Affiliate marketing is you earn commissions by promoting other people/or companies’ products or services. You can either promote them on your blog, website, YouTube channel, or social media.
Affiliate marketing is a way to make money online by promoting someone else’s products and using affiliate links in your articles. If you’re thinking, “how do I get started with affiliate marketing?” then this complete step-by-step guide is for you!
How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?
You partner with a company selling products/services you would like to recommend to your audience. If they buy something using your affiliate link, you get a commission from the sale. There are other types of affiliate programs, but this is the most common and is also what I do.
1. Find Your Niche
My career journey went like this: online marketing > web design > WordPress web design > WordPress SEO > WordPress speed optimization. Now I’m focusing on WordPress hosting.
While I was doing WordPress speed optimization I noticed lots of people needed it, but very few people supplied it (there was a lack of services and tutorials when I researched Google). I also knew hosting was the #1 factor of website speed and hosting companies paid up to $200/sale. Hosting is a competitive space but the commissions and lack of supply enticed me.
I expanded my SEO blog and started writing about hosting, cache plugins, and other relevant topics… while recommending Cloudways in many guides. I added social proof like the Facebook polls where they were rated #1. Each tutorial was super detailed (like this one) and tons of people found them helpful – many get 100+ visitors/day since great content = higher rankings.
Once I found my niche (WordPress speed optimization), a solid hosting company with a high commission affiliate program (Cloudways), and created tutorials around topics people in my niche would find helpful (and might want to change their host), that’s what got me to $150k.
Once you find a niche with high demand, little supply (do your Google research), and a reputable affiliate with high commissions… and you have the patience to wait for financial results while creating your assets (I’m talking about content), you should leap!
2. Start A Blog Or YouTube Channel
A blog and YouTube channel are completely different, not just because one is writing and one is shooting videos. But each of them is different in terms of SEO, conversions, time, and cost.
Blogging vs. YouTube Videos
- Ownership – you own your blog, not YouTube.
- SEO Traffic – it takes longer to get SEO traffic to a blog than YouTube.
- SEO Difficulty – the SEO competition in YouTube is often less than Google.
- Cost – YouTube is free, blogs require domain, hosting, development costs, etc.
- Content Updates – it’s easier to update a blog post than to remake a video.
- Coupon Codes – YouTube is great if your affiliates let you use coupon codes.
- Time – it takes longer to set up a blog, (though Astra Sites have made it easier).
- Expectations – in your niche, do people prefer watching videos or reading articles?
- Domain – GoDaddy or Namecheap.
- Hosting – Bluehost for cheap/slow, Cloudways for good/fast.
- WordPress – what I recommend building your website/blog on.
- Astra Starter Templates – WordPress themes most people are using. They look amazing, are mobile responsive, and are 1-click import. Just install WordPress in your hosting account, login to your WordPress dashboard, and download the Astra Starter Sites plugin. Pick a theme and import it in 1-click, then you’re ready to start customizing your blog!
- Have A Developer On Hand – to this day, I still pay Pronaya (my developer from Bangladesh) to do things I can’t. If it takes him 1 hour but it takes you 3 days to install your WordPress theme, just have him do it. He can be found on freelancer.com with username bdkamol. Here’s his profile link. I’ve been working with him since 2011, so yes, he’s legit.
3. Sign Up For Affiliate Programs
Hosting, Amazon, and affiliate programs related to “making websites” are very popular.
Websites – if you’re in the “how to make a website/blog” industry, I’ve accumulated a list of affiliate programs for WordPress, hosting, themes, plugins, SEO, email, CDNs, and services. Remember that to get approved, some companies require you to be somewhat established.
Do the math – to make $300 in a day, I would need to refer about 2 people to hosting, 10 people to themes, or 30 people to plugins. Before deciding on a program, ask yourself a few questions. I have roughly 3,000 readers/day and make about 2-3 sales per day at $150 per sale.
- What commission will you get?
- How many sales will you need per day?
- How much traffic will you need to get those sales (roughly)?
4. Be Careful With Amazon
Amazon’s commissions are based on categories are you’re only making 0-5% unless you’re referring people to Amazon games, Luxury Beaty, or Amazon Explore. Otherwise, you will need a lot of sales to actually make a living and will likely need to refer people to big-ticket items (video equipment on YouTube is a big one especially if you’re into cameras, lenses, lights, etc).
But be careful with Amazon’s affiliate program.
They have a long history of reducing commissions and writing content that competes with affiliates (and most people go directly to Amazon). I don’t recommend being an affiliate for any monopoly. You could very well end up getting trampled on like most Amazon affiliates have. However, if you get lots of views, many affiliates are making “how to do something” YouTube videos and listing their equipment in the video description. A million views can make it worth it.
Here are examples of people making money with Amazon:
How he makes money – at 1m26s he focuses on his video equipment. The video description includes links to geniuslink.com. This is a website that showcases different stores (e.g. Amazon) where people can buy the equipment (using his affiliate links). The genuinely helpful video though.
How she makes money – at the 40s you will see the video is sponsored by Skillshare and she also uses an affiliate link in the video description, as well as affiliate links to Amazon for the video equipment she uses. Another person recommending video equipment (that’s a hint for you).
How he makes money – he found a keyword on YouTube “best gadgets on Amazon” which has a lot of searches. People are searching this on YouTube (not Google or Amazon) which means they’re looking for a video review of the best gadgets, otherwise, they would have gone directly to Amazon. His Amazon affiliate links to each of the gadgets are found in the video description.
Conclusion: a lot of people are making money by referring people to video equipment they use.
Learn How Affiliate Programs Work
One Tier – get a commission when a sale is generated from your affiliate link.
Two Tier – get a commission when you refer other affiliates and they start making sales (think multilevel marketing). An example is WP Engine’s program where I tell my readers about their WordPress hosting, they start making sales, and I earn $50/sale from each sale they generate.
Climbing Tiers – increased commissions as you get more sales.
Recurring Commissions – usually happens with subscription services… you continuously receive commissions as long as people are signed up. AWeber and SEMrush are examples.
Sitewide Commissions – get a commission no matter what people buy on the affiliate’s website. Amazon’s affiliate program does this.
Pay Per Lead – get a commission based on the number of leads (e.g. contact form fill-outs) you send to a business. Be sure to set up your analytics to track this and have a solid, written agreement with your affiliate. You don’t want to spend tons of time and get burned as I have.
Cookies – the amount of time after people click your affiliate link you will receive a commission if a sale is generated. Usually, 30-90 days but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker when choosing affiliates.
Individual Affiliate Programs – affiliate programs that are located on their website.
Add Affiliate Links To Your content
Step 1: Sign up and get approved. You usually need a decent amount of traffic (or a history of sales) before getting approved. If you have a large following somewhere else (i.e. YouTube), you may be able to convince affiliates to approve you. Otherwise, you need to generate traffic first.
Step 2: Get your affiliate links. Log in to your affiliate dashboard and grab your affiliate links. With most individual affiliate programs, they assign you an affiliate ID which you can add to any URL on their website to turn it into an affiliate link. In affiliate marketplaces like ShareASale, they preassign affiliate links but also have a custom link generator. Use these to add deep links.
Step 3: For blogs, install an affiliate link management plugin (I use Thirsty Affiliates) and add your affiliate links here. This lets you organize, track, cloak, nofollow, and add affiliate links.
Step 4: Configure the Thirsty Affiliate plugin settings.
- Choose a link prefix (I use /go/)
- Enable statistics in the “Modules” setting
- Use nofollow + sponsored (recommended by Google)
- Consider Thirsty Affiliates Pro if you want automatic keyword linking
Step 5: Add affiliate links to posts. If you’re using the classic editor like me, use the Thirsty Affiliates button to add affiliate links. When you do it this way, all the attributes you configured in the settings (cloaking, nofollow, sponsored, etc) are automatically added to the affiliate link.
Step 6: Use your affiliate dashboard to track sales, statistics, and get to know your affiliate dashboard because it can be very helpful (especially when trying to increase conversion rates).
Banners – banners don’t work well. They’re easy to throw up, but distracting and probably won’t get great results. If you try them, be sure to show specific sidebar banners based on the type of content people are reading on your blog (for posts that fall under my SEO category I would show a banner related to SEO, and for posts under my website speed category I would show a different banner). You can control sidebar banners using a plugin like Widget Logic.
AdSense – It’s easy to throw up AdSense on your blog, but good luck making a decent income. It is NOT personalized whereas affiliate links involve people taking YOUR recommendation on very specific things. AdSense makes your site slower than a turtle. Not good for monetization.
It’s a huge bonus if your affiliate lets you create coupon codes.
Since your coupon code is attached to your affiliate account, you get credit for the sale if anyone uses it. So in YouTube videos, people don’t even need to click your affiliate link – just give them your coupon code to save them money, and you will get your affiliate commission.
Get Traffic Before Sales
One of the biggest mistakes bloggers make is focusing on money first.
This is bad for a few of reasons:
- No traffic = no sales
- Most affiliates require you to have some traffic
- Your authenticity is ruined if you’re too salesy from the start
But it definitely helps to have money in mind when you start. That way, once you get traffic and are approved by affiliates, you can easily add affiliate links to blog posts where you already mention your affiliate’s products/services. Don’t focus on money first, but have it in your plan.
Most affiliate marketers get most of their traffic from SEO (or Pinterest which I admit to knowing nothing about). But I do know SEO is a more popular way to get consistent traffic.
The key steps to SEO are:
- Researching a keyword, it’s search volume, and competition.
- Creating in-depth content that is better than whoever’s in the top results.
- Making content user-friendly (YouTube chapters, table of contents on blog).
- Using your keyword in the right places (title, description, content, video file name).
- Increasing click-through rates (titles, custom thumbnails, Google’s featured snippets).
Researching A Keyword – find a keyword in YouTube’s autocomplete dropdown (or Google Autocomplete for blog posts). You can use the underline character _ to fill in the blank. Broad keywords have more searches but are more competitive. The best keywords are broad (lots of volumes) with weak content in the top results. video helps you learn a keyword’s competition in YouTube and MozBar helps you learn competition in Google. I find the competition in YouTube is much less than Google, so choose broad keywords for videos and specific keywords for blogs.
Review Keyword Examples
- Apple MacBook Pro 16 review
- What is the best WordPress hosting
- SiteGround WordPress Hosting review
Solution Keyword Examples
- How to do yoga at home (recommend a yoga mat)
- Why is my website slow (recommended faster hosting)
- How to connect laptop to TV (recommend an HDMI cable)
Creating In-Depth Content Around The Keyword – 10+ minutes for YouTube videos and 1,500+ words for blog posts depending on how extensive the topic is. Extensive yet concise! If your content is long, make sure to include timestamps in your video descriptions or create an HTML table of contents for blog posts so viewers can jump to specific sections of your content.
Making Content User-Friendly – the two easiest ways are to use timestamps in video descriptions and an HTML table of contents in blog posts (see below). Get a good camera, invest in good hosting to make your site faster (for blogs), and design nice, crisp graphics using Canva.
Use Your Keyword In The Right Places
For YouTube videos, use your keyword in the:
- File name (before uploading)
- Video title (find a balance between using the keyword and making it catchy)
- Video description (about 2-3 times), the description should be decently long
For blog posts, use your keyword in the:
- Post title
- SEO title (in your SEO plugin)
- Meta description (in your SEO plugin)
- Content body (about 2-3 times, once in the first couple sentences)
Increase Click-Through Rates – for YouTube videos, it’s all about catchy titles and thumbnails. For blog posts, it’s all about a catchy SEO title and meta description (in your SEO plugin), getting in Google’s featured snippets (photo below), and using rich snippets like review stars and FAQs.
Featured snippets can be achieved by answering a question keyword in a very concise way (usually with a paragraph or list from the content). Lists are usually pulled from your table of contents or h3 subheadings. To get a featured snippet for my keyword “how to make money with affiliate marketing” Google will likely use my TOC or maybe (let’s see), this paragraph:
To make money with affiliate marketing, set up a blog or YouTube channel and find relevant products/services to refer your readers to. Sign up for affiliate programs, create affiliate links to products, and add them to your content. Most affiliates rely on SEO or Pinterest to get traffic.
Designing a nice image with your exact keyword helps too!
Build Your Community
Respond To Comments – some of my articles have 400+ comments. It’s hard to keep up sometimes but this is a key part of building a community and allowing readers to ask you questions and leave their feedback. You should especially respond to YouTube comments because they are a ranking factor and encourage even more people to leave more comments.
Build That Newsletter – I use Mailchimp and can’t stress how important it is to build your email list from the start (it’s free until you reach 2,000 subscribers). Once you create an account, add an email sidebar on your blog or create a dedicated newsletter page where people can sign up.
Be Open, Not Salesy – I hold back zero information on my blog, don’t recommend anything I don’t truly believe will help my readers, and try my best not to recommend hosting on every single post I write (only where it makes sense). Valuable information first, affiliate sales after.
How do YouTube make money with affiliate marekting?
Most YouTubers add affiliate links in the video description or mention promo codes in their video which credit them the sale.
Affiliate marketing is probably one of the fastest ways to make money online in the long term. But, to do it right takes quite a bit of hard work. The above guide will give you the exact steps that I took to build my own affiliate marketing business.