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A Beginner’s Guide To Start Affiliate Marketing [with examples]

A Beginner’s Guide To Start Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a golden goose for talented content creators — it's scalable, highly profitable, and doesn't require high upfront costs or prior knowledge.

Still, succeeding as an affiliate marketer is no easy feat because the industry is fiercely competitive. It takes hard work and a few smart decisions to position yourself well and secure a stable stream of leads and conversions.

To give you a leg up, we'll show you how to build a thriving affiliate marketing business from the ground up. You'll learn the following:

  • The ins and outs of the affiliate marketing business model
  • How to pick the most profitable niche
  • How to promote your content and affiliate links to maximize sales

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a revenue-sharing business model where you promote someone's product or service and earn a commission from each sale made through your unique affiliate link. As a publisher, you can use your online presence to promote the link and drive customers to the merchant.

This creates a profitable win-win — the seller gets more traffic and sales, while the publisher monetizes their content and creates a new revenue stream.

With this in mind, it's no surprise that over 80% of brands and 84% of publishers use affiliate marketing.

If done well, affiliate marketing can be a fruitful source of passive income. To show you why, let's have a closer look at the basic mechanisms of this model.

How affiliate marketing works

Affiliate marketing programs are simple — it all happens in three steps:

  1. You enroll and get a unique link to the seller's product or service.
  2. You share affiliate links through different content channels (blog posts, social media platforms, etc.).
  3. When someone follows the link and buys, you earn a percentage of the sale.

This means three parties are involved in the process:

  • The merchant/advertiser — Runs the affiliate program
  • The affiliate/publisher — Posts content with the affiliate link
  • The customer — Finds the merchant through the affiliate's content and buys their product

Affiliate marketers can make money in a few ways, but the commission-based Pay Per Sale (PPS) model is the most popular. Commission rates typically range between 5% and 30%, though some niches like SaaS (Software as a Service) pay up to 70%.

You might run into two payment models besides PPS:

  • Pay Per Click (PPC) — You get paid whenever someone clicks on your affiliate link.
  • Pay Per Lead (PPL) — The merchant pays you for every lead, like an email subscriber or free trial signup.

Still, most people assume the PPS model by default when talking about affiliate marketing, so we'll do the same in this guide.

3 examples of affiliate marketing

A quick Google search will uncover countless affiliate networks and programs. After all, most businesses wouldn't say "no" to someone doing their marketing for them. To give you a starting point and show you how this model works in practice, we'll go over three of the most popular programs.

Amazon Associates

With over 900,000 affiliate marketers and a 21.65% market share, Amazon Associates is the leading affiliate marketing program that has amassed outstanding popularity.

You can sign up for free if you have some form of online presence (a blog/website, YouTube channel, app, etc.).

When approved, you'll get a unique Associate ID and can create affiliate links in the dedicated Amazon portal. You can browse millions of products to find the one with the highest success potential (more on that later).

After choosing your product and creating an affiliate link, it's time to spread the word by sharing the link across your content channels.

Amazon states you can earn up to 10% from qualified purchases, though the commission rates for the most popular product categories are lower:

  • Home — 5%
  • Health & Personal care — 2%
  • Shoes, Handbags & Accessories — 6%
  • Beauty — 5%
  • Kitchen — 5.50%

The Amazon affiliate program pays out the commission monthly. You can choose from three payment methods:

  • Check
  • Amazon Gift Certificate
  • Direct deposit

Receiving your commission can take around 60 days from the end of the payment cycle. It's worth keeping this lag in mind to organize your finances accordingly. The minimum threshold is $100 for checks and $10 for deposits.

Clickbank

Clickbank is one of the oldest and best-known affiliate networks and e-commerce platforms on the web.

It spans across 200+ countries and has paid over $5.8 billion in commissions since setting up shop in 1999.

Content creators love Clickbank because the platform lets them create passive income in two ways.

Besides affiliate marketing, you can sign up as a vendor and have other affiliate marketers promote your digital products (courses, ebooks, etc.).

Commissions range from 1% to a whopping 75%, so you can earn a sizeable chunk of each sale.

There are over 4,000 unique products split into dozens of categories, and you can use different filters to refine your search and zero in on the perfect product.

Another benefit of Clickbank is a wide range of payment methods. You can get paid in four ways:

Whichever method you choose, the minimum payment threshold is only $10, so you don't need to make many sales to cash out.

ShareASale

ShareASale has been around for over two decades and has built a large affiliate network of 270,000+ publishers. With more than 25,000 merchants to choose from, you can promote a wide range of products.

A massive benefit of ShareASale is that it offers all three major payment models — PPS, PPL, and PPC.

This means you don't necessarily need to sell to make money with eligible merchants. If your main strength is expanding your reach and building traffic, you can pair up with advertisers focused on PPL and PPC.

If you still decide to go down the traditional PPS road, you can expect commissions from 10% to 40%, which is more than enough to let you secure a decent affiliate income.

The platform offers the same payment methods as Clickbank — check, direct deposit, wire transfer, and Payoneer. The minimum payout is $50, and you can choose higher thresholds at which the payment will be made automatically.

How to get started with affiliate marketing

No two affiliate marketing strategies are the same, but there are a few universal principles to follow if you want to set yourself up for long-term success. Let's go over the steps you should take to start affiliate marketing with a bang.

1. Pick a realistic niche

Committing to the wrong niche is among the costliest affiliate marketing mistakes you can make. You may waste a ton of time and energy on a product that won't sell regardless of your online marketing skills.

The good news is that you don't need to take shots in the dark when finding your niche — just focus on four key things:

  1. Your interests
  2. Competition
  3. Profitability
  4. Ranking opportunities

Choose a product you care about

You must know a product like the back of your hand to market it successfully.

You'll need to create lots of valuable content to generate a long-term affiliate income, which means you'll spend tons of time researching the product and finding the best ways to make it a compelling solution to your audience's problems.

This is near-impossible to do if you don't choose a niche you're passionate about. If you don't care about your product, how can you expect your audience to?

It's best to go with something you personally use or at least know a lot about.

This way, it'll be much easier to position yourself as trustworthy, which is crucial to success — a recent study showed trust is more important than ever when it comes to buying decisions.

Assess your competition

You shouldn't wait until you enter a niche to see what you're up against.

The very purpose of niching down is to make sure you won't get swallowed by tons of established affiliate marketers dominating the market.

When doing a competitor analysis, you should look at two key criteria:

  • Saturation — The best way to determine a niche's saturation is to research specific keywords and see how much competition there is for it. We'll explain how to do this later in this guide.
  • Traffic quantity and quality — You can use tools like Surfer's SEO Audit and SimilarWeb to analyze your competitors' websites and see how they attract and engage with their audience.

Determine your niche's profitability

To ensure the viability of your affiliate marketing business, you must know what sells and will keep selling down the line.

Do your homework and look at industry trends to see if your chosen niche is profitable.

A good way to do this is to look at expert projections.

For example, the online education market was worth $8.4 billion in 2020 and is expected to hit $53.13 billion by 2027. Tens of billions of dollars being poured into an industry over a few years is surely a good sign and means there's room to take your piece of the cake.

After looking at the industry as a whole, narrow down your focus to find profitable gaps in it.

You can use a tool like Google Trends to see what's gaining traction.

If we stick to the online education example, you can see that AI courses are blowing up, as shown in this graph.

When you see that your target niche is profitable, the hard part is over — you can find affiliate programs in it by doing a simple Google search and comparing your options.

See if there's a realistic possibility of ranking well in search engines

Organic search is responsible for 64% of all web traffic, so you shouldn't start affiliate marketing before seeing if you can climb SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) with your target keywords.

Tools like Surfer Keyword Research and Google Keyword Planner can be invaluable in determining your ranking opportunities.

They show you crucial information like the keyword's monthly volume and competition so that you can find the best keywords to rank for.

Trying to rank for massively popular keywords typically isn't a good idea. Many marketers fall into this trap and end up getting buried under lots of authoritative results.

The goal is to find low-competition gaps through which you can push your content to reach your target audience more easily. We'll show you how to do this a bit later when explaining what successful keyword research looks like.

2. Choose the right affiliate program

Your chosen affiliate program directly impacts the key aspects of a successful strategy, including:

  • Return on investment (ROI)
  • Conversions
  • Monetization opportunities

Continuing our online education example, a bunch of platforms offer affiliate programs — LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Udemy, to name a few.

While every program promises outstanding results, you must dig beneath the surface to find the one that fits your goals and needs.

Let's see the most important factors you should consider when choosing an affiliate program.

  1. Commission rate

The commission rate is the main yardstick for choosing an affiliate program, as it makes or breaks your profitability.

Let's say you decided to sign up for the Amazon affiliate program and sell picture frames for $20 a pop. As mentioned, the commission for home products is 5%, so you'd earn a dollar per sale.

If we know that the average conversion rate for e-commerce is 1.84%, you'd need to attract around 5,500 people to your affiliate website to earn your first $100 (5,500 x 0.0184 x $1 = $101.2).

Now let's assume you sold those same frames through a program like Designer Living, which offers a 12% conversion rate. In this case, you'd make $2.4 per sale and would need 2,300 visitors to cross the $100 threshold (2,300 x 0.0184 x $2.4 = $101.5).

See what a difference the commission rate can make? Make sure to research affiliate programs thoroughly to find the one worth your effort.

  1. The platform's reliability

Affiliate marketing sometimes gets a bad rep, and 57% of marketers believe it's deserved. There are a few reasons for this, most notably:

Always check the program's reputation before signing up to avoid common pitfalls newbies might fall for. Luckily, this isn't hard to do because affiliate marketers who've burned themselves are typically vocal about their experiences, so a quick research of the program's history and reviews will tell you all you need to know.

  1. Cookie duration

When someone clicks through your affiliate link and visits the merchant's website, a cookie is created to register that the traffic came from you. A sale will be attributed to you while the cookie is active, so the longer the cookie duration, the better your chances of landing a sale.

A typical cookie duration is 30–90 days, though some programs offer lifetime cookies. This isn't a deciding factor because products under such programs might still sell poorly, but the duration is still worth considering because it can impact your affiliate sales.

3. Pick effective content channels

To make affiliate marketing work, you need lots of high-quality content that appeals to your audience and nudges them to click on your link.

You must choose the channels your audience uses the most instead of spreading yourself thin by trying to create content for a bunch of channels at once.

According to Statista, blogs are the leading content channel affiliate marketers use, followed by review sites and coupon sites.

This isn't a surprise, as blogs offer tons of opportunities for affiliate marketing content that can be monetized in several ways (ads, sponsorships, etc.)

To start affiliate marketing with a blog, you must nail your SEO game.

Positioning your affiliate site well in search results is the closest thing to passive income you can get. Publish a blog post once, and it can keep generating commissions for years with little to no effort on your part.

A perfect example of this is Terry O'Connor, who grew his affiliate site to 30,000 sessions per month by following the right SEO practices and using Surfer's Content Editor.

Besides blogging, you can land affiliate sales through various channels, including:

  • Videos — A YouTube channel is an excellent way to expand content production beyond writing. YouTubers like Charlie Chang are generating a sizeable income through affiliate marketing.
  • Social media platforms — Lydia Millen, Laura Bradshaw, and many other Instagram influencers regularly post affiliate links in their posts and stories, generating lots of traffic thanks to their millions of followers. TikTok and Twitter are also highly effective channels you shouldn't sleep on.
  • Podcasts — You can add affiliate links to podcast show notes or dedicate specific sections of your site to them. MMANuts is a great example — it has a Coupons tab on the site that promotes different products like VPNs and mattresses.

4. Conduct topic and keyword research

As mentioned, your content must rank high to draw enough eyes and generate affiliate revenue.

That's why keyword research is a crucial step in a successful affiliate marketing strategy.

It's not enough to just choose a keyword that contains the product or service you're promoting. You must focus on four factors to secure those sweet first-page spots in SERPs:

  • Keyword difficulty — Before committing to a keyword, you must see if there's even a chance of ranking for it. Browsing through SERPs is a good way to see if this is the case. If there are many results for the given keyword, and they include highly reputable and authoritative sources, the chances of ranking high are pretty slim.
  • Search intent — Knowing the user's motivation behind a search term lets you create content that gives them what they came for. Besides being relevant to your product or service, the keyword must reflect whether the user is ready to buy or simply looking for information.
  • Business potential — Your keyword's business value shows how relevant it is to the product or service you're promoting. It's an alignment between the audience's interests and your offer. It's always a good idea to rank for low-volume keywords that naturally fit your products or services.
  • Search volume — When it comes to search volume, higher doesn't always mean better. While a decent volume is crucial for traffic, remember that conversions are what it's all about. Low-volume keywords often have a higher conversion potential, so don't forget to include them in your content.
5. Build content hubs

Your main job as an affiliate marketer is to put out valuable content consistently.

It's not enough to write an article and squeeze in a few affiliate links — your audience must see you as the go-to source of information.

Besides helping you build a loyal following, making this happen will do wonders for your SEO.

Google deeply cares about every searcher finding the most accurate and reliable info for their search query, which is why they judge your content through four criteria:

  • Experience
  • Expertise
  • Authoritativeness
  • Trustworthiness

Building content hubs is one of the best ways to meet the E-E-A-T guidelines.

This means creating content that approaches a topic from various angles to cover it as thoroughly as possible.

So what does a content hub look like?

Let's say your affiliate product is headphones. In this case, you'd create different content pieces that cover everything an audiophile cares about and split your content into categories (or hubs).

One hub could be made up of tips for finding the best pair of headphones. You'd include different content types in the hub, such as:

  • "Best headphones for XYZ" listicles
  • Product reviews
  • Buying guides

Other hubs could revolve around care and maintenance tips, industry news, and everything else your audience might find interesting.

When creating content for a hub, make sure to interlink all pieces to make it easier for search engines to find connections between them. Doing so can make the content seem more authoritative and boost your SERP rank.

Use Surfer's Keyword Research Tool to find tons of relevant keyword ideas grouped by their parent topic.  

  1. Head to Surfer Keyword Rsearch
  2. Enter your target keyword and country
  3. Hit Create Keyword Research

The keyword research tool will present a list of related keyword clusters that are grouped together by their target keyword.

Search Engine Journal is an excellent example of a blog that nails content hubs. All content is split into broad categories, which are further broken down into subcategories.

Lastly, don't forget to craft punchy, compelling CTAs. They must guide the audience through your content and ultimately to the affiliate products without friction.

6. Perform on-page SEO

Despite the incredible evolution of SEO, keywords are still its lifeblood. Besides finding the right ones, you should know where to place them for the best results.

There are four areas of every content piece where you must include your keywords:

  • Page title — This shows the reader and search engines what your article is about. Make sure the keyword fits the title naturally so that it doesn't look forced.
  • Header tags — Well-formatted headings are crucial to your article's structure and should include keywords to make your page easier to understand and index by web crawlers. Don't include the keyword from the page title to avoid repetitiveness and keyword stuffing — focus on variations that reflect the content under the heading.
  • URL structure — An optimized URL can give you some SEO points, so make sure to include the page's main keyword in it. Keep the URL short and clear to ensure it represents the page well.
  • Metadata — Your title tag and meta description will show up on the results page, so they must be enticing and well-optimized. Besides including your keyword in both, keep them brief and to the point. Keep title tags under 60 characters and meta descriptions under 160 (including spaces).

7. Promote your post

Writing and publishing your blog post is only half the job done.

Ask any successful affiliate marketer about the key to their growth, and they'll tell you it's all about vigorous promotion.

That's why a solid promotion plan is an essential part of an affiliate strategy that drives results.

If you're not sure how to promote your posts, here are a few ideas you should try:

Build Links

Link building is an excellent way to drive long-term traffic to your affiliate posts. Plus, backlinks from authoritative sources can supercharge your SEO and give you a massive boost in organic results.

There are several ways to build links to your affiliate site, guest posting being the most popular tactic.

You can find reputable blogs in your niche and submit a post for them to publish.

Note that each blog has specific guidelines you'll need to follow, so make sure to check all the necessary boxes.

You can find guest posting opportunities by doing a search for "your niche" + "guest posting" or "write for us."

You'll likely see plenty of results, so browse them to find blogs with the highest traffic potential.

Broken link building is another simple yet effective tactic.

All you need to do is look for broken external links on other blogs and ask the owner to replace them with links to your pages.

You can find broken links manually, but it can be tedious and time-consuming. A better alternative is to use a backlink analytics tool that highlights a site's broken links automatically.

Lastly, you can run link-building email campaigns as a common outreach strategy.

Tools like Postaga can help you set up an effective campaign and manage your link-building opportunities without too much legwork.

If you're not sure what backlinks to build, you can take a peek at the competition. Analyze their website to find sources linking to them, and then reach out to those websites.

Email your subscribers

An email list can be an invaluable affiliate marketing asset, as it keeps your audience coming back and boosts engagement.

You should work on your list as soon as you start affiliate marketing, as it can take a while to build it.

Once you do, email the list regularly with new updates like blog posts, new products, and anything else they might find relevant.

If you're struggling to build an email list from scratch, you can partner up with another affiliate marketer to leverage theirs. Almost every affiliate network has a community you can join to find partnership opportunities.

Post on social media

Most affiliate marketers have at least some social media presence, as this is essential to connecting with their audience and other marketers. Plus, being an influencer opens many doors for additional income streams like sponsorships and courses.

After writing your article, make sure to spread the word by posting it on social media platforms.

This lets you engage with your community and perhaps land some mentions from other influencers.

8. Measure content marketing ROI

Tracking your marketing efforts lets you see what works best so that you can double down on it and avoid wasting money and time on ineffective tactics. You can identify the topics and formats that yield the highest conversions and focus on them.

Tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console offer a simple, data-driven way to measure the performance of your affiliate marketing website. Both are free and can uncover lots of valuable information, including:

  • Clicks and impressions
  • Click-through rate (CTR)
  • Details on your audience, like demographics and queries that led them to you

Key takeaways

·       Affiliate marketing lets you build a long-term income stream by promoting various products or services. 

·       To start affiliate marketing with a strong foundation, you must pick the right niche and find affiliate programs with a high commission rate and overall success potential.

·       There are numerous affiliate strategies you can use to land sales, but they all boil down to creating content that reaches a wide pool of highly engaged audiences. 

·       To ensure the high visibility of your affiliate marketing products, you must get good at SEO and different promotion channels like email and social media platforms. 

·       Make sure to track the performance of your affiliate campaigns to identify the most effective content formats and channels. Tweak your affiliate strategy accordingly to keep evolving with the market and get the most out of each content piece.

Conclusion

Hopefully, starting affiliate marketing seems less daunting now that you know what it takes to succeed.

Don't forget to choose your niche wisely and explore different affiliate programs to find the one worth your effort. Getting these two decisions right can set you up for astronomical success, so take your time with them.

Then, use the affiliate marketing tips you saw here to promote your business and position yourself as an authority in your niche. If you have any success secrets you'd like to share with our community, drop a comment below or tweet at us

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