What is Affiliate Marketing? Definition and Main Topics

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What is Affiliate Marketing? Definition and Main Topics

affiliate marketing pyramid

What is affiliate marketing? As I see it affiliate marketing is the king of marketing for the 21st century. Affiliate marketing is a godsend for those marketers that want to work selling stuff but don’t have the means or the will to carry an inventory of physical or digital products.

How does Affiliate Marketing work?

For a minimal affiliate marketing definition, you must know that in affiliate marketing you can be either the merchant or the publisher.

There are many ways to work as an affiliate marketer. In the same way, there are a lot of different types of content used to reach your target customers by promoting the products of others. The two basic modalities are merchant and publisher.

If you are a merchant you own a product that you want to sell. You create an affiliate program by deciding how are you going to recruit affiliates, and how are you going to compensate them. Then you set an affiliate system on your website for those interested to join your program. The publishers promote your product and send prospective customers to your website. If the prospects buy your product or service, then you pay the publisher a commission.

If you are a publisher or promoter, you join an affiliate program, if they accept you, you create content, promotions, and/or advertisements for the products of the merchant's program in your channels (social media profiles, websites, email campaigns) and embed affiliate links in said content, that point to the merchant's sales points.

Affiliate marketers are called publishers in the affiliate marketing community. An AM doesn’t sell anything, she or he just promotes the products that are of interest to his or her visitors. In some phrases of the content that promotes the product or service the publisher inserts links to the merchant’s website. If the customer follows the link and ends up purchasing a product or service on the merchant’s website, then the publisher gets a commission.

By promoting stuff to visitors and providing links to the merchant website you are selling, but in an indirect way. This is for regular affiliate marketing.

What is an Example of Affiliate Marketing

The affiliate marketing example I have seen all over the web is to join Amazon Associates' affiliate program. It is as easy as joining and then putting links to Amazon products in your content on the web. If someone who reads your content clicks on the affiliate links they are taken to a product page on Amazon. If they buy the product, you receive a commission. Still, I advise you not to do it if you are just starting. Please read this guide for more information.

What is Affiliate Marketing of the White Label Variety?

In white label affiliate marketing, the merchant furnishes the publisher with a stock of products, or an easily duplicable digital product, and authorizes the publisher to sell the products on her or his website without the need to send the customer outside of it.

Some, but not all, white label affiliate marketing programs even allow the publisher to rebrand the products. That means that the merchant authorizes you not just to sell or distribute the products without sending the customers to the merchant's website, but also affixing your name or trademark to the product and making it look as if it were yours.

How to do Affiliate Marketing

If you are interested in becoming a publisher and working for affiliate marketing programs, then there are some types of content you should learn to craft.

    Sales letter
    Squeeze page
    Landing page
    Email campaigns

Affiliate Marketing isn't just Sales and Writing Content 

Affiliate marketing is not just about products, digital selling techniques, and content to promote the products.

There are a few considerations to the process. Essentially, you mustn't come off as a spammer that is only interested in selling something. You must add some value to the process of preparing the prospects for conversion (buying). This step in the customer journey is called pre-selling.

You achieve this not by sending your website visitors, or the subscribers of your mailing list directly to the merchant's sales pages, but by creating content that informs them, educates them, reinforces their reasons to buy; by giving more information and reasons why they should buy, and elaborating on the benefits of the product.

Affiliate Marketing Funnel

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What are affiliate marketing funnels? In digital marketing in general, and in affiliate marketing in particular, the customer journey is called the marketing, or sales, funnel. Those affiliate marketers that care about building a relationship with their readers should take advantage of a sales funnel system to keep the leads interested.

A sales funnel has many purposes, some examples:

    Lead capture
    Lead education
    Lead nurturing

Sales funnels have many more applications, but for affiliate marketing, the ones listed above are the most common.

The deeper the customer in the conversion process, the narrower the funnel gets. This is because just a percentage of the leads one captures are going to convert. In turn, not all those that convert will convert again and again when cross-selling and up-selling to them.

A generic affiliate sales funnel has around four or five stages, and you, as an affiliate publisher are involved in 3 or 4 of them. You may be involved in the first 3 or 4, or you may be involved in stages 2,3,4, or stages 2,3.

Stage 1:Awareness -> Stage 2: Engagement -> Stage 3: Consideration -> Stage 4: Evaluation -> Stage 5: Conversion

Stage One: Awareness

If the prospective customers already know about the product, they might land on your website to get more information about it. In that case, you don't need to make them aware of the product, and you will start 

If your leads are not aware of the product yet, it is your responsibility to create awareness of the product, to attract them to your content extolling its benefits. In that case, you can begin creating the awareness somewhere else other than your website or your affiliate product pages, like for instance in social media channels, and then sending them to your sites or pages for a more in-depth take on the product.

Stage Two: Engagement

In this stage, your leads are going to be already aware of the product, or they are beginning to be aware. If they are aware, you should provide them with detailed content that elaborates on the product. If they are unaware or becoming aware just now, you will elaborate on the points you touched superficially on stage one.

Whatever their level of awareness is at this stage of the sales funnel, on this stage you must deliver a substantial argument of why they should go to the merchant's website and buy. By this stage, you can already embed your affiliate links in your content. Also, at this stage, you must include mechanisms to capture them, anything that will make them share with you your email address and opt-in into your list of qualified leads.

Leads at this stage have demonstrated an interest in the products you are promoting, that is why they are called qualified. In this stage, you must feed that interest by engaging them. Like I said in the previous paragraph, one way is to make sure you are not going to lose them by asking them (or enticing them) to join your list. But you must also invite them to participate in the discussion by means of a comments function for the article

Other ways of engaging them at this stage would be creating an article that, while it may be the final push many would need to decide to buy, may leave a few questions unanswered. What you do add more value to it, and to make it more engaging is to invite persons that you find on the web that have already bought the product to read the article and leave their opinions in the comments section.

You should have a few articles related to the product at the bottom of the page, those that didn't click and went to the merchant's site may need to go through the following stages.

Stage 3: Consideration

The leads that did not convert in stage two are primed to become buyers, but they haven't decided anything yet. They are considering the product. If they joined your mailing list, you will send them emails related to the products for which they came to your website seeking information.

Also, the questions left unanswered or the points that you didn't touch in the content at stage two will be developed in a second article.

The content you will give your leads at this stage must not repeat the one in first, but the information in it must be complementary to it. You must create it in a way that will persuade the leads to buy even if they didn't read the first article. If you create the content of stages both two and three in this way, you may use them interchangeably.

It goes without saying that the content in this stage also needs to have links to the merchant's product pages.

Stage 4: Evaluation

There is the possibility that between stages one to three the leads have searched for similar products by competing brands. You have to have a third article or piece of content for those who are in the evaluation stage. The content in this stage is not so much persuasive as the previous two, as it is technical.

It should probably be shorter, not as emotional and it should remind them about the bare facts of the product and why it is superior to the competing ones. It must not bore the leads repeating the information you already gave them in stages two and three.

Whatever apprehensions or arguments your leads may have against buying, that you didn't already address in the previous stages must be dealt with here since this is maybe the last shot you have at converting them on that particular product.

With this piece, your responsibility to overdeliver on that particular product is pretty much fulfilled. If you can verify that they didn't convert at this nor any of the previous stages, then it's time to down-sell a different product to them 

Stage 5: Conversion

The leads may pass to this stage from stages two, three, or four. They went to the merchant's site and purchased the goods. You will receive a commission, but if you are serious about benefitting your leads, there is still more work that can be done.

When you verify that leads have converted you may up-sell to them, which means to sell them bigger/more expensive products related to the one they bought. Or you may cross-sell to them, sell them products on the same niche, but of similar or related, and application, but generally of lower price (less than 50% or so).

Affiliate Marketing Resources

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There’s a technological side to this form of marketing that makes use of a lot of different software aids, like: 


Autoresponders automate the customer acquisition process by initiating a scheme after a lead opts-in to the affiliate marketer’s email list.

When a lead opts-in, the autoresponder does a few things:

    Dispenses the lead magnet (if any) that the lead wants
    Subscribes the lead to an email list
    Initiates a marketing campaign sending the lead the first email 

Advertising Tech

Sometimes the merchant (seller) provides the publisher (promoter) with a way to create advertisements. The merchant’s system to generate advertisements may or may not have a level of customization that helps the publisher make the ad gel with the rest of the brand media. This is an example of advertising tech.

Another example of advertising tech would be retargeting, as provided by Facebook Pixel. 

Tracking Apps

There are a lot of metrics that can be tracked when conducting affiliate marketing. Like:

    Conversion rate

These three are the most basic ones, but there are dozens of others. 

Reporting Apps

Reports are one of the easiest business processes to automate. It’s unwise not to take advantage of reporting.

Tracking and measuring solutions that give easy ways to generate and deliver reports out of the box should be given priority over those that don’t have this feature, or that need additional work to set the reports up. 

Link Management Apps

When a publisher owns a content site with hundreds of pages and thousands of affiliate links, managing the links can’t be done manually anymore.

A situation like the one described in the above paragraph requires affiliate links solutions. These can be improvements for the website software or even off-site distributed web apps. 

Artificial intelligence

The use of AI for affiliate marketing is pretty much still in its infancy. Applications of AI for affiliate marketing can manage

    Predictive Analytics
    Sentiment Analysis
    Customer Intelligence Profiling
    Retargeting and Similar Ad Tech
    Automated Up-sell and Cross-sell 

Affiliate Products Social Sharing

All the channels that social media provide to users can be leveraged to promote affiliate products on those sites.

Maybe to directly send customers from a social media post to the merchant’s website is not the correct way to do affiliate marketing.

Done the right way, publishers share quality content on social media that readers can click, and take them to the publisher’s website.

Once on the website, the user reads the content. Said content has several affiliate links.  These three steps approach primes the lead for buying and has more chances than directly sharing affiliate links without value content by the publisher to back them up. 

Integrations with e-commerce apps

In the case of white label affiliate marketing, when the publisher wants not just to promote a product but also keep inventory and sell the affiliate products of others without sending the visitor to another website, an e-commerce solution is a must.

The affiliate program linkage must interface with an e-commerce solution for the publisher to have hard proof to show the merchant or to notify the merchant each time a customer buys an affiliate product on the publisher’s site.

E-commerce apps come in handy sometimes to organize products when conducting traditional affiliate marketing. They are useful when the publisher’s site offers hundreds of affiliate products and organizing them just by content categories and website sections becomes impractical.

What is Affiliate Marketing's Key to Success

I think that the best way to make a big income as an affiliate marketer is to be versatile as a content creator, unselfish in one's approach to marketing, and have a solid product research workflow in place. These three competencies feed on, and reinforce, each other.

A Great Product Research Workflow

Unselfishness and versatility aren't enough, you must combine them with sound product research. In fact, product research must come as the first prerequisite to making a handsome income as an affiliate. You must be in the know of as many hot products as possible in high converting niches and then calculate what are the odds of the content you would create for those products will have to become findable through search engines and social media.

Versatile as a Content Creator

If you want to create a handsome income for yourself as an affiliate, you will need to try dozens, even hundreds of niches in your first years. This will require that you adopt the voices and style appropriate for each niche. 

Unselfish Approach to Marketing

You can have thirty affiliate mini-sites about topics that you like and love, and add affiliate links to all of them. Even dozens of affiliate links per page. Still, this strategy may not work. It probably will not.

That is because most of the time what you love and like, and the topics that come easy to you to write about generally don't have a meaningful correlation with the realities of the markets.

You should have a higher ideal of putting your skills as a communicator in the service of helping those in need. Of connecting them with products that will solve their problems, alleviate their pains and fulfill their needs.

Your satisfaction about developing subjects around products to promote as an affiliate must come not about what you like or love to do and talk about, but about doing a great service where there are needs to satisfy.

How do I start Affiliate Marketing as a Beginner?

You can start as an affiliate marketer just by having a connection to the internet. There are many ways to do it, for example, you can become an affiliate marketer with or without owning one or more websites. Please read this guide for beginners, hopefully, it will answer many of your questions. 

 © Martin Wensley 2022 — What is Affiliate Marketing