If you’re considering becoming an affiliate marketer, you probably know that there is a massive amount of information online about Every. Single. Thing. to do with affiliate marketing.
Myths, rumors, and innuendo abound, and there’s no end to the advice, hacks, success stories, fails, case studies, and promises of making money while you sleep. Often, it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s mere hype.
So we’ve taken matters into our own hands and created the unabridged true story of affiliate marketing. We’ve waded through the fantasy and the reality and answered the burning questions about affiliate marketing and what it means to join a billion-dollar industry mostly conducted by people like you, sitting at home in front of their computers (maybe even in their pj’s!). So let’s dive in at the very beginning with the most basic of questions:
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is when you earn a commission for the online promotion of another company’s product or service. Essentially, affiliates perform online marketing on behalf of a merchant, with the ultimate goal of driving traffic and conversions for the merchant’s website. For every click or conversion earned, the affiliate is paid by the merchant.
How does affiliate marketing work?
Generally speaking, affiliate marketers host websites where they advertise offers on behalf of businesses and brands in various ways, like blogs, videos, reviews, ads, product links and more. Affiliates receive payment on a pre-defined basis, usually when a customer clicks on the link (hence, Pay-Per-Click), but sometimes only when the customer actually buys the product (CPA, or Cost-Per-Acquisition).
Here’s how affiliate marketing works, in a nutshell:
Step 1: Choose a niche
Step 2: Join an affiliate program
Step 3: Promote products & offers
Step 4: Track & optimize conversions
Step 5: Receive commissions
How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing?
Listen, watch, learn
The first place to start is by learning as much as you can about affiliate marketing, including the various tools and strategies that are available, and the latest trends and tactics that affiliate marketers are using. Luckily, there are loads of online affiliate marketing communities you can join and affiliate marketing podcaststo follow so you can get the starter knowledge and support you need.
The main question you need to ask yourself at the beginning of your journey to become an affiliate marketer is this: what product do you want to sell? That’s when you need to think about choosing a niche.
How to choose your affiliate niche?
There are so many niches – or categories – of products you may choose to focus on in your affiliate marketing activities. Affiliate marketers usually choose the niche based on a few different factors:
- How competitive is it? The more crowded the niche, the harder it will be to compete and drive traffic and conversions.
- How well do you know your niche? It’s best to focus on niches that you are familiar with. For example, if you are a fitness freak, you can choose to promote fitness products.
- Do you have personal experience or authority on the niche? It will be easier and come more naturally to promote products that you actually use. Not a must, but nice to have.
- Are you willing to spend time learning about a niche if you are not already familiar with it? You don’t have to be an expert in the niche. If you find a niche that looks promising, you can brush up on it and get the knowledge you need to succeed.
Read more about affiliate marketing niches and how to choose them below.
If you build a website, they will come…
Most affiliate marketers operate a website or multiple websites. There are plenty of other digital marketing channels and platforms where you can promote your affiliate activity. However, if you are just starting out, you might want to invest the time in creating a website. It can serve as a central platform to work on your performance marketing skills while slowly building an income stream.
Read more about building an affiliate website below.
Money Talks – The Truth about Affiliate Income
Money, money, money – for affiliate marketers, earning income is the most important goal. Whether you can make money, and how much you can potentially rake in, will depend on a bunch of different factors. But let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of exactly what affiliate marketers can expect to see in their wallets.
Can you make money with affiliate marketing?
The answer is “yes”. In the US, affiliate marketing spend is expected to reach $8.2 billion by 2022, compared to $5.4 billion in 2017. Plus, 84% of publishers use affiliate marketing. Any way you look at it, the industry is growing and thriving, which means there is ample opportunity to make money as an affiliate marketer.
How much do affiliate marketers make?
There are many affiliate marketing myths around this topic, truth is the amount of affiliate income earned varies greatly. It’s hard to know for sure, but here’s a general breakdown from the various available stats:
- Nearly half of affiliate marketers make less than $20,000 a year
- 35% of affiliate marketers make more than $20,000 a year
- According to one survey of affiliate marketers, 9% of respondents made more than $50,000 in 2016
Who is the most successful affiliate marketer?
There are plenty of successful affiliate marketers out there, and not all publicly share how much they are making. However, Jason Stone, AKA the “Millionaire Mentor ” is reputed to have made $7 million revenue in 18 months. Plus, one of the most popular influencers in the affiliate scene, Pat Flynn, has published income reports in the past, which give a fascinating glimpse into the financials of a thriving affiliate business. In December 2017, he recorded net profit of just over $125K.
How fast can you make money with affiliate marketing?
There is no hard and fast rule. How quickly affiliate marketers manage to make money, or even grow their business to something resembling a more full-time career, is highly individual. For instance, Tom Dupuis blogged about how he managed to jump from $20K to $80K to $150K annual income in two years. Or read this fascinating post in which dozens of affiliate marketers talk about how long it took to make their first sale. The answers vary wildly, with one affiliate going from $0 to $7K revenue in 6 months, and another describing how it took three months to make their first affiliate sale (a modest $310!).
How to make money with affiliate marketing?
In order to make money with affiliate marketing, you’ll need to identify a product that has a potential market in a niche or category that you are familiar with or enjoy – or are willing to learn about. Then, you need to promote it, whether through a website, blog, videos, emails or online ads, in order to drive traffic to the merchant’s product page or store.
That’s it, in a nutshell. Actually doing this successfully and making money from it is part science, part art, and lots of determination and persistence.
But first, you need a website.
Affiliate Websites: Your Income Engine
Most affiliates will use websites to drive traffic, clicks, conversions and income. Although you don’t have to have a website, chances are you will probably want one. Here are some tips and guidance about how to create an affiliate marketing website.
How to start an affiliate marketing website?
There is no need for a fancy, expensive website to get started with affiliate marketing. As long as it looks attractive and professional, is easy to navigate and has interesting content and compelling sales copy, that is more than enough to encourage conversions. Of course, you’ll need to buy a domain and create a basic website layout, but this is easy with website building and hosting platforms like WordPress, Wix and Weebly. Check out some tips about how to create a professional-looking website here.
How to create content for affiliate marketing?
As an affiliate marketer, your main money-making weapon is content. Content is the ‘bait’ that captures the attention of the target audience and drives them to click on your affiliate links – and that’s what will make the dollars roll in.
There are many different types of content that you can use in affiliate marketing. One of the most popular is blogs. Setting up a blog is fairly simple, and if you are familiar with the product or niche, you can naturally share your insights and enthusiasm – and that makes for compelling content. You can also create videos, reviews, ebooks, landing pages and more. Check out these affiliate content marketing ideas.
If you’re not a natural writer, or don’t have the time to invest in creating content yourself, you can always outsource. There are loads of content writing services available that provide quality content at reasonable prices.
How to start affiliate marketing without a website
Although affiliate marketers mostly use their own websites or landing pages (and sometimes more than one), you can start affiliate marketing without a website. You don’t need to run your own website to have a presence online and generate leads. Here are three alternative ways to do affiliate marketing without a website:
- Social media & community forums: If you have a large following on social media or are an influencer in online communities and forums, you can post affiliate reviews and links to products you trust and recommend.
- Email marketing: If you own an email distribution list, you can communicate affiliate offers via email. Email can be a powerful performance marketing tool for affiliates – it has a decent average open rate of over 17%.
- YouTube: Video is one of the most effective marketing tools, and many affiliate marketers use video marketing to promote products and drive conversions. If you are a video creation whiz, you might want to build an active YouTube channel, rather than creating a regular website.
Affiliate Niches: Which One is For You?
As an affiliate marketer, you need to identify a type of product or service to promote. This means choosing a “niche”, like health & fitness, money & finance, hobbies, pets – the list is endless.
Which affiliate marketing niches work?
There are several niches that are most popular among affiliate marketers, such as money (ie. making money online, investing), dating (online dating, dating advice) and health (diet, fitness, sports). These all focus on products and services that are always in high demand. On the other hand, these niches are highly competitive, because they attract so many affiliate marketers. There are plenty of other niches that can work too. It’s just a matter of choosing the right one for you.
How to pick a niche for affiliate marketing?
When choosing a niche for affiliate marketing, remember that you will be spending a lot of time on it, so it is wise to choose something that interests you or that you feel passionately about. Plus, if you have a lot of personal experience in the niche (ie. it’s your hobby, or a product that you use and enjoy), this will make it much easier for you to promote effectively. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to choose something that you know a lot about – it will just make it easier.
It’s also helpful to choose a niche that is more specialized and not very competitive. While the audience will be smaller, it will be easier for you to rank higher. Or, focus more deeply on the niche so you can find new and different things to talk about. This will set you apart from the other affiliates who are focusing on the “same old”, and help you get better rankings and more traffic.
What is the best niche for affiliate marketing?
Here’s a sobering statistic: less than 10% of affiliates drive 90% of conversions. The best niche for affiliate marketing is one that strikes a balance between three things: level of competitiveness, size of potential target audience, and your ability to create effective content and promotions about it. For example, a broad niche like “beauty” is way too competitive – you will need to narrow it down to find products and topics in the beauty niche that are hot right now. Then you can focus on targeting the smaller audience with a more specialized offer. Finding the best niche for affiliate marketing demands a lot of research about what people are talking about and buying online, keywords, and monetization potential.
Affiliate Marketing vs Dropshipping
Affiliate marketing and dropshipping are similar, in that they both involve marketing and sales of a product. However, in affiliate marketing, you are not responsible for shipping the product to the buyer, and your earnings are solely based on the commission paid to you by the merchant. Also, you don’t set the price of the product, so your earnings are dependent on the merchant’s pricing. Your job is marketing only.
With dropshipping, you are responsible for marketing a product and shipping to people who buy it. You get to decide the price of the product, and you receive the full payment (minus how much it cost you to buy from the merchant). For example, say you sell a product to a customer online for $100. You buy it from the merchant at a cost of $70. You ship the product directly from the merchant to the customer, and profit $30. The advantage? There’s no need for you to hold any stock – you sell directly from the merchant. And you get to set the sale price and keep all profit after the merchant’s price is paid. But you are responsible for marketing and shipping.
Affiliate marketing or dropshipping? The choice is yours.
Affiliate Performance Marketing
There’s a common myth in affiliate marketing that it’s all about SEO. But PPC is an important and powerful tool for affiliate marketers. Let’s see what it’s all about.
How to use PPC for affiliate marketing?
When SEO and organic strategies are not getting you the results you want, PPC, or paid advertising, is a way to get traffic and boost performance more quickly. While SEO is free, PPC means you are paying upfront to serve ads on search, social, display and native ad networks. On the other hand, you have more control over who sees your ads, as you can use targeting and optimization tactics to reach your best audiences.
CPA and EPC are two common concepts in PPC for affiliate marketing. Let’s see what they are:
What is CPA in affiliate marketing?
CPA stands for Cost Per Acquisition. With the CPA payment model, the affiliate marketer gets paid for each lead acquired for the merchant. A lead is created when you send a customer to the merchant’s website, and they take an action, such as completing a “Contact us” form, or downloading an ebook.
What is EPC in affiliate marketing?
EPC is a common metric in affiliate marketing that stands for Earnings Per Click. It is a measure of the average earnings per 100 clicks for all affiliates in a merchant’s program. It is a good way for affiliate marketers to see whether a merchant’s affiliate program is performing well.
How to use social media for affiliate marketing?
There are 3.5 billion active users on social media, worldwide, so affiliate marketers need to be there or be square.
But before you dive into social media advertising, you need to find out which social platforms your target audience uses the most, so you can invest your time and PPC wisely. For example, if you are targeting a younger consumer audience, then Instagram is a must. If you are focusing on B2B affiliate sales, then LinkedIn is the place for you.
Another key to social media for affiliate marketing is to build a trustworthy and popular online profile that attracts followers and connections. This will help drive traffic to your pages and ads. A good way to do this is by joining or creating communities and groups, and actively participating in them.
How to use native advertising for affiliate marketing?
Native advertising might be one of the most underutilized platforms for affiliate marketing, but it gets great results. So if you are considering becoming an affiliate marketer, you should definitely check out the potential of native advertising.
Native ads are ads that fit in the form and the function of a web page, so they don’t really look like ads. That’s why people look at native ads 53% more than display ads. Many internet users have what is known as “ad fatigue”. They are tired of intrusive pop-ups and distracting banner ads. Native ads overcome this obstacle by letting people discover new products and content in a more natural way that doesn’t disrupt their browsing experience. Native advertising is a great fit for affiliate marketers, as they can use advanced targeting techniques, a range of ad types, like video and carousel, and the cost-effective CPC payment model where you only pay for clicks, not impressions.
Affiliate Marketing Myths
Will I get rich while I sleep? Is affiliate marketing a dying industry? Is it really so easy to become an affiliate marketer? So many myths, so little time to bust them all!
Starting now, let’s uncover the truth, and nothing but the truth, about affiliate marketing.
How easy is affiliate marketing?
Myth: Anyone can be an affiliate marketer.
Reality: Anyone can be an affiliate marketer, but not everyone will succeed.
Being an affiliate marketer requires skill, experience, and work. It is not a quick or easy road to success, but when done properly, it can generate impressive income.
Here are some of the qualities you will need to be a successful affiliate marketer:
- An interest or expertise in a certain niche
- Internet and consumer research skills
- Website building/graphics/ SEO/ PPC/ analytic skills
- Ability to write appealing content or outsource to someone who can
- Organized & methodical
- Patience and strategic skills
- Networking skills
As you can see, becoming an affiliate marketer is not a free ride. To succeed, you’ll need a significant skill set in some or most of the above.
Can affiliate marketing be a career?
Myth: There is a definitive answer to this question.
Reality: Affiliate marketing can be a full-time career, yet for many, it won’t be.
Some affiliate marketers succeed in building a career in the field, while others hold down regular jobs while supplementing their income with affiliate marketing on the side. There are many stories of people who started affiliate marketing as a side gig but were so successful that they transitioned to a full-blown career.
Whether or not affiliate marketing can be a career is totally up to you. It will ultimately depend on how much time and energy you decide to invest, and whether you have the skills and drive to succeed.
Can affiliate marketing make me rich?
Myth: Affiliate marketing will make you rich while you sleep.
Reality: Umm, you can get ‘rich’ from affiliate marketing, but it won’t happen by sleeping!
People love to assume that affiliate marketing is some sort of money tap. Build a website, turn on the tap and the money will flow while you play computer games.
While this is a nice fantasy, nothing could be further from the truth. If there’s one thing affiliate marketing requires, it’s persistence. Driving traffic to your websites and getting users to click and convert will be your obsession, and it requires constant attention, optimization, and work.
Once you have achieved a successful website, the money may start to roll in. But it could be months or even years of work before that happens.
I need to invest $$$ to get started
Myth: Starting an affiliate business is expensive.
Reality: You don’t need much money; what you need is time.
One of the things that’s so great about affiliate marketing is that it is a truly level playing field. You don’t need to invest much money to start an affiliate business. All you need is a computer, internet connection, and motivation.
While you won’t need to outlay money, what you will need to get started is time. Affiliate marketing is a skilled practice, and learning the ropes can be a slow, hard slog. So be prepared to spend a lot of time, rather than a lot of money, at the start of your affiliate career.
Affiliate marketing & PPC
Myth: Affiliate marketing is all about SEO.
Reality: Paid channels expand reach and boost results.
Affiliate marketing is all about driving traffic to websites and getting users to click and convert. SEO is a major tool to do this, and organic traffic has the advantage of being free (except for the time you spend generating organic traffic…and time is money!). However, SEO is not enough to keep affiliates going in such a competitive online environment where organic reach is hard to come by. The most successful affiliate marketers are PPC pros, with the aim of reaching the largest audience and gaining the most conversions at the lowest possible cost.
Check out these paid channels that are popular among affiliate marketers.
Can I be an affiliate without a website?
Myth: You must have a website or blog to be an affiliate marketer.
Reality: You can be an affiliate without a website – but you must have a presence online.
While most affiliate marketers have a website, or several websites, or run a blog or two, it is actually possible to do affiliate marketing without a website. Affiliate marketing is all about getting internet users to click on affiliate links. There are other ways to do this besides hosting your own website and planting it with links. Alternatives to having a website include YouTube videos, posting in online forums, and SMS.
Is affiliate marketing right for me?
Only you can really know if affiliate marketing is a good choice for your skillset and temperament. Here are a few things to consider when making a decision:
- You don’t need to invest much to get started.
- You must be part analytical/part creative, with the willingness to keep learning new online tools and strategies.
- You have to be patient. Building a successful affiliate marketing business takes time and effort (we’re talking months or years).
- You have to invest the time in optimizing and tweaking your online activities and constantly analyzing the results.
- You will do better if you believe in and are passionate about the products/offers you are promoting.
- You must have the ability to create a trustworthy, personable online presence. This is what will bring you traffic.
- You are not in need of a secure income right away (or you have alternative sources of income).
- You are adept at cultivating positive relationships with merchants, partners, and peers.
The Bottom Line: Is Affiliate Marketing Worth It?
Is affiliate marketing legit?
Despite a controversial reputation among those not really in the know, affiliate marketing is a totally legit way to earn an income. At the end of the day, the majority of the world’s population is internet-connected, and online sales in all categories are constantly increasing. With the right skills and attitude, affiliate marketers can achieve levels of success ranging from reasonable to unbelievable. Why shouldn’t you be a part of it too?
On the other hand, there are some niches that are considered less “wholesome”, and of course, we recommend choosing only those products and companies that are trustworthy and ethical. As a native advertising network, Outbrain has strict content guidelines and does not allow certain categories on the network. It is in the best interest of affiliate marketers and ad networks alike to prevent fraud and maintain safe, legitimate and ethical advertising practices.
What is the best affiliate marketing program?
If you’re looking to break into the world of affiliate marketing, you’ll need to research the available affiliate marketing programs and see which ones are a good fit for you. Our list of the top affiliate programs is a great starting point. And remember, when it comes to affiliate marketing, you need knowledge and grit. From there, the only way is up!