Learn how to start affiliate marketing by finding a niche market, creating a website and crafting content that promotes affiliate products. You can start an affiliate site for just $2.95 per month and earn thousands per month working part-time. The biggest affiliate marketers make millions each year and most started out small — just like you.
To learn how to start affiliate marketing, you first need to launch a website. Blog platforms are the best choice for affiliate marketers, and the most popular platform is WordPress. If you’re serious about making money through affiliate marketing, you should start on WordPress, plain and simple. It costs you just $2.95 per month with our preferred hosting provider, Bluehost. Enter your website name below to get started:
We’ll expand on how a WordPress website fits into your affiliate marketing plan in step three. But, first, let’s explore how you can find a niche market and spot affiliate partners that can make your efforts profitable.
1. Find Your Niche
Most successful affiliate marketers focus on a market or topic that they have knowledge of or are passionate about — preferably, both. Your niche market doesn’t have to have mass appeal and a huge audience either. As long as there’s some type of audience following the topic and products or services that relate to it, it has affiliate profit potential.
To find out if there’s internet and social traffic surrounding your niche, try doing some search engine keyword research and search for related topics on social media. If keywords related to your topic have large search volumes, and if you find related Pinterest boards, Facebook pages and Instagram streams with lots of followers, you have an audience.
Examples of Niche Sites with Large Audiences
Here are some niche-focused blogs that found an audience and use affiliate marketing to make money from their site visitors, which is commonly called monetizing their traffic.
The This is Why I’m Broke affiliate marketing site spotlights unusual products sold through Amazon and other major online retailers and makes money on every sale it sends their way.
SafeWise hits a very narrow niche — home security systems. It creates content focused on home, personal and community safety and earns money off of home security reviews and recommendations.
How to Find Your Affiliate Niche
The most important factor in learning how to start affiliate marketing is finding a topic that you can talk about — a lot. Compelling content is what attracts your audience and gives you a platform to promote affiliate products.
To find your niche as a beginner affiliate marketer, consider these five questions:
- What’s your passion? The subject that you talk, write and read about day-in and day-out is a good contender for your passion. It doesn’t have to be overly broad like wine reviews. A sharper focus, say West Coast Wine Reviews, can be a better place to start when learning how to affiliate market. In fact, a narrow focus can help your site appear high in the search engines and stand out in social media, which we’ll get to later. For now, start by listing the topics that interest you, starting with the ones you’re knowledgeable about.
- Can you name 30 products related to your topic? If you know your topic well, you should be able to list 30 or so related or complementary products or services. Can you? If you can, great. There’s a good chance you’ll find affiliate partners that sell products that you can promote in your content. If you can’t name 30 related products off the top of your head, your topic may not have much profit potential.
- Are there related affiliate partners? Remember that list of 30 products mentioned above? You need to see if you can find companies, called affiliate partners, which will pay you to promote those types of products through your blog content. Researching this up front is a key factor in deciding if your niche can be profitable. We’ll explore ways to find affiliate partners in Step Two below.
- Can you spot influencers? Do some Google searches for terms or keywords related to your topic. Do many blogs or informational content appear in the search results? Do these blogs seem to have authority? Are the readers engaged and commenting on posts or does there seem to be a strong social following? Strong engagement or following tells you there is an audience for the topic. Note the blogs and social influencers within your topic, and jot down what you like about them or feel is missing from their content. This research will come in handy later as you plan your content.
- Is the space crowded? The exercise to spot influencers will help you judge how crowded your topic is. Some competition is fine, don’t let a few influencers with heavy followings discourage you. It’s highly unlikely you’ll stumble upon a topic that doesn’t have competition. However, if you see page after page of blogs in the search results, you’ll have a hard time breaking into the top search results, which can hamper your efforts and your profits.
As you work on the questions above, remember that many affiliate marketers — including affiliate marketing beginners — find success by positioning themselves as an expert in a rather limited field. So, if you’re passionate about tent camping or Texas wines, you could become the influencer others compare themselves to before long.
2. Research & Identify Affiliate Opportunities
Once you’ve settled on your niche and have 30 or so related or complementary products and/or services listed, it’s time for a fun part of learning how to affiliate market — finding affiliate partners. These are companies that pay you to promote their products or services within your content.
Affiliate programs are free to join and come in all shapes and sizes. Some are independent, like Amazon Associates, Target and Walmart. Others are accessed through large affiliate marketplaces that list partners across many categories and topics, like the ShareASale marketplace, shown below.
Here’s a closer look at how different types of affiliate programs work.
Marketplaces are free to join and give affiliate marketing beginners access to a wide range of companies that offer affiliate programs. There are many to explore, but they’re a great way to find partners for products or services within your niche. Marketplaces administer the programs and payouts too, so you don’t have to track and account for several independent programs. Plus, you also have someone in your corner if you have questions or issues, which is a plus for affiliate marketing beginners.
Start your affiliate marketplace search with:
Direct Affiliate Programs
Many top-tier online brands list their affiliate programs right on their website so you can find them easily. Some are self-administered, others are run through an affiliate marketplace, but you can sign up from the brand’s website. Like marketplaces, these large affiliate programs are free to join and easy for affiliate marketing beginners to navigate.
For affiliate product marketing, try:
If your focus is food, travel, pet and financial blogging, try:
If your site’s niche is tech and online services, look for affiliate partnerships with:
Sponsored Post Programs
Sponsored posts pay affiliates marketers upfront to create content that promotes a specific product, service or brand. Once you have a following, sponsored posts can be very profitable. After all, you have to create content anyway, you might as well try to get paid for it. Even after the initial payday, sponsored posts can be money makers since you often can include ongoing affiliate links to the sponsor’s products within the post or in sidebar or banner affiliate ads.
Here are good sources of sponsored affiliate marketing for beginners:
If you have a favorite site with products or services that you’d like to promote, visit it and search for “affiliate” in its search bar. That should bring you to its independent affiliate program page or send you to any marketplace with which it works.
How Affiliates Make Money
When researching potential affiliate partners, you’ll want to pay attention to how they pay you. Most affiliate programs pay based on an action, like a product purchase from an ecommerce site or a form completion for a service provider. The two most common fees are percentage of sale and flat fee per action.
Percentage of Sale
Affiliate partners that sell products generally pay you a percentage of every sale that originates from your content. For example, Amazon Associates pays affiliates between 1 and 10 percent of a sale, depending on the item category:
The merchants on the ShareASale affiliate network pay anywhere from 2 percent of a sale up to 10 percent or more. These percentages are clearly shown on ShareASale merchant search page:
Affiliate networks prominently list the how affiliates are paid, plus most display average earnings paid to affiliate using each program. This is handy information to determine the profit potential of each partner.
Flat Fee Per Action
Partners that sell services generally pay a flat fee when a user signs up. Sometimes, partners pay if a user signs up for an email newsletter or free trial. Others only pay if the user pays for a service. Typically, the higher payouts are things that are harder to sell. For example, website hosting can be a harder sell than various Amazon services. So, hosting affiliates tend to pay more, but you may not sell as many plans per month as Amazon services. That all depends on your audience and content.
HostGator pays $50 or more when a reader signs up for a service.
Amazon Associates pays $3 per new Prime and shopping registry account signup:
Regardless of the type of payout affiliate partners track, which sales or actions originate with your content. They do this using publisher-specific codes, which are embedded in the links you use in your content. Most programs have account dashboards that let you track the performance of your links and your running sales and profits too.
Selecting the Right Affiliate Products
Finding and cleverly matching profitable affiliate products to your content is a continuous voyage of discovery for affiliate marketers. For many, it’s one of the best parts of the job. Amanda Formaro, a full-time recipe and craft blogger and career affiliate says, “It’s like shopping for profits, and you can pick whatever products you like.”
“All types of posts have affiliate potential,” says Formaro. “On Amanda’s Cookin’, we match appropriate cookware and even ingredients in some cases to the recipes we create and post. On my Crafts by Amanda site, we match crafting products to our do-it-yourself kids’ crafts and home decor projects. These affiliate links add value to readers and are great ways to monetize recipes and how-to projects.”
“But, you want to be careful as you curate products to promote,” says Sarah Beeskow Blay, vice president of the affiliate marketplace ShareASale. “Posting off-topic content for the sole purpose of selling an item won’t win you loyal followers — or sales.”
According to Beeskow Blay, “Authenticity is the key to developing affiliate content that brings value to your audience and, in turn, influences them to purchase featured products.” She advises affiliate marketing beginners to “keep your message and brand consistent, find your voice and avoid overly pitchy posts or product insertions that are misaligned with your brand.” She warns that audiences are “quick to spot affiliate fakery. If they feel misled, they’ll find another source of information and not return to your site or social pages.”
The takeaway from Step Two is this: Step Two is an ongoing process. As you learn how to start affiliate marketing, you’ll spend a good portion of your time searching for target partners, signing up for programs and learning how it all works. As you become established, you’ll continue this process to curate new products and services to promote and connect to your content.
3. Build Your Website
As we stated at the beginning of this guide, a website is a key part of most successful affiliate marketing businesses. Your website is the one affiliate marketing channel that gives you complete control of your message and brand. Most affiliate marketers use their website as the home base for their affiliate business. Then, other marketing channels, such as social media, email, YouTube videos and podcasts are essentially extensions of what is housed on your website.
Most affiliate marketers choose a WordPress blog as the platform for their website because it’s very low cost and offers unmatched content creation possibilities. The WordPress platform is free — your only out-of-pocket cost of having a WordPress site is hosting. This runs just $2.95 per month with our preferred hosting provider, Bluehost, plus you get to test it out with its 30-day trial. You also get a free domain name, which is your website address and a free business email to make it all official.
Ready to get started? Enter your website name below:
Once your WordPress hosting account is in place, setting up your WordPress website isn’t difficult. However, if you’re completely new to website building, there is a learning curve, but it’s not too steep. Our WordPress site setup guide walks you through everything in three steps.
Finding a WordPress theme for your site is one of the fun parts of launching an affiliate marketing business. Themes drive the look and functionality of your website and, with WordPress, it’s easy to try out different themes until you find the perfect design for your site. There are plenty of themes to choose from and many are free. Find out more about using themes in our WordPress themes guide and check out Envato Market and MyThemeShop for great-looking themes — including many free options.
Once you have your WooCommerce website set up, the real fun can begin. You can start creating content that promotes the affiliate products you discovered in Step Two.
4. Create Affiliate Content
Once your website is in place, it’s time to start crafting authentic content that compliments your niche and promotes your affiliate products. Here’s a look at the types of content you can use to attract readers and sell affiliate products. Learn more in our blogging income guide.
- Product reviews: Single product reviews or round-ups tend to be popular with readers and deliver high conversion rates. Following Beeskow Blay’s advice above, be sure to keep your reviews authentic. Highlight the “pros” of the products you review and don’t be afraid to include any “cons.” Your readers appreciate honesty.
- Recipes: If you use any type of social media, you know that recipes are a great way to create shareable content. If you can find some way to relate your topic to food and include a recipes section, you’ll have a place to add unlimited content. Plus, you can extend your product promotions into related cooking tools. Need a source for blog-worthy recipes? Check out the freelancers at Fiverr.
- DIY and how-to guides: Do your topics relate to DIY projects? If so, you can create DIY how-to instructional content and connect to products needed to complete the project.
- Giveaways and discounts: Readers love freebies and great deals, and affiliate partners know it. Some affiliate partners provide giveaways, discounts and other savings deals for you to promote in your content. Be sure to look for these when researching partners.
- Style, trend and new releases posts: Styles, trends and new release content applies to much more than fashion. Style, hot finds and new release content can cover all topics, from tech, home decor and camping equipment to cooking, boating and horseback riding. Stay on top of the latest and greatest products within your topic and feature them in recurring posts.
- Virtual store pages: An affiliate virtual storefront lists products on your website just like a standard ecommerce store, but the “buy” button sends shoppers to the affiliate partner site to complete the purchase. You create this using a product feed that you populate with affiliate items, and then insert as a page into your website. Most affiliate marketplaces offer this feature. You can also use an affiliate storefront WordPress plug-in like WooZone to build a store using Amazon products.
- In-text content links: If you create content that doesn’t specifically promote a product or service, you can still monetize the content with context links. These are affiliate links that you insert into the text or images of your post. So, if a reader clicks on the link and completes an action, you can get paid.
- Banner and sidebar ads: Virtually every affiliate program provides a wide variety of ads that you can insert into the sidebars, header and footer sections of your WordPress website. Some of these affiliate ads promote a flat-fee product like the Amazon Prime free trial. Others automatically update with features products and items from your affiliate partner. Either way, if your reader clicks on one and makes a purchase, you get paid.
Quick tip: You can find freelance writers and blogging pros on Fiverr to help you craft your affiliate content fast and on a budget. That’s an easy way to build up your content quickly.
Organize & Plan Your Affiliate Content Ahead of Time
As you learn how to start affiliate marketing, it’s a good idea to set up a calendar to organize and plan your content posts several weeks in advance using a content calendar. Your calendar can be handwritten or done with Google Calendar, or you can use a WordPress calendar plug-in.
Most affiliate marketers use an editorial calendar plug-in since they let you both plan content long-term and schedule automatic publication ahead of time.
Calendar plug-ins like the Editorial Calendar, shown above, work in your WordPress dashboard so you can plan posts, create them and schedule publication dates ahead of time easily. The plug-in then publishes your posts on autopilot per the dates you set.
Once your affiliate website is set up and boasts some compelling content, it’s time to expand your horizons to new audiences through additional marketing channels.
5. Add Marketing Channels to Extend Your Reach
“Affiliate marketing is split across many different channels,” says Shawn Collins, co-CEO of Affiliate Summit, a global affiliate marketing conference. So, once your home base affiliate marketing website is set up, it’s time to explore others ways to reach readers and build your audience. This is another ongoing task for beginner and seasoned affiliate marketers alike since online, social, and mobile marketing is an ever-changing field.
“Blogging, paid search, social media, video, mobile, podcasting, organic search, email, and so on — all of these tactics are used to by affiliate marketers to promote an array of affiliate products and services,” says Collins. “Different mixes work best for each unique niche and affiliate marketer, so beginners should explore the options and focus efforts on a few marketing channels that convert the best.”
Taking Collins’ advice, as you learn how to start affiliate marketing, it’s a good idea to focus on just two to three the following marketing tactics in the beginning. Trying out everything at once is simply overwhelming. As you learn and grow, you can test other marketing channels and find a mix that best fits your content and audience.
Here are the marketing outlets and tactics to consider in your ongoing affiliate marketing plan:
- Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter should be first on your list for marketing both your website content and specific affiliate products. You can create branded social media business pages for each and even cross-post to your personal social media pages if your content is appropriate for your friends.
- Email marketing: Email is a proven winner for many affiliate marketers. As an affiliate startup, you can start a free email account with MailChimp, Drip or another email marketing service and gather email addresses on your website and use email marketing to send informative affiliate content and targeted product promotions to subscribers from day one.
- Video marketing: Does your topic or content show well in video? How-tos, recipes and product reviews create very engaging video content that you can use to promote affiliate products, plus you can monetize the videos themselves via YouTube.
- Podcasting: Podcasts are a simple way to add a multimedia dimension to your website, and you can share — in your own words — aspects of promoted products or services with your listeners. Get started with our podcast guide.
- Mobile app: Some niche topics work well in a mobile app format, like coupon and deal sites, and even workout and health topics. If it’s content or functionality that a reader might need on-the-go like coupon lookup or a workout tracker, you can package it in a mobile app and — you guessed it — use mobile marketing to promote products.
- Guest posts on high-traffic blogs: Remember the influencer research mentioned in Step One? To build traffic to your own blog, you can offer to write a guest post on popular blogs. This will put your work in front of their audience, plus you usually get a link back to your site for your efforts.
- SEO for organic search: Search engine optimization (SEO) is a marketing tactic in its own right. Good SEO helps you craft post content targeting specific terms, called keywords, to rank high in the search results in Google and other search engines. This is something to understand and implement early to make the most of your content from day one. SEO is also why a narrow niche focus is best for most affiliate marketers. Targeting niche-specific keywords help you rank high in search results and be found by readers interested in your niche.
- Paid search ads: Google AdWords lets you create ads that appear on the first page of the search engines and in related content on other blogs. This helps you attract readers to your content quickly, but the costs add up fast if you’re not careful. Learn more in our guide to Google AdWords.
Quick tip: You can find freelance social and email marketing specialists along with other content marketing pros on Fiverr to help you reach broad audiences and build a following quickly.
Affiliate Marketing for Beginners: Common Mistakes to Avoid
Success in affiliate marketing can be defined in many ways. For some, success is having a fun side-gig that brings in a few extra bucks each month with little effort. For others, it’s creating a multi-million dollar internet brand that employs hundreds of pros who crank out highly monetized content daily.
Whatever your goal, you’ll be closer to reaching it if you avoid these four common affiliate marketing beginner mistakes.
- Don’t set-it and forget-it — Affiliate marketing is a great way to create a relatively passive income stream, but you can’t launch it, see a little success, then expect it to grow on its own. You need to work regularly — at least weekly — to create fresh content, market via social and email channels, and keep your promotions current, on-trend, and seasonally appropriate.
- Not growing your affiliate partner base — It’s easy to start out with one or two top-level affiliate programs, like Amazon Associates and ShareASale. But you should always check out other platforms to find new partners to help extend your product reach and profits.
- Sticking with just one affiliate tactic — Since affiliate marketing opportunities are ever-changing, don’t limit your options with just beginner-friendly affiliate links or PPC ads. Try picking up some sponsored content posts or look into brand-driven influencer marketing opportunities as your social and blog following grows.
- Don’t forget evergreen promotions — You want to keep content fresh but you don’t want to focus solely on trending and seasonal promotions — that’s simply too much upkeep. In contrast, “Evergreen” content isn’t connected to trends or seasons, so it has a long shelf life. As a beginner affiliate marketer, it’s a good idea to build a solid base for your blog using evergreen content. Then, keep your site fresh with new or regularly updated content that highlights trending topics and goods.
The Bottom Line
In truth, there’s a sixth step to the process, which is: keep everything discussed above going. But we stated that fact throughout, so no need to expand on it. Successful affiliate marketing is not a get-rich-quick scheme; it’s a slow-build process. In fact, most affiliate marketers never get rich — but they do, over time, enjoy additional income from their affiliate efforts. That income generally compounds the longer you do it.
Collins says it best, “Some affiliates have the misunderstanding that affiliate marketing is a way to get rich quick, and it’s not. Patience and perseverance are two of the most important things for affiliate marketers.”
With creativity, work and the tactics covered above, many affiliate marketers do make enough money to make it their full-time job. If you ready to give affiliate marketing a go, enter your proposed website name in the field below to get your WordPress website started on Bluehost today:
Are you a budding or experienced affiliate marketer? We’d love to learn what’s working for you in the comments below.