Affiliate Marketing for Beginners: How to Make Money as an Affiliate

By Ian | Affiliate Marketing

affiliate marketing for beginners: how to make money as an affiliate featured image

Dreaming of a passive income? Affiliate marketing is one way to achieve it. What exactly IS affiliate marketing, though? Here’s a thorough guide about affiliate marketing for beginners. 

In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is the practice of promoting a company’s (or product publisher’s) products or services in exchange for a commission on the resulting sale. It’s basically a modern version of a very old and fundamental business idea: sales commissions.

Marketers, bloggers, and online business owners join affiliate programs or locate reputable affiliate products to share with their audiences. Most bloggers make money by building an audience that trusts them and offering products or services that will genuinely help them.

The best thing about affiliate marketing is that it’s a quick way to offer products and services without having to create your own.

In short, you find a product or a service that you like, promote it to your audience, and earn a commission on each sale you make. 

The 3 Basic Elements of Affiliate Marketing

  • The Brand or Merchant

These are the people behind the product or service that you will market as an affiliate. Whether it be a solo entrepreneur (like Tony Robbins) or a huge company (like Dyson), the entity whose product you promote is considered to be the merchant or vendor.

  • The Affiliate (a.k.a., You)

The affiliate is the individual who markets the merchant’s product to potential consumers. An affiliate can be anyone: a blogger, a marketer, etc. Simply speaking, the affiliate promotes the product in a way that persuades consumers to purchase the product. The affiliate receives a portion of the revenue made from every consumer purchase.

  • The Consumer

Consumers are the main driving force of affiliate marketing, but it’s mostly up to the affiliate to decide whether or not the consumer knows they’re a part of an affiliate marketing system. An affiliate’s share of the profit is included within the retail price of a product, which means that a consumer is none the wiser to the affiliate marketing system they’re a significant part of.

How Affiliate Marketing Works

At first glance, the affiliate marketing system may seem intimidating and difficult to understand — but it’s not. The concept is actually quite simple.

When an affiliate joins an affiliate program run by the product publisher, the affiliate is given a unique ID and a specific URL to use when promoting the program’s product. The affiliate includes this specific url (or link) in their blog content or email marketing efforts and invites readers to click on it with a call-to-action.affiliate link UR

Here’s what a typical affiliate link URL might look like:

screenshot of an affiliate link

When a potential buyer clicks on the link to visit the affiliate partner’s site, a cookie identifying the affiliate is placed on the customer’s computer. This cookie ensures that the publisher is credited with the referral sale even if it occurs days (or even weeks) later.

After a consumer completes the sale process, the merchant checks the sales record for a cookie to identify the source of the referral. If the merchant locates a cookie with an affiliate ID, the affiliate is credited with that sale. The merchant then makes reports available so that affiliates can review their referrals (clicks) and sales.

In affiliate marketing, it isn’t always necessary to make a sale to earn a commission, though. Some affiliate programs measure commissions based on HOW their affiliates contribute to the product owner’s sales rather than the sale itself.

a diagram of the process of affiliate marketing

How Affiliates Make Money with CPA Marketing

Cost Per Acquisition/Action (CPA) Marketing is an affiliate model where a commission is paid when a consumer takes a specific action. Actions can include signing up for a trial, making a purchase, or even filling out a form. CPA marketing is the backbone of how affiliate marketers get paid.

Here are the models that embody CPA marketing:

Pay per Click

This model focuses on pushing the affiliate to persuade the consumer to move from the affiliate’s site to the merchant’s site by clicking on specific links. The affiliate is paid based on the increase in web traffic they are responsible for on the merchant’s site.

When it comes to the pay per click model, Google AdSense is the top-dog. Depending on competition, commissions per click can range from $0.20 to $15.

Pay per Lead

This is a more complex system. Pay per lead affiliate programs compensate affiliates based on lead conversions. The affiliate must persuade consumers to visit the merchant’s website and complete a desired action there — whether it’s filling out a contact form, signing up for a product trial, subscribing to a newsletter, or downloading software.

For example, Skillshare’s affiliate program pays affiliates $10 for every new visitor who registers for the company’s service through their affiliate link. While $10 per lead sounds lucrative, keep in mind that you can’t control what a person will do after they leave your site.

Pay per Sale

This is the most common CPA marketing model. Under this model, merchants pay affiliates a percentage of the product’s sale price after the consumer purchases the product as a result of the affiliate’s marketing strategies.

One of the best companies that uses the pay per sale model and offers an affiliate program is HubSpot. HubSpot pays affiliates up to $1000 every time a user purchases a product through their affiliate link.

Now that you have a fundamental understanding of what affiliate marketing is, here’s how you can get started.

Affiliate Marketing in 5 Steps

Keep in mind that affiliates earn a commission in exchange for giving readers valuable insights on products or services they were already thinking about purchasing.

In other words, readers are already going to make a purchase. The question is, can you help them make the best decision on which product to buy?

THIS is where you add value. You earn a commission in exchange for helping people make smarter decisions, and you use your blog and the internet to systematize that process.

1. Focus on a niche.

hand holding lens focusing on mountains

Frankly speaking, if you’re going to start a blog today, you’ll be facing a lot of competition. The number of bloggers in the U.S will reach 31.7 million by 2020. 31.7 MILLION!

So how does an affiliate marketing beginner set themselves apart? By niching down.

The perfect niche isn’t too broad, nor too narrow. Choose a topic that focuses on a specific category. For example, “sports” is a big category. Rather than tackling that, consider something more specific, like “men’s home equipment.”

Keeping topics specific can help build a more focused audience and eventually help you rank higher in search engines. Focus on expanding into other areas of a broad category when you’ve covered the bulk of it and built traffic to your site.

Don’t choose a niche that’s too narrow, though. The rule of thumb to knowing if a niche is too narrow is to think about whether multiple topics can be written about it for months(if not years).

Read this No-Nonsense Guide on How to Pick a Niche for ideas to get started quickly. But remember – if you’re going to be the main content creator for your affiliate business, focus on a niche you’re interested in.

Affiliate sites die due to lack of consistency from its content creator. At the very least, you’ll find it much easier to press on when the going gets tough if you’re passionate about the topic.

2. Choose an affiliate product to promote.

As an ethical blogger, carefully vet the products you choose to represent. This is done in one of two ways:

  1. Using your experience with products you’ve used and liked that have affiliate programs AND are a good fit for your audience, or…
  2. Relying on the products you’re able to gain access to in order to evaluate them by either buying them outright or receiving a free sample trial.

No matter which approach you take, you need to invest time and money to research the best products for your audience.


Use this checklist as a guide to determine if a product is trustworthy:

  • Does it have a solid refund policy that you can trust will be honored?
  • Does it come with decent customer support (that you’ve personally tested)?
  • Can you share your personal and good experience with the product?
  • Does the offer fit your audience’s needs? Furthermore, will it abuse the trust you’ve built with them?  

3. Get approved and set up as an affiliate.

thumb up

Every potential affiliate needs to apply to and be approved by most affiliate programs before they’re able to start promoting anything.

The most common minimum requirements that a person must be able to provide in order to be approved are:

  • Personal and/or business contact information for tax and reporting purposes.
  • A bank account to send revenue from commissions to.

After getting accepted, the merchant will provide an affiliate link that might look similar to this:

This is what you’ll include in your content for potential customers to click.

Affiliate program managers or product owners will sometimes share tips and useful assets to market the product, such as:

  • An affiliate guide as well as instructions on how to use the platform.
  • A summary of common policies (like payouts).
  • Online marketing tools (like banners and sidebar graphics).
  • Sample email/ webpage template.
  • Ongoing communications from the merchant about promotions, new products, etc.

4. Create engaging content.

Not only does an affiliate need to put their recommendation in front of an audience, they need to to make it TRUSTWORTHY. The fact of the matter is, people don’t like to feel like they’re being sold to. 

Slapping a banner on your content isn’t enough because people tend to ignore anything that looks like an ad. This is exactly why most aspiring affiliate marketers fall short – they don’t promote products in a way that comes across as trustworthy and authoritative.

If a reader gets the impression that your only goal is to make a commission rather than help them find the best possible solution to their problem, then you’re not building trust with your audience.

So how exactly do you persuade an audience to buy a product without coming across as a sell-out?

Create a Resource Page on Your Blog

A resource page promotes several different products at the same time and organizes them according to the needs of the different types of potential customers who visit your blog and explains how those products can help them.

A resource page doesn’t take long to create – it can be put together within a few hours. Your visitors will appreciate all of your recommendations being in one place for easy reference.

Here’s an example of our resource page.

Create and Promote Custom Content

This is the best option for affiliates who already have a steady stream of traffic and have built an email list of subscribers they can send their latest content to on a regular basis.

a.) Write Reviews

This is one of the easiest ways to promote affiliate partnerships, but it can also be harmful if your content lacks diversity.

Detailed reviews can be written about single products, courses, books, or softwares, and can focus on a single product or side-by-side comparisons.

Side-by-side comparisons are what will diversify your content and is the likeliest way to build trust with your audience. The best way to approach these types of reviews is by being honest with your audience so that you can effectively argue why the product you’re affiliated with is the best.

If the reviews you write consistently focus on only the product you’re affiliated with, you’ll come across as dishonest to your audience and lose their trust.

b.) Write Comprehensive Content on a Related Topic

Another approach involves writing comprehensive posts to educate visitors about a topic, industry, or product and using a “soft sell” tactic to gently persuade visitors to purchase a product through your affiliate link.

Comprehensive posts usually have titles that begin with phrases like “The Ultimate Guide” or “How to (Fill in the Blank)” and include affiliate links to any number of products, courses, tools, and softwares.

Our post on How to Start a WordPress blog on Bluehost is a great example. It’s a detailed and definitive guide to help aspiring bloggers establish themselves in the blogging industry. It was written to not only educate beginners on how to start a blog, but to also allow us to feature our free training and affiliate partnerships.

Whatever the topic, always make sure to be transparent, uphold honesty and, above all else, provide value to your readers.

Don’t Forget to Leverage SEO 


Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of optimizing pages to rank high in search engines like Google. For as long as you can rank high in the search engines for your target keywords, you’ll get consistent and passive traffic.

At the most basic level, SEO is about:

  • Understanding what topics your target customers are researching (keyword research).
  • Creating content around those topics (blog posts, product pages, etc.).
  • Taking care of the “technical” stuff to rank content higher in the search engines (that involves link building).

Here are some Basic SEO Tips For Beginners to help you become more familiar with how to rank articles and blog posts (aka, content) on Google.

On that note, let me leave you with a solid reminder:

Comply with legal requirements and ethical practices at all costs.

The Federal Trade Commission requires content creators to declare if they will earn a commission from a link that a consumer may click. Even if it’s not required by law where you are, I still highly recommend you follow this practice as a way to build trust with your audience (people appreciate transparency).

So whenever you share an affiliate link, whether in blog posts, web pages, or email, declare that you will earn a small commission if they buy through the links you share and give the assurance that you wouldn’t recommend a product you weren’t confident about.

Final Tips to Remember RE:Affiliate Marketing for Beginners

Start building an email list – immediately!

New affiliate marketers don’t realize the importance of building an email list when they’re first starting out. An email list consists of names and email addresses submitted by people who want to receive updates and promotions from your business.

Email lists can be built using marketing software that sends bulk email notifications to anyone in your list regarding blog updates, new merchandise, or other business services.

Because email subscribers submitted THEIR information to  YOUR website, they’re interested in what you have to offer. This is why the people who subscribe to your email list are more likely to convert into paying customers.

“But what about social media?”

All social media platforms require users to submit an email address to create an account. Have you ever wondered why that is? 

Social media companies know that emails are the most direct and reliable way of getting in touch with their customers. Even if a person creates an account using a phone number, they will be prompted to provide an email address to help connect with friends, for password recovery options, and, most importantly, to send targeted email messages.

Don’t get me wrong – social media is a great way to reach an audience! But it’s important to keep the timely nature of social media platforms in perspective…

Social media users are all over the place and use a number of different platforms, and it can become difficult for affiliates to focus on different platforms at once. Studies show that at least 91% of consumers check their email on a daily basis, so that’s why an email list is so important.

I’m not saying that social media isn’t important. It is  – you should explore every opportunity to reach your audience.

However, you should invest more time and effort on a proven and time-tested method of communication that guarantees high results.

Only recommend products that you’re comfortable and familiar with.

Integrity and trust are two of the most important traits when building rapport with an audience. The quickest way to lose an audience is by recommending products that either haven’t been vetted or that aren’t the best fit.

Your blog shouldn’t focus on selling products – it should focus on providing value and the best experience to your audience. Never push your audience to directly buy a product because, remember, you are simply recommending the product

a person thinking and looking at the board

Stay up-to-date on current marketing trends.

If you’re joining the world of affiliate marketing, be ready for some serious competition. Competing with other affiliate marketers means you need to stay on top of the latest trends so that you, too, can benefit from new marketing techniques that periodically pop up. Staying on top of new strategies guarantees that your conversion rates will be as high as possible.

High-ticket affiliate products can be lucrative (at the right time).

Once you earn your affiliate sea legs, high-ticket affiliate products become more and more tempting to promote. Affiliate marketing is mostly commission-based, so promoting products and services that are expensive, recurring or subscription-based, or have a high commission rate can help you earn more.

High-ticket affiliate products offer huge payouts on every conversion. These typically involve a high investment for the buyer, but every purchase means a higher payout for you. High-ticket affiliate products also give you a larger budget to work with because you earn more with every conversion, so there’s more opportunity to grow other aspects of your business, such as lead generation and marketing.

There are disadvantages to promoting high-ticket affiliate products, though. Low conversion rates means a high risk of loss. High-ticket products are more costly, so conversion rates are expected to be lower than low-cost products.

Customers aren’t the only ones taking a risk with this large investment. Affiliates take a risk when promoting high-ticket items because they invest valuable resources to create incredibly high-level content and formulate marketing strategies in order to convince customers that the high-ticket items they’re promoting are worth buying.

Is Affiliate Marketing for Beginners Easy?

No, it’s not.

The dream of earning a passive income has never been more attainable, achievable, and easy to start. Just don’t expect life-changing income or the freedom to quit your 9-to-5 overnight. 

Affiliate marketing takes time and a lot of effort, so focus first on creating awesome content and earning your first affiliate sales. As your site starts to grow a respectable following, set new goals and continue experimenting.

Above all else, always aim to provide valuable content that genuinely helps and educates your audience. Be honest, transparent, and nurture the trust that readers offer you.

This is how to start affiliate marketing the right way!



About the Author

I've been in internet marketing for over 10 years, and I've purchased dozens of illegitimate products for the sole purpose of evaluating them and exposing the truth about these products to anyone who's thinking about purchasing it. I never let money influence my rating of a product and your success/safety is my absolute highest priority. Don't want to buy a product? Register for one of my 100% free internet marketing training courses>>