What is Affiliate Marketing in 2018: A Beginner's Guide

Grace Pinegar
Grace Pinegar  |  August 15, 2018

To affiliate something is to officially attach or connect it to an organization. An affiliate is a person or organization officially linked to a larger entity.

When I hear the word “affiliation,” my mind instantly thinks of all the different announcements I’ve seen brands send out when they choose to either partner with or discontinue a partnership with a certain individual or organization.

affiliate marketing

Vans' shoe company partners with Van Gogh Museum to develop Van Gogh-inspired shoe line. The partnership exemplifies an affiliation. 

We’re known by the company we keep, and this is true for brands as well. More and more, brands want ambassadors with good characters whose values align with their overall message. Brands are paying attention to their ambassadors’ public perceptions and reputations.

What is affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is, in some way, a strategy that helps reduce a brand’s pressure to find the perfect spokesperson. It also increases the likelihood of success, as affiliates are often vetted by networks or agencies.

Unlike celebrity endorsements or influencer marketing — strategies that typically have a few people or one person acting as the face of a brand — affiliate marketing is a strategy without limits. A brand can have its product affiliated with one major website, or be running a plethora of strategies at the same time.

Affiliate marketing allows its marketers, or “affiliates,” to take their income into their own hands. This strategy is, in some instances, referred to as a form of “passive income” for those who endorse products. By this, we mean affiliates aren’t always actively selling to make money. They put their strategies in motion and any sales that come through their site drive income.

I know what you’re thinking: “Well, of course sales drive income. How is this different from any other retail exchange?” The answer is easy. Affiliates aren’t selling their own products. They’re selling products for a merchant and get to keep a percentage of the profits.

Whether you’re a merchant looking to form an affiliate marketing strategy or you're an affiliate hoping to generate some of this passive income, look no further. 

Affiliate marketing definition

Affiliate marketing is a strategy consisting of three-to-four components, depending on who you ask. Most sources agree that the popular grouping of components consists of a merchant, customer, and affiliate marketer. Others argue that a network should also be included in this make-up.

There is no right or wrong answer here, just a difference in opinion. Let’s talk about the role each component plays.

The affiliate is the marketer, representative, publisher, etc. It can be one person or an entire organization. Affiliates don’t always have to sell a tangible product, either. Some affiliates are selling software or trying to encourage sign-ups to an e-course.

Compare affiliate marketing to something like the Mary Kay Cosmetics company. Mary Kay is a makeup brand that has helped serve as surplus income to families for years. Individuals choose to sell the makeup produced by this company, and they profiting in accordance with their sales. This is a form of network marketing.

Affiliate marketers also take a product or service, put it on their website (or other page), and profit through any direct purchases. The only difference is Mary Kay consultants have to do a lot of leg-work, whereas affiliates can profit passively.

A merchant is whoever is making the product or service. It is the retailer, or the brand name, for which the affiliate sells. Again, the merchant can be an enterprise size company or a single person. The merchant pays the affiliate to be a vessel in which its product or service is sold.

The customer is whoever is buying the product. Customers and consumers are not limited to one particular channel through affiliate marketing. Customers can be found on social media profiles, blogs, forums, or product websites.

In affiliate marketing, the affiliate has an obligation to know how to attract the consumer. Affiliates are somewhat in control of their income, and, as such, should have a passion for market research and knowing how to engage the merchant’s target consumer.

The network is, again, contested by some as to whether it’s truly a part of the affiliate marketing conglomerate. But for good measure, we’ll discuss it. The network is essentially the middle man used to manage this exchange. The network helps accomplish such tasks as payment processing, tracking technology, reporting solutions, and can serve as a repository of available affiliates.

Why affiliate marketing?

As you can see from the many moving parts labeled above, affiliate marketing has a multitude of sides. In this section, we’ll discuss the benefits of affiliate marketing for every different angle.

Benefits for the affiliate

The biggest benefit of affiliate marketing for the affiliate is that they’re getting paid. While the specific percentages vary, affiliate marketers profit a certain portion of every sale that goes through their channel or website.

As an affiliate, you work out with the merchant exactly how you will determine profits. Whether you’re paid per sale, per click, per lead, or per call, you profit as the merchant does.

For the affiliate, this strategy is all profit with virtually no money down. You aren’t investing in the success of the product, nor are you paying for the upkeep or production of goods. There’s no storefront necessary, which means there’s no rent to pay or light bulbs to replace.

Affiliates are responsible for the maintenance of their platforms, be that a website or social media pages. They have to pay for web hosting and a domain name, which can be procured for free or relatively low monthly fees.

Additionally, being an affiliate marketer helps build a brand. Consider it like networking with vendors. The more efficiently you’re able to sell a brand’s product, the more likely it will keep you on or other brands will reach out to you for sales.

To individuals who are oblivious to affiliate marketing, it also looks reputable that big name brands are having you sell their products. While you’re aware that it’s as easy as signing up, to others you look like a big-name influencer!

Another benefit to being an affiliate is the relative autonomy in what you’re selling. You get to choose which brands you work with and what products you push. You can sell products you’ve used, products you believe in, or products that simply seem interesting to you!

Benefits for the merchant

One of the main benefits for the merchant is having someone else do the grunt work on selling its product. Although affiliate marketing is not as taxing as, say, door-to-door sales, it’s still a form of labor the merchant does not have to perform.

In addition to sales, affiliate marketing is, well, marketing. Merchants are not limited to one affiliate. Say a larger company has 100 affiliates selling its lamps. This means 100 people, in 100 different locations across the world, are pushing this one merchant’s product and name.

While the bottom line is imperative, affiliate marketing should also be considered for its ability to create impressions. It gets your name out there at a larger scale than you can do alone.

Plus, consumers are more likely to rely on a trusted source for brand information than they are an advertisement. In the current state of influencers and rampant review sites, we’re looking to real people’s opinions more than we are static advertisements or TV commercials. With your affiliates comes the trust of networks they’ve previously established.

Another benefit for the merchant is the opportunity to join affiliate networks, which, again, do much of the grunt work for you. From finding affiliates, to tracking pay, to reporting on key metrics, these affiliate networks have a number of business-boosting features.

Affiliate networks, among other things, can even post advertisements for you that help locate affiliates who would make effective and professional brand ambassadors. So, not only are your products being advertised, but they’re being advertised by someone you can trust.

Benefits for the consumer

If we’re being honest, it’s possible that, oftentimes, consumers don’t even know they’re partaking in an affiliate marketing strategy. Even if the webpage is labeled as such, consumers can easily miss that kind of information.

What customers do know is they are purchasing a product potentially through the website of someone they trust. After that, the particular dispersal of funds is unknown to the consumer.

Not all affiliates are influencers. However, as professionals whose incomes are self-driven, all affiliates would do well to build trusting relationships with their readers and consumers. In this way, consumers benefit from affiliates because they are passionately working for their income.

This leads affiliates to be choosy about the products for which they advocate. Customer satisfaction will lead to increased loyalty, as well as increased sales.

Whether the customers can tell or not, the buyer experience is different with affiliate marketing. There’s a middle-man between them and the brand or vendor that is sticking its neck out for this product, so to speak.

Benefits for the network

The affiliate marketing network is sort of like LinkedIn for affiliate marketers and brands. These networks help both sides of the equation — those hunting for money-making opportunities and those hunting for quality candidates — find each other.

The benefit of affiliate marketing for affiliate marketing networks is that this strategy keeps the networks alive. Without brands trusting that this type of marketing works, there is no reason to pay for network services. 

Affiliate marketing programs 

Affiliate programs are an extension of the affiliate marketing strategy as a whole, with a few key differences.

According to HowStuffWorks, “Affiliate programs, also called associate programs, are arrangements in which an online merchant website pays affiliate websites a commission to send it traffic. These affiliate websites post links to the merchant site and are paid according to a particular agreement. This agreement is usually based on the number of people the affiliate sends to the merchant's site or the number of people they send who buy something or perform some other action.

Some arrangements pay according to the number of people who visit the page containing their merchant site's banner advertisement. Basically, if a link on an affiliate site brings the merchant site traffic or money, the merchant site pays the affiliate site according to their agreement.”

Again, the specifics of these partnerships are determined according to the individual companies. However, one thing is the same throughout: the mutually beneficial relationship of merchant and affiliate that brings positive results to both parties.

Like affiliate marketing, affiliate programs also benefit from using an affiliate network, sometimes referred to as an affiliate program network. These networks are useful in tracking clicks, conversions, sales, and banner engagements on affiliate sites.

In marketing, every impression or engagement counts. It’s important for organizations to understand which of their efforts are seeing significant returns on investment. Keeping track of these through a network or other type of reporting tool helps both parties determine the outcome of this partnership.

Affiliate marketing for dummies

 I know you’re not a dummy. You know you’re not a dummy. But if you’re just now finding out about affiliate marketing and the benefits it reaps, it’s possible you feel a little naive or wonder how in the world you missed out on the surgence of this strategy.

If you’re just getting into affiliate marketing and all of its glory, take a look at these introductory tips:

  1. Find your affiliates and affiliate programs in all the right places --As humans, many of us hope to inherently trust one another. We’d like to believe that someone’s word is good. That a check will cash. That we’ll again see the man who said he’d pay us tomorrow. If you’ve spent even a smidgeon of time working as a freelancer, you know this isn’t always the case. People pay late, if at all. You turn in work, and the source contests it. In order to avoid disappointment and fraud, make sure you are using a legitimate network to find both merchants and affiliates.

    One huge red flag is any company that promises you a “get rich quick” marketing strategy. Although affiliate marketing can be good money, it’s by no means instantaneous. Stay away from anything that sounds too good to be true. Also, stay away from any merchant that wants to charge you startup costs. Additionally, use established affiliate programs to find your merchants. Read reviews and ask around. You’re not the only person trying to supplement income with this marketing strategy, so there are plenty of other professionals with whom to crowdsource.

  2. Don’t go too broad — Earlier, we mentioned that a benefit of affiliate marketing is that affiliates get to choose the products they sell. Because affiliates are building out their brands, they shouldn’t cast their nets too wide. There are affiliate opportunities for everything you can think of: technology, fashion, health, fitness, and even dog training. If you’re trying to get into affiliate marketing, try and stay relatively within a certain niche.

    This doesn’t mean you only sell one product. This means you build out a brand by selling varying yet adjacent products. Over time, your consumer network might consider you a go-to for which type of vacuum they should buy. Additionally, some industries pay more than others. Especially if the product is a harder sell, affiliates may get a higher cut than they would for a product in higher demand.

  3. Have a plan — As an affiliate, you aren’t entirely responsible for the sales of this company, but you are responsible for the success of your affiliation with that company. If you want to do well, prepare. Have a professional-grade website. One consumers trust with their contact information. Have a strategy for the content you produce and how you promote posts or products.

    Consider a social media marketing strategy in conjunction with your website. If you have the resources, utilize a search engine optimization tool to help your site come up in search engines when users are searching for that particular product. You don’t necessarily need to have an entire content marketing plan, but you also shouldn’t “wing” your way through an affiliate marketing strategy. Like we said, successful affiliates continue to partner with companies, and continued partnerships mean a steady income!

How to start affiliate marketing

As we’ve mentioned, affiliate marketing has many sides, each equally as important as the other. If you’re looking to begin an affiliate marketing strategy, look no further. Here, we’ll discuss beginner tactics for both the affiliate and merchant that will hopefully result in long-lasting, mutually beneficial business relationships.

Affiliate marketing for beginners

For the merchant — If you’re a merchant and you’re looking to get connected to some quality affiliate marketers, the most popular and, arguably, most effective method would be to join an affiliate network or program. (Later on, we will discuss specific examples of networks you could sign up for in your search.)

Affiliate programs and networks take a lot of the burden off the vendor’s back. It’s essentially a one-stop shop for all things affiliate marketing related. If you want to get involved in this strategy, but don’t have the time or knowledge to do it yourself, consider joining one of these communities.

Affiliate networks have a lot to offer merchants. Take, for example, the concept of a placement marketplace. This is a sort of platform that exists for both merchants and affiliates, helping them find each other. An affiliate program can automate processes such as posting opportunities, finding affiliates, tracking their sales, and paying for clicks and leads. This ensures busy merchants and vendors don’t stiff affiliates or make mistakes on their paychecks.

These solutions can also take care of the reporting aspect of affiliate marketing. If you’re a vendor or brand hiring affiliate, chances are you have tons of accounts going at once. It’s a huge time-suck to sift through and manage all of these on a daily basis. With an affiliate network or program, the hard stuff is taken care of.

If you want your brand portrayed in a certain light, you can upload creative collateral for affiliates to use within their own platforms. This ensures brand consistency and simplifies communication between the affiliate and merchant.

If you don’t want to join an affiliate network, you’ll have to do a lot of this on your own. That means searching for affiliates, tracking their sales and pay, reporting on monthly revenue, and more. While this might make you feel more independent, you end up spending a lot of time on manual tasks that the networks simply take care of.

Although I’ve never had personal experience being a brand looking to get into affiliate marketing, the network route still seems like the way to go, in my opinion. It’s reliable, automates a lot of the otherwise manual and time-consuming processes, and comes with the data, to boot.

For the affiliate — There is a lot to be gained from becoming an affiliate marketer. From extra income, to brand awareness, to a network of like-minded consumers and professionals, the benefits prove it to be more than a get-rich-quick scheme.

To become an affiliate marketer, you should put in what you hope to get out of it. If you are a self-starter who doesn’t hesitate to do your own research, success in affiliate marketing should come naturally to you.

  • Niche — Unless you’re Amazon, people don’t come to your site looking to buy both weed-wackers and moisturizing cream. Most websites have their products narrowed down to a specific genre, such as fashion, health, petcare, etc. If you’re wanting to go into affiliate marketing, your first plan of action is to determine what you’re selling. This step comes first because so many subsequent decisions depend on this answer. The type of website you make, the type of audience with which you engage, all of these are heavily influenced by your niche. If you’re having trouble deciding where to focus, do some introspective thinking to determine what you’re passionate about.

    What do you think you could honestly sell customers in the hopes that it would improve their day-to-day? For example, maybe you renovate homes and are always looking for the highest-quality paints or most eco-friendly cleaning solutions for bathrooms and kitchens. If you’re already knowledgeable about a market and have interest in it, that’s a great place to start.

I place emphasis on the “interested” aspect, as you may end up sticking with this topic for an extended period of time. As we’ve said previously, successful affiliate marketers are more likely to receive opportunities to sell other products in the future. In the same way you don’t want to build up a resume full of jobs you hate, don’t sell products for an industry that means nothing to you.

Also, do some research on the opportunities in this market. What is the existing scene? Who is the competition? What data is available to tell you how lucrative this market is? The ease of selling will vary from market to market, as will the percentage of profits. Some companies may offer you a higher cut of the profit because their products are more difficult to sell. Determine what kind of selling experience you’d like to have, as well as the type of profits you’d like to see. Use those factors to inspire niche.

  • Find a program — As we discussed earlier, many affiliate marketers find their merchants, vendors, or brands through affiliate programs. It’s important you determine your niche prior to finding a program, as some programs are geared toward certain types of products. If you’re interested in a particular affiliate program, look into what kinds of products it offers and whether it has any data on the success of its affiliates.

    Finding an affiliate program does not have to be as difficult as it sounds. In just a little bit, we’re going to discuss a few of the best affiliate marketing programs as deemed by popular use. A few general ideas to remember, however, are to look at a multitude of options and read testimonials on other individuals’ experiences. As affiliate marketers, you’re all similarly motivated, and listening to what other affiliates have to say about a program or network can help deter you from an unsuccessful or even fraudulent situation.

    Because you’re doing this to get paid (very few people create a cleaning solutions blog for the passion in it), you’ll also want to know what commissions the programs or networks offer their affiliates. Some programs and products do pay better than others, and that is something to take into consideration.

    Before choosing an affiliate program, see if there is a clear breakdown of how money is dispersed after a sale. Because the network tracks and pays affiliates, you want to ensure it has good rates and pays affiliates fairly. Earlier, we talked about liking and/or being interested in the subject of your marketing.

    Equally as important is trusting the integrity of your products. It’s fair that not every tool you sell will be something you know forward and backward. However, you should be familiar enough with the solution that you know what you’re selling, can answer questions about it, and can defend its integrity if it comes into question.

    If you’re not an actual user of the products on your site, you can familiarize yourself with products by reading reviews or blogs about them. This keeps you from being ignorant to questions regarding the product and helps ensure you don’t support any item with major defects or malfunctions.
  • Online presence — A major step in becoming an affiliate marketer is having your online presence up and running. This includes a website or blog and any social media profiles you deem necessary to the promotion of these products. If you’re unsure or need direction on how to build a professional website, check out our pillar page on how to make a website from scratch. You can create a website through a website builder, which will host your site and allow you to purchase a unique domain name.

    With website builders, you get what you pay for. While they have plenty of free templates, more professional-looking websites will always cost more money. However, this investment could be worth it, especially as a website is one of the few startup costs for affiliate marketers. The social media profiles you develop are dependent on your niche and target market.

    However, social media profiles are free to create, so it couldn’t hurt your marketing efforts to integrate these strategies. Consider making a Facebook busines page, or utilizing some Twitter marketing techniques to grow your networks.

In addition to a website, you’ll also need to create content. Content such as blogs, forums, FAQs, videos, and images all help your website rank better on the internet.

For example, say you’re selling reusable water bottles. No one is going to go to Google and search, “reusable water bottle blog.” Rather, they’re going to search terms such as, “best reusable water bottle,” or “reusable water bottle for best price.”

Creating content that utilizes these phrases in the titles or bodies of blogs will help your website appear more often in searches. This means an increase in traffic, which is especially helpful if you’re a pay-per-click kind of affiliate.

  • Market research/networking — When you become an affiliate marketer, you are hoping to establish yourself as a voice of authority in that specific industry or niche. In order to do so, you need to have a good grasp on who you’re talking to. Who are you trying to sell these products to? What kinds of copy or advertisements do they respond to? Do they prefer email marketing over social media marketing, or vice versa? Market research is a part of any advertising strategy.

    Sure, you’re not the brand itself, but you are employed by various brands, and I’m sure you want to see success in this industry. For that reason, it’s important you take control and learn about your audience while trying to form connections. Take cues from your competitors or other affiliates. What kind of advertisements are they utilizing, and do they seem to be working?

    Additionally, feel free to seek out conversations with both consumers and other professionals. Send out LinkedIn invitations to those you think might be a good professional contact. Join Twitter conversations that are relevant to your industry or product. Physically attend networking events or conferences you think could result in a stronger network or more informed strategy. You’re a part of a community now, but other people don’t know that unless you show up.

  • Push your own content — As an affiliate marketer, you have already proven yourself as a self-starter. You don’t necessarily need the guidance of a micromanager breathing down your neck to ensure you’re doing things correctly. You probably enjoy working alone and proving to others that you can figure out new tasks. That’s great, because you’re going to need this type of attitude to promote your own content.

    We spoke a little earlier about writing for your website to improve search engine optimization and SERP, or your ranking on search engine results pages. After you’ve created and published this content, it’s time to promote it! Promoting content can look a number of ways.

    It can mean sharing it on your social media profiles. It can mean including a few articles or video in your weekly newsletter that relate to your products. It can mean going on internet forums and replying to individuals whose questions you know how to answer. It can mean writing a guest post that gets your name and website name onto another person’s site, expanding your reach to their network as well.

    If you’re super serious, you could even pay for promoted tweets or Instagram posts that increase the visibility of your posts. Any number of these strategies is good for content promotion. Again, it all depends on what works best for you depending on the research you’ve conducted.

  • Product promotion — Lastly, we come to what you’re really here for: the opportunity to partner with organizations in selling their products for a portion of the profits. A lot of what we’ve mentioned previously will come into play when deciding exactly how to promote products. You should continue to consider your niche, audience, and goals when choosing how to promote products. You could take the route of being a real product user who reviews items on your site. People tend to trust individuals more than they do brands, and using your site as a sort of product review resource could appeal to the masses.

We’ve talked about building up your network and developing an email list. Another way to promote products is by contacting that email list directly with the products you’re selling. Perhaps that email contains a code that results in a discount or maybe it’s just a link to your latest product review. Either way, it lands your website and product straight into consumer inboxes. You could consider writing a how-to article that gives users an idea of how they can make use of your product.

This is an interesting strategy because it goes beyond what the product is and dives into the various ways it can affect individuals in their daily lives. Banner advertisements are another great way to get people to click on and potentially purchase the product you’re selling through your site. Instead of being super flashy and distracting, banner ads could be as simple as the promoted products list that appears on your Facebook homepage. If you sell to more than one target market, consider finding a solution that helps you target ads based on factors such as where the consumer lives. This way, the ads on your site always have their best chance at finding an interested consumer.

  • Report and try again — One important aspect of being an affiliate marketer is looking back at your successes and failures to determine where to go in the future. If a certain product didn’t do as well as you’d expected, make note on that so you can properly analyze what went wrong. Was it the way you advertised? The product itself? The times you posted? Current events, such as the recall of a similar product? Any number of these could play a role in the success of your sales, but you won’t know which unless you analyze the data you’ve collected over time.

    Keeping tabs on what worked and what didn’t will help you decide not only how to strategize in the future, but which brands or vendors to continue doing business with. In the same way freelancers keep books and records of which publishers or editors they enjoyed working with, affiliates have the independence to reroute later on if they don’t end up enjoying certain brands or products.

Best affiliate marketing programs

Which affiliate marketing program or network you sign up for, whether as a merchant or an affiliate, will have a huge impact on the success of your sales. Some programs are niche and cater largely to a certain industry, such as technology/software or retail sales. Some programs don’t pay as well as others and will, consequently, result in lower income for affiliates over time. Some programs take a larger cut of profit than others, leaving affiliates with less income. Some networks just don’t have the same features as others and can leave merchants and affiliates with fewer resources.

A lot goes into choosing an affiliate marketing program, and the decision should not be taken lightly. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the most prominent affiliate marketing networks in the hopes of providing you with a decent starting point for your own efforts.

This list is by no mean all-encompassing. Especially if you’re looking to get into a more niche market, you should expand your search beyond this article. These are just a few examples of affiliate networks to help familiarize you with the market.

ShareASaleShareASale has a number of merchant genres available. Whether you’re looking for home and garden, fashion, green, business, art and music, family and kids, education, or health, all of these niches are available to you. This network offers more than 3,900 affiliate programs spanning 40 various categories.

ShareASale offers real-time tracking that informs merchants as soon as an action, such as a click or purchase, has taken place. It allows merchants to segment and group affiliates. It also has reporting features that keep merchants updated on progress and problem-areas. 

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CJ AffiliateCJ Affiliate is another catchall affiliate program. Its list of advertiser verticals goes on, but a few examples include: airline, books/media, community, employment, non-profit, gifts and flowers, online services, and transportation.

CJ Affiliate offers a number of publisher classifications as well, which are publishers’ or affiliates’ primary promotional methods.

“Think of this as the way you promote advertisers on your site, or your general business model. Advertisers may view, sort, and download publishers by their classification,” reads its website. “In the world of affiliate marketing, an advertiser can be a company selling a product like electronics, airline tickets, clothing or car parts, or an advertiser could also be an insurance company selling policies. The most important thing to remember is that you are an advertiser if you are ready to pay other people to help you sell and promote your business.”

Various features for the ... include price comparison, social shopping, email marketing software/technology, content/niche, and more.

Features for the advertiser include pay per call, advertiser toolbox, pay for performance, lead generation, and more. It has a content solution that steers advertisers who value great content to marketers who can create it.

For the publisher, there is a publisher toolbox, a deep link generator, real-time transaction monitoring, and more.

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FlexoffersFlexOffers is another affiliate marketing program that offers a number of possible categories, as opposed to catering to one niche. Examples are home and garden, lifestyle and recreation, travel, seasonal promotions, sports and fitness, telecommunications, clothing and accessories, energy, and more.

For the publisher, FlexOffers provides benefits such as a detailed dashboard that visualizes the success of various campaigns. The platform generates reports that update within the hour and offers news updates on what’s happening in the platform. It claims to add nearly 50 new advertiser programs per day, meaning affiliates are never running stale on options to generate income.

For the advertisers, there is a relatively low network fee, as well as no minimum contract requirement. Users pay for performance only, meaning they don’t pay unless campaigns begin making money.

Advertisers can expand their affiliate distribution within the platform and have access to advanced advertising solutions. FlexOffers has a content management feature that only needs a website prior to execution. Advertisers are also given reports generated by the platform, so as to determine their campaign’s efficacy.

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RakutenRakuten LinkShare affiliate partner network has been around for quite a while. It has been voted the no. 1 affiliate marketing network for the past seven years, and, just two years ago, it had a record 100 million orders worldwide.

“Through our global affiliate network, we empower marketers to engage shoppers across the entire consumer journey. Affiliate success comes down to partnerships — we connect advertisers with publishers to reach new audiences and influence repeat purchases. Our solutions create a holistic strategy that delivers proven incremental revenue and is continually optimized for performance,” its website reads.

Rakuten helps you handle it all. It offers influencer campaign management that aids in influencer recruitment with detailed reporting and campaign insights that can spur users into action. It offers blogger and client networking to help professionals further build up their networks. Rakuten is trusted by brands such as Best Buy, Macy’s, Walmart, ecco, Dialogtech, and more.

For advertisers, Rakuten commits to helping form lasting relationships between them and publishers. It offers mobile app tracking, cross device tracking, attribution, affiliate consumer graphs, and more.

A 2017 Consumer Ad Sentiments Survey of 2,500 global consumers reported, “71 percent of consumers frequently buy items a blogger or influencer recommends.”

For publishers, Rakuten is committed to training individuals and empowering them to be the best affiliates possible. Some of this training includes monthly newsletters, educational webinars, and email support.

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TradedoublerTradedoubler markets a number of solutions for both advertisers and publishers. For advertisers, it has TD Convert, TD Connect, and TD Engage. TD Convert is its platform for affiliate marketing. It says advertisers only pay when they see results, which are typically measured as sales or leads. It also claims to have 2,000 advertisers on-site waiting to partner with eager affiliates.

Some of its advertiser features are as follows:

  • An international network of 180,000 website publishers
  • A variety of publisher business models to drive traffic and deliver required results
  • market-leading technology platform that delivers accurate and reliable tracking of online customers’ journeys leading up to a desired transaction
  • An innovative suite of application program interference (APIs) to facilitate efficient communication between advertisers and publishers
  • Nineteen years of affiliate marketing expertise
  • Its business intelligence platform, TD ADAPT, provides actionable, data-driven insights into the performance of your affiliate campaigns

TD Convert has a publisher hub specifically for this side of the equation. For publishers, it offers price comparison, a content portal, voucher sites, reward platforms, and it works on mobile as well. It can also track transactions to increase transparency.

“Publishers are able to see a range of metrics including what was bought from individual retailers, providing an unrivaled level of transparency.

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Regal AssetsRegal Assets is an affiliate network geared toward clientele wishing to invest in gold or other precious metals. It provides affiliates a flat rate for their leads, plus a portion of the investment.

Regal Assets is another example of a niche affiliate opportunity. You cannot sell fashion items or gardening tools within this network. You are limited to advocating for its product, which is precious metals, as well as cryptocurrencies.

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SellHealthSellHealth is a health affiliate network. It’s free for affiliates to join, should their applications be accepted. All of SellHealth’s sales are made through company-owned websites, meaning affiliates don’t need to facilitate sales on their own sites. This eliminates the possibility of error and increases consumer trust, as they are sent to a legitimate brand site to complete their purchases.

SellHealth has a varying commission depending on the sale, but it promises somewhere between 30-to-50 percent commission on all qualifying sales. SellHealth takes care of tracking the sales so affiliates don’t have to. It also offers referring statistics to affiliates who are interested in knowing where their traffic comes from.

Affiliates have the opportunity for increased commission as they go. If they show a consistent rate of sale, SellHealth might increase their commission by 10, or even 20, percent.

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MoreNicheMoreNiche is a health, beauty, and fitness affiliate network that provides affiliates with data regarding earning, conversion statistics, demographic information, and seasonality trends.

MoreNiche promises affiliates higher commissions, guaranteed bi-weekly payments, regional affiliate support, and more. It tracks impressions, such as clicks and conversions, and even has a benefits club for employees.

With this network, affiliates have the opportunity to earn as much money as they are willing to work for. MoreNiche also provides training resources.

“Our comprehensive affiliate training course, extensive ebook and video guides, and in-depth articles have been created by our team of experts with all levels of marketing experience in mind. So, whether you’re a total newbie or an affiliate marketing veteran, you’ll have everything you need to succeed.”

Whatever your dream — quitting your job, buying your first home, taking that holiday you’ve always wanted, or even total financial freedom — our extensive training resources paired with one-on-one, expert guidance and tutelage from our marketing specialists can help you make it happen,” reads their website.

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eHarmony — The eHarmony affiliate network pays affiliates to promote the dating site and acquire new members, and I don’t even think you have to know all the lyrics to “This Will Be,” by Natalie Cole.

To apply to be an affiliate, you have to denote what kind of program you’d like to endorse. It allows affiliates to choose between dating advice, lifestyle dating, and local dating in cities all over the world.

Because dating is such a personal experience, affiliates can be split up according to qualities, such as religion, race, age, whether they have kids, or if they are working. This is eHarmony’s lifestyle category, which makes sure individuals find partners with the qualities that matter most to them.

eHarmony provides affiliates with all necessary creative materials, such as images and email templates. This ensures messages are, well, harmonious, across the board. Affiliates are able to earn commissions on sign-ups.

Because this is a niche affiliate network associated with one brand, there is no advanced network of vendors like there are in general affiliate programs. eHarmony is the only brand name affiliates work with, should they choose to sign up for this vendor.

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ShopifyShopify helps turn websites into eCommerce platforms by providing a payment gateway and helping store owners report on sales, to name a few features.

As an affiliate network, Shopify has marketers promoting this eCommerce network and earning commission. It advertises that this program is useful if your audience is, “looking to launch a business, migrate an existing store from another platform, or monetize hobbies with commerce.”

Users have to apply and get approved in order to become an affiliate with the Shopify network. Once approved, they are provided help with education, support, tracking, reporting, payments, and given a unique affiliate link in order to accurately track referrals.

Like some of the aforementioned networks, Shopify provides content to affiliates. Examples of the content provided include: blogs, webinars, video tutorials, and automated funnels. Instead of spending their time creating these tools themselves, affiliates can just use the tools provided. 

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Amazon Associates — The Amazon Associates program is, as you can probably imagine, a wide-ranging opportunity. There are few limits to what affiliates can sell, whether that be technology, outdoor gear, fashion, shoes, jewelry, furniture, digital music and videos, and more.

Affiliates need one approval to join, and Amazon does not require a third-party advertiser approval. Amazon claims to have more than 1 million products for affiliates to choose from. In short, you have options. It also has easy-to-use linking tools that help your affiliate site easily generate income.

Amazon offers up to 10 percent in advertising fees, as well as income from qualifying purchases. It has reporting tools that give affiliates everything they need to measure and define success in their affiliate strategy.

The examples discussed here are only a few of the many opportunities affiliates have to partner with networks or programs. There are still more genres, niches, and markets to discover.

Hopeful affiliates shouldn’t be afraid to be choosy when researching affiliate networks. With so many options available, it’s important to take your time and read the fine print, especially regarding commission. The network chosen will have a huge effect on income accrued. It’s important to be picky when it comes to your own bottom line.

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How to make money with affiliate marketing

By now, you, hopefully, understand the logistics of how affiliate marketing brings in money. Affiliates advertise the products or services their related brands or vendors are selling. Depending on the specific terms of agreement, affiliates are paid for clicks, leads, and/or purchases.

Brands and vendors find affiliate marketing valuable because of the extra advertising and, consequently, revenue brought in from the practice. By expanding their audiences through affiliates, brands expand their opportunities for impressions and sales.

If you’re an aspiring affiliate, you’ll have to be prepared to do more than just put links on your website and wait for the money to roll in. This industry has a lot of potential, but will only reward the amount of work you put in. In order to really take off, you should be prepared to act like a true marketer.

This means promoting your own content, building out a network, and engaging with people. The following solutions will help you not only become an affiliate marketer, but become an affiliate marketer with a track record of success. 

Becoming an affiliate marketer

Develop an email list: There’s a lot you can do with a well-developed email list. Many bloggers use them to send weekly or regular newsletters that provide readers with updates on what they’re selling, what deals are accessible, and what consumers can expect to be available in the future.

Your email list is more than a group of names. It’s your network, the people who are asking to hear from you. Emails go straight to their inboxes, and you get to say whatever you want. I’d recommend researching some email or newsletter best practices that will help you draft engaging copy. Emails are nothing without readers to open them!

You should also consider an email solution, such as MailChimp. This tool is free for up to 2,000 subscribers, meaning it’s a great tool for beginners. It helps organize lists, create appealing newsletters, and keep track of clicks and open rates.

Gain subscribers through guest blogging: Guest blogging is an effective way to broaden your reach. First off, you’re creating a relationship with the host blog that can hopefully remain mutualistic. Secondly, you’re getting your name out there on another platform.

One great feature of guest blogging is that you can use this secondary platform to plug your own newsletter. You can do this by including a call-to-action at the end of your post encouraging readers to subscribe if they are interested in learning more.

You could even incentivize sign-ups by promising free training material to those who do sign up for your email list. This offers readers something valuable while growing your list of names and, potentially, clientele.

Advocate your own content on guest posts: Your guest post should not just be one big advertisement for your product or website, but it should be a place where you put your best foot forward to potential new subscribers.

Some hosts will have rules or limits on how many times you can link back to your own content within that guest post. Follow their rules, but make sure you take the opportunity to link to your own content. This directs people to your site (where the magic happens).

Plus, if you are able to link to content readers of that particular blog or website will find valuable, you may be able to score yourself some new loyal readers! 

Choose an open network with plenty of options: If you’re just starting out as an affiliate and have no particular genre in mind, some sources recommend not going too niche. While niche affiliate programs sometimes have a higher rate of commission, their products or services are also more difficult to sell.

For those beginners out there, consider choosing a more general network that allows you to sell a variety of products. This will let you play around with content and advertisements until you are confident and comfortable with a particular niche.

Say, for example, you begin selling sporting goods, but aren’t having great luck. Eventually, you realize that’s because it’s winter and few people are out golfing when there’s snow on the ground. With a more general affiliate network, you could easily switch to winter coats or scarves through a fashion vendor and have more luck.

When the snow clears, you can try your hand at selling golf gear once more! With this strategy, you’re less tied down to one product and are able to experiment with what works best for you.

Use your network to grow or engage with other affiliates: As an affiliate marketer, you should be growing a multi-faceted community. Some important players in your network are fellow affiliates with whom you can swap guest posts, readers and clientele, and vendors or brand associates.

In order to continue boosting your network, engage in conversations. Comment on other guest blogs. Jump into Twitter threads, if they seem relevant to you. Consider uploading an introductory video on your website explaining who you are and what you do. This will increase trust within your network, as well as help others virtually get to know you.

No matter your strategy, remember that you can’t survive in this industry without those vital community members. Other affiliates might have answers to your questions that no one else can offer. Brands and vendors may eventually start coming to you, if they see you doing well on your blogging efforts.

Affiliate marketing training

If you feel like you want a little extra preparation as you dive into the world of affiliate marketing, a training program might be right for you.

A lot of affiliate marketing networks or programs offer training courses as part of their signups. They want affiliates to feel prepared to use their products and make the most of the income-earning opportunity.

For those looking to get more generic affiliate marketing training, consider an affiliate marketing training course.

These are available all over the web, and the one you choose will depend on what kind of help you’re looking for. There are some free tools on YouTube from experienced affiliate marketers looking to share their expertise.

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Wealthy Affiliate is another great resource for those looking to learn more about affiliate marketing and prepare for the road ahead. Wealthy Affiliate has a weekly live webinar that you can use to improve your own practices.

It also has open-source training tools created by real affiliates to help you learn from lessons and mistakes. These tutorials and learnings are sure to help you with the specific difficulties encountered in this genre of marketing.

Wealthy affiliate not only has training tools, but also helps you build the perfect website and offers hosting and domains! Because this solution is affiliate-oriented, its website options may work better than the generic templates offered by a website builder.

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Affilorama is another reliable resource for those just getting started. It offers affiliates an affiliate marketing quick-start guide, a downloadable roadmap to success, and 120 video lessons. These training tools take you through the process step-by-step to produce the best outcome.

It has trainings on market research, content creation, site building, SEO, marketing ideas, and more. It not only seeks to help you understand affiliate marketing, but also the surrounding strategies that could help make you successful.

Testimonials from users say Affilorama is an excellent source for hopeful affiliates who, as of yet, know nothing. Many of the introductory tools are free, meaning affiliates have no obligation to pay before they’re making money of their own.

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Udemy is an online training website that offers courses for almost everything from a web developer bootcamp to ethical hacking training.

In addition to that, it also has a few courses on affiliate marketing. Its highest-rated course on affiliate marketing is Affiliate Marketing Domination: Become a Super Affiliate. This course has 42 lectures and 35 supplemental resources.

Udemy claims this course can help users start their affiliate marketing business, as well as modify their existing business to generate extra revenue. This course can also help increase traffic to your affiliate site to drive more revenue.

While this course is a bit pricier than others, Udemy periodically offers flash sales on courses that could land you a significant discount.

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For the vendor: How to find affiliate marketing partners

One of the best ways for you, as a brand or vendor, to find affiliate marketers is to become associated with an affiliate network.

Networks do a lot of the grunt work when it comes to affiliate marketing. They accept affiliate applications and review their information for approval. They serve as a link between the two and track sales so both sides have an accurate representation of their efficacy.

Affiliate networks are also good for helping build trust. It’s not often affiliates will reach out to unverified organizations to try and sell their stuff. There are too many bogus businesses out there for this option to feel safe.

If your business is on an affiliate network, the affiliate at least knows you’re legitimate enough to be grouped with all of those other name brands.

Affiliate marketing websites and affiliate marketing companies

The networks businesses and vendors should be looking at are the same ones affiliates should be looking at. This industry is a two-way street and the same networks that are good for affiliates will be good for brands.

If you’re interested in becoming part of an affiliate network in order to be paired with successful and trustworthy partners, try any of the affiliate networks mentioned above.

Amazon affiliate marketing

Although we’ve mentioned it before, the Amazon affiliate marketing network is so huge, it’s worth mentioning again.

If you’re interested in the Amazon affiliate network, take a look at this pros and cons list compiled by The Balance SMB:

Pros of becoming an Amazon Affiliate: There are several great reasons to join Amazon Associates program, including:

  • Amazon is a highly visited, well-known name that people use and trust every day.It's free to join.
  • There are no traffic thresholds or other metrics you need to be accepted into the program. 
  • There are tons and tons of products you can promote. Amazon has many tools to help you sell specific items, or a category of items.
  • There is a good reporting system so you know what's getting clicks and what's selling.
  • You can receive direct deposit payments into your bank account. Amazon offers good customer service to it's buyers, so you reduce the risk of having your visitors get mad at you if they have a problem with the product.
  • Even if your visitor doesn't buy the product your referred, if they buy something on that visit, you earn a commission.

Cons of the Amazon Associates Program: Nothing is ever perfect, including the Amazon affiliate program. Here are a few downsides:

  • The commission rate is relatively low compared to other affiliate programs. If you sell 6 or fewer items a month, your rate is 4%. You can earn up to 8.5%, but that's achieved by selling more than 3,131 products.
  • Their cookies only last 24-hours. That means if your referral doesn't buy within 24 hours, you won't get credit. (However, if the product is added to their cart, the cookie lasts 90 days.)
  • You're not allowed to send Amazon affiliate links in emails. That includes blog posts that get sent as an email. Since email is an excelled way to send great offers to your readers, this rule is particularly disappointing.
  • If you have a U.S. site and are promoting products in the Amazon U.S. store, you won't get credit for referring someone who ends up buying the product from outside the country (i.e. Amazon UK).
  • Payment options are only through direct deposit, check, or Amazon gift card. There's no PayPal option.
  • Minimum payout is $100, which isn't that much if you make lots of sales, but a lot of you're only earning a few dollars a month. 

Reddit affiliate marketing

If you’re looking for a network to help you discover more pros and cons to affiliate marketing, as well as uncover answers to your questions, the Reddit community is the place for you.

This digital forum covers everything related to affiliate marketing. The most recent posts alone vary from “What was your highest click-through rate?” to “Looking for contacts in Tokyo for next week’s pre-launch.”

This Reddit forum is exactly what we mean when we say grow your network. Answering these questions or jumping into the conversation every so often could help you meet affiliate marketers or vendors across the globe.

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Moving forward with affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is your opportunity to “attach” yourself to something unique, something you feel you can advocate for.

For many, it becomes more than a form of passive income. It’s an interest, a hobby, and a passion. It’s a chance to learn more about various products and make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Affiliate marketing is a chance for individuals to use their expertise to help buyers make smarter shopping decisions, like helping busy moms make less runs to the store, returning faulty items, or birthday presents. A chance to help consumers purchase the right product the first time.

Whatever affiliate marketing becomes for you, may it always be about the relationships — the ones you form with vendors and brands, the affiliate friends you make who are also trying to navigate this system for the first time, and the consumers who put their trust in you and your growing expertise.

Grace Pinegar
Author

Grace Pinegar

Grace Pinegar is a lifelong storyteller with an extensive background in various forms such as acting, journalism, improv, research, and now content marketing. She was raised in Texas, educated in Missouri, and has come to tolerate, if not enjoy, the opposition of Chicago's seasons.