If you want to learn how to start affiliate marketing, you need to master the essentials. This guide teaches you how to select a niche, join the best affiliate marketing programs, create your affiliate platform, and develop money-making promotions. Many affiliate marketers earn $5,000 to $100,000 a year, and the most successful ones earn millions.
Here are the five steps of affiliate marketing for beginners.
1. Find Your Niche
A niche is a subset of a larger market. For example, sports is a large, general-appeal market while soccer is a subset or a niche of the broader sports market. Male soccer players between the ages of 5 to 12 is a narrow niche.
When starting your affiliate marketing initiatives, you want to choose a niche that’s small enough so you can easily target your audience. It’s also crucial that your niche is large enough that you can still make money.
Successful affiliate marketers focus on a niche that they have considerable knowledge or expertise in or that they are passionate about. It’s best to choose a niche that you are excited about as that enthusiasm will sustain you through the ups and downs of the affiliate marketing process.
Tips for Finding a Profitable Niche
To find out if a niche has the potential to be profitable, you’ll need to research activity on the web surrounding your niche. Look for competitors, products, and services related to your niche as well as relevant discussions on social media channels.
Here are some more tips for finding a profitable affiliate niche:
- Explore trends: Use Google Trends to identify search trends that relate to your niche. Consider using BuzzSumo to help you explore what content is most popular in social media channels.
- Conduct keyword research: To find what people are searching for on the web, conduct keyword research using free tools such as Google’s Keyword Planner, Answer the Public, and Keywords Everywhere.
- Research existing products and services: Find out what’s already being sold to your niche audience, then explore affiliate programs that represent these offerings.
- Look for top influencers: Nearly every niche already has at least a few influencers; some have thousands. Learn both from what the top influencers are doing well and not so well because their weaknesses often present opportunities for you.
Many affiliate marketers—including affiliate marketing beginners—find success by positioning themselves as an expert in a narrow niche. For example, you could be passionate about tent camping in the Pacific Northwest or love talking Texas wines. If you can you find relevant affiliate products to share with your narrow niche, you could be well on your way to earning a great income through affiliate marketing.
Examples of Niche Websites
Whether you’re hoping to earn a nice side income from affiliate marketing or intend to create a full-fledged affiliate marketing business, there are many niche sites you can learn from. Some sites monetize exclusively through affiliate marketing while others make money from a blend of strategies, including advertising networks, sponsored posts, and affiliate marketing.
Here are a few examples of niche websites that earn some, if not all, of their income through affiliate marketing:
- This Is Why I’m Broke: This affiliate marketing site spotlights unusual products sold through Amazon and other major online retailers.
- Best Reviews: This site reviews products and makes purchase recommendations. Best Reviews then earn money when visitors click on its affiliate links.
- Nomadic Matt: This popular blogger offers travel tips and suggestions. One of the top ways he earns money through his blog is through affiliate links.
Building a niche website is the most common way that affiliate marketers earn money. You can also conduct affiliate marketing through your social media channels, which means you don’t even need to have your own website.
2. Identify Affiliate Opportunities for Your Niche
Once you’ve settled on your niche, it’s time for the next step in how to start affiliate marketing: finding affiliate networks and programs to join. You have several great options from which to choose. Before selecting programs to join, it’s important to be clear about how you can earn money through affiliate marketing.
How Affiliate Marketing Works
The basic premise of affiliate marketing is that you have access to a niche audience either through your website or your social media channels. Some companies want to reach people who are in your audience. These brands and merchants set up their own affiliate marketing programs or join affiliate marketing networks so that you have access to their products and services for promotional purposes.
When you join affiliate programs and networks, you receive a commission for generating sales for affiliate partners’ goods and services. You may also earn a fee if your audience takes a certain action, such as joining a company’s free-trial program. You earn money, the merchants or brands generate more sales, and product buyers get access to quality offerings they might not have bought without your influence.
Affiliate programs are free to join and come in all shapes and sizes. Popular merchants that offer affiliate programs include Amazon―through their Amazon Associates program―Target, and Walmart. Since you’ll be marketing to a niche, you’ll want to research affiliate programs for offers that best serve your target audience.
Some companies advertise affiliate programs directly on their website. You can also reach out directly to brands to inquire about affiliate opportunities. Another great way to find affiliate opportunities is to search within affiliate networks to find merchants and brands with whom you want to work.
Affiliate networks are providers who give you access to a large number of merchants within a proprietary network. Networks give affiliate marketing beginners access to a wide range of merchants and brands that offer affiliate programs.
Individual merchant program terms and payouts are administered by the affiliate network so that you don’t have to track and account for several independent programs. The chart below gives you a glimpse at popular affiliate networks along with some useful site statistics.
Popular Affiliate Networks
Average Commissions Fees Paid*
1000+ merchant partners
Wide cross-section of products and brands
4% to 20%
1000+ digital products
Primarily digital products
50% to 75%
Features major retailers
4% to 14%
12,000+ affiliate programs
Connect to small to large brands; physical and digital products offered
5% to 20%
Affiliate Window (AWIN
29,000+ brands represented
Extremely broad variety of merchants in nearly all sectors
5% to 15%
ShareASale (part of AWIN)
4000+ merchant partners
Broad range of lifestyle products and business services; large percentage of merchants are exclusive to ShareASale
5% to 15%
*These are average commission ranges. Actual commissions earned vary greatly by merchant within each network
All of the networks in the chart above are free to join except AWIN, which requires a $5 application fee that is applied to your account if you are accepted. Get more expert tips on affiliate marketing for beginners, including how to best use affiliate networks for maximum profits.
Sponsored Post Programs
When you enter a sponsorship arrangement, the sponsoring company pays you to create a post that promotes a specific product, service, or brand. Your agreement may require you to write an article on your website or create a post on a social media network, or both. Sponsored posts pay affiliate marketers upfront, and earnings are typically based on the size and type of their niche audience.
Here are popular sites that connect sponsoring brands with affiliate marketers:
- TapInfluence: If your niche involves food, fashion, beauty, or lifestyle, you may want to join this program where you can customize your sponsored post rates.
- Blogsvertise: Ideal for beginner to advanced bloggers, Blogsvertise helps you find advertisers or sponsored posts opportunities.
- Blog Meets Brand: This site works with influencers in 13 different niches, including DIY [do-it-yourself]/Craft, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle and Millennials.
How Affiliate Marketers Make Money
When researching potential affiliate partners, you’ll want to pay attention to how you’ll earn money. Most affiliate programs pay on a percentage of sale basis. For example, if a person clicks on your affiliate link and purchases a $500 product and your commission fee set by your affiliate program is 10%, you’ll receive a $50 ($500 x 10%) commission for the sale.
With some affiliate marketing programs, you’ll be paid on a pay per action (PPA) basis. You may be paid if someone uses your affiliate links to sign up for a newsletter or joins a free-trial program. For example, Amazon Associates’ bounty programs pay $3 for every Prime free trial sign-up.
Finding the Best Affiliate Products for Your Niche
Finding and matching profitable affiliate products to your content is a continuous voyage of discovery. It’s also one of the most important steps for making money with affiliate marketing. Be choosy about the types of products and services you decide to represent. Your reputation is on the line with each recommendation you make,
“Be selective with who you choose to represent. You want to pick affiliate marketing companies that you can stand behind and that you can trust. Don’t just pick someone for the sake of making money, or else no one will trust you or your opinions.”
―Nicole Durham, Blogger, Struggle Today Strength Tomorrow
When learning how to start affiliate marketing, you’ll spend a good portion of your time searching for affiliate partners, signing up for programs, and searching networks for the right physical and digital products for your niche audience. As you become established, you’ll continue this process to curate new products and services to promote and connect to your content.
The good news is that once a post is up on your site, every time someone purchases from your affiliate link, you earn a commission. That’s called passive income. Once you finish the hard work of embedding affiliate links within each post, you can sit back and passively earn income for months or even years to come from those links.
3. Build Your Affiliate Marketing Platform
Your affiliate platform is the place or places you plan to post your affiliate links for the products and services you’re representing. The most common way to do this is through a website, but you can also promote your affiliate links on many social media networks.
Affiliate Marketing Through Your Website
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.
Note that when you post an affiliate link on your site, you must prominently display a notice before the link that you may receive a commission if readers click on your affiliate links. Failure to disclose a relationship with affiliate programs and networks can land you in legal hot water.
The most common website platform for affiliate marketers is a self-hosted WordPress site. The WordPress platform is free, so your only out-of-pocket cost of having a WordPress site is hosting. You can set up a WordPress blog with DreamHost as your hosting provider for as little as $2.59 per month.
Once your WordPress hosting account is in place, setting up your WordPress website is fairly straightforward. If you’re completely new to website building, you will experience a learning curve, but it’s not too steep. If you want a jump-start, you can follow a WordPress site setup guide, which walks you through everything in three steps.
Affiliate Marketing Without a Website
If you want to know how to start affiliate marketing without a website, it’s easier than you think. Many affiliate marketing beginners start by amassing followings on social media. They do this by optimizing their posts for maximum exposure to their selected niche, frequently using their primary keywords or related hashtags in their posts.
YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter can all be great forums for starting your affiliate marketing efforts. Just make sure you follow each medium’s rules for directly posting affiliate links and sponsored posts. For example, Instagram will allow you to post an affiliate link on your profile but not within posts. Most sites that allow affiliate posts require an affiliate disclosure, which means you have to make it clear that you could receive a commission when people click on your affiliate links.
You could also create an e-book or digital guide that contains affiliate links, provided your affiliate partner allows you to advertise affiliate links offline. Once your digital product is created, you can offer it for free or for a fee through your social media channels.
Finally, you can also promote affiliate links through email newsletters, again, provided that your affiliate partners allow this. Just a heads-up, Amazon Associates does not allow any affiliate links that they can’t track on the web, which means no links in newsletters or digital downloads.
4. Create Affiliate Content
Once your affiliate marketing platform is in place, whether that be a website or through a social media following, or both, it’s time to start crafting authentic content that compliments your niche. You will embed affiliate links within your posts, or you may choose to promote affiliate links through images. Most affiliate marketers use both text links and images.
Here’s a look at various types of content you can use to promote affiliate products and services:
- Product reviews: Single product reviews or round-up posts where you include multiple perspectives tend to be popular with readers and deliver high conversion rates.
- Recipes: If your niche involves cooking or eating, you can create posts that include affiliate links to cooking gadgets, cookbooks, ingredients, and more.
- DIY and how-to guides: You can create DIY how-to instructional content and include affiliate links to products needed to complete the project.
- Giveaways and discounts: 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.
- Fashion and style posts: If your niche is beauty or fashion, talking about hot trends and linking to related products is a smart way to earn affiliate commissions.
- Virtual store pages: A 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.
- Banner and sidebar ads: Virtually every affiliate program provides a wide variety of ads that you can insert into posts, sidebars, header, and footer sections of your WordPress website.
Planning Your Affiliate Content
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. You may want to use Google Calendar or a WordPress calendar plugin. Most affiliate marketers use an editorial calendar plugin since these let you plan content long-term and schedule automatic publication ahead of time.
Calendar plugins like the Editorial Calendar, shown above, work in your WordPress dashboard so that you can plan posts, create them, and schedule publication dates ahead of time easily. The plugin then publishes your posts on autopilot per the dates you set.
Once you have a way to promote affiliate offers, and now that you know how to create compelling posts, you’ll move to the final step in affiliate marketing. It’s time to expand your horizons and discover more ways to reach and advertise to your niche market.
5. Marketing Your Affiliate Offers
We’ve already discussed that you can start affiliate marketing as a beginner with either a website, through social media or digital downloads and email newsletters. Most affiliate marketers use a myriad of approaches to promote their affiliate.
Here are a few more ways you can market your affiliate offers:
- Email marketing: You can start a free email account with Mailchimp, Drip, or another email marketing service and gather email addresses on your website or social channels. Then, use email marketing to send informative affiliate content and promotions to subscribers.
- Video marketing: Does your topic or content show well in video? Consider creating videos to promote affiliate products.
- Podcasting: Podcasts are a simple way to add a multimedia dimension to your website. You can promote affiliate products or services with your listeners.
- Mobile app: Some niche topics work well in a mobile app format, such as coupon and deal sites. If your content with affiliate links is something a reader might need on-the-go, you can use mobile marketing to promote products.
- Guest posts on high-traffic blogs: To increase traffic to your own blog and social channels, offer to write a guest post on popular blogs.
- Paid search ads: Google Ads lets you create ads that can drive targeted traffic to your website. Most social media networks offer paid advertising also.
- SEO for organic search: Search engine optimization (SEO) is a marketing tactic in its own right. Good SEO helps you get more relevant traffic to your website, which in turn helps you make more money. You may want to use an SEO plugin, and a popular one is Yoast SEO.
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 multimillion-dollar 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 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 need to create fresh content regularly, market via social and email channels, and keep your promotions current, on-trend, and seasonally appropriate.
- Not growing your affiliate partner base: Even if the partnerships you’ve created are working, keep looking for new partners to help increase your profits.
- Don’t forget seasonal promotions: You want plenty of evergreen content, but don’t forget the big opportunities available through seasonal promotions.
Another mistake beginning affiliate marketers make is staying too focused on the short-term. If you want to earn money from affiliate marketing for years to come, and then you need to think about what you’ll promote not only today but tomorrow too. Build a niche audience that can sustain you over time.
“The biggest mistake I made early on with affiliate marketing was playing the short game. That is, trying to find the quickest path to the next affiliate commission. Play the long game. Build a full-fledged brand and business around an evergreen niche. Become a specialist and an expert in that niche and then take in the affiliate offers that compliment your business best. Using this strategy, you will soon be solicited by affiliate managers of programs you may have never heard of and have the leverage to negotiate your own commission rates and incentives.”
―Rio Rocket, Digital Marketing Strategist & Branding Expert, RioRocket.com
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Start Affiliate Marketing
If you want to get started with affiliate marketing, you may have some very specific questions about how to begin. Below are some of the top questions new affiliate marketers ask. If you have additional questions, feel free to ask them in the forum.
Can you make good money with affiliate marketing?
Many affiliate marketers make a full-time income from their efforts, earning $30,000 to $70,000 per year. The most successful affiliate marketers earn $100,000 to $2 million a year.
What is the best affiliate marketing program for beginners?
The best affiliate marketing programs and networks to join when you’re first starting out depends on your niche audience. Amazon Associates, ClickBank, and CJ Affiliates are all popular choices for beginning affiliate marketers.
What are the most profitable niches for affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketers can produce healthy profits in hundreds of niches. The most popular niches include fashion and beauty, health and wellness, hobbies, mommy blogs, frugal living, weight loss, online marketing, and pets.
How much does it cost to start affiliate marketing?
You can start earning money with affiliate marketing without investing a dime. However, if you want to maximize your earning potential, it’s best to create your own website. You can launch a website with DreamHost for only $2.59 a month.
What’s a big mistake beginning affiliate marketers make?
Many affiliate marketers who are just starting out focus solely on making money and representing products they know little about. It’s important to research the products and brands you represent to ensure you can promote them effectively.
Bottom Line: How to Start Affiliate Marketing
The most successful affiliate marketers didn’t earn huge profits overnight. It takes time to build your affiliate marketing business. With creativity, hard work, and a strong focus on the tactics covered in the five steps discussed here, you can make a nice income through affiliate marketing.