So you’re wondering how to become an affiliate marketer.
According to affiliate network Rakuten Marketing, an astonishing 81% of advertisers and 84% of publishers are already actively involved in affiliate marketing, so you’ll be in good company.
And you’ve come to the right place, because here at Authority Hacker we’ve helped 10,200 students figure out how to become better affiliate marketers.
Having spent the past decade building and selling multiple authority sites across a wide range of niches, we know what affiliate marketing success looks like — and we have the knowledge to help you do the same thing.
In this guide, we’ll discuss:
- How affiliate marketing works
- How much money you can make from affiliate sales
- Where you should go to find affiliate links
- Key affiliate marketing terms
- How to become an affiliate marketer in five steps
Then let’s dive in.
What Is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a form of performance marketing in which a business rewards affiliate marketers for referring customers.
As an affiliate marketer, you’ll find products or services that are relevant to your audience, and that you’re happy to recommend.
Then you’ll create content about those products or services, incorporating your affiliate link. That content could take the form of a blog post, a social media post, a video on your YouTube channel, an email marketing newsletter, or something else entirely.
Either way, every time someone clicks your link, visits the website of your affiliate partner, and makes a purchase, you earn a commission.
Get it right and you’ve built yourself a highly lucrative revenue stream!
How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
Is affiliate marketing worth it? How much money can you make as an affiliate marketer?
That’s the million dollar question.
Unsurprisingly, it’s something we get asked all the time — so much so that we wrote an entire article on how much money affiliate marketers can earn.
There’s no limit to the amount of passive income you can earn as an affiliate marketer.
As you’ll see from our case studies, it’s perfectly possible for a successful affiliate marketer to make five figures (or more) every single month.
Not only that, but you can earn a big chunk of cash — potentially seven figures — by building and selling an affiliate website once it’s generating consistent traffic and revenue.
But there are definitely no guarantees.
For lots of people, affiliate marketing is nothing more than a side hustle — a nice way to bring in a couple hundred dollars a month on top of their regular salary.
Others never see any return at all on their affiliate marketing efforts.
And you shouldn’t expect to see results any time soon…
As a rule of thumb, we advise that it takes a couple years of hard work to build a successful affiliate marketing business, so be wary of anyone who claims they’ve got a “top secret affiliate marketing strategy” that will make you a millionaire overnight.
How to Get Affiliate Links
Affiliate marketing relies on finding products or services to promote, then referring would-be customers to those products and services via affiliate links.
So where do you find those all-important links?
There are two main approaches:
- Search for individual affiliate programs
- Browse affiliate networks, which offer access to hundreds or thousands of affiliate programs
Let’s take a look at the benefits of each strategy…
1. Affiliate Programs
- Working directly with the merchant can help you build a stronger relationship
- Better chance of negotiating improved commissions (or other affiliate marketing terms)
- Payouts are often higher, as there’s no affiliate network to take a chunk of the profits
2. Affiliate Networks
- A single dashboard gives you access to thousands of merchants
- If you join a big affiliate network, trustworthy there’s less chance of getting scammed
- Payments are often more reliable because they’re backed by a large network
- Tracking and reporting are often more accurate too
How Do Affiliate Marketers Get Paid?
Affiliate marketing payments are based on the number of “events” you drive.
That “event” will vary depending on the type of affiliate program or network you sign up for, but the most common examples are:
- Clicks: Pay-per-click affiliate programs offer a (small) commission for every click on your affiliate link.
- Leads: With cost-per-action affiliate programs, affiliate marketers get paid for driving leads through things like form submissions and software downloads.
- Sales: The most common type of affiliate program pays a flat commission — either a cash or percentage amount — for every confirmed sale.
Commission payments are made at a fixed time, with most affiliate networks and programs paying monthly, once a minimum number or value of actions has been reached.
Affiliate Terms to Know Before You Start
Just like every digital marketing channel, the world of affiliate marketing is full of jargon.
Unfortunately, if you’re going to build a successful business as an affiliate, you’re going to need to get your head around those key terms. Some of the most important are:
Each affiliate has their own unique link used to demonstrate that the desired “action” — whether a click, lead, or sale — originated from their website.
Without affiliate links, you wouldn’t earn the commission to which you’re entitled for the actions you drove. Affiliate links can be “gathered” from affiliate networks and programs.
Average order value (AOV)
This e-commerce term describes the average amount spent per completed transaction, calculated by dividing total revenue by number of orders.
The number of conversions divided by the total number of visitors to the merchant’s site, expressed as a percentage. For instance, if a website attracts 1,000 visitors in a month and drives 100 sales over that period, its conversion rate is 0.1 or 10%.
A cookie is a small file stored on a person’s computer used to identify visitors to a website. In affiliate marketing, they’re used to track referrals.
With most affiliate programs, the cookie expires after a set length of time — so a program with a 30-day cookie window won’t pay out on sales recorded on the 31st day.
Cost per action (CPA)
A metric that describes how much commission will be paid to affiliate marketers in each instance of the agreed “action”, such as a form submission.
Cost per click (CPC)
The amount you’ll earn for every click on your affiliate link.
Cost per sale (CPS)
Similarly, this is the amount a merchant will pay for each conversion originating from your affiliate link.
Earnings per click (EPC)
The average amount of affiliate income earned per click on your affiliate link. Calculated by dividing total earnings by the number of clicks over that period.
How to Become An Affiliate Marketer
After all that theory, you’re probably ready to start affiliate marketing right away.
Here are the five steps you should follow to make it happen:
1. Brainstorm & Qualify a Niche
Choosing the right niche is absolutely critical to your affiliate marketing efforts.
With a great niche, even a bad website has a chance of making decent money.
But with a bad niche, it doesn’t matter how much work you put in, you’re unlikely to generate income.
One of our favorite ways to find and qualify potential affiliate marketing niches is to browse the depths of Flippa, a marketplace for people looking to buy or sell an online business.
Of course, we’re not going to use it to buy — we’re simply looking for successful affiliate site examples (and the niches they occupy).
You’ll need to sign up before you can start using Flippa, but creating an account is simple (and free).
Then start a search and narrow the filters to only include:
- Websites and online businesses
- Blog content
- Review content
- Digital products
Click through the results and answer the following questions:
- How many articles do they have? Generally speaking, the more articles a site has, the more affiliate opportunities there are likely to be in that niche.
- Are they making lots of money without much content? If so, that’s a sign the niche contains lots of high-paying affiliate programs.
- What types of articles are they producing? If they’re publishing a lot of review content, that’s a good sign for affiliate marketers.
- What keywords are they targeting? Some websites will tell you the types of terms for which they’re ranking. This will help you understand if their ranking content is affiliate-based.
- What affiliate programs are they using? Make a note of any affiliate programs they mention. If it works for them, it might work for you too.
- Does anything else stand out? Is the traffic highly seasonal? Are there alternative avenues for monetization? Does their traffic come from search engines, social media posts, Google Ads, email marketing, or somewhere else?
You’ll likely notice that a lot of these websites aren’t making much money.
That’s unsurprising — there are far more low-earning publishers than large media websites bringing in tons of revenue.
And it’s not necessarily a problem; just bear in mind that some niches will naturally have a lower ceiling.
That’s only one of our ways to identify and qualify affiliate marketing niches.
Our training program, The Authority Site System, contains a bunch more strategies, such as:
- Using a keyword research tool to find low-competition, high-value commercial keywords
- Finding low-authority websites that are still ranking for attractive keywords
- Identifying websites with high volumes of organic traffic
But we haven’t got the space to go into all of them here — plus we can’t give all our processes away for free!
2. Research Affiliate Programs
Obvious as it might sound, your chances of making it as an affiliate marketer are much higher if you choose high-quality affiliate programs.
If you choose the right affiliate program, you’ll earn higher commissions because more of your referrals will convert.
Also, you’ll get paid on time and won’t get scammed out of your commissions!
In your early days as an affiliate marketer, it’s often easiest and smartest to start out with Amazon’s affiliate program, Amazon Associates.
Amazon sells pretty much everything, and everyone trusts it. So while the commissions aren’t the most attractive, it’s an easy way to start making money as an affiliate.
Of course, Amazon isn’t the only option.
There are many, many affiliate programs out there, and at some point you’ll likely want to step out from beneath Jeff Bezos’ almighty wing.
So you need to know how to find the best affiliate programs and offers.
One of the best ways is to use the Ahrefs Site Explorer.
Enter a competitor’s website into the search box — a website in the same niche as yours — and click on Linked Domains.
Like magic, you’ll be given a list of all the websites your competitor links out to.
And it shouldn’t take much detective work to track down all the affiliate programs they use.
You’ll even be able to find the specific affiliate product (or products) they’re promoting — just look out for affiliate networks and merchant site names in your niche.
Sure, you don’t necessarily need to join all the same programs as your rivals.
But chances are they’ve chosen those affiliate marketing programs because they’re making decent money from them. Which means you can do the same.
3. Plan & Setup Your Site
Your website is your biggest marketing platform.
Without an intelligently planned, search engine-friendly website, you’re not going to bring in traffic.
And without traffic, you’re not going to make any money through affiliate marketing.
Yet despite all this, most affiliates rush into building their sites before they’ve got a clear plan in place.
That means they’re destined to fail before they even begin.
So what should the process of building an affiliate site actually look like?
Step one is to assemble a list of competitors.
Chances are, you’ll already have come across a few potential rivals while searching for attractive niches and researching affiliate program choices. Now it’s time to expand your list.
Again, Ahrefs can help us here.
Take one of your existing competitors and plug it into Ahrefs’ Competing Domains tool, which shows sites that rank in the top 10 Google search engine results pages for the same keywords as the target website.
Scroll down all those websites and add any that you haven’t already encountered to a “master list” of competitors.
As a general rule, you should only be looking for decent quality competitors here. We typically limit our search to sites with:
- Domain ratings of 20+
- A minimum of 7,000 organic visits a month
Having built your competitor list, you’ll want to spend some time analyzing how their websites are structured.
For instance, let’s take a look at Security.org, a website in the home and online security niche.
Take a look at the homepage and you’ll see the website’s content is divided into three main categories:
- Home Security Systems
- Smart Home & Automation
- Digital Security
Each category contains a mix of commercial and informational content. For instance, the Home Security category includes an informational sub-category titled Guides, while commercial content is split between a further three subcategories:
- Home Security Reviews
- Popular Home Security Brands
So that’s the kind of thing we’re looking to achieve here.
We use a free tool called Dynalist to plan out our site map. Start by including all the obvious, essential pages like:
- About page
- Contact page
Then we’ll get to the more creative stuff — your content hubs.
Say you want to separate out your informational and commercial content.
First, pick out an appropriate name for your info content hub. Obviously, that’ll depend on your niche, but it could be something like:
- Tips and Tricks
- Nutrition Guides
- Camping Tips
- Photography Tips
- Gear Guide
“Nest” that hub beneath your homepage on Dynalist, then populate it with articles based on the keyword research you’ve already carried out.
The keywords you choose should be directly related to your chosen niche and will help build up the authority of your website.
Each of those keywords represents an article you’ll write and publish in your informational content hub.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule for how many keywords to include here; hopefully your competitor research will help you answer that question.
Whatever the case, add each keyword beneath the name of the info content hub in Dynalist:
Next, you’ll do the same thing for your commercial content hub.
Again, start by giving the hub a name — something like:
- Golf Clubs
- Paintball Guns
It’s perfectly fine to have more than one main category, or to add new categories down the line, but we’ll focus on just one to start with:
From there, you can start nesting product-related sub-categories, based on the keyword research and competitor analysis you’ve already performed.
Again, you’ll be turning each keyword into an article down the line.
There’s no set limit on the number of sub-categories to include here — use your competitor research to lead you.
Having done that, you’ll want to go through and populate each sub-category with a bunch of keywords.
For example, for our imaginary paintball website, our Best Paintball Guns sub-category might incorporate two keywords:
Sure, it’s a painstaking process. But it gives you a clear, research-backed picture for how your website will look, meaning you won’t have different pages or categories competing over the same keywords.
That’s a good thing from a search engine optimization perspective.
But what if you haven’t actually found enough high-intent, low-competition commercial keywords?
In that case, it’s time to expand your commercial keyword list. To reiterate, we’re looking for low-competition commercial terms here, which means:
- At least three sites with domain ratings of <35 are ranking on page one of Google for that term
- Those sites are generating at least 150 – 200 in monthly organic traffic
- There’s an opportunity to promote products by targeting that keyword
- The term has clear buying intent (there’s a big difference in intent between “paintball gear” and “best paintball gear”)
As usual, Ahrefs can do much of the heavy lifting for us here.
Start by entering a broad term in the Keywords Explorer tool — like paintball gear.
Then click Terms Match and filter the results on commercial intent by including a word like “best” or “brands” or “review”.
Now for the clever stuff.
Choose an interesting-looking keyword and check out the example search engine result page. Does that term meet the criteria laid out above?
Here, we can see best paintball mask definitely makes the cut:
A grand total of five websites with <D35 and >150 – 200 traffic are ranking on page one for that term, so it’s well worth targeting on our imaginary paintball website.
Carry on that process until you’ve bulked out your commercial keyword list with lots of juicy opportunities.
Finally, it’s time to actually build your website. Exciting stuff!
Sadly, this is much too lengthy and detailed a process to discuss in any depth here (but be sure to check out our guide on how to build a successful Amazon affiliate website).
However, we can recommend a bunch of tools that’ll take a lot of the pain out of building your site, such as:
- Canva: A free, easy-to-use graphic design tool.
- SiteGround: There are lots of hosting companies out there, but SiteGround is a fantastic (and comparatively cheap) web hosting provider.
- GeneratePress: A very fast, light WordPress theme that lets you edit and brand all parts of your site.
4. Start Creating Content
You’ve built your first affiliate marketing website — congratulations!
Now it’s time to fill it with the high-quality content that’ll help your affiliate business grow.
“Quality” is the most important word here.
If an affiliate earns decent money, it’s because they’re providing visitors with useful, engaging content that answers their search queries and offers trusted product recommendations.
Broadly speaking, commercial affiliate marketing content falls into one of these four categories:
As you can probably guess, this is a review of one specific product, like Security.org’s review of the Lorex Security Camera
Reviews often incorporate a bullet-point list of pros and cons for the product in question. Some award the product an overall “score”, while others simply describe what they liked and didn’t like about it. Many also include a short list of features or pricing options:
Like a review, except it features several products that fall within the same category or align with a specific theme, such as this guide to the best VPN service from Tom’s Guide:
Rather than simply providing a list of lots of different products, roundup reviews typically highlight the best products for fulfilling a specific task or meeting a certain requirement:
As Tom’s Guide demonstrates, roundup reviews typically include the pros and cons of each recommendation, along with lists of features and pricing information that allow readers to make an informed comparison between multiple products.
There’s also often a comparison table for quick and easy reference:
Pro tip: You can create your own comparison tables and eye-catching calls to action by using Affiliatable, one of our favorite affiliate marketing tools.
This type of content pits two different products (or types of products) against one another, such as this article from Best GPS Tech that pits two different smartwatch and activity tracker brands — Fitbit and Garmin — against one another:
These articles take a common product and suggest one or more alternatives. Often, the “main” product — around which the article is based — will be the market leader, and “alternatives” will be lesser-known rivals that are cheaper, longer-lasting, or specialized to fulfill a certain role.
Here’s a good example from howtoCleanHome:
Check our detailed guide on how to How To Write A Product Review That Sells (we included templates & examples you can follow).
5. Build Backlinks
You’ve spent a ton of time writing amazing content.
Now wouldn’t it be a shame if no one ever saw it?
Unfortunately, unless you’ve found a highly profitable niche with superb margins, you likely can’t afford to spend money on platforms like Google Ads to send paid traffic to your site.
So you’ll (probably) need to get good at search engine optimization — and in this day and age, that means investing a bunch of time into link-building.
Google and other search engines use backlinks from external websites as a signal that your website is a trusted resource.
Generally speaking, the more quality links you have from high-DR sites, the better your rankings will be.
Now, there are lots of different ways to generate backlinks to your site, but the three main link-building tactics are:
- HARO (Help A Reporter Out): As the name suggests, this involves using your expertise to help journalists answer a question that relates, directly or indirectly, to your niche. In most cases, you’ll be rewarded with a backlink.
- Guest posting: This involves writing a blog post for another website. They get a piece of quality content; you get a link to your site.
- Skyscraper link-building: The Skyscraper technique involves finding a relevant piece of content that already has lots of backlinks, creating something better, and asking all the people who linked to the original content to link to yours instead. Sneaky!
Sadly, we don’t have time to go in-depth on all three strategies in this article, but rest assured you’ll find all the detail you need if you sign up for The Authority Site System!
However, because we’re feeling generous, we’re going to lift the lid on the HARO technique.
HARO is a platform used by more than 75,000 journalists and bloggers, and over one million “sources” (that is, experts who are on hand to answer journalists’ and bloggers’ questions).
You’ll be signing up as a source. There are three paid plans available, ranging in price from $19 – $149 per month, but you’ll be just fine with a free account.
Add as much detail to your profile as possible, because journalists can see the information, and they’ll be using it to decide whether or not you’re a credible source.
Rather than focusing on a specific niche, select Master HARO in the preferences section. That might sound counterintuitive, but it’ll give you more opportunities to respond to journalist requests.
Now that you’re signed up, HARO will send you three emails a day from Monday – Friday (excluding US public holidays), always at these times:
- 05:35 EST
- 12:35 EST
- 17:35 EST
You’ll want to set aside 30 – 60 minutes a day to leaf through each email and respond to any relevant questions.
But what does a “relevant” question actually look like?
We recommend focusing on two “categories” of queries:
- Primary queries: Stuff that’s directly relevant to your niche. For instance, for a paintball site, that could include a question like: “Which paintball gun is the most accurate?”
- Secondary queries: These are basically anything you feel comfortable writing about. For example, at Authority Hacker, we might answer a question on running a remote team. It’s not directly related to affiliate marketing, but we know lots about it.
Search through the queries in each email and find those that align with your strengths. Where possible, check out the organization’s main site on Ahrefs to see how strong its DR is (although if you’ve got a brand new website, you can pretty much afford to work with anyone with a higher DR than yours).
Don’t be put off if the media outlet is listed as “anonymous”:
Lots of big media sites do this because they’re worried about their content ideas being stolen by other publishers, so it’s not a red flag.
Finally, check out the details of the query. Some might be theoretically aligned with your primary or second queries, but in reality they’re looking for something extremely specific — like left-handed paintball experts based in Southeast Asia. If you don’t fulfill the criteria, don’t waste your time.
Found a query that fits your skill set? Unless the journalist in question has provided a specific template for responses, structure your reply as follows:
- Include a strong headline. This helps reporters to quickly identify your point and compels them to read on. Keep it clear and to the point, like: “The Planet Eclipse EMEK 100 paintball gun is the most accurate off-the-shelf paintball gun.”
- Make your point concisely. Don’t go on a big rant about how much you hate other types of paintball gun; succinctly explain whether they are or aren’t accurate, and what readers can do about it.
- Provide real-life examples. Make your article relatable by incorporating specific real-life examples rather than making your reply too theoretical.
- Sign off. Include your name, website, and contact details at the end of your answer, and let the journalist know they can reach out for further information.
The Bottom Line
There you go — 4,000 words later, I think we’ve pretty much covered the basics of how to become an affiliate marketer!
Hopefully, one thing’s clear: building a successful, affiliate-based online business isn’t easy.
You’re not going to be able to identify a profitable niche, research keywords and affiliate program options, analyze your competitors, build a website, write quality content, and build a ton of backlinks overnight.
More likely it’ll take weeks or months to get it right. And even then, you might not see a decent return for a year or more.
But the rewards are out there! We know lots of people who are making a very tidy living from affiliate marketing (and we’ve done it ourselves), so you can too.
Ready to get started? First, we’d recommend signing up for our free training, where we’ll tell you about seven secrets to make new websites 83% more successful!
Can you do affiliate marketing without a website?
Can Anyone Become An Affiliate Marketer?
The beauty of affiliate marketing is that the barriers to entry are extremely low.
You don’t need to design a product or pay for a logistics provider or worry about customer service.
You just need to find products that you love and recommend them to your audience, which means anyone can do it.
Is Affiliate Marketing Easy?
Affiliate marketing is easy in the sense that you don’t need any specific technical skills to become an affiliate marketer.
However, it’s not “become a millionaire overnight” easy.
You need to hone in on the right marketing channels, produce high-quality content, and optimize your website. Realistically, that’s going to take weeks of work (and you might not see results for even longer).
How Can You Do Affiliate Marketing for Free?
It’s possible to do affiliate marketing without spending a single cent by:
– Choosing a free blogging platform, like Blogger or Medium, rather than building your own website
– Relying on free traffic sources (e.g. SEO and organic social media) rather than paying for traffic through Google Ads
– Joining free affiliate programs (N.B. this part isn’t difficult — the vast majority of programs are free to join)
How Much Do Beginner Affiliate Marketers Make?
When you start out as an affiliate marketer, it’ll take time for you to earn any money at all (unless you already have a big social following, or a blog attracting thousands of visitors a month).
After all, if no one reads your content, no one’s going to click your affiliate links — which means no commissions.
But when you start generating traffic, expect your earning power to grow quickly.
How Hard Is It to Become An Affiliate Marketer?
You don’t require any technical skills or in-depth knowledge to become an affiliate marketer.
But it definitely takes a lot of time and money (and a little upfront investment) to start your affiliate marketing career.
Anyone who tells you affiliate marketing is easy and requires little effort is pulling the wool over your eyes or trying to scam you.