Affiliate Marketing: How to Get Started

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 – I started with affiliate marketing in 2003 (and it has changed a lot since then..!!).

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

In this article I go through:

How to get 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:


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 from a different source (not your website) 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:

Update: since I wrote this article Amazon has changed their affiliate program by halving the commission rates on most of their affiliate sales and reducing their cookie time. As a result I no longer recommend Amazon as a good affiliate program. The principle I’ve discussed below still applies, just not to Amazon itself.

Amazon pays (used to pay) 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.

Again, I no longer recommend Amazon as a good affiliate program. I just used it as an example of a potentially profitable program.

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 than 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 did not even 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 same 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.

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 lots of good content
  2. The ability to attract visitors to your website

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.

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.

Most importantly, though: your content should not be ‘selling’ anything. It should focus on helping people.

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

2. The ability to attract lots of people to visit your website, read and share your content

This means spreading the word – promoting your content on social media, through email promotions, through the search pages or by any other means.

So how do you promote your content?

If you’re just starting out, 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.

Once you have a good chunk of content, you need to work out on which social media sites people who would be interested in your content hang out.

One way to do that is to draw up a persona of your ideal customer. Make it as detailed as possible: age, sex, probable current income bracket, where they probably live, interests, right down to which social media sites they would be likely to hang out on.

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.

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 it.

Alternatively, 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!


Martin Malden

Martin Malden
Owner – WealthyDragon

What do you think?

2 comments… add one
  • Matt Lin Jun 25, 2020 @ 18:03

    Hi Martin,

    I’ve been building my own website for over 8 months now to run an affiliate marketing business. The key is indeed to help people, and provide them value instead of selling to them in the beginning.

    The reason why people fail to make money online is that they rush to the selling part without creating quality content to help people, so they quit after the first 6 months.

    If they can adopt the correct mindset and read this informative article about affiliate marketing, I would think that they can overcome all the difficulty and make it work eventually.

    I love to see more useful and helpful posts from you, thanks for sharing.


    • Martin Malden Jun 26, 2020 @ 12:48

      Hi Matt,

      Glad you found this useful..!

      It’s often difficult to persuade people just starting out that they should not sell because:

      1. There’s too much bad advice around
      2. They’re likely to be short of money which puts pressure on them to gain quick results

      I understand that – I was there..!!

      Building lots of good content so you become a trusted resource is slower but, ultimately, a more secure long term strategy.



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