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How Can I Start Affiliate Marketing?

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Embarking on the journey of affiliate marketing can be both exciting and overwhelming, so we've gathered insights from seasoned professionals to guide you. With advice from digital marketing consultants to CEOs, our panel of 25 experts offers practical steps to earn your first dollar in affiliate marketing. From sharing your passion and knowledge to researching referrals and reaching out to blogs, discover the essential strategies to kickstart your affiliate marketing success.

Share Your Knowledge

Find your passion, share your knowledge, and earn. That's the golden rule of affiliate marketing. Let me tell you from my experience: When I started, I went all-in on cycling, a sport I love and breathe. I built a blog where I poured out my cycling adventures—tours with cycling buddies, challenging races, demanding sportives, the whole shebang. Throughout my stories, I'd recommend the gear and nutrition that kept me going—the bikes, helmets, clothing, shoes, you name it. This stuff wasn't just any random brand; it was the equipment I truly believed in, the things that made a difference on the road. People saw my genuine enthusiasm, and that made my recommendations click. This approach can work for anyone who's an expert in their field. You use your unique knowledge to guide what you promote, and your passion shines through, building trust and conversions.

George Papatheodorou, Digital Marketing Consultant, George Papatheodorou

Partner with Affiliate Networks and Agencies

For brands, the best way to get started is by partnering with a technology/affiliate network and determining what commission rate you're willing to offer and your value proposition. From there, technologies/networks can provide helpful tools to get your program in front of publishers and partners, but it's also important to do your own direct outreach to creators and content partners that you know are creating content that fits your brand and is reaching your ideal target audience. Agencies can provide a lot of value in finding the right technology network that meets your goals and helping to ensure your commission rate and offering are competitive and enticing, while getting access to the relationships they have with partners and publishers.

Kristina Nolan, Vice President of Media Services, DMi Partners

Define Your Niche and Target Keywords

The best approach when it comes to getting started with affiliate marketing is to define the niche you want to pursue and then work backward from a marketing perspective. Start with less competitive, target keywords, and work your way up to higher-traffic/higher-competitive keywords. You can use tools like UberSuggest to help you find your initial targets. Once you begin finding your affiliate networks and the types of products you want to lead with, you can narrow down the products that offer a promising commission. Next, you will determine the platform you want to sell on, whether it's a YouTube channel, a blog, or a website that you will operate on to give you the best traffic, whether it's paid or organic.

Jacqueline Ball, Digital Marketing Consultant & Strategist, Sozoe Creative

Produce Consistent, Passion-Driven Content

For anyone looking to get into affiliate marketing, whether creating long-form content on the web or sharing short videos on social media, my tip is to find a specific topic you're passionate and knowledgeable about and then begin producing content on a consistent basis. The key is to build an audience that values your expertise, and once you have their attention and trust, you can begin to organically introduce product/service recommendations and monetize those tips using affiliate marketing.

Daniel DeSilva, Senior Director, Agency Services, Vibrant Performance

Start a Blog, Focus on SEO and Content

Start a blog in an industry that is not highly competitive for Google ranking. Hire a writer and an SEO expert. SEO efforts will improve your Google ranking and drive traffic to your site, while good content will offer value to readers. Consistent SEO practices will yield results, and valuable content will cultivate a loyal readership. Once you achieve this level in about a year or so, begin reaching out to brands. As you become more visible on Google for relevant keywords, chances are they will also reach out to you. Close deals with these brands, charge them a fee, and list their products on your site to earn affiliate commissions.

Muskan Garg, SEO Strategist

Hand-Select Affiliates for Product Launches

I recently worked with a brand to hand-select a list of 350 affiliates for a product launch marketing campaign. We started with a search of people who had recently tagged the brand on social media with a thoughtful description or great visuals, and a review of customer support inquiries from superfans or potential affiliate marketers.

If you're looking to get started as an affiliate, start by making a short list of a few go-to products you truly love (and use!)—the ones that you are constantly recommending to friends in casual conversation because you've discovered the next best thing. Do a quick Google search of 'product + affiliates' to find out if they have an existing program you can join or a contact on their website to reach out to if you are interested. Talking about how you use the product, and why you love it, in an authentic way is going to help you create great content and earn money through your affiliate links!

Another tip: Very large, established brands often outsource the whole affiliate process to an existing affiliate platform and have standard settings that include no additional discounts for affiliate codes and low (less than 3%) affiliate kickbacks. New or small brands may be more open to working with you and offering a higher share or a higher discount!

Leslie Zaikis, Marketing Consultant, 9 Blocks

Create Content with Passion and Expertise

Create content in areas where you have passion and the expertise that allows you to stand out among the crowd. Doing a bit of research beforehand to understand how crowded the space is will certainly help. Next, create a content roadmap of the topics and content mediums. Content can be produced in the form of blog posts, video shorts, podcasts, etc. When it comes to building an audience, what's important is the ability to add value and be consistent with content production. Naturally, include the affiliate link details, and share your content on social channels like Facebook, TikTok, and X. It may take a bit of hustle, but when executed correctly, the money will come in.

Leslie Gelina, Digital Marketer, Frizzlie

Find a Mentor and Invest in Training

The easiest way to succeed as an affiliate marketer is to find a mentor who is an expert in that field. For example, if you want to create via video, find a YouTube course on how to grow a channel. Every guru out there will offer free training to get you in the door, but you get what you pay for. If you want to learn the tactics that are working right now, purchase a course to expedite your success. Make sure to follow through and master the teachings before moving on.

Dustin Howes, Co-founder, Affistash

Build a Strong Following in Your Niche

To attract potential advertisers who are looking to market their products or services to a specific audience, it's important to build a strong following in a particular area of expertise. Therefore, take some time to think about what you're passionate about and what value you can offer to your audience. Then, focus on expanding your online presence within that specific niche. This will make you more appealing to advertisers, as you will have a targeted audience who are interested in your content.

Kendyl Washatka, Director, Partnerships, New Engen

Break Down Steps and Educate Yourself

Starting out in affiliate marketing can feel daunting, but breaking the process down into manageable steps can set you on the right path. I always recommend starting with three very important steps: decide on a starting niche, create a website, and educate yourself. Begin by carefully selecting a niche that genuinely interests you, as your passion will shine through in your content, making it more authentic and engaging for your audience. Next, establish your online presence by creating your own website. Even for potential partners that primarily intend to use social media for traffic, owning your own website provides a central hub for your content, gives you greater control over your business, and provides you with additional authority when reaching out directly to brands. In an ever-changing landscape where social platforms can make unpredictable, impactful changes or face uncertainty, as we've most recently seen with TikTok, owning your digital real estate is invaluable. Finally, educate yourself on how affiliate networks operate and how links function. Most networks offer free resources such as knowledge bases, guides, and tutorials that will help you cultivate a deeper understanding of the space. Understanding these fundamentals is crucial to creating sustainable growth and will empower you to make informed decisions as you enter into partnerships.

Karen Garcia, Co-Founder & CEO, Lab6 Media

Identify Topics You're Passionate About

Begin by identifying topics you're passionate about or knowledgeable about. This could range from hobbies to professional expertise. For example, if you're interested in fitness, you might consider niches like yoga apparel or home workout equipment.

By focusing on a niche that excites you, your content will naturally resonate more with your audience, increasing the likelihood of conversions and making your affiliate marketing efforts more enjoyable and sustainable.

Koby Wheeler, Founder & President, Lobster Ferret

Leverage High-Intent Keywords for Outreach

Start by Googling two or three of your top search keywords.

Not in terms of volume, but in terms of what drives the best leads to your sales teams.

For example, don't search 'review monitoring' or 'review management.' Instead, go for bottom-of-the-funnel, high-intent keywords like 'review monitoring tools' or 'marketing agency in Chicago.'

See what ranks there. There's a good chance the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) will have a mix of:

  1. Google Ads (sponsored) results, mostly your competitors.
  2. Aggregators such as Capterra or G2 for the software industry, Clutch for the service industry, Google Maps results for local services and businesses.
  3. Top 10 lists written by bloggers.

Build a list of the lists (pun intended), and for each listicle, find the writer or editor on LinkedIn, find their email, and reach out. Ask them to include you in the list.

They'll probably ask for money upfront to do that. That's fine. Pay upfront, but tell them you want them to use a tracked link and show them how to get one on your affiliation platform.

Once they're set up, wait for a little, and once they're starting to get results (leads, commissions, whatever), reach out again, and ask them how much they're being paid by the first one on the list. Walk them through the math, and they'll move you up in the top 3.

This will get you ranking on keywords that drive real business, at scale, at a fraction of what it would cost you through Google Ads, or through SEO.

Axel Lavergne, Founder, reviewflowz

Discover Untapped Niches or Unique Value

First, you have to either find a niche that isn't being served or figure out how you will provide value to advertisers in a niche way. There are millions of sites trying to earn money through affiliate marketing, but only the ones that can show incremental revenue will succeed.

Teresa Grammatke, Sr Director, eAccountable

Join Networks and Learn Affiliate Marketing

Joining an affiliate network and getting paired with an affiliate manager is a great way to gain access to valuable information on which offers perform well and what strategies you can deploy to take advantage of those opportunities. However, affiliate networks don't hold your hand. We only approve new affiliates who exhibit enough know-how where they can follow our guidance. They must also come prepared to invest in their own success. We typically recommend first-time affiliates have earmarked $2,500 - $5,000 for content creation, ad design, web hosting, and media buying.

To get the know-how, there are countless free resources online. Research affiliate marketing, different commission models, lead generation, A/B testing, media buying, Meta Ads, Google Ads, and tracking URLs to get a crash course.

Todd Stearn, CEO, Aragon Advertising

Understand Your Audience's Brand Preferences

Learn which brands and products make your audience tick, and, ideally, why. If you are able to grasp this level of understanding, then it just comes down to experimenting with marketing channels and messaging.

Nick Coe, Co-founder, Kutoku

Align Affiliate Goals with Business Objectives

Over the last 15 years, our agency has helped DTC e-commerce brands of all sizes launch and scale affiliate programs. There are important considerations when starting an affiliate program. First, we suggest evaluating the desired outcome or action you're looking to drive through your affiliate partnerships. Ideally, this should align with your overall brand or business objectives. The more specific, the better. Examples could include new customer acquisition, reaching new audiences, testing into new markets or customer segments, etc.

Once you've defined the action, putting together a compelling and competitive commission payout is the next step. Research what competitors or other brands in the space are paying out as a benchmark. You may also consider structuring the commission payout based on achieving KPIs that are most important to your business. If you need to achieve a certain CAC (customer acquisition cost), it is a good idea to take that into consideration when determining how much you're able to pay partners. Other considerations could include product margin, margin by product category, or customer LTV.

Once your program is live and you're starting to see referred sales from affiliates, it's important to review partner performance regularly to ensure they are helping you achieve the desired goals. If not, you may need to revise or refine the affiliate program accordingly.

Rick Gardiner, CEO, iAffiliate Management

Focus on Building a Dedicated Audience

Figure out a niche, become an expert in that niche, and create valuable content. Many beginner affiliate marketers make the mistake of spending too much time on monetization strategy from the start. You need to build a dedicated audience first; then, monetization opportunities will come later.

Ben Trevizo, Founder & President, Alta Media Partners

Use Referral Links and Create Product Videos

A little secret is to join the brand's affiliate program, get your referral link, and then buy a product from their website. There, you have just made your first commission! Then, once you receive your product, make a video about how much you like it and post it on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok, and make sure your referral link is clickable. You may make some sales that way.

Evan Weber, Founder, Experience Advertising

Become Obsessed with Your Chosen Niche

Everybody wants to be the next big affiliate marketer, but not everyone is willing to put in the real work needed to become successful. The first step to becoming a successful affiliate is to pick a single niche/vertical and become completely obsessed. You need to ask the right questions to become a micro-expert in the supply and demand of your niche.

You'll need to understand everything about the consumer's experience. Think through where the consumer will start their journey. What keywords might this consumer use to search? What consumer profile characteristics might this consumer have? Which of these are easiest to target? Which provide the highest value? By starting off with deep knowledge and a passion to help consumers, you can drive monetizable volume to your offer. Once your campaign is built and ready to go, it will be much easier to find the right affiliate network or direct buyer for your traffic.

Nick Davies, Senior Affiliate Manager, Aragon Advertising

Select Products and Join an Affiliate Network

The first step is to decide on the subject, content, or product you want to promote. Make sure it's something you're truly interested in and can resonate with, as you'll need to be able to accurately convince others to purchase or use it so that you earn your affiliate commissions. The next step is to find a network that you can work with to promote multiple products from one dashboard, as you'll quickly run out of resources to manage advertisers one by one when getting started. Focus in on the details of what your audience resonates with and look at the data, as that's how you'll measure the success of your conversions, which will lead you to making the first few dollars of commission when getting started. One other small tip to note—pick an affiliate network that is established and offers fast payouts. You don't want to be left waiting 60, 90, or 120 days to get your commissions paid!

Lee-Ann Johnstone, Founder, Affiverse

Use Affiliate Marketing to Multiply Sales

As a small business bootstrapping our toy business in a competitive market, we find affiliate marketing a great way to multiply sales within our interested audience's network. There's a high probability that our parenting folks would be friends or have playdates with other parents in the same age range, and in this segment, new or young parents have higher conversion rates as they have a strong appetite for relevant products to address their pressing issues. To keep lean, we chose affiliate programs that start for free until the sales figures reach a minimum where we can make a profit. We're using TrackDesk, and the platform is intuitive for our management and for our affiliates. To ensure that we support our affiliates, we created a step-by-step guide and provided marketing support such as social media images and videos. We're launching a promotion with a Facebook group that has 800,000 followers to see what we can convert from there.

Karen Villard, Founder, Cubo Toys

Solidify Branding and Establish Content Calendar

Since the pandemic, it seems that everyone who made a TikTok or Instagram Reel was looking for instant virality. But realistically, overnight success—and fame—is far and few between. When content creators couple patience and perseverance, affiliate marketing is a great option to drive long-term incremental revenue.

In order to enter the world of affiliate and influencer marketing, it's best practice to solidify your personal branding. This includes the type of content you wish to share, how it aligns with your interests and/or values, and the type of audience you wish to engage.

Next, you'll want to establish a content calendar. The key is to be consistent with posting and always be authentic. This will allow you to connect with your followers, sparking higher engagement efforts.

Finally, always include some sort of disclaimer. This goes for any brand or product you are promoting, whether or not you are being paid for that content. It doesn't need to be long, either! A short and sweet sentence saying, "The opinions expressed in this post are uniquely mine, and I may be compensated for this post," will suffice.

The more you post and grow your audience, the more likely you'll be able to partner with some of your favorite brands!

Laura Press, Head of Affiliate and Partnerships Education, impact.com

Build Relationships and Establish Credibility

I believe the most important practical step is relationship building. By focusing on relationship building, individuals can establish trust and credibility with their audience through genuine engagement and valuable content. This could involve creating informative blog posts, engaging with followers on social media, and providing honest product recommendations tailored to their audience's needs. As relationships grow stronger, followers are more likely to trust and act on affiliate recommendations, leading to the first dollar earned in affiliate commissions. Consistency, authenticity, and genuine connections are key to success in affiliate marketing.

Nicole Dunn, Founder & Marketing Expert, Dunn Pellier Media Inc.

Refine Messaging and Seek Customer Feedback

One of the key things to focus on when starting with affiliate marketing is refining your messaging. It's essential to craft a message that resonates with your audience. You don't want to appear spammy or overly aggressive, as this is your opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of their issues and why you're the right person to help solve them.

It's really about storytelling – explain why it took so long to develop this product or service, who was involved in its creation, how it has already benefited others, and what advantages your audience will gain from purchasing or using it.

You should be particularly careful with platforms like social media, forums, and article directories. If you scatter links everywhere, Google might not view your efforts favorably in terms of search engine optimization (SEO), so ensure your content flows naturally.

Additionally, always seek feedback – ask your customers for reviews, but do so thoughtfully, in a way that respects their time and experience. Customers appreciate being asked nicely rather than feeling pressured to leave a review after a purchase. These reviews can also serve as valuable social proof later on.

Amir Elaguizy, CEO, Cratejoy, Inc

Research Referrals and Reach Out to Blogs

I've started multiple affiliate programs from scratch, and some of the first steps are always the same and proven to be successful. I would start by looking at the Similarweb similar brand referring domains or backlinks. This will give an idea of the biggest referrals in the space. Another thing that I would do is to take your best-converting keywords and search for the top 10 websites/blogs to reach out to based on the search queries.

Aleksandra Cepulska, Sr Affiliate Marketing Manager, Caraway Home