What Is Affiliate Marketing, and How Does It Work?

Affiliate marketing has skyrocketed in popularity with internet-savvy people. To its core, it’s a relatively simple concept: Share a link to something you like and get paid a commission. Of course, as with all forms of marketing, more goes into affiliate marketing than that. But it still has the power to generate a steady income once you’ve got a solid marketing strategy in place.

While you shouldn’t expect to earn thousands of dollars every month from affiliate marketing as a beginner, it’s certainly a goal that can become reality. Follow this guide to learn more about this unique form of marketing and how to get started.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

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Affiliate marketing is a form of digital marketing in which an affiliate can earn money by promoting something from a company. Usually, an affiliate marketer shares with their audience about a product or service from a brand, but some affiliate programs also pay affiliates for sending traffic or sign-ups their way.

Affiliate marketing has become a popular form of advertising because it doesn’t require affiliates to hold any inventory or host events to get people to buy a product or service. Instead, they can promote 100% online through their websites, email newsletters, and social media.

What Is an Example of Affiliate Marketing?

Suppose you’re a food influencer with a popular Instagram feed and recipe blog. A meal kit company contacts you via Instagram asking if you’d like to promote its new vegan meal subscription service. 

In exchange for you helping the company market its service, you’ll gain access to its affiliate program. The company sets you up with an exclusive affiliate link, and you’ll receive $5 for every new customer that signs up and purchases a subscription through that link. You have the option of sharing your affiliate link on Instagram or on your blog.

How Do Affiliate Marketers Make Money?

Affiliate programs work differently. Some pay affiliates a fixed fee per sale they help generate. Other programs targeting website traffic might pay an affiliate marketer for each click their links send to the company’s website. Affiliate programs might also pay a percentage of an affiliate purchase. For instance, a 10% commission gives the affiliate marketer $20 of a $200 sale from their link.

Regardless of the payment method, all affiliate marketers earn money from the company they partnered with through an affiliate program. For example, an appliance company pays an affiliate marketer what they’ve earned through the company’s affiliate program or a third-party platform or network that facilitates affiliate programs for multiple companies.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

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Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

Let’s look at the breakdown of how affiliate marketing works from start to finish.

Step 1: Join an Affiliate Program

First, an affiliate marketer joins an affiliate program. Some brands offer direct-to-marketer programs on their websites that affiliate marketers can sign up for. Others go through affiliate marketing networks, such as CJ and Share-A-Sale, which help manage their programs and affiliates. Any programs an affiliate marketer joins should align with their industry, such as a pet blogger joining a cat food brand’s affiliate program.

Next, the affiliate marketer browses a program’s shareable assets. The brand might have banners, images, discounts, or text links for affiliate marketers to share. The affiliate marketer finds an asset and copies the code or link to insert into an email, their website, or a social media post. This link includes the affiliate’s unique tracking information so that the company knows where sales made using that link came from.

A person lands on your website and reads the blog post you’ve created to include your affiliate link to a specific product. The visitor clicks the link to learn more about that product and decides to buy it. Then, they complete the checkout process through the brand’s website.

Step 4: Purchase Clears and You Get Paid

Your unique affiliate link shows the brand that the sale came from you sharing your link. Once the brand confirms that the purchase was legitimate, it releases your commission payment according to its payout timeline. Most programs pay monthly, but some affiliate networks and programs have minimum thresholds you’ll need to meet before they release your payments. 

How to Get Started with Affiliate Marketing

As an affiliate marketing beginner, consider these first steps to get started:

1. Build Your Audience

Having a large and strong audience that follows you is necessary for affiliate marketing. If your link shares don’t have good reach, people won’t see them or click on them. Affiliate marketers who do make thousands of dollars a month have grown massive audiences to yield those results.

You also need to build trust with your audience. People who trust you will trust your content and will be likelier to buy the products and services you suggest.

2. Find the Right Affiliate Programs

Choose affiliate programs that align with your content and audience’s interests. For instance, Ulta’s affiliate program is great for beauty influencers, but the affiliate program for Sandals Resorts would fit a travel blogger’s goals best. Being an affiliate for 2-3 programs that match your content seamlessly is better than joining 10+ programs that offer products or services your audience would only be somewhat interested in.

3. Decide Which Platforms to Use

Bloggers often use affiliate marketing as an income stream, but it’s not limited to just blogging. You can also share links on social media, promote your links on a podcast, or insert your links into the descriptions of your YouTube videos. Get creative with your marketing strategy and decide which platforms work the best for your audience.

Trying to grow your audience so that you can become an affiliate marketer? Install social media share buttons on your blog or website to grow your audience effortlessly. They’re easy to install, and totally free to use!

About ShareThis

ShareThis has unlocked the power of global digital behavior by synthesizing social share, interest, and intent data since 2007. Powered by consumer behavior on over three million global domains, ShareThis observes real-time actions from real people on real digital destinations.

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