Getting Started with Affiliate Marketing — 5 Easy Steps

The affiliate marketing dream … You wake up in the morning, check your Paypal balance — you made money while you slept. You didn’t buy and resell any products, you don’t have any customer support tickets to check, you don’t have any returns to deal with.

In fairness, this does describe the best parts of affiliate marketing and for many successful affiliate marketers, it does happen. But it glosses over all the effort it took to get to that point and to stay there.

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It is of course not effortless but it is free from most of the issues surrounding e-commerce, drop-shipping, FBA and most other ways of making money online. And it is not going away … in fact, the industry is growing.

Affiliate marketing is a big industry and expected to reach $6.8 billion by 2025. Most companies view it as a valuable sales channel. It is here to stay.

Let’s look at the basics of affiliate marketing and how you can get started making money online as an affiliate.

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What is Affiliate Marketing

You will receive a commission for referring a customer who makes a purchase.

It is a very simple business model – you are essentially an independent sales representative. People comet to your website, video, app or other online presence. You build trust with your visitors. You then send people to a third party from a link in your site or perhaps an email. They buy a product from the merchant. You get paid.

Most people are familiar with Amazon’s affiliate program- Amazon Associates. It is by far the largest in the world and a great place to start. Amazon’s program is a Pay per Sale type of program. You get paid when the customer purchases something. Although Amazon is the largest there are thousands of other affiliate offers and marketplaces to find products that are best for your audience.

A lot of new online marketers start with affiliate marketing.

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It is a great idea!

It is the perfect starting point for beginners and all of the skills you acquire – WordPress, SEO, content development, keyword research, SEO, etc. are transferable to ANY online business.

New marketers are bombarded with enough new terms, acronyms, and concepts to make one’s head spin. Let’s break it all down and explain what affiliate marketing beginners and intermediate marketers need to know to succeed.

In the simplest of terms, affiliate marketing is the sale of another companies product or service for a commission. You are part of their sales team and they pay you when you bring them a customer who purchases from them. There are as many as 4 parties involved in the transaction.

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  • Merchants — Sellers or merchants have products they want to find additional distribution channels for. They create an affiliate program to recruit people to advertise and represent their products.
  • Affiliate Networks — Some merchants join a network or marketplace with other sellers. These are sites like ClickBank, ShareASale, etc. The advantage to affiliates is that they have one place to manage many affiliate programs.
  • Affiliates — You have an audience, or e-mail list and possibly some online advertising expertise. The affiliate signs up to represent the merchant’s product. They create squeeze pages, reviews, e-mail campaigns, paid ad campaigns, Youtube videos, etc., that promote the product. A small piece of identifying code (cookie) is used to track the affiliates link.
  • buyer responds to the affiliate offer. Buys the sellers product at the seller’s site – after coming from the affiliate. The link from the affiliate to the seller has the affiliates id in it to ensure credit and commissions. Each merchant will have a different cookie length giving a window of time for the buyer to make the purchase and the affiliate to get the credit. This cookie length can be from 1-day to many months.

There are many styles and types of affiliate marketing sites and some marketers don’t have a website at all – they use YouTube or social media as there audience/customer outreach. You can check out our 101 Affiliate Marketing Site Examples to get an idea of what affiliate sites can look like. We also have income reports in that document.

affiliate marketing for beginners

If there is one underlying concept it is that you must create an audience. If you have no audience you are simply shouting in an empty forest. You are making noise but no one can hear you. You can either purchase traffic via ads or attract it with content. This is not a build-it-they-will-come type of effort. It is a way to monetize traffic.  

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So how to get started with affiliate marketing?

Why Affiliate Marketing?

Unlike e-commerce, FBA,  or creating your own products there are few startup costs with affiliate marketing. You can learn about marketing products on the internet with much less risk than buying inventory for an e-Commerce business. You don’t need to hire engineers and develop a product or complex Software as a Service (SaaS) product. You learn how to build websites, how to rank content for search traffic, content marketing strategies and more. Much better to do this with someone else’s products that you represent.

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Some marketers will stick with affiliate marketing and grow their sites and revenues. Others will move on to drop-shipping, creating their own products or an e-commerce site. But whatever your next step is, the lessons learned as an affiliate are transferrable.

There are Two Big-Picture Characteristics of Affiliate Marketing to Consider

Not everyone who tries affiliate marketing sticks with it, but almost all successful Internet Marketers started with Affiliate Marketing.

Many marketers continue to make their family’s income with affiliate marketing.

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Getting Started

There are many approaches to affiliate marketing. One of the easiest to start with and understand is to build a niche site that generates sales from content and traffic from Google search. The steps involved are …

  • Select a Niche
  • Create a Website
  • Select Affiliate Programs
  • Create Great Content
  • Promote your Content

Let’s take a look …

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Step 1 — Find a Niche

You need an audience and you need something to write and talk about. There are so many websites and social media pages now — it can be hard to stand out. You can’t create a broad niche from scratch unless you have tons of money, staff, and time. If you wanted to create a general sports niche for instance you would be immediately competing with many national magazines, sports product manufacturers, sporting goods stores, and established new media sporting companies. From a search traffic standpoint, Google is going to give authority and search traffic to these companies. But maybe you know a lot about racquetball and squash. You have expertise or the ability to acquire it to be an authority on the subject. Or it is simply an underserved niche from doing your research. This would be a much better opportunity for you.

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Settling on a niche is the first thing you need to do. We have a few resources on how to select a niche and some profitable niches to consider.

Step 2 — Create a Website

Most people start with a website and search traffic from Google.

Choose a Domain Name

It is best to choose a website domain that does not lock you into your sub-niche. Some characteristics of a good domain name …

  • Uses the TLD of .com. Avoid new catchy domains. >net and .io are ok if in the tech niches.
  • Is not a long exact match domain (EMD) name — Google has penalized long EMDs in the past.
  • Allows you the ability to expand — you don’t want toaster in the domain name if you will want to have other kitchen equipment in the future.
  • Just alpha characters — no numbers or symbols
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Select a Hosting Company

You don’t need an expensive dedicated server but you also do not want a cheap shared hosting plan. Performance of your site is a Google ranking factor and fast loading pages convert better. Consider one of the managed WordPress hosts like wpEngine, Kinsta or WPX. 

Since you are becoming an affiliate marketer choose a hosting partner that is reliable and has a good Hosting Affiliate Program.

Install and setup WordPress

Setting up a website for affiliate marketing is not difficult but involves a few steps. You may want to get some help for your first effort though almost everyone can do this on their own and it’s a great learning experience. See our Guide to Building an Affiliate Website with WordPress.

Step 3 — Selecting Affiliate Programs

Affiliate Networks

There are a number of marketplaces that bring publishers and affiliates together. There are three parties in an affiliate marketplace.

  • Affiliates — The affiliates agree to direct traffic to publishers for a commission.
  • Product Owners — The product owners or advertisers pay the marketplace to manage the affiliate system and fund the commission payouts.
  • Marketplace — The marketplace supports the affiliates, does the commission tracking and payments.
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Some of the larger marketplaces are:

ShareASale — Many large brands. Mainly physical products.
CJ Affiliate (Commission Junction) — Similar to ShareASale

Downloadable & Digital Products

Sure there is the Amazon Associate program and other sources for physical products to represent. You should consider using these for all niches. But there are so many other affiliate offers and networks that you can use. In addition to the physical product marketplaces, there are downloadable products and recurring products. Do be careful with these products as there is definitely a mix of good products and junk. You don’t want to alienate your audience with bad products – that’s hard to recover from.

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Direct In-house Programs

Many larger product owners choose to have their own marketing programs rather than being in a network. Many software, SaaS and Hosting companies do this. Typically this is because the affiliate channel is a very important revenue source. By running a program in-house they can have their own affiliate managers and team rather than paying fees to networks for this.

Recurring Commission

There are also  products with recurring commissions. These are typically SaaS or hosting products. Any product that has a monthly subscription may have a monthly commission. We compiled a list of over 125 recurring commission programs.

one-time vs. recurring affiliate commissions

 

How to Find Other Affiliate Offers

Prosociate has lots of information and reviews of affiliate marketing programs. The best starting point …

Step 4 — Great Content & Content Marketing

With content marketing, you use optimized content to generate free traffic to your website. This is the backbone of traffic for people like Amazon Associates and other physical product focused niches. The vast majority of affiliate marketers take this approach.

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After you have selected your niche you create content that is a mix of topically relevant articles that answer searches at Google. You research both informational queries like “how to …” type questions and buying/commercial intent queries like “best …” You decide what to write about after doing keyword research. This research tells you what people are asking for in Google Search and it also can tell you how difficult it will be to get to page 1 — the top 10 search results. It is not useful to write even great content about a super-broad topic and be the 89th search result. Few people go past page 1. Position 89 will get no search traffic. You want to find keywords with the most traffic that you can rank for. This will usually be searches with less than 500 monthly queries per month. Once your site gains more authority you can be more aggressive in your topics. We have some articles that will help with keyword research and article selection …

Let’s look at content and search traffic in more detail.

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Search Intent

You want to pay attention to the search intent when evaluating keyword topics. The buying and commercial intent posts are your money pages – these have most of the affiliate links in them and convert better because of the searcher’s intent when making the Google query. Information posts have a place as well though. These posts help build authority with your audience and Google. Info posts will also be easier to rank and you can target higher volume keywords. 

Many affiliates supplement their affiliate earnings with ad revenue. Info-posts are great for this.

affiliate marketing buying intent keywords

 

Your content needs to be of high quality and match the keyword and users search intent. But it also needs to be structured in a way that is best understood by Google. Creating content that performs well in search is what affiliate SEO is all about.

Affiliate SEO

Affiliate SEO stands for Affiliate Search Engine Optimization. In the past, this was a bit of a game that allowed you to trick Google into sending you traffic by stuffing keywords all over your content or having a long exact-match domain name. Now SEO has become more technical and is really about organizing your information to make it easy for Google to find and rank. There are two main areas of SEO – On-page and Off-page.

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On-page is all of the information about your content and the way it is delivered to your audience. This includes the structure of the content and the performance of your website to both desktop and mobile users.

Off-page SEO is all of the links that are incoming to your content and how people interact with it. This includes backlinks from other sites, social media links and any other external interaction with the content.

At Prosociate we have lots of SEO tips for you to optimize your site and content for search traffic.

Step 5 — Promote your Content & Drive Traffic

SEO will be the largest source of traffic for most sites but other traffic sources can add up to more traffic and income. This is a common mistake made by new affiliates.

In the case of your money pages, those with your affiliate links or direct offers, you need to bring traffic from as many sources as possible. Think of it as advertising.

traffic to your affiliate offer

 

Tips & Technique

SEO will be the largest source of traffic for most sites but other traffic sources can add up to more traffic and income. This is a common mistake made by new affiliates.

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In the case of your money pages, those with your affiliate links or direct offers, you need to bring traffic from as many sources as possible. Think of it as advertising.

Tips & Technique

There are certain basic marketing concepts that work well. Sales funnels are created to bring a customer through the sales process. You have a much better chance of an offer being purchased from a visitor who is familiar with you. Someone who has visited your website, read your emails and posts and been to your social media site. Sales to a cold first touch prospect are much less likely.

Writing and design are a big part of your marketing strategy. You need to be creating content on a regular basis that is topically relevant. We have both a writing guide and a guide to outsourcing your writing needs. 

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affiliate sales funnel
Traffic by Search Position

Traffic and Search Position

You want to chooses your topics and keywords very carefully if the goal is search traffic. You need to find topics that are hopefully trending. Remember, the keywords that you target must have enough search volume to bring traffic, but not so competitive that your page ends up on page 5 in the search results. The top 10 results in Goggle search get almost all of the traffic. The top 3 get over 50% of the traffic. Here are some more interesting search engine results page (SERP) findings …

  • Fewer than 1 of 200 searchers go to page 2
  • Fewer than 10 of 100 even go the bottom of page 1
  • 65% select an organic result; the rest click ads or Google snippets
  • 83% just one click and do not return to the SERP

Remember, you need to create an audience or use paid traffic. There are a number of ways you can get traffic beyond SEO …

  • Paid Ads — you can purchase ads
  • Social — FaceBook, Pinterest, etc.
  • Video — Videos are easier to rank and very affective.
  • Email – Email let’s you interact with your audience
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Ad-driven Traffic

You can purchase traffic with advertising and many are successful at this. It is a more advanced affiliate concept and you have now added the cost of the ads to your business model. Many new affiliates have spent more on ads than they have received in commissions. You have eliminated one of the best aspects of affiliate marketing. Very low startup costs.

For most affiliates, the SEO traffic niche model is a better one.

Social Traffic

Social media is a key part of many affiliate sites. Some niches are very visual and work well with social media sites like Pinterest. These include sites like:

  • Beauty and Makeup
  • Fashion
  • Jewelry
  • Design
  • Furniture
  • Weddings and Events
  • Many others …

Even if you don’t view social media as your primary platform, it is still an ideal platform to spread the word about your content. It is a basic part of most content marketing strategies.

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Video Traffic

Youtube and other video distribution sites are a great way to get your message out. People love videos and they are easier to rank in search for many niche keywords. What’s in the box type reviews as well as instructional topics perform very well.

Email Traffic

Email lists are a great way to interact with your audience. Don’t use it as a place to make a daily affiliate offer. Use it as a way to provide valuable information. You want to build trust and then your occasional offers will convert better. Bloggers with affiliate products and other niches that are not bases on physical products do especially well with email marketing. For these niches it is often the primary revenue source. “The money is in the list” as the cliché goes.

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Can I Make Money with Affiliate Marketing

Yes.

But it will not happen overnight.

Do you want to build sites to resell or generate income? Many affiliate marketers will get a site off the ground, develop the content and start to monetize the site. After a year’s worth of earnings, they will sell the site. Affiliate marketing sites sell for 20-40 times their monthly earnings. So if you are making $2k per month you can expect around $60,000+ for the site. You can also buy affiliate sites to hit the ground running and know that you have a viable niche. Other quick-start options are purchasing a Built for You site.

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One thing to consider is that there is a startup period where you are developing content and getting better positioning from Google. They typically “sandbox” you for 4-6 months as you are evaluated and gain authority via your content and backlinks. Purchasing an aged or income-producing site gives you a jump-start. Or you can just use this time to create a great base of content. Remember affiliate marketing is a long-game business.

Myths & Misconceptions

There are a number of misconceptions, myths and outright BS in the affiliate marketing world. Many affiliates are new to Internet marketing and become easy targets for questionable sales pitches.

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Be careful.

When I look through my emails I see many pitches like make money fast, set it and forget it passive income, automatic site builders, PLR content sites, etc. There is also a lot of misinformation and outdated advice.

Let’s try to cut through the noise and dispel the worst of these notions.

1 — It’s Fast Money

Affiliate marketing success does not happen overnight. The money is definitely there but you must first build an audience.

Since you are typically dependent on search for traffic, you must also gain Google’s trust and anointment as an authority. You must create content that helps visitors with buying intent to answer their questions. All of these things take time. 

If you have an existing blog or another site with traffic you can monetize that quickly with affiliate marketing, otherwise patience and perseverance are critical to your success.

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2 — You Must Use Only Amazon

While Amazon is still one of the best affiliate marketplaces for affiliate marketers there are many other options. Amazon is still a good foundation for your affiliate marketing. The reason is two-fold.

First, with over 600 million products, they have products for every possible niche you can be involved with. And secondly, they have a huge trust factor. No one thinks twice about buying at Amazon. When users are referred to Amazon by an affiliate they often make other purchases for which the affiliate is paid a commission.

But Amazon has its downsides: low commission rates, short cookie period to get sales credit, and terms of service that you can easily violate mistakenly. For this reason, it is best to look at other products to represent and spread your risk.

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There are marketplaces like ClickBank and ShareASale and thousand of independent offers. For most sites, the best course is to have multiple channels of revenue including multiple affiliate programs.

3 — You Need a Mentor, Coach or Course

Everything you want to learn about affiliate marketing is available for free online. However, I am a big believer in learning from others and there is certainly value in this. But it is not necessary to have a mentor or coach and there is a great risk that you are getting old information and are just a revenue source for someone. The same with the courses.

Some are great others are rehashed old ideas. There are many free Facebook groups as well. Must of what you need experiences and that is gained by taking action. One of the benefits of affiliate marketing is the low startup cost so there is no downside to learning on the job.

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4 — You Need to be a Technical Whiz

The technical demands of affiliate marketing are not an obstacle for most people. In fact, sometimes people with a strong technical background get too bogged down in plugins, themes, WordPress performance, and other technical issues at the expense of content and marketing.

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They also are prone to overspend on shiny objects and waste a lot of time testing and evaluating.

Best to start with a basic layout and free theme and start adding content.

5 — You Must Live in the USA

Affiliate marketing is location independent.

Most companies working with affiliate marketers have few if any limitations on your location. In fact, affiliate marketing is one of the best ways for someone living in a smaller country market to reach a larger market like the US or European countries.

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6 — All Traffic is Good Traffic

High volumes of traffic may generate a few dollars in advertising revenue on your site but for traffic to convert to affiliate sales, you want traffic from visitors with buying intent.

Consider someone whose search at Google is “acoustic guitar”. Most likely they are looking for information about guitars, different sizes, how to tune, how to string, etc. Sure some may go on to buy one from this search – but not many. Compare that to those searching for, “best guitar for beginners” or “acoustic guitar sale”. These searches have buying intent.

Google also now understands the intent difference and will direct the users to other sites with more general information, not your site with reviews of guitars and articles on how to select a guitar to purchase, etc.

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7 — Google Hates Affiliates

Check out the top results for most buying searches like “best xyz product”. You will find these are dominated by affiliate marketers big and small. If Google really hated affiliates you would not see these companies so high in the rankings.

What Google hates is spammy affiliates with low-quality content. Google does not want to direct a user to a site with ads above the fold and hundreds of affiliate links all over the content.

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They want their users to get valuable information which should include where to purchase a product if the search was one with buying intent.

8 — You Must Have a Website

Many successful affiliates are promoting there products on YouTube and social media channels like Pinterest and Facebook. You can start with your Facebook page, create some Facebook videos, email offers to your list, or redirect to single landing pages vs a full-blown website.

There are many options and types of ways to reach affiliates. Most people will eventually have an affiliate website but that does not need to come first.

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9 — Passive Automated Income

It takes effort and activity to be successful. New content, backlink outreach, and other tasks are required.

This passive automated income myth is usually suggested by someone trying to sell you something. It should be a red flag when you come across these suggestions and offers.

Certainly, successful sites have stages of effort and building the initial site, content, email responders etc. is a larger effort than the ongoing requirements to find new products and post new content.

But it is never passive. If you are getting sales from a passive website you would be getting many more sales with activity.

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10 — You Must Use Dedicated Plugins and Themes

We make Prosociate one of the most popular and feature reach plugins for Amazon and eBay affiliates. So we would love to have you use our tools. But you don’t need these tools to get started. They are best for affiliates with larger sites and many products. Or for sites trying to be an Amazon or eBay storefront.

New users are better off to focus on selecting their niche and creating content. The same applies to dedicated themes. Typically affiliate sites are very clean and have a simple design to them. Almost any theme will be fine.

If you have the budget it is better to spend money on creating great content with outsourced writers and build up the keywords that Google send traffic to.

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Ready … Set … Go

One of the great things about affiliate marketing is it is very accessible. The skills you develop developing your site and executing your content management plan are directly transferable to all other online businesses.

The biggest step you can make is to simply take action.

Unlike other ways to make money online, there are little to no startup costs.

You can get started for under $50 with a hosting company and a free WordPress theme.

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Conclusion

Affiliate marketing is a great way to earn money online from your blog, Facebook pages, YouTube video, email list and more. But don’t be fooled into believing there is any magic path to success. It takes time and effort or money to create a successful site.

You must build an audience and authority with Google – this will take some time. Like any business there are definitely skills to acquire, terms to learn, productive and unproductive methods.

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The good news is that all of this information is available online. Affiliate Marketing is perfect for beginners and continues to be one of the best starting points for bloggers and marketers to monetize a website.

Author: novcanaoaza

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