What is Affiliate Marketing and How to Get Started?

Affiliate Marketing Graphic

Affiliate Marketing is a huge and growing industry.

It is also one of the best ways to get started with an online business if you do not have any products of your own to sell.

Quite simply, Affiliate Marketing is about selling someone else’s products for a commission.

In this article I go through what affiliate marketing is, how it works, the steps you need to go through to get started and some tips on how to assess affiliate marketing programs you’re thinking of joining.

The Four-Steps Business Model of Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a simple business model that basically comprises 4 steps:

  1. You create a presence online. This could be a Facebook or other social media account page, a website or a blog
  2. You find a product that has an affiliate program and join the program. A Google search for ‘Affiliate programs for < product or industry you’re interested in >’ will return many pages of results
  3. You place your affiliate link (that you will get when you join the affiliate program) on your web page (social media account, blog, etc)
  4. When someone clicks the link on your page, goes to the product’s website and buys, you get a commission

It’s a simple model, but it takes work and time – just like any business. After all, if it was easy everyone would be doing it!

Clearly, if you already have a web presence, whether that’s a Facebook page (or any social media account), a website or a blog, you will already have a good starting point.

But if you don’t, not to worry. Even setting up a website is straightforward these days (see how here).

Many affiliate programs require that you have a website (a blog is fine), but not all do. Also, when you’re signing up for an affiliate program many will ask how you plan to promote their products.

Therefore, if you’re thinking of getting started with affiliate marketing, it would be a good idea to spend some time planning before you start.

The information you need to make those plans is in the following paragraphs.

What skills do I need to succeed at Affiliate Marketing?

There are two basic skills you will need to be successful as an affiliate marketer:

1. The ability to produce content

To be successful at affiliate marketing you need people to visit the page(s) on which you have placed your affiliate links.

But no one is going to visit your page unless there is something there that interests them.

So you need to produce content that will attract people to your page, and that content must be relevant to the products you are promoting.

Don’t create lots of content on vegetarian recipes if you’re promoting leather handbags!

And that brings us to the affiliate programs you choose to join.

The fact that you will need to produce good, relevant content, and lots of it, means that the products you choose to promote should relate to something in which you are keenly interested.

Producing content on a subject you are passionate about is easy and fun.

Producing content on a subject that you do not know about is drudge work and very quickly becomes a real drag.

Your content can be in the form of blog posts (to promote your products on Facebook or your website), videos (to promote them on YouTube or Vimeo), pictures (to promote them on Instagram or Pinterest) – it really doesn’t matter.

You can use whichever method works best for you, but the key message is that you will need to produce lots of relevant content.

Most importantly, though: your content should not be ‘selling’ anything.

It should be focused on helping people, or discussing different angles or approaches, new ideas – anything except selling the products you’re promoting!

Remember: you want people to like and engage with your content so they become regular followers, and people don’t like being ‘sold to’.

Ideally, you want to build up a crowd of regular followers who trust you, before you introduce any affiliate promotions. And producing content is how you develop your band of followers.

2. The ability to get lots of people to view and share your content

Notice that I said that you need to promote and share your content, not the product you are promoting.

But if people read, watch or look at your content, enjoy it and engage with it, then they will naturally be more likely to take an interest in the products you are promoting when you mention them.

In fact, it will become a natural activity – their curiosity, along with your engaging content, will lead them to click your affiliate links to learn more because, by then, you will have earned their trust.

And trust is what it’s about. People will buy from people they trust, not from people they don’t.

As before, if you already have a dedicated band of followers you are already in a good position.

But, if you’re just starting out, you will have to put a lot of effort into developing good quality content and then attracting followers.

And that takes time.

It’s not unusual for someone getting into affiliate marketing for the first time to slave away for 6 months to a year, creating and promoting their content, before they start making regular money through affiliate marketing.

That means that you should not start affiliate marketing with a view to earning quick money. Unless you’re incredibly lucky, or well positioned, that simply will not happen.

So how do you promote your content?

My first recommendation would be to develop a good chunk of content before you actively start promoting it. Ten to fifteen blog posts, or videos, 30 to 40 Instagram or Pinterest images.

Fashion, food and other highly visual products tend to do well on Instagram and Pinterest, while educational products generally do better on Facebook, LinkedIn, blog posts and videos.

So the first step (again!) is to choose products in which you have a keen interest, and then start building up your content around them.

Next you need to work out on which social media sites people who would be interested in your content hang out.

Draw up a persona of your ideal customer. Make it as detailed as possible, right down to where they would be likely to hang out.

Then go and look at those social media sites, follow the conversations and check whether your assumptions are correct.

Once you’ve identified and joined your target social media sites you need to start pinning or uploading your images, writing updates that link to your videos or blog posts, and engaging with others who have the same interests.

No selling! Just add content and develop friendships with others on the platform.

Find and follow other members who offer good content and watch what they do. Offer comments on other members’ posts and respond quickly and politely to people who offer comments on yours.

Don’t offer comments on the posts of others simply for the sake of offering a comment. If you can’t add value or a contrasting view point with your comment, then don’t comment!

The over-riding principle must be quality, not quantity.

Your objective at this stage is to build your own group of followers, and the way to do that is by being genuine, thoughtful, polite and insightful – exactly as it is in real life.

These, then, are the skills you need:

  1. The ability to produce lots of good quality content
  2. The ability to promote your content to your target audience and develop a band of loyal followers

Once you’ve got through the mechanics of setting up your affiliate marketing business, those are the skills you need to succeed.

The mechanics of getting started in affiliate marketing

What do you need to do in order to set up and operate an affiliate marketing business?

Here’s a checklist:

  1. Make sure you have a web presence where you can promote your business. A social media account is OK, but the best option, that will enable you to join any affiliate program you’re interested in, is your own website. Here’s how you can set up a good website quickly and easily.
  2. Find a product or service related to a subject that you’re passionate about
  3. Find and assess relevant affiliate programs to join (I talk about things to look for in assessing affiliate programs later)
  4. Plan the types of content you will create and the medium through which you will present them (blog posts, videos, pictures, etc).
  5. Create a content publishing schedule. At the outset, publishing new content consistently helps you build your followers more quickly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new post every day or a new one every week, but create a schedule and stick to it.
  6. Sign up for PayPal (many affiliate programs pay affiliates through PayPal).
  7. Check for any tax implications on the affiliate commissions you will earn – this will depend on where you live and your local tax laws.
  8. Set up a simple Excel workbook to keep track of your expenses and the affiliate commissions you earn.
  9. Get started!

How to assess affiliate programs?

When you sign up with an affiliate program, you’re entering a business relationship with the product owner, so you need to be sure you understand, and are comfortable with, all aspects of the program.

Here are some things to look out for:

Cookies

What is their policy with cookies?

When someone clicks your affiliate link and goes to the product owner’s website, a cookie that registers the visit from your website is placed on the visitor’s computer.

This is to ensure that if your visitor doesn’t buy on that visit, leaves, but returns and buys on a subsequent visit, you will still get credited for the sale.

These cookies have an expiry period, which is decided on and set by the product owner, and you would want that period to be as long as possible.

So look for the cookie validity period.

Commission percentage

The commission percentage is the amount you are paid for each sale – a percent of the product price.

The natural temptation is to go for affiliate programs paying a higher percentage, but you need to look a bit deeper.

For example, if the product price is very high the percentage offered may be small but, of course, the actual pay-out will be high.

You should also look at the range of products the visitor could buy. Here’s an example of what could happen with the Amazon affiliate program:

Amazon pays 6% across the board, for any and all products sold through affiliate links.

If your visitor buys one paperback book, that’s not very much by way of commission. But Amazon cookies last for 24 hours and there are lots of products that your visitor may be interested in.

So your visitor could buy a book, browse around Amazon and decide to buy some computer equipment, a blender and a coffee machine as well.

And you will get 6% on the total value of their purchases – which, in that situation, would be quite a nice commission!

So Amazon, offering only a 6% commission, could turn out to be very profitable for you.

Some affiliate programs pay up to 75% of the sale – but, once again, look at the product.

Is it an evergreen, or will it be obsolete in a few months? Is it high quality or will it quickly gain a reputation for unreliability? 75% commission is no good if no one buys the product!

Other affiliate programs pay recurring commissions – these can be great ones to go for.

These are generally subscription sales (paid memberships) and the recurring commission means that each month you will get a percentage of the recurring monthly subscription payments made by the buyer.

But, again, look a bit deeper: what is the average membership retention period (the average length of time people remain members)?

If new members decide after one month that their membership is not worth what they’re paying, they will cancel their subscription (and your commission!).

So, overall, the message is to make sure you understand the commission structure, look deeper than simply the percentage pay-out being offered and always err on the side of quality.

Affiliate Pay-outs

You need to clearly understand when and how you will be paid.

What is the payment method?

Many affiliate programs pay you through PayPal, but some still insist on sending a paper cheque and others will wire your payments direct to your bank account.

Usually you need to have earned a minimum level of commission before you are paid and often you can select that level.

If you’re being paid by cheque in a currency that’s different from your home currency (I live in Hong Kong but all my affiliate programs are paid in US dollars), then you may want to set that pay out level higher.

This is because the bank will charge a conversion fee on the cheque and that fee will be fairly constant – with my bank it’s a fixed fee. Paying a fixed fee to the bank on lots of small pay-outs will cost you more that paying the fixed fee on one bigger pay-out.

When will you be paid?

Most affiliate programs will pay you between 45 and 60 days after the pay period cut-off date. This is to cover the product owner for the cost of refunds (you will not get commission on sales that are refunded)

However, some will have a monthly cut off, some a quarterly cut-off and some a half-yearly cut-off.

So make sure you understand your pay period frequency and the length of time after the cut-off that your payments will be sent.

Advertising and use of the product brand name

Many affiliate programs will not allow you to use the product name or brand name in paid advertising – e.g. Pay per Click advertising.

Be sure to check the rules here and adhere to them. If you don’t, your affiliate account is likely to be terminated!

Not being able to use the product or brand name in paid advertising is no big deal – there are plenty of approaches that don’t need the use of the brand name.

Affiliate support systems and processes

The quality of the affiliate support activity is important. This covers both the actual systems the product owner uses and the training and other support activities they offer to affiliates.

Here’s an example of an affiliate program with poor systems and support that I walked away from, just last week:

I tried to sign up for this program – I had received an email invitation to join it.

I went through the process (twice) because it was for a product (a good one) that I’ve used for some time.

However, once I had submitted my data and been allowed into the affiliates area, I found there was very limited promotional support (advertising banners, the ability to deep link to specific pages or tailor my affiliate link and so on).

Further, there was no logout link.

I like to be able to securely log out of all of my accounts to avoid the risk of someone else stumbling into my account by accident.

As it happens, it turned out that for some reason my application simply did not register on their system.

I never received a welcome email and, when I later tried to log in again, I got a response telling me that my username and password were invalid.

To make matters worse, a week or so later I received another invitation to join the program..!

Where the backend support systems are as flaky as that, you should stay well clear.

That program certainly did not fill me with the confidence that my data would be handled carefully, my pay-outs would be made on time, or my bank or PayPal details would be stored securely.

Make sure everything is simple, clear and works as it should, first time.

By contrast, some affiliate programs offer tremendous affiliate support.

They have affiliate manager teams and, once you achieve a sufficiently high level of sales, they will establish a one-to-one relationship to provide you with personal support.

Even if you haven’t yet scored a personal affiliate manager, these programs will provide a wide variety of banners, links that you can tailor so you can send visitors to specific pages, and regular training programs and videos to help affiliates get more sales.

Clearly, these are good programs to go for!

So look closely at the affiliate support infrastructure that’s offered – the better the support, the more I like a program.

Affiliate Marketing is a big and growing industry

As with everything else, the affiliate marketing industry is changing, evolving and growing all the time.

It’s a huge and growing industry:

“. . . Approximately 15% of all digital media industry’s revenue comes from affiliate marketing. . .” – Business Insider Intelligence

Here’s a chart showing the growth of affiliate marketing from 2015 and projected through to 2020. It appears on the Mediarails website, from data produced by Forrester Research:

Chart of affiliate marketing revenue growth from 2015 to 2020

For any product producer, selling via affiliates is a highly cost-effective channel. So it’s only going to grow over time.

Sources of further help and training

Given how the industry is evolving and growing, you can never get too much training!

As I mentioned earlier, the better affiliate programs provide training on their products to help affiliates grow their sales.

On a more general focus, I have written a PDF that goes into some more detail on how to get started with an affiliate marketing business. It’s absolutely free and you can find it here.

That PDF will take you through the process of finding a business idea, doing some simple but effective market research to test your business idea, finding a product to sell and setting up a website from which to promote and sell it.

If you prefer to get straight down to action then I highly recommend the affiliate marketing training program that I’ve been involved with for a long time:

I describe it in detail here.

Finally. . .

If you have any questions on affiliate marketing do leave them in the comments below – I will respond within 24 hours (if not sooner!).

Stay well!

Cheers,

Martin Malden

Martin Malden
Owner – WealthyDragon

P.S. Learn how to earn an income online:

Wealthy Affiliate will teach you how to build a long term business

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