The affiliate marketing industry is a multibillion-dollar industry with exciting professional opportunities for creators. It’s fast becoming a common way for ecommerce brands to market their products and services.
Statista reports that in 2021 alone, e-retail sales surpassed $5.2 trillion worldwide. Amongst those billions of people now buying things online, Awin’s latest review of affiliate marketing showed that by April 2021, 37% of people were buying products through affiliate links.
The best affiliate marketing programs are often free to join, so it doesn’t cost much to start. Plus, you could go from side hustle to profitable business that provides passive income over time.
Feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start? This beginner’s guide will help you get up and running fast.
- How affiliate marketing works
- How to start affiliate marketing
- What are the benefits of affiliate marketing?
- How much can you make as a new affiliate marketer?
- Earn passive income with successful affiliate marketing
- Affiliate marketing for beginners FAQ
How affiliate marketing works
Affiliate marketing is a sales model where a company pays a third-party to sell their product or service. If you’ve ever listened to a podcast or seen a social media influencer promote a product, they are affiliate marketers. In exchange for recommending products or services to their audience, they get a commission off of any sales that result in their referral.
After you choose an affiliate marketing program, you’ll receive a unique link or code that will allow the companies to track every customer you send their way. When a customer purchases the product through your link, you earn a commission.
You can find programs directly through a company or via an affiliate network like ShareASale. Regardless, here’s how the standard affiliate program works:
- You promote Store A on your website, blog, or social network.
- Someone clicks your unique link.
- They make a purchase in Store A.
- The company or affiliate network records the transaction.
- The purchase is confirmed by Store A.
- You receive a commission.
For example, during the holiday season, Instagrammer @caullenfit promoted MVMT accessories on his page with his unique link in the description.
If you click on his link, you’ll get redirected to the MVMT website and a cookie will be stored on your device. So even if you have to exit out of the browser and go walk the dog in the middle of shopping, when you come back that day, the cookie is still tracking your activity.
If you then decide that you want to buy three MVMT watches as gifts, when you check out, 10% of that $700 purchase will go into @caullenfit’s pocket.
How to start affiliate marketing
- Decide on a niche
- Choose your platform
- Find relevant affiliate marketing programs
- Create valuable content
- Build an audience
- Follow FTC regulations
1. Decide on a niche
A niche is the segment of a larger market defined by its own unique characteristics. It becomes your specialty and the topic people will know you for. Travel blogging would be an affiliate marketing niche, as would pet care or tiny homes.
Choosing a niche is a strategic business decision designed to serve a specific customer base. It helps establish a loyal audience that’ll buy your products instead of competitors’.
The top affiliate marketing niches found by Easy Affiliate are:
- Lifestyle and wellness
- Personal finance
- Pet care
These aren’t your only options, of course. There are hundreds of options available. So how do you go about finding a profitable niche that interests you? Consider the following:
- Do you want to learn more about the niche? You’ll want to become a subject matter expert on your topic over time. The only way to achieve expert status is by constantly learning and staying on top of trends.
- Can you solve problems? Affiliate marketers often have special training or experience in a specific niche. This gives them new ways to present information and help people solve problems.
- Is it profitable? Run a quick search on Google to see how popular your niche is. Check how much competition is in the space. Read market reports. A busy niche isn’t always a bad thing, because it means there are people ready to buy.
The goal is to choose a niche that you enjoy. You won’t be making six figures overnight. Running an affiliate business takes commitment and time. If you already enjoy doing it, you’ll be more likely to continue to do it despite how much money might be rolling in.
2. Choose your platform
The next step is considering what platform you’ll use for your business. Each affiliate marketer has a different platform and approach.
For example, while blogger Ryan Robinson has an Instagram account, his core source of income ($300,000+ per year) comes from his blog. Other affiliates focus solely on Instagram or TikTok to earn affiliate commissions.
There are a two main methods to choose from as a beginner:
Niche topic or product review site
These sites review companies’ products for a specific audience and compare products with each other. They can also publish buyer’s guides and product tutorials to help shoppers make buying decisions, such as the New York Times’ Wirecutter site.
Content creators include bloggers, social media influencers, and YouTubers. They continuously publish content that resonates with their audience to gain influence and encourage clicks.
A good example is how Ryan Robinson’s blog focuses on freelancers. He regularly publishes new content related to freelancing to draw in an audience and promotes brands that he’s affiliated with.
Authenticity and audience engagement are two critical elements for affiliate marketing. If you can’t connect with your audience, they likely won’t buy the products you recommend.
Not sure which platform to choose? Start on a platform you’re comfortable with. If you enjoy creating social media videos, make Instagram your platform. If you’re a good writer, maybe blogging is the best route for you. Creating on platforms you already understand will help you create content that connects with your audience and drives affiliate sales.
3. Find relevant affiliate marketing programs
It’s important to make sure you find the program that is right for you. Make sure not to just focus on high-paying affiliate programs but to find the affiliate offers and products that will appeal to your audience. A few things to look for when choosing an affiliate program include:
Make sure not to just focus on high-paying affiliate programs but to find the affiliate offers and products that will appeal to your audience. A few things to look for when choosing an affiliate program include:
- Does the program have a great market reputation? You don’t want to work with partners that people don’t trust. Fortunately, affiliate networks like ShareASale and Clickbank vet programs and present reliable, profitable merchants you can work with.
- Does the program have a good commission rate? You want to earn good money for your time and effort. Many programs pay upward of 10% to 20% commissions for a sale. Choose a rate that works for you.
- Does it have a high earnings per click (EPC) rate? EPC is an industry-wide metric that shows the average affiliate earnings per 100 clicks across a merchant’s program. Networks like ShareASale show you this information for each merchant. For example, Modern Nursery pays a 5% commission, but its EPC is $38.20, which means you could make almost $40 per click!
Finding the right programs is critical to running a successful affiliate business. For example, True Crime Obsessed is a comedic podcast where best friends and hosts Patrick Hines and Gillian Pensavalle talk with a comedic spin about true crime documentaries.
Using this very particular take on a popular niche, they’ve garnered over 70 million downloads in one year as well as an Obsessed Network with six other offshoot programs.
The podcast promotes a variety of different products and services in episodes and a dedicated promo code page related to its niche.
To find good affiliate opportunities, ask your favorite brands if they have an ambassador or affiliate program. That way you can promote products you already appreciate and enjoy.
You can also find products and brands to work with in the following affiliate marketplaces:
- Commission Junction (CJ) Affiliate
- Amazon Associates affiliate program
4. Create valuable content
Statista reports that in 2022, people spent an average of 170 minutes online, globally. People are consuming content, but if you want to stand out, you have to make yours valuable to your audience.
Blogs are a really good way to do that. Findstack reports that 65% of all affiliate marketers generate traffic through blogging alone. Kelly Marohl from The Greenspring Home advises that new affiliate marketers should “focus on publishing high-quality content … and build a highly engaged audience. That will pay off in dividends later!”
In 2022, Statista reported that people all over the globe spent an average of 147 minutes on social media per day. So, if you’re asking if you have to have a website in order to be an affiliate marketer, the answer is no.
Promoting on social media is an easy and free way to get your content into the hands of the people that might be interested. Even platforms like Pinterest have affiliate opportunities using the pins on your various boards.
There are plenty of affiliate marketers who operate entirely on social media, like @amandacerny, who became an influencer through her vlogs on YouTube and is now a prominent influencer and affiliate marketer on Instagram with over 24 million followers.
If you have a blog, research and understand search engine optimization (SEO). Brightedge reported that SEO drives over 1,000% more traffic than organic social media. Doing some keyword research and implementing SEO well is crucial to reaching your audience. Email marketing is another way to keep those customers who’ve already visited your site interested.
- How to Start a Blog You Can Grow Into a Business
- Organic Marketing Ideas for Entrepreneurs on a Shoestring Budget
- What Should You Post on Instagram? Here Are 20 Ideas to Spice Up Your Feed
- Driving Growth: 11 Best Marketing Strategies Any Small Business Can Execute
5. Build an audience
To build an audience first you have to reach them. Creating email lists helps you to directly reach your audience. You can send newsletters, updates on new content, and exciting offers directly to anyone who signs up to be a part of your email list.
If you’re operating mostly on social media, follow and tag influencers that may be interested in your niche. The name of the game is to do what you can to increase the traffic to your website or social media page.
Reeling them in is just the first part, now it’s important to build trust between you and your audience to keep them coming back. Deefaz from PageOneCoffee advises, “Write on things that will create value for your audience and help them connect and make a better and informed decision on the choices they have.”
Don’t just try and sell anything to your audience in order to gain a quick buck. The more they feel your genuine interest, the more they will trust you.
Write on things that will create value for your audience and help them connect and make a better and informed decision on the choices they have.”
- The 39-Point Store Trust Checklist: How Trustworthy Is Your Online Store?
- 9 Ways to Earn Customer Trust When You Have Zero Sales
6. Follow FTC regulations
The FTC protects consumers from deceptive marketing practices. Unfortunately, there are affiliate marketers out there who are more than willing to promote scams and misleading products and services in order to make a quick buck.
To prevent this, the FTC requires that any affiliate marketer disclose their financial relationship with any brands or products that they are promoting. In short, you need to tell your audience that you’re getting compensated for promoting the products you’re promoting, and you must always tell them when a link is an affiliate link in order to stay compliant with the FTC.
- The FTC’s Endorsement Guides: What People Are Asking
- FTC Disclosure for Affiliates: The Definitive Guide
What are the benefits of affiliate marketing?
Now that you understand how affiliate marketing works, let’s look at a few top benefits.
You don’t own the products you’re promoting
Most public affiliate programs are larger and don’t require that you buy any of the products you recommend, like Amazon Associates. You simply join their affiliate program, grab your link, and post it on your page or website.
It’s perfect when you’re starting out, because you don’t have to invest a bunch of money into physical or digital products off the bat. You can take some time and experiment and see which types of products and services are gaining the most traction with your audience.
It’s a passive income source
Once you’ve established the groundwork to keep traffic coming to your site, you’re pretty much set. All you have to do is choose the right affiliate partners that will appeal to your audience and post those links. Your unique links and codes will continue to bring in a recurring commission for you, as long as you keep them visible on your site.
High earning potential
Affiliate marketing has six-figure earning potential for newcomers. You may not bring in that sort of money right at the jump, but there is real potential for affiliate marketing to replace your 9 to 5. Pat Flynn, for example, reported to Business Insider that he earns up to $170,000 per month thanks to the affiliate marketing business.
Adventure junkie and founder of Biking Know How Rohan Kadam also turned his blog from a passion project into a successful online business by using affiliate sales. “I scaled my [affiliate marketing] business, especially during the challenging COVID pandemic, and made it profitable in a short period.” So Rohan quit his full-time job at JP Morgan Chase and is now a full-time blogger and affiliate marketer.
I scaled my affiliate marketing business, especially during the challenging COVID pandemic, and made it profitable in a short period.
How much can you make as a new affiliate marketer?
Commission rates vary depending on the company you’re working with. The Amazon associates program offers anywhere from a 1% to 10% commission on sales. Others, like ButcherBox and Thrive Market, offer a flat $20 commission per sale. There are even affiliate programs that offer recurring commissions as high as 30% per sale.
How much you can make with affiliate marketing is completely up to you. It’ll depend on how much traffic you can generate toward your site(s), how well you gauge which affiliate products and services your audience will respond to, and the affiliate programs you join.
Statista reports that the affiliate marketing industry reached $8.2 billion in the US by 2022, which is up from the $5.4 billion that it was valued at in 2017.
So it’s a growing market. In fact, according to Google Trends, there has been an increase of interest in affiliate marketing of 142% from 2016 to the present (though interest peaked in the summer 2021, with an increase of 426%).
Earn passive income with successful affiliate marketing
There’s no doubt an affiliate income is a smart way to earn money online. With a little time and effort upfront, you can build an audience and earn consistent payouts through your affiliate site—all without taking on too much risk.
Want tips on how to grow your affiliate marketing business? Read 16 Affiliate Marketing Tips & Strategies to Earn More Money to get actionable tactics you can use to gain influence and earn sales.
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Affiliate marketing for beginners FAQ
How do I start affiliate marketing as a beginner?
- Decide on a niche.
- Choose your platform.
- Find relevant affiliate marketing programs.
- Create valuable content.
- Build an audience.
- Follow FTC regulations.
How much do beginner affiliate marketers make?
Beginner affiliate marketers can make up to 30% commission per sale. Get started with Shopify
What are the best affiliate marketing opportunities for beginners?
Searching for opportunities on affiliate marketplaces like:
- CJ Affiliate