Affiliate marketing deals are pervasive across the Internet.
They’re hidden in plain sight, but once you notice them, you’ll see that almost every online product recommendation and review has hidden money behind it.
When you’re reading a review, ask yourself: is it really the best product, or is an affiliate product reviewer simply trying to make the most money by making you buy something?
The better question is, how do I get involved in this process and start making money online?
Affiliate marketing has been around for years but is still growing at a fast pace. Everyone from major retailers to brick and mortar stores to local content creators are involved and reap the benefits.
The best part is, it’s not that difficult to get started. It doesn’t require any physical product inventory or other overly complicated digital marketing knowledge.
Whether you’re a publisher looking for the best affiliate programs to join, or you’re a brand looking to generate sales with affiliate marketing, this marketing channel can work wonders for your business (and income).
Trust me; I’ve seen both sides of the coin. In 2018, I was the affiliate manager for a fast-growing tech startup and now I blog full-time and make over $80k per month as an affiliate marketer.
I’ve learned a thing or two about affiliate marketing and how beginners can start, as I just launched this blog in 2019.
This ultimate guide covers everything you need to know about affiliate marketing, how it works, and how you can leverage this channel yourself to make a passive income this year.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
What is Affiliate Marketing?
In the simplest form, affiliate marketing is a form of online marketing where a publisher recommends products or services to others and, in return, earns an affiliate commission after that visitor converts into a buyer.
It’s honestly a simple setup. Affiliates just need their unique tracking link, and that’s about it.
Then, whenever a visitor clicks that link, a cookie is stored on their computer, and commissions are counted based on the cookie duration window.
Most brands give credit for sales between 30 and 90 days after the click. So, a reader can click an affiliate link, not convert to a sale, but come back 89 days later and buy the product, and the affiliate still will get credit.
Cookie durations are created by the brand inside their affiliate program and will vary.
So what exactly is an affiliate or publisher, and how does one become one?
A publisher can be anything from a blogger, vlogger/YouTuber, content creator, social media influencer, or anyone with an email list.
To give a real-life example, you can see how I promote various affiliate partners in my software review posts:
Just to set the record straight, though, it is recommended to only promote products or services that you have personally used and would recommend to your closest friends or colleagues.
Don’t fall into the trap of promoting brands or products that you know nothing about just to make a quick buck.
As you can see on my blog, I have various guides such as this one on the best CRM software, which is a category that I have a lot of experience with from my previous digital marketing career.
If you’re a publisher, it only makes sense to promote affiliate products to your audience as there’s a high chance the companies you already love have their affiliate marketing programs.
So why not capitalize on that and add an additional revenue stream to your business? Not to mention, affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways to make money online.
For brands looking to partner with publishers and influencers, affiliate marketing can be an excellent way to bring in additional revenue to your business by getting your brand in front of new eyeballs.
History of Affiliate Marketing
Contrary to popular belief, Amazon was not the first company to offer an affiliate program.
So, where did affiliate marketing originate?
For starters, affiliate marketing has been around longer than you might think and was invented and patented by a man named William J. Tobin, otherwise known as the world’s very first internet marketer.
1989: William J. Tobin invents and patents the concept of affiliate marketing
Tobin developed the concept of affiliate marketing in 1989 when he launched his affiliate program on the Prodigy Network for his company PC Flowers & Gifts.
The result? By 1993, Tobin’s products were generating $6 million annually for Prodigy. Talk about success!
This success resulted in Tobin going on to patent the concept in 1996, which was later granted in 2000.
1994: CDNOW launches BuyWeb affiliate program
Following Tobin was a company called CDNOW who launched their BuyWeb affiliate program in 1994:
Basically, it was an affiliate offer where various music sites could review music albums and refer their site’s visitors to the CDNOW website to purchase albums in return for a commission of sales generated.
1996: Amazon Associates enters the market
Considered by many as late to enter the market, Amazon launches their own affiliate marketing program in 1996, which attracted global interest.
Source: Amazon Associates
The Amazon Associates program offered a way for affiliates to add affiliate links to their websites and receive an affiliate commission for each new customer they referred.
Amazon Associates was one of the first major corporations to jump on the affiliate marketing trend and remains one of the top affiliate programs for publishers today.
1998: Commission Junction and Clickbank change the game
Founded by the University of California at Santa Barbara students, Commission Junction entered the scene in 1998, followed by Clickbank, founded by Tim and Eileen Barber.
Essentially, both of these affiliate networks became a platform for affiliates and merchants to promote themselves and their offers and to form affiliate partnerships.
Commission Junction and Clickbank became known for creating a platform that allows retailers that aren’t quite as massive as Amazon to get a piece of the affiliate marketing pie.
Today, these two platforms remain two of the biggest affiliate marketing networks of all time.
2000: Enter U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules and regulations
In 2000, the FTC released affiliate marketing guidelines that aim to regulate the online advertising industry.
Essentially, the regulations require publishers to disclose their relationships with the companies they are promoting.
You can see an example of this in any of my affiliate posts, as it is required to provide a disclosure statement if you are adding affiliate links within your content:
Now that we’ve briefly covered the history of affiliate marketing, let’s get into the different types of affiliate marketing, you can add to your affiliate marketing toolbox.
The Three Types of Affiliate Marketing Explained
For anyone looking to get involved in affiliate marketing, you should know the three different affiliate marketing types.
When it comes down to it, there are a variety of ways you can generate traffic and earn an income via affiliate marketing — which is how we will define the different types of affiliate marketing.
Essentially, these different types represent how we are associated with said product, according to affiliate marketing expert Patt Flynn of Smart Passive Income.
Unattached Affiliate Marketing
Unattached affiliate marketing is pretty straight forward, as it is explained exactly how it sounds.
This form of affiliate marketing is where the publisher has no presence or authority in the niche of the products or services they are promoting.
Therefore, they are unattached.
Typically, unattached affiliate marketers will be the ones running basic pay-per-click (PPC) affiliate marketing campaigns to drive traffic and sales, as you can see in this search engine marketing (SEM) example below:
Rather than being at the face of their brand, this type of affiliate marketer has no connection between themselves and the end consumer.
Suppose you’re this type of affiliate marketer. In that case, you will generally rely on traffic sources such as Google Ads or social media ads or PPC campaigns to get more eyes on your affiliate offers.
While attractive at first glance as it doesn’t require building solid trust and a reputation with your target audience, it has many disadvantages as you rely solely on paid ads and just hope for the best.
If you try out this form of affiliate marketing and manage to get high conversion rates, you should probably consider yourself lucky as it is no easy feat.
Related Affiliate Marketing
Related affiliate marketing refers to those who have established an online presence (whether via blogging, podcasting, vlogging, or on social media) and link to affiliate products in their niche that they do not necessarily use themselves.
This form of affiliate marketing can occur as a banner sidebar on your website or via text links throughout your blog post.
For example, a food blogger may have ads and affiliate offers on their site for a particular type of cookware that they don’t personally use.
Maybe the brand offers a healthy commission rate, and it also happens to be relevant to the blogger’s niche and audience, so they choose to promote the offer.
While this can be an effective method of affiliate marketing, I don’t personally recommend it as you risk losing trust with your audiences by promoting products you haven’t fully vetted yourself.
Involved Affiliate Marketing
Moving onto the final type of affiliate marketing, involved affiliate marketing reads just how it sounds.
You could think of it as the publisher being more involved, both with their audience and with the brands they choose to promote.
Essentially, this type of affiliate marketing is when the publisher has personally used the product or service they are promoting and fully believe in it when promoting it to their audience.
Typically, this happens in a much more natural context, such as within your content, rather than in an ad at the top or side of the page.
You will often see this type of involved affiliate marketing on my blog:
As a publisher, your involvement with the brand and product/service makes your recommendation believable and authentic and tends to lead to the highest conversions.
What Are The Different Types of Affiliate Marketers?
Now that we’ve covered the different affiliate marketing types let’s discuss the different kinds of affiliate marketers.
If you thought the only way to monetize affiliate marketing was via blogging, think again. Luckily for publishers, there are a plethora of options available to promote affiliate offers.
Let’s go ahead and dive into the most popular.
Blogging is one of the most popular forms of affiliate marketing today and only continues to grow. The number of bloggers in the United States is expected to grow to a staggering 31.7 million in 2020.
The best part is, it’s relatively easy to get started and doesn’t require any upfront investments, like other paid forms of marketing do. To get started, I recommend setting up a WordPress site and choosing web hosting such as Bluehost or Hostinger, and you will be well on your way.
Next, you need to identify a niche for your blog. For example, are you going to blog about…