Do you want to escape the monotony of the 9 to 5?
What if you could earn money from anywhere, at any time, and without the overheads and responsibility of stocking and shipping products?
That’s what affiliate marketing empowers you to do.
Affiliate marketing is the process where you earn a commission for promoting other people’s products. You find a product you like, promote the product on your website, and receive a commission for every sale that you generate.
At its base level, that’s how affiliate marketing works.
Affiliate marketing has seen a massive boom in popularity over the last decade. If we look at Google Trends, we can see that searches for affiliate marketing have nearly quadrupled over the previous five years.
Despite it being a rapidly growing industry, affiliate marketing has been around for a long time.
Back in 1989, three events changed the world forever.
In Germany, the Berlin wall came down, signifying the end of the cold war.
In Switzerland, the British software engineer Tim Berners-Lee created the royalty-free World Wide Web and the internet as we know it came into existence.
In the USA, the entrepreneur William J. Tobin founded the PC Flowers & Gifts company - the first brand ever to use an affiliate marketing program.
In just two years, PC Flowers & Gifts generated $6m in sales. By 1998, William J. Tobin had nearly 3000 affiliates promoting his products.
As with every innovation in digital marketing, Amazon was quick to notice the opportunity affiliate marketing presented. Amazon Associates was launched in 1996, and its template for affiliate marketing programs is the standard that still dominates the industry today.
Affiliate marketing has developed with the growth of the internet. With the rise of e-commerce at the end of the 90s, the boom of online publishing in the 2000s, and the ascent of the influencer and social media in the 2010s, affiliate marketing has blossomed into a $12 billion industry.
Affiliate marketing spending in the U.S. from 2010 to 2022:
Now, there are a lot of different types of affiliate websites out there, and lots of different ways you can make money by promoting other people’s products and services.
Creating your own website is an excellent option. You don’t need to make a significant investment to get started, and with so many WordPress themes and website builders out there, it doesn’t require extensive coding and web design experience.
Your job as an affiliate marketer is to help people find the products that will help them overcome problems, achieve their goals, and that offer the best value for money.
Let’s take a look at the different types of affiliate marketing websites and how they make money by helping people.
These websites help people choose the right products by providing reviews and comparisons. You can find product review websites covering every product under the sun. They offer comparisons, reader reviews, discuss the pros and cons, and more.
The goal of a product review website is to publish high-quality content that educates the reader, establishes trust, and develops a relationship with their audience.
The Wire Cutter is an excellent example of a product review website that helps its readers to determine the best products available in a wide variety of categories.
The Wire Cutter has built a solid reputation with its readers by conducting rigorous testing for every product review. Most of the reviews they publish are in-depth and are 1000s of words in length.
By comprehensively testing every product, people have come to trust the recommendations and reviews. When someone clicks a link in a product review and completes a purchase, the Wire Cutter receives a commission on the sale.
The Wire Cutter has built a massive audience of regular readers and was purchased by The New York Times for $30m in 2016.
Price comparison sites save people time and money by offering a quick way to compare the price of products online.
Founded by three university graduates back in 2001, Skyscanner has seen massive growth and was eventually purchased by Ctrip for $1.9b in 2016.
Skyscanner's sole focus is on helping people find the best value flights, hotels, and car rentals. When people find the best deal, they click the affiliate link and head over to the vendor's website to complete their purchase. The price comparison website earns a commission on the sales that they generate.
Personal blogs might not look like other affiliate websites on the list, but they still generate the vast majority of their income by promoting and recommending products to their readers.
Making Sense of Cents is a great example of a personal blog that publishes high-quality content to help people. It earns an affiliate income by recommending and promoting different products. Michelle created Making Sense of Cents to document her journey to pay off her student debts.
Personal blogs make money by publishing high-quality content to build an audience around a topic and recommending products to earn a commission.
In the case of Making Sense of Cents, Michelle makes money by promoting products and services around personal finance and making money online niches.
It’s a great example of a personal blog that has developed into a profitable online affiliate business.
While product review websites like The Wire Cutter cover lots of different categories, there are smaller review websites that cover everything in a single product niche.
HeadPhones Addict is focused solely on headphones.
Rather than publishing reviews in a host of different categories, niche review websites focus entirely on a single category. HeadPhones Addict has established itself as an authority on all things headphones and built a trusting audience. It earns commissions through affiliate links to headphone retailers.
Product review websites help people find the best products, price comparison websites help people find the best deals, and how-to websites help people to accomplish a task with step-by-step guides and tutorials.
Website Setup is a perfect example of a how-to website that has established itself as an authority in its field with in-depth and extensive content.
How-to websites earn a commission by including affiliate links to products and services that help people accomplish tasks.
In the case of Website Setup, it’s a how-to website that teaches everything you need to know to get a website up and running. They make money by promoting affiliate links for web hosting, domain purchasing, and more. The key to a successful how-to website is exceptional content and tutorials.
Coupon websites help people save both time and money by providing coupons and vouchers for everything from restaurants to e-commerce stores. The first paper-free voucher has launched by Coca Cola way back in 1881, and people have been crazy about discounts, exclusive deals, and coupons ever since.
Research from Hawk Incentives reveals that 92% of U.S. consumers claim to “always” be on the lookout for deals and discounts.
Voucher Codes is a perfect example of a high-quality coupon website.
Coupon websites make money by providing affiliate link deals and discounts to their visitors. When a user clicks on a discount or voucher, they are directed to the retailer's website, and the coupon website receives a commission on the sale.
Voucher Codes provides vouchers and codes for over 2,000 UK retailers, restaurants, attractions, and online shops - helping people save money with their purchases and earning an affiliate commission.
Helpful tools are a great way to attract people to your website and earn an affiliate income. While Money Saving Expert (MSE) focuses on personal finance, publishing in-depth reviews, blog posts, and price comparisons, it’s the sophisticated free tools on offer that generate so much traffic and affiliate income.
Originally a one-man website owned by Martin Lewis, MSE has grown to become the leading personal finance website in the UK. The site was sold to MoneySupermarket for £87m in 2012 but maintains its excellent reputation for helping people with their finances.
MSE offers a heap of excellent free personal finance tools to help people, and it generates a substantial income through affiliate links. From credit card eligibility calculators to helpful templates and comparison tools, MSE helps people get to grips with their finances and earns a considerable affiliate marketing commission.
As long as you consistently maintain a stream of traffic to your website and your affiliate links, you can make a decent income from affiliate marketing. A key benefit is that once you rank in search engine results and attract organic traffic, you can continue to make money for months and even years after you originally published your content. While some people supplement their existing income, lots of affiliate marketers go full time once they’ve built their website and generate significant streams of affiliate marketing passive income.
But how much money do affiliate marketers make?
In 2017, VigLink conducted an in-depth survey to find out how much affiliate marketers earned in 2016. The results show that 9% of affiliate marketers made more than $50,000, and around 65% generated 5 to 20% of their total yearly income from affiliate marketing.
The survey also showed that the longer you have been affiliate marketing, the more money you are likely to earn per year - 60% of the highest-earning affiliate marketers have been running their affiliate business for five years or more.
The best affiliate marketers make $2m plus per year. In a 12 month period, Jason Stone achieved $7m in retail sales through affiliate marketing.
By 2022, the total spend on affiliate marketing in the U.S. is set to top $8.2 billion. The industry is growing year on year and shows no sign of slowing up. Modern consumers want to make informed purchasing decisions, not to be sold too. By helping people to make the right purchasing decisions for their needs, you can carve out your share of the multi-billion affiliate marketing industry.
Compared to other business ideas, the barrier of entry for affiliate marketing is tiny. You don’t need to know other people in the industry to get a foot in the door, you don't need a university degree, and you don’t need to make any significant investment to get going. After the small initial cost of setting up your website, the overheads for your affiliate business are next to nothing.
All you need is a laptop, an internet connection, and somewhere to work. You don’t even need to quit your day job. You can treat your affiliate marketing as a side job for the first few months and go full-time once you’ve grown your affiliate marketing passive income streams.
Ditch the commute and make the world your office. The flexibility of being an affiliate marketer means you can work from anywhere with an internet connection. You can work from the beach, the office, or from the sofa at home. You decide when and where you want to work.
Once you’ve built up your affiliate marketing passive income streams, you can literally make money while you sleep. A solid piece of content that ranks well in search engines can generate sales and commissions for many years to come. Imagine going away for a relaxing weekend and opening your laptop on a Monday morning to discover you’ve made multiple sales and commissions.
The scalability of affiliate marketing means you can expand your business while keeping your overheads low. You don't need a fixed office, you don't need a warehouse to store products, and you don’t need any staff to manage customer support.
You can shape your affiliate career to be exactly how you want it to be. If you are getting paid for talking about topics you're interested in and reviewing products you use, you’re living a life most people can only dream of.
The first step towards making money as an affiliate marketer is to choose a niche. Your niche will determine what your website is about and the kinds of products that you are going to promote. You don't have to be an expert in the topic, but you do need to find it interesting if you're going to be able to write about it and not run out of ideas for content or lose interest.
Before you rush into anything and run the risk of burnout, you should take the time to make a plan. While an affiliate business doesn't require substantial financial investment, you are going to be investing a valuable resource; your time.
The majority of affiliate marketers start part-time and grow their passive income streams before becoming full-time affiliate marketers. If you are going to balance your current work with your new affiliate career, it’s a good idea to create a schedule to maximize your productivity.
Set aside time for keyword research, content creation, and content promotion. You’ll need to know how many posts you can write per week and create a publishing calendar to ensure that you always have new content ideas ready.
The next step is to build your website. This is going to be the hub of your affiliate marketing efforts. There are loads of beginner-friendly website builders and WordPress themes out there, making it easy for a beginner with no coding experience to create a website.
To make money as an affiliate marketer, you need to find products that are profitable, relevant to your niche, and interesting to your audience. You need to be strict with what you choose to promote. Just because you like a product, doesn't mean your audience will.
Keep the needs of your audience in mind when you choose your affiliate products. The more relevant the product is to your niche, the more likely that people will convert, and the more money you will make.
Check out the next section for more advice on choosing affiliate products to promote.
Once you’ve created your website and found relevant products to promote, you need to drive traffic to your affiliate links. There are lots of different techniques you can use to drive traffic, but they can all be broken down into two sections; paid traffic and free traffic.
Paid traffic is from advertisements in search results, on social media, and any other place where you pay to display your ad. Free traffic is mainly generated from ranking in the organic search results. As long as you create quality content, promote great products, and drive high-quality traffic to your affiliate links, you will make sales and earn commission.
You can find affiliate programs for every kind of product that you can think of, but you need to be selective about the products you choose to promote. Here are some pointers to help you narrow down your options and build your affiliate business on solid foundations.
If you have a website about fishing, trying to promote golfing gear to your audience isn’t going to work. The key to successful affiliate marketing is to tailor your affiliate offers to your audience. If your audience comes to your website to hear about fishing, they don't want to hear about golf products. Choose products that your audience will be interested in.
The next step is to decide which type of product to promote. There are three categories of affiliate products:
Each product category has its pros and cons, and it’s important to know which is right for your affiliate business.
Physical products cover everything from sports gear to cosmetics and pet food. A key advantage of promoting physical products is working with the biggest name in e-commerce; Amazon.
Amazon Associates offers products in every niche you could think of, and it’s easy to join:
People know and trust Amazon, so getting people to commit to a purchase doesn’t require as much work as promoting an Information product from a relatively unknown merchant.
There are also usually fewer returns when you promote physical products. It’s easy for someone to ask for their money back after purchasing a downloadable information product, but not so easy if they have to send a physical product back to a vendor.
However, due to the extra costs involved in manufacturing, storing, and shipping physical products, affiliates receive a much lower rate of commission compared to Information products. Amazon offers between 1 to 10% commission depending on the product category:
Information products include downloadable e-books, online courses, guides, webinars, and more. They are usually focused on helping people to learn something or overcome a challenge or problem, making them easier to sell to your audience.
For example, Lingualia offers an affiliate program for its online language courses:
Promoting information products has some compelling advantages. You can earn a much higher commission promoting information products than you can with physical products. Many information products offer up to 75% commission on any sales that you generate.
Information products also usually have a solid marketing strategy funnel to help generate sales. All you have to do is bring people into the marketing funnel, and the merchant should take over until the conversion. You can find information products on affiliate networks like ClickBank, or by contacting a vendor directly.
Services can be a profitable affiliate product to promote. Think about the services you use regularly. If you run a business with a website, you already have some experience with services like web hosting, website builders, and logo makers.
All of these services are viable candidates for affiliate promotion. Bluehost is a popular service product, with affiliates receiving $65 per qualified signup:
You can use your experience to help your audience find the services that provide the best solution to their needs. Service products usually pay a higher commission than physical products, with some vendors offering up to 50% depending on what the service entails.
Before you dedicate time and effort into promoting a product, you want to make sure that there is a demand. Will your audience be interested in the product, and will there still be interest 6-12 months down the line.
Google Trends is a great free tool for analyzing the demand for affiliate products. You can see the current search volume and search volume history. For example, if you started a website in the pet niche, you could use Google Trends to determine the interest in potential affiliate products. The search term “dog shampoo” has received significant search volume that has increased over time:
That’s a strong indication that there is a growing market for that product, and that your audience of pet enthusiasts would be interested in the product.
The easiest way to find affiliate products is to sign up to an affiliate network. ClickBank is a popular affiliate network with thousands of products across hundreds of niches.
You’ll find a huge range of downloadable information products with commission ranging from 50-75% and some physical products too. ClickBank is excellent for beginners because you can see how well products are selling and how many other affiliates are promoting the product.
When you are looking for products to promote on ClickBank, you want to use the Gravity rating as an indicator of whether the product is viable. The higher the rating, the more affiliates that are generating sales promoting the product.
A high Gravity rating means more competition, but it also means that there is more demand for the product. You might want to avoid products with a Gravity rating of 150+ due to the amount of competition, but don’t want to waste your time promoting a product with a rating of less than 20. A 20+ Gravity rating indicates that affiliates are making money promoting the product and that the merchant is trustworthy.
ClickBank is an excellent place for beginner affiliate marketers to find products to promote, but there are plenty of other networks out there.
Affiliate networks act as an intermediary between affiliates and merchants. Affiliate marketers can sign up to the affiliate network and easily find affiliate programs to join, while merchants can expand their reach and attract new customers by placing their affiliate programs on the network and recruiting affiliates to promote their products.
Whatever niche you are targeting, you will always find products to promote on affiliate networks. We’ve already covered Amazon Associates and ClickBank, so here’s a shortlist of some of the other popular affiliate networks you can join.
Commission rate: Depends on the merchant.
Cookie duration: Depends on the merchant.
ShareASale is a well-established affiliate network with over 4,500 merchants and thousands of products to promote. For physical products, you’ll find affiliate programs from well-known brands like NFL Shop, Warby Parker, and Reebok alongside thousands of smaller merchants and businesses. If you’re looking for services and digital products, you’ll find plenty of web hosting providers, WordPress themes, and downloadable website plug-ins.
Commission rate: Depends on the merchant.
Cookie duration: Depends on the merchant.
CJ Affiliate was established back in 1998 and is one of the most popular affiliate networks. Affiliate marketers earned a total of $1.8 billion in commission through CJ Affiliate last year. You can sign up to affiliate programs for thousands of merchants across hundreds of different niches, including household names Lowes, GoPro, Priceline, and Office Depot. ShareASale has a more beginner-friendly dashboard, but CJ Affiliate is well worth your time.
Commission rate: Depends on the merchant.
Cookie duration: Depends on the merchant.
Awin boasts over 13,000 different merchants and a massive range of products you can choose to promote. With such a vast number of merchants, you will definitely find something that appeals to your audience. Just like ShareASale and CJ Affiliate, they work with both major brands and smaller merchants, including HP, StubHub, Under Armour, and Etsy.
Commission rate: Depends on the merchant.
Cookie duration: Depends on the merchant.
While you won't find the range of merchants that you will on some of the other affiliate networks, Rakuten Marketing enables you to join exclusive affiliate programs with some notable brands. Alongside household names, Macy’s, Walmart, and Best Buy, you’ll also find plenty of smaller brands among the 1000 merchants on the network.
Commission rate: Up to 50% depending on the product.
Cookie duration: 30 days.
If you want to promote products in the health niche, Marker Health should be the first affiliate network you look at. You’ll find a range of over 200 products for skincare, cosmetics, sports nutrition, and more. It’s a beginner-friendly affiliate network with some products offering up to 50% commission and the chance for recurring income. You not only receive a commission on initial sales, but also on future purchases from your referrals.
Whichever products you choose to promote, you can only make money if you build an audience and convince them to take action. To help you on your way to making your first sale, here are five bonus tips to kickstart your affiliate career.
The more that you know about your audience, the better you will be at determining which products they will find appealing. What problems are they trying to solve? What goals are they trying to achieve?
Make sure the products that you promote offer a solution or help your audience to achieve their goals. Only choose to promote a product if it is relevant to your audience. The more relevant the product, the more likely your audience will make a purchase, and more money you will make.
The internet has been around for a long time now, and people are getting better and better at judging the trustworthiness of websites. They can spot an affiliate link, and they know if you are promoting a product purely for profit. Trust is tough to earn and very easy to lose.
You want to build a reputation as the go-to source for valuable information in your niche. It’s the returning audience that will generate the majority of your affiliate income. You need to build a lasting relationship with your audience by sharing your honest opinions and recommendations.
If your audience doesn't think you are genuine, they won’t trust your recommendations, and they won’t come back to your website. Stick to promoting products and services that you believe in, that offer value, and that your audience will find helpful.
Think of your affiliate links as an extra resource to help your audience. Provide value to your audience by making your content a reliable resource. When you do that, clicking on your affiliate links becomes the logical next step for your audience.
Invest your time into creating detailed content that helps people to solve their problems and achieve their goals, and use your affiliate links to point people what to do next. If you create a valuable resource that helps people, you will be rewarded with affiliate commission. If you rush your content and try to cram in irrelevant products, your visitors will abandon your website.
To improve as an affiliate marketer and grow your business, you need to understand what’s working and what needs to improve. The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you can access so much feedback and data on your affiliate activities. By measuring your performance, you can identify which products are most appealing to your audience, which type of content attracts the most traffic, and what you need to do to generate more clicks, sales, and commission.
While some people have achieved immediate success in affiliate marketing, for the majority of beginners, it's a steady process. You can get started quickly by building your website and publishing content. But at its heart, affiliate marketing is about building relationships. When you build a reputation in your niche, and people start to trust your recommendations, you gain more traction and generate more sales. If you offer more value to your audience than they can find elsewhere, you will get attention, and you will make money.
At the start of their affiliate marketing career, everybody asks the same question: how much money can I make?
While studies like the VigLink survey I mentioned earlier are a good indicator of the average earnings of affiliate marketers, you probably want to see some real-life examples of people that have succeeded with affiliate marketing. As with every career, what you define as success could be very different to somebody else. A person looking to supplement their current job will have very different income goals to somebody starting as a full-time affiliate marketer.
Here are three real-life affiliate marketing success stories from people at different stages of their affiliate marketing careers.
We’ve already seen how Making Sense of Cents is an example of how to make money as an affiliate marketer. Here’s a more in-depth look at Michelle’s inspirational story.
Back in 2010, Michelle graduated from University with a Master’s Degree and $38,000 of student debt. Determined to get on top of her finances, Michelle started a blog to document her journey and help others become debt-free.
In 2019, Michelle spoke to Forbes magazine about her start in affiliate marketing, “I had absolutely no idea what I was doing,” she said. “I started my blog just for myself so that I could learn more about personal finance.”
Making Sense of Cents has come a long way since then. Michelle now works around 20-30 hours per week developing new content ideas, and working on her social media profiles. On average, Michelle brings in $159,000 per month from her website.
Hieu has achieved success with a different affiliate marketing business model. His story shows how there are different ways you can achieve financial freedom and be successful as an affiliate marketer.
Rather than building up a single website as a source of affiliate marketing passive income, Hieu builds websites from scratch and then sells them for a hefty profit when they achieve a consistent monthly income.
Hieu’s first affiliate website was in the seasonal sports niche. After working part-time on building his website for nine months, Hieu was earning around $1,600 per month in affiliate commission. That’s when he decided to cash in and sell his website for 10x that amount. After the sale, Hieu started several new niche sites working full-time as an affiliate marketer.
Back in 2008 and at the peak of the global financial crisis, Pat Flynn was laid off from his job as an architect. He turned to the internet for his new career and has gone on to become one of the most successful affiliate marketers around.
Pat runs several niche sites but maintains that the secret to his success is helping people to change their lives. In a 2013 interview, Pat revealed, “The money's cool, but just hearing people tell me that I've changed their lives - that they can now spend more time with their kids… I mean, that's why I do what I do, the money is just a by-product of that.”
In 2017, Pat earned $2,171,652.55 from his online businesses, with 65% of that income generated through affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is the easiest way to make money online. You don’t have to worry about storing and shipping products, you can work from anywhere, and you can be your own boss. But it’s important to remember that affiliate marketing is performance-based. How much effort you are willing to invest is directly related to what you will achieve. If you work hard and dedicate yourself to your new career as an affiliate marketer, you’ll soon earn your first commission and start to grow your affiliate business.