What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is when you promote other companies’ products. When someone buys through your affiliate link, you get a commission.
As an affiliate, you’re a salesperson for the company. You help to make a sale, the company rewards you.
The best thing about affiliate marketing is that you can do it at scale. A typical salesperson only sells products from one company. As an affiliate marketer, you can promote products from many different companies and earn commissions from all of them.
How does affiliate marketing work?
The merchant gives each affiliate a unique link so they can track who was responsible for a sale. The link will usually look
When someone clicks that link, a small file called a cookie gets stored on their device.
An affiliate cookie does two things:
- It helps the merchant attribute the sale back to the right person;
- It (usually) holds an expiration date, so you get paid even if the buyer delays their purchase.
Here’s an example of how this works.
Imagine that a reader visits your post about the best winter jackets. They click on one of your affiliate links, leading them to a product on Amazon.
But they realized they have to pick up their daughter from school. So they leave their house, pick up their daughter, have dinner, and then finally go back to Amazon where they find the product again.
Since they’re already shopping on Amazon, they decide to purchase some ski gear too.
Here’s the good news. Earlier, they clicked on your affiliate link and a cookie was stored on their device. Because Amazon has a 24-hour cookie duration, you get compensated for both the winter jacket and ski gear—even though you didn’t promote the latter.
How to Make Your First Affiliate Marketing Sale in 7 Steps:
1. Choose a Niche
Before you even begin building your first site, you’ll need to decide which niche you’re going to target.
Obviously, if you don’t know what your site is about or who you’re going to target with it, you can’t really build a site around it…can you?
If you’ve already figured this one out, way to go! This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult and overwhelming steps.
If you don’t quite know what your niche is yet, here’s some advice that you might find useful.
Some key questions to ask yourself when determining your niche are:
- What topics am I already passionate about?
It’s much easier to work on something if you’re passionate about it. Plus, when you have a passion, you’re usually quite knowledgeable about it too, so that definitely helps. For example if you have a passion about about makeup, your niche of choice might be makeup related, too.
- Is there money in this niche?
While following your passion is definitely the recommended option, sometimes the possibility of making money in a profitable niche trumps passion.
2. Research Affiliate Programs
Once you’ve decided on a niche, it’s time to find out what’s out there in terms of programs and products to promote. You’ve probably already done a bit of research for this while researching your niche — now you need to dig deeper.
Choosing an affiliate program will take some work, but don’t be afraid to invest a significant amount of time into it because this is, of course, where your income will come from. Choosing the right program will make it well worth your while!
3. Build a Site
Steps 1 and 2 are all about research and figuring out what’s possible and profitable. Now, it’s time to start putting your research into action.
Assuming you don’t already have a website built, this will be the next step. Fortunately, building a site isn’t as complicated or labor-intensive as it was in the past.
4. Produce Excellent Content
Now that your site is set up and you’ve joined an affiliate program, you’re ready to begin perhaps the most time-consuming (but potentially rewarding) part of the affiliate business: Producing content.
This is where the overused but truer-than-ever phrase “content is king” comes into play.
Your goal for your site will be to establish it as an authority site in your niche, and the main way to do this is to consistently produce unique, high-quality content.
5. Build an Audience
Building an audience for your site will, in some ways, follow naturally once you start producing excellent content. An interested audience will not only bring you consistent traffic, but also result in consistent sales for you.
So how do you start building an audience for a completely new site? Here are some ideas:
- Promote your content via social media.
The easiest and most common way to start building an audience for a website is via social media. Depending on your niche and industry, you can choose from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and several other niche and location-specific networks. Building up an engaged and interested following on social media is a great opportunity to build relationships and once you have their trust, promote your products and services to them.
- Guest post on high-traffic blogs.
While your site is still new, it’s a good idea to start capitalizing on someone else’s audience. Continue focusing on building your own content, but also considering writing content for a few big, high-traffic blogs that are relevant for your niche. By writing content for a bigger site, you are able to get in front of another audience and showcase your expertise on a particular topic. This will eventually lead to more traffic to your site, as well.
6. Promote Affiliate Offers
Finally, the part we’ve all been waiting for!
This, my friends, is where things really kick into high gear. Many fly-by-night affiliates will jump right to this step and bypass steps 1–5 completely. And this is what will set you apart.
Once you’ve shown that you can offer something of value in your niche, it’s time to continue adding value by promoting products that will be useful and helpful for your audience.
You can promote your offers in a number of ways. It will depend on the type of site you’ve built and also what you’re selling.
7. Rinse, Lather, and Repeat
Now that you’re done with Steps 1 – 6, Step 7 is simply to keep doing what you’re doing. Yes, seriously!
Your ongoing work as an affiliate marketer will be to repeat steps 4 – 6 on a continual basis. Building a site up to a point where it can make you consistent income takes a bit of work and you must be willing to constantly create, promote, market, innovate and of course, sell.
Wake up at an ungodly hour. Drive to the office through total gridlock, streets jammed with other half-asleep commuters. Slog through email after mind-numbing email until the sweet release at five o’clock.
Common Types of Affiliate Marketing Channels
An influencer is an individual who holds the power to impact the purchasing decisions of a large segment of the population. This person is in a great position to benefit from affiliate marketing. They already boast an impressive following, so it’s easy for them to direct consumers to the seller’s products through social media posts, blogs, and other interactions with their followers. The influencers then receive a share of the profits they helped to create.
With the ability to rank organically in search engine queries, bloggers excel at increasing a seller’s conversions. The blogger samples the product or service and then writes a comprehensive review that promotes the brand in a compelling way, driving traffic back to the seller’s site.
The blogger is awarded for his or her influence spreading the word about the value of the product, helping to improve the seller’s sales. For example, my article on the best email marketing software includes product reviews and affiliate links throughout.
3. Paid search focused microsites.
Developing and monetizing microsites can also garner a serious amount of sales. These sites are advertised within a partner site or on the sponsored listings of a search engine. They are distinct and separate from the organization’s main site. By offering more focused, relevant content to a specific audience, microsites lead to increased conversions due to their simple and straightforward call to action.
4. Email lists.
Despite its older origins, email marketing is still a viable source of affiliate marketing income. Some affiliates have email lists they can use to promote the seller’s products. Others may leverage email newsletters that include hyperlinks to products, earning a commission after the consumer purchases the product.
Another method is for the affiliate to build an email list over time. They use their various campaigns to collect emails en masse, then send out emails regarding the products they are promoting.
5. Large media websites.
Designed to create a huge amount of traffic at all times, these sites focus on building an audience of millions. These websites promote products to their massive audience through the use of banners and contextual affiliate links. This method offers superior exposure and improves conversion rates, resulting in a top-notch revenue for both the seller and the affiliate.
How Do Affiliate Marketers Get Paid?
A quick and inexpensive method of making money without the hassle of actually selling a product, affiliate marketing has an undeniable draw for those looking to increase their income online. But how does an affiliate get paid after linking the seller to the consumer?
The answer can get complicated.
The consumer doesn’t always need to buy the product for the affiliate to get a kickback. Depending on the program, the affiliate’s contribution to the seller’s sales will be measured differently.
The affiliate may get paid in various ways:
1. Pay per sale.
This is the standard affiliate marketing structure. In this program, the merchant pays the affiliate a percentage of the sale price of the product after the consumer purchases the product as a result of the affiliate’s marketing strategies. In other words, the affiliate must actually get the investor to invest in the product before they are compensated.
2. Pay per lead.
A more complex system, pay per lead affiliate programs compensates the affiliate based on the conversion of leads. The affiliate must persuade the consumer to visit the merchant’s website and complete the desired action — whether it’s filling out a contact form, signing up for a trial of a product, subscribing to a newsletter, or downloading software or files.
3. Pay per click.
This program focuses on incentivizing the affiliate to redirect consumers from their marketing platform to the merchant’s website. This means the affiliate must engage the consumer to the extent that they will move from the affiliate’s site to the merchant’s site. The affiliate is paid based on the increase in web traffic.