Affiliate marketing is a term for a partnership between the producer of a product or service, known as the merchant, and someone who markets the goods or service for them, known as the affiliate. Affiliates are usually content creators, such as blog writers, reviewers, or vlog creators. 

The idea behind affiliate marketing is that affiliates already have an audience, and the merchant simply taps into this audience in a paid arrangement. This can be a stand-alone relationship between merchant and affiliate, or both could be part of a network, like Amazon Associates. In a network, each affiliate might be marketing products from multiple merchants, and merchants might have several affiliates promoting their goods. In each case, each affiliate will have a dedicated link that they use to promote that merchant or product.

More than promotion

There is one final ‘rule’ of affiliate marketing. It is paid purely on commission. Affiliates are not paid simply to promote—which is where affiliate marketing may differ somewhat from influencer marketing. Instead, they depend on the use of a dedicated link in their content. When anyone clicks through to the merchant’s site from that link and buys, the affiliate is paid commission. This ranges considerably depending on the number of affiliates involved, and the value of sales. For example, software company HubSpot offers two options: 15% of revenue generated each month, for a year, or 100% of the first month’s revenue.

Becoming an affiliate marketer

The idea behind affiliate marketing is therefore relatively simple. It is also extremely attractive to potential affiliates. After all, what’s not to like about the idea of writing a few blogs, and sitting back to watch the commission rolling in? However, in practice, it is not necessarily as simple as that. 

First, affiliates need an audience that is attractive to potential merchants. In other words, you already need to have built your audience before you start signing up to any affiliate programmes or networks. Whether through a blog, vlog, social media posts or reviews, you need to start to produce content that attracts an audience. 

We should include a word of warning here. If you are, for example, starting to post reviews as a way to attract potential merchants, it is wise to use and test the products yourself. Don’t get lazy, because your audience will soon realise and go elsewhere. 

It is also worth collecting contact information for your audience so that you can reach out to them in your own time, rather than wait for them to see your content. You will probably need to offer an incentive, such as asking them to sign up for a free newsletter summarising the week’s product reviews.

Scouting for merchants

At that stage, you can start to look for potential merchants. You might approach people directly, or use a network. A direct approach is effective where there is a good match between your audience and the product. However, it is best to clear that you are looking for a commercial arrangement, where you promote, and they pay commission on sales—and avoid giving the impression that you simply want to get something for free.

Networks are often the easiest option, because they involve multiple merchants. Something like Amazon Associates has a wide range of merchants and affiliates, so it’s not hard to find products that will work for your audience. However, it’s a good idea to check and compare the rates of commission, and the cookie lifetimes, to make sure that the network’s arrangements will work for you.

Finally, once you have signed up to one or more affiliate programmes, it is important to keep working for your audience. To hold their attention, you need to continue to give them useful content, of whatever kind. Consider mixing up your content to include more types and keep everyone interested. You can even start a podcast, or run webinars in partnership with particular merchants, for example, to showcase one or more products.

The customer’s view

It should be obvious from this that it is important to keep your audience at the front of your mind at all times. They are the customers in this process—and they must feel happy with the products that you are marketing to them. If you are providing good value through your affiliate marketing, they are unlikely to mind, and may even welcome it. However, if you get it wrong, they will go elsewhere, and then your affiliate prospects will be very low indeed.