Affiliate Marketing: How to Get Started

If you’re threatened with, or facing, unemployment in the current pandemic, I can imagine how you must feel.

But having something to focus on, a way out, will help.

Affiliate Marketing is a huge and growing industry, and one of the best ways to make money online.

In this article I go through:

What is affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is where you recommend someone else’s product and, if the person to whom you recommend it buys the product, you earn a commission.

As an online business model it can be extremely lucrative. It is also a huge and growing industry.

The typical set up for a solo business owner would go like this:

  1. You have a website/blog/Facebook page etc, on which you write about your favourite subject – let’s say health
  2. You are a particular fan of XXXX training shoes and you discover they have an affiliate program
  3. You sign up for their affiliate program and write a post that refers to these shoes on your website/blog/Facebook page
  4. You link to the manufacturer’s website in your post, using your affiliate link that contains your personal affiliate ID
  5. A visitor to your post clicks the link, likes what they see on the manufacturer’s website and buys a pair
  6. You are credited for the sale and will earn some commission

It’s a simple, but highly effective business model, and it can be extremely lucrative for both the website owner and the product manufacturer.

But, like any business, you have to put in the time and effort to make money!

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 to set up a good website quickly and easily)
  2. Find a product or service related to a subject that you’re interested in or knowledgeable about
  3. Find affiliate programs for your chosen product or service (more details lower down)
  4. Plan the types of content you will create and the medium through which you will present them (blog posts, videos, pictures, etc, again, more details lower down).
  5. Create a content publishing schedule. At the outset, publishing new content consistently helps you build your followers more quickly.
  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!

The easiest way to start your home business!

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How to find and choose the best affiliate programs

Find an affiliate program

The first thing to do is to decide what affiliate programs you want to check out.

I said above that if there’s a subject that you’re passionate or knowledgeable about that would be a great place to start. This is because your knowledge or passion will come through in your content and increase your credibility – which will increase your conversions (the people clicking your affiliate link).

If you know of a specific program that’s great, but if you don’t you can simply go online and do a search.

Let’s say you’re into fitness and health – you can do a search online for ‘Fitness affiliate programs’, or ‘Health affiliate programs’, and you will get a boat load of results.

Here’s an example – I did a search for fitness affiliate programs:

Screenshot of search for affiliate programs

As you can see: 65 million results (although, to be fair, that won’t be 65 million affiliate programs..!).

But you get the point: search online for affiliate programs related to your topic.

When you find some programs that look promising, then you need to compare them to find the best one.

How to compare affiliate programs to find the best one

Not all affiliate programs are the same!

If you don’t know what to look for in an affiliate program you could end up choosing one that does not pay well, has a short cookie life or poor support.

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 all aspects of the program.

Here are some things to look out for, and how they will affect you:

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 from a different source (not your website) and buys on a subsequent visit, you will still get credited for the sale.

The length of time that these cookies last varies, and is set by the product owner. So, in general, you want the cookie time to be as long as possible.

However, not all affiliate programs work this way.

Walmart, for example, have what they call a ‘Referral Fee Time’ and a ‘Last click’ policy.

If the customer re-enters the Walmart site within 3 days of their initial entry, you will still be credited for the sale unless the customer enters via a different affiliate link.

In that case, the last affiliate link clicked will be credited and you will lose out.

So pay careful attention to the cookie policy and, where two affiliate programs appear to be evenly matched in other respects, go for the one with the more beneficial cookie policy.

Commission percentage

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

The natural temptation is to go for affiliate programs paying a higher percentage, but 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 type of outlet and the range of products the visitor could buy. Here’s an example of what could happen with the Amazon affiliate program:

Important: I’ve used Amazon here purely as an example. I’m not advocating Amazon as an affiliate program. The principle I’ve discussed below applies equally to, for example, the Walmart affiliate program and the Target affiliate program.

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, in this example, offering only a 6% commission, could turn out to be very profitable for you.

Other programs offering a similar structure include Walmart, Sears and Target. They all offer a low commission rate but thousands of products on which you can earn commission. Sears even claims an average transaction value of US$203.00.

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.

Which creates a regular income for you for as long as the buyer remains a member.

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 clearing 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 weekly cut off, some 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 support offered by an affiliate program to its affiliates 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 – and went through the process 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: just two advertising banners and no ability to deep link to specific pages in their website, or to tailor my affiliate link.

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 on their site, 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.

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Two things you need to do to succeed

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

  1. Produce lots of good content on your chosen product or service
  2. Attract visitors to your website/FB Page/Pinterest Page, etc

1. How 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.

Who will you be talking to?

If you’re just starting out, my first recommendation would be to define clearly who it is you’re talking to.

One way to do that is to draw up an image of your ideal customer. Make it as detailed as possible – typically: age, sex, probable current income bracket, where they probably live, interests, and anything else that characterises them.

If you know someone who is your ideal customer that would be perfect – think of them. Name them and keep them in mind whenever you’re producing content.

Write for them, or talk to them in your videos.

What will you be talking to them about?

Next comes the topic you’re focused on.

To produce lots of content, easily, the products you choose to promote should relate to something in which you are keenly interested.

Let’s take the example I used earlier of joining a fitness affiliate program.

Since you know a lot about maintaining fitness, you could write posts, or create videos, on your fitness regime. Or fitness regimes for pregnant women. Or fitness regimes for over 60s. (Depending on who you’re targetting).

You could review fitness equipment, or fitness clothing. You could compare different brands of training shoes.

And you would place your affiliate links in appropriate places to encourage people to view the products you’ve discussed.

You get the picture.

Producing content on a subject you know 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.

So work out who you’re producing content for, and what topic you’re producing content on.

2. How to attract lots of visitors to your website

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?

Having identified your ideal customer you need to work out where they hang out, if you haven’t already done so.

When you’ve come up with the social media sites you think they hang out on, go and look at them, follow the conversations and check whether your assumptions are correct.

If they are, now’s the time 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.

Once people know and trust you they will start to take an interest in your website (if you’re using one). If you’re using a Facebook page to promote your product it’s even easier – they’re already on your page!

Sources of further help and support

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

Best Affiliate Marketing Training program!

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

But if you’re interested in affiliate marketing, then I highly recommend the affiliate marketing training program that I’ve been involved with for a long time – I’ve written a detailed description of it:

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

Website owner: Martin has been working online since 2006 and focuses on two areas: 1) affiliate marketing and 2) designing and building websites based on WordPress. He has his own WordPress agency, and serves clients in Hong Kong, Australia and the UK.

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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.

    Matt

    • 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.

      Cheers,

      Martin.

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