Affiliate marketing: How it works and how to make money

Get started with affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing is one of the most established ways of making money on the web, but if you’re new to doing business online it may be a field you’re not familiar with. Affiliate marketing works by rewarding people who generate sales for established businesses, and that reward usually takes the form of a monetary reward.

In this guide, we’ll look at the basics of affiliate marketing, how it works and how you can use it to make money.

Affiliate marketing: How it works

Affiliate marketing is the process of generating income by sending traffic (or referrals) to an online retailer.

Typically, the income generated is a percentage of the retailer’s sale price. So for example, if an affiliate marketer sends a customer (often called a lead) to a retailer who buys a product worth £100, and the commission is 3%, then the affiliate marketer will earn £3.

(The method used to calculate commission can vary, but each retailer will explain the method it uses on the affiliate section of its site.)

How will the retailer know that you’ve helped them generate the sale?

Well, everyone who becomes part of an affiliate programme is given a unique tracking code.

Affiliate marketers include this code in links to the retailer’s products/services (such links are often called affiliate links) and so the retailer can then correctly pay commission.

How to make money affiliate marketing

  1. Find a niche that you’re passionate about
  2. Build a website and start creating content based on your niche
  3. Work on your site’s search engine optimization so you show up in search engine results for relevant search terms
  4. Set up social media profiles and consider paid promotion
  5. Sign up for relevant affiliate programmes and include their links in your content
  6. Build your own email list
  7. Be patient

Let’s look at each of these points in more detail:

1. Fine a niche that you’re passionate about

If you set out in a field you’re not interested in, you’re probably going to get bored and give up. Finding a niche that interests you will help you get stay engaged and increase your chances of success.

2. Build a website and start creating content based on your niche

Technically, it is possible to make money affiliate marketing without a website, but having a website will probably make things easier. So get a website up and running (something like a simple WordPress blog is a good place to start). You should then start creating content that’s relevant to your niche, so people will have something to read when they visit your site. However, be sure to pay close attention to the next point.

3. Work on your site’s search engine optimization so you show up in search engine results for relevant search terms

Search engine optimization is vital if you want to attract people to your website over the long term. It’s a complicated subject, but one area that is particularly important is keyword research as this will help ensure you’re writing about the right topics. You can learn about website keywords in this guide. You can also find a general beginner’s guide to SEO here.

4. Set up social media profiles and consider paid promotion

Social media is likely to be another  important way of attracting people to your affiliate website, so it pays to set up profiles early on. You should also examine the possibilities for paid social media promotion, although you probably won’t want to start a campaign until you have your affiliate links in place.

5. Sign up for relevant affiliate programmes and include their links in your content

You need to sign up for affiliate programmes before you can make money from affiliate marketing. We’ll look at how to identify the best affiliate programmes for you later in this guide, but before you fully launch your site make sure you include affiliate links in your content.

6. Build your own email list

Building your own email list gives you a chance to stay in touch with people who’ve visited your website, giving you extra chances to make affiliate sales. You can learn more about this later in the article.

7. Be patient

It takes time to build up a good affiliate marketing website, and it takes time for search engines to rank content. Don’t expect to make a fortune overnight. Keep going, and after a few months you should start to see results.

That’s the basics covered, now for a deeper dive on getting started with affiliate marketing.

How do I get started in affiliate marketing?

The first step in affiliate marketing is to decide what kind of products/services you’ll be promoting. This is often referred to as “choosing your niche”.

There are a number of things you should consider when selecting a niche, such as:

What am I interested in? – It’s easier to run a successful affiliate marketing campaign if you’re promoting products/services you’re passionate about.

What affiliate programmes are available? – Making sure there’s a suitable affiliate partner for your chosen niche is key.

Are enough people interested? – If you decide on a nice that hardly anyone is interested in, you could struggle to make money.

What’s the competition like? – A competitive niche indicates that there’s money to be made, but you may struggle to make your mark as a new affiliate. However, no competition likely indicates that people aren’t interested in that particular niche. You’ll probably have to try and strike a balance between the two extremes.

Finding the right niche can be tricky for beginner affiliates, so follow this guide for more help.

Next, you should start creating a web presence for your fledgling affiliate business. Here are the areas you should be looking at:

Your own website – Having your own website is crucial if you’re planning on attracting leads via search engines. If you can create content that ranks well in search engines for terms relating to your chosen affiliate niche, then people will click those results, read your content and click on your affiliate links. You can learn how to make a website in this guide, or jump right in and start using GoDaddy’s Website Builder.

Your own email marketing list – Email marketing is another great way to generate affiliate income. If you can send relevant news and offers to people who have signed up for your emails, then there’s the potential for a steady stream of income. Getting people to sign up to your list can be tricky (you’ll have to get them to your website first), but this advice on creating your first email marketing list will help. You’ll also need to sign up to a tool like GoDaddy Email Marketing.

Social media profiles Social media is a great source of potential leads and you can use it to promote either your affiliate links directly, or your website. (Or both.) The advantage of promoting your affiliate links is that it reduces the number of steps required for someone to complete that crucial sale, but if you promote your website you have the chance to build a long-term relationship with people (through your email marketing list).

Finally, be sure that any technique you use as part of your affiliate marketing efforts complies with GDPR, and with the rules of the affiliate scheme(s) you’ve signed up for.

Attracting traffic to your affiliate links

Traffic is crucial to affiliate marketers, without it you won’t make any money. But you need to attract the right kind of traffic in the right kind of way.

Here’s how to do it.

Develop customer personas – If you just try and attract as many people as possible to click on your affiliate links, then the chances are that very few of them will generate commission for you. Instead, you should focus your efforts on attracting the people most likely to be interested in the products/services you’re promoting. The best way to do that is by understanding what kind of person is interested in the products/services you’re promoting and then tailoring your content to appeal to them. You can learn how to do this in this guide to developing customer personas.

Get to grips with SEO – You probably did some keyword research when deciding on your niche, but a solid understanding of SEO will help you develop a steady stream of traffic to your website. (Just don’t expect instant results.) This guide will help you get started with SEO and improving your rankings.

Use paid advertising Paid advertising is a great way to attract traffic to your affiliate website in its early days. And with powerful targeting options available, you can attract the right kind of person with relative ease. However, it’s easy to get paid advertising wrong, and to spend more than you make. You can learn about getting started with paid advertising in this guide.

Create engaging content – Content will be a hugely important part of your affiliate marketing efforts. It might be blog posts, reviews, in depth guides, ebooks, infographics or something else, but the content you create for your website will be one of the main ways you attract people’s attention. You can learn about creating website content in this guide. Then there’s the content you’ll need to create for social media, and the emails you send. You can get started with social content in this guide, and learn about writing email content in this guide. Finally, this guide to content marketing will help you create content that gets attention.

How can I find affiliate marketing schemes to join?

A quick and easy way to discover if a company has an affiliate marketing scheme is by Googling “business name affiliate marketing programme”.

Many major companies run their own affiliate programmes, although you’ll find some have outsourced things to specialist companies.

Here are some great places to find products and services to promote as an affiliate marketer:

Amazon Associates: The online shopping giant offers an affiliate programme, so you’re bound to find a product that fits your niche.

CJ Affiliate: An affiliate network which manages affiliate services for a large number of big brands.

Clickbank: Another network which offers access to affiliate programmes across a wide range of niches.

Rakuten Marketing: Another large affiliate network.

GoDaddy Programme: We offer an affiliate programme covering all our products.

These sites, combined with Google, should allow you to find an affiliate scheme in almost any niche.

When you do find a scheme and want to join, make sure you fully understand its rules and stick to them when attracting leads.

You may also find that some schemes only want established sites. If that’s the case, you may have to try elsewhere.

Summing up

If you’re willing to put the work in, an affiliate website is a really great way to earn money online. Just don’t expect it to be easy.