Retired and looking for a part time income? Part of the ‘great resignation’? Want to build a side hustle? Affiliate marketing could be the answer you’re looking for.
It is low cost and quick to set up, and one of the best ways to establish your own online business.
In this article I go through:
- A description of affiliate marketing and how it works
- How to get started with affiliate marketing
- How to find the best affiliate programs
- Two things you need to do to succeed
- Sources of further information and support
Affiliate marketing: what it is and how it works
Affiliate marketing is a simple business model: it’s where you tell a friend about a product you like, tell them where they can get more information and, if they buy it, you earn a commission.
As an online business model it can be extremely lucrative. It is also a huge and growing industry.
Here’s a simple example to show how it works:
- You have a website/blog/Facebook page etc, on which you write about your favourite subject – let’s say health
- You are a particular fan of XXXX training shoes and you discover they have an affiliate program
- You sign up for their affiliate program and write a post that refers to these shoes on your website/blog/Facebook page
- You link to the manufacturer’s website in your post, using your affiliate link that’s given to you when you join the program, and contains your personal affiliate ID
- A visitor to your post clicks the link, likes what they see on the manufacturer’s website and buys a pair
- You are credited for the sale and earn commission
It’s a simple, effective business model, and it can be lucrative for both the website owner and the product manufacturer.
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:
- 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, no coding required)
- Find a product or service related to a subject that you’re interested in or knowledgeable about
- Find affiliate programs for the product or service you chose (more details lower down)
- Plan the content you will create (reviews or descriptions) and how you will present them (blog posts, videos, pictures, etc. Again, more details lower down).
- Create a content publishing schedule. At the outset, publishing new content regularly helps you build your followers more quickly.
- Sign up for PayPal (many affiliate programs pay affiliates through PayPal).
- Check for any tax implications on the affiliate commissions you will earn – this will depend on where you live and your local tax laws.
- Set up a simple Excel workbook to keep track of your expenses and the affiliate commissions you earn.
- Get started!
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 and passion will come through in the content you produce (blog posts, podcasts, videos, etc) and that will increase your conversions (the people clicking your affiliate link).
If you know of a specific program you want to hook up with, that’s great. But if not 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:
As you can see: 172 million results (although, to be fair, that won’t be 172 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!
Bad affiliate programs do not pay well, have a short cookie life and 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’s what you need look out for and compare:
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 affiliate link 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.
The commission percentage is the amount you are paid for each sale. It is a percentage of the product price.
The natural temptation is to go for affiliate programs paying a higher percentage, but look a bit deeper.
Low commission rates
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.
High commission rates
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.
This 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.
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.
However, despite going through the full process, 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.
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:
- Produce regular, good content on your chosen product or service
- 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 would be interested in your product or service?
If you’re just starting out, my first recommendation would be to define clearly who would be interested in the product or service you’re promoting.
One way to do that is to create an image, or persona, of that person. 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 would like the product or service you’re promoting 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. Doing that will make your posts or videos seem more personal, and that will increase your conversion rate.
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 be ones that you like or know about. Better still if you use them.
Let’s take the example I used earlier of joining a fitness affiliate program.
If 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 be clear on the product you’re producing content on. Be clear on the type of person would be interested in it, and write or talk directly to them.
2. How to attract lots of visitors to your website
This means promoting your content on social media, through email promotions, through the search pages and by any other means.
So how do you promote your content?
Having identified your ideal customer (the person who would be interested in your product or service) you need to work out where they hang out – basically, which social media sites.
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 join the community.
Don’t immediately start pushing your product. Take time to establish your credibility and build trust with the community.
As you build your credibility you can 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!
Content production vs content distribution
Initially you will need to produce a good stock of content on your website.
But over time, as you produce more content, your emphasis should switch to content distribution.
That link goes to an article that explains why you need to move your focus towards content distribution, and links to four other resources that explain it in detail. I recommend you take a moment to read it.
Sources of further help and support
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.
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 – it’s a fantastic program, especially if you’re just starting out with affiliate marketing.
Finally. . .
Affiliate marketing is a great way to set up an online business. It’s low cost, quick and a simple business model.
Just remember that, as with any business, you do need to do the work to get results.