What is Affiliate Marketing? The Beginner’s Guide

Affiliate marketing is a constantly growing online business model that has completely changed the way companies promote their products. This $8.2 billion dollar industry provides marketers all over the world with a way to make a nice side, passive, or even a full-time income if they want to.  

The way you make money with affiliate marketing is by promoting other people’s products in exchange for a commission. A company has a product and they need a marketer, you’re affiliated with that product, hence, affiliate marketing. 

Affiliate marketing has served as a means of getting started for many digital marketers because it’s beginner-friendly and allows you to learn the ins and outs of online marketing while you make some money. 

In this guide, I want to break down how to be an affiliate marketer and more details about what affiliate marketing is and how you can get started. 

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

At the core, affiliate marketing is made up of two parties. You have:

A: Merchant: This is the person or business that provides the product or service.

B: Affiliate: This is the person or business that promotes the merchant’s offering through different marketing channels. 

This is where affiliate marketing for beginners stands out right away. Since you don’t have to have any products or services to make an income, you can jump right in and start making money if you know the basics of SEO, PPC, or social media marketing. 

So, for every visitor who discovers or purchases an affiliate product, the affiliate earns a predetermined commission based on a percentage of revenue generated from the sale. 

Keep in mind that most merchants who create these products and services aren’t involved in this affiliate process at all. 

For example, Amazon Associates is one of the largest affiliate programs out there. You can promote just about anything using their affiliate program. 

amazon influencer program

As a huge company, they provide very little intervention into how you earn your commissions. As long as you promote legal products and follow their rules (ex. no black hat SEO), you’ll be able to earn commissions and generate revenue without having to actually create, design, or build any products yourself. 

Types of Affiliate Marketing

As we break this down a little more, you might start to wonder where you start. It’s great if you apply for affiliate programs and have an idea of what you want to promote, but how do you actually promote products? 

Here are some of the most common ways affiliate marketers make money online: 

Content Marketing

Content marketing is one of the most prevalent and effective approaches in affiliate marketing. It revolves around creating valuable, informative, and engaging content that strategically promotes affiliate products or services to a target audience. 

This method not only educates and entertains but also seamlessly integrates affiliate links or recommendations within the content.

A big part of what makes content marketing such an effective affiliate marketing strategy is the fact that it appears so natural. 

examples of affiliate links in content

This is a guide about making your grass greener and they’re covering topics about killing weeds. You can imagine that the person may want to purchase some weed killer since they’re reading about it. 

The article makes it easy by recommending three options from trustworthy stores like Lowe’s, Walmart, and Home Depot. 

It doesn’t feel forced or pushed in this case. The article is teaching you about killing weeds and providing you with what you need to kill them. 

IMPORTANT TIP: Keep in mind that affiliate marketing does not cost the consumer any extra. The price of the product is the same and the merchant provides the affiliate with a commission for bringing them the sale. 

Influencer Marketing

Influencer marketing is a powerful strategy within affiliate marketing that leverages individuals with a significant online presence and engaged followers to promote affiliate products or services.

There are a ton of ways to do this and you don’t need a massive following for it to work either. Take social media like Tiktok for example. People are constantly creating content on Tiktok and building a tribe of loyal followers. Even with an audience of 5,000, you may be able to promote certain products and services that you use everyday. 

In fact, companies like HelloFresh, Stitchfix, BetterHelp, and His & Hers do a great job with this. 

So, let’s say you want to promote HelloFresh meals. You don’t need to be in the health, cooking, food, or anything like that niche. You can make Tiktok videos about dancing and still promote HelloFresh if it’s something you like and a service you regularly use. 

If you go to the bottom of their home page, you’ll see this:

signing up to be an influencer

You can fill out a form and send in a request to become an influencer for HelloFresh and they’ll pay you just for creating content around their product if you have a large enough following. 

Another popular way to make money as an influencer is with the Amazon Influencer program. It works the same way and you even get to create a custom storefront using Amazon’s platform. 

Again, think about how non-invasive this strategy is. You don’t have to promote anything that you personally wouldn’t use yourself so it’s incredibly natural. This is why affiliate marketing is such a powerful money-making strategy. 

Email Marketing

Email marketing seamlessly integrates with almost anything in digital marketing but especially well with affiliate marketing. If you’re able to capture someone’s email on your website or social media, chances are they are a hot lead and receptive to whatever you’re selling. 

Email marketing leverages your subscriber list, nurturing relationships and delivering valuable content while strategically introducing affiliate offers. Here’s how you can effectively combine the two:

  1. Build a targeted email list of subscribers who have opted in to receive your content. Create compelling lead magnets or incentives to encourage sign-ups, ensuring your audience shares an interest in the niche or products you plan to promote as an affiliate.
  2. Craft informative and engaging email content. Focus on providing value through newsletters, educational content, or exclusive insights related to your niche. This helps to establish trust and rapport with your subscribers.

In reality, you’re doing the same thing you would on a blog but instead, you’re doing it through email. Include clear, attention-grabbing calls to action (CTAs) with your affiliate links. These CTAs should encourage subscribers to click through and explore the affiliate products or make a purchase.

IMPORTANT TIP: Keep in mind that it’s against the terms of use for Amazon and many other affiliate programs for you to insert affiliate links into cold email. This strategy is only intended for use on an email subscriber list that you already have. 

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising

PPC involves paying for your affiliate lead in exchange for the commission you earn. Most people use Google Ads as a means of driving targeted traffic to the affiliate offer. 

There are a few important factors to keep in mind if you choose PPC as your way of making money with affiliate marketing. 

Step 1: Select a niche that aligns with your experience or a niche you already have content around. 

Step 2: Research keywords related to the affiliate products you plan to promote. I suggest using Ahrefs for this.  

Step 3: Craft attention-grabbing and persuasive ad copies that entice users to click on your ads. Highlight the unique selling points and benefits of the affiliate products.

Step 4: Ensure you have a landing page that aligns with the ad content to build trust in the user. 

Step 5: Manage your bids appropriately so you’re not overpaying for each lead. 


I included this screenshot from Ahrefs to help you understand why these steps are so important. If you look in the red box you’ll see that the CPC or cost per click for the keyword custom coffee mug is $1.50. 

This means that it costs $1.50 just to get one click on this keyword if you’re using PPC. So, if you were promoting an affiliate program that made custom coffee mugs they would have to be pretty expensive mugs for you to actually make any money since you may only make between 2-4% on each mug. 

You’re looking at almost $50 per mug just to break even. 

You need to choose a niche that has a high enough profit margin, enough traffic, and a dedicated audience that is willing to pay for products and services they love. 

Video Marketing (YouTube)

Leveraging YouTube for affiliate marketing involves creating video content that reviews, demonstrates, or recommends affiliate products or services. 

At this point, some of these methods may start blending together but there’s a nice way to differentiate them. 

I see YouTube as an opportunity to provide a more direct affiliate marketing strategy. You’re no longer hiding behind your content and using it as a way to subtle sell. You can come right out now and promote your affiliate products in the form of a review. 

affiliate marketing on youtube

Videos like this provide a ton of value to viewers and they also satisfy search intent by providing video results that are higher converting than text results; 1,200% higher to be exact… 

Let’s see if the results speak for themselves:

video search results

If I Google the keyword, you can see that the YouTube video is the number one result with the actual website of the creator being number five. 

So, in the case of product reviews, video content is potentially more powerful than written content. 

The goal is to provide value in the form of a review and then offer the affiliate in the description. Someone comes to the video, watches it, decides if they like the product, and then ultimately buys it using your link. 

Lead Generation Sites

A lead generation site is a unique strategy that functions differently from an affiliate agreement. Generally, these types of websites have an outside agreement where a lead generator is responsible for bringing leads to a company and they’re paid per lead whether it converts or not. 

lead generation affiliate site

This is a screenshot from an environmental sustainability website that generates leads for solar power companies. 

In this case, getting as much targeted traffic as possible will yield the best results. One, because the site needs to send a certain number of leads and two because the leads need to be high-quality or the recipient will stop paying for them if none convert. 

You can do this across a number of industries including moving, home improvement, utilities, lawn care, and so on.

How to Make Money as an Affiliate Marketer?

I’ve covered numerous methods of making money and how to do affiliate marketing through websites, videos, and PPC. What I didn’t cover is the actual process of making the money and how you get paid. Here’s a breakdown of what needs to happen for you to actually earn a commission: 

Pay Per Sale (PPS): This is the most common method, where affiliates earn a commission for every sale generated through their affiliate links. Commissions can be a percentage of the sale amount or a fixed fee per sale.

Pay Per Click (PPC): Affiliates receive payments for every click on their affiliate links, regardless of whether a sale occurs. Advertisers value the traffic driven to their websites through these clicks.

Pay Per Lead (PPL): In PPL programs, affiliates earn commissions when referred visitors take a specific action, such as signing up for a newsletter, filling out a contact form, or completing a survey. It doesn’t require a purchase.

Pay Per Impression (PPI): Affiliates earn money based on the number of impressions or views their affiliate banners or ads receive. This method is less common but can provide consistent income for high-traffic websites.

Recurring Commissions: Some affiliate programs offer recurring commissions, where affiliates earn a commission for each recurring payment made by referred customers. This is common in subscription-based services.

Two-Tier Affiliate Programs: Affiliates can also earn by recruiting other affiliates to join the program. They receive a percentage of the commissions earned by their recruited affiliates.

Affiliate marketers choose the method that best suits their niche, audience, and promotional strategies. Diversifying your approach can lead to multiple income streams, increasing your overall affiliate earnings.

Affiliate Marketing Programs

I’ve talked a little about affiliate marketing programs like Amazon and HelloFresh but there are a lot of programs out there that provide everyone with something they can promote. Here are some of the most popular ones (besides Amazon): 

affiliate network

ClickBank: ClickBank is an affiliate marketplace where you can search between hundreds of thousands of affiliate programs spanning all kinds of niches. They have self-help courses, health and wellness products, home improvement products, and more. 

ShareASake: Similar to ClickBank, ShareASale is a marketplace where you can find affiliate programs that work with your niche. They offer a user-friendly platform and a database of information to help you get started. 

CJ Affiliate: I’ve used CJ Affiliate for years and they are one of the oldest and largest affiliate marketing networks. They connect you with a ton of brands and even provide banner images, graphics, and email marketing templates to help you promote their sellers.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to choosing an affiliate network and you’ll find a lot of overlap between these. Keep in mind that the commission rate and terms will vary from program to program so you’ll want to find something that works for you. 

Benefits of Joining an Affiliate Program

Now that you know how to do affiliate marketing let’s talk about some of the benefits of joining a program. Whether you already have a site with traffic or a following on social media, there are numerous reasons to monetize that traffic using affiliate marketing. Let’s talk about them. 

Passive Income

I don’t really like to say that affiliate marketing is “passive” because it’s slightly misleading. A lot of influencers love to deem affiliate marketing as the most passive income digital marketing strategy but there’s really no such thing. 

That said, it does offer the potential to earn passive income. If you create a website with affiliate offers and you successfully drive traffic to it, it can become passive without requiring constant hands-on involvement. 

Low Startup Cost

Something that makes affiliate marketing desirable for beginners is the low cost to get started. You don’t need any product development, inventory, employees, or investment if you’re handling all the content creation yourself. 

Diverse Income Streams

Affiliates can diversify their income by promoting a wide range of products or services across different niches and industries. This diversification reduces dependency on a single revenue source. 

Since there are also numerous affiliate programs and organizations, you don’t have to rely on a single source. If a product isn’t in stock or something is no longer available, you can easily switch to prevent lost revenue. 

If you had to actually hold the products yourself you wouldn’t likely be able to replenish the inventory as fast. 

No Customer Service

So, this isn’t always the case and it depends on the price of the products you’re promoting. In most cases though, the company that actually makes the products will provide customer service, fulfillment, and inventory management. 

Low Risk

Since affiliate marketing does not involve product development or significant financial investment, it carries minimal risk. Affiliates can experiment with different strategies and niches without substantial financial exposure.

Case Studies in Affiliate Marketing

I’ve talked a lot about the potential of affiliate marketing so now let’s see some real-life success stories. 

affiliate marketing on tiktok

This is a beautiful example of the power of affiliate marketing. This guy has generated a 305,000-person TikTok following by literally vlogging his normal life and explaining how it’s okay to have a normal life. 

In a world that’s full of fake influencers flashing money and alternative lifestyles, he’s stressed the importance of accepting life as it is sometimes. 

If you follow the link on that arrow it takes you to a series of affiliate links and he also promotes things like natural greens, coffee mugs, food subscriptions, clothing, and pet items in his content. 

affiliate product review website

SmokedBBQsource.com is a niche affiliate website that makes its money reviewing grills, smokers, and accessories. 

The site managed to accumulate millions of visitors which has likely led to hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in revenue. 

If you have something you’re passionate about and understand this is a great way to monetize it. Keep in mind that you don’t need to physically have the products to review them either. 

Most affiliate websites start by reviewing products based on product pages, forums, and other review websites. Pull the information you can find and throw your own spin on it. If you have enough knowledge and expertise, you’ll be fine. 

FAQs about Affiliate Marketing

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions we get when we ask “What is affiliate marketing”? 

How to be an affiliate marketer?

You can start right now. Find a niche that you’re passionate about and have a basic level of knowledge of. Figure out what methods of monetization you like to use whether it’s blogging, vlogging, product reviews, or whatever. Then get started. 

The key to success is not letting yourself get overloaded with information. There are a million ways to do affiliate marketing but you’ll never have success if you sit back and research yourself to death. Get started, be consistent, and put a little effort into it each and every day. 

What are the best affiliate marketing programs?

The best affiliate marketing programs are the ones you have knowledge and expertise about. It will come through in your content and will help you convert better. Make sure the program you choose has a high enough commission percentage to make it easier for you to make money. 

Take it from experience. One of my most successful affiliate websites is a fishing website promoting Amazon products but it’s very hard to make money promoting a $5.00 lure. Go for a high-ticket item if you can. 

What are the best affiliate marketing niches?

The best affiliate marketing niches are ones people are passionate and willing to spend a lot of money in. Golf, wellness, automotive, weight loss, etc. The niche should either be something that addresses a pain point like wanting to lose weight or something that people are so serious about that they spend way too much money on, like golf. 

How much money do affiliate marketers make?

According to ZipRecruiter, the average income of an affiliate marketer is around $72,000 per year. This will vary dramatically based on their experience and how they make the money. 

If they work for someone else, they’ll receive a salary like that but if you’re on your own, the income potential is endless. 

Final Thoughts

Equipped with your newfound knowledge of affiliate marketing, what do you think? Do you see this as a viable way for you to start making money online? 

Maybe you make money already through ads or some other means of revenue? Affiliate marketing doesn’t have to be the only way you make money online but it’s a great way to get started. 

I highly recommend learning as much as you can about making money with affiliate marketing and then diving in with both feet. That’s what I did and it’s been paying the bills ever since! 

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