| 11 min read

What is an Affiliate Marketer?

An affiliate marketer is anyone who engages in affiliate marketing. That means they get paid for referring people to products or services offered by companies with affiliate programs. 

Oftentimes affiliate marketers will be content creators who understand and connect with their target audience, and who want to earn income by getting paid for referrals to other company’s products, programs or services. 

You’ve no doubt seen examples of this when you’ve visited websites that feature product reviews or step-by-step tutorials that include a link to purchase or sign up. Even The New York Times has a dedicated affiliate website– Wirecutter– that reviews products and then includes affiliate links. 

Here we’ll talk about what an affiliate marketer is, as well as things you need to know if you’re considering becoming one. 

Can Anyone Become an Affiliate Marketer?

Yes! To become an affiliate marketer all you need to do is have an online marketing platform to promote products and share affiliate links. Affiliate marketers can be:

  • Social media influencers

  • Bloggers/content creators

  • Podcasters 

  • Small business entrepreneurs

  • Professional speakers

Really anyone with a strong online business platform can become an affiliate marketer. 

Keep in mind, though, when you apply to join an affiliate marketing program or even an affiliate network they will ask you for information on how you will promote their products. If you don’t have a website or other proof of your business marketing methods you could get declined. Startups will often have to build a solid audience first. 

What is great about affiliate marketing is that you don’t have to deal with physical products, build an e-commerce store, or handle returns. All you have to do is find products you believe in, become an affiliate, and use your platform to sell the product. That makes it a relatively low-cost way to bring in extra revenue.

If you have an online business, chances are you already engage in activities such as email marketing, content marketing, SEO (search engine optimization), product reviews, etc. All you are doing when you’re creating an affiliate marketing business is including other company’s products in your digital marketing efforts.

How Much Does Affiliate Marketing Pay?

Perhaps you have heard that becoming an affiliate marketer is an easy way to make lots of passive income “in your sleep” and you’re intrigued. Your first question may be how much you can make. 

Affiliate marketers can make anywhere from a few bucks to over six figures a year– or even a month! Like anything involving sales, there are going to be numerous factors that affect how much you earn. 

One of the first things to consider before you get into this is the size of your current online marketing business. 

  • How many visitors does your website get? 

  • What other marketing channels do you use?

  • How many people are on your email list, and what is the open rate? 

  • How much engagement do your marketing campaigns usually get? 

  • What are your typical conversion rates on links you share?  

All of these metrics are important because you can’t expect affiliate marketing to work if your other marketing activities don’t. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t start early. If you can get approved for some programs you may be able to start marketing this way. As your audience and community grows you will, of course, have more people viewing your content which should help you make more affiliate sales. But you have to be realistic about what you can expect, and be willing to put in the work. 

The type of products you promote will also affect your affiliate income. Some offer very high commissions which mean you need fewer sales to make decent money. Financial services products offer higher commissions, for example, than what you’re likely to earn selling general retail products as an Amazon affiliate.  

Commission rates can vary from as little as 2%  to 30% or more. However, this is going to vary greatly between companies and even between product categories. If you are successful bringing in a lot of sales, you may be able to negotiate higher commissions. 

How Affiliate Marketers Work

If you automatically shy away anytime someone mentions passive income or easy ways to make money with no upfront costs, you aren’t alone. Your skepticism is well founded and may have saved you some money on useless business opportunities in the past. 

Becoming an affiliate marketer isn’t a scam but it’s also not easy money. It takes work to be successful. However, if you are already a content creator, this may be a nice addition to the other money you’re making. For the most part, it really doesn’t cost anything up front except your time. 

So how exactly do you get started? Here’s the basic overview of how affiliate marketing works:

Step 1: Sign up with an affiliate program or affiliate network. 

Signing up with an affiliate program or an affiliate network is the first step for anyone on their affiliate marketing journey. The exact process may vary slightly, but you’ll provide business information in an application and then (hopefully) get approved as an affiliate partner. 

For those that are beginners in the world of affiliate marketing you will probably have to do some extra research to figure out what program is best for you. Companies or networks to look into may be

  1. CJ (Commission Junction)

  2. ShareASale

  3. ClickBank

  4. Rakuten

  5. Amazon Associates

  6. Awin

  7. Fiverr

  8. Etsy

  9. eBay Partner Network

Step 2: Find the products you want to promote and include them in your content. Always include the affiliate link or you won’t get paid. When someone clicks through from your website to the seller’s website using the affiliate link it will be tracked. Depending on the cookie duration it can track until they close out of the site or up to x number of days. 

If the person who clicked through purchases the product, you will get an affiliate commission. (That may be true even if they purchase something different on the site.) Commission rates vary usually by the type of affiliate sale. For example a product in the beauty category may have a 4.5% commission while a sports item may have a 1.5% commission. Occasionally there are programs that will pay per click (PPC) but with affiliate marketing payout is usually CPA (cost per action) or CPS (cost per sale). 

Step 3. Get paid. After a set number of days (usually 30) and a minimum threshold of commissions earned you will receive your payout.

If you’re wondering about how affiliate marketers work in terms of the way they work, the good news is this is a very flexible way to make money! Affiliate sites can be maintained from anywhere in the world, and often on a flexible schedule. Some affiliate programs, such as credit cards, are very time-intensive and you may have to make changes to your content very quickly to remain in compliance. But most don’t require constant updating. 

This makes this type of online business excellent for digital nomads, side gigs or others who want a lot of flexibility. At the same time, programs can shut down or change overnight and if a program that represents a significant portion of your online income goes away, you could be left scrambling. 

Affiliate Marketing Strategy

There are nuances to becoming a successful affiliate marketer that tend to be glossed over when people talk about how easy it is as a way to create passive income. 

First, you need to be detail oriented. Once you have signed up for an affiliate program, read the terms and conditions so you know the rules about what you can and can’t do to promote it. Follow them carefully because if you don’t, you could lose your ability to market that program, and even forfeit commissions. You’ll also need to keep up with changes and have a system for tracking and replacing old links. 

Make sure you include required advertising or affiliate disclosures on your website and/or social media marketing. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has extensive rules around what you must say when you promote affiliate products, as do many social media platforms. 

Always put your audience’s needs first. If you recommend junk they’re not going to stick around. It is important to promote products that fit well with what you are offering and that you genuinely believe in. This is one of the biggest factors in whether or not you will have a successful affiliate marketing program. 

Produce high quality content. Not only do search engines reward it, your audience is more likely to respond to content that is good. That doesn’t mean you have to pay for professionally produced Youtube videos or slick webinars, but the message you’re delivering should be strong and compelling. 

Constantly hone your digital marketing skills. You need to learn about tracking, testing  and tweaking copy or ad creatives to get higher conversion rates. You may need to create unique landing pages to promote items you’re selling. You will probably benefit from learning how to write better sales copy. These are all skills that can contribute to a more lucrative income as an affiliate marketer.

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