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What is Affiliate Marketing and How does it Work? – A Beginners Guide for 2020 and beyond

July 20, 2020

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what is affiliate marketing

What is affiliate marketing?

Search and you will find at least 10 different websites that will tell you that affiliate marketing is all about making bucket full of money without really doing any thing.

If you fell for it and are here to get more information, then you are going to be utterly disappointed.

But if you are willing to learn about affiliate marketing and how it works, then stay on.

Affiliate marketing has been the point of discussion since the time a few well known marketers mentioned it as one of the most reliable forms of passive income.

So what really is affiliate marketing?

Before we get into it, let me ask you a question.

Ever wondered how a Doctor gets his clients? Or, have you thought about how you bought your last consumer durable?

I once happened to ask a doctor that is a family friend. He had a lot of clients but I have never seen him advertising his services.

And he responded with a smile, “Word of Mouth”.

Word of mouth is recommendations, in simple terms.

We human beings have this habit of talking about anything and everything that we are happy about. So when you are happy about the last consultation with a doctor, you talk about the experience to your friends and family.

The next time they need a consultation, the first name that pops up in their mind is of the same doctor because they have a first hand information of the services he provides and that too from somebody they trust.

The doctor gets a new business.

This is the case with most other products and service as well.

We buy a Television from a specific brand and if we are happy we talk about it. When somebody from that group that we spoke to planned on buying a new Television, the first brand that they will go and check out will be the one that you recommended.

But then, is “Word of mouth” only about endorsing a product or, praising a service.

Not really. Bad experiences are also as vocal as good experiences.

So when we talk about a bad experience with the service station of a specific car brand or, the after sales service of a specific RO water purifier we are using “Word of mouth”, albeit with the intent to warn our friends and family from having to face the same bad experience.

Why do you think that organizations spend a fortune on customer support (rephrased these days as Customer Experience, understandably)?

It is just so that the word of mouth about their brand is positive.

I digressed.

Back to what is affiliate marketing.

When this “word of mouth” gets paid, it is called as “affiliate marketing“.

To put that into perspective, imagine you referred the services of your doctor to a friend of yours. When he needed a consultation, he visits the same doctor and tells him that he was referred by YOU. The doctor then pays you a commission out of the fees that he collected from this friend of yours, for referring his services.

This is affiliate marketing.

What is Affiliate Marketing – The Definition

According to wikipedia, the definition of affiliate marketing is as below –

Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts


There are 3 keys things in the definition –

  • Its a performance-based marketing : So you only get paid when you perform. In other words if there is an action like a “SALE”.
  • The Business rewards the affiliates : The reward (Commission) is paid to the affiliate by the business
  • Its a result of the affiliate’s own marketing efforts : You perform, you earn. The concept is straightforward

Now that we understood what is affiliate marketing, the key question is – Is the market big enough to pay everybody who gets into affiliate marketing?

According to the Statista, the U.S. affiliate marketing spend is due to reach 8.2 billion U.S. dollars by 2022, up from 5.4 billion recorded in 2017.

In India too, affiliate marketing is gaining importance. Studies indicate that the affiliate marketing industry in India is expected to touch $835 million by just 2025.

If you are interested in a few more statistics about affiliate marketing and the industry, you can read this affiliate marketing stats article.

But the crux of the entire discussion is –

There is enough and more for everyone here in the affiliate marketing ecosystem.

So, back to the discussion about what is affiliate marketing.

We saw the 3 key elements in affiliate marketing from the definition given in Wikipedia. But for these 3 key elements to happen, there are 4 necessary core players. As per Wikipedia, these are –

  • the merchant
  • the network
  • the publisher
  • the customer

Some experts talk about 3 of them and doesn’t include “the network”. But then, that definition is a little outdated, according to me.

Earlier in the days, operating an affiliate program wasn’t as difficult as it is today. So any business could operate an affiliate program and could manage the overhead activities that came along with it.

But with the expansion of the system, these overhead activities have gone up – tracking sales, paying on time, providing support to affiliates, making promotional resources available and the most difficult of all, recruiting affiliates; every one of these activities became complicated and difficult to manage.

Hence it made sense to outsource this too, just like everything else in today’s world. That’s when the relevance of “the network” became even more important.

And add to it the readily available huge network of affiliates in a good affiliate network, the program is up and running in no time.

Now with that out of the way, let us discuss about the players in a little more detail.

The Merchant

The business that creates or, sells the product is called “the merchant”. He is the one who pays the commission to the affiliates.

Creating a product or, a service isn’t as difficult as promoting it. Companies spend thousands of dollars in advertising.

Recruiting affiliates to promote your products saves all of that money. And hence it doesn’t hurt businesses to pay the affiliates. That’s why some affiliate programs even pay upto 75% as commissions.

In fact there are some programs that even pay a 100% as commission. We will come to it in a little while from now.

Pretty much every brand/company has an affiliate program today. So all of them are “Merchants”, from an affiliate marketing perspective as well.

Clothing brands like Reebok, Sheln, Zappos etc. all have affiliate programs. Pretty much every eCommerce company too, have their own affiliate programs.

In India, you can find an affiliate program for –

  • eCommerce companies like Flipkart, Snapdeal and Amazon.
  • Matrimonial websites like Shaadi.com, Jeevasathi.com etc.
  • Travel planners like makemytrip.com, yatra.com, Tripadvisor.com
  • Job sites like indeed.com, monster.com

That shows the wide spectrum of affiliate programs that are available today.

The Network

An affiliate marketing network is basically an aggregator of affiliate programs.

They necessarily need not have a product or, service of their own though some affiliate networks run a 2nd tier affiliate program, which basically involves an affiliate program for recruiting affiliates.

Some of the prominent affiliate marketing networks are Clickbank.com, CJ.com, Shareasale.com etc. These networks have a wide variety of products spanning different niches.

clickbank affiliate marketing network

Shareasale has recently become one of the go to networks for a wide variety of niche. Check out some of the merchants that run an affiliate program with them.


So irrespective of which niche you are in, you will be able to find an affiliate program with these networks.

There are other niche specific networks as well like markethealth.com which has a wide range of products in the health niche.

Affiliate networks like JVZoo and Warriorplus cater specifically to the internet marketing niche. I use both of them to find products that I can promote.

Amazon runs the largest affiliate network. You can earn a commission on pretty much every product that is sold on Amazon. Though the % commission payout is pretty low, it can easily add up to a substantial amount if you are promoting a large number of products.

The Publisher

This is the most important player in this entire setup, at least from our perspective. And this person is “YOU” and me.

It’s the one who promotes these products to earn an affiliate commission.

This player can be an individual or, an entity. And these affiliate commissions can range from a few dollars to millions of dollars.

While we are on the point of entities being involved as publishers. I was browsing something on microsoft’s website at msn.com and noticed something. Check out the image below –

MSN disclaimer about affiliate commissions

That’s a disclaimer notice by Microsoft about affiliate commissions.

What does that mean?

Even Microsoft doesn’t want to let go of the opportunity to earn an affiliate commission. That’s probably why they are including affiliate links to products they are recommending.

Do you really think Microsoft needs to do it?

But the fact that they are a business and as a business they would utilize every opportunity to make money, is amply clear from that disclaimer.

Even if, for a moment we just believe that it is a just a notice put out there for the heck of being there, it still speaks a lot about affiliate marketing.

Isn’t it?

There are a lot of people on the internet who are living only on affiliate marketing. They are earning more than what some companies are making as profits.

And this notice by Microsoft just shows you why and how they are doing it.

Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income used to publish monthly income reports until about Dec 2017. As per his last report, his earnings were about $105,619.13

2 spi earnings 2

Matthew Woodward is another marketer that I follow regularly since his strategies and tips are pretty simple. He too was a regular in publishing his income reports until Dec 2017. Here’s a quick snapshot of his earnings from his website for the year 2017.


Ryan Robinson who is another successful affiliate marketer reported about $36K in affiliate earnings in July 2019.


There are hundreds of such affiliate marketers who have reported huge incomes from their affiliate marketing business.

I run a minimalist business. But this minimalist business too earn me enough to lead a life from this affiliate marketing business.

A single affiliate program makes me about $700 per month and from an Indian perspective $700 converts to about ₹64,000 which in itself is the salary of a typical middle class employee. That should be enough to demonstrate the power of affiliate marketing in India.

WORD OF CAUTIONThere is some amount of effort that goes into the promotional activities which eventually results in an income of the magnitude that we see above. So, it is important that you understand the fact that affiliate marketing is not an overnight get rich system.

The Customer

This is the player that everybody else in the network is trying to catch the attention off. In fact, it is here that the actual action happens.

An affiliate commission is paid only when this customer buys the product. The sale happens at this point and it is here that revenue and commissions are made.

Affiliate marketing has changed over the years and the way affiliate marketers promoted their products, too has changed.

Until about a couple of years back, affiliate marketers were using a lot of black hat techniques (if you are unaware of what “black hat” means, just do a Google search).

This resulted in a lot of customers getting scammed, which is when companies came out with stricter norms for affiliate marketers.

One of that was “the disclosure”, where every affiliate marketer had to disclose the fact that they were earning a commission from the products they are recommending (a sample of this disclosure is what you saw on the MSN website in the image above).

Amazon has a strict “disclosure” policy and so do a lot of other companies. Here’s a snapshot of the disclaimer from one of our blogs (recipe blog) where we promote a lot of Amazon products –


So whatever products you are promoting or, network you are using, you would want to check their terms and follow them judiciously if you don’t want to get into trouble.

Another important thing to note here, which is also a part of the affiliate disclaimers is the “No Extra Cost to YOU” piece.

That’s right.

A customer is never charged extra for accommodating the affiliate’s commission. The pricing of the product or, service is arrived at after considering and including all of the marketing expenses.

These days affiliate marketing has become a much cleaner playground and unethical practices just don’t work anymore. So, if you are to get in today, then you are getting into a much cleaner system.

How do You become an Affiliate Marketer

Starting an affiliate marketing business isn’t difficult. You can become an affiliate marketer without a lot of investment and with very little technical knowledge.

Having said that, some basic knowledge of WordPress is an added advantage. It gives you a little more flexibility in managing your business.

So how do you become an affiliate marketer?

Let us look at the steps involved. Here we will only be discussing about “becoming the affiliate marketer” part and not the steps involved in setting up and running a successful affiliate marketing business (we will be covering that in another section in a little more detail).

Pick a Niche

The first step involves deciding the niche that you are planning to get into. While this is a recommended step, it is not a mandatory one.

What is a niche?

In simpler terms it is a type of market, usually a subset of a larger market. Deciding on what market to get into shouldn’t be a difficult one.

Spend a little time to research on the below 2 topics and you should be able to find a niche –

  • What is a topic or, interest or, hobby that you like the most and can consider yourself as an average expert?
  • What is a market that you will find the most crowd in?

That should be enough to decide on a niche. Forbes has an excellent article on how to find a niche.

Why did I say that this is not a mandatory step to follow?

Because you don’t need to focus on only a single product or, market. Instead you could be working in different markets and promoting different products, which is something a lot of marketers do.

But then if you are looking for a success mantra is affiliate marketing, then it is important to pick a niche.

This is why you would see a mobile phone reviewer on YouTube reviewing only mobile phones and not computers. Similarly there are a lot of YouTubers who review laptops only and not all electronic gadgets.

Similarly you will find most successful affiliate marketers doing the same. They will stick to a single niche because that way you can spend your time and energy on building it strong.

For purposes of our training we will be picking the “internet marketing niche”. This is so that it becomes easier for me to explain each and every step.

Apply to a network or, the brand

The second step is to identify specific brands that you are planning to promote or, find affiliate networks that have listed products and services in the same niche.

If you are in the health niche, you can check out markethealth.com. Similarly there are other networks as well that you can join if you are in an offbeat niche, most prominent being CJ and Shareasale.

Check out a selection of offers in the insurance niche at CJ.com.


From an internet marketing perspective, some of the prominent affiliate networks are Clickbank, JVZOO and Warriorplus. In fact I primarily use these 3 affiliate networks.

If you are planning to only promote Amazon products, then all you need to do is join Amazon associates program.

One thing you might want to keep in mind is that some of these affiliate networks has an approval process. In addition to this, some of the affiliate program within these networks might also need another round of approvals.

Getting Approved

The approval process in affiliate networks primarily involves a preliminary check to see if

  • you are a genuine marketer
  • you have a plan to promote the product
  • you can provide enough proof to substantiate your claim

While getting approved can be a cumbersome process, the underlying reason is understandable. And if you have been into the entire affiliate marketing thing during the early 2000, you would realize its importance, given the amount of scamsters in business.

Getting approved with affiliate networks wouldn’t be a difficult process, if you are genuine and follow the process.

Keep the following important points in mind when applying for an approval –

  • Ensure you have jotted down about 3-4 different promotional methods
  • Put together a website that you will be using to promote the products
  • Be ready for a call from then network and be prepared to talk through whatever you have mentioned in your approval requests
  • Use proofs of acceptance other networks that you have already got approved on, if any.

If you don’t want to wait to get approved, then you might want to look for network where there is no such approval process and join them.

For eg: Clickbank, Shareasale, JVZOO, Warriorplus, Amazon etc. are such networks where there is no approval required, at least from the network.

Once you have signed up to the network, you can check the different offers that are available and decide on which offer to promote.

If you had picked a specific brand, then all you need to do is login to your affiliate dashboard and get your tracking link for the product you are promoting.

A typical tracking link will look very ugly and will have a long tail with numbers, special characters and words.

The below is an example of a tracking link at JVZoo. It is for a product that I have been selling for quite some time and have made a lot of money from.

jvzoo videomaker fx

While the above link looks much cleaner, here is a tracking link from Shareasale for one of our favorite Pinterest Marketing tools – Tailwind.


Doesn’t that look real ugly?

We will be discussing about how to make them readable and elegant, in a little while from now.

Now that you have your tracking link (the link that we get from the affiliate networks or, brands) , it’s time to direct all of your traffic to these affiliate links.

You can do this by strategically placing them at various points or, including them in your content.

How you promote this link to your visitors and how you drive traffic to them depends upon your content strategy, which is something we will be covering in a little more detail in another section here.

Get Paid for Your Sales

When the visitors you send to your affiliate links, click on the links and make a purchase, you will get commissions paid, which can then be sent to your PayPal account or, to your bank accounts directly depending upon what option is available.

But there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind –

  • You only get paid, when there is a sale
  • It is important that your affiliate ID gets tracked by the merchant for them to know that you had referred the sale. Hence ensure that you double check your links for accuracy
  • Ensure you follow the affiliate guidelines. Because if the merchants identify an issue with the sale, they might with-hold the commissions due to you

Now that we discussed how do you become an affiliate marketer, it’s time to look at some must know affiliate marketing terms because you will keep coming across these terms again and again during your affiliate marketing journey.

Also understanding these terms are important in understanding what is affiliate marketing.

Must know Affiliate Marketing terms

These are some very common must know affiliate marketing terms.

There are numerous other terms which are also variations of the ones that we will be discussing below, but we will keep all of those for a different post.

A tracking link, otherwise known as an affiliate link is the link that the merchant or, the affiliate network provides to the affiliate marketer.

It is this link that you use, to direct traffic to the offer page and get paid.

Affiliate ID

An affiliate ID is a unique numeric ID that every affiliate marketer is provided with. This affiliate ID is embedded in the tracking link provided by the merchant.

It is this ID that is used to track the origin of the sales, essentially meaning that this ID is what tells the merchant that the sale was referred by you.

Whenever you copy and use a tracking link, just make sure to check if your affiliate ID is embedded in the link.

Offer Page

It is the sales page of the merchant where the sales happen. The tracking links redirect to this offer page and it is here that the customer reads more and learns about the product.

It is here that the actual action happens.

The success of an offer depends on how good the offer page is. Its best to avoid offers which do not have a good offer page because you might just end up wasting your traffic.

A little while back we discussed about the tracking link and how ugly it looks. While we might not be interested in the looks really, what is important is that the link be a readable one.

Also, it is important that you hide your naked tracking links because there are some illegal marketers who use various techniques to steal your sales.

It is here that link cloaking comes in handy.

By cloaking a link, you practically hide the tracking link and all its elements like your affiliate ID etc. and get a clean link created.

There are various softwares and plugins that can help you do it.

Since I run all of my websites and blogs on WordPress (which is what I recommend for affiliate marketing), I use a handy little plugin called Thirsty Affiliates which does the work for me.

Multi-Tiered Affiliate Program

These are affiliate programs that pays out commissions in multiple tiers. They are marked as Tier-1, Tier-2 etc.

The 1st tier is usually the commissions from the direct sales that you refer.

Multi-tier programs give you an option to refer affiliates to the program. If any affiliate referred by you makes a sales, then both you and the affiliate referred by you earn a commission. You will be earning the Tier-2 commission and the referred affiliate will earn a Tier-1 commission.

Multi-tier programs have bigger earning potential but there aren’t a lot of programs out there that offers commissions on such multiple tiers.


Conversion refers to the completion of a sale. In simpler terms it means that the customer you referred the particular product/service to went to the merchant’s page and completed the sale.

A conversion is what earns you a commission and it is a metric that is used by most affiliates to see how effective their marketing campaigns were.

CPA – Cost Per Action

It’s a type of affiliate program that pays based on an action being taken by the customer/referral. Most affiliate programs fall into this category.

Typically a sale is an action because it involves the customer paying for a product/service and purchasing it.

Action can be of different types and it is the merchant who defines what this action will be.

But for the purpose of understanding affiliate marketing and keeping it simple, CPA programs are the ones that pay you for every sale.

CPL/PPL – Pay per lead

A Pay per lead affiliate program doesn’t have high payouts. They would typically pay you about a dollar or, so for every lead that you refer to.

This programs requires you to send traffic to a squeeze page of the merchant where the referred visitor would enter his details, usually his name and email address. This conversion is termed as a “Lead”.

A lot of programs categorize this under the CPA programs because here too, there is an action involved as part of the conversion.

I am an affiliate to a few such programs and you can earn a decent amount just by referring people to the offer page because the action required in this case is a low effort one.

CPI (Cost per Install)

This is another type of affiliate program and primarily involves promoting software products, apps and games.

The payout in this case happens when the person you referred installs the software or, the app.

CPI is also sometimes categorized in the CPA model because of an action being involved in the conversion process.

I haven’t promoted many such products, but have heard from people that they pay well.

SUB ID Tracking – SID, MID, TID

This is called by different names like SID, MID, TID etc. This is basically a tracking code to keep a track of the medium that has generated the customer for you.

For eg: Your referral methods could involve YouTube videos, Blog posts, Facebook etc. You will be creating a separate SID for each of these channels. That way, when a sale happens you will know which channel generated the sale.

The SUB IDs are usually used for tracking and analytics purposes.


Cookies are one of the methods used by affiliate networks and merchants to track the origin of a sale.

These are small text files which are stored on someone’s PC once they are referred from your site to the advertisers. Within the text file, the website url and the unique user ID is stored, which allows the affiliate network to track the commission owed to the affiliate.

This is a very important aspect of an affiliate program. To a great extent it affects your profitability from a particular program as well.

This is the duration until which a cookie will be active on a user’s system. For eg: if the cookie expiration is set to 30 days, the cookie will expire after 30 days. This in turn means that if the customer happens to complete the purchase after 30 days, you wouldn’t be credited with the sale.

This means a loss of revenue for you, in spite of the fact that the purchase happened through your referral.

Most affiliate networks will set this to a 30 day period. But there are a lot of networks and merchants who have lifetime cookies. This means that the cookies will only ever expire if the visitor clears their cookies in their browser.

Direct linking

This is a practice whereby an affiliate sends the traffic that he generates, directly to the merchant’s website.

You will understand it better when we speak about the best practices for a successful affiliate marketing business.

It is recommended that you direct your traffic to a pre-sell page that you own, where you can show your website visitors the value that the product you are recommending offers. From this presell page, the visitor is then redirected to the merchant’s website using the tracking link.

Direct-linking in fact, is a loss for you as an affiliate because you also lose the chance of capturing your visitor’s email address and building a list.

Since we are at a point where we are learning what is affiliate marketing, let me tell you that direct-linking isn’t a best practice in affiliate marketing.

Pre-sell Page

A presell page is where the entire “word of mouth” thing that we discussed at the beginning of this post, happens.

It is here that you tell your traffic/website visitor about the benefits of the product/service and how it can help them get rid of their problems.

The pre-sell is the very essence of what an affiliate should do. Some of the most successful affiliates have perfected the art of creating pre-sell pages, which is what makes them super-affiliates.

There is a unique strategy that a very successful affiliate marketer Mark Bishop uses. He has put together this strategy in a low cost training that he calls BLOX. You can check it out if you wish to learn this strategy.

Recurring Commissions

This is a type of commissions paid out on a subscription product.

Subscription products/services are ones where the customer renews it every year by paying a renewal amount.

These days most products are subscription based because of the amount of time and money required in supporting the products maintenance.

In the case of such products and services, an affiliate is paid a commission every time the customer renews the subscription. This way you are entitled to get recurring commissions.

Offers with recurring commissions are the best ones for an affiliate and the most profitable ones as well. These are the ones that generate the real passive income for you.

I especially promote products/services that payout recurring commissions, a lot. In fact my portfolio has a lot of such offers.

WSO – Warrior Special Offer

It is just another name for an offer promoted by a specific network.

There used to be a time when the Warrior Forum was the go-to place for internet marketers. You will find every internet marketer hanging around at the warrior forum.

Questions like what is affiliate marketing which were simpler ones, to complex questions about traffic generation and profiting from affiliate marketing used to be answered by experts in this forum.

Slowly this forum because a place to sell your products and services. These offers used to be a special one, only for the Warrior Forum members and hence were made available at a discounted price.

These came to be known as WSOs or, Warrior Special Offers.

Though the relevance of these offers have gone down drastically, thanks to scamsters who conned a lot of internet marketers with useless products and services, warrior forum still sells a lot of good products and services.

WSOs are particularly preferred by merchants because of the low-effort involved in getting your product listed.

Affiliate Marketing for Beginners – Getting Started

We have already looked at the steps involved in getting started as an affiliate marketer. While those were some of the basic steps in getting started, we will now look at setting up an affiliate marketing business in a little more detail.

An affiliate marketing business is a real business with a real framework. The framework is the result of years of hard work from some of the most successful affiliate marketers.

It is also a result of a lot of trial and error, to finally arrive at a system that works. A lot of these affiliate marketers failed multiple times to refine and come up with this proven system.

This also means that you don’t really have to reinvent the wheel. Just follow the framework and you should be able to get started.

Here are the steps in the framework

Let us look at the steps involved in detail –

Decide on how to promote

A lot of newbie affiliate marketers just start off by picking an affiliate product and then they go to sites like Quora and ask a question, “how do we promote an affiliate product”.

The first step in setting up your affiliate marketing business is in putting together a plan to promote.

How are you planning to promote your shortlisted affiliate products?

The decision to pick a channel to promote will depend upon which one you are comfortable with and what is your area of expertise.

Here are some of the most common channels –


This is one of the most common promotion channels used by a lot of affiliate marketers. Successful affiliate marketers like Pat Flynn and Matthew Woodward use a blog to promote their products.

A blog gives you a lot of flexibility to manage your traffic. At the same time it is easy to setup. There are a lot of simple step-by-step guides out there which can help you how to setup a simple blog.

Blogs require good content to attract readership. So one of the most important skill that you will need is to be able to write.

You necessarily do not need to write a thesis though some bit of research into the topics that you are planning to write will certainly help.

But even if you are not an expert in a specific topic, you can gather a lot of information by researching on the internet and then write a pretty good article, if you have the ability to write.

Once you have your blog up and running, you can optimize it for Search Engines (SEO is a topic in itself and we will talk about it in another post), so that the posts get ranked on search engines (primarily Google).

This will bring in traffic to your blog, which you can then redirect to the offer pages for the different products you are promoting.

One of the biggest advantage of using a blog to promote affiliate products, is the ability to capture your visitor’s information. You can use optin forms to collect email addresses of your visitors into an autoresponder.

This helps you to ensure that your traffic is not wasted. Because you can then connect with your email subscribers by sending them periodic emails, building a relationship with them and then promoting your affiliate products.

Check out this screenshot from Matthew Woodward’s blog and see how he writes informative blog posts and at the same time also writes reviews (where he promotes affiliate products). He has captures emails and builds his subscribers list.

affiliate marketing using a blog

This is a typical example of a good way of using a blog to promote affiliate products.

Recommended Strategy with Blogs

It is not uncommon for a lot of affiliate marketers to put together a blog and then post rehashed content that is absolutely crap from a quality perspective.

They would then stuff affiliate links here and there. I don’t mean to undermine them or, claim that they don’t earn money, but that isn’t a method I recommend from a long term business perspective.

The strategy that I recommend is to setup a real blog with some really valuable content. Here’s a step-by-step method I recommend –

  • Research about 30 good long tail keywords
  • Write about 30 informative articles using the long tail keywords that you researched
  • Follow basic SEO steps. I would recommend installing the RankMath plugin which I too use. It gives you a step-by-step guide on each SEO related steps.
  • Strategically place links in these 30 articles for the affiliate products you are promoting
  • Write 3 long form pillar articles and place affiliate links in these as well
  • Follow some of the link building process suggested by Brian Dean at Backlinko.
  • Write about 4-5 review articles specifically for these affiliate products
  • Use Thirsty Affiliates to cloak your links

YouTube videos

This is another popular channel that a lot of affiliate marketers use. In fact, I started off with a combination of YouTube videos and a blog.

A few of the videos that I had put out there on YouTube about 2 years back still earns me commissions, about $100-$200 per month.

The benefit with YouTube is that you don’t have to depend a lot on getting ranked on search engines because good videos have a tendency to get ranked on Google without a lot of effort (thanks to YouTube being a part of Google).

Even the worst videos get a few thousand views in a couple of months. So if you want to generate a few thousand views in about a month all you need to do is create slightly better videos.

In fact, you don’t even have to show your face which is what a lot of people do. Just put valuable content out there and people will come.

Check out the number of videos on YouTube for a simple search “Optimizepress Review”.

optimizepress review youtube videos

Recommended Strategy with YouTube Videos

YouTube has been one of my preferred channels for affiliate marketing during my initial days. But then those days were when there wasn’t a lot of competition.

You could get a video ranked in Google in no time. But things have changed over the last 3-4 years and you have to play by the rules to even be considered by Google for rankings

Let us look at the recommended strategy for affiliate marketing using YouTube videos.

  • Setup a channel by following basic SEO guidelines. Brian Dean has some excellent tutorials on starting and setting up a YouTube channel
  • Setup a plan to create and publish videos. You need to publish at least 1 video a week regularly for at least 4 months and continue doing it if you are planning to setup a long term business
  • Plan your content in such a way that every next video is linked to the previous video. End your videos with a hook, so that your viewers anxiously wait for the next video.
  • Strategically include references to the affiliate products you are promoting, in your videos and place the link to them in the description box. Don’t forget to tell your viewers about the link.
  • Put together an optin page with a lead magnet (it could be an exclusive training video or, even a downloadable ebook) and include this link in all the videos
  • End every video with a call to action asking the viewers to either comment or, check the description box and sign up by clicking the optin page link.
  • After every 6-7 videos create a review video of the product you discussed in the previous videos. You could even create a demo video or, a comparison video as well.

Review Websites

These days review websites have become a very common phenomenon and there are a lot of affiliate marketers who have followed this model and setup their business.

One of the best examples of this model is websites that do a web hosting review. Check out the below screenshot from one such hosting review websites.

web hosting reviews website

Notice that, while they review different hosting providers and rate them as well, they link to every one of them using their affiliate links.

So if a visitor clicks over to any of these hosting providers and make a purchase, they earn a commission.

Amazon product review websites are another common such websites. Check out this website that reviews a lot of products and has a page on top 10 vacuum cleaner for 2020.

Even before they review any of the vacuum cleaners, they have strategically placed a link to some of the top vacuum cleaners being sold on Amazon and all of them are affiliate links.

vacuum cleaner review website

Review websites have a couple of added advantages.

  • They rank pretty fast because of the use of long tail keywords with not a lot of competition
  • People visiting such websites are already in the purchasing mode and are waiting for a nudge to go and buy the product. So selling becomes easy.

Putting together a review website isn’t difficult and if you can pick some really good products that have very low competition, your work gets cut out for you.

Recommended strategy for a Review website

  • Pick products that do not have a lot of competition but pay you well in commissions
  • Ensure you are providing value in your reviews. Write your reviews after taking into account every aspect of what a customer would be looking for in the product.
  • You can follow 3 different kind of review article models –
    • Single product reviews
    • Top x products reviews/comparison
    • A product Vs product comparison
  • Follow basic SEO guidelines and you should be able to get your articles ranked on Google even with very less back links
  • Put together an optin form with a lead magnet and build your list

Social Media

Social media has taken over pretty much everything today. From influencing political decisions and elections to influencing purchases, social media and social media influencers have become the core of marketing.

In such a scenario, why should affiliate marketing be left alone.

I have seen a lot of affiliate marketers using social media channels like Instagram and Pinterest (Oops! Pinterest isn’t social media, it is a search engine), to promote affiliate products.

I am not an expert in selling affiliate products using social media and hence I do not recommend it. But you can find a lot of influencers teaching strategies to market affiliate products using social media.

Email Marketing

You earn recurring income from email marketing. In fact email marketing is the backbone of any online business and hence affiliate marketing businesses as well.

You would have heard internet marketers say, “the money is in the list”.

It’s true. If you have a good and engaged list of subscribers, it is a source of recurring income.

But keep in mind that email marketing cannot be a model in silo, except if you are building your email list using solo ads. It is a subset of every one of the models that we discussed above because we need one of these models to build a list.

It is then that the entire email marketing piece comes into picture.

So what is email marketing?

Email marketing is a form of direct marketing that involves sending emails to subscribers whose details you had captured legally and with their consent, in order to promote products and services.

The above definition could be slightly different from what you might have read, but this is my definition of “email marketing”.

Bear in mind the two important aspects in this definition – emails captured legally and with their consent.

This is precisely what an Optin form does. Unlike “buying leads”, this method of capturing leads involves both legality and consent. The only thing you should ensure is that you shouldn’t misrepresent on the optin page.

Your email list is what brings in passive and recurring income. But for that to happen, you need to ensure that your subscribers are engaged and that you are connecting with them.

I am a fan of Andre Chaperon when it comes to email marketing. It is his teachings that I am using in my business. My email marketing business was like a “headless chicken”, before I started following Andre.


The steps involved are very straightforward – build your list, engage with your subscribers by sending them regular emails, promote your products in your emails and make money.

Recommended Strategy for Email Marketing

Here’s what I recommend as an email marketing strategy –

  • Provide value at every point (EXTREMELY IMPORTANT)
  • Segment your email subscribers (I will discuss more about this in another email). Aweber, the autoresponder company I use has a simple “tagging” feature to do this. They are offering a FREE account in case you are interested to start with them. Click here to check them out
  • Setup an autoresponder campaign to send out emails at regular intervals. This could be weekly or, twice a week. Don’t go for longer intervals
  • Strategically include your affiliate products in the emails
  • Send a Broadcast email in between (once in 10 days is recommended), when you have a product announcement to make.
  • Join Andre’s FREE email marketing course. His FREE course has much better value than many other paid courses.

Pick a product/service to promote

Picking a good product or, service to promote is critical to the success of an affiliate marketing business.

How much money you make and how passive your affiliate marketing business is, will depend the product you pick to promote.

And what product to promote will depend entirely upon your niche and your marketing plan. But before we get into it, let us look at different affiliate products from a payout perspective.

Single Payout programs – These are programs that pay an affiliate commission only once, when the sale happens.

Recurring Payout programs – Such programs payout a recurring commission. These are usually subscription based products where the customers either pay monthly or, annually.

So depending the frequency of payment by the customers, you too get paid either monthly or, yearly recurring commissions.

Multi-tiered Payout programs – We had discussed this a little while back. Here you get paid for your referrals and also for the referrals of the affiliates you had referred to the network

The niche you are in necessarily might not have all these types of programs but depending upon whatever is available, you can join them.

But if there is a subscription type of program available, that pays recurring commissions, I would recommend that you pick those because of the multiple payout structure.

Another categorization of affiliate programs is based on the amount of commissions that are paid out. Let us look at this classification as well –

Micro commissions – These are programs that don’t have a huge payout. They usually range in a few dollars to about $29.

Since the payouts are very low with these programs, you need to make a substantial number of sales in order to earn a decent income.

These type of programs are good to get a customer into the funnel because the entry point is low. So it is recommended to use it for that purpose.

But if you can generate a decent volume of sales, then you might want to work only with such programs.

Medium commissions – These programs have a decent payout and would range anywhere from a $30 till about $150.

There are a lot of products in this range and most digital coaching and study at home programs fall into this category.

I use these programs in the mid-level funnel, because it is easier to pitch these products to customers who are already into the funnel and who have already paid for something.

But there are a lot of marketers who only work with such programs and make a living out of it.

High-ticket Commissions – These programs are the highest paying programs and can range anywhere from a $150 upwards.

You would have seen a lot of coaching programs these days which are priced at around $599 and upwards. These go all the way up without a real limit.

If these programs pay you even a 40% commission, that’s a lot of money.

The biggest drawback with these programs is that, your audience has to be warmed a lot to the offer considering the high price point. If your relationship with your audience is poor, then the possibility of them picking up such a product is pretty low.

Now that you have seen all the different kind of affiliate programs, go ahead and pick the one that suits your business plan and your prospects.

How would find an affiliate program?

All you need to do is go to Google and do a quick search for affiliate programs in your niche. Check out the results below for a search on “dog care affiliate programs”.

dog care affiliate programs

All you need to do is change the niche to yours and search for affiliate programs. For eg: if you are in the weight loss niche, you can search for “weight loss affiliate programs”.

Create Engaging content

There used to be a time when you could slap anything onto your blog or, website and stuff it with a few keywords and you content could still rank on Google.

I still remember this website I had put together which had nothing but re-hashed content, about 97 of them. I put a few affiliate ads on the sidebars and placed some other ads as well.

This website not only ranked on the first page of Google, but also brought in about $10k in commissions and advertisement payouts.

But then, as things changed on the internet the site too fizzled out. Re-hashed worthless content no more works.

After all content is content. Isn’t it?

Then what is all this fuss about engaging content?

The internet is all about information and every visitor on the internet is searching for information. Their expectations are simple.

Get the information that they have been searching for and that too without having to browse around and click around unnecessary links.

When you give it to them all at one place, in that content that they clicked over and came to, on your site; they will likely interact with it (read, YOU).

This interaction can be in the form of commenting to thank you or, ask for more information or, even share the post with their social media friends. This is called “engaging” with the content.

Such engagement means that your visitor got what he was looking for and that your content was valuable.

So, essentially engaging content is valuable content.

Now, coming back to the affiliate marketing scenario.

Imagine a visitor who clicked through to your website for information about LCHF (Low Carb High Fat) diets, find a highly relevant article and find it full of the information he was looking for.

What would be his action if he finds a link to an LCHF guide at the end of the article, which gives him a lot more information about getting started with the diet and loosing weight?

Naturally, it will be to click through to the guide. Isn’t it?

That’s why, engaging content is important. Because engaging content prompts (convinces) the visitor to take an action like clicking on an affiliate link at the end of the article.

Links are all about inserting it into the content. Isn’t it?

If so, then why do we need a strategy in placing links and what is strategically placed affiliate links?

We just spoke about one such scenario in a the last section.

Remember successful affiliate marketing is about connecting with people and genuinely helping them.

And in no way will you look like helping somebody or, understanding them if you place an affiliate link at the very beginning of an article on your blog.

Look at it from the visitor’s perspective. Would you want to click on that link?


Instead the best strategy is to place contextual links in your article.

These contextual links aren’t obtrusive and looks like a part of the article. Since it doesn’t stare on your face, the reader’s concentration isn’t broken and neither is the continuity of the article lost.

Such links have a better likelihood of getting clicked.

Similarly you can insert links towards the end of the article where you can make a genuine recommendation for the product you are promoting.

Use Call to Actions

Now that you have written an excellent, engaging article. You have also placed your links strategically.

If you don’t prompt your readers to take an action after reading the article, then the natural action from these readers will be to browse over to another website or, another article.

How do you stop them from doing this?

This is done by adding a “Call to action” at the end of the article.

What is a call to action?

A call to action is an invitation to a reader to take a specific action as part of persuasive copywriting.

The difference between a visitor converting to a customer and staying just a visitor is the placement of a call to action.

Check out the below screenshots from Pat Flynn’s blog.

The 1st screenshot shows the call to action at the end of the post. Though this is unlike the usual call to actions that you see in most blogs, it is still a call to action.

spi calltoaction

Pat also places various other call to actions throughout the post. In addition to that he also places a call to action towards the bottom of the post. Check out the below screenshot.


Whatever format or, method you prefer but do include a call to action at the end of your article. And keep in mind that it has to be a clear call to action, letting the reader know exactly what is expected out of them.

Drive traffic to your content


This is the core for an online business to succeed and one that most people struggle with.

Most searches on the internet from newbie internet marketers are for “how to generate traffic”.

Search and you will find numerous articles and blog posts that teach you how to generate traffic. In spite of all of these, people still keep searching for that magic bullet that can generate a ton of traffic overnight.

But, organic traffic generation techniques doesn’t work that way. It takes some time for the traffic to come, even if it is about getting traffic to YouTube videos.

If you are looking for instant traffic, the only way you will be able to do it is by running paid ads. And that has a cost attached to it.

That essentially means that there are only two ways of driving traffic to your affiliate blogs and websites.

Organic Traffic using SEO

If you are somebody who doesn’t want to spend money to generate traffic, then SEO is the way to go. Search engine optimization is a topic in itself and trying to accommodate that in a couple of paragraphs isn’t really possible.

Let me break the bad news to you. It isn’t as simple as it seems and requires some hard work.

In a nutshell, the steps involve –

  • Keyword research – research for long tail keywords in your niche and shortlist the ones that you will use
  • Write your articles – Use the keywords you shortlisted and write article using them
  • Optimize the articles – Optimize your articles for the shortlisted keywords. If you are on WordPress, you can use a plugin like RankMath or, Yoast SEO to optimize it. They provide simple optimization steps that you can follow.
  • Build backlinks – This is typically the most difficult step in this entire process. Backlinko has a lot of tutorials on how to build backlinks.
  • Wait for your site to get ranked.

Paid Traffic using Ads

Instant traffic is paid traffic. There are numerous options to run paid ads and if you spend some time to analyze your ads, you will be able to create ads that have a low cost per click and gets you good ROI.

I put together a post on how you could practically run paid ads for free.

Here are some options for running paid ads –

  • Facebook ads – While Facebook is the most prominent of all social media sites, you have options of running ads on Pinterest, Youtube, Twitter and Reddit as well.
  • Media buys – Buying banner ads on websites
  • SOLO Ads – Solo ads are typically used for building lists. You can then drive traffic by sending emails to these lists

There are some other channels as well where you can run paid ads like Outbrain, Taboola etc. But those require practice and I would recommend them if you are just starting out.

Bonus Method – Guest Posting

Guest posting was always considered a method to get backlinks until Google decided to pull the plug one day.

Suddenly Guest posting became the villian.

But the fact is that is done the right way, Guest posting can bring in a good amount of traffic though slowly. It can also help you build your list.

Follow a slightly different approach and try Guest posting for traffic. It will surely help.

Generate sales

The final step is to generate sales and collect your commissions. That shouldn’t be a difficult one, isn’t it?

How to be a Successful Affiliate Marketer

There is quite a difference between becoming an affiliate marketer and becoming a successful affiliate marketer.

One of the key differences is in how your affiliate marketing business impacts yours and other lives and if it is a positive impact or, a negative one.

Becoming a successful affiliate marketer isn’t difficult. All you need to do is follow your heart and run a genuine business.

Here are a few simple tips to be a successful affiliate marketer –

Do it if You Love It

Starting and running an affiliate marketing business isn’t easy. Primarily because it doesn’t involve a lot of monetary investment. All you need to invest is time.

Hence people tend to take it lightly. This is one of the main reasons for people failing in their business.

If you love what you are doing, you won’t have to push yourselves to do it. You will enjoy doing it and then nobody can stop you from succeeding.

Hence the first principle is to do it only if you love it. Else quit!

Be patient and invest time

Success at affiliate marketing is not possible overnight. It takes time and effort. You will have to be patient.

Hence, give it time.

Don’t hurry and fall for unnecessary illegal methods. They are a lot of people out there on the internet who promise the magic bullet. But it doesn’t work that way.

A strong business is built on strong principles and one of that is to be patient and invest time into your business.

Learn, learn and learn

It is important that you keep learning. In fact, the internet and and internet marketing business is all about learning and staying updated.

Things are very dynamic on the internet and what works today might not work tomorrow.

So it is important to keep learning. Learn different strategies, learn about your website visitors, learn about your customers and learn about the products you are promoting.

Learn as much as you can. Follow influencers and super affiliates and learn their strategies from them.

Whatever method you follow, but learn.

Research the product you are promoting

The worst thing to happen in an affiliate marketing business is to recommend a product that you yourself aren’t confident about. Negative reputation can spread pretty fast and can ruin your entire business.

Before you recommend a product to somebody, ensure that you have complete information of the product. Research about the product.

If you can buy it and use, then do it. That will give you a first hand information on the positives and negatives of the product and how it can help solve somebody’s problems.

Recommend only if you know what you are recommending.

Be genuine

Be genuine, to yourself and to your readers and visitors.

If there is even an ounce of doubt in your mind about recommending a particular product, don’t recommend it. There are thousands of other good products out there.

Let not aspects like better commissions, higher payouts etc. influence you to make a poor recommendation

Be genuine to your readers too. Let them know everything about the product you are recommending. If there are any cons to the product, do speak about them as well and then let the reader judge for themselves if it is a product they want to try.

Be there everyday

Consistency is the core to a successful affiliate marketing business.

Be there everyday. Do something in your business, even if that means you need to just send a couple of emails.

But do something.

The more you stay away from your business, the more difficult it will be to get back.

So be consistent and follow a plan. You can set aside a few days of the week to write your posts, the promote it on a few other days and then research information and products on the rest of the days.

Plan your schedule so that you know what you have to do on a specific day. This is prevent wastage of time and will help you stay focused.

Have a plan

It is extremely important to have a plan for everything that you do in your affiliate marketing business.

This is one of the key to succeed.

Put together a plan for your blog. What days will you be writing your posts, what days will you work on promoting them and what days will you do the research.

Similarly put together a plan for your promotional activities as well. Plan on what channels you will be promoting your posts on, how will you be doing it and on what days etc.

Without a plan, you will be running around like a headless chicken. This in turn means waste of time and resources.

Don’t diversify before you perfect one

This is something I learnt the hard way.

It is normal for newbie affiliate marketers to work on multiple niches and multiple websites as soon as they start off, thinking that if one doesn’t work, the other will.

It doesn’t happen that way. In fact, in doing that you lose everything.

When you are new, what is more important is to perfect what you are doing. And in order for that to happen it is important that you do not get pulled into multiple directions.

Focus on one and perfect it before you launch the next one.

Stay Persistent

Persistence is the key to succeeding in anything.

Affiliate marketers who fail do not fail because it did not work. They fail because they Quit.

Like what I said earlier, affiliate marketing is not a “get rich overnight” scheme. It requires time.

Your initial days could be hard and you might not make any money or, maybe make very little money. But you need to be persistent and keep working.

That’s the only way you succeed.

Solve people’s problems

If your objective with affiliate marketing is to “make money”, then you are likely to fail.


Because then the likelihood of you recommending products that don’t really have value increases, which in turn means that people won’t buy from your recommendations.

Start your affiliate marketing business with the objective of helping people – solving people’s problems. “Making money” is just a byproduct.

When you do that, your readers will find genuinity in your voice. They will be able to connect with you and your thoughts.

Analyze your data

One of the biggest mistakes a lot of affiliate marketers make is to not analyze.

Data can give you a lot of information; information on what works and what doesn’t, information on what you should do and what you shouldn’t etc.

So, spend some time analyzing and evaluating your data. This data can be your traffic data, clicks data, engagement data, ads data etc.

Analyzing your data will help you course correct and will avoid wastage of precious time and resources by not doing something that might just not work.

Affiliate Marketing FAQ

So that’s everything about “what is affiliate marketing” from a beginner’s perspective. We have covered every common question from “how do you become and affiliate marketer” to every must know affiliate marketing terms, in this article.

But we have more and we will be discussing tips and tricks to start an affiliate marketing business in our weekly posts.

So I would recommend that you subscribe and stay updated. You can do so by clicking here.

I have put together some of the common affiliate marketing FAQs here. But if you have any more questions, feel free to drop me a note.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a system by which you earn money by recommending, referring or, promoting someone else’s product, everytime that product gets sold. It’s purely based on performance, meaning the money is earned only when there is a sale. It can also be called as a polished “word of mouth” system with a framework.

What are some of the affiliate networks?

There are numerous affiliate networks. But the most prominent ones are Clickbank, Commission Junction (CJ), Shareasale, JVZOO, Warriorplus, Rakuten Network and Amazon associates.

How do affiliate get paid?

Affiliates are paid by the merchants when there is a conversion, meaning a sale. They are paid directly into the mode of their choice. Some networks pay into your PayPal account while some others pay you straight into your bank.

Are affiliates charged to join a program?

No. Affiliate are not charged for joining a program. There are some networks, though who would charge a nominal fee for application, which is then refunded when you get approved. But none of the affiliate networks mentioned above charges anything to the affiliates.

How much money can you make as an affiliate marketer?

There is no limit to what you can make and the amount you make would entirely depend upon the efforts you put in. But people who with a real business report earning anywhere from $5,000 to high 6 figure incomes. Some of the super affiliates also earn in the high 7 figures as well.

Can I find an affiliate program for any product/service?

You should be able to find one. Even if you are not able to find an affiliate program for a specific product/service, you should be able to find one for a similar product or, in the same niche, with some of the top affiliate networks.

What are some numbers to look at when selecting a product to promote?

shareasale metrics

While there are no specific metrics, some of the common marketing metrics is applicable in case of an affiliate marketing product as well.
While Clickbank has a metric called “Gravity” which is a measure of how well a program is doing, other networks have other metrics.
The primary ones are Conversion rates, EPC (Earnings per click), Average sales and average commissions and finally return%.
Here’s how it looks at Shareasale.com.

What are Cookies?

A Cookie is a small text file that is places in a user’s computer, smartphone, tablet etc., that is used to store the user’s activity.
In affiliate marketing cookies are used to track the origin of sales so that the network knows which affiliate referred the customer to buy the product

What’s the ideal Cookie duration?

While there is no ideal Cookie duration, lifetime cookies are the most preferred. But a 60-day or, 90-day also works just fine because it is unlikely that a user will not clear his cookies in a few days, which means that the clock gets reset.

Do affiliate need to disclose their affiliation?

While there is no rule that you mandatorily have to put up an “affiliate disclosure”, some networks demand that you do in order to be compliant with their rules.
So it is recommend that you put a disclosure up.
It is also in the interest of the customer you are referring because that increase his trust in you.

Can you guarantee that I will make money in affiliate marketing?

There is no guarantee for anything in this world. Your business is after all your business and your success at it will depend upon what you do with it.
If you work hard, there is no reason why you won’t make any money but if you won’t, then there is no way that you will make any money.

While this is not an exhaustive list of affiliate marketing FAQs, I will continue to update this with any questions that I might get.

Now that you have learnt everything about “what is affiliate marketing”, it is time to start your affiliate marketing business.

If you found this article to be worthy of the read, then please share it with your social media friends using one of the buttons below.

To Your Success,

About the author 

Dilip Kumar  -  

My name is Dilip. I am a fan of the internet and love the many opportunities that the world wide web provides. If used constructively , the internet can give you an opportunity to lead a life free of the 9-5 treadmill and will be able to give more time to your family members.
Read about internet entrepreneurship at my blog.

My name is Dilip. I am a fan of the internet and love the many opportunities that the world wide web provides. If used constructively , the internet can give you an opportunity to lead a life free of the 9-5 treadmill and will be able to give more time to your family members. Read about internet entrepreneurship at my blog.

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