What Are The Best Affiliate Programs for Beginners in 2020?

One of the biggest challenges you’ll face when starting out on your affiliate marketing adventure is finding the right affiliate programs to promote.

After all, there are thousands of individual programs to choose from.

Choosing the wrong program could potentially set you back months, whereas the right one could see you generating your first affiliate buckaroos before your site is even “finished”.

So – because this is a question we get asked a lot – we’re going to dedicate our time together in this blog post looking at the best affiliate programs for beginners.

And we’ll try to give you a far more balanced view of why signing up for affiliate networks sometimes makes more sense than an in-house affiliate program, and vice versa.

Let’s get to it.

Best Affiliate Programs For Beginners

  1. Amazon Associates Affiliate Program
  2. CJ Affiliate Program
  3. ShareASale Affiliate Program
  4. ClickBank Affiliate Program
  5. Rakuten Marketing Affiliate Program
  6. Etsy Affiliate Program
  7. eBay Partner Network Affiliate Program
  8. Fiverr Affiliate Program

Affiliate Networks vs. Merchants

The first mental hurdle you have to cross is the difference between in-house affiliate marketing programs (merchants) and affiliate networks.

Some beginners treat these terms as if they’re interchangeable – they’re not.

Far from it.

Let’s say you build an authority site around outdoor sporting equipment, promoting products like trampolines, water slides, lawn sports, etc.

You’d then have the choice of either signing up to several (or dozens!) of affiliate programs for different manufacturers and suppliers.

Or you could simply sign up to an affiliate network that can connect you with the majority of the product suppliers you want to work with.

The sensible route for somebody new to affiliate marketing is to simply sign up with affiliate networks and go from there.

But affiliate networks aren’t some kind of panacea.

In fact, there are some affiliate programs that only exist outside of affiliate networks, so you’d have to sign up to them individually.

My favorite example of this was back when I built my first affiliate site…on replica lightsabres.

True story – I made a lot of money selling toy lightsabres.

The company behind them was called Master Replicas, and they ran their own affiliate program. So I had to sign up directly with them because they “owned” the prop and replica lightsabre market back then.

Years later they migrated to an affiliate network, but the payouts were lower, the terms were awful and eventually, I just let the site die of a broken heart…and broken affiliate links.

So, we’re going to look at both sides of the game.

 Firstly, the best and most popular affiliate networks, and secondly a range of diverse and reasonably generic enough affiliate programs that they apply to most audiences.

What To Look For In A Good Affiliate Program

Ease of Use

When you’re first starting out in affiliate marketing you should make things as easy as possible on yourself.

That includes signing up for affiliate programs that not only make sense but are equal parts great management and great design.

After all, the very last thing you want to have to deal with is a clusterf**k of an interface.

This can make creating affiliate links, or uploading a banner, an absolute nightmare.

I’ve been that soldier – crying over my keyboard because the geniuses behind a given affiliate program created an interface so complex that the only person capable of “solving it” would have to be a hybrid of Stephen Hawking and Doctor Strange.

Affiliate networks tend to not have that problem – their goal is to make your life in affiliate marketing as easy as possible.

Because if you’re not making money (i.e. passive income), then they’re not making money either – nor are their clients.

With that being said, there are just as many in-house affiliate programs that are the affiliate marketing version of the Sistine Chapel.

But the point we want to reinforce here is that ease-of-use should be a deciding factor for whatever affiliate programs you choose.

It won’t be as much of an issue when you have a little more skin in the game.

Point of contact

Things will go wrong from time to time.

Links will stop working, or you’ll have a question on why last month’s sales report looks like it’s upside down.

That’s exactly when you’ll need help from an affiliate manager.

Affiliate networks tend to have a slight advantage here because you can rely on their support staff in addition to the affiliate manager for whatever program you have a question on.

Just bear in mind that affiliate managers are no different from face-to-face managers in that some of them are really good and some are awful.

Always check what kind of support you’ll get before you sign up for any affiliate program i.e. do you have a dedicated affiliate manager.

“Jack the guy from IT takes care of that” isn’t the type of answer you want…or should accept.

Commission & Payments

Find out not only how much you’ll get paid by a given affiliate program, but also when you’ll actually get paid.

Most affiliate programs are Net 30, but some are Net 60 and even Net 90.

What the above means in plain English, is that most affiliates are paid 30 days after making a sale, but others don’t get paid for 90 days.

That’s a long time to wait for your affiliate monies, especially if you have bills to pay.

8 Best Affiliate Marketing Programs For Beginners

Now let’s take a look at the affiliate programs we think give you the best chance for early success.

Basically, ones that give you the best shot at making money online with your new business.

amazon associates

Amazon Associates

Jeff Bezos is a pretty clever guy.

He’s also indescribably wealthy – his bank balance looks like his name converted to binary.

That wealth comes from foresight, like being one of the first online retailers to offer an affiliate program way back in 1996.

Yes, there was an Internet in 1996, except you could hear it when you picked up the phone. Ask your parents what that means if you don’t understand.

The Amazon Affiliate Program (aka Amazon Associates Program) is vast, encompassing all of the products they sell online.

So if you can find something on Amazon, you can sell it and get a cut of the profit.

And that includes everything from books to bullhorns, and anything in between – there’s something for every audience.

Amazon’s affiliate marketing program is pretty much the first place we send brand new affiliates simply because it’s so easy to use, especially when creating your first affiliate link(s).

Pssssst. Want to learn how to build an Amazon affiliate site free of charge? We give you step-by-step instructions.

URL: Amazon Associates Program

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

You get paid: Net 60

Payment threshold: $10

Best suited to: Beginner affiliate marketers building their first site.

Pros

  • International brand recognition – everyone knows what Amazon is
  • 385 million products for Amazon Associates to promote
  • They place huge focus on customer service, so you benefit from that
  • Link creation and management is super easy
  • Easy-to-use affiliate dashboard

 Cons

  • Amazon changes their mind on commission rates as often as they change their underwear
  • The 24-hour cookie is far from ideal

Commission Junction

CJ Affiliate is one of the oldest affiliate networks out there, one I’ve been using since about 2002.

What makes them different to Amazon is that Commission Junction specializes in big brand names, as well as smaller product and service suppliers.

So, at the time of writing this they represent mahoosive companies such as Zappos, Walgreens, Verizon, UnderArmor, Trip Advisor, Staples, Sonos, Disney Shops, Sears, and Samsung.

And roughly 2,473 others.

In addition to the super diverse range of brands and products, you also get excellent support, and their affiliate link creation tools are some of the easiest to use that we’ve come across so far.

But what I really love about Commission Junction is their metrics – I can clearly see if a program is profitable or not.

That’s a huge time saver.

There’s no guesswork involved, so you can map out exactly what programs you’re going to promote and roughly how much you can expect to make per sale.

URL: Commission Junction

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 30

Best suited to: Affiliate marketers with 3 – 6 months experience under their belt.

Pros

  • Intuitive interface and dashboard – ideal for affiliate marketing beginners
  • Lots of really big brand names under one roof
  • Direct display advertising (flat fee and commission) opportunities
  • You can find profitable affiliate programs without having to guess
  • Support and tutorials make things very easy

 Cons

  • Big brands come and go on this network all the time
  • There is a very mild learning curve when compared to Amazon

ShareASale

Shareasale

Recently acquired by Awin, this is probably one of the most overlooked affiliate networks out there.

Part of this is because the interface looks very 2002 – it hasn’t changed since I first signed up for my account many, many moons ago.

And the lack of a “Wow” factor puts some new affiliates off this network

But my friends, my friends – ShareASale has programs that pay out $300 – $350 per sale. And no, the programs have nothing to do with…umm “enlargement” products, or anything like that.

In fact, they represent around 5,000 different affiliate programs, but these are focused more on smaller but profitable companies, rather than just huge brand names.

The affiliate dashboard is basic but functional, and sometimes the lack of complexity is actually a good thing.

ShareASale is one network you should seriously consider signing up for.

URL: ShareASale

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 30

Best suited to: An affiliate marketer looking for emerging brands or more tangential products and services.

Pros

  • Thousands of products and services to promote
  • Smaller, unknown but very worthwhile programs
  • The “Search for Merchants’ function is far superior to Commission Junction, for example
  • Their ‘PowerRank’ metric shows you where a program sits in the top 1000 on ShareASale
  • You don’t have to wait months to get paid

Cons

  • A very dated interface
  • The approval process for programs can be unpredictable at times

ClickBank

ClickBank is yet another affiliate network that falls into the “grandparent” category – they’ve been online since 1998.

And it’s a real rags-to-riches business story – one started by friends sitting around a garage, but that eventually transformed into a business with US$3 billion per year in sales.

While every other affiliate program was trying to figure out how to ship goods while still generating a profit, the guys at ClickBank turned that idea on its head by focusing instead on selling digital products.

That meant instant delivery, almost no overheads, and the ability for them to work directly with creators. And although they could never have imagined social media being a thing, their range of products can also work extremely well with those audiences. 

You can find all of their products in the ClickBank Marketplace, but they do also feature some physical products these days. 

The Marketplace interface is functional but looks like it hasn’t changed since 1998. It’s a minor gripe, but it’s long overdue a facelift.

If you need a little more of a helping hand to get started with ClickBank, check out our (well Gael wrote it, so it’s a collective we) article on how to make money with ClickBank.

URL: ClickBank

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Best suited to: Marketers who prefer promoting digital products

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 60

Pros

  • You rarely need to be approved to promote a program
  • Probably the best network for anyone doing affiliate marketing without a website
  • Their top-tier programs average out at about $50 per sale
  • You’ll have lots of opportunities to promote programs with recurring commission
  • Most of the pre-selling is done for you by the merchant’s landing page
  • Digital products can work hand-in-hand with email marketing/social media
  • Creating your affiliate link is super easy

Cons

  • The Marketplace hasn’t changed one bit in 19 years – it’s functional but very dated
  • Certain programs can result in very high refund rates

Rakuten Linkshare

You might not have heard of Rakuten, but they’re an absolutely massive Japanese marketing company.

They put their foot in the door of the affiliate marketing scene when they acquired LinkShare back in 2005.

Since then they’ve taken the Rakuten Linkshare platform from being a presence in the market to winning awards most years.

So….is it suitable for beginner affiliates?

The short answer is “Yes”, but let me elaborate:

  1. The interface is pretty similar to most other affiliate networks
  2. They represent 1,000+ brands and businesses
  3. Their merchants supply everything from gifts and flowers through to consumer electronics and office supplies.

The only potential downside is that Rakuten is a serious player on the affiliate marketing scene, so the approval process can be slow, especially if your site has little or no traffic.

With that being said, Rakuten is a sleeping giant most newbie affiliates don’t pay enough attention to.

Some affiliates have implied this network is slow to pay out, but I’ve never had an issue with them.

URL: Rakuten Linkshare affiliate program

Cost: Free

Type: Affiliate network

Best suited to: Affiliates who want to broaden their horizons beyond Amazon and eBay.

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 30

Pros

  • Lots of big brand affiliate programs live here
  • Reasonably intuitive interface – it gets the job done
  • Handles over US$100 million in sales transactions each year
  • One of the oldest affiliate networks there is

Cons

  • An interface that’s so dated it makes me look young
  • The lack of metrics data gives me stomach ache

Etsy Affiliate Program

etsy affiliate program

The Etsy program is something of an affiliate marketing hybrid.

That’s because the products sold through the platform are made by independent crafters, vintage traders and artists, although there has been some “creep” with overseas manufacturers trying to stake a claim here.

So it’s an affiliate network for sole traders, if that makes sense.

What Etsy have managed to do is become the leading platform in their niche – nobody else comes close.  They’ve gone from zero to publicly traded company in a very few short years.

What I find interesting about Etsy is that a surprising number of people I know have either bought something on Etsy, or are selling their own handicrafts on the platform.

Side note: I made my first ever Etsy purchase while writing this – the screenshot above is a hint.

You can make money by linking to products you find on the platform and/or reviewing them. Then when one of your visitors makes a purchase you’ll receive 4% commission

You probably won’t retire on Etsy commission payments, but it does offer you a great chance to make worthwhile affiliate income.

URL: Etsy affiliate program

Cost: Free

Type: Merchant (via Awin)

Best suited to: Affiliates with an interest in handmade items, personalized products or vintage goods.

Payment threshold: $50

You get paid: Net 30

Pros

  • Clean, modern interface with easy navigation
  • Constantly updated range of items in stock – there’s always something new
  • This affiliate marketing program is the best of its type in the craft/vintage/gift market
  • You support independent product creators (micro-businesses) when you promote Etsy
  • Their product range is diverse enough to keep people on the site for hours

Cons

  • Popular vendors eventually leave the platform – don’t put all your eggs in one basket
  • Etsy traders have been grumbling about recent algorithm changes on the platform 

eBay Partner Network

We’re not going to insult you with a brief history of eBay because everyone knows what it is.

But what started out as a way for people to clear out their garages and make a few bucks has become a global marketing platform for individuals and big brands alike.

Did you know that more than 80% of the 1.4 billion listings on eBay are for new items?

It’s not just a marketplace for used goods and/or junk.

So while most newbies jump straight into bed with Amazon (not a bad decision) very few pause to give the eBay affiliate program a second look.

eBay also manage their own affiliate program, so there are no “middlemen” involved – you work directly with them.

And that means being able to build a relationship with their affiliate management team, something which could be invaluable to you in years to come.

The eBay Partner Network (EPN) isn’t perfect, but it can be a great place for brand new affiliates to start out, usually in conjunction with the Amazon Associates Program.

URL: eBay Partner Network

Cost: Free

Type: Merchant

Best suited to: Anyone – if you’ve ever been on eBay you’ll understand why

Payment threshold: $10

You get paid: Net 30

Pros

  • The EPN actively welcomes raw beginners – there’s a very low barrier to entry
  • Globally recognized brand name
  • Hundreds of millions of products for sale
  • You can offer your visitors real value for money here – often better than Amazon
  • Relatively high commission rates, ranging up to 70% per sale
  • You can receive payments via PayPal

Cons

  • 24-hour cookie – only a session-based cookie could make this worse
  • Lots of reproduction/knock-off products on their platform

Fiverr Affiliate Program

fiverr affiliate program

Selling services is usually a lot easier than selling physical products.

Just present an audience with a list of service providers, and they’ll take care of the rest.

Fiverr took that basic concept and ran with it, monetizing the gig industry for services covering the following umbrella categories: graphic design, marketing, writing, video and animation, music, programming, business, lifestyle and industries.

Although you can sign up for their program on CJ.com, we’re going to focus on their in-house affiliate program instead for the sake of simplicity.

You can earn anywhere up to $150 per referral with the Fiverr affiliate program depending on the category of the service provider you’re promoting.

You also have multiple ways of earning with Fiverr, including their ‘Learn from Fiverr’ courses where you get paid 30% per sale.

Although this gig platform built its reputation on selling digital services like WordPress installations and backlink building, you can now also find “lifestyle” services like arts and crafts, tarot readings, or even relationship advice.

Oh, and their affiliate program takes about 30 second to sign up to – literally just enter your name, email address and choose a password.

URL: Fiverr affiliate program

Cost: Free

Type: Merchant

Best suited to: Any blog with a topic that is directly or tangentially related to a Fiverr gig category, although business-style services do tend to sell very well.

Payment threshold: $100

You get paid: Net 30

Pros

  • Really nice affiliate interface – it’s a breath of fresh air compared to others
  • Fiverr are a market leader, so there’s no real competition
  • New services become available to sell all the time – you’ll always have something to sell
  • Potential for deliciously high $150-per-referral commissions – there is potential to earn a lot of money here

Cons

  • You don’t get paid for any sales made to existing customers
  • Like Etsy, some of the most popular gigs will eventually move to their own website

Wrapping things up

And there you have it – our in-depth blog post on the best affiliate marketing programs for beginners.

We covered as much ground here as possible, hopefully giving lots of scope on your journey to passive income.

The cool thing is that if you have some existing traffic there’s potential for you to start earning passive income from your visitors literally tomorrow…with some payments arriving in the next 30 days.

How many businesses can you think of where you can turn a profit in your first month?

Exactly.

But if you’re sitting there thinking “Well that’s wonderful, but I’m still feeling a bit lost…” – never fear, Gael and Mark are here!

Or they are via our free training seminar where the guys show you how to get started in affiliate marketing.

Take a second to type in your email address here, and we’ll shoot you over an invite to 2+ hours of information, mirth, and wisdom with them.

But not in that order.

Probably.

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