Affiliate Marketing 101

If you’ve been blogging for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard the term “affiliate marketing” thrown around. Maybe you’ve even been told that if you want to start making money as a blogger, you need to be an affiliate.

But what exactly IS affiliate marketing? And why exactly do you need to know about it?

Well, in a nutshell, affiliate marketing is selling someone else’s product on your blog. When you sign up as an affiliate, you get a special link called a referral link or an affiliate link that tracks your sales. That link tells the person whose product you’re selling which customers you referred, and then you get paid a commission for every sale they make through you.

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The reason you need to know about this is that it’s one of the absolute best ways to make money blogging, especially if you’re just starting out.

Here’s the skinny on affiliate sales for bloggers (and how you can use affiliate marketing to make some serious cash online):

Ways to Make Money Online

As a rule, there are four ways to make money online:

Ad Networks

Ad networks, like Google ads, pay you to show ads on your site. They basically lease a section of your site and showcase their ads to your readers. Typically, you get paid based on the number of people who view each ad.

Private Advertising

You can also get paid by working directly with a brand or company and promoting them to your audience. Typically, you’ll get a flat fee in exchange for a specific service, like an ad or a sponsored post where you review one of their products.

Selling a Product

You can also create your own products and sell them online. This one’s my personal favorite because you get to stretch your creative muscles, create things you know your audience will love, and keep all the profit from each product you sell.

Affiliate Marketing

The last way to make major money online is through — you guessed it — affiliate marketing. While selling my own products is my favorite way to make money on my blog, affiliate marketing is a close second.

How Do You Become an Affiliate?

When it comes to getting started with affiliate marketing, there’s about a million different routes you can take. But I don’t want to overwhelm you. It doesn’t have to be complicated, I promise! Here are a few simple ways to get started as an affiliate:

Become an Amazon Affiliate

Amazon, which everyone uses for everything these days, is one of the biggest affiliate partners in the business. They have a program where, once you’re signed up as an affiliate, you can generate a referral link for any product they sell on their site and make a small commission when one of your readers clicks on the link and buys the product.

The Amazon affiliate program is great because it’s super easy — all you have to do, is sign up and start generating links. If you are talking about a product that Amazon sells anyway, it can be a great way to earn a little extra cash.

The problem with Amazon is that their commission rates are super low — even at their highest tier, you’re only going to make 7 or 8% on each sale. So you need a LOT of traffic to make any sort of significant income. If you want to make it a full-time income, it’s really, really hard.

Which is why you’re better off doing this…

Find High-Commission Products That Align With Your Avatar

If you want to generate a real and substantial income from affiliate marketing, you’re much better off finding products that a) your audience would fall head over heels for, and b) pay a higher commission rate. That way, it’s a win-win: you get to introduce your audience to something that will be super useful or interesting to them, and you make a significantly higher profit every time you make a sale.

The great thing about this strategy is that when you find a great affiliate product your audience would love, it’s also typically something YOU would love. Because it’s something you would gladly use yourself, it’ll be easy for you to talk about it and get your audience excited.

For example, I’m an affiliate for Stitch Fix. Stitch Fix is a monthly subscription service that acts as your very own personal shopper. I gave them my style preferences, and every month, my stylist chooses items that she thinks I’d love and sends them to me. They send shoes, work clothes, casual clothes, accessories… the works. I get to try everything on, see how it works with what’s already in my closet, keep what I like, and send back the items that weren’t the right fit. They even send me a prepaid shipping envelope to make returns a breeze.

It’s so amazing! I love, love LOVE getting my Stitch Fix each month–it’s like a little box of happiness in the mail. My girls and I always make it an event–I do a fashion show, and they rate each item and help me decide what to keep.

And it’s also a great affiliate fit. At “Living Well, Spending Less”, I write a lot about my struggles with shopping, overspending, and buying way too much every time I go to the mall. Shopping issues are something I know a lot of my readers deal with too.

But Stitch Fix has been a big help with my shopping problem… because I don’t need to go shopping anymore! Every month, I get that nagging need to shop out of the way when I get my box, which prevents me from overspending at the store. It literally is my “fix.” And that’s what I tell my readers.

What’s great is that it’s SO easy for me to promote Stitch Fix because it’s something I genuinely use, love, and believe in, and I know my readers will use, love, and believe in it too. AND I make a way higher commission than I would promoting more generic products off of Amazon.

How Much Can You Make?

There is no universal pricing structure for affiliate programs, but as a general rule of thumb, you’re going to make a much higher commission when you sell a service or a digital product than you will when you sell a physical product.

Typically, commission ranges run from:

  • 4 – 15% for physical products
  • 40 – 60% for digital products or services
  • A flat fee per signup or subscription

How much you make all depends on how many sales are made using your affiliate link. The more you promote your affiliates, the more money you can make!

If you’re not sure where to get started finding affiliates, start with the products and services you’re already using. Go to their website and see if they have a “Become an Affiliate” page. You can also check out affiliate networks like CJ Affiliate by Conversant or ShareASale, and see if your favorite products and services are listed there.

How to Be an Amazing Affiliate

Here’s the thing about affiliate marketing: not all affiliates are created equal.

Taking that path can hurt more than it can help!

If you promote products or services that aren’t a good fit for your audience or aren’t the kind of quality your readers have come to expect from you, you risk losing their trust. There’s not a commission in the world that’s worth losing that trust.

I look at it this way: I’m a curator. It’s my job to search the internet to find the products and services that are the most helpful, most exciting, or most life-changing for my audience. Then it’s my job to spread the word and tell them about the product so they can enjoy the benefits.

Also, before you become an affiliate and promote a product or service, you always, always, ALWAYS want to use the product or service yourself. In order to be an effective affiliate, you need to be able to talk about what you’re promoting with a certain amount of experience and enthusiasm. There’s no way to get that experience or enthusiasm without using the product or service yourself. Plus, if you don’t test out what you’re promoting, there’s a chance it might not be at the quality level your audience deserves, which again can put their trust in jeopardy. As a rule, I never promote something until I’ve tried it out — and fallen in love with it — first. That way, I know for a fact that everything I’m promoting to my audience is something they’re likely to fall in love with, too.

Affiliate marketing is a fantastic way to make money online. As long as you put your audience first — and only promote the things that are the best fit for them — it can be a win-win situation: a huge benefit to your audience and a huge profit generator for you.

And if you are a blogger who is already benefiting from affiliate marketing, I’d love to have you weigh in on this topic! What are your favorite (& most profitable) affiliate programs?


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  1. I have been blogging for three months now and have had Google Adsense from the start. I didn’t want to “surprise” my reader’s with ads. I also use Amazon Affiliate, ShareASale, Flex Offers, as well as a few others. I’ve discovered, it truly is all about the page views. I only recently began making money from Adsense and Amazon once my page views picked up. I totally agree with only promoting items/services you have or would use to your readers. I am an awful salesperson and hate asking someone to purchase something simply so I can make a few dollars. Thanks again for your sage words of wisdom!

  2. Hi Ruth,

    Can you guide me more on affiliate networks exactly how they will help generate traffic and the two links you suggested (CJ affiliate by conversant and share a sale) do they offer global services as I am from India and keen to start my blog.

  3. I’m not new to blogging, but I’ve never been very serious until now, plus I just started a personal blog and need to do a LOT of work. I’ve never had any luck with affiliates, but I was often too afraid that the products weren’t a perfect match for my blog, so they sat in the sidebar and I rarely talked about them. Not a good way to go! Looking forward to getting serious about beneficial affiliates that are a great fit and pay decent commission. Thanks for the tips!

  4. Wow Ruth the new blog is absolutely beautiful. Im really enjoying all your new ventures. This is really awesome!! All of it! The classes , the blog and post. This is all top self stuff. I was excited about the launch. Hope to take the big course some day in near future .Thanks for everything.

  5. While I am enjoying all that I am learning and while reading and taking notes, I am also trying to envision how this all could come together and at this point in my training it appears that there would be a very long dry spell as far as generating an actual income. True I want to ADD to my existing income, which is not anywhere close to a five figure number but I have to get to an income that would not be constantly sliding. I am continuing on with this course but at this point feeling a little apprehensive.

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