.
Strategy #1: Choose the Right Niche
A niche is a specific topic or several closely related topics that your site or content will focus on. Will you promote computers, fashion, sports products, software systems, or something else?
The most lucrative affiliate categories tend to be evergreen and related to items we need to survive, which we often refer to as ” Get Laid, Paid, and Live Forever”:
- Dating and romance
Globally, the wellness industry is worth more than $4.5 trillion, which includes smaller niches such as personal beauty, wellness tourism, and weightloss.
The wealth management industry currently manages more than $75 trillion dollars in assets — making it an enormous industry.
The online dating and matchmaking industry is expected to be worth nearly $3.2 billion by 2021.
Here’s the catch — while those markets are lucrative, they are too broad for most sites to target effectively.
“Wealth management” could mean anything from how to manage your million dollar 401K to how to save money by stacking coupons so you can pay off your debt.
Before launching your affiliate site, settle on just one main topic or several closely related topics that you can cover deeply.
Let’s look at an example.
Choose FI is a blog and podcast founded by Jonathan Mendonsa and Brad Barrett.
Their audience is people who are interested in living frugal lives to pursue financial independence and, in some cases, retire early.
They use several monetization methods, including selling an ebook and the Amazon Affiliate program.
They don’t try to cover every single topic related to being frugal or wealth management — they focus on a specific portion of the financial market.
When considering niches, look for topics you are familiar with and audiences you relate to — this makes it easier for you to create valuable content because they are topics you care about.
Look for a topic with depth — this will give you more topics to write about. Creating a blog about how to stack coupons at CVS is too limited — while creating a blog about how to make the most out of using coupons in general leaves plenty of topics to explore.
Research your niche — ideally, a good niche market will have medium to a high level of interest, a solid amount of money being spent online, and low levels of competition from other marketers.
Want to find the most profitable niche for your affiliate business? Check out The Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Profitable Niche.
Strategy #2: Research Your Audience
Once you’ve settled on your niche, you need to get to know your audience. A big mistake newbie affiliate marketers make is assuming that everyone else is just like them.
The only way you can deliver the content they want and need is to get a deeper understanding of who they are and the questions they have.
Start by using Google Trends to search for your topic.
Say you want to start a photography website that targets serious photographers. Searching photography tips shows a pretty solid interest in the topic over the last few years, though it has been decreasing slightly in the last 12 months.
Scroll down a bit in Google trends, and you will see related topics:
Boudoir photography tips and still life photography are both getting a ton of searches — which means those are good topics to cover in a blog about photography.
Next, take a look at the competition.
SEMrush’s competitive research tool will provide you with a ton of information about your competitor’s most popular posts, total market trends, SEO strategies they are using — and what topics they aren’t covering, so you can fill those gaps.
Join a few communities where your audience hangs out — Facebook groups and subReddits are both easy ways to find the type of people you will be targeting and get insight into what types of questions and concerns they have.
Make sure to be transparent about the purpose of the survey, and offer those who fill out your survey a chance to win a gift card, discount, or another prize.
Strategy #3: Choose a Platform to Share Your Content
Where will you share your content? A blog, YouTube channel, podcast, social media? Most affiliate marketers use a blog — but that isn’t the only place you can share content. Email newsletters, social media sites like Instagram, and video platforms like YouTube are all options.
Most effective affiliate marketers use a mix of platforms to share their content, like theSkimm, which started as an email list, now promotes their affiliate links through their website, social media accounts, a podcast, and an app.
Most affiliate marketers start with a blog, but use whichever medium makes the most sense for your audience, niche, and content.
Strategy #4: Choose The Right Affiliate Program
You understand who your audience is, and have chosen a platform to reach them — but how do you actually make money?
It is time to choose your affiliate program — which is the company or platform that pays you to promote their products.
The challenge is there are hundreds of different affiliate programs; and while many are legit, some are not.
Most affiliates usually either use a retail affiliate platform like Amazon or a company like Share a Sale, which connects affiliate marketers to companies with products to promote.
When comparing platforms, look for the following features:
- Payouts: How often do they pay, how much do they pay, and what method of payment do they use? If they only pay in bitcoin every six months, you might find it hard to get paid.
- Resources: Does the platform or company offer support for affiliate marketers? Do they provide marketing materials, etc.? These resources can make it much easier to produce high-quality content.
- Reputation: Is it a reputable company that has been around for a while? Do they have a policy against spam? Do they review advertisers to ensure their products are high-quality?
I’ll review the most popular affiliate platforms in the next section. To head straight there, you can click here.
Strategy #5: Create Valuable Content
Who would you trust when making a purchase — someone who is established in their field, provides honest, thorough information — or someone who raves about how ‘perfect’ a product is in an effort to make a quick buck?
The key to being successful as an affiliate marketer is building trust with your audience.
And the best way to build trust is by providing honest, valuable content.
Don’t just rave about the benefits of a product or service. There is no one perfect product for every user. Instead, give your audience all the information they need to make a decision — both pros and cons.
Say you are running a hosting company affiliate website — there are hundreds of different hosting companies with different plans, security features, and add ons.
But there are also hundreds of different customers. Some sites might do quite well with a budget hosting provider like GoDaddy because they just need a basic plan, while an international ecommerce company needs a dedicated server from a much larger hosting company.
Be thorough — research the topic to find out what questions people have by searching your topic in Google and looking for the “people also ask” questions.
Sticking to the hosting website example above, I searched “how to find the best host for WordPress” and found these other, related, questions to address in my content:
Research your competition — what type of content are they creating? How can you create content that is better, more thorough, or easier to read?
Use Answer the Public to find related questions people are asking and then address those topics in your content.
For example, Related questions people are asking include how to install wordpress hosting, how to transfer wordpress hosting, and which is the cheapest wordpress hosting.
A content gap analysis may also be instrumental in helping uncover topics that your competition currently isn’t covering — and give you access to a wider audience who is asking those questions.
Strategy #6: Don’t Forget to Include a Disclosure
If you’ve been on the internet for more than a few days, you’ve likely seen something like this on some of your favorite websites:
This is called a disclosure — and if you are an affiliate marketer, this is a must-have.
It might seem annoying, but there are several reasons why having a disclosure is so important.
First, it improves transparency — your site visitors are more likely to trust you when you are straight forward about how you are monetizing your site.
What Are the Best Affiliate Marketing Programs in 2020?
We touched on choosing an affiliate program in the previous section, but we weren’t able to dive deep into the best affiliate marketing programs and how to compare them. In this section, I am going to list a few of the most reliable (and legitimate!) affiliate marketing programs in 2020.
Illustrate List of the best affiliate programs: Share a Sale, ClickBank, JVZOO, Amazon Associates, eBay Partner Network
These are all programs that I personally know to be legitimate — and tend to be the best fit for the vast majority of affiliate marketers.
If you want a more in-depth look into the most reliable affiliate marketing programs, check out our guide to “21 Of The Best Affiliate Programs To Find High Quality Products For Your Website“
Best Affiliate Marketing Programs #1: Share a Sale
Share a Sale is a Chicago-based affiliate marketing network that has been around since 2000, so you know it isn’t going anywhere.
They work with more than 4,000 different advertisers, including big names like MLB Shop, Jillian Micheals, and Gymboree. Commission rates vary by advertiser, but average around 8% to 20%, which is pretty solid.
They cover more than 40 major categories, including business, art, fashion, electronics, and online dating services. The interface can be a bit confusing at times, but it is one of the largest and most reliable affiliate platforms in 2020.
Who this affiliate program is best for:
Share a Sale is a solid choice for new or established affiliate marketers, especially those looking to expand beyond Amazon.
Best Affiliate Marketing Programs #2: ClickBank
Another one of the older — and more reliable — affiliate marketing platforms is ClickBank. They are the 87th largest Internet retailer in North American and have advertisers in nearly any industry you can think of.
The application process to become an affiliate is free and easy, which is ideal for beginners. However, that also means you need to vet products carefully for quality before promoting — there are definitely a few duds.
The physical products are a bit limited, but they do have advertisers in a huge range of niches, including fiction, games, languages, mobile, self-help, spirituality, sports, and travel.
Each product also has a “Gravity Score,” which tells you how many people are promoting the product. A high gravity score is a good indicator of quality — but it also means there is more competition.
The easy application process makes ClickBank an ideal platform for those just getting started — just make sure to research products before promoting.
Who this affiliate program is best for:
ClickBank affiliate marketing platform is an ideal for beginner or advanced affiliate marketers.
Best Affiliate Marketing Programs #3: JVZOO
JVZOO is one of the fastest-growing affiliate marketing platforms on the web with more than 800,000 active affiliates. Advertisers include big names you will recognize, including PayPal, AWeber, Slack, and Stripe.
Affiliate application is free and they automate payments so you’ll never have to worry about not getting paid for your work. But, you will have to gain approval from each company before you start promoting, which can be a bit of a hassle.
They offer products in dozens of niches and sub-niches but mostly focus on internet marketing and SaaS products.
JVZoo also has a ton of product launches, which can be very lucrative for affiliate marketers. Just make sure you check out the products before you start marketing — despite their zero-spam policy, there are definitely some less than stellar products on their marketplace.
They also offer JVZoo Academy, which provides new affiliate marketers with tons of tools and advanced training.
Who this affiliate program is best for:
JVZoo is an ideal marketplace for new or advanced affiliate marketers who focus on tech, business, or digital marketing in general.
Best Affiliate Marketing Programs #4: Amazon Associates
When it comes to affiliate marketing, Amazon is a major player. They control more than half of the online sales market and have a popular, easy to use affiliate program called Amazon Affiliates.
It is easy to use, and Amazon sells more than a million different physical products in a wide range of categories, from kitchen gadgets and toys to fashion and tools.
Commission rates are relatively low, with their highest commissions topping out at 10%. Their cookies last 24 hours, which means you can earn a commission for just about any item people purchase within a day of clicking your link. (Which is shorter than some other platforms.)
Signing up for Amazon Associates is free and easy, but make sure you pay attention to their terms and conditions. They can be a bit confusing, but violating them can get you banned from the platform.
Amazon Associates also get access to several detailed reports so you can easily see what items are selling well and which aren’t so you can adjust your marketing strategies.
Who this affiliate program is best for:
Amazon Associates is really an ideal platform for any affiliate marketer who is promoting physical products. Companies that focus on software and tools can use Amazon as a secondary source of income, while newbies will be pleased with the wide range of physical products.
Best Affiliate Marketing Programs #5: eBay Partner Network
eBay is one of the oldest and most popular ecommerce stores on the internet in 2020. Unlike most platforms that sell for a fixed price, eBay customers can also bid on items.
eBay’s commission rate works a bit differently — instead of getting a portion of the sale prices, eBay partners earn between 50% and 70% of the fees eBay charges the sellers. You can also earn more if you generate a sale from a “new or reactivated buyer” who hasn’t shopped on eBay in the last 12 months.
Signing up is free and easy, making it an ideal program for affiliate marketers who are just getting started.
Who this affiliate program is best for:
New affiliates or those in super specific niches, such as vintage or hard to find items.
Best Affiliate Marketing Programs #6: Single Company Affiliate Programs
Many affiliate marketers choose to use an affiliate marketing platform, such as Amazon Associates, to gain access to a wide range of products.
However, many software tools and SaaS companies also offer direct affiliate marketing programs, including ecommerce platforms, courses, marketing tools, and other SaaS companies.
Because there is no middle man, the commission rates for promoting individual companies tend to be much higher. Conversion rates, however, can vary and competition may be high.
For example, with Shopify’s affiliate program, you can earn between $58 and $2,000 per referral, depending on what type of program your referrals sign up for.
You also get access to support and a dedicated Affiliate Manager, educational content, and discounts on a variety of Shopify tools.
These programs are often easy to use and can be a simple way to generate more income for tools you already use and love.
A few popular tools that offer their own affiliate programs include:
Protip: You can use more than one type of affiliate program. For example, you might use Amazon to promote physical products, but also use an affiliate program from your favorite SEO software or hosting company.
This is just a snapshot of what’s out there. To learn more, check out our comprehensive look at the leading affiliate marketing programs.
Best Practices for Growth: How to Build Your Affiliate Marketing Business from the Ground Up
So, you pick a product, build a website, and start throwing up content.
You might be thinking this affiliate marketing thing is pretty easy.
The reality is this: If you aren’t willing to put in a lot of hard work, you will likely fail at affiliate marketing.
I don’t say that to dissuade you — I just want you to be realistic about how much effort it takes to build a successful affiliate marketing site. And that means being realistic about the mistakes most affiliate marketers make.
Affiliate marketing isn’t a get rich quick scheme — you need time, dedication, and a detailed strategy for capturing the attention of your target market.
Of course, I can’t help you with the dedication part, but I can show you how to build a marketing strategy for your affiliate marketing site.
Affiliate Marketing Best Practice #1: Create a Content Marketing Plan for Your Affiliate Business
Content marketing is a strategy that focuses on creating, publishing, and promoting detailed content related to your topic. Blogging, ebooks, and email campaigns can all be considered part of your content marketing strategy.
Why is content marketing important?
First, it helps establish you as an expert in your field. When you share your knowledge, people begin to trust you — and that is the first, crucial, step in creating a successful affiliate marketing website.
Content is also incredibly effective — it earns three times more leads than paid search advertising. Year-over-year, websites that focus on content marketing earn nearly 8X the traffic of sites that don’t.
Here’s how to create a content marketing plan:
Step 1: Define Your Goals
Don’t waste your time creating content without a purpose. Set goals for each piece of content — and also for every quarter of the year.
For example, if you are just getting started, you might spend Q1 of the year writing thought-leadership posts that cover the basics of your industry to establish trust. In Q2, you might start focusing on SaaS tools you use and start creating content to promote those.
Setting goals will prevent you from getting overwhelmed — when you can write on any topic it can be challenging to stay focused.
Step 2: Research Topics
Before you start creating content, take the time to understand what type of content is already out there and how it is ranking. MarketMuse is a fantastic tool that will show you who you are competing about and topics those sites aren’t covering.
Here’s a look at MarketMuse’s Compete tab – the top section lists the top 19 search results for “affiliate marketing,” while the red boxes indicate topics each piece doesn’t cover.
I can see that social media and search engines are not covered often — adding those to my piece will likely help me rank better.
Look for easy wins — topics that your top competitors don’t cover at all or don’t cover well. If they wrote a 5,000-page guide to buying the right shoes, can you create a 10,000-word guide?
Just make sure there is actually enough information to justify that level of content — don’t write just to write.
Step 3: Decide on What Format of Content To Publish
Blogs, video, social media, ebooks, white papers — there are dozens of different formats of content. Which one is right for your affiliate site?
Well, it’s not up to you (at least not entirely)— it’s up to your audience.
Blog posts have been a content marketing mainstay for years, but don’t forget video and even audio formats, such as podcasts.
YouTube, for example, gets more than a billion users a month — which is almost one-third of all internet users. According to OptinMonster, marketers who use video earn 66% more qualified leads each year.
Webinars are another medium to drive qualified traffic — with most businesses
saying that between 20 and 40% of their webinar registrants are qualified leads.
Consider doing a mix of different types of content so users can find the type of content they like best. For example, The Points Guy creates in-depth guides, like this 20,000+ word beginner’s guide:
They also publish videos, like this one:
And quick news articles, like this one that is less than 500 words — but still covers everything readers need to know about the topics.
Don’t just focus on blogs and ignore other forms of content that people may be far more excited to consume.
How do you know which type of content your audience prefers? Well, that brings us to the next step in developing a content marketing plan — testing.
Step 4: Test
Every part of your marketing plan should include testing. If you aren’t sure what type of content your audience prefers, create a variety of types of content to see what gets the most traffic — blogs, white papers, comparison posts, or reviews.
Use a tool like Optimizely to test different headlines, colors, button placement, and other aspects of your website.
Google Analytics is another fantastic source of data — start by installing Google Analytics’ tag, if you haven’t already.
Then you will have access to a ton of reports about user behavior, acquisition, and conversions.
Affiliate Marketing Best Practice #2: Use Social Media to Build Your Affiliate Marketing Business
Social media has drastically changed how we get our news, interact with our friends — even find products to purchase.
And it is a critical aspect of building a successful affiliate marketing site— in part because of social media’s massive reach.
Consider the following numbers:
The key is to find out which platform your audience uses the most so you can target them there. Here’s how to find out where your audience hangs out on social media.
Step 1: Use overall demographic information from each social platform, and compare it to your target audience.
According to Sprout Social, Facebook is most popular social media platform with people between the ages of 19 and 49:
Instagram is most popular with younger users, with 72% of teens using the platform:
Twitter users tend to be between the ages of 18 and 29, though teens and older folks also use the platform regularly.
Step 2: Send out a survey
Ask your current audience relevant questions about what social media platforms they prefer, such as where they get their news, and which platform they use most often.
Step 3: Use Google Analytics’ acquisition report
Once you have a bit of traffic, use Google Analytics reports to see which social platforms are driving the most traffic. Sign in to Google Analytics, then go to Acquisitions > Social > Network Referrals.
Keep in mind that your target audience may use multiple social platforms — and you may find that different platforms work better for certain types of content.
For example, Instagram may be more effective for brand building, while Facebook may drive more actual conversions. Consider using the platforms together to drive different types of behavior.
Facebook for Affiliate Marketing
Facebook has the widest reach of any social media platform, which means it is a great way to reach your audience, no matter who they are. But how do you make sure you aren’t annoying prospective customers and drive as much qualified traffic as possible?
It is all about building a relationship — not just marketing 24/7.
Here are a few tips for using Facebook to make sales or drive traffic to your affiliate website.
- Start by building a following: Share interesting, useful content — don’t try to sell all the time. You need to develop a relationship with your audience before you sell.
- Engage with your audience: Don’t just share content — ask questions and respond to comments.
- Share related content (not just content you publish) and user-generated content. This will encourage a sense of community and establish you as a thought leader, not just a marketer.
- Use Facebook ads to reach a wider audience. Facebook’s audience targeting allows you to laser focus on your ideal audience based on age, location, and interests.
- Use retargeting ads to target Facebook users who have visited your website, liked your page, or interacted with your brand in some way. Targeting people who already know who you are can increase conversion rates drastically.
Instagram for Affiliate Marketing
Instagram is the rising star in the social media world — it doesn’t quite have the reach of Facebook, but it does have much higher engagement. Most brands see a median engagement rate of 0.09% on Facebook, while Instagram posts earn an average of 1.60% median engagement rate per post.
Earlier, I talked about Jason Stone, aka @millionare_mentor earlier, who earned $7 million in affiliate sales in less than two years. He did it almost entirely on Instagram.
Part of his Instagram strategy includes posting entrepreneur tips and motivational quotes along with affiliate products.
When it comes to Instagram, every audience is different. So the type of content you post might vary based on whether you are promoting SaaS products or baby products from Amazon.
However, the following strategies are a good place to start:
- Use Instagram Stories: These time-sensitive posts appear at the top of Instagram user’s feed and tend to get more engagement due to the 500 million daily active users. Filters, stickers, and tags make it easier to create fun, engaging stories.
- Build a larger audience: Instagram business accounts can share links in their stories once they reach 10,000 followers. Increase followers by using a tool like Hashtagify to find related hashtags and engage with users posting content in your niche.
- Instagram Ads: Instagram allows brands to boost posts and create targeted ads that can increase the reach of your content and draw in more followers.
Twitter for Affiliate Marketing
Don’t just sign up for Twitter and start spamming your feed with affiliate links. Just like other social media accounts, building a relationship is critical to successfully promoting content on Twitter.
Here is how to use Twitter to drive affiliate sales:
- Optimize your profile: Include a recent photo, a detailed bio, a link to your website, and relevant hashtags. Show your personality so followers feel like they are getting to know you.
- Share relevant content, not just affiliate links: People use Twitter to follow the news, learn about topics they are interested in, and follow their favorite celebrities. And don’t stick with just text Tweets — videos are 6X more likely to get retweeted than photos.
- Leverage current events: Use the Twitter “explore” feature to explore current trending topics. Engage with other users and share relevant content about trending topics.
- Twitter Ads: Use Twitter ads to expand brand awareness, increase followers, or drive traffic to your website. This guide on HubSpot will help you get started and develop your strategy.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram might be the largest social media platforms — but there are many others. Don’t forget about the other popular social platform, such as Reddit, Quora, and LinkedIn — particularly if your research shows your audience spends a lot of time on those platforms.
Affiliate Marketing Best Practice #3: Build an Affiliate Marketing Email Strategy
Email is by far the most critical marketing strategy for affiliate marketers, and here’s why.
It is the only platform where you have 100% control of the connection.
Facebook could change its algorithm tomorrow, making it impossible for you to reach your audience. Google could deindex your site, making it impossible for people to find your website.
But with email, you have direct access to your audience’s email boxes — as long as you follow your email provider’s rules.
And, you can reach just about everyone through email.
Nearly 4 billion people used email in 2019, and that number is expected to reach 4.3 billion by 2023.
Not only does it have a wide reach, but the average ROI for email is $42 per dollar spent, making it money well spent.
How to Build Your Affiliate Email List
Before you can start sending emails; you’ve got to have people to send your emails to, right?
So, how can you build an email list that actually converts?
First things first — don’t buy or rent an email list. In addition to being a violation of federal guidelines, buying lists simply doesn’t work.
Earlier, I mentioned that one of the most important steps in becoming a successful affiliate is to build trust with your audience.
When you buy an email list, those people have no clue who you are. They don’t trust you, and they are never going to buy from you.
Buying an email list is a waste of money.
It is far, far more effective to build an email list from people who want to hear from you — even if your list is much smaller. Aim for quality over quantity here.
Here are five proven tactics to jump-start your affiliate marketing email list.
Step 1: Offer something people want
Offer a resource, like an ebook, whitepaper, checklist, or template in exchange for their email address.
At Nichehacks, for example, we use reports to attract email addresses:
Step 2: Add an email signup form to your sidebar/bottom of blog posts
Use a tool like Hello Bar which allows you to test different formats/colors/text. Consider embedding the form (like J.Crew has done below), so users can subscribe without leaving the page they are on.
- Don’t stress about sending too many emails: Gael Breton found that their unsubscribe rate actually dropped when they sent out nearly daily affiliate marketing emails.
Step 3: Make it easy to sign up
Don’t ask 50 questions — their name and email address is enough in most cases.
Step 4: Allow users to customize the content they see
The average person gets more than 100 emails a day — by asking what topics they want to hear about or set a limit on the number of emails you send each week, you are giving them back control of their inbox and lowering your unsubscribe rate.
Step 5: Post offers on social media which require an email sign up
Share something valuable such as a course or coupon that requires people to submit their email address in order to access.
Build an Email Strategy for Your Affiliate Marketing Company
You’ve built your email list — then what? Now it is time to build an email strategy. Remember, your end goal might be to make sales, but your main goal should be to deliver value to your list. If every email is a sales blast, you aren’t going to keep those subscribers you just fought so hard to earn.
When should you send emails? When you have something valuable to share — or questions to ask.
Here are five tips for building a solid affiliate marketing email strategy:
- Always send out emails when you write a new post: Unless you are posting more than 5X a week. Then, consider sending a weekly round up.
- Encourage readers to reach out with questions: You might get ideas for topics to cover and it creates a two-way conversation.
- Focus on value and sharing useful information: Don’t promote every day. They allowed you to contact them and they can take that permission back.
- Use personalized subject lines like “Dear <name>”: Data suggests that people are 50% to 60% more likely to open emails that use their name.
- A/B test subject lines/layout/etc.: This will give you insight into what works for your specific email list. All the stats in the world can’t tell you what your audience will respond to.
- Always include a CTA (call to action): What do you want your email to do? Just like a landing page, an email should drive the next step — whether that is clicking to learn more, signing up for a webinar, or buying a product. Be clear and direct — and use an easy to notice button.
- Don’t stress about sending too many emails: Gael Breton found that their unsubscribe rate actually dropped when they sent out nearly daily affiliate marketing emails.
Note: Email can be part of a broader affiliate strategy or your only source of contact!
Affiliate Marketing Best Practice #4: Use Search Optimization to Rank Organically
SEO (aka search engine optimization) is the practice of increasing the visibility of your website (without the help of paid ads) by including key terms, links, alt tags, and other elements that search engines use to determine which websites are most relevant for a specific term.
For example, if you search “What is SEO,” Moz’s article ranks first. Google uses more than 200 different factors to determine that Moz’s article is the most relevant and useful.
The major benefit of SEO is that it helps you get ‘free’ traffic, aka organic traffic. Instead of paying for ads, you work to make your content the most useful.
According to Hubspot, more than 60% of marketers are investing in SEO.
And 70% of marketers say that SEO is more effective at driving sales than paid ads.
Why is SEO so important for affiliate marketers?
Advanced Web Ranking analyzes click-through rates for millions of keywords every month, and they found that the first organic result gets 33% of all traffic — while pages that rank six or higher will see little to no traffic.
This is why you’ll hear folks talking about how they want to be “#1 on Google.” It is a lucrative position, especially for an affiliate marketer.
But there’s an issue — it can be really challenging to rank well for competitive key terms, like “What is SEO,” for example.
Here are the basics…
In the US, there are two main search engines — Bing and Google. Most SEO efforts focus on Google due to its 92% market share.
Google uses more than 200 factors to determine which site shows up for a search — and they don’t share what all those factors are.
Why? Because search marketers have a bad habit of trying to ‘game’ the system, which has led to strategies like keyword stuffing, link farms, and other black hat SEO practices.
SEO is a complex topic — there are literally hundreds of full-length books and hours of training on the market. But, I’ll give you the basic SEO knowledge you need to get started.
10 SEO Tips for Affiliate Marketers
- Start by installing Google Analytics if you haven’t already. This is a powerful tool that will provide a ton of information about where your traffic comes from and how users behave on your page.
- Use headings (denoted by H1, H2, and H3 tags) to tell Google which topics are most important in your content. This also makes the content easier for users to scan.
- Add optimized meta titles and meta descriptions. This information shows up in search results and should use key terms and explain what the page covers.
- Use simplified URLs and include key terms. For example, an article about SEO for affiliate marketers might have a URL like this: www.yoursite.com/seo-affiliate-marketers. This tells both users and search engines what topics are covered.
- Include internal links using keyword-optimized anchor text. For example, if I wanted to link to a guide about finding the most profitable niche, I might say: “Use this guide to find the most profitable niche.” This lets users — and search engines — know what the linked pages are about.
- Use alt tags — sometimes called alt text or alt descriptions — is alternative text added to describe a visual image. Their main purpose is to describe the image if the file can not be loaded — either due to an error, internet connectivity issue or for visually impaired users. However, search engines also use alt tags to determine if your site is relevant for a specific search.
- Write long, in-depth content. Longer content — 2,000 words or more — tends to rank higher. However, the content also needs to be useful. Aim for quality and quantity.
- Check your site speed. Pages that load faster are more likely to rank well. Use Google’s PageSpeed insight tool to get suggestions on how to speed up your website.
- Get an SSL certificate, which creates a secure channel between your site and your server. This protects sensitive data and gives you a small boost in search results.
- Use tables, bullet points, and lists to organize information and make it easier for users to read. It may also increase your chances of showing up in Google Featured Snippets, which displays the answer to a users question right in the search results, like this:
These can include not just affiliate links, but also Google Adsense ads, sponsored posts, and your own courses or self-published ebooks.
Bonus Tip: Use Yoast, an SEO tool that creates an SEO optimization checklist for each post. It will remind you to include important features such as internal links, meta descriptions, and alt tags.
Affiliate Marketing Mistakes — And How to Avoid Them
Affiliate marketing is lucrative — but it isn’t easy. Which is a good thing; if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!
Just like any new business venture, beginners are likely to make mistakes. And while some mistakes are inevitable, there are a few significant errors we’d like to help you avoid.
Don’t: Work in a Niche Outside Your Passion or Knowledge Base
When starting out, select a niche you have some base knowledge of or are really passionate about. Selling chinchilla supplies might be lucrative — but if you don’t know anything about chinchillas (or care about them), it is going to be much harder to produce high-quality content or build trust with your audience.
Do: Choose a niche that you already know something about or can quickly learn.
Don’t: Choose a Niche That is Too Competitive
Choosing a popular affiliate niche — like hosting, for example — means you are going up against well-established sites that already have thousands of pages of content.
Do: Choose a profitable niche with high interest and low competition.
Don’t: Give Up Before Your Content Has Time to Work
Affiliate marketing takes time. If you assume you will be a millionaire by the end of the month, you are going to be sorely disappointed.
Do: Work to provide value and build trust with your audience.
Pay attention to your traffic, and look for ways to create the type of content your audience likes. Use affiliate marketing tools like Yoast or SEMRush to optimize your content.
Don’t: Rely on a Single Stream of Income
Relying on one stream of income to earn money is a recipe for disaster. Instead of relying on one program or one company’s affiliate program, look for ways to diversify your income.
Do: Monetize your site in several ways.
These can include not just affiliate links, but also Google Adsense ads, sponsored posts, and your own courses or self-published ebooks.
Don’t: Recommend Products You Don’t Trust
People buy from people they trust. If you recommend every product that will pay you, it’s going to be really hard to convince your audience that you have their best interests at heart.
Do: Take the time to use or review products you recommend — and be upfront about the pros and cons.
Don’t: Be Unwilling to Invest in Paid Ads
Remember the adage “You’ve got to spend money to make money”?
While spending money on ads isn’t the only path to affiliate marketing success, it can help you build a following faster.
Do: Consider using paid ads through Google Ads, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to kick start your traffic.
Don’t: Think You Have to Do it Alone
When you first get started, you may be working on this dream alone. But as time passes and you start making an income, look for ways to prioritize your time. There are plenty of freelancers who are also looking to make cash from home that can help.
Do: Hire help rather than letting things fall through the cracks. Hiring a virtual assistant or a graphic design assistant on sites like UpWork can help you stay focused on higher-level tasks.
Frequently Asked Questions About Affiliate Marketing
Can I use affiliate marketing as a second stream of income?
Yes! You can use affiliate marketing as a primary source of income or to support income from other products or services.
How do affiliate marketers make money?
By promoting products from other businesses and earning a small commission for each sale they make.
Do I need a website to get started as an affiliate?
Not necessarily. While many affiliate marketers use websites to host content about products they promote, you can also use social media. Just keep in mind that social media will limit the lengths of content you can produce, so make sure the format makes sense for the products you promote.
How do I find a competitive affiliate marketing niche?
Start with the topics you know a lot about — your hobbies and industries related to your work, for example. Research to see if these niches are oversaturated, and look for profitable sub-niches you can leverage.
What are cookies and why do they matter in affiliate marketing?
Cookies are a small piece of code some websites add to internet users’ browsers. It tracks the sites they visit and purchases they make. When an affiliate network says they have a “30-day cookie duration” that means you will get credit for any purchases a user makes up to 30 days after they click your affiliate link.
How long do affiliate marketing cookies last?
It varies by platform, however most affiliate cookies last between 30 and 90 days.
What is a good average commission rate in affiliate marketing?
There is no one ‘good’ commission rate. It depends on the amount of work you have to put in to make a sale. For example, SaaS tools may offer upwards of 40% commission — but to make even one sale, you may invest hours creating in-depth content.
How much money can I make as an affiliate marketer?
Your income will depend on how much content you produce, what affiliate network you use, the amount of traffic your site gets, and many other factors. It takes a ton of work to be a successful affiliate marketer — but you can make a full-time income if you work hard.
Can I just use PPC ads to drive traffic to my affiliate links and skip the content creation part?
No, not if you want to be successful. The most successful affiliates build trust with their audiences by creating useful, relevant content. Using ads to drive traffic is not a sustainable model — even if you are good at optimizing ads.
Do you have to use SEO to build a profitable affiliate website?
No, you don’t have to use SEO. Some affiliate marketers successfully build passive income with no website at all, so you definitely don’t have to use SEO to earn money as an affiliate marketer.
If you use primarily social media, email, or paid ads to drive traffic to your affiliate links, then SEO may not be the most effective use of your time.
However, if you want to leverage strategies that will help you build brand awareness and get free traffic from organic search results, you’ll want to learn a bit about SEO.
Why do most affiliate marketers fail?
There are tons of affiliate marketing success stories out there, which leads many people to believe that building a passive income through affiliate marketing is easy.
Most affiliate marketers fail because they assume building an affiliate income will be easy, and they aren’t willing to put in the work.
Getting started as an affiliate marketer is really easy —- but being successful as an affiliate marketer is no walk in the park.
If you dream of making a real income from affiliate marketing, this guide will help you get started. And while it’s not an easy path, it is possible to earn money while you sleep, travel, or just live your life.
You don’t have to trade your time for money by working your life away as a freelancer, taking lame surveys, or any of the less legitimate money-making ideas out there on the internet.
However, to be successful as an affiliate marketer, you have to be willing to learn and invest the time in creating solid, useful content for your audience and partnering with the best affiliate programs. The best affiliate program for your affiliate marketing site may vary based on a variety of factors. For example, the types of products you promote, your experience level, and your audience.
Make sure to compare the different platforms we’ve listed above carefully and select the one that fits your needs and your audience. Don’t be afraid to leverage several platforms — such as Amazon for physical products and single affiliate programs for tools you already use.
Finally, make sure to test your marketing initiatives. Remember that just because someone else finds success using a specific strategy doesn’t mean it will resonate with your audience.