As an affiliate marketer, your goal is to influence people to purchase products you’ll get a kickback from. YouTube is a superb platform to do that.
There are expected to be 2.8 billion YouTube users by 2025, making it the second-most popular social media platform in the world.
But people aren’t just using the platform to be entertained. YouTube recently surpassed $3 billion in global consumer spend. Your affiliate marketing business can claim a slice of it by promoting products to shoppers.
Ready to get in on the action? This guide shares how to earn affiliate commissions from YouTube, complete with video ideas to get you started.
Become a pro YouTube affiliate marketer 🎥
How do I start an affiliate marketing business on YouTube?
Affiliate marketing works when you get paid to sell another company’s products or services. Many ecommerce businesses have their own affiliate marketing programs, though you can also join affiliate networks like ShareASale or ClickBank to find several affiliate partners within one dashboard.
Producing YouTube content is a great way for affiliate marketers to earn passive income. Some 68% of users have watched a YouTube video when making a purchasing decision. Combine that with their favorite content creators recommending products, and the conversion rate of affiliate YouTube videos can be higher than traditional content.
The best part? You get paid when your audience purchases off the back of the video. It’s a win-win for everyone involved—including your brand partners.
Affiliate video ideas to try on YouTube
For most creators, the hardest part about creating affiliate content is packaging their sponsored recommendations in a way their audience engages with. After all, 28% of consumers say they’ll unfollow an influencer if they’re bored with the content they share. Another 14% will do so if the creator posts too much sponsored content.
Here are five popular types of content to try when promoting affiliate products on YouTube:
- Trending videos. The YouTube community creates their own trends, like the “what’s in my bag?” craze that dominated in the early 2010s. Keep an eye on what’s trending on the platform and produce your own spin-off—affiliate-recommended products included.
- Unboxing videos. This type of video is popular on YouTube since viewers can imagine themselves being the star of the show. Estella of Study to Success, for example, unboxes iPad Pro accessories on her YouTube channel. The video description contains affiliate links for viewers to purchase the same products.
- Round-up videos. The more variety you have in your YouTube content, the more chance you have at influencing a sale—especially if the viewer isn’t actively looking for something to buy. Encourage impulse buying with round-up videos like “monthly favorites” that contain links to affiliate products.
- Product review videos. Almost nine in 10 customers read a review before making a purchase. Cater to visual learners with product review videos. Explain the good (and bad) points about a product you’re incentivized to promote. Make it convincing and earn commission when viewers are ready to buy.
- Tutorials. People watching a tutorial are further along in the sales process than someone passively watching a trending video. Capture them—and commission on their purchase—by walking through how to use the product. If you’re an affiliate for an ergonomic desk chair, for example, record yourself changing their chair height, incline, and matching foot rest.
“On YouTube, never explicitly promote the affiliate products. This will come across as disingenuous and inauthentic. You'll end up eroding trust with your audience, and your conversion rate will suffer.”
Ryan Robinson is someone who’s seen success with YouTube affiliate marketing. Over the past year, Ryan has invested “a lot more time into creating actionable video content for my YouTube channel, including a few videos that are geared specifically around driving affiliate conversions—like this 44-minute in-depth tutorial that covers every single step involved in starting a blog this year.
“Naturally, one of the steps I cover in the video is choosing a hosting company and plan that fits your budget. So I walk viewers through a couple of the best options I recommend and show them how to go through both the checkout and configuration process right afterward.
“In the description below the video, I include my discount-applied affiliate link for viewers to use if they decide to go with the hosting option I recommend.”
To date, Ryan’s affiliate video has over 6,700 views and more than 70 comments—most of which are questions from people who are seeking advice about getting their new blogs off the ground.
Ryan says, “Because it's so detailed and dives into all the nitty-gritty behind getting a blog set up from a technical perspective, it's done really well in organic Google and YouTube search rankings, which both continue to deliver dozens of new viewers to the video every day without any additional work on my end.”
Related: Edit Videos Like a Pro: The 13 Best Free Video Editing Software for 2022
7 pro YouTube affiliate marketing tips
Ready to capitalize on the millions of dollars consumers spend through YouTube each year? Here are seven pro YouTube tips bound to drive more affiliate sales.
- Use eye-catching thumbnails
- Add chapter markers
- Optimize for YouTube search
- Create related playlists
- Produce YouTube shorts
- Embed YouTube videos in blog content
- Be transparent with affiliate links
1. Use eye-catching thumbnails
You’ll have a tough time generating affiliate commissions from your YouTube videos if nobody is watching them. A thumbnail—the image shown before a video is played—plays a large role in that.
Think of YouTube thumbnails as the cover of a book. Fail to make the cover worthy of picking up and nobody reads the story inside—no matter how good it is. But design a cover that gets noticed on a crowded bookshelf and you’re one step closer to a bestseller.
Do some competitive research and see which thumbnails you’re competing with for your audience’s attention. If you’re recording a coffee art tutorial (featuring a coffee machine that you’ll earn kickback from), here’s what you need to beat:
Some industries are more creative than others. If you’re promoting technology products, for example, colorful and text-heavy thumbnails are required to stand out.
Tools like Canva and Fotor have high-quality YouTube thumbnail templates to create your own images, though some affiliate marketers find the investment in a graphic designer pays off.
“I have always taken a search-driven and quality-first approach to my content,” says digital marketer Alex Tucker. “But for the first few months that I focused on YouTube, my click-through rates were terrible (under 2%) because I was making my own thumbnails and I’m a poor designer.
“When I started working with a professional designer, my click-through rate jumped to over 5%, which means more than twice as many people were giving my videos a chance.”
💡Pro tip: Update your YouTube thumbnails regularly, especially if your content is evergreen. Add the current year to your thumbnail to prove your content is still relevant—and therefore, worthy of clicking.
2. Add chapter markers
Ever clicked on a YouTube video to figure out how to solve a problem, only to swipe through 15 minutes of the creator talking about something you don’t care about? It’s the equivalent of reading about how a food blogger’s mom created a recipe when you just need to know how many eggs you’ll need to cook it.
No matter how much effort you put into condensing your content, people will arrive on your YouTube video looking for short answers. Help them find them with chapter markers.
Wandering Aimfully, for example, created a YouTube video sharing the items they’re packing for a year of travel. Each section of the video uses chapter markers. Viewers can pinpoint the section where the creators talk about roller suitcases and travel backpacks without sitting through the entire 30-minute video.
3. Optimize for YouTube search
YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, beaten only by Google. People use the website to learn something new, be entertained, or research products they’re thinking about buying.
That’s great news for affiliate marketers. Figure out what keywords your target audience is searching for and produce YouTube videos that meet them there—no “please make this go viral!” wishes necessary. Compounding organic traffic comes your way with a little search engine optimization upfront.
To start, find competing YouTube channels that promote similar products you’re an affiliate for. Use the Keywords Everywhere browser extension to find other related terms, monitoring the search volume (how many people search for that phrase each month) and trend.
Once you’ve done keyword research to uncover which terms your target customer is searching, optimize the video to increase the chances of it appearing in search results.
- Put the keyword in the video title. Try to make it as catchy as possible; click-through rate is a factor in how well your video will rank.
- Include keywords in the video description. If you’re reviewing a Canon camera, for example, naturally weave related phrases like “Canon camera review” and “reviewing the Canon camera” into the description.
- Increase watch time. The YouTube algorithm prefers videos with high watch time, since the content is proven to keep them on the platform.
4. Create related playlists
As an affiliate marketer, the more views your video has, the higher the chances of earning affiliate commission. YouTube’s playlist feature helps you achieve that by compiling similar videos into a never-ending video reel.
To create your own YouTube playlist:
- Group together related videos
- Open each video in your browser
- Hit “Save” beneath each video
- Create a new playlist (or add it to an existing one)
- Change the privacy settings to public
Wirecutter’s “working from home” playlist, for example, has 10 videos that share tips on how to set up your home office space. Desk decluttering tips, Zoom tutorials, and chair comparison videos make their way onto the playlist—each of which is monetized with affiliate links. Someone looking to upgrade their home office could purchase several items for multiple videos.
5. Produce YouTube shorts
YouTube shorts is a new feature that allows creators to upload short TikTok-style videos to their channel. Videos need to be vertical, recorded on a mobile device, and less than 60 seconds long. They’re designed to be quick-fire videos that users can flip through quickly—though that’s not to say your affiliate marketing strategy has to leave them out.
“YouTube Shorts don’t appear to be disappearing any time soon, so I’d urge any affiliates to utilize them in order to showcase certain aspects of a product or piece of software that you’re an affiliate for. Highlight the immediate benefits and aspects of the product, then internally link to your full review video from within.”
Teeth Talk Girl is one YouTuber who creates affiliate content on the platform. She uploads shorts to her channel—like this one titled “Fastest Way To Whiten Teeth.” It’s less than a minute long and includes an affiliate link in the video description for anyone looking to purchase the teeth whitening kit on display.
6. Embed YouTube videos in blog content
A blog and YouTube channel are both powerful marketing tools to spread the word about your affiliate links—even more so when combined together.
- Appeal to different audiences. Your target market likely has a variety of different learning styles. Some prefer reading blog posts, others are more interested in videos. Combine the two to avoid alienating people who’d purchase your recommended products.
- Increase video views. Show your affiliate videos to people looking for recommendations outside of the YouTube sphere. For some keywords, Google’s algorithm pulls YouTube videos to display in Google search results.
- Improve SEO.Dwell time, time on page, and bounce rate are all metrics taken into account when search engine algorithms determine where a page should rank. Improve them by embedding relevant videos on your website.
Ryan Robinson does this with his blogging tutorial videos. In an article teaching readers how to start a blog, Ryan embeds related YouTube videos—like this tutorial for installing WordPress:
“This not only helps the video drive more views from my own blog—and thus sends a positive signal to YouTube that it’s still getting attention online—but having the video embedded in my written guide to starting a blog also gives those readers the opportunity to watch a video version of the article they’re on,” Ryan says.
“I’ve gotten emails and comments from many readers who’ve said the video tutorial is what helped them really get their blogs set up right, so the two work well together to help drive more conversions.”
7. Be transparent with affiliate links
It doesn’t matter which type of content you’re creating to share affiliate links—every product you’re incentivized to share needs to be clearly labelled as such. Failing to do so could result in your audience never trusting the items you promote.
Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. You’re looking for a new meal prep service, so head to YouTube to find comparison videos between HelloFresh and Gusto—the latter of which is heavily praised by the star of the video.
If the video fails to disclose the fact they’re paid for any new customers they drive to Gusto, you’re not necessarily given the full picture. The YouTuber is obviously incentivized to push you toward their service. Yet if they explain their relationship with Gusto upfront, you’ll take that into consideration when choosing between the two services.
“If you disclose your relationship to the retailer clearly and conspicuously on your site, readers can decide how much weight to give your endorsement.”
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also has strict guidelines on stating whether you’ll earn affiliate income from a product recommendation. Content creators face large fines for misleading their audience and failing to highlight products they’re incentivized to sell.
Overcome this problem by simply being transparent with the affiliate items you’re promoting. YouTuber Abbey Yung, for example, includes the following disclaimer beneath affiliate links in the video description:
Use YouTube in your affiliate marketing strategy
For many affiliate marketers, YouTube is the secret weapon that powers successful affiliate marketing campaigns.
Start earning income through the platform with the tips outlined in this guide. Produce content your target audience is searching for, optimize them for YouTube search, and avoid clickbait for the sake of monetizing videos.
Honesty is the best policy as an affiliate marketer. Your audience’s trust is at stake.
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