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What is Affiliate Marketing?

Posted By Darren Rowse 7th of July 2009 Affiliate Programs 0 Comments

What is Affiliate Marketing?

It seems that more readers are asking this question than I previously thought.

In a recent poll here on ProBlogger I asked readers whether they’d done any affiliate marketing on their blogs. The results revealed that:

  • 29% of readers regularly do it
  • 24% occasionally do it
  • 27% have never done affiliate marketing on their blogs
  • 6% used to do it but don’t any more
  • 14% don’t know what affiliate marketing is

There’s some interesting results there but it was the last category (of bloggers not knowing what affiliate marketing is) that I wanted to write this post for with the hope of answering the question. It’s pretty basic and quite beginner focused but for the 14% of you who don’t know what affiliate marketing is – here’s a brief introduction.

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Perhaps the simplest way to explain affiliate marketing is that it is a way of making money online whereby you as a publisher are rewarded for helping a business by promoting their product, service or site.

There are a number of forms of these types of promotions but in most cases they involve you as a publisher earning a commission when someone follows a link on your blog to another site where they then buy something.

Other variations on this are where you earn an amount for referring a visitor who takes some kind of action – for example when they sign up for something and give an email address, where they complete a survey, where they leave a name and address etc.

Commissions are often a percentage of a sale but can also be a fixed amount per conversion.

Conversions are generally tracked when the publisher (you) uses a link with a code only being used by you embedded into it that enables the advertiser to track where conversions come from (usually by cookies). Other times an advertiser might give a publisher a ‘coupon code’ for their readers to use that helps to track conversions.

For example:  when I recently released my 31 Days to Build a Better Blog Workbook I also give people an opportunity to promote the workbook with an affiliate program whereby they could earn a 40% commission for each sale. When you sign up to become an affiliate you are given a special code unique to you that enables you to promote the workbook and make $7.98 per sale. The top affiliates earned over $2000 in the first few weeks after launch through these commissions.

  • Advertisers often prefer affiliate marketing as a way to promote their products because they know they’ll only need to pay for the advertising when there’s a conversion. I knew when I started this affiliate program that while I’d earn less for each sale that having a network of affiliates promoting it would almost certainly increase overall sales levels.
  • Publishers often prefer affiliate marketing because if they find a product that is relevant to their niche that earnings can go well in excess of any cost per click or cost per impression advertising campaign.

Why Affiliate Marketing Can Work Well on Blogs

Affiliate marketing isn’t the only way to make money from blogs and it won’t suit every blog/blogger (more on this below) but there are a few reasons why it can be profitable in our medium. Perhaps the biggest of these reasons is that affiliate marketing seems to work best when there’s a relationship with trust between the publisher and their readership.

I’ve found that as this trust deepens that readers are more likely to follow the recommendations that a blogger makes.

Of course this can also be a negative with affiliate marketing – promote the wrong product and trust can be broken (more on this below).

Affiliate Marketing – Easy Money?

While affiliate marketing can be incredibly lucrative it is important to know that affiliate marketing is not easy money. Most people who try it make very little as it relies upon numerous factors including:

  • traffic (high traffic helps a lot)
  • finding relevant products
  • finding quality products
  • building trust with your readers
  • having a readership who is in a ‘buying mood’
  • you being able to write good sales copy (and more)

There’s also some risk associated with affiliate marketing in that if you push too hard or promote products of a low quality you can actually burn readers and hurt your reputation and brand.

It’s also worth noting that affiliate marketing doesn’t work on all blogs. Some blogs are on topics where it is hard to find products to promote – other blogs attract audiences who are not in a buying frame of mind and for other blogs it just doesn’t fit with the blogger’s style or approach.

Tomorrow I want to continue the focus upon affiliate marketing with another post – this one on how to find affiliate products to promote.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. The only affiliate marketing I do is using an Amazon widget that shows books that I review (as well as other books that I enjoy). Since the only books that are shown are ones that I personally select, I’m not concerned with advertising the wrong type of book. I have been an Amazon customer for many years, so I also have no concerns with promoting them.

  2. One of the best affiliate program a blogger can join is Google Adsense as you will have related ads for your blog though not the best..

  3. you mentioned it’s for the basics but really i think i’m part of the 14%. what you shared is just a mouthful and can surely help me in earning money through my blog. I’m excited for the next post!

  4. I have a blog that is about blogging and web design and so I have some links to premium blogging templates and things like that. I always believed that they would do well due to the fact that they are closely related to the topic of my site. Thanks for breaking this topic down for all the noobs.

  5. 14% is a lot. This means that of all the readers you have on your blog, there’s still 14% of market available for affiliate networks.

  6. One problem I have found with affiliate marketing is that the market has already been closed off by a number of people when the affiliate programme launches, also it can be a bit frustrating as a blog reader after quality content.

    Take for example your recent book launch. In my feed reader the day after it was launched I received 30 posts of variable quality (some good, some bad) promoting your new book. Wading through these posts did get a bit tiresome, as – after all – probably the readers of said posts probably read this blog as well.

    Please don’t take this as being a derogatory comment – after all, you didn’t force people to write about it – and it makes sense financially to do it (if I was in your shoes I’d probably do the same!) – I’m just asking is do you think that affiliates can harm your brand (or even affiliate marketing as a whole) through over aggressiveness (either collectively or a few rogue affiliates)?

    I have read the ebook (I got it as part of sitepoint’s offering with their Online Marketing books) – and it is certainly very good. :)

  7. A lot of people cringe when they hear the phrase “Affiliate Marketing.” Not all affiliate marketing involves spam and spammers. For example, many bloggers use the Ultimate Footer Bar as a source of gaining email subscribers for their newsletter, but can also gain a commission as an affiliate. Many readers will inquire about the footer as it is pretty dynamic, thus giving the bloggers an opportunity to send the readers a link (which contains their affiliate code) for more info. You can always try John Chow’s method of conversion by writing an entire blog post about a feature.

  8. Hey Darren!
    This would be a great serie of posts. I run three affiliate banners on my site (as I don’t have any other paid advertiser) and I have only made one sale yet. But that sale gave me 7$, so it is pretty cool. Just put a banner on, and without any other promotion (didn’t used the product myself or didn’t write anything about it yet) it gave me money.

    I am going to use the product and review it, so I can make more sales probably, cause one sale each month doesn’t make money for me that fast.

    I’m looking forward to tomorrow!


  9. I’m struggling finding affiliate products within the travel sector outside lodging booking engines and adsense. I’ve used countless booking engines and haven’t found any joy in terms of revenue generated.

    So far have used the below booking engines with zero results:

    TravelStart (flight bookings) which I’ve recently added on my blog, has generated two transactions since adding four weeks ago.

    Can’t wait for the follow-up post…

  10. I was about to expand my affiliate marketing but I live in North Carolina and there has been a big tax mess here between Amazon and the state. I had been with Amazon as an affiliate. Hadn’t made anything yet and now they and Overstock are no longer affiliating in NC. Does anyone have a suggestions? I hate to spend the time and energy on something that’s going to get pulled the week after I start it.

  11. Great post Darren – its surprising how affiliate marketing isn’t that well understood and is shaking off a slightly shady reputation, even though it facilitates nearly 1/10 of all e-commerce sales in the UK now (http://www.pr.com/press-release/149868)

    My recommendation would be to try to use text based affiliate links that are inline and relevant to your content – affiliate marketers agree they are the most effective, as readers perceive them more as editorial and less as advertisements – of course you need to have that prior trust built up with your readership.

    I find the other challenge of affiliate marketing is the management and effort – signing up to affiliate networks, applying to programs, working through offers and finding the right affiliate syntax to insert into your content. Much more of a hassle than running Adsense. (a problem we try to solve I might add!)


  12. Thanks for this great post. I’m now starting to learn affiliate marketing and hopefully implement it in my blog and make money to earn a living. Three years from, I want to quit my job and go full-time as an online entrepreneur and to give more time to my family.

  13. I have tried affiliate marketing for couple months, but for sure it’s not an easy way to get money. Just like another business, it needs hard working to get money that you want.

  14. Since many of the products in the dating niche are either a) horrible or b) less than honorable (sometimes both!), I mostly promote my own services.

    I use Amazon’s affiliate program to link to books when I do book reviews, but it’s nickels and dimes mostly. It’s a surprise when I get a $15 gift certificate in my email. :-)

  15. Salman says: 07/07/2009 at 2:44 am

    I do not receive quality of traffic Can I still be an affiliate?

    Best Tips 4 Blogging

  16. I’m in that category where it’s quite hard for me to find a specific product to sell.

    It seems like it’s getting a lot harder to monetize blogs nowadays.

  17. really awesome article, thanks
    Money Blogging Tips by http://teratips.com

  18. Darren:

    I’d like to see an article on The Future of Affiliate Marketing, in particular, as it relates to recent “affiliate tax” laws that have passed in New York, Rhode Island, and are pending in North Carolina. California and Hawaii governors vetoed these bills but looks like it may pass in North Carolina.

    If the legislators in North Carolina are successful in passing this law it could cause a domino effect in other states.

    Additionally, affiliate marketers (and those that sell e-products online) should know that there’s work underway in Congress to pass a mandatory online sales tax. There’s a detailed explanation here: Main Street Fairness Act. This could force e-tailers to calculate sale taxes on up to 8,500 different tax jurisdictions nationwide.

    I’d be interested to hear your and your reader’s thoughts on these issues.

  19. Nice article esp for beginners. Yes, traffic is more important inorder to do make some affiliate sale that too targeted traffic. Without traffic, nothing works out !!!


  20. Only thing I’ll promote on amazon thru affilite links are products over 75 dollars otherwise the payout is just too small to ever add up

  21. Best post so far, I’ve used it with my blog and increase more sells with my affiliate programs.

    Affiliate Rocks!

  22. oakhouse says: 07/07/2009 at 6:45 am

    i’sn’t affiliate marketing in general and on twitter in particular spam? i found a discussion on affiliate marketing here http://thesway.org/the-sway-debates/
    revealing hearing bloggers say how they add a little negative so their readers don’t realise it’s spam. and the line about bloggers should use their authority for product placement?? isn’t this trying to find money where there isn’t any, if you have a readership why not sell ads on your pages to companies who want to sell stuff?

  23. Great article. Thanks for the info. I’m slowly gearing up to try some affilate marketing. I’ve signed up with Amazon.com. I saw you had an article on them and recommended it – how did you get round the fact that you don’t have a US bank account?

  24. This is fantastic. The more awareness and openness about this strategy the more legitimate and mainstream it will become.

    Too long has affiliate marketing been viewed in a negative light, people need to understand that most bloggers wish to earn some sort of income from their efforts blogging. Affiliate marketing is a fantastic way to do this, but only if the blogger is genuine about what their offering.

    I blogged about the basics of affiliate marketing only a week or so ago: A Basic Overview Of How Affiliate Programs Work.

    Thanks Darren for “un-shading” some of the practices that so many of us use to make a bit of coin :)

  25. That thing that scares me the most about affiliate marketing is that my reputation is on the line. That means, I need to fully vet a produce before I take that risk. Which means I have a moral obligation to buy to produce. Your new workbook gets by this problem because you have a huge sample of the book for free. That, and selling something with your name and brand on it adds value to me blog because it shows you trust me in a way… indirectly.

    It bad for me that there are little to no affiliate programs for my niche.

  26. Great post. Thanks. I’m just getting ready to do this.

    I blog at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide at http://boomersurvive-thriveguide.typepad.com.


  27. Hi Darren,

    Great article! I’ve definitely noticed that a lot of people think affiliate marketing is all about spam and referral links. It’s nice to come across something that tells people what it REALLY is! I’ve had some good luck with affiliate marketing, and hope others do, too!

    Brenon MacLaury

  28. Wow. Great article. I realize after reading it and the comments that there is a lot I don’t know about it and something to be gained.

    I agree with some of the comments about “affiliate” having a shady feel to it. I offer an affiliate program on my site, but it is more like a partnership. I wonder if I should change the name of it to entice more people?

    Thanks for the post.

    Erin Kennedy
    Professional Resume Services
    Exclusive Executive Resumes

  29. I guess I belong to the 29% group. I think one of the most challenging things is finding an affiliate program that you personally trust. For example I always hear people making all kinds of money with Ebay affiliate program.

    Mainly BANS sites (Build A Niche Store) My friend tried it and confirmed that Ebay doesn’t always pay you. Which is kind of wrong. I don’t think I would ever deal with Ebay after hearing that.

    So I’d recommend you testing your affiliate programs before investing your time building your websites and promotions. There is a lot of dishonesty out there…

  30. never had a luck with AM, not enough traffic

  31. I do quite a bit of affiliate marketing on my blog, mostly with Clickbank. Some months I have a good amount of traffic and make next to nothing, and some months I have less traffic and make more. I focus on a wide range of readers and topics, which sometimes isn’t good for doing AM. You’ll usually do better if you focus on a specific niche and earn the trust of your readers. Also, Amazon is a good program but the commissions are lower than a lot of AM companies. The name is well known, though, and that can make a world of difference.

  32. The beauty of affiliate marketing is that it does not require you to have your own website, handling customers, product development and after sales service. In fact this is one of the easiest ways of making a fortune online.

  33. I’m in the same sort of boat as Flat Baby. I don’t have the traffic for affiliate marketing yet. Although I am looking forward to geting involved at some point.

  34. I have been doing affiliate marketing for a few years. I think one of the biggest hurdles is finding a good affiliate management company. Being in the UK paypal and direct deposits are the only real option as US cheques not only take ages to arrive but the charges are very high to pay into a UK bank account and it can take a week to clear.

    Finding an AM company that has a wide enough selection of programs, many do not have a large selection of UK focussed offers.

  35. Affiliate Marketing is the best solution and can also cut cost in marketing any product

  36. I am also the from that 14 % who dont know anything about the affiliate progarms but after reading your article now i got some ideas about this. I will try some programmes now and can you suggest me some affiliates programms that really helps for beginner??

  37. Don’t be afraid to try affiliate marketing even if you only have a small amount of traffic. The results may be minimal at first, but the experience will only help you.

  38. Thanks for giving the insight on what is affiliate marketing and how it works.

  39. The adorableness of associate business is that it does not crave you to accept your own website, administration customers, artefact development and afterwards sales service. In actuality this is one of the easiest means of authoritative a affluence online.

  40. It’s true! Affiliate marketing is not easy money, but while you are affiliate marketer you can learn some strategies and then implement that on your own product! Only in that way you can earn some big money and that demands consistent work!

  41. very helpful for me, Darren you r my fan
    Blogging, SEO Tips by http://teratips.com

  42. I started trying my hand in affiliate marketing and i m running 1 banner from clickbank. but didnt recieved any results till now.
    plz help me.
    how i should promote aggressively? or just wait and watch

  43. Hi Darren,

    Affiliate marketing does require work. It is not a get rich procedure, it takes time and effort. I really appreciate your advise. I would like to involve myself a little more in affiliate marketing. With some time and effort I know that this will be very profitable

  44. Thanks, I have already started affiliate marketing, so I look forward to more great posts like this one.

  45. Hi Darren!
    Since my blog is new, I rely on affiliate marketing right now since I don’t have quite enough traffic to make money through selling ad space. But, I actually really like affiliate marketing! It’s fun talking about products and services I have personal experience in, building trust with my readers and hearing that their purchase through my affiliate link worked out for them.

    No customer service, credit card processing or returns to have to deal with – much easier than retail.

    You definitely have to acquire some copywriting skills to truly benefit from it. Also, relationship building is key. I only promote products that I have personal experience with or that I’ve researched. That way, every one of my recommendations is genuine and my readers can trust in my opinions. I’m here to help – if I earn an income while doing it, it’s icing on the cake!

  46. Great post Darren. I learn a lot from you blog.

  47. Hey Darren,

    You know even though I thought I had a grasp of affiliate marketing you concreted the concept in my head. I really like how you focus on finding the target product or service for the blog that you run and not pushing to hard making sure to save readership. Looking forward to your next post.

  48. great post: I am just starting affiliate marketing and this has been of help. I am looking forward to getting really starting with clickbank soon too.

  49. hi there, found great post here,
    thanks for sharing. i’ll be looing forward to your next post :)

  50. I really like your articles with this and I feel lucky to be able to read your article, I really like your articles with this article because you have to give this a thought for more advanced again, many thanks

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