The Ultimate Guide to Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers
Picture this. It's Saturday night and you're out having drinks with friends. "Ding!" Your phone goes off. It's Gmail, letting you know that you just earned $130 from an affiliate sale on your website. Sweet. (Bartender — another round, please!)
When affiliate marketing is done correctly, you could be receiving email notifications like that every single day and making money while you're out living your life. If you're like, "Yes please, teach me the ways!", today’s post is for you. I'm breaking down everything you need to know about affiliate marketing, including:
What affiliate marketing is
The different types of products you can become an affiliate for
The legal stuff you need to know about affiliate marketing
A step-by-step guide for finding and joining affiliate programs
8 promotional tactics you can use to make affiliate sales
The top 3 strategies that continuously generate affiliate revenue for me and my blog
By the end of this post, you'll have a detailed, actionable strategy for making consistent sales (and mad cash) as an affiliate. Excited? Let's jump in.
What is affiliate marketing?
An “affiliate” promotes another company's products or services to his or her own audience, and when a purchase is made through their affiliate link, they receive a commission from that sale. Commissions vary from program to program, but they’ll either be a set dollar amount (e.g., $25/sale) or a percentage of the sale (e.g., 25%).
The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you don't need to create your own products to sell. You can promote other people's stuff and skip past the long, tedious phase of developing a product or course of your own. For this reason, affiliate marketing is a strategy I recommend all bloggers implement.
What can I become an affiliate for?
You can become an affiliate for just about anything that's sold online, including:
Digital products like online courses and ebooks
Services and packages
The things you decide to promote as an affiliate will vary depending on your niche and audience. I encourage you to get creative with it, and try promoting items in all three categories above to see which works best for you.
Affiliate marketing legalities
In 2009, the FTC created and began enforcing certain laws around affiliate marketing. You can read the full breakdown here, but if you're not fluent in "legalese", here are the major takeaways:
1. Affiliate links must be clearly disclosed.
If you use an affiliate link to promote a product, you must always let people know that the link is an affiliate link. One way to do this is to write "(Affiliate Link)" just before or right after the link.
2. You must explain what an affiliate link is and how it works.
Because a lot of people aren’t familiar with the term "affiliate link", you should also provide an explanation. Most bloggers include an explanation in the top section of every blog post that contains affiliate links.
This statement must always come before any affiliate links. Here's a basic format you can play around with and add to your own website: "This post may contain affiliate links for products I love. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. For my full disclaimer, please click here (link)."
3. You should have a Disclaimer section or page on your website.
In the disclaimer, you can include a rendition of the statement above. This is also a great place to explain what kind of data you collect from visitors of your website, and how the data is stored and used. For an example, refer to my Disclaimer page here.
Although I've been talking mostly about sharing affiliate links in your blog posts thus far, please note that the FTC guidelines apply to all platforms where you share affiliate links (blog posts, social media, your email list, etc.).
Start strong by joining the right affiliate programs
Now that we've got the boring legal stuff out of the way, it's time to move onto the fun stuff: Joining affiliate programs and making sales!
This is the stage where a lot of new bloggers get hung up, so my goal today is to give you a simple but effective process you can use time and time again to find and join new affiliate programs.
Before we get into that, here's a general overview of how the affiliate marketing process looks:
Step 1. You apply to join a specific affiliate program.
Step 2. You're accepted to the program and given a unique affiliate link. Any clicks on this link are "cookied" and tracked for a certain period of time to see if a sale is made.
Step 3. You promote a product or service from that company and share your affiliate link with your followers, readers, and subscribers.
Step 4. You're notified when a sale is made through your link.
Step 5. You receive a commission from each sale, generally with a 30-60 day payout delay.
Tiered Affiliate Programs
Some affiliate programs work on a tiered basis. This means that the more affiliate sales you make within a given time period (usually 1 month), the more money you earn per sale. For example, the tiers might look like this:
For under 5 sales in a month: $20/sale
For 5-10 sales in a month: $30/sale
For over 10 sales in a month: $40/sale
Most programs aren't tiered, but I think it’s a super smart format because it really motivates you to sell and promote more.
Now, let's get into the nitty-gritty. How do you find and join affiliate programs?
A 3-step process for finding & joining the right affiliate programs for your blog
Step 1. Make a list
Sit down with a pen and paper and put your thinking cap on. It's time for a brain dump! Think back over the past few years and ask yourself: What products, tools, programs, services, courses, and books have you purchased that you would feel comfortable recommending to your audience?
These items need to be:
Related to your niche
Useful, interesting, or inspiring to your ideal reader
Things you yourself used (and/or continue to use) and enjoyed
Spend at least 10 minutes creating this list, writing down everything you can think of (even if you don't know whether each item has an affiliate program or not).
Step 2. Find the affiliate program for each item.
Note: If you have dozens of products on your brain dump list, you might want to start off by joining 10 or so affiliate programs and tackle more at a later date.
Finding and joining affiliate programs isn't as hard as a lot of people think it is. Here's what you want to do:
1. Go to the website where the item is sold (hint: for physical products, check Amazon).
2. Browse the website and look for words like "Affiliates" or "Partners" in the top menu, sidebar, or footer.
3. If you can't find the affiliate application page, try the website's search bar.
4. Still no luck? Find the company's contact info (most will have a contact form or email address listed somewhere on their site) and reach out to ask if they have an affiliate program and how you can join it.
Step 3. Apply for each affiliate program.
Most programs will have some sort of application form to fill out, varying from quick-and-easy to super-dense-and-complex. You'll generally be asked for:
Your domain name
Your social media links
Your monthly traffic stats
Your Personal Identification Number (SSN or SIN) or Business Identification Number
The plans you have for promoting the company's products
Once you've submitted your application, simply sit back and wait to hear from the company. It shouldn't take long for you to get approved.
The more affiliate programs you join, the harder it becomes to keep track of all your different affiliate links. I personally use a spreadsheet to house all of my affiliate information, and I can’t recommend that strategy enough. Besides keeping your affiliate links organized, you can also your spreadsheet to record important information about each program you join (things like your log-in info, the commission structure, and cookie length).
8 ways to make consistent affiliate sales
Joining affiliate programs is the (semi-) easy part. Now comes the tough bit: How do you actually get people to click on your affiliate links and buy something?
To get the wheels turning, here are eight different strategies you can use to share affiliate links with your audience:
Include affiliate links within your blog posts
Add affiliate-linked images in your blog's sidebar or footer
Share your affiliate links on social media
Include affiliate links in emails you send to your list
Create a sales funnel that ends with an affiliate pitch
Create a dedicated page on your website to feature your favorite (affiliate) products
Include affiliate links in your opt-in freebies
Include affiliate links in your paid courses and ebooks
My 3 highest-converting affiliate marketing strategies
I've tested all of the strategies above, and some have performed better than others. Here are the top 3 strategies that generate consistent affiliate revenue for me and my business…
Note: Just because these strategies work well for me and my audience, doesn't necessarily mean they'll be the best fit for you and your audience. Be sure to test out different methods.
1. Including affiliate links in my free email courses.
My first ever email course was called “Beginner Blogger Bootcamp” and in that course, I included links to my favorite blogging tools, like ConvertKit, Siteground, and The Styled Stock Library (*all affiliate links). This strategy is amazing because it generates passive income and grows your email list at the same time.
2. Including affiliate links in my paid offerings.
In my courses, I include affiliate links for any tools or products I recommend to my students. This works especially well because the people who purchase my courses already have a high level of trust with me, meaning they're more likely to purchase something I recommend.
3. The “Fave Tools” page on my website.
I’ve played around with having an entire page dedicated to my favorite blogging tools, and it generated a lot of affiliate revenue. Plus, I love having all of my top recommendations in one place so I can easily refer people to it.
My final tips for a successful affiliate marketing strategy
If you find yourself struggling to make affiliate sales, here are a few final pointers:
1. Always focus on how the item you're promoting will benefit your readers.
How will it improve their lives? What solution, result, or transformation is it providing? Paint that picture for them.
2. Offer a bonus incentive for people who purchase through your affiliate link.
For example, you could offer a mini-course, workbook, video tutorial, or coaching call. This is a great way to encourage people to purchase specifically through your link.
Can you say “massive post” much? What can I say, I just love sharing this stuff with you guys! Let me know down below: Are you ready to kick ass when it comes to affiliate marketing? Do you have any questions for me about it?