Affiliating marketing can be a great way for business owners to earn passive income without having to create their own products or stock up on inventory. Although it’s often associated with bloggers or social media influencers, affiliate marketing can be a great way for a diverse range of businesses to earn extra income.
With affiliate marketing, you get paid to recommend products or services, usually through a customized link you can share online. Most successful online marketers who use affiliate marketing have a website where they provide helpful information (such as product reviews), and will utilize other marketing platforms such as email and social media marketing. Sometimes affiliate marketing programs will offer a dedicated phone number or other type of sign up method, though this is less common.
More sophisticated affiliate marketers will build marketing funnels that guide buyers through the product journey, collect and publish testimonials, design their own marketing materials, create dedicated paid marketing campaigns, and even utilize apps or plugins to help customize the customer experience and drive more sales.
Keep in mind that each affiliate marketing program will have its own rules that dictate what you can and cannot do to promote their programs. If you run afoul of these rules you may get kicked out of the program.
It’s also worth noting that affiliate programs themselves can offer different levels of payouts based on types of conversions or levels of sales volume, Some pay based on the last click that results in a sale, while others may use more sophisticated attribution models.
The 7 Best Affiliate Marketing Programs
There are thousands of affiliate marketing programs available and finding the right ones can sometimes feel overwhelming. Since every business is different, what works for your business may not work at all for another. A travel business will offer very different products than a financial website, for example.
Ultimately, the best affiliate program is one that offers products or services you’re happy to recommend to your audiences, and that pay well and pay promptly.
Features to look for in a great affiliate program:
Easy tools for creating tracking links
Marketing tools and creative assets for marketing campaigns
Cookies that track referrals for a long period of time
Tracking tools to help you improve conversion rates
Good conversion rates with your audience
Responsive customer support
The Amazon Associates affiliate program has two main advantages going for it. The first is that Amazon basically offers every product your customers could want, and it’s easy to create affiliate links to those products. If someone clicks on your link and buys something, you can earn a commission on everything in their cart, not just the product you recommended.
The second is that lots of people use Amazon so there is a familiarity and trust when it comes to ordering a product through Amazon. This is a very easy affiliate program for beginners to get started with.
The not so great news is that while the Amazon Associate program can offer high commissions (up to 20% on Amazon games) most of the category commissions are dismally small. Many online business owners have reported diminishing returns from Amazon Associates in recent years, but it is still one of the biggest games in town.
eBay Partner Network
The eBay Partner network is another popular affiliate program because eBay is a globally recognized ecommerce business. Like Amazon, it offers many different products and you can earn commissions for any traffic you send that results in a sale on eBay. It encourages affiliates to get creative with their marketing efforts, offering eBay Buy APIs, data feeds for eligible sellers and incremental testing tools.
If your audience includes small business owners or freelancers, Fiverr should be on your radar. Content creators, digital marketing experts, seo gurus, and many other experts offer their business services on this platform. Because it offers such a wide range of expertise from services such as online marketing help, setting up your email marketing campaigns, building funnels, to personal stylists, life coaching, and landscape design, many different companies can use their affiliate program.
And even if you don’t want to offer Fiverr to your audience you may find you can use Fiverr professionals to help you set up an online store, or create an email marketing campaign, for example.
While some companies manage their own affiliate program, many go through an affiliate network that manages affiliate programs for many different businesses. You must first join the affiliate network then request to join the program for the individual company whose products you want to sell. For example, if you want to be an Etsy affiliate, rather than applying directly through Etsy’s site you apply through an affiliate network such as Awin.
The platform then provides links and creatives, as well as customer support. It will also keep track of what you have earned and provide insights into click through rates, payouts, etc. This can be extremely helpful for entrepreneurs and small business owners that don’t have dedicated affiliate account managers to help them keep track of everything.
Another perk that comes with affiliate marketing networks is that you keep your affiliates in one place, you can find new affiliate programs through them and apply easily. You’ll always want to be on the lookout for new products or services to offer.
ShareASale, part of Awin, is an affiliate network that offers hundreds of affiliate programs in almost forty different categories. It offers real-time reporting, so you can find out immediately what’s working.
CJ (formerly Commission Junction) is a widely used affiliate marketing network. It has offers from more than 3,800 global brands around the world including retail, travel, finance, and network and home services. And over 167,000 publishers are part of the network. That means you’ll have lots of offers to choose from, along with sophisticated tools to improve your results.
ClickBank is an affiliate network that offers more than just affiliate programs. They offer e-commerce tools, affiliate online courses, support, and an online community. Plus with ClickBank you may have the option to earn with CPA or revenue sharing offers.
A very popular affiliate network, Rakuten has been named the top affiliate network in an industry survey for over a decade.
How to Choose the Right Affiliate Program for You
Picking the right products to offer is important but so is choosing the right affiliate program. First, keep in mind that most programs are not exclusive and neither are networks. That means you can sign up for multiple affiliate programs.
However, you do want to invest your time and effort wisely. So as you evaluate various programs to determine where you want to prioritize your efforts, take these five factors into account.
Commission structures will vary among programs. When you are looking at different commission rates affiliate partners pay, you may be inclined to just want to go straight to the high paying affiliate programs, but a good monetization structure doesn’t necessarily mean only offering products from the highest paying affiliate programs.
An affiliate program with a lower commission rate may be worth it if the program is more in line with your business and target audience. Also look at incentives that may reward you for referring more business over time or in a specific time period.
Cookie duration is super important. Essentially, when someone uses your affiliate link to go to a product the company starts timing them and if they make a purchase within the cookie duration period, you get paid. (Cookie duration should be in the terms and conditions when you sign up for the affiliate program.)
If they don’t make the purchase in the time frame but later go back and make the purchase directly through that company’s site you don’t get a commission. So, the longer the cookie duration window the better your chances of earning a commission.
Also check whether the credit goes to the last cookie. That means you could introduce your audience to a product but if they don’t buy right away and later use someone else’s link to buy that other company will earn the commission. Exclusive coupons, bonus offers or a dedicated landing page may help you minimize the chances this happens.
Affiliate income, especially recurring commissions, is the goal for every affiliate marketer. But what you might not have thought about is how you are going to receive your payout.
Most affiliate programs offer several payout options including Paypal, direct deposit (ACH)/bank transfer, or a gift card. Just make sure whatever method you choose will be linked to your business accounts and not your personal accounts. There will often be a minimum threshold before you get paid.
Range of Products
If you have a very niche website and want to promote a few very specific products, you don’t have to worry as much about the range of products available. But generally a wide range of products can give you more to promote while offering your audience more choices.
You can always sign up for multiple affiliate programs to give you more to choose from, but that does mean having to become familiar with multiple programs and keep up with each one’s rules. In the beginning it may be best to keep it simple.
The fastest way to turn off your audience is by offering subpar products or even to promote scams. Be careful. One way to help protect yourself is to work with reputable affiliate networks. A reputable network will verify the affiliate programs they offer so you don’t have to. If a potential affiliate approaches you regarding a partnership or joining their partner program, ask them if they are part of an affiliate network. If they aren’t, proceed more cautiously.
Terms and Conditions
Read the terms and conditions when you sign up for an an affiliate program. Many will have rules that govern how to present their products, what you can and can’t say, where you can promote, and much more. The last thing you want is to be kicked out of a good affiliate program because you broke a rule.