In this guide about affiliate marketing for beginners, you will learn the most basic points about this business.
Table of Contents
- Affiliate Marketing Definition
- Signing up for Affiliate Programs or Networks
- The Clickbank Affiliate Case
- Affiliate Marketing with Website
- Affiliate Marketing without Website
- Which Affiliate Marketing Networks Should I join?
- Don’t Fall for Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
- Free Affiliate Marketing Tools
- How to do Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate Marketing Definition
What is affiliate marketing? It is a marketing modality that generally involves three participants:
The affiliate Network or Affiliate Program
The affiliate Merchant
The affiliate Publisher
It’s easier to become an affiliate publisher than to join an advertising network. Generally, ads networks require you to have a website that has around 1000 daily visits. Not so with affiliate marketing. You can get started as an affiliate marketer with a mini-website with as little as five pages.
There aren’t big KPI requirements involved to join an affiliate program or network. Networks like Amazon’s affiliate program, Clickbank or eBay accept virtually anyone that registers on their portals to join their affiliate networks.
Programs may check your website before onboarding you, and it helps to have a website that already has a relatively substantial quantity of content related to the products of the program.
If you already have a website that receives 1000+ daily hits, joining both ad networks and affiliate programs is not going to hurt. But since this article focuses on those who are just starting, please read on.
An example of an affiliate network is Amazon Associates. In a nutshell, it involves joining the Amazon Associates affiliate program, finding products you want to promote, creating links to those products, and planting those links in the content of your website.
A similar affiliate network is eBay, and I have a thing or two to say about both of these networks. Contrary to most of the advice you will find on the web about getting started as an affiliate marketer, I’d recommend you to join eBay and not Amazon’s affiliate program to give walk your affiliate baby steps. I will explain why below.
Joining affiliate programs is a little bit different than joining an affiliate network. Generally, a merchant creates a program and by joining it you can promote all the products that the merchant sells.
The bar to entry is a little bit higher than joining an affiliate network, but the commissions tend to be higher too.
Signing up for Affiliate Programs or Networks
There are many compliance points to follow when you become an affiliate marketer for a network or program.
Generic examples of affiliate marketing compliance rules:
Using images or photos for products or services that you source, and not ripping of photos from the network product pages
Disclosing the fact that your articles have affiliate links, as it's done in every page of this website (top left area of the page)
Not using the brand name of the network (for example Amazon) you’re working for in the content
Not selling for two networks/programs in the same content piece (when one of the networks doesn't allow it)
A few examples of affiliate networks
Offer Daddy https://www.offerdaddy.com/home/referrals
The Clickbank Affiliate Case
Clickbank is a network of programs, as contrasted with Amazon Associates and eBay which are purely affiliate networks. It means that Clickbank is a marketplace of programs.
When you become a Clickbank affiliate, Clickbank gives you the service of grouping thousands of programs under a single platform. Using Clickbank search, in Clickbank’s marketplace (only accessible to those who registered on the portal) you can find the programs that best suit you.
There are many variables that you can use when searching for an affiliate program to join. The most important of these variables is gravity. On Clickbank, gravity means how hot a product is; how many conversions (sales) the program has achieved/is achieving.
The important point to bear in mind about Clickbank is that once you join it, you don’t need to apply to any of the available programs individually, you can start promoting the ones you want right away.
Affiliate Marketing with Website
If you want your affiliate marketing to be straightforward, then the best way to do it is by operating your marketing strategy from one or more websites.
You can be an affiliate marketer without a website, but not having websites complicates things a lot (see below).
Even if it is easier to be accepted into affiliate networks than into an affiliate program run by a merchant, I’d recommend you to work on your website and join the network only when the site doesn’t look like it’s under construction anymore.
If I remember correctly, Amazon (just to give an example) states explicitly in their agreement before you join that your website must not be under construction at the moment of applying to join. In this topic, I guess it is more or less the same with the rest of the networks.
One thing you should be aware of is that you can have one big super website or many mini-websites, each one for different products/niches.
If you are interested in selling products that belong to very different niches, you probably should follow the mini-website route.
If you want to sell products or services that can be grouped under an umbrella topic or theme, then you can create a single, big website and partition it into different categories.
Affiliate Marketing without Website
Doing affiliate marketing without a website is possible but generally harder than doing it with a website.
You’ll still need a platform through which to publish your content and convey your affiliate links.
For example, you could review products through YouTube videos and post the affiliate links in the text-only video description below the video.
Another way of carrying an affiliate marketing project without a website would be developing a strong email marketing campaign and combining it with very simple pages that you host in free-for-all websites like Tumblr or Blogger.
This approach needs a little money investment, though. You need to at least buy domain names for the pages/mini-sites you are going to host on the free-for-all sites. Having the subdomain of those sites will just make you look unprofessional.
If you decide to use this approach, another investment that will help would be purchasing a membership in an autoresponder service.
But not in the beginning. When you start, you can use the free plans many autoresponders give until you max out the number of subscribers in the free list that they give you.
This is one of the reasons why it’s easier to do it with your website. If you use a real CMS (WordPress, Joomla, etc) you don’t need to subscribe to an autoresponder service to build a list of leads (potential customers).
Which Affiliate Marketing Networks Should I join?
If you never worked as an affiliate marketer before, then answer these three questions:
1. Do you have daily visits in the order of 300+ unique (coming from different IPs) hits, consistently?
2. Is your website about an industry or niche that is guaranteed to cater to people that are looking for that last final push to buy or hire a product or service?
3. Do you have 50+ individual articles in place, that you will be able to leverage, to add more than 2-3 affiliate links to each of those 50 articles?
If your answer is yes to questions 1, 2, and 3, then you could join any of the three most popular ones Amazon Associates, eBay Partners, and/or Clickbank. Go now, and start reading the terms of service for the one you think you want to join.
If you answered no to any of the three questions, please keep reading.
If you are just starting your journey as an affiliate marketer I will recommend you bypass Amazon Associates entirely. The grace period they give you is too short to be of use to someone just starting. You must make at least three sales in the six months of the grace period, or they will kick you out of the program.
Things being that way, you will be better off learning the ropes with any other network. You may have a high level of confidence in yourself, and think you can beat the odds. If you think so, go ahead and disregard this advice.
Yet, if any of your answers to the three questions I posed is no, I think the odds are strongly against you making the three sales Amazon Associates require from you before the 180 days of grace run out.
It isn’t funny when you toiled adding affiliate links for six months to all the pages on your website and then, once the six months are over you find that Amazon Associates has kicked you out of the program due to under-performing.
Save yourself the hassle of going through a failed membership by joining one or both of the other two most popular, eBay and/or Clickbank.
Clickbank and eBay might not have such a gigantic stock of products as Amazon, but at least they don’t condition your membership with a requirement of three sales in the first six months, and they don’t kick you out for under-performing.
It’s no joke, when you spend six months working hard every day, adding affiliate links, when you fail to convert three times and you find yourself out of the program once the six months are over.
All the work that you did goes down the drain and you find yourself with hundreds (or even thousands) of useless affiliate links in your pages that will take months to change to some other network.
Don’t Fall for Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
Amazingly, practically a quarter-century since this business modality began there are still fake gurus promising you to make you a millionaire overnight through affiliate marketing, if you buy they get rich quick courses.
Like everything else, it will take money, effort, and hard work to succeed as an affiliate marketer and you will have to do a lot of additional business work on the side to make your affiliate marketing strategy succeed.
Unless you already have a website with 300-1000+ daily hits, because your niche is extremely popular, you will have to invest time and effort in researching the market opportunities available to you.
Ideally, you will find a balance between the topics that you know and like and the demands of the market. Your first affiliate marketing website can be about things that you know or like, but later you should try to create websites and content for products that are guaranteed to sell.
You must understand what you need to know before starting. What you need to know before choosing your niches requires different activities for you to be able to discover the markets, and those activities are beyond the scope of this article.
Anyway, I will list a few metrics you need to know before starting.
Demand: how many persons search for the keywords of your chosen niches every month
Competition: AKA supply, how many websites are providing content, products, and services on those niches already
Difficulty: how difficult it will be for you to break into the market competitively
There are more, but I showed those three to give you an idea of the metrics you must study when you do your market research.
If you are going to host a website and write the content you need to learn about SEO (how to make your content easy to find), context (how to make the style of the website match the products or services you’ll promote), and a lot more of digital marketing techniques.
Free Affiliate Marketing Tools
There are many tools that you can use to make your life as an affiliate marketer easy. While some of them help, others are downright compulsory. I will name just a few because of this articles length’s constraints.
Probably the kind of tool that gets touted to beginners the most in the affiliate marketing industry. An autoresponder allows you to start an affiliate marketing operation without anything else.
I included this type of application because you need to familiarize yourself with it and make them another item in your affiliate marketing arsenal.
Autoresponders fulfill two marketing purposes. One is feeding your lists, and the other is automating the sales funnel for you, they will manage your signups or bounces.
The lists or lists you start with aren’t going to be the only ones, you’ll build highly focused ones depending on different niches, landing pages, and websites. Also, autoresponders will shield you from being labeled a spammer.
Autoresponder Purpose One: Building Your List
This is how they work. First, you must get hold of a list of prospective buyers (leads in affiliate marketing lingo). You must buy one, or build it yourself.
At the same time, you must figure out a way (hopefully more) to seed the web with points of access to your list. For example, you can include joining buttons in your pages of content.
Generally, the best way of doing this is to create a lead magnet. This item can be many different things.
Examples of lead magnets are a report, ebook, tool, an e-course, or other similar resources that your target audience can’t get anywhere else.
Then you put your lead magnet behind your autoresponder subscription system, and in that way, you force your leads to subscribe to your list to be able to download the item.
The lead magnet’s download link can be streamlined into the first email of the campaign, or you may separate the two processes and give the download link to your leads instantly, as soon as they join your list.
Autoresponder Purpose Two: Automating your Sales Funnel
You automate your conversion funnel by creating an email marketing campaign. The autoresponder takes care of the automation part.
For the 3rd party list that you buy or build yourself, the autoresponder can pick an x quantity of leads from the list daily and send them emails. It keeps track of which email of the campaign each address has already received, and sends the next one.
For the new subscribers that join your autoresponder-built list, the application starts sending the emails as soon as they join, and keeps track like in the previous case.
You need an Email Marketing Campaign
An email marketing campaign must have anywhere from say, half a dozen to a dozen or fifteen different mails in which you set the stage for planting calls-to-action (to the product pages of the programs you joined) around the middle of it, and in the last two or so emails.
Each email must be a piece of the greater machinery that is your campaign, and they must be useful to your reader, they mustn’t be each one of them an advertisement with a link to the merchant’s pages.
The sequencing of emails can follow different formulas. An example of a generic email campaign, also known as opt-in permission marketing would be:
Awareness -> Engagement -> Consideration -> Evaluation -> Conversion
Some paid apps, like for instance MailChimp allow you to design your whole campaign on their platform, including the optional landing pages with content and affiliate links that your emails will direct your leads to.
Services like this are the ones that don’t need much more else than the tool. If you don’t want to send the leads that read your emails directly to the merchants’ websites, you can create long-form landers on the service itself, and with these services, you don’t need a website to do that.
The point in case is that to use an autoresponder and nothing else to start an affiliate marketing business you can’t do it for free. But after some time, you will need to invest in both a powerful, unlimited autoresponder service.
In theory, you could use the free plan of the many autoresponders that have a free trial or plan, and build your lists yourself, mining email addresses from the websites that your intended audience frequents.
But doing it this way, it gets tricky, since the people in the list that you’re going to build didn’t give you consent to hustle to them, and the mails are going to be unsolicited.
In practice such a plan might fail, not just because you may be tagged as a spammer, but also because autoresponder free plans are more like test drives than real free services that are of any use in the long run.
Check the free plans of these autoresponders:
Market Research Tools
You need to do market research, and that means researching, finding, and curating keywords. Start by using one or all of these:
These web apps are free and can get you a long way without investing any money. You might have to use them sparingly (since some of them have daily limits), but remember that slow and steady wins the race.
In a nutshell, to find which keywords to choose you should find the ones that have the highest number of monthly searches and the lowest possible competition/difficulty rates. About 30000 or more searches per month is a market, from 1000 to 2000 searches per month is a long-tail keyword. Don’t neglect long-tail keywords, especially when you are just starting.
If you want to achieve a deeper understanding of the keywords you need to work with, then you can subscribe to the paid plans of any of the apps in the previous list, or go for a 100%-paid solution like Ahrefs of Buzzsumo.
Content Audit Tools
After you wrote and posted the content pages that will carry your affiliate links, it pays to have a good content audit tool that will give you a birds-eye view of your website and its pages. By auditing them with one of these apps you will see which areas of each page can be improved.
One thing, don’t confound SEO apps, there are a ton of these apps that you can use for free on the web, with content audit apps. The four offline content audit apps that I list below are also called SEO apps, but the content audit features they have are hard to find in any of the online free SEO web apps.
Like with the market research tools, there are a few that will help you to get started without having to pay. You’ll notice that I included three, that’s because the free versions of each have trade-offs.
Traffic Travis: The first one you should install and use when your website is brand new and small. Or when you haven’t used a site audit tool yet. It has like 50-70% features unlocked, but it allows you to crawl up to 50 URLs only.
Screaming Frog: The one that probably is going to last you the longest as a free tool. I think 90% of the features are unlocked. The drawback of the free version is that you can crawl up to 500 URLs only. The 500 URLs limit also includes dynamically generated technical URLs that aren’t your .html content pages, so you may extend your free use of this tool by filtering useless URLs out.
Netpeak Spider: Its free version is the most restrictive of all three, but the free version has something in its favor. It allows you to crawl (seemingly) an infinite number of URLs. It may help you when you need to have a birds-eye view of the structure of your website that includes all of its pages.
Visual SEO Studio: Easy to understand and the free version is fairly useful, I would recommend you to use this one before deep diving into Screaming Frog, since is much easier to find the important deviations that you need to correct.
So, my recommendation is:
1) Use Traffic Travis on new sites, or when you are new to making website content audits
3) Use Visual SEO Studio, when your website has more than 50 pages of content, but use it before learning Screaming Frog, since it is much more intuitive.
2) Use a combination of Screaming Frog and Netpeak Spider until you can purchase one of these three or a subscription to the web-based ones.
I recommend you to use Traffic Travis as the first site crawler to audit your content pages because it’s very user intuitive and the interface is simplified.
The program will hold your hand and teach you, through videos, how to use it. Please do watch the videos as they will teach you everything you need to know about how to use it.
It’s the tool that you should use when you have just started because when your site begins to grow and the page count (and the dynamic technical URLs count) increases, the free plan isn’t going to be of much use, because the free version Traffic Travis only will crawl 50 URLs.
The most useful tab of the five tabs is the ‘My Site’ one. You can see your pages’ backlinks (how many pages on the web link to each page), PA (page authority) that shows which are the more authoritative pages on your website, and keywords (this column helps you spot pages for which you forgot to add meta keywords).
Also, in the ‘My Site’ tab there is a column called ‘SEO Warnings’ you can click on the numbers there and get an idea of what you need to tweak to optimize the page for SEO.
Visual SEO Studio
It has a section with ten website analysis tools, these are very useful and much easier to find than in Screaming Frog. It does not have as many features and granularity as Screaming Frog, but still, it gives you a lot of information, most that you will need in the beginning.
Something that is better in this tool than the others in this shortlist is that out of the box, in the free version it comes with a readability analysis feature that tests all your content with seven different readability tests. I still cannot believe they are giving this for free. Screaming Frog also has this feature but you have to configure it, whereas in Visual SEO studio it takes you two or three clicks to get readability test results for all your content pages.
For instance, to see which of your pages have problems with their metadata the only steps you have to follow are. 1) crawl your site, 2) click HTML Suggestions in the Site Analysis menu, 3) Scroll the tabs bar at the top of the main window to see all the problems, like for instance pages missing meta description, pages with duplicate metadata, and the like. This option alone, the HTML suggestion catches eighteen different types of error.
Screaming Frog SEO Spider
This is the one I use the most, and it makes an incredibly detailed decomposition of your website’s pages. Some of the content data you can list with Screaming Frog:
Internal Links: links between your website pages
Outbound Links: links from your pages to other sites
SEO Title Length: keep each SEO Title at around 60 characters
SEO Meta Description: keep it at 155 or so characters
SEO Keywords: controversial, but better to add around five keywords
SEO Images Metadata: have the page’s keyword in each description
The free version of Screaming Frog allows you to crawl 500 URLs. This is problematic for big sites and you will need some other tool to generate a report that includes all of your pages.
The freemium trial of Netpeak Spider is certainly very restrictive, but it has several uses anyway. You can use it to
A) Get fast-and-dirty visual statistics on your website.
In the dashboard you can see:
Pie charts with percentages of URL compliance, issues, response time, status code, and content time. You can click in any of the pie charts’ slices and you’re taken to the report for the URLs on that slice only.
A bars chart with percentages of URLs by click depth. This pretty much gives a simplified view of your website’s structure.
Traffic reports, reporting Google and Yahoo traffic, Google Search Console clicks and impressions.
B) A color-coded list of all the pages on your website
If you are on a shoestring budget and can’t pay for any of these tools you might need to use at least a couple (Screaming Frog and Netpeak Spider).
This feature of Netpeak Spider is valuable because if your site has more than 500 pages, the maximum that Screaming Frog will crawl, (not just .html, but dynamically-generated ones too), you will miss a lot of them.
But with Netpeak Spider you can get a complete list of absolutely all the pages and spot the problematic ones. Be warned, though, that many pages with errors may be false positives.
Since your content pages are the life of your affiliate business and the inline affiliate links you will embed in them its blood, you want to start managing those links neatly from day one as an affiliate marketer.
A very simple way, that you can use from the start, before deciding on the CMS plugin that works for you, is to record all of them in a spreadsheet. This is good and you should never neglect to carry an offline register of your affiliate links.
Still, you will need to find something that works in tandem with your CMS, to be able to have a centralized register of all your affiliate links on your website.
You can always use a regular link manager plugin, that will allow you to organize and do operations to links in bulk, but having one that is only for affiliate links has specific benefits:
To quickly find and modify links to products that change their sales pages
To disable links to products that aren’t available anymore
To carry statistics about how many clicks each of them gets
To use geolocation for the links on your content pages
To cloak the affiliate links by shortening their URL
A few of the ones I used have an option to export your affiliate links as .CSV or a spreadsheet format like .XLSX. If you settle for a plugin with this feature, you can periodically use it, to add your links to your offline worksheet and forfeit the step of manually adding each link to your offline register of affiliate links.
How to do Affiliate Marketing
If you scrolled to the bottom without reading all the previous sections of this article, at least read this recap.
Affiliate marketing is a marketing modality in which you, working as a content writer and promoter (publisher), join an affiliate network or program (merchant) and write content for products you want to promote.
You affix affiliate links to your content. Those links (called inline links) send the readers to the sales pages of the products. If they buy the product or service, you get a commission.
In some networks like Amazon and eBay, the commission percentages are low (around 5%) as opposed to programs run by others where the commissions sometimes reach 50-70%, or even higher than that.
You can work as an affiliate marketer without a website, but having one certainly makes things easier. Having a website that you use to build your affiliate marketer career has many additional benefits than using other, 3rd party, free-for-all platforms.
Still, you may use free-for-all platforms (Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr) if you’re strapped for cash, but it’s not a permanent solution and I would add, not worth the pain that it will cause you. They only make sense if you make do with them the best you can and at least superficially hide the fact that your pages/sites are based on them, with a dedicated top-level domain name. This is not easily achievable and it will consume a lot of your time that could be put to better use.
If you are a beginner, don’t fall for the bad advice given all over the internet to join Amazon Associates, since the chances of success as a novice affiliate marketer with AA are low. Join eBay and/or Clickbank instead.
Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta
© Martin Wensley 2022 — Affiliate Marketing for Beginners — Affiliate Marketing