What Is Affiliate Marketing? Examples and How To Start

What Is Affiliate Marketing? Examples and How To Start

Do you ever wonder how social influencers, bloggers, and other internet creators make money? While there are several different ways to monetize online content, affiliate marketing is a popular strategy used by many online creators. If you’re able to attract a sizable online following, then this popular digital marketing business model may be a great way to earn passive income.

Here you’ll find an in-depth beginner's guide to how affiliate marketing works and how you can use it to make money online. We’ll also introduce you to different types of affiliate marketing and walk you through a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

Table of contents:

What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing involves recommending a company’s products or services in exchange for a percentage of any sales you generate as a result. The idea is to create a win-win situation for companies who want to create brand awareness and content creators who help by offering word-of-mouth recommendations.

The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you can earn sales commissions by recommending anything from physical products to software or services. You might recommend new products on your YouTube channel, include an affiliate link to a certain retailer in your blog, or draw in new customers on social media with a positive product review.

Affiliate marketing partners will provide you with a special link that you can ask potential customers to follow if they’re interested in your recommendation. This will enable your partners to track the referrals your link brings in and calculate your payout accordingly.

Types of affiliate marketing

Renowned author and entrepreneur Pat Flynn categorized three different types of affiliate marketers: unattached, related, and involved. Here’s a breakdown of each:

  • Unattached. Unattached affiliate marketers may or may not actually use the products they advertise. They may generate potential customers through channels like pay-per-click (PPC) or offer partner deals through coupon codes on their websites.
  • Related. Related affiliate marketers promote products or services related to their niche on various content marketing channels. But they make no personal claims to use them.
  • Involved. An involved affiliate marketing strategy is one in which the affiliate marketer recommends products they actively use and are comfortable endorsing.

Regardless of which you choose, there are several key components you need to understand. In the next section, we’ll look at the different elements of an affiliate marketing campaign.

Key components of affiliate marketing

Statistics have consistently revealed that many consumers consider word-of-mouth recommendations, brand websites, and sponsorships among the most trusted advertising channels. This is among the key reasons that the affiliate marketing industry has continued to thrive as a performance-based sales model.

Here are the key elements it typically relies on to function:

  • The merchant. The merchant is a company or individual who is willing to give an advertiser a cut of any sales they generate for affiliate products.
  • Affiliates. Affiliates are people who earn commissions by driving sales or traffic to the merchant’s website using referral links.
  • Affiliate networks. Affiliate networks are platforms that serve as go-betweens between some merchants and affiliates. They typically provide links for affiliates and track metrics and commission rates for merchants.
  • Affiliate marketing programs. Some companies have their own direct affiliate programs that they run independently from affiliate networks.

Types of affiliate marketers

From social media platforms to websites, affiliate marketers use a wide range of online channels to reach new customers. According to a study from Statista, some of the most popular affiliate marketing channels include bloggers, review sites, coupon sites, newsletters, and editorial sites.

Websites like Buzzfeed have mastered the art of affiliate marketing by including commission links in their countless product reviews. Sites like Forbes and NerdWallet also commonly include their own affiliate links to financial products like credit cards.

But affiliate marketing is also a popular means of earning passive income for individuals, such as social media influencers. Influencers are now commonly grouped into several different categories, usually based on their number of subscribers or followers:

  • Nano-influencers have between 1K–10K followers.
  • Micro-influencers have 10K–100K followers.
  • Macro-influencers have earned 100K–1M followers.
  • Mega- or celebrity influencers have over 1M followers.

Affiliate marketing programs and networks

Now that we’ve discussed how affiliate marketing works, let’s look at how to find products to market. The good news is that there’s no need to wait around for a brand to reach out to you directly with a sponsorship offer. You can get started right away by signing up for the affiliate marketing programs of individual companies or finding opportunities through affiliate networks.

Best affiliate marketing programs

Many companies allow affiliates to sign up for an affiliate link directly through their websites. For example, Upwork’s affiliate program allows you to earn commissions by referring new clients to the platform.

Here are examples of other great affiliate marketing programs worth checking out:

  • Amazon Associates. Allows anyone to become an Amazon affiliate by recommending their choice of millions of different e-commerce products.
  • eBay Partner Network. Allows you to earn commissions for sales and also for traffic you generate to high-converting landing pages.
  • Sephora Affiliates. Offers creators the chance to earn commission on over 13K beauty products.
  • Target Partners. Another solid affiliate program that makes it easy for beginners to sign up and get started.

Best affiliate networks

Affiliate networks, also known as affiliate marketplaces, are platforms where you’ll find opportunities from a number of different brands. These affiliate sites generally act as middlemen between content creators and merchants. Some of the most popular affiliate networks include:

  • Rakuten Advertising. One of the oldest affiliate platforms in the game and has connected creators with opportunities from retailers like Ashley Furniture, Vera Bradley, and Hilton.
  • FlexOffers. Great choice if you want to offer recommendations for major brand names like Hulu, Samsung, Lowes, and Nike.
  • CJ Affiliate. Offers a strong variety of partnership options with brands like Bed Bath & Beyond, Office Depot, J. Crew, and HelloFresh.
  • ClickBank. Offers a revolving selection of both physical and digital products from brands in a number of different industries. It can be a particularly strong choice for niche content creators.
Affiliate marketing

How to start affiliate marketing

If you’re interested in turning your recommendations into affiliate income, then we’ve got some great marketing tips to help you get started. We’ll explore how to choose the right niche, what to keep in mind when you create content, and how to generate new traffic.

Steps to getting started with affiliate marketing:

  1. Choose your niche
  2. Choose your affiliate marketing channel
  3. Create quality content
  4. Drive traffic to your platform
  5. Analyze and optimize
  6. Comply with legal requirements
  7. Network and learn

1. Choose your niche

Generating a large online following often comes down to appealing to a targeted audience in the right niche. Niche audiences can be united by anything from a common interest or hobby to shared life circumstances. Just a few examples of the many niche audiences online include:

  • Pet owners
  • Travel lovers
  • Sports fans
  • Remote workers
  • Parents
  • Gamers
  • Fitness enthusiasts

To select the right niche for you, think about the type of things you’re either passionate about, have a great deal of knowledge about, or both. Aim for a niche that’s specific enough to make you stand out, but broad enough to attract a significant number of like-minded followers.

2. Choose your affiliate marketing channel

Now it’s time to determine how you’ll get your links in front of viewers. Some of the most popular affiliate marketing channels, with tips on how to work your links into each, include:

  • Blogs. Naturally integrate affiliate links into posts and publish them on your own blog, guest blogs, or blogging platforms like Medium.
  • YouTube. Whether you like to create tutorials or product reviews, make sure to include affiliate links to any products you mention in your comment section.
  • Email campaigns. Build an email list you can use to create a newsletter or free course and work in affiliate links for any products or deals that may interest your target audience.
  • Instagram. Instagram offers versatile options for pointing followers to your links, from video product reviews to promos for new blog posts.
  • Websites. Websites can be a great stand-alone channel or home base for omnichannel marketing campaigns.
  • PPC campaigns. If you’re looking for a more hands-off approach and don’t mind making an investment, PPC campaigns can be a great way to promote affiliate links to a very targeted audience.

3. Create quality content

Keep in mind that affiliate marketing is performance-based, which is why success often relies on attracting a large number of viewers. Creating high-quality content is a crucial component of attracting and retaining an audience.

No matter what type of content you choose to create, do your best to ensure that it addresses the needs and interests of your target audience. Try to ensure that you always post content that you’d be interested in yourself.

4. Drive traffic to your platform

As you begin artfully working affiliate links into your content, you’ll want to create a strategy to bring in more viewers. This is where omnichannel marketing strategies can come in handy.

The Everygirl, a popular brand that centers around career-driven women, is a great example of this concept in action. The Everygirl website serves as a solid home base where viewers will find plenty of articles, many of which use affiliate links to relevant products.

In addition to driving traffic to the site through search engine optimization (SEO), the brand also brings in followers through social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), and Pinterest. They also use email marketing to offer exclusive content for readers who subscribe to their email list.

5. Analyze and optimize

Digital marketing campaigns often take a little trial and error before they find the right stride. Many influencers, creators, and publishers use analytics tools to monitor the performance of their campaigns.

Many social media platforms offer their own built-in analytics platforms for certain types of accounts. You can also use third-party tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social to track social media metrics like click-through or conversion rates.

Google Analytics is another top resource that can provide performance data for campaigns across a variety of different online channels. Understanding what does and doesn’t work best for your audience can help you fine-tune your approach to creating content that drives more traffic to the affiliate products or services you recommend.

6. Comply with legal requirements

You’ll need to understand and comply with any legal requirements related to affiliate marketing in your jurisdiction. For instance, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has certain rules and regulations regarding online marketing and advertising in the United States.

If you may receive affiliate commissions by recommending a product to customers, then these rules state that you must disclose that fact along with your review. Such laws were designed to help ensure customers weren’t led astray by affiliate marketing efforts disguised as rave reviews.

7. Network and learn

Affiliate marketing has become a popular form of passive income for countless businesses, creators, and influencers. Take advantage of the wide range of resources available online by researching affiliate marketing blogs and forums.

The more affiliate marketers you meet, the more knowledge you’ll gain from their experiences. Now that you have a better understanding of how affiliate marketing works, you may also begin to notice more examples than ever before. Make an effort to notice how your favorite creators use affiliate links in their own marketing efforts to help generate ideas of your own.

Start your affiliate marketing campaign today

Creating your affiliate marketing business can be a low-cost startup option for entrepreneurs and digital marketers. While affiliate sales offer plenty of exciting opportunities, there are important considerations to navigate when you’re first getting started.

If you’d like a helping hand along your journey, then be sure to check out the many top affiliate marketers available for hire on Upwork. Whether you need help mapping out a strategy or getting your channels up and running, Upwork can connect you with the best independent professional for your needs.

If you’re an experienced affiliate marketer in search of your next job, then be sure to check out Upwork’s affiliate marketing job board. There you’ll find opportunities from prospective clients from all over the world who are searching for a professional with your skillset.

Upwork does not control, operate, or sponsor the other tools or services discussed in this article, which are only provided as potential options. Each reader and company should take the time to adequately analyze and determine the tools or services that would best fit their specific needs and situation.


Projects related to this article:
No items found.

Author Spotlight

What Is Affiliate Marketing? Examples and How To Start
The Upwork Team

Upwork is the world’s work marketplace that connects businesses with independent talent from across the globe. We serve everyone from one-person startups to large, Fortune 100 enterprises with a powerful, trust-driven platform that enables companies and talent to work together in new ways that unlock their potential.

Get This Article as a PDF

For easy printing, reading, and sharing.

Download PDF

Latest articles

X Icon