What Is Affiliate Marketing?

affiliate marketing

Making money through your blog sounds great, doesn’t it? You put in the hard work of writing highly-trafficked blog posts or even YouTube videos and make money while you relax and focus on your hobbies or family. Your marketing strategy should allow you to “work smarter and not harder,” with the goal of raking in passive income while devoting valuable time to your current customers or clients.

Getting paid for product reviews isn’t as far-fetched as you may think. It’s possible to generate an income that almost makes itself — and doesn’t take too much time out of your day.

Enter affiliate marketing.

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is the process of earning a commission by promoting another company’s products or services. Think of it as being similar to in-person word of mouth, but done over the internet. Let’s just add here that this isn’t multi-level marketing (aka pyramid schemes).

Affiliate marketers receive a commission for driving their high-volume site or social media traffic to the product pages of the brands they work with.

For example, let’s say you have a social media page or YouTube channel about the different types of coffee found around the world. If your page is popular and you have a lot of contacts in your email or SMS lists, you can monetize your popular coffee pages by joining affiliate programs.

Hypothetically, you could join the Venezuelan Coffee Company affiliate program. If you market their products to your audience, and they use your unique affiliate links to purchase products from the Venezuelan Coffee Company, then you’ll receive a piece of the profit of each order placed by customers that used your referral link.

This is only one example. The truth is there are many affiliate marketing strategies and scenarios which we’ll explore further.

How does affiliate marketing work?

Now that we have a definition and an example, let’s look behind the scenes of affiliate marketing and examine its inner-workings a bit further.

Three parties must be involved to qualify the partnership as Affiliate Marketing:

  1. Seller, merchant, or product creator: Those that provide the product
  2. Affiliate, publisher, or advertiser: The party that tests and reviews the product
  3. Consumer: Those that buy the product after viewing the affiliate’s promotion

Let’s paint a clear scenario of how affiliate marketing can play out:

Party A, an athletic-wear retailer, uses its affiliate program to offer its members 25% off of full-priced products. Affiliates are chosen through a simple application process and then given access to the affiliate program.

Party B, the owner of a local gym and renowned wellness blogger, applies to the Party A affiliate program and is accepted. She orders a new athletic outfit and models the benefits of the product on her blog and social media accounts. When readers of her blog, members of her gym, and social followers purchase said products based on her recommendation, she gets a portion of the sales.

Party C, the customer, receives their product, happy with their purchase. The goal is for the final step to continue the cycle for parties A and B. Plus, it’s great when the consumer leaves a positive review directly on the athletic wear website or the gym’s social media account to further increase sales. And down the line, the consumer could join the brand’s affiliate network, as well.

This mutually beneficial dynamic among all parties means that the athletic-wear brand, gym owner, and consumer all end up gaining something. The gains aren’t just financial; there are other advantages. For example, Party A and Party B both receive new followers and exposure to their brands and/or services.

Now, imagine that example on a larger scale. If 75 people buy products from the gym owner through her blog, she may be able to advertise more products for the company, which could earn her a higher commission.

From a technical perspective, affiliate marketing works on a cookie-based model. As visitors click on your link, a cookie is created in their browser and their activity is tracked until the sale is made.

How do affiliate marketers make money?

So affiliate marketing sounds great but how does it actually work? Here’s how successful affiliate marketers make money.

Per sale

The most simple affiliate model. Every time a customer makes a purchase using your unique link, you get a portion of the sales. The amount you get varies, but it often ranges between 5% – 20% of the sale. So if a customer makes a $100 purchase, you can expect a payout between $5 – $10 dollars.

One example of a popular per sale affiliate program is the Amazon Associates program. By promoting Amazon’s products on your website, you get a portion of the sale once it’s made.

Per lead

For companies that track leads, affiliates can be a great way to generate leads. Similar to a referral lead source, a per lead affiliate model credits your affiliates when a lead is accepted by your team. This is most commonly used with software companies that have partner programs.

Per click

This model credits affiliates every time their link is clicked. Perhaps the most well-known per click affiliate marketing system is Google AdSense. Every time a visitor clicks on an ad on your website, you get compensated for the click. Advertisers track the performance of these campaigns through cost per click (CPC) and cost per action (CPA) to determine if your site is worthy to keep advertising on.

The most common affiliate marketing channels

There are few ways to start your affiliate marketing programs. Here are the most common:


Influencers have a great advantage when it comes to affiliate marketing — they’re already equipped with a large following on social media. With the target audience in the palm of their hand, posting affiliate links is as easy as posting on their Instagram app. Of course, more thought does go into it, but influencers are literally making money anytime and anywhere because of the various channels they use. Some even leverage Facebook ads as part of a pay per click advertising campaign, but this can result in lower profits if the ads aren’t properly optimized.


With expertise in search engine optimization (SEO) and keyword research, bloggers are able to write reviews on products, and then have those reviews generate organic traffic through Google search. Those reviews can help the buyer make a decision to drive a sale.

Like influencers, successful bloggers come with an active audience and are able to convey the success of the product they’ve tried while remaining true to their personal brand to maintain audience trust. Bloggers also have the ability to explain their reviews in more detail, can link to helpful resources about the purchasing process, and have more in-depth interactions with their readers.

Email lists

Creating an email campaign that works well can lead to an impressive affiliate marketing strategy. Embedding links to the products and social media can quickly result in sales because you have your audience ready to make a purchase.

Offering as much specificity as possible in your affiliate-based emails is the way to go (i.e. “Click here for the 2020 release of the canvas tote in orange or here to design your own option”).


Sounds cute, right? A microsite is a tool that companies use to bring customers to a specific product or service as part of their affiliate marketing efforts. They are separate from the corporate website and are usually a temporary venture from a normal business. For example, a company may have a microsite for holiday products, a special initiative, or a mega sale. You can encourage your affiliates to direct traffic to these sites.

Large media websites

Big businesses, big production, and big websites. Companies use big names to generate a continuous flow of high traffic. Customers are directed to affiliate links via banners and advertisements. You’ve probably seen these ads a thousand times. These advertisements are ultra-optimized to your search history and interests.

Who uses affiliate marketing?

Honestly, anyone can implement affiliate marketing into their marketing strategy.

If you’re focusing on a specific initiative and want to create content around it, you can get into affiliate marketing and monetize your content. Note: You’ll each affiliate program have different criteria, so you’ll need to make sure you fit into that in order to be accepted into that company’s program.

How to be a successful affiliate marketer

The term “passive income” often comes up when discussing an Affiliate Marketing strategy. Reaping the benefits of earning a passive income may sound easy, but winning this type of business does require hard work and dedication.

Most of all, Affiliate Marketing requires a good strategy. Here are some rules to live by when implementing your Affiliate Marketing strategy:

Find your audience and niche

There’s no point in signing up for dozens of affiliate programs. Like with most other businesses, your affiliate strategy should focus on a specific niche. If you write about video games, consider becoming an affiliate for tech products so you put in affiliate links for keyboards, mice, headphones, and other gaming-related products.

Choose wisely

Both the seller and the advertiser need to be cautious when entering a partnership. Sellers need an affiliate that has a decent following, is not representing too many products, and is on-brand with the seller’s product. If you are an affiliate, it’s important to partner with a company that offers you fair compensation, employs excellent customer care practices, and carries products that you personally believe in.

Be subtle

It’s important to remember that Affiliate Marketing is a bit different from traditional marketing in its disruptive and “in your face” approach, whereas Affiliate Marketing allows your audience to choose to read your content and the value it provides to them. If your Affiliate Marketing strategy becomes too top-heavy, you risk driving away your content viewers (who are the entire backbone of your Affiliate Marketing business in the first place).

Consider the 80/20 rule, in which 80%of your content is rich and valuable to your audience members and 20% is lightly promotional.

Be available

It’s not only wise to choose carefully, but you also need to be available during the duration of your working relationship. Both parties need to have an accessible means of communication regarding the affiliate process. Sellers and advertisers should have contact forms on their websites that specify the program guidelines and expectations.

Be consistent

Review a product with pride. It’s one thing to say something was great. It’s another thing to articulate why you love the product. Answer questions like, “Was the product as described?” and “If you hadn’t bought this product, would you have been able to find an alternative of equal quality?” Crackdown on your SEO skills and don’t forget to include photos or videos of you using the product.

Make your messages personal

Affiliate marketing has a lot in common with typical eCommerce marketing. Even if the products aren’t yours, you still need to drive conversions. And personalization is one of the best ways to improve conversion rates.

Diversify your marketing channels

Most affiliate marketing is done through blogs. But with the rise of other marketing channels, you stand to win with diversification. Use channels like YouTube, email, SMS, Facebook, and others to improve your affiliate sales.

Track your affiliate traffic

Keep an eye out for your traffic sources. Are most readers engaging with your blog posts directly or finding your blog via a search engine? See what trends you notice and keep up to date on algorithms for your chosen platforms. You can track your analytics easily with ManyChat by enabling conversion tracking.

Affiliate marketing FAQs

Affiliate marketing can be confusing. Here are some common questions we’ve come across.

Is affiliate marketing a pyramid scheme?

Affiliate marketing is not a pyramid scheme. Pyramid schemes require you to recruit people to sell a product. The issue is that pyramid schemes require people to purchase and resell products. With affiliate marketing, you don’t buy any products; you’re solely focused on convincing visitors to buy products.

What are the most popular affiliate marketing networks?

The most popular affiliate networks include Clickbank, Amazon Associates, Shareasale, CJ Affiliate, and the eBay Partner Program.

How much money can you make with affiliate marketing?

The amount of money you can make is technically unlimited. As long as you’re able to generate traffic relevant to the products you’re attempting to sell, the sky’s the limit for your affiliate campaigns.

Key takeaways

Creating your affiliate marketing strategy doesn’t have to be hard. Simply think of brands you and your audience would gel with. Think hard about what your particular Affiliate Marketing strategy should look like. Make a list of the brands you trust and see if they have an affiliate program. Is your blog social-justice oriented and eager for a call to action?

Every audience is different and every blog is unique. Trust your gut, hone your skills, and have fun as you go!

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