| 13 min read

How to Start Affiliate Marketing in 2023

Affiliate marketing can be a powerful tool to expand your marketing  reach by leveraging third-party subject matter content experts who become an extension of an internal marketing organization. If you interact with a brand through an online influencer as a result of reading a review or other content (like a blog or video), you are likely interacting with an affiliate (in other words, someone associated with) the brand. Blogs, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, and other social media are all platforms used by affiliate marketers to earn a commission or finder's fee based on how many leads they are able to push to companies offering products or services.

As a rule of thumb, unless a content producer disclaims that they are not compensated for what they say in a review, they are likely an affiliate and are earning something by talking about any product or service. In fact, building a successful affiliate platform is a business model espoused by many small companies and large corporations alike.

What does affiliate marketing mean?

Affiliate marketing is an agreement by which an online retailer pays commission to an external website or social media presence for traffic or sales generated from referrals. Lifestyle bloggers and social media influencers are examples of affiliate marketers. Depending on how many leads an affiliate program can generate, it can be a very profitable relationship for both the retailer and the affiliate.

Many online review sites are very profitable affiliate marketing businesses.

How to get started with affiliate marketing

Although there are a number of very large and successful affiliate marketers, you don’t necessarily need to have a large company behind you to be successful. In fact, many solopreneurs find affiliate marketing to be a very lucrative business or an incredibly profitable side hustle.

Getting started is pretty straightforward but will require some effort—like building any business. Fortunately, because brands like working with affiliates it’s much easier today than it might have been a few years ago. In a nutshell, it starts by joining an affiliate network. Most people recognize Amazon as a very successful online retailer. They are also a wildly popular affiliate network. Once you join a network, you’ll be given a unique link, called an affiliate link, that you’ll use when sending a referral to the network. That’s how the retailer will recognize that the customer came from you and is how they will credit you your commission.

Basically someone visits your site or social media feed, reads about a product or service they are interested in, clicks on your unique link, makes a purchase, and you get paid. Every time they use your link to make a purchase, you get paid.

The challenge for you is finding the right products or services to promote, build your online marketing presence, attract traffic to your website or social media presence, and introduce your visitors or followers to the things they might be interested in purchasing.

Getting started is pretty straightforward, but it will require some work.

Identify what you’re going to sell: 

You should probably start by choosing something you are either passionate about or know something about. The more targeted  you can be the better. For example, shoes is a broad category that could be very competitive. Hiking shoes is narrowing it down, but canyoneering shoes narrows it down every more and will likely have fewer competitors.

Reaching out to consumers is a popular affiliate strategy called B2C, or business to consumer. Yet many businesses rely on affiliate programs for leads into their sales teams. This is called B2B, or Business to Business. Although there are differences, the techniques for building a successful affiliate program are similar. You can start by asking yourself a few questions:

  1. Where do I have expertise?

  2. What do I enjoy doing or want to do?

  3. What am I passionate about?

The answers will help you decide what products or services you want to represent as well as whether it makes sense to pursue B2C or B2B opportunities.

Pick your platform: 

There are multiple platforms that are well suited for affiliate marketing. If you are a good writer, for example, maybe a blog is a good idea. If you like making videos, YouTube or TikTok might be a good option. You’ll also want to consider where  your potential customers might be looking for information.

Potential platforms include:

  • Websites

  • Blogs

  • YouTube

  • Other social media like Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook

  • A newsletter

  • A podcast

Regardless of the platform you choose, the challenge will be attracting enough people to your content so you can tell them about the products you are an affiliate for. In other words, you’ll need to learn about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and other online marketing tactics to build an audience. Otherwise, it will be a very slow slog to get people to notice you.

Find the right affiliate network for what you want to do:

In other words, once you’ve narrowed down the types of products or services you’d like to offer and the type of content you have the expertise to produce, what network or retailer do you want to work with. The more niche the product, the fewer the leads or buyers, and potentially the more you’ll earn. 

Create great content:

Regardless of the medium, the better the content you create the more engaged your audience will be. Why should your audience believe what you have to say? Are you an expert? Have you used the product yourself and speak to your own experience?

Because there are so many affiliate marketers today, consumers have become skeptical of some of what they see online. You need to create content that demonstrates that your opinion matters, or at least should matter, to them.

You’ll need traffic to your website or social media:

You can create great content, but if nobody sees it, it’s not going to do your affiliate marketing efforts any good. You need to draw people into your website. Fortunately, there are a few ways to do it—and you should consider them all.

  1. Paid advertising: Google, Bing, and other search engines all offer PPC or Pay-Per-Click advertising opportunities. Depending on the traffic you’re looking for, your cost-per-click can vary. You’ll need to learn about creating online ads that will encourage people to visit your site, rather than your competitors.

  2. Organic search: This is where good quality content will help you. Think about it this way, you have two audiences: 1) your potential customers and 2) the search engines. You not only have to create content that will appeal to your audience, you need to create it in such a way that the search engines will recognize it as valuable and serve it up early in search results. Did you know that over 90% of all traffic is generated on the first page of Google search results. This is called SEO or Search Engine Optimization.

  3. Email: An email list can be a great way to reach out to people to tell them about the product or service you are promoting. Of course there are vendors that can sell you lists of people who look like your desired customers, but you should always be thinking about how to build your own list. Subscribers to your YouTube channel or your blog are great examples. 

I don’t Believe there is any one silver marketing bullet and have discovered over the years that when organic marketing efforts are working well it helps paid advertising efforts perform better too. Sometimes it’s the combination of marketing methods building synergies together that create the best results.

Tips for successful affiliate marketing

There are those who might tell you that affiliate marketing is easy. Although the barriers to entry might only be a little bit of elbow grease, I don’t know that I would call it easy. There are a lot of important decisions to make, as we’ve described above, so maybe that should be the first tip. Recognize that it’s going to take some effort. Here are six more:

  1. Full time or side gig, treat it like the business it is. If you build it, they won’t come unless you give them a reason to—and that takes being serious about what you’re doing.

  2. Stick to what you know and are passionate about. Your audience is looking online for information. They are looking for a credible voice to help them make their purchasing decisions. If you can be that voice, they'll click on your link instead of someone else's.

  3. Don’t skimp on the quality of your content. Create the best video or blog, for example, you can. You’re not looking for perfection, but you want to create something that others will want to view or read. Remember the old Russian proverb, “The first pancake always fails,” and realize that the more you stick with it, the better you’ll become.

  4. Share your content everywhere you can think of. Any social media platform where it makes sense should be a target. P.T. Barnum famously said, “Without promotion, something terrible happens. Nothing.” Talk to your friends about what you’re doing, share your content on social media, everywhere you can.

  5. Focus on building trust. Sharing information that will help your audience regardless of whether or not they click on  your affiliate link is the way to do this. Business is personal and we do business with the people we trust. If all they are to you is a click, a lead, or another sale, they will see right through you and won’t trust what you have to say. Hence, they will become none of the above.

  6. Be data driven. We tend to pay attention to the things we measure, it’s human nature. Keep track of how many people visit your website, view your video, and click on the link. That will help you recognize what to do to improve.

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