What is affiliate marketing?

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing strategy that allows marketers to expand their reach by rewarding affiliates for promoting their product, service, or site.

What Is Affiliate Marketing and How Does it Work?

Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing method that allows merchants to expand their market reach by rewarding independent agents (affiliates) for promoting a product, service, or site. 

Affiliate marketing is a way for companies to sell their products or services by having different people and companies promote them for a commission. Although it’s a simple concept to understand, it might be a little more difficult to actually implement. 

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

Affiliate marketing is really just commission-based advertising. A popular resource — a website, an influencer, etc. — makes money by referring people to another person’s or company’s products. They might get paid for each referral, or for each sale that results from their referrals. This is usually achieved and measured through affiliate links, or specific URLs that contain the affiliate’s user ID or tag. 

Typically with affiliate marketing, advertisers market via their own websites. While a website is not actually required, it’s definitely easier for affiliates and potential buyers if a website is used. This is because the website will contain different affiliate links (we’ll get into this later) that will be clicked on. Doing so stores a small file called a cookie onto the user’s computer making it so that when the merchant goes to track where the buyer bought it from, they can follow it back to the affiliate that promoted it. 

Of course, in order to get more people to purchase from your website, you need to have a constant flow of traffic. This is because the more purchasers that come from your page, the more commission you’ll receive. But how do you generate a steady traffic flow? 

Content Marketing 

Content marketing is the strategic creation, production, and distribution of content that is relative, relevant, and valuable, and that effectively serves a purpose to a clearly defined targeted audience.

Content marketing works by enforcing the four points of the buying cycle: awareness, research, consideration, and purchase, with traditional marketing focusing primarily on consideration and purchase. 

Great content marketing also relies on the proper use of search engine optimization (SEO). To sum it up, SEO is a series of practices and strategies used to make websites and webpages more useful to searchers and coherent to search engines, with the ultimate goal of making web pages more visible in search results. Content is one part of SEO. Content that is created about a relevant and authoritative source will organically rise in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for specific queries. 


But what makes great content? Great content:

  • Is free of mechanical, grammatical, and spelling errors;
  • Consists of engaging material;
  • Is original;
  • Is concise;
  • Provides value with the ability to outpace competitors in the delivery of information;
  • Utilizes headlines and topical organization;
  • Is accurate;
  • Matches keywords and search criteria associated with the topic;
  • Is linkable.

Affiliate Links

An affiliate link is a specific URL that contains the affiliate’s ID or username. Merchants who participate in affiliate marketing utilize affiliate links to help them distinguish who to give the commission to and to monitor the traffic of the affiliate’s website. Every time someone clicks on the link and purchases the item or service, the affiliate gets paid.

If an affiliate link is positioned as a backlink, this could harm your SEO. Google doesn’t necessarily approve of paid links for SEO and tends to view them as paid advertisements; not backlinks. The tracking code that is embedded into these links usually creates either a unique, user-specific URL for pages or they point to pages that are no-indexed and won’t be viewed by the search engines, specifically to avoid having Google view these links as part of their SEO strategy. 

People who engage in affiliate marketing are no strangers to affiliate link disclaimers. An affiliate disclosure is a disclaimer statement that informs consumers or potential buyers that you are in a paid relationship with the company or person you’re linking to as an affiliate. 

Here is an example of an affiliate disclosure

“Disclosure: This is a professional review blog that gets compensated for the products reviewed by the companies who produce them. All of the products are tested thoroughly and high grades are received only by the best ones. I am an independent blogger and reviews are done based on my own opinion.” 

There are three types of affiliate links that impact SEO that you need to be aware of:

  • Network Links: If affiliates use text link based code from a trusted network and the URL starts with a link that comes back to the network’s server (not to your URL), it is not a backlink and shouldn’t affect your SEO. But, they may be considered backlinks if the redirects are done incorrectly. 
  • Direct Links with Parameters: These links point directly to your website like a backlink, but have parameters such as ?=affid-HIJ attached to them. Since they are links that point to your specific site, they are backlinks. 
  • Direct Links with No Parameters: URLs without the ?=affid-HIJ, or any other affiliate ID, are direct links with no parameters and point directly to your website, not a network.

How Do Affiliate Marketers Get Paid?

Affiliate marketers get paid in three simple steps.

  • They recommend a product/service to their followers.
  • Their followers purchase said product or service using their affiliate link.
  • They get paid a commission from the sales using the affiliate link.

It is important to keep in mind that there is a difference between pay-per-click (PPC) and links that don’t pay unless a visitor makes a purchase, signs up for emails, etc. 

PPC is an internet advertising model used to direct traffic to websites. The publisher of the advertisement (the search engine or website) is paid by the advertiser each time the ad is clicked. Links that don’t pay unless a visitor makes a purchase is just how it sounds. Visitors can click on a link as much as they want, however, the affiliate won’t get paid unless an actual purchase is made. 

Affiliates vs. Advertisers

Affiliate marketing can be more discreet and less disruptive to a visitor’s experience compared to pop-ups and banners that are associated with advertisers. It also allows content creators to make money without explicitly endorsing or recommending products/brands they link too. 

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Affiliate Marketing Website Examples

The Wirecutter: The Wirecutter is a product review website that is owned by The New York Times company. The site writes detailed guides on different products under a large variety of categories and recommends one or two best products from each category. They gain a majority of their revenue through affiliate commissions. They’re different than most affiliate marketers because, in order to prevent biased reviews, the review staff is not informed of any commissions the site receives, if any. 

You can see some examples of The Wirecutter's affiliate links below (highlighted by a red box):

Wirecutter affiliate links

The Points Guy: This is an American travel website that produces stories and blog posts about traveling, aviation, points, politics, and credit cards. Each story features an affiliate link, usually to credit card companies, somewhere on their page.

Here are some affiliate links on The Points Guy (again, within the red boxes):

The Points Guy affiliate links

After you become familiar with affiliate marketing, it becomes pretty easy to spot these links.

How Much Can You Make From Affiliate Marketing?

The amount of money you can make from affiliate marketing varies. There are many factors to take into consideration when calculating your estimated income from affiliate marketing.

What type of offers are you promoting? How much traffic does your website generate? What marketing skills are you utilizing? How effective are your SEO strategies?

The better your SEO, the higher your income. Depending on your skills, you can make anywhere from an additional 10 dollars a day to 10K dollars (but this amount takes time — it won’t happen overnight).